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The First Vision is the name given to the seminal event in the Restoration--the visitation of God, the Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ, to Joseph Smith in the Spring of 1820. The event is recognized and revered by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) around the world.
There are several reasons that the First Vision is so important in Mormonism, but one of the most important is that it impressed upon the Prophet Joseph Smith a new understanding of the nature of God and Jesus Christ. Whatever concept of God Joseph Smith might have had before, there was no doubt in his mind after the First Vision about what kind of beings God and Jesus were. He obtained that understanding because he saw them and conversed with them.
In John 17:3 we read that "this is life eternal, that (we) might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent." To properly know God is more than seeing Him and even talking to Him, but to know His true nature is a necessary step to be able to develop the faith in Him that is necessary to gain eternal life and salvation. Thanks to the First Vision, the knowledge of the true nature of God was once again restored on the earth.
Joseph Smith’s account of the First Vision
A short time after his family moved to Manchester, New York, the young Joseph Smith witnessed an unusual religious excitement in the area. This region of the United States was called the "burned over district," because religious revivalism had reached a feverish pitch. Various sects of Christianity sponsored tent revivals, proselyted with zeal, and competed vigorously with other sects for converts. This excitement brought divisions in the community and even in his family. Joseph Smith recounts that he was unsure which of the various religious sects he should join.
His father's family had converted to the Presbyterian faith, and four members of his own family had joined the local church. For a time he considered joining the Methodist church, but Joseph was concerned because he realized that not everybody could be right. He asked himself, "If any one of them be right which is it? And how can I know which one is right?"
While searching the scriptures in the Spring of 1820, when he was only fourteen years old, Joseph came across the following verse in the first chapter of the Epistle of James:
- If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. (James 1:5)
Smith felt deeply impressed by this scripture. He later recalled, "never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine." (Joseph Smith—History 1:12) He decided to act upon his impression, and one morning went to a secluded grove of trees near the family's farm, knelt down, and began his first vocal prayer.
Almost immediately after starting his prayer, Joseph found himself engaged in a struggle with a demonic influence, which for a time completely inhibited his speech. A thick darkness gathered around him, and Joseph believed that he would soon be totally destroyed. However, he continued his prayer silently, asking for God's help. At the very moment when he was ready to sink into despair, he records:
- I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!  (Joseph Smith—History 1:16-17)
When Joseph recovered and was able again to speak, he asked the two personages which religious sect he should join. He was told not to join any of them, because all were teaching incorrect doctrines and had a form of godliness but "denied the power thereof."
The official account of Joseph Smith's First Vision can be found in the scriptures of the Church. It should be noted that Joseph gave eight separate accounts of this vision over the years. As one would expect, these accounts are not exact duplicates of one another, and some accounts leave out important details, but each provides a slightly different perspective on this remarkable event. The official account was chosen for that purpose both because it is the most complete of all the accounts and because it is the one Joseph wanted to publish to the world.
Video: Joseph Smith's First Vision
Video: Joseph Smith's First Prayer
To see a video of late President Gordon B. Hinckley at the Sacred Grove, click here.
Infographic: The Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ
- Joseph Smith's First Vision Accounts examines the differing accounts of Joseph Smith's vision.
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- Joseph Smith: Prophet, Revelator, Human; Interview with Richard Lyman
- FAIRlds:Joseph Smith's Foundational Accounts