Abstract: Some critics of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have noted that the different accounts of Joseph Smith’s first vision, though written by the prophet himself, vary in some details. They see this as evidence that the event did not take place and was merely invented to establish divine authority for his work. They fail to realize that the versions of Paul’s vision on the road to Damascus, in which the risen Christ appeared to him, also differ from one another. Indeed, they vary more than Joseph Smith’s accounts of his experience. This article examines those variants.
Some critics have suggested that Joseph Smith contradicted himself in different accounts of his first vision. In one, for example, he says that the Lord told him that all the churches were wrong, while in another he says that he had already come to this conclusion before going out in the woods to pray. I see no real contradiction between Joseph Smith believing, when he went to pray, that he should join none of the churches, and the Lord confirming that thought by revelation. After all, he went into the woods to get an answer. If his mind was already made up and he merely needed confirmation, this fits the pattern described in D&C 9:8, where the Lord said, “you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right.” The point of the official published version of Joseph Smith’s story is that he received a revelation on the issue. But even that version does not preclude the idea that he had already determined the answer and needed confirmation.