This is Joseph Smiths official First Vision Account written in 1938:
Sometime in the second year after our removal to Manchester, there was in the place where we lived an unusual excitement on the subject of religion. It commenced with the Methodists, but soon became general among all the sects in that region of country ... and great multitudes united themselves to the different religious parties .... Some were contending for the Methodist faith, some for the Presbyterian, and some for the Baptist ... my mind became somewhat partial to the Methodist sect ... but so great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible ... to come to any certain conclusion who was right, and who was wrong .... So in accordance with this, my determination to ask of God, I retired to the woods to make the attempt. It was on the morning of a beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty ... I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God .... I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head .... When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description .... One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other 'This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!' .... 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. I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong .... I soon found, however, that my telling the story had excited a great deal of prejudice against me among professors [believers] of religion, and was the cause of great persecution, which continued to increase; and though I was an obscure boy, only between fourteen and fifteen years of age ... yet men of high standing would take notice sufficient to excite the public mind against me, and create a bitter persecution; and this was common among all the sects all united to persecute me.
— Pearl of Great Price, Joseph Smith - History 1:5-8, 14-19, 22
If the above account is true - we have to ask ourselves the questions:
Why did Brigham Young not know about this?
Why did Joseph Smith's mum not know about this?
Mormon Apostle Hugh B. Brown declared:
The First Vision of the Prophet Joseph Smith constitutes the groundwork of the Church which was later organized. If this First Vision was but a figment of Joseph Smith's imagination, then the Mormon Church is what its detractors declare it to be - a wicked and deliberate imposture (The Abundant Life, pp. 310-311).
In his 1838 account, Joseph Smith stated that his mother, sister and two brothers were led to join the local Presbyterian Church as a result of that 1820 revival. However,
Joseph's mother, Lucy, tells us that the revival which led her to join the church took place after the death of her son, Alvin. Alvin died on November 19, 1823, and following that painful loss Lucy Smith reports that,
about this time there was a great revival in religion and the whole neighborhood was very much aroused to the subject and we among the rest, flocked to the meeting house to see if there was a word of comfort for us that might relieve our over-charged feelings (First draft of Lucy Smith's History, p. 55, LDS Church Archives).
How did the story of Mormon origins become so confused? Part of the answer is found in the fact that Joseph Smith himself told the story several different ways.
Joseph's mother, likewise, knew nothing of a vision of the Father and the Son in the Sacred Grove. In her unpublished account she traces the origin of Mormonism to a bedroom visit by an angel. Joseph at the time had been pondering which of all the churches were the true one. The angel told him "there is not a true church on Earth, No, not one" (First draft of Lucy Smith's History, p. 46, LDS Church Archives).
Still another version of the First Vision was published in 1834-35 in the periodical, Latter-day Saints Messenger and Advocate (Vol. 1, pp. 42, 78). This account was written by LDS leader Oliver Cowdery with the help of Joseph Smith. It tells how a revival in 1823 caused 17-year-old Joseph Smith to be stirred up on the subject of religion.
According to Cowdery, Joseph desired to know for himself of the certainty and reality of pure and holy religion (p. 78). He also prayed if a Supreme being did exist, to have an assurance that he was accepted of him and a manifestation in some way that his sins were forgiven (Ibid., 78, 79). According to this account, an angel (not a deity) appeared in Joseph's bedroom to tell him his sins were forgiven.
The conflicts produced by this account are numerous.
First, the date of the revival is given as 1823, instead of 1820.
Second, if Joseph had already had a vision of the Father and the Son in 1820, why did he need to pray in 1823 about whether or not a Supreme being existed?
Third, when the revival prompts him to pray, the personage that appears is an angel, not the Father or Son. Fourth, the message of the angel is one of forgiveness of sins, rather than an announcement that all the churches were wrong.
These widely divergent accounts raise serious questions about the authenticity of Joseph Smith's First Vision story. Different people may have varying views of the same event, but when one person tells contradictory stories about the same event, we are justified in questioning both the person and the truthfulness of the story.
Persecution Or Acceptance?
Today's First Vision story not only runs into trouble with the historically verified date of the Palmyra, New York revival and with Joseph's earlier accounts of the event, it also conflicts with what we know about his early years in Palmyra. In his official version Joseph Smith claims he was persecuted by all the churches in his area "because I continued to affirm that I had seen a vision." However, this is contradicted by one of Joseph's associates at the time. Orsamus Turner, an apprentice printer in Palmyra until 1822, was in a juvenile debating club with Joseph Smith. He recalled that Joseph, "after catching a spark of Methodism . . . became a very passable exhorter in evening meetings" (History of the Pioneer Settlement of Phelps and Gorham's Purchase, 1851, p. 214).
Thus, instead of being opposed and persecuted as his 1838 account claims, young Joseph was welcomed and allowed to exhort during the Methodist's evening preaching.
This point is supported by Brigham Young University historian and LDS bishop, James B. Allen. Allen found virtually nothing to support Joseph's claim that he told the First Vision story immediately after it happened in 1820, and suffered persecution as a result, or even that Joseph was telling the story ten years later:
There is little if any evidence, however, that by the early 1830s Joseph Smith was telling the story in public. At least if he were telling it, no one seemed to consider it important enough to have recorded it at the time, and no one was criticizing him for it. Not even in his own history did Joseph Smith mention being criticized in this period for telling the story of the First Vision ("The Significance of Joseph Smith's First Vision in Mormon Thought", Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Autumn 1966, p. 30).