Joseph Smith’s Visions

Introduction

The visions argument is as follows:

P1. Joseph Smith claimed to have many visitations, alone or with others as part of the restoration of the church. 

P2. Each claimed visitation was either a lie, a hallucination, or genuine.

P3. Not all the claimed visitations were lies or hallucinations

C. Therefore at least one visitation was genuine 

Details below.

P1. Joseph Smith claimed to have many visitations, alone or with others as part of the restoration of the church. 

Each of the claimed visitations are recorded below: 

God the Father and Jesus in the grove

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! 1

Moroni’s first visit, at Joseph’s home – From 1823 to 1829, the angel Moroni appeared at least twenty times to Joseph Smith and others

While I was thus in the act of calling upon God, I discovered a light appearing in my room, which continued to increase until the room was lighter than at noonday, when immediately a personage appeared at my bedside, standing in the air, for his feet did not touch the floor.

He had on a loose robe of most exquisite whiteness. It was a whiteness beyond anything earthly I had ever seen; nor do I believe that any earthly thing could be made to appear so exceedingly white and brilliant. His hands were naked, and his arms also, a little above the wrist; so, also, were his feet naked, as were his legs, a little above the ankles. His head and neck were also bare. I could discover that he had no other clothing on but this robe, as it was open, so that I could see into his bosom.2

Moroni’s second visit, at Joseph’s home

After this communication, I saw the light in the room begin to gather immediately around the person of him who had been speaking to me, and it continued to do so until the room was again left dark, except just around him; when, instantly I saw, as it were, a conduit open right up into heaven, and he ascended till he entirely disappeared, and the room was left as it had been before this heavenly light had made its appearance.

I lay musing on the singularity of the scene, and marveling greatly at what had been told to me by this extraordinary messenger; when, in the midst of my meditation, I suddenly discovered that my room was again beginning to get lighted, and in an instant, as it were, the same heavenly messenger was again by my bedside.

He commenced, and again related the very same things which he had done at his first visit,3

Moroni’s third visit, at Joseph’s home

By this time, so deep were the impressions made on my mind, that sleep had fled from my eyes, and I lay overwhelmed in astonishment at what I had both seen and heard. But what was my surprise when again I beheld the same messenger at my bedside, and heard him rehearse or repeat over again to me the same things as before 4

Moroni’s fourth visit, outside in the field

I shortly after arose from my bed, and, as usual, went to the necessary labors of the day; but, in attempting to work as at other times, I found my strength so exhausted as to render me entirely unable. My father, who was laboring along with me, discovered something to be wrong with me, and told me to go home. I started with the intention of going to the house; but, in attempting to cross the fence out of the field where we were, my strength entirely failed me, and I fell helpless on the ground, and for a time was quite unconscious of anything.

The first thing that I can recollect was a voice speaking unto me, calling me by name. I looked up, and beheld the same messenger standing over my head, surrounded by light as before. He then again related unto me all that he had related to me the previous night, and commanded me to go to my father and tell him of the vision and commandments which I had received. 5

Angel with the Book of Mormon – with Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris and David Whitmer

It was a clear, open beautiful day, far from any inhabitants, in a remote field, at the time we saw the record, of which it has been spoken, brought and laid before us, by an angel, arrayed in glorious light, [who] ascend [descended I suppose] out of the midst of heaven. Now if this is human juggling—judge ye 6

John the Baptist, near Harmony, Pennsylvania – with Oliver Cowdery

An extract from Joseph Smith’s history recounting the ordination of the Prophet and Oliver Cowdery to the Aaronic Priesthood near Harmony, Pennsylvania, May 15, 1829. The ordination was done by the hands of an angel who announced himself as John, the same that is called John the Baptist in the New Testament. 

Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and of the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; and this shall never be taken again from the earth, until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness. 7

Peter, James and John – with Oliver Cowdery 

And also with Peter, and James, and John, whom I have sent unto you, by whom I have ordained you and confirmed you to be apostles, and especial witnesses of my name, and bear the keys of your ministry and of the same things which I revealed unto them; 8

Jesus at the Kirtland Temple – with Oliver Cowdery 

The veil was taken from our minds, and the eyes of our understanding were opened.

We saw the Lord standing upon the breastwork of the pulpit, before us; and under his feet was a paved work of pure gold, in color like amber.

His eyes were as a flame of fire; the hair of his head was white like the pure snow; his countenance shone above the brightness of the sun; and his voice was as the sound of the rushing of great waters, even the voice of Jehovah, saying:

I am the first and the last; I am he who liveth, I am he who was slain; I am your advocate with the Father. 9

Moses at the Kirtland Temple – with Oliver Cowdery 

After this vision closed, the heavens were again opened unto us; and Moses appeared before us, and committed unto us the keys of the gathering of Israel from the four parts of the earth, and the leading of the ten tribes from the land of the north. 10

Elias at the Kirtland Temple – with Oliver Cowdery

After this, Elias appeared, and committed the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham, saying that in us and our seed all generations after us should be blessed. 11

Elijah at the Kirtland Temple – with Oliver Cowdery 

After this vision had closed, another great and glorious vision burst upon us; for Elijah the prophet, who was taken to heaven without tasting death, stood before us, and said:

Behold, the time has fully come, which was spoken of by the mouth of Malachi—testifying that he [Elijah] should be sent, before the great and dreadful day of the Lord come 12

Heavenly messenger

In preparation for a religious service at which the sacrament of bread and wine was to be administered, Joseph set out to procure wine. He was met by a heavenly messenger and received this revelation, a portion of which was written at the time and the remainder in the September following.

Listen to the voice of Jesus Christ, your Lord, your God, and your Redeemer, whose word is quick and powerful. 13

Adam and Eve

Once after returning from a mission, he [Zebedee Coltrin] met Brother Joseph in Kirtland, who asked him if he did not wish to go with him to a conference at New Portage. The party consisted of Presidents Joseph Smith, Sidney Rigdon, Oliver Cowdery and myself [Zebedee Coltrin]. Next morning at New Portage, he noticed that Joseph seemed to have a far off look in his eyes, or was looking at a distance and presently he, Joseph, stepped between Brothers Cowdery and Coltrin and taking them by the arm, said, “Let’s take a walk.” They went to a place where there was some beautiful grass and grapevines and swampbeech interlaced. President Joseph Smith then said, “Let us pray.” They all three prayed in turn–Joseph, Oliver, and Zebedee. Brother Joseph then said, “Now brethren, we will see some visions.” Joseph lay down on the ground on his back and stretched out his arms and the two brethren lay on them. The heavens gradually opened, and they saw a golden throne, on a circular foundation, something like a light house, and on the throne were two aged personages, having white hair, and clothed in white garments. They were the two most beautiful and perfect specimens of mankind he ever saw. Joseph said, “They are our first parents, Adam and Eve.” Adam was a large, broad-shouldered man, and Eve as a woman, was a large in proportion. 14

Peter

Divine messengers attended the dedicatory services of the Kirtland Temple on March 27, 1836. After the dedicatory prayer was read, Frederick G. Williams arose “and testified that midway during the prayer an Holy Angel came and seated Himself in the stand.” Heber C. Kimball could see the personage from where he sat, describing him as “very tall . . . [with] black eyes, white hair, and stoop shouldered; his garment was whole, extending to near his ankles; on his feet he had sandals. He was sent as a messenger to accept of the dedication.” After a midday adjournment, the first thing Joseph Smith did was announce to those assembled that “the Personage who had appeared in the morning was the Angel Peter [who] had come to accept the dedication. 15 

Paul

By the Prophet Joseph, January 5, 1841. “At the organization of a school for instruction. Description of Paul: He is about five feet high, very dark hair; dark complexion; dark skin; large Roman nose; sharp face; small, black eyes, penetrating as eternity; round shoulders, a whining voice, except when elevated, and then it almost resembled the roaring of a lion. He was a good orator, active and diligent, always employing himself in doing good to his fellow man.” 16

Adam and Seth

Joseph’s Description of his Brother Alvin:

“He was a very handsome man, surpassed by none but Adam and Seth, and of great strength.” 17

Jesus

Thirteen-year-old Mary Elizabeth Rollins was present when one of these visitations transpired. She remembered the event occurring in 1831, at a meeting of Saints held at the Isaac Morley farm, where the Prophet was the main speaker. She recalled Joseph speaking very solemnly during the meeting. “All at once his countenance changed and he stood mute,” Rollins recounted. “Those who looked at him . . . said there was a search light within him, over every part of his body. I never saw anything like in on the earth. I could not take my eyes off of him. He got so white that anyone who saw him would have thought he was transparent. I . . . thought I could almost see the bones through the flesh.” The Prophet stood silent for several minutes before he asked those present if they knew who had been in their midst. Martin Harris told them it was the Savior, to which the Prophet responded that God had revealed that truth to Martin. He then said, “Brothers and Sisters, . . . the Savior has been here this night and I want to tell you to remember it. There is a vail [sic] over your eyes for you could not endure to look upon Him.” 18

Other visions or manifestations

On March 18, 1833, God and Jesus appeared to members of the School of the Prophets. Zebedee Coltrin said:

“At one of these meetings after the organization of the school, … when we were all together, Joseph having given instructions, and while engaged in silent prayer, kneeling, with our hands uplifted each one praying in silence, no one whispered above his breath, a personage walked through the room from East to west, and Joseph asked if we saw him. I saw him and suppose the others did, and Joseph answered that is Jesus, the Son of God, our elder brother. Afterward Joseph told us to resume our former position in prayer, which we did. Another person came through; He was surrounded as with a flame of fire.” 

In the presence of this personage, Coltrin “experienced a sensation that it might destroy the tabernacle as it was of consuming fire of great brightness.” Joseph Smith identified this personage as “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” On another occasion, Coltrin stated that as the Father passed through the room, the “glory and brightness was so great . . . that had it continued much longer, I believe it would have consumed us.” 19

President John Taylor said:

“the principles which [Joseph Smith] had, placed him in communication with the Lord, and not only with the Lord, but with the ancient apostles and prophets; such men, for instance, as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Noah, Adam, Seth, Enoch, and Jesus and the Father, and the apostles that lived on this continent as well as those who lived on the Asiatic continent. He seemed to be as familiar with these people as we are with one another” 20

Elder Orson Pratt said that Joseph Smith: 

“often received visits from Nephi, Moroni, Peter, James, John (the beloved), John (the Baptist), Elijah, Moses, the three Nephites, etc. etc.” 21

Other claimed visitations include:

  • Abraham (D&C 27:10)
  • Isaac (D&C 27:10)
  • Jacob (D&C 27:10)
  • Joseph the son of Jacob (D&C 27:10)
  • Satan (D&C 128:20)
  • Noah (D&C 128:21)
  • Raphael (D&C 128:21)
  • Mormon (JoD 17:374)
  • Lamech (JoD 18:235)
  • Abel (JoD 18:325)
  • Enoch (JoD 21:65)
  • The Jewish Apostles (JoD 21:94)
  • The Nephite Apostles (JoD 21:94)
  • Seth (JoD 21:94)
  • Methuselah (JoD 21:94)
  • Enos (JoD 21:94)
  • Mahaleel (JoD 21:94)
  • Nephi (JoD 21:161
  • Adam (HotC 2:380)
  • Alvin Smith (HotC 2:380)
  • Jared of the Bible (HotC 3:388) 
  • Cainan (HotC 3:388)
  • Zelph the Lamanite (T&S 6:788)
  • Paul (Teachings of JS, 180)
  • Eve (Oliver Huntington Diary, Part 2, 214)
  • Unnamed angel (Life of Heber C. Kimball, 106)

P2. Each claimed visitation was either a lie, a hallucination, or genuine.

Due to our confidence that these claims were real, there appears to be no other options however the argument should be extended if more options are considered.

Note that the option “genuine” still allows for a misinterpretation of the visitation, but still implies a genuine visitation took place. 

P3. Not all the claimed visitations were lies or hallucinations

When looking at the evidence it is difficult to argue that every claimed visitation was a lie (Joseph certainly lived as though he believed they were genuine through all the instances of persecution), or a hallucination (there are simply too many including with others). However were some lies or hallucinations? Perhaps, but we would still need to argue that all were lies or hallucinations. 

How confident are we that all the claimed visitations were lies or hallucinations?:

  • Neither Joseph nor the others ever recanted their testimonies of these events despite significant persecution.
  • Oliver Cowdery (who experienced a number of these claimed visitations) was described as an agreeable, irreproachable gentleman from those who knew him, seem far from a liar.

On the subject of lying, Dan Peterson has said:

Suppose, instead, that Joseph was consciously lying. How can this be squared with his surviving personal writings not intended for publication, including journal entries and letters to his wife and children, which breathe sincerity on every page? How does it account for his willingness to suffer greatly (in Liberty Jail, for instance, and during Zion’s Camp) and ultimately to die for his claims?

And, again, how would Joseph’s supposed dishonesty account for all of those co-witnesses? How, exactly, would it explain their experiences? 22

On the subject of hallucinations, again from Dan Peterson:

…many others — e.g., the Three Witnesses, the Eight Witnesses, Sidney Rigdon, Mary Whitmer, Emma Smith, Lucy Mack Smith, his siblings William and Katharine, etc. — shared revelatory experiences with him

Moreover, abundant data about those other co-witnesses demonstrates them to have been sane, sincere, respected and respectable, and, though at considerable personal cost, faithful to their testimonies. And there is no evidence — apart from his claimed revelatory encounters themselves — to indicate that Joseph Smith was prone to hallucination. But to assume in advance that his revelations were hallucinatory is to smuggle into the evidence the very conclusion under dispute, which is a manifest case of what logicians call “circular reasoning.” 23

C. Therefore at least one visitation was genuine 

Neither Joseph nor the others ever recanted their testimonies of these events. If at least one visitation is genuine then this serves as good evidence of the restoration of Christ’s Church.

  1. Joseph Smith History 1:17, see https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/pgp/js-h/1?lang=eng[]
  2. Joseph Smith History 1:30-49 see https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/pgp/js-h/1?lang=eng[]
  3. Joseph Smith History 1:43-45 see https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/pgp/js-h/1?lang=eng[]
  4. Joseph Smith History 1:46 see https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/pgp/js-h/1?lang=eng[]
  5. Joseph Smith History 1:48-49 https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/pgp/js-h/1?lang=eng[]
  6. Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris, in letter dated 29 November 1829, quoted in Corenlius C. Blatchly, “THE NEW BIBLE, written on plates of Gold or Brass,” Gospel Luminary 2/49 (10 Dec. 1829): 194.[]
  7. Doctrine & Covenants 13 https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/13?lang=eng[]
  8. Doctrine & Covenants 27:12 https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/27?lang=eng[]
  9. Doctrine & Covenants 110:2-10 https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/110?lang=eng[]
  10. Doctrine & Covenants 110:11 https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/110?lang=eng[]
  11. Doctrine & Covenants 110:12 https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/110?lang=eng[]
  12. Doctrine & Covenants 110:13-16 https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/110?lang=eng[]
  13. Doctrine & Covenants 27 https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/27?lang=eng[]
  14. Minutes of High Priest Meeting, Spanish Fork, Utah, February 5, 1870[]
  15. Alex Baugh July 26, 2007 https://devotional.byuh.edu/node/160[]
  16. Discourses of the Prophet Joseph Smith, compiled by Alma P. Burton, p.264[]
  17. History of The Church 5:246-247[]
  18. Alex Baugh July 26, 2007 https://devotional.byuh.edu/node/160[]
  19. Alex Baugh July 26, 2007 https://devotional.byuh.edu/node/160[]
  20. Journal of Discourses, 21:94[]
  21. Letter to John Christensen, 11 Mar. 1876, Archives Division, Church Historical Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.[]
  22. Dan Peterson. 2012. Defending the Faith: Joseph Smith’s account of the Restoration is difficult to counter. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/765571427/Joseph-Smiths-account-of-the-Restoration-is-difficult-to-counter.html. [Accessed 20 March 2017].[]
  23. Dan Peterson. 2012. Defending the Faith: Joseph Smith’s account of the Restoration is difficult to counter. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/765571427/Joseph-Smiths-account-of-the-Restoration-is-difficult-to-counter.html. [Accessed 20 March 2017].[]