Reconstructing Joseph Smith’s “First Vision”

6 thoughts on “Reconstructing Joseph Smith’s “First Vision””

  1. I like your interpretation. I wonder if Joseph experienced the vision repeatedly over time and was able to go deeper or understand more of it with time. It makes sense that it was a vision, not a literal appearance. It is consistent with so many others.
    Its so interesting to read the visions of other people.
    I long to experience this myself. When the student is ready the teacher appears….
    Thank you for what you do.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I think Joseph may have experienced something similar many times. The “light” of “Moroni” entering his room at night I think was a similar mystical “light” or illumination of mind, and did not literally take place in his room.


  2. Bryce, you wrote: “Perhaps the most conspicuous is that if God the Father and Jesus are not literally embodied persons living somewhere out there in the universe today, then they could not have actually appeared in Joseph’s vision as such.”

    I do know where you’re coming from, but I think you’re being short-sighted. After all, you and I are literally embodied persons. Even from a mystical point of view, there’s nothing to prevent God the Father and Jesus from also being literally embodied persons–which, by the way, they are. In some ways that’s the whole point: “Handle me and see.”

    Best wishes,


    1. Hi Jack. Thank you for your comment. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts. I wrote a couple previous posts about the nature of God the Father, and Jesus, where I explain more fully where I’m coming from:

      I note in these posts how I interpret that God resides in embodied persons, that I think this is the revelation of the Incarnation, God manifesting “Himself” throughout creation, including in humans. What I don’t believe is possible is that there is a man, or two men, living out in the universe somewhere known as the “Father” and the “Son.” I think this dualistic personified interpretation of divinity has failed for many people, and does not reconcile with what we now know about Earth, the evolution of humanity, or the universe. I suggest we need a new interpretation of the Godhead, a reconstruction of the narrative that makes more sense today.

      I think the “Father” and the “Son” reside within us, right here and now, in our body-minds, in all of humanity, and life itself. I suggest that God the “Father” has manifested “Himself” in us, spirit joining matter to form material beings, and this materialization of spirit in Life is the “Son.” In my interpretation, when we come to mystically realize we are one in God, when we “handle ourselves and see” the deep truth of our divine nature, the union of spirit and matter in our mind and body, then we realize the “Father” and the “Son” in us, as Jesus prayed we might (John 17:21-26). I think this may be a better interpretation of what Joseph experienced in his First Vision. The Godhead was not separate from Joseph, but one in him, qualities of Joseph’s divine nature and consciousness that were being revealed to him in his mind. And we may come to know this too, in ourselves.


      1. Bryce, you wrote, “I note in these posts how I interpret that God resides in embodied persons, that I think this is the revelation of the Incarnation, God manifesting “Himself” throughout creation, including in humans.”

        What you’re saying there isn’t wrong:

        “I am the true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” (D&C 93:2.)

        “The elements are the tabernacle of God; yea, man is the tabernacle of God, even temples.” (D&C 93:35.)

        It’s just that there is more to it than that:

        “Every soul who forsaketh his sins and cometh unto me, and calleth on my name, and obeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall see my face and know that I am.” (D&C 93:1.)

        As Joseph Smith said, “The appearing of the Father and the Son, in [John 14:23], is a personal appearance; and the idea that the Father and the Son dwell [ONLY] in a man’s heart is an old sectarian notion, and is false.” (D&C 130:3.)

        “When the Savior shall appear we shall see him as he is. We shall see that he is a man like ourselves.” (D&C 130:1.)

        “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also.” (D&C 130:22.)

        From a Zen point of view, it’s like this:

        “Hogen, a Chinese Zen teacher, lived alone in a small temple in the country. One day four traveling monks appeared and asked if they might make a fire in his yard to warm themselves. While they were building the fire, Hogen heard them arguing about subjectivity and objectivity. He joined them and said: There is a big stone. Do you consider it to be inside or outside your mind?
        “One of the monks replied: From the Buddhist viewpoint everything is an objectification of mind, so I would say that the stone is inside my mind.
        “Your head must feel very heavy, observed Hogen, if you are carrying around a stone like that in your mind.”

        The monk was arguing for subjectivity alone, but in true Zen realization, you understand that subjectivity and objectivity are not really different. You can’t have one without the other.

        You wrote, “What I don’t believe is possible is that there is a man, or two men, living out in the universe somewhere known as the “Father” and the “Son.” I think this dualistic personified interpretation of divinity has failed for many people.”

        That may be, but it doesn’t make that interpretation false. To “don’t believe” in that way means discounting the plain meaning of the scriptures, the historical record, and the statements of various witnesses.

        In the April 2018 General Conference, Elder Quentin L. Cook said, “Please be assured that senior Church leaders who preside over the divinely appointed purposes of the Church receive divine assistance. This guidance comes from the Spirit and sometimes directly from the Savior. Both kinds of spiritual guidance are given. I am grateful to have received such assistance.”

        That’s a pretty specific (and recent) witness.

        President George Q. Cannon said, “I know that God lives. I know that Jesus lives; for I have seen him! I know that this is the Church of God, and that it is founded on Jesus Christ, our Redeemer. I testify to you of these things as one that KNOWS—as one of the Apostles of the Lord—that He lives.” (The Deseret Weekly, Vol. LII, No. 20, Oct. 31, 1896, p. 610.)

        L. John Nuttal, who was a private secretary for Presidents John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff, confirmed this in his diary (and thus not for public consumption): “President George Q. Cannon and I have seen the Savior Jesus Christ and conversed with Him face to face and He has talked with me. (L. John Nuttal Diary, April 20, 1893.)

        Alexander Neibaur, one of Hugh Nibley’s grandfathers, was a Jewish convert to the Church.
        Shortly before his death, his son said to him: “Father, you have been telling us of your long and hard experience and we have listened with intense affection and interest. But let me ask you, is it worth it all? Wouldn’t you have been better off if you had remained with your people? Is the Gospel worth all this sacrifice?” Brother Neibaur replied, “Yes, yes! and more! I have seen my Savior! I have seen the prints in His hands. I know that Jesus is the Son of God. I know that this work is true, and that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. I would suffer it all and more, far more than I have suffered for that knowledge, even to the laying down of my body on the plains for the wolves to devour!” (Wenonal Shirley, From Judaism to Americanism.)

        In a Mormon Channel interview, Elder Richard G. Scott said, “That word “know” is a very important word for those fifteen men who are apostles. The sacred experiences and the confirmation—that there is a certainty that our Father in Heaven lives and that His Son, Jesus Christ, is our Savior—not a hope, not a belief, not a wish, but an absolute confirmed certainty. That is what I would wish to express as I conclude this opportunity to be with you. Our Father in Heaven is real. His Son, Jesus Christ, is real. I know that personally and bear certain witness because I know the Savior.”

        There are many more such statements, and I believe it’s short-sighted to ignore them, “mystify” them, or try to explain them away. So I repeat, even from a mystical point of view, there’s nothing to prevent God the Father and Jesus from also being literally embodied persons—just as you and I are literally embodied persons but also much, much more.


      2. Hi Jack. I’m sorry for the delay publishing your comment. For some reason your comments were going into my spam folder. I’ll have to keep a closer eye on that.

        Again, thank you Jack for sharing your thoughts. I think it is in this kind of dialogue where we can compare and contrast and consider different perspectives.

        In D&C 93:1, another way to consider this verse is to see God’s “face” in our Self, and know that “I Am.” We come to know that “I Am” in our Self, the “I Am” of our own Being, and this is realized as One in God. As St. Augustine wrote, seeing God “face to face” is contemplation, an inner seeing of things as they really are, reality as it really is, subject to subject. But these are not two subjects, but One Subject, pure contentless Consciousness or Awareness, that which knows “I Am.”

        In D&C 130:3, I suggest a “personal appearance” of the Father and the Son may also be an appearance in the “person” themself, and all people. I agree that they don’t “only” dwell in the human heart. They are manifest in our entire body, all beings, and throughout the Whole of creation. If we were to take John 14:23 even more literally, we might think they were moving in to our house, but this is clearly not the case. I suggest it has a more spiritual meaning of recognizing God in ourselves and all things.

        In D&C 130:1, yes, when the Savior appears, we will see that “he” is “like ourselves.” I suggest that a key to this verse is the last two words, “like ourselves.” We will see “him” because we have become like “him.” Like knows like. When we become purified of ego, we see the Savior in our Self because we have become just like “he” is, “purified even as he is pure” (Moroni 7:48). We see that pure consciousness in our Self.

        I think D&C 130:22 is quite like D&C 93:35. I suggest they are not saying different things, but the same thing. “The elements are the tabernacle of God.” “The [human being] is the tabernacle of God.” Our “flesh and bones” are that Body [Tabernacle] of the Father and the Son. God dwells in us. Paul noted this in 1 Corinthians too, in 3:16, and 6:19, and in 2 Cor. 6:16, and in several other places. Our body, our flesh, is the building, the temple, the dwelling place, the Body of God and God’s Spirit. We are God’s “House.”

        Thank you for sharing the Zen story. Yes, I agree that subjectivity and objectivity are not ultimately different (or separate). They are two sides of the same coin. We like to objectify many things, and I think we’ve unfortunately done this to God too. We’ve made God into an external dualistic object, something or someone “out there” apart from us (the subject). But if subject and object are not separate, but One, then that means God is not really external from us, but One in us, part of our own subjectivity, or subjective consciousness. And perhaps even far deeper than our typical egoic subjectivity, but the activity of Consciousness itself in which all dualisms of subjectivity/objectivity arise.

        We’ve lost that subjective element of God, and it seems that this is where God may truly be known. God can never be known as “an” object, a single “thing” out there, or even two people “out there.” God’s being pervades all creation, including ourselves, for in God “we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28). So we won’t find God as an object or objects anywhere “out there.” As St. Irenaeus – “We can never know God as an object but only by sharing in God’s own self-knowledge.” This happens inwardly, by participating in God’s knowing of Self in us, as the Subject, and in realizing the union of subject/object, mind/body, spirit/matter in us.

        One of the main reasons I think the dualistic personified literal interpretation of divinity is mistaken is because it doesn’t seem to reconcile with anything we now know about nature, or the universe, or the Earth, or the evolution of life and humanity on Earth. Human biology as it exists today has only been around for a couple hundred thousand years; before that, it didn’t exist as such. I suggest that our interpretation of the scriptures, historical record, and statements of various witnesses needs to be adjusted, updated, reframed, reinterpreted, reconstructed.

        I do think that “witnesses” of God may come in various ways, some more or less dualistic, and one of those that seems more dualistic is as a visionary projection of the mind in the mind’s eye. We may “see” God or Jesus as an external object in a vision or dream (perhaps as Joseph saw them), but I don’t think that means that they are literally external embodied persons somewhere. We don’t see them with our “natural eyes” as the scriptures attest (Moses 1:11), but our “spiritual eyes,” the eyes of our mind, heart, and spirit, inwardly. I think the personification perceived may be a familiar form that our minds use to construct and make meaning of nondual transcendent experiences.

        The 13th century Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart, noted, “Simple people imagine that they should see God as if he stood there and they here. This is not so. God and I, we are one in knowledge.” And, “I am converted into Him in such a way that He makes me one with His being, not similar. By the living God it is true that there is no distinction.” I perceive this is the ultimate unitive nondualistic vision of God, wherein it is realized that we are One.

        I think that we may converse with another person who has been so fully “converted” into Christ consciousness that we can “see” Christ in them, this purity, this light, this grace, this truth, this love. They reflect the Christ, this “anointed” whole/holy nature. I think this may be what happened between Peter and Jesus (Matthew 16:15-16). It’s interesting that it was not “flesh and blood” that revealed it to Peter, his natural bodily senses in simply looking upon Jesus’s body, but “my Father which is in heaven,” or by deep spiritual means.

        I do believe that the Father is real, and the Son is real. I would say that I know this from personal mystical experience. But I don’t think these may be found literally in two distinct embodied people living somewhere in the universe. I think that interpretation needs to be retired because it is in conflict with the truth we now know about the nature of the world. God is Truth. If we don’t update our interpretations according to new knowledge and understanding of the world, then I think spirituality may be lost. I think it is already being lost among many people, particularly young people. And when we lose spirituality, I think we lose our connection to ourselves, our humanity, and each other. We lose our sense of divinity, that which connects us as One in Love.


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