The Visions of Joseph Smith
Devotional Talk Given at
Brigham Young University–Hawaii
July 26, 2007
Visiting Professor, Religion
Joseph Smith the seer ushered in the dispensation of the fullness of times. His role was known and prophesied of anciently. The Lord promised Joseph of Egypt that in the last days a “choice seer” would come through his lineage (2 Nephi 3:7; JST Genesis 50:27-28). “That seer will the Lord bless,” Joseph prophesied, specifically indicating that “his name shall be called after me” (2 Nephi 3;14-15; see also JST Genesis 50:33). Significantly, in the revelation received during the organizational meeting of the Church on April 6, 1830, the first title given to the first elder was that of seer: “Behold, there shall be a record kept . . . and in it thou [Joseph Smith] shalt be called a seer, a translator, a prophet, an apostle of Jesus Christ” (D&C 21:1).
In the Book of Mormon, Ammon defined a seer as one who possessed “a gift from God” to translate ancient records (Mosiah 8:13; see also 28:11-16). However, the seeric gift is not limited to translation, hence Ammon’s additional statement that “a seer is a revelator and a prophet also; and a gift which is greater can no man have” (Mosiah 8:16). In actuality, a seer is a see-er. Among other gifts and powers, he sees visions, which visions are seen with spiritual eyes.
Visions can take various forms. Personal visitations or appearances of deity, angels, or even Satan and his emissaries certainly come under the heading of visions. Visions can also include seeing vivid images where the veil is lifted from an individual’s mind in order to see and comprehend the things of God. Certain dreams could be considered visions, particularly when heavenly or spiritual messages are conveyed. Finally, certain revelations received through the Urim and Thummim mediums such as the Nephite interpreters and the seer stone may also be classified as visions.
While the visions received by Joseph Smith were also revelatory experiences, revelations were not always visionary. Hence, in researching Joseph Smith’s visions, I attempted to distinguish between visions and other kinds of inspiration or revelation. More often than not, when a vision was involved, the wording of the source material indicated that a vision–not a more general “revelation”–had been received. However, in some instances, the visual nature of the experience was not quite clear. This difficulty in determining what actually constitutes a vision is illustrated by the following example. In January 1841, Joseph Smith gave a detailed description of the Apostle Paul’s physical appearance and mannerisms:
He is about five foot high; very dark hair; dark complexion; dark skin; large Roman nose; sharp face; small black eyes, penetrating as eternity; round shoulders; a whining voice, except when elevated and then it almost resembles the roaring of a Lion. He was a good orator active and deligent [sic], always employing himself in doing good to his fellow men.
A cursory reading of the Prophet’s statement might lead to the conclusion that his knowledge of Paul’s physical characteristics could have been learned only by means of a vision. However, the Prophet’s description actually resembles depictions of Paul found in familiar apocryphal writings. Thus, while Joseph may have received an actual vision of Paul, he possibly gained his understanding of the ancient Apostle’s appearance from the traditional Christian literature of the day and accepted it as accurate.
Three major points became apparent as I researched Joseph Smith’s visions. First, and perhaps most remarkable, is the sheer number of visions the Prophet received. The majority of these visions are not found in the standard works but pervade the Prophet’s own history and the records kept by contemporaries who were present when a vision was received or when Joseph Smith spoke about his sacred communications. As I began collecting the accounts of the visions, I realized that any attempt to total the number of visions would risk excluding some, since evidence of visions relies upon documentation, and some visions may have been purposely unrecorded. Of one vision Joseph remarked, “I could explain a hundred fold more that I ever have of the glories of the kingdoms manifested to me in the vision were I permitted, and were the people prepared to receive them.”
Second, the Prophet was privileged to receive so many visions that is appears they became almost commonplace experiences for him. For example, in 1843 he said, “It is my meditation all the day, and more than my meat and drink, to know how I shall make the Saints of God comprehend the visions that roll like an overflowing surge before my mind.” Perhaps because his visionary experiences were so frequent, he often left out details or failed to record certain events altogether.
Finally, in a number of instances, others witnessed Joseph Smith’s visionary experiences or were present when the Prophet had visions, often seeing the manifestation with him. The recorded statements of these witnesses and co-participants give additional testimony and credibility to the reality of the Prophet’s seeric experiences.
The most magnificent and certainly the most historically and doctrinally significant theophany occurred in the Sacred Grove in spring 1820, when the Father and the Son–and “many angels,” according to Joseph’s 1835 account–ushered in the opening of the Restoration. This initial spiritual manifestation has appropriately come to be known among Latter-day Saints as the “First Vision,” a title that recognizes that more visions soon followed. Although Joseph Smith was privileged to have additional visions of the Father and the Son later, the First Vision is the only known instance between 1820-1830 that the young prophet was privilege to have a vision of either of these two members of the Godhead. Historical evidence demonstrates that the Restoration was brought to pass primarily through the ministration of angels and other forms of revelation than by direct appearances of either of these two supreme deities.
Of the heavenly messengers who personally appeared to the youthful prophet in the years 1820-30, Moroni was the most regular visitor. In total, twenty-two appearances by the last survivor of the Nephite nation can be documented. But Moroni was not Joseph’s only seeric tutor. Statements and testimonies by some of the Prophet’s contemporaries reveal that the young seer was visited and taught by numerous ancient prophets and apostles. In the Wentworth Letter, published in the Times and Seasons in March 1842, Joseph Smith stated, “After having received many visits from angels of God unfolding the majesty and glory of the events that should transpire in the last days, on the morning of the 22nd of September, A.D. 1827, the angel of the Lord delivered the records into my hands.”
Joseph never mentioned publicly, as far as we know, who these angelic ministrants were, but his close associates spoke of these appearances. John Taylor gave some indication of their identity:
"The Principles which he had, placed him in communication with the Lord, and not only with the Lord, but with the ancient apostles and prophets; such men, for instance, as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Noah, Adam, Seth, Enoch, and . . . the apostles that lived on this continent as well s those who lived on the Asiatic continent. He seemed to be as familiar with these people as we are with one another."
Lucy Mack Smith had fond memories of Joseph’s maturing years and recalled some of the things her son learned from these interviews, particularly from the ancient American prophets. “During our evening conversations, Joseph would occasionally give us some of the must amusing recitals that could be imagined,” Lucy said, continuing:
"He would describe the ancient inhabitants of this continent, their dress, mode of traveling, and the animals upon which they rode; their cities, their buildings, with every particular; their mode of warfare; and also their religious worship. This he would do with as much ease, seemingly, as if he had spent his whole life with them."
During this early period, the youthful prophet received many visions through the medium of “Urim and Thummim”–sometimes a seer stone and, more particularly, the Nephite interpreters. Both of these instruments apparently operated in much the same spiritual manner, and through them Joseph received an undetermined number of visions in addition to the translation of the Book of Mormon. The young prophet obtained a seer stone, described as dark brown in color, while digging a well for Willard Chase around 1822. This discovery occurred only two years after the First Vision and one year before Moroni’s first visits. Joseph made use of the seer stone for five years before obtaining the Nephite interpreters from Moroni in 1827. Latter-day Saints should not be surprised to learn that prior to being engaged specifically in the work of the Lord–that is, prior to beginning the work of the translation of the plates–the youthful Joseph apparently recognized that God had given him visionary powers enabling him to see supernatural visions in a wide variety of areas. Between 1822 and 1827, he successfully obtained an unspecified number of visions by means of the seer stone. He even gained a reputation for such activities, which may explain why such men as Josiah Stowell, who lived more than one hundred miles away, near South Bainbridge, New York, sought out Joseph Smith and employed him to locate buried treasure in the fall of 1825.
Two examples of Joseph’s ability to receive visions by means of a seer stone illustrate the power associated with the Prophet and this instrument. At Joseph’s annual visit to the Hill Cumorah in September 1826, Moroni told him that he could have the plates the following year if, in Joseph Knight’s words, “he Brot [sic] the right person.” Knight recounted this conversation further:
“Who is the right Person?” The answer was you will know. Then he looked in his glass and found it was Emma Hale, Daughter of old Mr. Hail of Pensylvany, a girl that he had seen Before, for he had Bin Down there Before with me. . . . He came to me perhaps in November and worked for me until about the time that he was Married . . . and I furnished him with a horse and Cutter to go and see his girl Down to Mr. Hails. And soon after this he was Married and Mr. Stowel moved him and his wife to his fathers in Palmyra Ontario County.
David Whitmer learned during his very first meeting with Joseph that, by means of the seer stone, Joseph was able to see in detail actions many miles away. In late May of 1828, at the request of Oliver Cowdery and Joseph, David traveled from Fayette, New York, over one hundred miles to Harmony, Pennsylvania, to take the two men back to his father’s farmhouse so they could complete the translation. As he neared Harmony, he was surprised to meet Joseph and Oliver, who “were coming toward me, and met me some distance from the house.” David reported further:
"Oliver told me that Joseph had told him when I started from home, where I had stopped the first night, how I read the sign at the tavern, where I stopped the next night and that I would be there that day before dinner, and this was why they had come out to meet me, all of which was exactly as Joseph had told Oliver, at which I was greatly astonished."
Moroni gave Joseph possession of the plates, breastplate, and interpreters on September 22, 1827. When Joseph Smith first put on the spectacles, “his entire past history [was] revealed to him,” David Whitmer recounted. This experience, Whitmer believed, helped Joseph recognize the greater supernatural power God had now given him. Joseph Knight Sr., who was at the Smith home in Palmyra when Joseph returned from the Hill Cumorah, remembered conversing with Joseph about the sacred relics the morning after he gained possession of them. “It is ten times Better than I expected,” he remembered Joseph saying. He recalled further the Prophet’s particular fascination with the spectacles. “He seamed to think more of the glasses or the urim and themmem then [than] he Did of the Plates,” wrote Knight, “for, says he, ‘I can see any thing; they are Marvelus.’” Indeed they were, for as the Prophet’s mother, Lucy Mack Smith, recalled, by means of the instrument “the angel showed him many things which he saw in vision.” One major purpose of the spectacles (and also the seer stone) was to help protect the plates and Joseph’s life. Lucy said her son “always kept the Urim and Thummim about his person” so “he could also ascertain, at any time, the approach of danger, either to himself or the Record.”
Joseph Smith never detailed the method or procedure of translation. However, Martin Harris, who assisted with the translation of the first 116 pages in 1828, and David Whitmer, a firsthand observer who lent assistance beginning in June 1829, gave some particulars. Harris gave the following testimony:
"Sentences would appear and were read by the Prophet and written by Martin, and when finished he would say, “Written,” and if correctly written, that sentence would disappear and another appear in its place, but if not written correctly in remained until corrected, so that the translation was just as it was engraven on the plates, precisely in the language then used."
David Whitmer stated a similar procedure for the translation:
Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing in closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated but the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man.
Clearly, the main purpose of the interpreters or the seer stone was to assist the seer in the translation of the Book of Mormon. The testimonies of Emma Smith and David Whitmer agree that the Prophet used the Nephite interpreters to translate the first 116 pages, thereafter, the seer stone was used, both instruments being essentially a “urim and thummim.” In essence, every time Joseph translated he was seeing some kind of vision. Soon after the translation of the Book of Mormon was complete, visions using the seer stone as a medium seemed to cease. David Whitmer remembered Joseph saying that “we would all have to depend on the Holy Ghost hereafter to be guided into truth and obtain the will of the Lord.”
Between 1831 and 1836, Joseph Smith was privileged to see both the Father and the Son in vision on at least four occasions. The first of these occurred on June 4, 1831, during a four-day conference held in Kirtland. Levi Hancock was present and stated that the vision occurred in a schoolhouse on the hill above the Isaac Morley farmhouse, about one mile northeast of the Newel K. Whitney store. Hancock reported that the elders were meeting together when Joseph “stepped out on the floor and said, ‘I now see God, and Jesus Christ at his right hand, let them kill me, I should not feel death as I am now.’” Hancock’s wording suggest a vision similar to that experienced by Stephen, who saw the Father and the Son before being stoned before Jewish accuser (Acts 7). Considering the persecution Joseph was continually experiencing, he must have considered death a long-desired relief from his sufferings.
Joseph Smith and his spokesman, Sidney Rigdon, saw the Father and the Son in 1832 in the vision now canonized as Doctrine and Covenants section 76. Often, discussion of this vision focuses on the degrees of glory, perdition, and the attendant requirements for each. However, the highlight of the section is a vision of the Father and the Son which vision was apparently of considerable length. The manifestation led them to write, “The glory of the Lord shone round about. And we beheld the glory of the Son, on the right hand of the Father, and received of his fulness; And saw the holy angels, and them who are sanctified before his throne, worshiping God, and the Lamb, who worship him forever and ever” (D&C 76:19-21). So powerful was the vision of what they both saw and heard, they chose to bear testimony of the Savior, a testimony declaring “that he lives! For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father” (D&C 76:22-23).
On March 18, 1833, God the Father and the Son also made a brief personal appearance to members of the School of the Prophets. Zebedee Coltrin left this testimony:
"At one of these meetings after the organization of the school, ... when we were all together, Joseph having given instructions, and while engaged in silent prayer, kneeling, with our hands uplifted each one praying in silence, no one whispered above his breath, a personage walked through the room from East to west, and Joseph asked if we saw him. I saw him and suppose the others did, and Joseph answered that is Jesus, the Son of God, our elder brother. Afterward Joseph told us to resume our former position in prayer, which we did. Another person came through; He was surrounded as with a flame of fire."
In the presence of this personage, Coltrin “experienced a sensation that it might destroy the tabernacle as it was of consuming fire of great brightness.” Joseph Smith identified this personage as “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” On another occasion, Coltrin stated that as the Father passed through the room, the “glory and brightness was so great . . . that had it continued much longer, I believe it would have consumed us.”
On January 21, 1836, Joseph Smith received at least two, and possibly three, visions of different events. In one of these visions, he saw “the blazing throne of God, whereon was seated the Father and the Son” and those who became heirs of the celestial kingdom. It is this portion of the vision that has been canonized as Section 137.
In addition to the four appearances of the Father and Son during this five-year span (1831-36), historical sources reveal that Joseph Smith saw Jesus Christ separately on four occasions. Thirteen-year-old Mary Elizabeth Rollins was present when one of these visitations transpired. She remembered the event occurring in 1831, at a meeting of Saints held at the Isaac Morley farm, where the Prophet was the main speaker. She recalled Joseph speaking very solemnly during the meeting. “All at once his countenance changed and he stood mute,” Rollins recounted. “Those who looked at him . . . said there was a search light within him, over every part of his body. I never saw anything like in on the earth. I could not take my eyes off of him. He got so white that anyone who saw him would have thought he was transparent. I . . . thought I could almost see the bones through the flesh.” The Prophet stood silent for several minutes before he asked those present if they knew who had been in their midst. Martin Harris told them it was the Savior, to which the Prophet responded that God had revealed that truth to Martin. He then said, “Brothers and Sisters, . . . the Savior has been here this night and I want to tell you to remember it. There is a vail [sic] over your eyes for you could not endure to look upon Him.”
During an intimate meeting in Kirtland on December 18, 1833, the Prophet experienced a singular vision of the premortal Jehovah ministering to Father Adam in mortality. Oliver Cowdery noted that while Joseph Smith was setting apart his father, Joseph Smith Sr., as Patriarch to the Church, “the visions of the Almighty were open to his view,” and he beheld a great ancient council meeting at Adam-ondi-Ahman held three years previous to Adam’s death. “The Lord appeared unto them,” Cowdery recorded, and “administered comfort unto Adam.” In July 1839, during a meeting with the Twelve and the Seventy, Joseph Smith briefly recounted the vision. “I saw Adam in the valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman,” he said. “The Lord appeared in their midst, and he (Adam) blessed them all.”
Joseph Smith had two additional visions of the Savior during the week of the dedication of the Kirtland Temple. The Prophet’s history for March 30, 1836, three days after the formal dedication, states that “the Savior made His appearance,” while “angels ministered unto others.” Although Joseph did not give any additional information concerning this manifestation, Harrison Burgess, a member of the Seventy, was present and provided the following recollection:
"I was in a meeting for instruction in the upper part of the [Kirtland] Temple, with about a hundred of the High Priests, Seventies and Elders . . . and I beheld the room lighted up with a peculiar light such as I had never seen before. It was soft and clear and the room looked to me as though it had neither roof nor floor to the building and I beheld the Prophet Joseph and Hyrum Smith and Roger Orton enveloped in the light: Joseph exclaimed aloud, “I behold the Savior, the Son of God” . . . . All who were in the room felt the power of God . . . the remembrance of which will remain with me while I live upon the earth.
On Sunday, April 3, 1836, Joseph and Oliver, perhaps feeling that a manifestation was about to take place, retired to the veiled Melchizedek Priesthood pulpits in the Kirtland Temple, where a glorious vision of the Lord was opened to them. As stated in Doctrine and Covenants section 110, the first and second elder saw Jesus Christ “standing upon the breastwork of the pulpit. . . . His eyes were as a flame of fire; the hair of his head was white like the pure snow; his countenance shone above the brightness of the sun” (110:2-3). This occasion is the last documented vision of Joseph Smith seeing the Lord Jesus Christ. In summary, including the First Vision, there is documentation for five visions of the Father and the Son together, and four visions of the Savior individually, totaling nine.
During his years as Church President, Joseph Smith also had visions of, manifestations about, and visitations from ancient prophets and apostles. Father Adam was among the prophets most frequently seen. During the decade of the 1830s, Joseph Smith saw Adam in vision on at least three occasions. The two most familiar accounts are included in scripture as found in D&C 107:53-57 (which I briefly alluded to earlier) and D&C Section 137. However, the most personal account of Adam in vision is not recorded in scripture. In April 1834, the Prophet held a conference of the Church at New Portage, Ohio. There Joseph asked Oliver Cowdery and Zebedee Coltrin to walk with him “to a place where there was some beautiful grass, and grapevines,” Coltrin later recounted. The Prophet then requested they each pray in turn. After praying, Joseph said, “‘Now breth[r]en . . . we will see some visions.’” Joseph laid on the ground, and Oliver and Zebedee rested their heads on his outstretched arms. “The heavens gradually opened,” Coltrin recalled, and the brethren “saw a golden throne, on a circular foundation, something like a light house, and on the throne were two aged personages, having white hair, and clothed in white garments.” These personages were “the two most beautiful and perfect specimens of mankind” Coltrin had ever seen. Joseph stated they were “our first parents, Adam and Eve.” Coltrin remembered Adam as a “large broadshouldered man, and Eve as a woman . . . large in proportion.”
The Prophet also saw other angelic ministrants and prophets. As the Kirtland Temple neared completion in early 1836, an outpouring of spiritual appearances by heavenly beings began. On January 21, at a meeting held in the not-yet-dedicated temple, angels ministered unto those present, the Prophet reported, “ as well as my self. . . . For we all communed with the h[e]avenly host’s.” Recorded in the Prophet’s journal for the next day, January 22, is a comparable occurrence: “The heavens were opened, and angels ministered unto us. . . . [They] mingled their voices with ours, while their presence was in our midst.” On January 28, Joseph saw another glorious vision, which he did not describe.
Divine messengers attended the dedicatory services of the Kirtland Temple on March 27, 1836. After the dedicatory prayer was read, Frederick G. Williams arose “and testified that midway during the prayer an Holy Angel came and seated Himself in the stand.” Heber C. Kimball could see the personage from where he sat, describing him as “very tall . . . [with] black eyes, white hair, and stoop shouldered; his garment was whole, extending to near his ankles; on his feet he had sandals. He was sent as a messenger to accept of the dedication.” After a midday adjournment, the first thing Joseph Smith did was announce to those assembled that “the Personage who had appeared in the morning was the Angel Peter [who] had come to accept the dedication.”
On the evening of the dedication day, the priesthood quorums met in the temple. It was during this meeting that a pentecostal outpouring transpired. The Prophet’s history states:
A noise was heard like the sound of a rushing mighty wind, which filled the Temple, and all the congregation simultaneously arose, being moved upon by an invisible power; many began to speak in tongues and prophesy; others saw glorious visions; and I beheld the Temple was filled with angels, which fact I declared to the congregation. The people of the neighborhood came running together (hearing an unusual sound within, and seeing a bright light like a pillar of fire resting upon the Temple), and were astonished at what was taking place.
Two or three days later, the leading brethren and quorums met to perform anointings. On this occasion, noted Heber C. Kimball noted, “the beloved disciple John was seen in our midst by the Prophet Joseph, Oliver Cowdery, and others.”
The most significant manifestation during this spiritual season in Kirtland occurred a week after the dedication, when the Lord appeared and accepted the temple and the sacrifice of the Saints which has been referred to earlier. Then, following that theophany, the great lawgiver, Moses, appeared and bestowed the keys of gathering. His appearance was followed by a personage, whom the Prophet simply called Elias, who restored the keys associated with the dispensation of the gospel of Abraham. Finally, Elijah bestowed the keys of the sealing power upon the first and second elders, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery (D&C 110:11-16).
The Prophet experienced at least one face-to-face spiritual encounter with Satan at Far West, Missouri, which is worth recounting. Heber C. Kimball related the incident:
One of his children was taken very sick; he laid his hands upon the child, [but] when it got better; as soon as he went out of doors, the child was taken sick again; he again laid his hands upon it, so that is again recovered. This occurred several times, when Joseph inquired of the Lord what it all meant; . . . he had an open vision, and saw the devil in person, who contended with Joseph, face to face, for some time. He said it was his house, it belonged to him, and Joseph had no right there. Then Joseph rebuked Satan in the name of the Lord, and he departed and touched the child no more.
Time will not permit additional discussion about many additional visions that can be documented which Joseph Smith experienced, but they are many and varied. For example, he stated he received a vision showing him where the precise location for the temple in Independence, Missouri. Historical sources indicate he had at least two visionary experiences while on Zion’s Camp. In addition, there is evidence to show that the Prophet received at least some of his understanding regarding Church councils and quorum organization (particularly the Seventy) by visionary means (see (D&C 107:93). Additional visions include: (1) a vision of the future size of the Church, (2) future encounters with individuals, (3) visions showing the design and construction of the Independence, Kirtland,. Far West, and Nauvoo temples, (4) future catastrophic events , (5) and at least one vision of the resurrection of mankind. In short, over seventy visionary experiences can be documented.
On October 9, 1843, Joseph Smith spoke at the funeral services of James Adam. “Could you gaze into heaven five minutes,” he remarked, “you would know more than you would by reading all that ever was written on the subject.” He was privileged to view the heavens not just for five minutes but for extended periods on many occasions. It can be safely concluded that Joseph Smith received more visions than any other prophet, past or present. His receiving numerous visions occurred in part because he was called and appointed to bring about the “restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began” (Acts 3:21).
But Joseph’s calling as a seer also came because of his spiritual capacity and sensitivity. As Brigham Young taught, “There are thousands in the world who are natural born Seers, but when the Lord selected Joseph Smith to be his vice-regent and mouthpiece upon the earth in this dispensation he saw that he would be faithful and honor his calling.”
Extolling the visionary gifts of Joseph Smith, President John Taylor penned a poem entitled “The Seer,” which was later set to music by Ebenezer Beesley. A portion of the first stanza reads:
The seer;–the seer:–Joseph the seer–
I’ll sing of the Prophet ever dear:
His equal now cannot be found,–
By searching the wide world around.
With Gods he soared, in the realms of day;
And men he taught the heavenly way.
The earthly seer! the heavenly seer,
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
He gazed on the past, on the present too;–
And ope’d the heav’nly world to view.
I testify that Joseph Smith Jr. was a prophet and a revelator, but perhaps most of all he was a seer.
But what about us? Are we excluded from receiving visions? Are such things reserved only for prophets? Significantly, Joseph Smith himself taught, “ God hath not revealed anything to Joseph, but what He will make known unto the Twelve, and even the least Saint may know all things as fast as he is able to bear them.”
I close with a statement by Elder Bruce R. McConkie:
It is not position in the Church that confers spiritual gifts. It is not being a bishop, a stake president, or an apostle that makes revelation and salvation available.... It is not a call to a special office that opens the windows of revelation to a truth seeker. Rather it is personal righteousness; it is keeping the commandments; it is seeking the Lord while he may be found. God is no respecter of persons. He will give revelations to me and to you on the same terms and conditions. I can see what Joseph Smith . . . saw . . . and so can you. I can entertain angels and see God . . . and so can you. There are goals to gain, summits to climb, revelations to receive. In the eternal scope of things we have scarcely started out on the course to glory and exaltation. The Lord wants his Saints to receive line upon line, precept upon precept, truth upon truth, revelation upon revelations, until we know all things and have become like him.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
. The Hebrew chazah comes from “the usual word for ‘see’ in the various dialects of Aramaic, . . . referring both to the natural vision of the eyes and to supernatural visions of various kinds.” G. Johannes Botterweck and Helmer Ringgren, eds., Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1980), 4:281-82. The manner in which revelation was received by the Old Testament seers is not entirely clear, but it predominantly involved hearing the word of the Lord at nihgt, although the eyes were also “somehow involved” (4:285). The obscure Hebrew term chazah is translated in the Greek LXX as blepon, literally “looker,” and then translated into English as “seer.”
. John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1987), 258. Orson F. Whitney stated: “A seer is one who sees. But it is not the ordinary sight that is meant. The seeric gift is a supernatural endowment.” Orson F. Whitney, Saturday Night Thoughts: A Series of Dissertations of Spiritual, Historical and Philosophic Themes (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1921), 39. See also Steven C. Walker, “Seer,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow, 4 vols. (New York: Macmillan, 1992), 3:1292-93.
. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, eds., The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph (Orem, Utah:Grandin, 1991), 59. See also Joseph Fielding Smith, comp., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1872), 180. The Prophet compared his description of Paul to John C. Bennett’s appearance. For more on how Bennett may have resembles the ancient apostle, see Ehat and Cook, Words, 82, n.2.
. See J.K. Elliott, The Apocryphal New Testament: A Collection of Apocryphal Christian Literature in an English Translation (Oxford: Clarendon, 1993), 364.
. Joseph Smith Jr., History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ed. B.H. Roberts, 2d ed., rev., 7 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1958), 5:402 (hereafter cites as History of the Church).
. History of the Church, 5:362.
. For a general discussion and overview of Joseph Smith’s visionary experiences, see Larry C. Porter, “Visions of Joseph Smith,” in Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4:1512-16. For an examination of Joseph Smith’s visionary contemporaries, see Richard L. Bushman, “The Visionary World of Joseph Smith,” BYU Studies 37, no. 1 (1997-98): 183-204.
. See H. Donl Peterson, “Moroni: Joseph Smith’s Tutor,” Ensign 22 (January 1992): 22-29; Peterson, “Moroni: Joseph Smith’s Tutor,” in Larry C. Portor, Milton V. Backman Jr., and Susan Easton Black, eds., Regional Studies in Latter-day Saints Church History: New York (Provo: Department of Church History and Doctrine, Brigham Young University, 1992), 49-70; and Robert J. Woodford, “Book of Mormon Personalities Known by Joseph Smith,” Ensign 8 (August 1978): 12-15. See also H. Donl Peterson, Moroni: Ancient Prophet, Modern Messenger (Bountiful: Horizon, 1983).
. Dean C. Jessee, ed., The Papers of Joseph Smith, 2 vols. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989-92), 1:431.
. John Taylor, in JD, 21:94, April 13, 1879. For additional statements concerning the heavenly beings who appeared to Joseph Smith, see JD, 13:47; 18:326; 20:174-75; 21:65; 21:161, 163; and 23:48-49.
. Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith, the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool: Published for Orson Pratt by S.W. Richards, 1853), 85. See also Woodford, “Book of Mormon Personalities,” 12.
. Willard Chase, in Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unveiled (Painesville, Ohio: Eber D. Howe, 1834), 241-42. For eyewitness descriptions of the seer stone, see Richard Van Wagoner and Steve Walker, “Joseph Smith: ‘The Gift of Seeing’” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 15 (summer 1982): 59.
. See Richard L. Bushman, Joseph Smith and the Beginnings of Mormonism (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984), 69-70, 97, 103.
. Dean Jessee, “Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History,” BYU Studies 17, no. 1 (1976): 31-32.
. Cook, David Whitmer Interviews, 27. For slightly different accounts, see Cook, David Whitmer Interviews, 41, 48-49, 114-115, 123, 191, 213, 215.
. Cook, David Whitmer Interviews, 150.
. Jessee, “Joseph Knight’s Recollection,” 33.
. Smith, Biographical Sketches, 106.
. Smith, Biographical Sketches, 106.
. For recent discussions of translation, see Neal A. Maxwell, “By the Gift and Power of God,” Ensign 27 (January 1997), 36-41; Royal Skousen, “Translating the Book of Mormon: Evidence from the Original Manuscript,” in Noel B. Reynolds, ed., Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1997), 61-93; John W. Welch, The Sermon at the Temple and the Sermon on the Mount: A Latter-day Saint Approach (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1990), 130-44; Stephen D. Ricks, “Joseph Smith’s Means and Methods of Translating the Book of Mormon” (Provo, Utah: FARMS paper, 1986); John W. Welch and Tim Rathbone, “The Translation of the Book of Mormon: Basic Historical Information” (Provo, Utah: FARMS paper, 1986).
. Edward Stevenson, “One of the Three Witnesses: Incidents in the Life of Martin Harris,” Millennial Star 44 (February 6, 1882): 86-87.
. David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ (Richmond, Mo.: n.p., 1887), 12.
. “Now the first that my translated, [the book] was translated by the use of the Urim, and Thummim, and that was the part that Martin Harris lost, after that he used a small stone.” Emma Smith Bidamon to Emma Pilgrim, March 27, 1870, in Dan Vogel, ed., Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1996), 532. David Whitmer stated:
This unpardonable carelessness [of giving Martin Harris the manuscript] evoked the stormiest kind of chastisement from the Lord, who took from the prophet the urim and thummum [sic] and otherwise expressed his condemnation. By fervent prayer and by otherwise humbling himself, the prophet, however, again found favor, and was presented with a . . . stone . . . which, it was promised, should serve the same purpose as the missing urim and thummim. . . . With this stone all of the present Book of Mormon was translated. (Cook, David Whitmer Interviews, 200; see also 72, 156-57, 175, 230)
. Whitmer, Address to All Believers, 32. The seer stone passed through a series of owners. Soon after the translation of the Book of Mormon was complete, Joseph Smith gave the stone to Oliver Cowdery, who possessed the stone until his death in 1848. That same year Phineas Young visited Oliver’s widow, Lucy Cowdery, and persuaded her to give it to him. He returned to Salt Lake City and presented it to his brother, Brigham Young. The stone has remained in the possession of the Church since that time. See Whitmer, Address to All Believers, 32; Cook, David Whitmer Interviews, 200; Zina Young Card to F.D. Richards, July 31, 1896, F.D. Richards Letter Collection, Archives Division, Historical Department, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City (hereafter cited as LDS Church Archives), as cited in Van Wagoner and Walker, “‘Gift of Seeing,’” 66, n. 53. Edward Stevenson remembered Joseph Smith using a seer stone at least four years after the Book of Mormon was translated. See Edward Stevenson, Reminiscences of Joseph, the Prophet, and the Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: By the author, 1893), 6.
. Levi Hancock, “The Life of Levi Ward Hancock,” typescript, 33, BYU Archives, quoted in Karl Ricks Anderson, Joseph Smith’s Kirtland: Eyewitness Accounts (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989), 107-8.
. “Salt Lake School of the Prophets Minute Book, 1883,” October 3, 1883, typescript, 56-57, BYU Archives.
. “Salt Lake City School of the prophets Minute Book, 1883,” October 3, 1883, 57.
. Zebedee Coltrin, In Utah Stake Minutes, Spanish Fork High Priests, February 5, 1870, LDS Church Archives.
. Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner, in Anderson, Joseph Smith’s Kirtland, 112-13.
. See Smith, Teachings, 38-39; and Joseph Fielding Smith, Life of Joseph F. Smith, Sixth President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1938), 34-35. A careful reading of D&C 107:53-57 indicates that these verses are given almost verbatim with those of the Joseph Smith Sr. December 1833 blessing, thus revealing the initial source.
. History of the Church, 3:388.
. The Prophet’s history indicates the Savior made his appearance “to some.” Although the record does not state Martin actually saw Christ, the fact that Martin knew the being was Christ indicates he more than likely did see the Savior. See Jessee, Papers, 2:207; reprinted in History of Church, 2:432-33.
. Harrison Burgess, “Sketch of a Well-Spent Life,” in Labors in the Vineyard: Twelfth Book of the Faith -Promoting Series (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1884), 67. For a discussion of the dating of this vision, see appendix to this article, n. 53.
. See footnotes 30 and 31 above.
. Concerning this vision, Heber C. Kimball stated that Joseph also “saw Adam open the gate of the Celestial City and admit the people one by one.” See Heber C. Kimball, in Journal of Discourses, 9:41, March 17, 1861. Dee also Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, 93-94.
. “Salt Lake City School of the Prophets Minute Book, 1883,” October 11, 1883, 67. The Prophet’s history is the source for the date of the conference whcih took place April 21, 1834. See History of the Church, 2:52-54. That the Prophet knew Adam’s visage is also evident from a brief statement he made in January 1843, while reminiscing about his deceased brother, Alvin, where Joseph called his oldest brother “a very handsome man, surpassed by none but Adam and Seth.” History of the Church, 5:247.
. Jessee, Papers, 2:158. Bishop Edward Partridge stated that “a number saw visions & others were blessed with the outpouring of the Holy Ghost.” Edward Partridge, Journal, January 21, 1836, typescript, LDS Church Archives. Oliver Cowdery called the scene “too great to be described, . . . therefore, I only say, that the heavens were opened to many, and great and marvelous things were shown.” Leonard J. Arrington, “Oliver Cowdery’s Kirtland, Ohio, ‘Sketch Book’” BYU Studies 12, no. 4 (1972): 419.
. Jessee, Papers, 2:160.
. Jessee, Papers, 2:164.
. Truman O. Angell Sr., “His Journal,” in Our Pioneer Heritage, comp. Kate B. Carter, 20 vols. (Salt Lake City: Daughters of Utah Pioneers, 1958-77), 10:198.
. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, 91.
. Angell, “His Journal,” 198. In her reminiscence of the Kirtland Temple dedication, Lydia Knight indicated that the personage who appeared during the services was none other than Jesus. See Lydia Knight, Lydia Knight’s History: The First Book of the Noble Women’s Lives Series (Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1883), 33. In an 1864 address, George A. Smith also identified the messenger as being the Savior. JD, 11:10, November 15, 1864. Angell’s account is accepted as being the most accurate since he claims to have received the information from Joseph Smith. David Whitmer testified that at the dedication he also saw angels in the house. History of the Church, 2:427. Reminiscing about the dedication of the Kirtland Temple, Orson Pratt later declared:
God was there, his angels were there, the Holy Ghost was in the midst of the people, the visions of the Almighty were opened to the minds of the servants of the living God; the vail [sic] was taken off from the minds of many; they saw the heavens opened; they beheld the angels of God; they heard the voice of the Lord; and they were filled from the crown of their heads to the soles of their feet with the power and inspiration of the Holy Ghost. . . .
. . . In that Temple, set apart by the servants of God, and dedicated by a prayer that was written by inspiration, the people were blessed as they never had been blessed for generations and generations.
Orson Pratt, Journal of Discourses, 18:132, October 9, 1875.
. History of the Church, 2:428.
. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, 92. Kimball did not state on what day the anointings took place. However, the events of March 29-30 seem to indicate the appearance must have occurred on one of those two dates. See History of the Church, 2:428-34.
. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, 258-59. When Heber C. Kimball returned from his first mission to Great Britain, he and Joseph took a walk down by the Mississippi River. Heber told the Prophet how he, Orson Hyde, and Willard Richards had been buffeted by Satan when they first arrived in Preston, England. The Prophet then told Brother Kimball about his own contests with the prince of darkness, in which Joseph saw Satan “face to face” and was “handled and afflicted” by him. Heber C. Kimball, in Journal of Discourses, 3:299-30, March 2, 1856.
. History of the Church, 2:254.
. One of the visions received during Zion’s Camp was Joseph Smith’s identification of the skeletal remains of Zelph. Kenneth W. Godfrey has made a thorough examination of each of the accounts, noting their similarities and differences. See Kenneth W. Godfrey, “The Zelph Story,” BYU Studies 29, no. 2 (1989): 31-56. See also “History of Joseph Smith,” Times and Seasons 6 (January 1, 1846): 1076, and History of the Church, 2:79-80. These accounts are written as if Joseph Smith were telling the story. A second visionary experience Joseph Smith received on Zion’s Cam was recorded by Nathan Tanner. See Nathan Tanner, “Reminiscences,” in George S. Tanner, John Tanner and His Family (Salt Lake City: Publishers Press, 1974), 382-83.
. Perhaps it was in part this vision of Church councils to which Joseph Smith referred when, according to Parley P. Pratt, he explained to the Twelve shortly before his death, “I have now finished the work which was laid upon me, by committing to you all things for the building up of the kingdom according to the heavenly vision, and the pattern shown me from heaven.” Parley P. Pratt, “Proclamation,” in Millennial Star 5 (March 1845): 151. See also Robert J. Matthews, “A Plainer Translation”: Joseph Smith’s Translation of the Bible (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1975), 258-60. It is likely Joseph Smith received a vision of the purpose and function of other types of Church councils, particularly the high council, at least a year prior to receiving his understanding concerning the Twelve and the Seventy. At a meeting of high priests in February 1834, he explained in explicit detail the decorum that existed in ancient councils. See History of the Church, 2:25-26. One week later he proceeded to organize the Kirtland High Council (see Doctrine and Covenants 102). Then in July of that same year, while in Clay County with Zion’s Camp, he organized the high council in Missouri. See History of the Church, 2:122-24. At one time the Mormon leader declared that all Church councils were to be conducted according to an ancient pattern which had been shown him by “vision.” Joseph Smith, February 17, 1834, in Fred C. Collier and William S. Harwell, eds., Kirtland Council Minute Book (Salt Lake City: Collier’s, 1996), 24.
. History of the Church, 6:289.
. Orson F. Whitney, “Newel K. Whitney,” Contributor 6 (January 1885): 125; also in History of the Church, 1:146 n.
. Concerning the temple in Jackson County, the Lord stated on August 2, 1833, “Verily I saw unto you, that it is my will that a house should be built unto me in the land of Zion, like unto the pattern which I have given you” (D&C 97:10). On June 25, 1833, over a month before receiving section 97, Joseph Smith had sent Church leaders in Jackson County detailed instructions concerning the size, features, and function of the temple complex in Independence plus an explanation of the layout and arrangement of the city of Zion. From this information, one might infer that Joseph Smith received the pattern of the city of Zion together with the vision shown to him for the temples of that early era. See History of the Church, 1:357-62.
. Angell, “His Journal,” 10:198. Lyndon W. Cook has given substantial historical evidence which indicates section 95 was actually received in early June 1833, while section 94 was received in August, some two months after section 95. As further evidence of this, Cook states that “verses 1-2 of section 94 indicate that the pattern for constructing the Kirtland Temple had already been given.” Lyndon W. Cook, The Revelations of the prophet Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1985), 195. In Doctrine and Covenants 94:3-12, Joseph Smith was instructed to build a house for the Presidency and a house for printing, the patterns of which were also to be revealed. Whether the patterns for these two buildings were ever given is not known. For more on the pattern of the Kirtland Temple, see Elwin C. Robison, The First Mormon Temple: Design, Construction, and Historic Context of the Kirtland Temple (Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 1997), 7-26.
. Concerning the temple at Far West, Joseph Smith received the following set of instructions:
But let a house be built unto my name according to the pattern which I will show unto them. And if my people build it not according to the pattern which I shall show unto their presidency, I will not accept it at their hands. But if my people do build it according to the pattern which I shall show unto their presidency, even my servant Joseph and his counselors, then I will accept it at the hands of my people. (D&C 115:14-16; see also v. 10-13).
This particular revelation specifically states the pattern would be given to the First Presidency. Any such revelation was not documented but must have been received before the summer of 1838, when the cornerstones were laid and construction began. The Far West Temple revelation was received on April 26, 1838. Four days later, Thomas B. Marsh wrote a letter wherein he indicated the “plan is yet to be shown to the first presidency.” See Thomas B. Marsh to Wilford Woodruff, April 30, 1838, Wilford Woodruff Papers, LDS Church Archives. This letter was published in Thomas B. Marsh to Wilford Woodruff [April 30, 1838], in Elder’s Journal 1 (July 1838):38.
. Concerning the pattern of the Nauvoo Temple a revelation stated, “And I will show unto my servant Joseph all things pertaining to this house, and the priesthood thereof, and the place whereon it shall be built. And ye shall build it on the place where you have contemplated building it, for that is the spot which I have chosen for you to build it” (D&C 124:42-43). Three other temple-building passages specifically state that the pattern would be revealed by the Lord, and the Prophet’s history makes it clear that a pattern was indeed given. In February 1844, the Prophet called on William Weeks, temple architect. In Weeks’s drawings, Joseph Smith noticed semicircular windows in the half stories separating the upper and lower halls. The Prophet politely instructed Weeks that the windows should be completely circular. Weeks protested, stating that circular windows “were a violation of all the known rules of architecture.” Determined to have circular windows, Joseph responded, “I wish you to carry out my designs. I have seen in vision the splendid appearance of that building . . . and will have it built according to the pattern shown me.” History of the Church, 6:196-97.
. History of the Church, 3:391.
. History of the Church, 5:361-62. Wilford Woodruff recorded portions of this sermon in his journal. He quoted the Prophet as saying: “In speaking of the resurrection I would say that God hath shown unto me a vision of the resurrection of the dead & I saw the graves open & the saints as they arose took each other by the hand even before they got up or while getting up & great Joy and glory rested upon them” Kenney, Wilford Woodruff’s Journal, 2:227 [April 16, 1843].
. History of the Church, 6:50.
. “Report of Remarks Made at the Tabernacle, 23 December 1860.” Deseret News Weekly, December 26, 1860, 341, quoted in Ronald W. Walker, “Joseph Smith: The Palmyra Seer,” BYU Studies 24 (fall 1984): 468.
. John Taylor, “The Seer,” broadside (N.p.: John Taylor, ca. 1844-45) BYU Archives (see page 49 of this issue); reprinted as “The Seer, Joseph the Seer,” in Hymns of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1927), no. 96.
. Smith, Teachings, 149
. Bruce R. McConkie , “The Rock of Our Salvation,” Improvement Era 72, no. 12 (December 1969): 85.