I have some concerns regarding the First Vision accounts. I’ve studied all of the available accounts and have notes on the four that are summarized on the church essay. These are:
1832: The earliest known account of the First Vision, the only account written in Joseph Smith’s own hand, is found in a short, unpublished autobiography Joseph Smith produced in the second half of 1832.
1835: In the fall of 1835, Joseph Smith recounted his First Vision to Robert Matthews, a visitor to Kirtland, Ohio. The retelling is recorded in Joseph’s journal by his scribe Warren Parrish.
1838: The narration of the First Vision best known to Latter-day Saints today is the 1838 account. First published in 1842 in the Times and Seasons.
1842: Written in response to Chicago Democrat editor John Wentworth’s request for information about the Latter-day Saints, this account was printed in the Times and Seasons in 1842.
My first concern has to do with the nature of the experience. Was there an actual visitation or was it merely a vision seen with the mind’s eye? Two of them support the latter. Here’s what the accounts say:
1832: “a piller of light above the brightness of the sun at noon day come down from above and rested upon me and I was filled with the spirit of god and the Lord opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord”
1835: “a pillar of fire appeared above my head, it presently rested down upon me head, and filled me with Joy unspeakable, a personage appeard in the midst of this pillar of flame”
1838: “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.”
1842: “while fervently engaged in supplication my mind was taken away from the objects with which I was surrounded, and I was enwrapped in a heavenly vision and saw two glorious personages”
My biggest concern is the discrepancy regarding who visited Joseph. Here’s what the accounts say:
1832: “and I saw the Lord”
1835: "a personage appeard in the midst of this pillar of flame which was spread all around, and yet nothing consumed, another personage soon appeard like unto the first…and I saw many angels in this vision"
1838: “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.”
1842: “and saw two glorious personages who exactly resembled each other in features, and likeness, surrounded with a brilliant light which eclipsed the sun at noon-day”
I am also concerned about what was said. The first two accounts do not say anything about the churches of the time. Here’s what the accounts say:
1832: “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 crucifyed 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 asside 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 acording to th[e]ir ungodliness and to bring to pass that which hath been spoken by the mouth of the prophets and Ap[o]stles behold and lo I come quickly as it [is] written of me in the cloud clothed in the glory of my Father”
1835: “he said unto me thy sins are forgiven thee, he testified unto me that Jesus Christ is the Son of God”
1838: "One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!...I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right (for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong)—and which I should join. I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong..."
1842: “They told me that all religious denominations were believing in incorrect doctrines, and that none of them was acknowledged of God as his church and kingdom. And I was expressly commanded to ‘go not after them,’ at the same time receiving a promise that the fulness of the gospel should at some future time be made known unto me.”
I understand people share different details in different ways when telling a story, especially if the story covers a long period of time and many people are involved. However, the First Vision was a single event and those involved were very significant. If Joseph really were visited by God the Father and Jesus Christ, that’s an important enough detail to remember clearly and mention in every account.