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April 23, 2020

Slightly modified from the foreword to Insights into Joseph Smith’s First Vision

Joseph Smith’s First Vision of God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ occupies a foundationally important position in the lives and faith of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Successive generations of latter-day prophets and apostles have testified of the consummate significance of the revelation of the Father and the Son to the boy Joseph in a grove of trees “on the morning of a beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty” (Joseph Smith–History 1:14). So momentous is this event in the historical and theological consciousness of Latter-day Saints that President Russell M. Nelson designated the year 2020 as a bicentennial year of celebration. “In the springtime of the year 2020, it will be exactly 200 years since Joseph Smith experienced the theophany that we know as the First Vision,” President Nelson said in his closing remarks at the October 2019 general conference of the Church. “God the Father and His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, appeared to Joseph, a 14-year-old youth. That event marked the onset of the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ in its fulness, precisely as foretold in the Holy Bible.” Sixth months later, during the April 2020 general conference, President Nelson unveiled a new bicentennial proclamation to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the First Vision. This proclamation—only the sixth issued by the Church in its nearly two-hundred-year history—read in part,

Two hundred years ago, on a beautiful spring morning in 1820, young Joseph Smith, seeking to know which church to join, went into the woods to pray near his home in upstate New York, USA. He had questions regarding the salvation of his soul and trusted that God would direct him. In humility, we declare that in answer to his prayer, God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, appeared to Joseph and inaugurated the “restitution of all things” (Acts 3:21) as foretold in the Bible. In this vision, he learned that following the death of the original Apostles, Christ’s New Testament Church was lost from the earth. Joseph would be instrumental in its return.

To participate in this bicentennial celebration, to heighten appreciation for the First Vision, and to help better inform Latter-day Saints of the founding event of their history, in early 2020 Book of Mormon Central (BMC) began publishing a series of short online articles offering insights into the First Vision. These “Joseph Smith–History Insights” appeared on BMC’s Pearl of Great Price Central (POGP Central) subdomain website accompanied by a bibliography of scholarly resources on the First Vision. Drawing from primary sources as well as both cutting-edge and pioneering secondary academic literature on the topic, the Insights highlighted the extant first- and secondhand accounts of the Prophet’s First Vision, explored its historical and literary context, and probed its theological importance. By general conference weekend of 4–5 April 2020, twenty such Insights on the opening verses of Joseph Smith–History had appeared online.

Insights into Joseph Smith’s First Vision has been undertaken principally to gather and present these twenty Insights (plus some previously unpublished content) in a convenient and visually engaging manner. Besides some slight editing and revisions, the Insights as they appear here are the same as they appear on the Pearl of Great Price Central website. Some reformatting has been done to accommodate the needs of a PDF format and to improve aesthetic quality. (For instance, the sections titled “Further Reading” at the end of each Insight on the POGP Central website have been gathered together and come after all twenty Insights in this version. Visuals and artwork have also been rearranged.)

It is the sincere hope and desire of the staff and volunteers at Book of Mormon Central that readers will find Insights into Joseph Smith’s First Vision helpful in their quest to pursue learning “by study and also by faith” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118). It is also their hope that this work will increase faith and conviction in the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith, the Restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the reality of God the Father and His Beloved Son in the hearts and minds of Latter-day Saints and other sincere seekers of truth.

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