The number of prophets who have claimed to have seen God is very small:  Moses, and Joseph Smith.  The First Vision is known as one of the most unique visions in all of religion. But it turns out that accounts of Methodist visions were common in Joseph’s day.  Is it true that Joseph’s First Vision may not have been as unique as we thought?  Historian Dan Vogel tackles that question. He believes something happened to Joseph Smith in 1820 or 21, but doesn’t think it was a vision.  Was Joseph’s experience similar to Methodist visions?

Dan:  People at the revival, especially Methodist ones, would get religious enthusiasm, as they called it. They would get all excited and some people would have heavenly visions. Some people would see Jesus.  Forget about the revivals, a lot of ministers at the time, when they wrote their autobiographies would write about their conversion story, and it would include seeing Jesus or some experience with deity, a born-again type experience.  This is what I would suggest that Joseph Smith really had–we’ll eventually get to that, and that the story evolved over time.

Dan:  The 1832 account has Joseph Smith concluding that all the churches are false, at the age of 12, like his parents. Lucy, and Joseph Smith, Sr. had both made the same conclusion, that all of the churches were false. But it wasn’t tied to they [the churches] didn’t have authority. They were just corrupted by the traditions of men. No one’s thinking of, “Oh, they don’t have priesthood authority, because Christians didn’t think that way.” Catholics did [think that way], but Protestants didn’t think of, “Oh, we have authority and the Catholics don’t,” or whatever. Protestants got their authority to baptize because the Bible commanded that you be baptized, and that is the authority, the commandment coming from the Bible. Whereas Joseph Smith said, “No, it has to come from revelation.” So, when the angel commands to baptize or you got a revelation through the stone to baptize, that is a new revelation, and that is the new authority. So he has current authority, current revelation. That is the original concept of authority, before there were any stories of angelic ordinations. But, in the 1832 account, Joseph Smith has already concluded there’s no church. So when he goes to pray, he’s not asking which church is true. He’s asking, “How am I going to be saved? There’s no true church. They’re all apostate, and what am I to do?” Jesus appears and basically, confirms his belief that there the world liest under sin and all that, and says that those who believe on my name shall be saved. So it’s very close to a revival experience. You have faith in Jesus and you’re saved.

GT : Almost a born again kind of experience?

Dan:  That’s what I say. What I say is, if you take Jesus out of it, it would be born again experience. So, why does he have to see Jesus?

GT:  You think he basically in 1820 or ‘21, did have a born again experience?

Dan:  Yes.

There has been a discrepancy as to when the Melchizedek Priesthood was restored.  Was it in June of 1829, 1830, or 1831?  Historian Dan Vogel weighs in on the controversy and makes a case for later than the official Church story.

GT: Okay, so it sounds to me like you’re making a pretty strong case for the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood being 1831, which really wasn’t known about until 1835. Is that what you’re saying?

Dan   Yeah, 1835.  Alma Chapter 13 talks about the high priesthood and associates the high priesthood with Melchizedek.  So in June 1831, it’s the high priesthood that is given to elders, and for time it was the elders with more authority. It wasn’t a separate office at first.  It takes several months before it becomes the high priest office, but it was elders that had the high priesthood. So, that high priesthood, of course, because Alma is going to be associated with Melchizedek, and that’s why it says for the first time.  The eldership wasn’t associated with Melchizedek. So in the church you had, for a while, elders.  Elders were the charismatic leaders of the church, and the teachers, priests and deacons. were under elders.

GT:  Yeah. So from what I understand, I spoke with Greg Prince about a year and a half ago, one of the things he said was when the church was very first organized, you had elders, priests and teachers. Those are the only three authorized.

Dan:  Right, deacon came a little later.

GT:  Deacon and Bishop came when Sidney Rigdon was baptized, and he said the Bible has Bishop and Deacon and so those were added later, both to the Aaronic priesthood, but it sounds like..

Dan:  There’s no Aaronic, yet.

GT:  So it was just the priesthood. Okay. I’m trying to remember because Quinn also delves into this and it sounded like elders were kind of like, “We’re not sure if they’re Aaronic or Melchizedek,” because it was kind of confusing.

Dan:  Elders and then the High Priests were separate.  Not until the expansion of D & C 107 were elders included in the High Priesthood and formed two layers.

Dan will also weigh in on Michael Marquardt’s claim that the Church was restored in Manchester, rather than Fayette.  Here are some questions for you.

  • Dan does think Joseph had a religious experience in 1820-21, but does not believe it was a vision. Do you agree or disagree? Why?
  • Was the Church founded without Melchizedek Priesthood? Why or why not? Are you persuaded by Dan’s reasoning?
  • Are First Vision discrepancies a big deal to you? Explain.
  • Do you think evidence indicates the Church was founded in Manchester, rather than Fayette?