I understand that Mormons respect and revere Joseph Smith. I get that. I really do. Yet sometimes the way he’s talked about, even in an official sense, seems a bit over the top. In the February 2009 Ensign magazine former Seventy F. Burton Howard wrote,
“If Joseph saw what he claimed to have seen, and I testify that he did, then in sharing his [First] vision he did more than any man who has ever lived to reveal the nature, character, and mission of the Lord Jesus Christ to the world.” (Hearing and Heeding the Message from the Grove, Ensign, February 2009, page 12)
As the official First Vision story goes (Joseph Smith—History 1:16-20), when Joseph came out of the sacred grove and told his story, this is what he revealed about “the nature, character, and mission of Jesus Christ to the world”:
- He is a personage whose brightness and glory defies all description
- He is a separate Being from God the Father
- He is the beloved Son of God the Father
- He condemned all churches, all creeds, and all who believe those creeds
That’s it. That is what Joseph sharing his vision contributed to the world’s understanding of Jesus Christ. Has any man who has ever lived ever revealed more?
Consider the teachings of the apostle John. In the first chapter of his Gospel account he revealed,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:1-4)
A few verses later he revealed,
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
Further on John revealed,
The next day [John the Baptizer] saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:29-34)
Then later the apostle John revealed,
And [Jesus] said to [Nathanael], “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:51)
John wrote twenty additional chapters in his Gospel account alone, all filled with majestic revelation of “the nature, character, and mission of Jesus Christ to the world.” In sharing his vision, did Joseph Smith really reveal more? Do Mormons actually think he did?
Let me give Mr. Howard the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps his claim was taking the First Vision story as merely a starting point, much as did LDS Prophet Gordon B. Hinckley who said that once one had a belief that the First Vision story was true, “All else that follows would be true.” In that case, it could be said that Joseph Smith taught far more about Jesus Christ than the four points coming from his First Vision story. Nevertheless, even apart from my firm affirmation that much of what Joseph “revealed” about Jesus was false, to say that he revealed more on the subject than any man who ever lived is preposterous.
Joseph Smith may have done some impressive things during his lifetime; however, we would do well to keep excessive adulation at bay.