Not too long ago, I sat through an Elders Quorum lesson about the First Vision. The teacher, who I like and who generally does a good job, was leading a paint-by-numbers sort of discussion (Q: “What do we learn from The First Vision”; A: “God has a body”). As usual for this topic, the lesson had its share of omissions (no mention of the other accounts) and historical missteps (“No one else in 1820 believed that God and Christ were separate beings”). All in all, it was a fairly typical meeting and, to be honest, I was zoning out.
But then, quite unexpectedly, the lesson took a decidedly more interesting turn. The instructor focused on one seemingly minor detail of Joseph’s account that, despite having read it dozens of times, came as a surprise to me: “He again forbade me to join with any of them; and many other things did he say unto me, which I cannot write at this time.” (JS-H 1:20).
To be honest, I had totally forgotten about Joseph’s private conversation with God. Of course, the notion of God forbidding his prophets from writing down something he has told or shown them is not new. But what makes this 15-word passage (which is not mentioned again in the History) particularly interesting is that Joseph never was shy about sharing what he felt had been revealed to him. Furthermore, as far as I know, he never revealed what “other things” God had told him during that experience.
The teacher then posed a question, which I now present for your consideration: what unwritten things do you think God said to Joseph at that moment?
Since that lesson, I have given quite a bit of thought to what God might have told the 14-year old Joseph. As far as I know, Joseph never clarified this ambiguity. In the absence of such an explanation, here is the best I can do:
For us looking back, the purpose of the First Vision was the restoration of the Gospel — the re-opening of the heavens, the beginning of the last dispensation, the kingdom of God once again on the Earth, etc. But for Joseph, all of that was well in the future. For him, the experience was of a much more narrow and personal scope — God forgave his sins and answered his prayer (a point made even more prominently in the earliest versions of the experience). What was to come in subsequent years likely was far beyond even his wildest dreams at the time. God, on the other hand, knew what was in the cards for his chosen Prophet. With that in mind, I like to imagine that this “off-the-record” time was a moment when God stepped out of his role of “Restorer” and into his role as “Father.”
I have three daughters and, many times, I can see danger ahead long before they do. Countless times I have pulled their bikes out of the path of approaching cars, yanked their hands out of doorjambs, and scooped them up before they left the sidewalk. I’m no superhero, that’s just part of the job of being a father. Perhaps in that moment, as Joseph stood on the precipice of a brand new life as God’s “chosen one” — a life filled with suffering, loss, and persecution culminating in his murder — God took a brief sidebar to warn his child of the dangers ahead, to express his appreciation for him, and to tell him, “I love you.” Speaking as a father, that makes a lot of sense to me. Speaking as a fellow child of God, that brings me peace.
Your speculation, of course, is as good as mine. What do you think?
Thank you for your insight and reminder that many VERY important things have occured that we oftimes “run right over” and don’t notate or remember. Your point of omission of exact information from this part of the most important vision should give us all an invitation to MORE closely, more carefully read EVERY word of passages and personal accounts of our Prophets and leaders……so as to NOT miss some VERY special parts / points.
In reference to your question…..what are the possible things God might have said to Joseph?…is based solely upon my own experience, not speculation. When Heavenly Father has spoken to me, it is consistantly based upon brief, succinct, insightful encouragment and direction about THE most important thing/s that will lift and correct me…a combination of perfect…few words…oftimes employing some of which I need to consult the dictionary to get a clear and complete definition to FULLY “get” and apply. He never gives us a personal command without a fulness of support, spoken and unspoken. For me, he advises the “HOW” …to do it..with any warnings or the most important addendums related.
I think Joseph was definitely given very special personal communication from Father to son / Savior to son / to fill him with all things NEEDED and required to accomplish his eternal role….which to me, might include a Priesthood Blessing.
“. . . historical missteps (”No one else in 1820 believed that God and Christ were separate beings”).
Can you elaborate on this? I know that Joseph Smith was not the only one to experience “First Visions” of Jesus, but I am not aware of any examples of separate beings beliefs.
The words Heavenly Father spoke to young Joseph were probably very similar to those spoken in a Patriarchal blessing.
A most intriguing thought, Shawn, and I suspect your guess isn’t a bad one. I think God’s basic nature is that of a loving parent who desires the best for his children and enjoys spending time with them. The picture of God speaking to a young man, giving him encouragement and direction, is a very appealing one. Of course we’ll never know what was said, but isn’t that part of a close relationship, keeping confidences and giving correction in private so as not to embarrass?
As to the separate beings, let me offer this perspective.(By way of disclosure, let me add that I am neither Trinitarian nor LDS.) Unitarians held this belief, though for them Jesus tended to be a man rather than a divine personage. Still, William E. Channing believed that Christ worked miracles and the like. A similar belief was held by Barton W. Stone, the founder of the Restorationist group known as the Christians. (They joined with Campbell’s Disciples of Christ in 1832.)
More relevant is the fact that few “orthodox” believers hold to true Trinitarian beliefs. Either they downplay the distinction among the Persons of the Trinity (so most Evangelicals, who go out of their way to prove, “Jesus is God”) or they functionally and mentally divide them. Note that a good deal of Western art portrays the Father as a separate and distinct person vis a vis Jesus. For that matter, I think the Bible does so as well. To put it in historical terms, the Trinitarians might have won the theological battle, but the Arians (who saw the Son as a divine being distinct from the Father) won the popular and conceptual war. The reason for this is simple enough: Trinitarian thought is far too complex (and I would personally add dubious) to enjoy widespread popular appeal. Consequently, I see Joseph Smith’s contribution as making explicit what many people before his time and since believe implicitly (even if they are unaware of the “heretical” nature of their understanding.)
The truly novel thing about Smith’s thought is not that the Father and the Son are distinct personages, but that the Father has a physical body. I think you would have to do a lot of digging to find someone in the Jewish/Christian Tradition who held such a view from the time of Second Temple Judaism on. That such a view was held in ancient Israel before that time is obvious from the stories of the Patriarchs and of Moses. There is also a good chance that the idea that Yahweh had a consort (in LDS terms, a Heavenly Mother) was also present in ancient Israel, though this takes a bit of reading behind and between the lines of the Hebrew Scriptures. (BTW, I haven’t seen much on the subject of the Heavenly Mother in LDS theology, but am not conversant enough with the subject to know if such material exists. Can anybody offer me some insight or a reference on this topic?)
How exactly did Joseph’s experience tell him that God has a physical body? that what he said he saw could not have been a spirit?
Great discussion. I was once reading the church’s Presidents of the Church institute manual, and found this in it:
(Quoting Joseph from one of the accounts of the first vision)
“And the Lord opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord and he spake unto me saying, ‘Joseph, my son, thy sins are forgiven thee. Go thy way, walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments. Behold, I am the Lord of glory. I was crucified for the world that all those who believe on my name may have eternal life. Behold, the world lieth in sin at this time, and none doeth good, no not one. They have turned aside from the gospel and keep not my commandments. They draw near to me with their lips while their hearts are far from me. And mine anger is kindling against the inhabitants of the earth to visit them according to this ungodliness and to bring to pass that which hath been spoken by the mouth of the prophets and apostles. Behold and lo, I come quickly, as is written of me, in the cloud, clothed in the glory of my Father.’ And my soul was filled with love, and for many days I could rejoice with great joy and the Lord was with me but could find none that would believe the heavenly vision” (Joseph Smith, “Kirtland Letter Book” [MS, LDS Historian’s Library], 1829–1835, 1–6, cited in Dean C. Jessee, “The Early Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision,” BYU Studies, vol. 9, no. 3, Spring 1969, 279–80; the original spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and grammar have been altered to conform to contemporary usage).
This Institute manual can be found online at:http://www.ldsces.org/inst_manuals/pres-sm/manualindex.asp
I just thought that was interesting. Obviously we don’t know much more than that of what else the Lord told Joseph in the first vision, but what a beautiful introduction to this dispensation.
An early Mormon pioneer by the name of Eliza Snow wrote a hymn called “O My Father.” Verse 3 states,
” I had learned to call thee Father, Through thy Spirit from on high,
But until the key of knowledge Was restored, I knew not why.
In the heavens are parents single? No, the thought makes reason stare!
Truth is reason, truth eternal Tells me I’ve a mother there. “
Many mormons believe in a Heavenly Mother, but there is not really an official church statement affirming such. The idea of family is so integrated in Mormon belief, that most Mormons consider it “common knowledge” that a Heavenly Mother exists. There is some interesting historical background at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O_My_Father
David, I just finished skimming this: http://www.signaturebookslibrary.org/women/chapter1.htm#Heaven before I came over here. I haven’t given it an in-depth reading, but you may find it interesting.
Smith’s understanding of the nature of Deity underwent at least one metamorphosis after his 1830 Vision. The current “official” version of Smith’s vision, written in 1838 (I believe) states that he saw two personages. Earlier versions mention only one. And the official version says nothing about physical bodies. In fact, that wasn’t Smith’s understanding: his 1835 Lectures on Faith (canonized and published by the Church) states that only the Father or the Son (I forget which, just now) has a physical body, while the other has a body of spirit.
There is nothing in the First Vision account that dictates either personage had a physical body – and there are multiple ways I can envision Joseph reaching different conclusions at first. (For example, if he wasn’t touched by any resurrected Being for a while, it would be easy to assume spirit – or if he got what we would term a Priesthood blessing from Christ but not the Father, it would be easy to assume spirit for one and physical body for another – or any number of other scenarios.)
Daivd, belief in a Heavenly Mother is part and parcel of Mormon theology. It’s kind of hard to avoid when eternal progression is described as “becoming like God as a sealed companionship” and “creating spirit children”. There’s not much in the way of official pronouncements ABOUT Heavenly Mother, but “heavenly parents” is mentioned often in General Conference by our apostles and prophets, in the Gospel Essentials manual used to teach the Sunday School class for investigators and new members, etc. As MH says in #6, it’s pretty much taken as a given.
If you are interested in doing some extensive reading, I would suggest going to lds.org, clicking on the “Search” button at the top of the page (or the search option within the “Gospel Library”category), choosing “All Church Content”, and typing in “Heavenly Mother” and “heavenly parents”. There are over 200 references (some of which are duplicates) that you can read.
“and many other things did he say unto me, which I cannot write at this time.” In the Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyer talk about three levels of information (I’m totally paraphrasing, probably badly): Level 1 – cannot be understood, Level 2 – cannot be expressed, Level 3 – can be expressed, but with many errors and misunderstandings. They stated that Level 3 is the best we have in human religious communication. When I read that, I was reminded of this statement in 3 Nephi 17:
“14 And it came to pass that when they had knelt upon the ground, Jesus groaned within himself, and said: Father, I am troubled because of the wickedness of the people of the house of Israel. 15 And when he had said these words, he himself also knelt upon the earth; and behold he prayed unto the Father, and the things which he prayed cannot be written, and the multitude did bear record who heard him.
16 And after this manner do they bear record: The eye hath never seen, neither hath the ear heard, before, so great and marvelous things as we saw and heard Jesus speak unto the Father; 17 And no tongue can speak, neither can there be written by any man, neither can the hearts of men conceive so great and marvelous things as we both saw and heard Jesus speak; and no one can conceive of the joy which filled our souls at the time we heard him pray for us unto the Father.”
It is so very human of us to wonder what “other things” might have been discussed at that time. However, we enter into a dangerous realm when we begin to move beyond thinking “that’s interesting; I wonder what that might have been?” and dropping it, to speculation about the specifics.
There are other times when people have had things revealed to them that they were told to keep to themselves. Mary “kept these things and pondered them in her heart”, the Book of Mormon prophet (whose name escapes me at the moment) who had a vision of the last days and was told not to write it because that was someone else’s stewardship (John’s as he wrote the book of Revelations) are just two such examples. Some things are so deeply spiritual they cannot be spoken or written. (See 3 Nephi 17:16-17.)
We live in a time in which we feel we have a “need to know” or a “right” – so much so that we often speculate on those things we know exist but are kept from us. It’s difficult for us to let those things be, but particularly when those things are of such a sacred nature, leave them we must. If we truly do need to know, then we will be told.
The fact is, we can speculate from now until the millenium, but it won’t bring us closer to the Lord. It will more likely take us from the things we really do need to spend our time pondering. Would it be interesting to know? Sure. But if he didn’t see fit to tell us, then we’re better off dropping it and getting on with our lives – and learning the lesson we were really meant to learn from that statement, namely: There are things that will happen in your life, too, that are too sacred or personal to be shared, so don’t.
I’ve been increasingly ambivalent about the idea of how much certainty we have about the nature of God based on the First Vision. For one thing, this was a vision, and not everything seen in vision is literally true. For another thing, the important things in this vision were that God was speaking to men, and that there were fatal problems in all existing churches that made it unwise to join them, and that Joseph had a special role to play due to being chosen for this experience. Another important issue was that ordinary individuals could have profound spiritual experiences if they asked God in faith.
I have also become more aware of the phrase “the eyes of our understanding,” and how literally things witnessed through them should be understood and accepted.
David — The Arians may have won the Father-Son separation point, but they definitely did not win the “Jesus was created” point. At least a few Arians wanted to make Jesus the new kid on the god-block so they could make him younger and, by implication, inferior to gods like Zeus, who had been around a long time. That aside, I find your points quite interesting. The more I’ve learned about Trinitarianism, the more I’ve seen the same problems you’ve raised, and I’ve wondered about how many people who nominally believe in the Nicene Creed actually believe in the details of the Trinity. I’ve found it amusing that the Trinity can’t really be comprehensibly explained, but that I’m not a “Christian” because I don’t believe it, but somebody who doesn’t understand it is because they do.
I always assumed the other things were the very things he talks about in previous tellings of the same event but leaves out in this one. I don’t see any reason that it must be any more than that.
Could it be that these kind of speculations might lead to greater spiritual insight? Are we not supposed to ponder upon the scriptures, or is that only for prophets to do? After all, couldn’t section 138 of the D&C be considered a speculation of Joseph F Smith?
<b?Are we not supposed to ponder upon the scriptures
My thoughts go to scriptures similar to the one Hawkgrrl mentioned:
3 Nephi 26:18: And many of them saw and heard UNSPEAKABLE THINGS which are not lawful to be written;
3 Nephi 16:16: even babes did open their mouths and utter MARVELOUS THINGS; and the THINGS which they did utter were forbidden that there should not any man write them
3 Nephi 26: 9 and if it shall so be that they shall believe THESE THINGS then shall the GREATER THINGS be made manifest unto them
3 Nephi 26: 6 and there cannot be written in this book even a hundredth part of the THINGS which Jesus did truly teach unto the people
D&C 100:11 and he shall be a revelator unto thee, that thou mayest know the certainly of ALL THINGS pertaining to the THINGS of my kingdom on the earth
Acts 1:3 being seen of them forty days, and speaking of THE THINGS pertaining to the kingdom of God
D&C 90:5 And all they who receive the oracles of God, let them beware lest they are accounted as a LIGHT THING
Ephesians 1:10 That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one ALL THINGS in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him
D&C 124: 42 And I will show unto my servant Joseph ALL THINGS pertaining to this house, and the priesthood thereof, and the place wheron it shall be built.
Matthew 17:11 Elias truly shall first come, and restore ALL THINGS
One would think that a better descriptive word could be used than THINGS in all these cases. Why couldn’t Matthew have said something like “Elias truly shall first come, and restore all prinicples and ordinances of the gospel necessary for salvation and exaltation”? Yet it (“things”) seems to be used for sacred matters rather consistently. Perhaps it is related to the three levels of information that Hawk described. I do like the reference to the “oracles of God”. If one is an oracle as defined by Webster, he is held to give divinely inspired answers or revelations. D&C 90:5 explains that if one who receives the oracles of God holds them as a light thing, they are brought under condemnation. This may not explain what was discussed in Josephs private conversation with God, but it may explain why it is not shared.
When you read the first four accounts (two major and two passing) of Smith’s “First Vision”, which are quite accessible in “Opening The Heavens” edited by John Welch, you realize this was a very personal experience. Only in the 1832 account does Smith write he shared this experience with others and “could find none that would believe the hevenly (sic) vision”. There is no evidence Smith shared this early vision with any family members, Bushman has said the Smith family did not know about this vision until the 1830s. The vision “filled [him] with love”, “great joy”, and he “could rejoice”. The message was clear in the two major accounts. Smith was forgiven for his sins and the world is in sin, it has “turned asside (sic) from the gospel” and the Lord would come quickly and he would bring to pass what had been spoken by the mouths of the prophets and Apostles. Nothing about words he could not write.
If you look up on Rick Grunder’s “Mormon Parallels” you will find quite a few interesting sources for Mother in Heaven and two separate personages. One minister wrote that four out of five “ordinary” people believed in separate personages in 1812.