On a spring day in 1820 14-year-old Joseph Smith sought solitude in a grove of trees and prayed to know which church was true. God the Father and Jesus Christ, “two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description,”1 appeared and spoke with him.
Wondering which of the many churches to join, Joseph had followed the counsel in the Bible’s book of James: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God” (James 1:5). The Lord told Joseph “that all the religious denominations were believing in incorrect doctrines”2 and that he was to await further instructions from on high. “In a state of calmness and peace indescribable,”3 Joseph left that Sacred Grove knowing the reality of our Father in Heaven and His resurrected Son, Jesus Christ.
Joseph Smith’s First Vision4 stands today as the greatest event in world history since the birth, ministry, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. After centuries of darkness, the Lord opened the heavens to reveal His word and restore His Church through His chosen prophet.5
Joseph Smith Quotes
“I retired to a secret place in a grove, and began to call upon the Lord; 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, who exactly resembled each other in features and likeness, surrounded with a brilliant light which eclipsed the sun at noon day” (History of the Church, 4:536).
“I had actually seen a light, and in the midst of that light I saw two Personages, and they did in reality speak to me; and though I was hated and persecuted for saying that I had seen a vision, yet it was true. . . . I had seen a vision; I knew it, and I knew that God knew it, and I could not deny it, neither dared I do it; at least I knew that by so doing I would offend God, and come under condemnation” (Joseph Smith—History 1:25).
“The Lord does reveal himself to me. I know it. He revealed himself first to me when I was about fourteen years old, a mere boy. . . . I kneeled down, and prayed, saying, ‘O Lord, what Church shall I join?’ Directly I saw a light, and then a glorious Personage in the light, and then another personage, and the first personage said [of] the second, ‘Behold this is my beloved Son, hear him’” (interview by David Nye White, Aug. 1843, published in “The Prairies, Nauvoo, Joe Smith, the Temple, the Mormons, etc.,” Pittsburgh Weekly Gazette, Sept. 15, 1843, 3; reprinted in The Papers of Joseph Smith, ed. Dean C. Jessee, 2 vols. [1989–92], 1:444).
Brigham Young, Second President of the Church, 1847–1877
“Joseph Smith, Jr., . . . became a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, and [the Lord] informed him that he should not join any of the religious sects of the day, for they were all wrong; that they were following the precepts of men instead of the Lord Jesus; that he had a work for him to perform, inasmuch as he should prove faithful before him” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young , 96).
Gordon B. Hinckley, 15th President of the Church, 1995–2008
“I thank my Father in Heaven for the testimony I have of the reality of the First Vision. I have stood among the trees where Joseph knelt as a boy, and heard the whisperings of the Spirit that it happened as he said it happened” (“My Testimony,” Ensign, Nov. 1993, 51.)
Thomas S. Monson, 16th President of the Church, 2008–2018
“The Prophet . . . declared that as he retired to the grove to pray, this was the first time he had attempted to pray vocally to his Heavenly Father. But he had read the scripture [James 1:5], he had understood the scripture, he had trusted in God his Eternal Father; and now he knelt and prayed, knowing that God would give him the enlightenment which he so earnestly sought” (“The Prophet Joseph Smith: Teacher by Example,” Ensign, June 1994, 4).
What is the significance of the First Vision?
“In all of recorded religious history there is nothing to compare with it. The New Testament recounts the baptism of Jesus when the voice of God was heard and the Holy Ghost descended in the form of a dove. At the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John saw the Lord transfigured before them. They heard the voice of the Father, but they did not see him.
“Why did both the Father and the Son come to a boy, a mere lad? For one thing, they came to usher in the greatest gospel dispensation of all time, when all of previous dispensations should be gathered and brought together in one” (Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Marvelous Foundation of Our Faith,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2002, 80).
Are there other accounts of the First Vision?
Joseph Smith prepared four accounts of his First Vision, recorded in 1832, 1835, 1838 (now in the Pearl of Great Price), and 1842. Four other accounts, recorded by contemporaries, include those by Orson Pratt in 1840, Orson Hyde in 1842, David Nye White in 1843, and Alexander Neibaur, who listened to Joseph’s experience in May 1844, just weeks before the martyrdom. An early convert, Edward Stevenson, recalled the Prophet saying, “I am a witness that there is a God, for I saw Him in open day, while praying in a silent grove, in the spring of 1820.” Said Stevenson, “O how these words thrilled my entire system, and filled me with joy unspeakable—to behold one who, like Paul the apostle of olden time, could with boldness testify that he had been in the presence of Jesus Christ!” (in Joseph Grant Stevenson, ed., Stevenson Family History , 1:21).
How long had Joseph prepared to go to the grove to pray?
It was a two-year period. In his earliest written account of the First Vision, Joseph indicated that from about the age of 12 he had “concerns for the welfare of my immortal soul, which led me to searching the scriptures, . . . [and] pondered many things in my heart concerning the situation of the world” (History 1832, p. 2, Letter Book 1, 1829–35, Joseph Smith, Collection, Church History Library, Salt Lake City; spelling and punctuation modernized; reprinted in Dean C. Jessee, comp., Personal Writings of Joseph Smith , 10).
Online Resources at ChurchofJesusChrist.org
- “The First Vision”—Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual (Church Educational System manual, 2003), 29–36
- “God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, Appeared to the Boy Prophet”—in “Joseph Smith: First President of the Church,” Presidents of the Church Student Manual (Church Educational System manual, 2004), 5
- “The First Vision”—Our Heritage: A Brief History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (1996), viii–4
- “Additional Details from Joseph Smith’s 1832 Account of the First Vision”—in “Joseph Smith: First President of the Church,” Presidents of the Church Student Manual (Church Educational System manual, 2004), 5–6
Online Resources at BYU
- “The Early Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision”—Dean C. Jessee, BYU Studies, vol. 9, no. 3 (1969), 275–94
Accounts from a letterbook, penned by Frederick G. Williams; from the “large journal,” penned by Warren A. Cowdery; and from the A-1 history book, penned by James Mulholland.