Evidence #435 | February 7, 2024

Nephi’s Prophecy Fulfilled in First Vision

Post contributed by


Scripture Central


Nephi prophesied that at some point in the future the Lord would speak to Joseph Smith and quote to him a particular prophecy from Isaiah. This prediction appears to have been fulfilled during Joseph’s First Vision.

In 2 Nephi 27, Nephi delivered several prophecies about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, as well as Joseph Smith’s role in that miraculous process. In one passage, Nephi declared the following: 

And again it shall come to pass that the Lord shall say unto him that shall read the words that shall be delivered him: Forasmuch as this people draw near unto me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their hearts far from me, and their fear towards me is taught by the precepts of men. (2 Ne. 27:24–25)

When read in context, this prophecy is about what the Lord would, in some future day, tell Joseph Smith. Textual analysis suggests that Nephi’s prophecy may have been fulfilled during Joseph Smith’s First Vision, which occurred in the spring of 1820. As one can see from the 1832 and 1838 accounts of that event, the wording of Nephi’s prophecy aligns closely with what the Lord told the young Joseph during that momentous theophany:1

2 Nephi 27:24–25

1832 Account

1838 Account

24 And again it shall come to pass that the Lord shall say unto him that shall read the words that shall be delivered him:

25 Forasmuch as this people draw near unto me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their hearts far from me, and their fear towards me is taught by the precepts of men

behold I am the Lord of glory I was crucifyed for the world that all those who believe on my name may have Eternal life behold the world lieth in sin at this time and none doeth good no not one they have turned asside from the gospel and keep not my commandments they draw near to me with their lips while their hearts are far from me

“I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: ‘they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.’”

Interpreting the Fulfillment of Nephi’s Prophecy

Despite these strong textual parallels, one may question whether the First Vision actually provides a fitting context for this prophecy’s fulfillment. After all, only two verses earlier, Nephi was commenting on the completion of the Book of Mormon’s translation, as well as it being sealed up again unto the Lord (2 Nephi 27:22). With that backdrop in mind, one might expect Nephi’s prediction to reference an event that would follow, rather than precede, the Book of Mormon’s translation.

Joseph Smith translating the Book of Mormon. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org. 

While that assumption may seem valid at first glance, it should be understood that oracular language doesn’t always follow a perfectly linear progression. Prophetic discourse can sometimes skip forward, jump backward, or otherwise present events out of immediate sequence.2 It is also noteworthy that Nephi introduced this prophecy by stating, “And again it shall come to pass” (2 Nephi 27:24). Since the phrase “and it came to pass” is often used in the Book of Mormon to signal a shift in topic or timeframe, the wording here could easily be intended to introduce a new temporal context.3

Another thing to consider is that the specific language of this prophecy is fairly unique. The wording originally comes from statements made in Isaiah 29:13–14, which were later quoted in the New Testament (Matthew 15:8; Mark 7:6) as well as in the prophecy given by Nephi (2 Nephi 27:23–25).4 Aside from these passages, close renditions of Isaiah’s words show up in only two other places in the Standard Works: Joseph Smith’s 1838 account of his First Vision (see Joseph Smith—History 1:27–29) and in D&C 45:28–29.5 Here are the relevant passages listed below:6

Isaiah 29:13–14

2 Nephi 27:24–25

JSH 1:27–29

D&C 45:28–29

12 And the book is delivered to him that is not learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I am not learned.

13 Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men:

24 And again it shall come to pass that the Lord shall say unto him that shall read the words that shall be delivered him:

25 Forasmuch as this people draw near unto me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their hearts far from me, and their fear towards me is taught by the precepts of men

the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: ‘they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.’”

28 And when the times of the Gentiles is come in, a light shall break forth among them that sit in darkness, and it shall be the fulness of my gospel;

29 But they receive it not; for they perceive not the light, and they turn their hearts from me because of the precepts of men.

Naturally, this may lead one to wonder if the revelation given to Joseph Smith in D&C 45—which came after the Book of Mormon’s translation—might not be the better candidate for the fulfillment of Nephi’s prophecy. Several factors indicate that it isn’t.

First of all, the language Joseph Smith used to describe his First Vision (especially in the 1838 account) involves a lengthy paraphrase with several close phrasal or conceptual matches. In contrast, the passage in D&C 45 is a shorter allusion. So, on textual grounds, the latter would be an inferior fulfillment.

One might also note a meaningful difference in context. In the First Vision accounts, the Lord directly spoke to Joseph Smith and to him alone. This agrees with the wording in Nephi’s prophecy: “the Lord shall say unto him that shall read the words” (2 Nephi 27:24). In contrast, the revelation in D&C 45, although it was communicated through Joseph Smith, was not directed specifically to him. Instead, it addresses the Church membership at large: “Hearken, O ye people of my church” (D&C 45:1; cf. v. 6).

Joseph Smith's First Vision. Image via churchofjesuschrist.org. 

Perhaps most telling of all is a significant context clue found in the verse that immediately follows Nephi’s prophecy: “Therefore, I will proceed to do a marvelous work among this people, yea, a marvelous work and a wonder” (2 Nephi 27:26). When these words, originally from Isaiah, are placed in the context of Nephi’s prophecy, the phrase “marvelous work” is best understood as a reference to the Book of Mormon’s miraculous coming forth and translation.7 Therefore, the phrase “I will proceed to do a marvelous work” (given in the future tense) indicates that the Book of Mormon wouldn’t have been translated yet at the time the Lord would say these words to Joseph. Assuming this reading is correct, the First Vision context appropriately fits the timeframe suggested by the prophecy.8

When the evidence is considered in its entirety, the most appealing candidate for the fulfillment of Nephi’s prophecy is found in Joseph Smith’s First Vision. The Lord’s reported statements to him on that occasion provide the best context as far as timeframe and intended audience, as well as the best known phrasal matching.9


Could Joseph Smith have simply made up this prophecy in 2 Nephi 27 and then remembered to record its fulfillment when giving his accounts of his First Vision? While that possibility can’t be ruled out, neither is it the obvious conclusion.

The Book of Mormon is a very complex text. In addition to its prophecies, like this one, that appear to have been fulfilled in modern times,10 it also contains scores of internal prophetic fulfillments,11 as well as hosts of other complex data.12 When viewed collectively, the notion that Joseph Smith had the mental capacity to keep track of these numerous internal and external prophecies and to accurately record their fulfillments (or ensure that they all transpired as predicted) seems doubtful.13

If Joseph indeed made this prophecy up, as would be assumed by his critics, there is a decent chance he might have forgotten to record its fulfillment. After all, how many readers of the Book of Mormon have ever noticed this particular prediction or recognized its fulfillment in the First Vision accounts?14 When viewed in comparison, the likelihood of this event being remembered and accurately reported years later seems much higher if it actually happened to Joseph in one of the most memorable visions of his life, rather than being just an obscure, fabricated prophecy interwoven into a very lengthy and complex text alongside thousands of other made-up details.

One might also consider the slight variation in wording found in the 1832 and 1838 accounts, when compared to the text of the Book of Mormon. Rather than precisely following the phrasing of the original prophecy in 2 Nephi 27, Joseph instead seems to have reported the Lord’s statements using his own wording and recollection, perhaps somewhat influenced by the New Testament quotations of Isaiah’s prophecy. In other words, the phrasing is consistent enough to show a clear and strong relationship, but varied enough to suggest he wasn’t simply copying it verbatim from the text of the Book of Mormon itself.15

Ultimately, the fulfillment of this obscure Book of Mormon prophecy in the accounts of the First Vision can be viewed as one of many subtle consistencies that attend Joseph Smith’s miraculous claims. On its own, it doesn’t prove that God visited Joseph as a youth and spoke to him from heaven. But it does add another good reason to place faith in that miraculous event, as well as in the Book of Mormon’s divine origins and miraculous translation.

Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision,” online at www.josephsmithpapers.org.  

James B. Allen and John W. Welch, “Analysis of Joseph Smith’s Accounts of His First Vision,” in Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestation, 1820–1844, 2nd edition, ed. John W. Welch, (Provo, UT: BYU Studies, 2017), 37–77.

BibleIsaiah 29:13–14Matthew 15:8Mark 7:6Book of Mormon2 Ne. 27:24–25Doctrine and CovenantsD&C 45:28–29Pearl of Great PriceJoseph Smith—History 1:27–29


Isaiah 29:13–14

Matthew 15:8

Mark 7:6

Book of Mormon

2 Ne. 27:24–25

Doctrine and Covenants

D&C 45:28–29

Pearl of Great Price

Joseph Smith—History 1:27–29

  • 1 For Joseph Smith’s 1832 history (original spelling retained), see History, circa Summer 1832, p. 3, The Joseph Smith Papers, accessed January 29, 2024, online at josephsmithpaper.org. For the relevant statements from Joseph’s 1838 history, see the canonized version in Joseph Smith—History 1:19. Another textual correspondence involves the Lord’s statement in 2 Nephi 27:23: “I will show unto the world that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Compare this with Joseph’s statements from his 1832 history (p. 2): “I learned in the scriptures that God was the same yesterday to day and forever that he was no respecter to persons.” Nephi didn’t prophesy that the Lord would say this to Joseph Smith, nor did Joseph say that the Lord told him this. Nevertheless, it is interesting that Joseph’s discussion of God’s eternal nature precedes the Lord’s statements to him in both texts.
  • 2 For instance, in John’s prophecies in the book of Revelation, chapters 12–14 depart from the flow of the previous narrative. As explained by Richard D. Draper and Michael D. Rhodes, “Between the two visions and bracketed by them are three subtexts. The first deals with the war between the woman and the dragon, which includes a flashback to the premortal war in heaven (chapter 12). The second deals with the rise of the dragon’s assistants, the beasts from the sea and from the land (chapter 13). The last section deals with securing the Saints in Zion and harvesting of the field and of the vineyard, with the attendant declarations by heavenly messengers (chapter 14).” Richard D. Draper and Michael D. Rhodes, The Revelation of John the Apostle, BYU New Testament Commentary Series (Provo, UT: BYU Studies, 2016), 429. Another example of temporal disjunctions in oracular language can be seen in Joseph Smith’s prophecies recorded in D&C 87. For a helpful analysis and overview of this prophecy, see https://www.fairlatterdaysaints.org/answers/Joseph_Smith%27s_prophecy_of_the_Civil_War.
  • 3 Concerning the use of “and it came to pass” in the Book of Mormon, see Brant A. Gardner, Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2007), 1:24–25: “It performs the same function as indenting the first sentence of a paragraph. It is a structural marker that tells the reader to begin a new section. It appears at the beginning of so many paragraphs in the Book of Mormon because it did its job well enough that Mr. Gilbert [the typesetter] saw and recognized the shift in paragraphs when he came to that passage.” Even when the phrase shouldn’t be viewed as beginning an entirely new paragraph, it still seems to indicate that a shift of some sort has taken place between the previous content and what will follow. Whether or not such a shift involves a chronologically linear progression of ideas must be determined by context rather than merely by sequential placement. For more on this phrase’s usage in the Book of Mormon, see Robert F. Smith, “‘It Came to Pass’ in the Bible and the Book of Mormon,” FARMS Preliminary Report (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1980), 1–11; Donald W. Parry, “Why is the phrase ‘and it came to pass’ so prevalent in the Book of Mormon?” Ensign, December, 1992, online at churchofjesuschrist.org; Donald W. Parry, “Hebraisms and Other Ancient Peculiarities in the Book of Mormon,” in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon (Provo, UT: FARMS, 2002), 163–164.
  • 4 While allusions to Isaiah’s statements may be found in other passages (such as Mosiah 5:13 and Alma 31:17), lengthier phrasal matches like those in Joseph Smith’s First Vision accounts turn up absent in the Latter-day Saint scriptural canon (except for the passage in D&C 45 discussed below). Searches for such matching phrases in the Standard Works were conducted by Scripture Central researchers using WordCruncher.
  • 5 If any other potential fulfillment of Nephi’s prophecy is recorded anywhere in non-scriptural Church history documents, it isn’t known to Scripture Central staff.
  • 6 Note that the 1838 account is used here because it provides the more complete version of the Lord’s statements.
  • 7 Throughout the Book of Mormon, the phrase “marvelous work” repeatedly relates to prophecies about the Book of Mormon’s coming forth. See 1 Nephi 14:7 (cf. 1 Nephi 13:41–42); 2 Nephi 25:17–18; 2 Nephi 29:1–2; Mormon 7:8–9.
  • 8 Importantly, the First Vision appears to be the only significant revelation given directly to Joseph Smith from the Lord before Moroni directed him to the plates of the Book of Mormon (see Joseph Smith—History 1:27–29). This makes it not only the best, but perhaps the only setting in which Nephi’s prophecy could have been fulfilled under this textual interpretation.
  • 9 In fact, Robert Boylan was so convinced of the connection that he described Nephi’s prophecy as “the earliest account of the First Vision in print.” See Robert Boylan, “Joseph Smith’s First Vision in 2 Nephi 27:24–26,” Scriptural Mormonism, October 29, 2019, online at scripturalmormonism.blogspot.com.
  • 10 See Evidence Central, “Book of Mormon Evidence: Fulfilled Prophecies (Main Category),” online at evidencecentral.org.
  • 11 See Evidence Central, “Book of Mormon Evidence: Internally Fulfilled Prophecies,” 0085, September 19, 2020 (updated February 15, 2023), online at evidencecentral.org.
  • 12 See Evidence Central, “Book of Mormon Evidence: Complexity (Main Category),” online at evidencecentral.org.
  • 13 See Evidence Central, “Book of Mormon Evidence: Joseph Smith’s Limited Education,” 0001, September 19, 2020, online at evidencecentral.org; Brian C. Hales, “Joseph Smith’s Education and Intellect as Described in Documentary Sources,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 59 (2023): 1–32.
  • 14 For example, in 2019 the idea that Nephi’s prophecy was fulfilled in the First Vision was pointed out to Robert Boylan by his acquaintance Tanner Johnson. Boylan writes, “Tanner’s discovery of this (which seems to have gone unnoticed until now, so major credit to him for this!) is significant for a number of reasons.” See Boylan, “Joseph Smith’s First Vision in 2 Nephi 27:24–26,” online at scripturalmormonism.blogspot.com. This prophetic fulfillment was more recently noticed independently by researchers at Scripture Central in 2024, but they too were surprised at the discovery (after having overlooked it for years). It seems to be the type of textual detail that can easily be overlooked or forgotten.  
  • 15 This suggests Joseph wasn’t simply ticking off a prophetic-fulfillment checkbox. His statements come across as a somewhat imperfect—and therefore genuine—recollection of what was told to him directly by the Lord many years earlier in a deeply transformative experience. See Pearl of Great Price Central, “Remembering Joseph Smith’s First Vision,” Joseph Smith–History Insight #13, March 17, 2020, online at pearlofgreatpricecentral.org.
Fulfilled Prophecies

© 2024 Scripture Central: A Non-Profit Organization. All rights reserved. Registered 501(c)(3). EIN: 20-5294264