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Raising the Stakes: How Joseph Smith’s First Vision Became All or Nothing

TitleRaising the Stakes: How Joseph Smith’s First Vision Became All or Nothing
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsHarper, Steven C.
JournalBYU Studies Quarterly
KeywordsApologetics; Criticism; Education; First Vision; Latter-day Saint History (1820-1846); Multiple First Vision Accounts; Pratt, Orson; Restoration; Smith, Joseph F.; Smith, Joseph, Jr.

Joseph Smith’s first vision is exponentially more important to Latter-day Saints now than it was when the Church was restored in 1830. Perhaps as an effect of that newfound importance, today the vision is a battleground—people negotiate their identities and relationships relative to it as they join or leave the Church, as they fight for or against the faith. How were the stakes raised?

What follows is not the whole story; this focuses on a few historical hinges in the larger story. These turning points may seem inevitable. It would be unwise, however, to assume that Joseph Smith’s first vision would automatically become common knowledge to Latter-day Saints, or that they would inevitably consider it scripture, or that it would, by default, become the faith’s genesis story. Many contingent choices combined and compounded to raise the stakes.