I have often pondered the Joseph Smith History found in the Pearl of Great Price. As he told his story of what led him to seek divine guidance (resulting in the First Vision), Joseph described the spiritual atmosphere in his community. He related how confusing he found the doctrinal claims of various Christian denominations. Add to that the competitive air he sensed in the preachers of those churches, and he didn’t know where to turn. Joseph wrote,
“In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?” (Joseph Smith–History 1:10)
As Joseph continued his story, he described how, while he was trying to sort through these issues, he came across a passage in the Bible (James 1:5) which he understood to be instructing him to ask God which church was right.
Joseph described his encounter with the heavenly beings who appeared in answer to his prayer:
“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” (Joseph Smith–History 1:18).
I have always wondered about this; it looks like a contradiction. On one page of the History, Joseph wondered which of all the denominations was right, or if they were all wrong. On the next page of the History Joseph said up until that time (the First Vision) he had never even considered that they could all be wrong.
Though this has always puzzled me, I just figured there was something in the story that I was missing; that there is an explanation for the seeming contradiction. But after reading the September 2007 issue of the Ensign, I’m not so sure anymore.
In an article called “Seek Learning by Faith” LDS Apostle David A. Bednar tells Joseph’s story. After setting the stage up to the point of Joseph’s reading of James 1:5, Mr. Bednar said,
“Note the questions Joseph had formulated in his mind and felt in his heart — and which he took to the grove…
“‘In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?…
“‘My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right…and which I should join’ (Joseph Smith–History 1:10, 18).” (Ensign, September 2007, page 64)
Mr. Bednar quoted the same two verses from Joseph Smith–History that I quoted above; however, he omitted the words, “(for at this time it had never entered into my heart that all were wrong).” It is especially puzzling since Mr. Bednar was specifically calling his audience to “note the questions Joseph had formulated.”
Being naturally curious, when I saw Mr. Bednar’s omission I wondered why he chose to leave that part of Joseph’s question out of the quote. And when I noted that the omission neatly removed any appearance of contradiction in the text, I wondered if that was Mr. Bednar’s intent. This, in turn, makes me wonder if perhaps it is a contradiction and there’s not explanation for it after all.
What do you think?