What can we Conclude from All the First Vision Evidence?

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In the end, each person’s views of the First Vision will turn on his or her perspective.  To the believer, the different accounts of the First Vision are a treasure because they provide additional insight into this singular event.  To the non-believer, the additional details are seen as evidence of what they already believe — that Joseph Smith was making up the story and changing it as he went.  We will never know the inner workings of Joseph Smith’s mind that would explain precisely why he shared some details and not others each time he recounted the First Vision experience, but several legitimate reasons exist for why he shared different information with different audiences and provided more information as time went on.  Thus, there is ample intellectual space in which thinking people can exercise faith in Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling.

So what can we conclude from these videos about Joseph Smith’s first vision? Do they prove that Joseph really saw the Father and the Son? Do they just present weak excuses to go on with our heads in the sand by pretending there are not serious problems with Joseph’s story? Hopefully, you will not come to either of these conclusions.

The purpose of these and other videos on this channel is to appeal to the true seeker in each of us. True seekers discern the difference between historical facts that others can verify and interpretations of those facts that are specific to subjective interpreters. And seekers discern the difference between what is assumed and what is known. Some assume that we have access to all Joseph said or wrote. We do not, but even if we did, it would not be sound to assume that it would represent that all he experienced. We have the equivalent of a few puzzle pieces and are not able yet to discern exactly how the completed puzzle will look. Seekers would rather acknowledge the missing pieces and actively, if patiently, search for them than pretend to know what they must look like.

Authentic seeking requires us not only to search the historical record thoroughly but to assess our own souls simultaneously. One way to seek introspectively is to identify and examine assumptions, to be just as vigilant in investigating why we are or are not willing to trust Joseph as we are assessing whether he is trustworthy. Investigating our assumptions helps us understand why we suppose or believe what we do.

There is an often-repeated assumption that if Joseph experienced the vision, he would have written it sooner. But there is no evidence or basis for this conclusion. Rather, Joseph and others left us evidence that he was not a skilled writer and quite reluctant to write. It was at about the same time he wrote his earliest vision account in 1832 that Joseph expressed how he felt imprisoned by what he called the “total darkness of paper, pen and ink.” When we think carefully about our assumptions, we become capable of asking better-informed questions. Clearer thinking in light of more evidence, for example, might cause us to wonder not just why Joseph waited so long to write about the vision but, given historical circumstances and evidence he left us, why he decided to write about it at all.

What ever questions we ask, seeking by the historical method of study requires that we discover the answers in the evidence created by those who experienced the past, not in a hypothetical history we imagine based on assumptions.

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