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A New Defense of the 1832 First Vision Account


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One of the common criticisms leveled against the first vision is that the 1832 First Vision account only has Jesus Christ present in the theophany, and considering that it is the earliest account and it being in JS's own hand, it makes the later accounts (with two personages) look like the First Vision developed over time. Many people find validity in this criticism, and some leave the church over this. Apologists have done a good job of pointing out that God and Jesus Christ are separate and coexistant in the book of Moses, a text predating the 1832 account, which demonstrates that Mormon doctrine posited that God and Jesus were separate and distinct as early as 1830. They have also pointed to passages in the BOM, which I find somewhat less convincing. I propose that the doctrine of Jesus and God the Father being separate beings was possibly a sacred and guarded (read secret) doctrine in early Mormonism, likely due to its controversial nature. If the doctrine was indeed a secret, that could account for the 1832 account's omission of two personages.  

Keeping controversial items secret was not foreign to Mormonism. Polygamy was kept a secret from the early 1830s. Knowledge of how the Book of Mormon translation occurred was more or less kept within the bounds of a select few. In Nauvoo, the endowment was kept secret. All of these items were controversial in their own ways, and engendered criticism from various corners. The separate nature of the Father and Son had enormous potential for controversy, and comments by JS in 1844 indicate JS' frustration with prevailing notions and possibly with criticism of his teachings.

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Men say there is one God--the Far. Son & the H. G. are only 1 God--it is a strange God any how 3 in 1 & 1 in 3. it is a curious thing any how--Far. I pray not for the world but I pray for those that thou givest me &c &c all are to be crammed into 1 God--it wod. make the biggest God in all the world--he is a wonderful big God--he would be a Giant

 

Evidence that God the Father and Jesus being separate beings was not only controversial but also a secret doctrine comes from JS' revelations and an account of the school of the prophets given by Zebedee Coltrin. According to Coltrin and another witness, the men experienced a vision of God the Father and Christ, likely in 1832 or 1833. First they saw Christ walk through the room, and following that, they saw God the Father walk through the room. After the vision, Joseph Smith told the men there, "Brethren, now you are prepared to be the apostles of Jesus Christ, for you have seen both the Father and the Son and know that They exist and that They are two separate personages." His comments place emphasis on God and Christ's separate nature and makes it a qualifier for apostleship. Further, intimate knowledge of God's existence can be considered a divinely granted privilege reserved for apostles or others who qualify through great faith, according to JS' revelations. JS' comments to the school of the prophets infer a type of categorical equivalence between intimate knowledge of God's existence and the knowledge that the Father and the Son are separate beings. This makes knowledge of the Father and Son's separate nature a sacred mystery revealed by God to the privileged and prepared. 

As noted earlier, the Book of Moses gives fairly clear accounts of God the Father and Jesus being separate beings present at the same time (ie. council in heaven and the creation). Notably, this revelation contains two statements that prescribe that the text only be shared with true believers.
 

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Moses 1:42 (These words were spoken unto Moses in the mount, the name of which shall not be known among the children of men. And now they are spoken unto you. Show them not unto any except them that believe. Even so. Amen.)

Moses 4: 32 (And these are the words which I spake unto my servant Moses, and they are true even as I will; and I have spoken them unto you. See thou show them unto no man, until I command you, except to them that believe. Amen.)

 

It's also worth noting that the council in Heaven and account of Satan's casting out, which is one of the places the separate nature of the Father and the Son is clear, is found in chapter 4.

The above are the earliest instances of the doctrine being clearly delineated (as far as I've identified), and both the school of prophets vision and the Moses revelation can be interpreted as sacred secrets.

Another supporting evidence is the public nature of the Book of Mormon text and its sometimes trinitarian-like portrayal of God (ex. Abinadi's comments about God/Christ), which dates to just a year before the Book of Moses. Even in the BOM's grandest theophany, the Brother of Jared's vision, only the preexistant Christ is seen. I would argue that the 1832 account, like the Book of Mormon, was meant to be a public document. The exaggerated language (mighty acts which he doeth in the name of Jesus Christ), the Book of Mormon like summary at the beginning, and it's inclusion in a letter book instead of a private journal suggest that it may have been intended for public use, and for this reason the theophany account was limited to a a manifestation of Christ, similar to the Brother of Jared's theophany.

An edited 1832 vision is also consistent with how Joseph would later edit or be complicit to editing controversial items from his 1838 history. For example, the seer stone is not mentioned, and the history simply gives a description of the Urim and Thummim and breastplate and states that it was by this means that the Book of Mormon was translated. Joseph's treasure digging was also minimized in the history. Essentially, editing controversial material along with sacred secrets are consistent with early Mormonism and provide a compelling explanation for the omission of two personages from the 1832 account of the First Vision.

That's the gist of the argument. Comments? 

Edited by Benjamin Seeker
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Fpr me I see no problem with the 1832 account when comparing the other account.  Joseph does not say that he only saw one personage in that account.  He simply says he saw the Lord.  That does not mean someone else was not present with the Lord at the time.  The only time the Father ever really speaks is to introduce his Son and that is true in the First Vision story as well.  The fact that the Father introduced his son really has no bearing on the overall objective Joseph was speaking about in the 1832 account.  The 1832 account does not say there was one personage present or two personage present, or anything else.  We are choosing to put importance in this when perhaps that point simply was not important for Joseph at the time he wrote that. 

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37 minutes ago, carbon dioxide said:

Fpr me I see no problem with the 1832 account when comparing the other account.  Joseph does not say that he only saw one personage in that account.  He simply says he saw the Lord.  That does not mean someone else was not present with the Lord at the time.  The only time the Father ever really speaks is to introduce his Son and that is true in the First Vision story as well.  The fact that the Father introduced his son really has no bearing on the overall objective Joseph was speaking about in the 1832 account.  The 1832 account does not say there was one personage present or two personage present, or anything else.  We are choosing to put importance in this when perhaps that point simply was not important for Joseph at the time he wrote that. 

I can see how some people feel comfortable with this approach. However, there are a lot of people who struggle hard with the 1832 account because of the omission. 

Edited by Benjamin Seeker
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28 minutes ago, Benjamin Seeker said:

I can see how some people feel comfortable with this approach. However, there are a lot of people who struggle hard with the 1832 account because of the ommission. 

I see the many versions of the FV as more of a progression of thought and perhaps theology rather than contradictions.  JS was working and experimenting with religious concepts throughout his life. The gospel as he preached it was never stagnate.  It was always evolving.  This is evidenced by the concept of God.  In his early works, like the BoM, the concept of God was very much in line with 19th century Protestantism.  This very much differs with his later sermons, such as what is recorded in the lectures of faith.

Edited by sunstoned
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Just now, sunstoned said:

I see the many versions of the FV as more of a progression of thought and perhaps theology.  JS was working and experimenting with 

I can also see that as a valid interpretation. I think it's safe to say that is  one of the typical approaches.

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An edited 1832 vision is also consistent with how Joseph would later edit or be complicit to editing controversial items from his 1838 history. For example, the seer stone is not mentioned, and the history simply gives a description of the Urim and Thummim and breastplate and states that it was by this means that the Book of Mormon was translated.

One of our challenges here is a problem that we recognize as a historical phenomenon, but it is harder to recognize it as it happens. Religious movements (like all movements) tend to develop a a somewhat technical vocabulary. We can see it quite easily in present day Mormonism, where we have a well established set of terminology that has different meanings for those within Mormonism and those who are not a part of Mormonism. What we see in this period of time (between 1830 and 1840) is the beginning of this phenomenon - this shift towards a technical language. In the case of the shift towards "Urim and Thummim" we have a reasonably good historical record that helps us explain what is going on, and what it means.

The phrase "Urim and Thummim" is first used in connection with the translation of the Book of Mormon in January of 1831 by William Phelps. He writes an article in his paper in which he suggests this:

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The book of Mormon, as a revelation from God, possesses some advantage over the old scripture: it has not been tinctured by the wisdom of man, with here and there an Italic word to supply deficiencies.-It was translated by the gift and power of God, by an unlearned man, through the aid of a pair of Interpreters, or spectacles-(known, perhaps, in ancient days as Teraphim, or Urim and Thummim) ...

Phelps, of course, was relying on other sources (at the time, his favorite seems to have been Jahn's Biblical Archaeology). But, this suggestion first made here did a couple of things. First, it introduced the idea that the translation process involved something that could be identified from the Old Testament. This was particularly important with the changing views of the early Mormon movement towards being a restorationist Church (helped along by the baptism of Sidney Rigdon and many in his congregation the previous September). The idea of Teraphim didn't go over very well (the household gods/idols discussed in the Old Testament). But the Urim and Thummim, used as an oracle by the Old Testament High Priests, and kept with a breastplate (much like the Nephite version) caught on very quickly. Second, it created some distance from the idea of a "seer stone" - this suggestion by Phelps also comes not very long after the incident dealing with Hiram Page and his seer stone. This had created some discomfort with the idea of seer stones in the Church. And so the idea of identifying the Nephite interpreters and the stone that Joseph also used in the translation process as Urim and Thummim was appealing in other ways to early Mormons.

This language became widely recognized in the Church some time between 1833 and 1835. So:

 

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9:1 (1833 Book of Commandments)

NOW, behold I say unto you, that because you  delivered up so many writings, which you had  power to translate, into the hands of a wicked man,  you have lost them, and you also lost your gift at the  same time, …[1]

36:1 (1835 Doctrine and Covenants)

Now, behold I say unto you, that because you delivered up  those writings which you had power given unto you to trans late, by the means of the Urim and Thummim, into the hands  of a wicked man, you have lost them; and you also lost your  gift at the same time, and your mind became darkened; …[2]

History, circa 1841, draft [Draft 2]

Now, behold I say unto you, that because you  delivered up those writings which you had power given <unto> you to translate, by  the means of the Urim and Thummin, into the hands of a wicked man, you have  lost them; and you also lost your gift at the same time, and your mind  became darkened; [3]


[1] http://josephsmithpapers.org/paperSummary/revelation-spring-1829-dc-10#!/paperSummary/revelation-spring-1829-dc-10&p=1

[2] http://josephsmithpapers.org/paperSummary/doctrine-and-covenants-1835?p=171

[3] http://josephsmithpapers.org/paperSummary/history-circa-june-1839-circa-1841-draft-2?p=14. This version is consistent with later draft copies and the fair copy made by Corey. This revelation (and the associated narrative) was not included in the first draft of the history.

By 1840, it would become the preferred language to refer to both the seer stone and the Nephite Interpreters. (This time frame also helps us understand why Martin Harris, in particular, would continue to talk about the seer stone as a seer stone, with his departure from the LDS movement in 1837). At any rate, prior to the development of this technical terminology (borrowed from the Old Testament), we always know what is meant when we read of the Nephite Interpreters, or the seer stone. But, once the term Urim and Thummim becomes popularized in the Mormon movement, it is sometimes used to refer to the seer stones, and it sometimes used to refer to the Nephite interpreters, and it is sometimes used to refer to all of them collectively.

So the fact that seer stones were controversial almost certainly played something of a role in the rapid acceptance of the label Urim and Thummim (and I think that the whole Hiram Page incident really made many Mormons more aware of this issue). But, I think that this is only a part of the issue in this particular case. Another piece is involved in the idea of the restoration of all things (which comes in especially strongly with Sidney Rigdon and his congregation who had originally been members of Alexander Campbell's group, and a significant part of the restorationist movement that was continuing to develop at the same time as Mormonism).

The point of all this is that if we want to understand the textual legacy of early Mormonism, we also have to produce a connective narrative that shows how in these early years these texts reflect a changing self-awareness, and a a changing set of priorities and objectives. In 1832, Mormonism is still a movement. It isn't quite so much an established Church yet, and certainly doesn't view itself as a 'Religion'. And we need to be a bit more cognizant of how these changes both draw from, and create changes in the textual record. These shifts are simply some kind of PR change. They represent some rather foundational adjustments in how early Mormonism understood itself. These ideas are also true of the various histories of the First Vision.

Ben McGuire

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2 hours ago, Benjamin McGuire said:

The point of all this is that if we want to understand the textual legacy of early Mormonism, we also have to produce a connective narrative that shows how in these early years these texts reflect a changing self-awareness, and a a changing set of priorities and objectives. In 1832, Mormonism is still a movement. It isn't quite so much an established Church yet, and certainly doesn't view itself as a 'Religion'. And we need to be a bit more cognizant of how these changes both draw from, and create changes in the textual record. These shifts are simply some kind of PR change. They represent some rather foundational adjustments in how early Mormonism understood itself. These ideas are also true of the various histories of the First Vision.

Ben McGuire

I shouldn't have been so short in introducing the idea of the Urim and Thummim vs. seer stone in the 1838 history. I'm aware of the adoption of the term Urim and Thummim to refer to the seer stone, and I agree that it isn't just to avoid controversy, though clearly that does play a role. Thanks for fleshing it out here.

I also agree that there is more going on with the 1832 account vs. later accounts of the first vision. However, that still leaves plenty of room for controversy and sacred secret to shape texts meant to share openly vs. texts that were only intended to be given to a private circle. I'm essentially suggesting that one of the primary reasons that the 1832 account doesn't include two personages is essentially because Joseph didn't feel comfortable sharing that openly, which JS not being entirely open about his sacred revelatory experiences is consistent with his character from the beginning. This approach to the 1832 account doesn't need to be summed up as just a PR shift, but can also incorporate a shifting self-understanding of Mormonism and even of JS himself (that JS' understanding of and even comfort with his own experiences evolved as Mormonism's understanding evolved is a reasonable idea, and I would be interested to see what evidence we could come up with for that).

Like I pointed out in my initial post, an inner circle clearly existed in early Mormonism that consisted only of those closest and most trusted by Joseph, which would obviously shift as time wore on. Polygamy is one of the clearest examples of that, as Joseph shared that idea with a select few fairly early on and continued to only tell select followers up until his death. There is good evidence that the inner circle incorporated more than just polygamy. My most important suggestion here is that we consider the possibility that the doctrine of the separate nature of the Godhead, at least in clear and frank exposition, was something more or less reserved for trusted believers in the earliest stages of Mormonism.

Edited by Benjamin Seeker
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2 hours ago, Benjamin McGuire said:

The phrase "Urim and Thummim" is first used in connection with the translation of the Book of Mormon in January of 1831 by Phelps. 

Please forgive my overly pedantic correction.  Phelps first use the term Urim and Thummim in connection with Joseph's translation in 1833.  Not 1831.

Edited by Oliver_Cowdery
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10 hours ago, Benjamin Seeker said:

One of the common criticisms leveled against the first vision is that the 1832 First Vision account only has Jesus Christ present in the theophany, and considering that it is the earliest account and it being in JS's own hand, it makes the later accounts (with two personages) look like the First Vision developed over time. Many people find validity in this criticism, and some leave the church over this. Apologists have done a good job of pointing out that God and Jesus Christ are separate and coexistant in the book of Moses, a text predating the 1832 account, which demonstrates that Mormon doctrine posited that God and Jesus were separate and distinct as early as 1830. They have also pointed to passages in the BOM, which I find somewhat less convincing. I propose that the doctrine of Jesus and God the Father being separate beings was possibly a sacred and guarded (read secret) doctrine in early Mormonism, likely due to its controversial nature. If the doctrine was indeed a secret, that could account for the 1832 account's omission of two personages.  

Keeping controversial items secret was not foreign to Mormonism. Polygamy was kept a secret from the early 1830s. Knowledge of how the Book of Mormon translation occurred was more or less kept within the bounds of a select few. In Nauvoo, the endowment was kept secret. All of these items were controversial in their own ways, and engendered criticism from various corners. The separate nature of the Father and Son had enormous potential for controversy, and comments by JS in 1844 indicate JS' frustration with prevailing notions and possibly with criticism of his teachings.

Evidence that God the Father and Jesus being separate beings was not only controversial but also a secret doctrine comes from JS' revelations and an account of the school of the prophets given by Zebedee Coltrin. According to Coltrin and another witness, the men experienced a vision of God the Father and Christ, likely in 1832 or 1833. First they saw Christ walk through the room, and following that, they saw God the Father walk through the room. After the vision, Joseph Smith told the men there, "Brethren, now you are prepared to be the apostles of Jesus Christ, for you have seen both the Father and the Son and know that They exist and that They are two separate personages." His comments place emphasis on God and Christ's separate nature and makes it a qualifier for apostleship. Further, intimate knowledge of God's existence can be considered a divinely granted privilege reserved for apostles or others who qualify through great faith, according to JS' revelations. JS' comments to the school of the prophets infer a type of categorical equivalence between intimate knowledge of God's existence and the knowledge that the Father and the Son are separate beings. This makes knowledge of the Father and Son's separate nature a sacred mystery revealed by God to the privileged and prepared. 

As noted earlier, the Book of Moses gives fairly clear accounts of God the Father and Jesus being separate beings present at the same time (ie. council in heaven and the creation). Notably, this revelation contains two statements that prescribe that the text only be shared with true believers.
 

It's also worth noting that the council in Heaven and account of Satan's casting out, which is one of the places the separate nature of the Father and the Son is clear, is found in chapter 4.

The above are the earliest instances of the doctrine being clearly delineated (as far as I've identified), and both the school of prophets vision and the Moses revelation can be interpreted as sacred secrets.

Another supporting evidence is the public nature of the Book of Mormon text and its sometimes trinitarian-like portrayal of God (ex. Abinadi's comments about God/Christ), which dates to just a year before the Book of Moses. Even in the BOM's grandest theophany, the Brother of Jared's vision, only the preexistant Christ is seen. I would argue that the 1832 account, like the Book of Mormon, was meant to be a public document. The exaggerated language (mighty acts which he doeth in the name of Jesus Christ), the Book of Mormon like summary at the beginning, and it's inclusion in a letter book instead of a private journal suggest that it may have been intended for public use, and for this reason the theophany account was limited to a a manifestation of Christ, similar to the Brother of Jared's theophany.

An edited 1832 vision is also consistent with how Joseph would later edit or be complicit to editing controversial items from his 1838 history. For example, the seer stone is not mentioned, and the history simply gives a description of the Urim and Thummim and breastplate and states that it was by this means that the Book of Mormon was translated. Joseph's treasure digging was also minimized in the history. Essentially, editing controversial material along with sacred secrets are consistent with early Mormonism and provide a compelling explanation for the omission of two personages from the 1832 account of the First Vision.

That's the gist of the argument. Comments? 

I think this is excellently argued. 

If there is any validity to Joseph's later claim of having been treated poorly for telling the a minister and others of the vision shortly after it happened, maybe it was that one of the main reasons he was treated so poorly was because it included Jesus and God being separate beings.  Condemning visions by a minister of that age seems out of place in a sense.  Surely this minister would have gladly accepted visions of Jesus.  It seems more likely that it was more the content of the vision that had the minister upset.  For some reason in the later account Joseph made it about the minister not being able to accept visions and revelation at all in these days--something that became quite a theme for Mormons from the beginning even to today. 

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2 hours ago, Benjamin McGuire said:

In 1832, Mormonism is still a movement. It isn't quite so much an established Church yet, and certainly doesn't view itself as a 'Religion'. 

Ben McGuire

Two years after the church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints was organized it still didn't view itself as a religion?  Back then, did people view churches and religions as different things?

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9 minutes ago, bluebell said:

Two years after the church of Jesus Christ of latter-day Saints was organized it still didn't view itself as a religion?  Back then, did people view churches and religions as different things?

People today view churches and religions differently than we in our church and religion view them.  I think it likely they did.  To start a Church did not mean to start a new religion.  But, I too found Ben's comment interesting.  It makes me wonder how as they went to Kirtland and gathered, even moving some to Missouri, they didn't see themselves as some separate religion. 

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1 minute ago, stemelbow said:

People today view churches and religions differently than we in our church and religion view them.  I think it likely they did.  To start a Church did not mean to start a new religion.  But, I too found Ben's comment interesting.  It makes me wonder how as they went to Kirtland and gathered, even moving some to Missouri, they didn't see themselves as some separate religion. 

I get that starting a church didn't mean to automatically start a new religion, but wouldn't members of the new church still see themselves as a religious body, or a part of a religious group?  

Were there churches who did not see themselves as part of any religion?

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15 minutes ago, stemelbow said:

I think this is excellently argued. 

If there is any validity to Joseph's later claim of having been treated poorly for telling the a minister and others of the vision shortly after it happened, maybe it was that one of the main reasons he was treated so poorly was because it included Jesus and God being separate beings.  Condemning visions by a minister of that age seems out of place in a sense.  Surely this minister would have gladly accepted visions of Jesus.  It seems more likely that it was more the content of the vision that had the minister upset.  For some reason in the later account Joseph made it about the minister not being able to accept visions and revelation at all in these days--something that became quite a theme for Mormons from the beginning even to today. 

I had gotten the impression from Bushman's Rough Stone Rolling that the general message of religions being corrupt was likely the problem, as other contemporary visions were being denounced on the same grounds. However, your suggestion that the separate nature of God and Jesus played into it makes a lot of sense. From what I remember, this minister was suppose to have been close to Joseph, so the more potentially offensive elements we recognize in JS' first vision the more we understand the minister's reaction.  

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11 hours ago, Benjamin Seeker said:

Apologists have done a good job of pointing out that God and Jesus Christ are separate and coexistant in the book of Moses, a text predating the 1832 account, which demonstrates that Mormon doctrine posited that God and Jesus were separate and distinct as early as 1830.

I don't find this convincing, or you arguments that what we find in the book of Moses as clearly different than Trinitarian beliefs about God and Jesus.  I find the Moses passages as very compatible with mainstream Christian teachings about God.  Would you mind sharing what apologetic arguments you find persuasive on this subject.

I believe there was a theological development, I haven't seen any strong evidence to support your thesis that this concept was hidden, but that it existed in the early 1830s.  Evidence that would go against your proposal should include the 1835 lectures on faith.  

I am interested in how you interpret the 1832 D&C 84:22 about needing the priesthood to see the father.  

One last request, can you share the reference to the Zebedee Coltrin account, where does that come from and what year was it recorded.  I'm not familiar with that specific quote.  Thanks

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The challenge we have is that the Church is undergoing constant significant change all during this period - and much of this change is driven by growth. The Church is organized in 1830. We get the first Bishop in 1831. The first Stake is organized in 1834. The Quorum of the Twelve is formed in 1835.

You can imagine that this shift - from going to a congregational model, to having a Quroum of the Twelve Apostles - this is a huge shift. And it certainly has an impact on how the membership sees themselves and the Church's place in connection with the rest of Christianity.

So growth drives the creation of infrastructure (so to speak). But we don't see the full extent of that infrastructure for a few years (and even then we continued to see major adjustments for over a century). This growth, and these developments were at times quite challenging for early leadership, and necessary changes were not always popular. In 1832, they simply did not see themselves as we do today, with our millions of members, and church organizational units around the globe. And we forget that even by 1835, the vast majority of members had been members for only a year or two. And all of them bring different expectations (both cultural and religious) with them. So this is a huge transitional period in more ways than one. And this is the context in which the Church begins to work to frame (and perhaps re-frame) its founding narratives (and perhaps even the reason why such narratives were seen as necessary). And this is partly why I suggest in 1832 that the membership of the Church didn't really understand what the movement they were participating in would become. And this is why we cannot look at the entire early period of the Church as a single monolithic entity. The issues driving the creation of a history in 1832 are certainly different than the issues driving the creation of a history in 1838.

Ben M.

Edited by Benjamin McGuire
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8 minutes ago, hope_for_things said:

I don't find this convincing, or you arguments that what we find in the book of Moses as clearly different than Trinitarian beliefs about God and Jesus.  I find the Moses passages as very compatible with mainstream Christian teachings about God.  Would you mind sharing what apologetic arguments you find persuasive on this subject.

I believe there was a theological development, I haven't seen any strong evidence to support your thesis that this concept was hidden, but that it existed in the early 1830s.  Evidence that would go against your proposal should include the 1835 lectures on faith.  

I am interested in how you interpret the 1832 D&C 84:22 about needing the priesthood to see the father.  

One last request, can you share the reference to the Zebedee Coltrin account, where does that come from and what year was it recorded.  I'm not familiar with that specific quote.  Thanks

 

I'm game. First, I'll just share the passages of Moses that can be easily interpreted as God and Christ being physically present and separate.

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Moses 4:1-3

And I, the Lord God, spake unto Moses, saying: That Satan, whom thou hast commanded in the name of mine Only Begotten, is the same which was from the beginning, and he came before me, saying—Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor.

But, behold, my Beloved Son, which was my Beloved and Chosen from the beginning, said unto me—Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever.

Wherefore, because that Satan rebelled against me, and sought to destroy the agency of man, which I, the Lord God, had given him, and also, that I should give unto him mine own power; by the power of mine Only Begotten, I caused that he should be cast down;

I agree that this could be read in more than one way, but one clear reading suggests that three people are in conversation. God the father, Satan, and the son.

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Moses 2:26-27

26 And I, God, said unto mine Only Begotten, which was with me from the beginning: Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and it was so. And I, God, said: Let them have dominion over the fishes of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

27 And I, God, created man in mine own image, in the image of mine Only Begotten created I him; male and female created I them.

Again, the verses could be interpreted in multiple ways, but one straightforwards interpretation has God the Father turning his head to an also present and physically separate Son, saying, "Let us make man in our image..."

I stumbled onto the argument for these passages looking at FAIR's collection of early indications that early Mormon doctrine held God and Christ as separate. Like, I've mentioned, there being cribbed in a text only meant to be shared with insiders makes this interpretation at least plausible, despite trinitarian-like examples from the Book of Mormon. Something else that differentiates the Moses text is it includes a theophany of the Father as the primary divine communicator. Like I mentioned earlier, the Book of Mormon and the 1832 account stick to Christ as the physical manifestation of God.

Onto Zebedee Coltrin's vision account:

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Source: Minutes, Salt Lake City School of the Prophets, October 3, 1883. http://www.boap.org/LDS/Early-Saints/ZebC.html

At one of these meetings after the organization of the school, (the school being organized_ on the 23rd of January, 1833, 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. He (Brother Coltrin) experienced a sensation that it might destroy the tabernacle as it was of consuming fire of great brightness. The Prophet Joseph said this was the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. I saw Him.

When asked about the kind of clothing the Father had on, Brother Coltrin said: I did not discover his clothing for he was surrounded as with a flame of fire, which was so brilliant that I could not discover anything else but his person. I saw his hands, his legs, his feet, his eyes, nose, mouth, head and body in the shape and form of a perfect man. He sat in a chair as a man would sit in a chair, but this appearance was so grand and overwhelming that it seemed I should melt down in his presence, and the sensation was so powerful that it thrilled through my whole system and I felt it in the marrow of my bones. The Prophet Joseph said: Brethren, now you are prepared to be the apostles of Jesus Christ, for you have seen both the Father and the Son and know that they exist and that they are two separate personages.

So it's a late account, but there are school of the prophets minutes from March 18, 1833 which records a theophany of Christ, though no mention of the Father.

Quote

http://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/minutes-18-march-1833/2#full-transcript

After which several exertations  were given to faithfulness and obedience  to the commandments of God and much  useful instruction given for the benefit  of the saints with a promise that the pure  in heart that were present should see a  heavenly vision, and after remaining for  a short time in secret prayer the promise  was verified to many present having the  eyes of their understanding<s> opened so as  to behold many things afte[r] which the  bread and wine was distributed by Bro  Joseph after which many of the brethren  saw a heavenly vision of the saviour  and concourses of angels and many other things of which each one has a reccord of what they saw &c

John Murdock records his remembrance of the event, without mentioning the father (I'm not sure when it is recorded):

Quote

http://en.fairmormon.org/Joseph_Smith's_First_Vision/Joseph_Smith's_early_conception_of_God

John Murdock:

During the winter that I boarded with[Bro[ther] Joseph... we had a number of prayer meetings, in the Prophet’s chamber.... In one of those meetings the Prophet told us if we could humble ourselves before God, and exersise [sic] strong faith, we should see the face of the Lord. And about midday the visions of my mind were opened, and the eyes of my understanding were enlightened, and I saw the form of a man, most lovely, the visage of his face was sound and fair as the sun. His hair a bright silver grey, curled in a most majestic form, His eyes a keen penetrating blue, and the skin of his neck a most beautiful white and he was covered from the neck to the feet with a loose garment, pure white, whiter than any garment I had ever before seen. His countenance was the most penetrating, and yet most lovely. And while I was endeavoring to comprehend the whole personage from head to feet it slipped from me, and the vision was closed up. But it left on my mind the impression of love, for months, that I never felt before to that degree.

So, two versus 1, and the Coltrin is admittedly late. That being said, we should at least consider it and the possibilities it suggests.

Here's an additional example recorded in 1831, so nice and early (I noticed it just now while reviewing the FAIR page):

Quote

http://en.fairmormon.org/Joseph_Smith's_First_Vision/Joseph_Smith's_early_conception_of_God

1831 - Joseph "saw the heavens opened, and the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of the Father"

John Whitmer would also write in 1831 of a vision enjoyed by Joseph in which Joseph saw Christ as separate from the Father, for he "saw the heavens opened, and the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of the Father making intercession for his brethren, the Saints." (emphasis added) [6] Of this same experience, Levi Hancock wrote:

Joseph Smith then stepped out onto 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.' (emphasis added)

So, there is additional evidence, recorded in 1831, that JS professed God and Christ as separate, at least privately, which is consistent with my hypothesis.

Lastly, on the Lectures on Faith, can you find the trinitarian-like passages for us? While I was browsing the FAIR page just now, I did stumbled on one of the most controversial passages, which in the same breath declares God the Father a personage of spirit but also a personage distinct from Christ:

Quote

http://en.fairmormon.org/Joseph_Smith's_First_Vision/Joseph_Smith's_early_conception_of_God

"There are two personages who constitute the great, matchless, governing, and supreme power over all things, by whom all things were created and made, that are created and made. . . . They are the Father and the Son--the Father being a personage of spirit, glory, and power, possessing all perfection and fulness, the Son, who was in the bosom of the Father, a personage of tabernacle. (Lecture 5:1–2)

So by January 1835 when the lectures were being readied for publication, either the doctrine of God and Jesus as two separate beings had developed sufficiently for clear exposition in church publication, OR the doctrine, after having been vetted and accepted in the sacred circle, moved to the public domain.

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54 minutes ago, hope_for_things said:

I am interested in how you interpret the 1832 D&C 84:22 about needing the priesthood to see the father. 

I agree that this is evidence that should preclude JS from seeing God the Father in his first vision, and therefore demonstrates an evolving theology. To be clear, I agree that Mormon theology on the nature of God evolved over time. Lectures on Faith is a pretty straightforward indicator of that. That being said, I still think it's possible that the public doctrine and inner circle doctrine were different, and that sometimes we see inner circle doctrine becoming increasingly public. This could be argued in the case of polygamy and temple ordinances.

However, I also think that Joseph considered his first vision as a general exception to the general idea that theophany is the territory of priesthood in Mormonism (or at least post-conferral of the Holy Ghost in the BOM). Similarly, JS recieved visits from Moroni without having received the Aaronic priesthood.

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29 minutes ago, Benjamin Seeker said:

Again, the verses could be interpreted in multiple ways, but one straightforwards interpretation has God the Father turning his head to an also present and physically separate Son, saying, "Let us make man in our image..."

I stumbled onto the argument for these passages looking at FAIR's collection of early indications that early Mormon doctrine held God and Christ as separate. Like, I've mentioned, there being cribbed in a text only meant to be shared with insiders makes this interpretation at least plausible, despite trinitarian-like examples from the Book of Mormon. Something else that differentiates the Moses text is it includes a theophany of the Father as the primary divine communicator. Like I mentioned earlier, the Book of Mormon and the 1832 account stick to Christ as the physical manifestation of God.

The quotes from Moses 4 and Moses 2 are all very biblical.  The Moses 4 quotes paraphrase many NT passages.  The Moses 2 quotes are almost identical to the Genesis account.  I don't see how any Trinity believing Christians would find these passages to be saying something distinctly incompatible with their paradigm.  You need evidence to show that these passages were interpreted differently by Mormons in the early 1830s.  So far, I'm not seeing it.  

I'm not an expert on the Trinity or the beliefs of protestant Christians on this subject.  I'm still learning.  There has been a lot written about these things, you seem to preference FAIR, but I would recommend reading some essays in Dialogue, BYU studies, MHA, etc.  FAIR's stuff is very apologetic in nature, I have a hard time reading through their website because of the tone of the language its not scholarly or objective.  

https://www.dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/Dialogue_V19N01_79.pdf

I've heard John Turner's book is good on this subject, but I haven't read it yet.   

https://www.amazon.com/Mormon-Jesus-Biography-John-Turner/dp/0674737431/ref=sr_1_sc_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1480527484&sr=8-1-spell&keywords=the+mormon+jessu

I also liked the chapters in Charlie Harrell's book on the development of Mormon Doctrine.  

https://www.amazon.com/This-My-Doctrine-Development-Theology/dp/1589581032/ref=sr_1_fkmr1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1480527568&sr=8-1-fkmr1&keywords=mormon+doctrine+charlie+harrell

I think part of the problem is as Mormon's we don't understand the Christian concept of Trinity and the Godhead.  So when we try to explain the differences between Mormon teachings and Christian teachings, we get all mixed up, and I see that as what you're doing here.  

Thanks for sharing that Coltrin passage, I wasn't familiar with it, and it is late, but still interesting.  I don't believe that Joseph Smith was very good at having a consistent systematized theological approach.  I'm open to him having different views earlier on, I just haven't seen the evidence to support it, and I think if you're trying to produce a theory that this doctrine was developed, just hidden, you have to explain the contradictory evidences out there.  

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5 minutes ago, hope_for_things said:

you seem to preference FAIR, but I would recommend reading some essays in Dialogue, BYU studies, MHA, etc.  FAIR's stuff is very apologetic in nature, I have a hard time reading through their website because of the tone of the language its not scholarly or objective.  

I don't like a lot of what FAIR produces actually. It just had that convenient collection of quotes for my purposes here. I'm sure you've noticed my other comments on this board (and really even my above suggestion/inference that revelation, meaning the BOM text and the Moses text, may have been shaped to fit what JS was comfortable disclosing to certain groups), is really not in line with the traditional Mormon interpretation of revelation. I'll continue to look for other evidences that support the hypothesis. I'm mainly suggesting that it's plausible, there is some evidence for it, and that it is very consistent with JS's treatment of other controversial subjects.

If you don't mind, could you take the time to list the strongest evidences against what I've written here (this isn't meant as a polemic challenge, but a sincere request to further discussion)?

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29 minutes ago, hope_for_things said:

 I think if you're trying to produce a theory that this doctrine was developed, just hidden, you have to explain the contradictory evidences out there.  

If the doctrine was developed privately first, to what degree it was developed and when that development took place are open questions. I think your suggestion that we would want to see JS's followers in the early 1830s professing belief that God and Christ were separate is really valid. Some of JS's early discussions of polygamy are recorded despite being secret. I see no reason why God and Jesus being separate, something that I would guess would be less controversial than polygamy, wouldn't also be attested, even if it was a secret doctrine (except maybe in being less controversial it could have been less memorable and so less likely to be written down).

EDIT: I suppose the clearest evidence I have so far is Coltrin's late remembrance of 1833, both the vision and his account of Joseph's comments following it. The 1833 is in the ballpark, but of course, the late nature of the remembrance weakens the weight that can be placed on it.

Here is an open invitation to anyone who is aware of evidence pointing to one or more early 1830s saints understanding that God and Christ were separate. Please add to the discussion!

Edited by Benjamin Seeker
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A question for someone who has a strong understanding of trinitarianism: Would a typical Trinitarian theophany be of a glorified Jesus Christ (something akin to the book of Revelations)?

From what I understand, I would expect that a trinitarian theophany would reveal Jesus Christ in glorified form, as the Son is the bodily form of God through which He is manifest to humanity. That's why I think that it could be significant that the Brother of Jared's theophany and JS' 1832 account report Jesus Christ while the Book of Moses reports a theophany of God the Father specifically. 

Edited by Benjamin Seeker
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22 hours ago, sunstoned said:

I see the many versions of the FV as more of a progression of thought and perhaps theology rather than contradictions.  JS was working and experimenting with religious concepts throughout his life. The gospel as he preached it was never stagnate.  It was always evolving.  This is evidenced by the concept of God.  In his early works, like the BoM, the concept of God was very much in line with 19th century Protestantism.  This very much differs with his later sermons, such as what is recorded in the lectures of faith.

Sidney Rigdon, not Joseph Smith, was the author of the Lectures on Faith.  However, it is true that the Book of Mormon "concept of God" does seem on the surface to be "very much in line with 19th century Protestantism."  That is merely a surface impression based on the apparent similarity of the BofM to the NT, and it misses crucial distinctions:

The Roman Catholic Jerusalem Bible, in its note g to 2 Timothy 1:2,18, finds that "'Lord' can be taken in either case as a reference either to the Father or to the Son" (this note has been removed in the New Jerusalem Bible), which is the same problem which we encounter in the Book of Mormon.  This does not even get into the nature of the debate on the early identity of 'El and Yahweh and where and how they came to be cross-identified, which is seen by some scholars to be a developmental process beginning in early Canaanite times.[1]

There is good evidence, in any case, for the full three-member Gottheit in the Book of Mormon:  Nephi beholds the Holy Spirit (Athe Spirit of the Lord@) Ain the form of a man@ who could speak Aas a man@ (1 Nephi 11:11).[2]  That same Holy Spirit is personified as Wisdom in Proverbs 8, Wisdom of Solomon 7 - 8, and Ecclesiasticus 24 (Ben Sira).[3]

Based on the anthropomorphic descriptions of God in the Bible, Yohanan Muffs insists that A[T]he biblical God is anthropomorphic.  Whoever strips God of his personal quality distorts the true meaning of Scripture.@[4]  Just so, the Book of Mormon speaks of God with the same sort of flesh and blood anthropomorphisms (Ether 2:4-5,14, 3:4-19).

Non-Mormon scholar Ernst Benz has said that “Joseph Smith=s anthropology of man is closer to the concept of man in the primitive church than that of the proponents of the Augustinian doctrine of original sin, who considered the idea of such a fundamental and corporeal relationship between God and man as the quintessential heresy.”[5]

The word Atrinity@ does not occur in the Bible or Book of Mormon, and the concept is a later dogmatic christian theological retrojection upon texts which describe a very close relationship among God, his Son Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.  Indeed, the NT exhibits no more than Atriadic coordination@ rather than a divine unity of three-in-one,[6] which some take to be tritheism.  Jan Assmann and the late Klaus Baer (among others) have, moreover, maintained that the false doctrine of the Christian Trinity and the notion of hypostasis were taken from pagan ancient Egyptian religion.[7]

We have already seen how both God and the Holy Spirit are described anthropomorphically in the Book of Mormon.  In that context, it is not possible to formulate a doctrine of hypostatic union among the members of the Gottheit, but rather no more than a full unity of purpose and love among perfect beings, with God the Father at their head B one God (2 Nephi 31:21, Jacob 4:5, Alma 11:44, 3 Nephi 11:32, 35-36, Mormon 7:7, Ether 12:41, Moroni 10:34).  Formal language of cross-identification (Mosiah 13:28, 15:1-5) is, therefore, only to be taken as metaphorical, so that Athe will of the Son@ is Aswallowed up in the will of the Father@ (Mosiah 15:7).  In fact, David Paulsen and Ari Bruening argue for a social trinity in 3 Nephi.[8]

Indeed, Werner Lemke goes even further:

Because of Christianity=s origin in a specifically Jewish milieu, an understanding of the OT is essential for a proper understanding of the NT and of the gospel.  The history of the early Church is incomprehensible apart from Jewish antecedents, and the literature of the NT presupposes knowledge of the language and thought-world of the OT.[9]

Given that we now know that such early Christian symbolism and interpretation (as well as organization) was likewise characteristic of earlier Jewish sectarian groups,[10] it is now widely accepted that one cannot understand Jesus Christ or Christianity without a thorough grounding in Judaism.[11]

Some have suggested that the Book of Mormon not only exhibits the same tendencies, but that it goes much too far, presenting blatant, in-your-face Christianity in what should be the OT section of the book.[12]  Others, following Margaret Barker,[13] have taken the opposite tack, suggesting that the Deuteronomistic revision of the Hebrew Canon removed what would later become authentic Christian elements and which was already present on the Bronze Plates of Laban.[14]  This is clearly a result of the use of different terminologies, and not from differences of substance.  I have dealt with this matter in detail elsewhere. 


[1] L. Fisher & S. Rummel, eds., Ras Shamra Parallels, III, IV 2. 

[2] Cf. Kenneth Surin, Theology and the Problem of Evil (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2004).

[3] P. Skehan in Catholic Biblical Quarterly 41:371n.

[4] Muffs, Bible Review, 18/6 (Dec 2002)𐐛23; cf. Ronald Hendel, AAniconism and Anthropomorphism in Ancient Israel,@ in K. van der Toorn, ed., The Image and the Book (Leuven: Peeters, 1997), 205-228; Benjamin Sommer, The Bodies of God and the World of Ancient Israel (Cambridge University Press, 2009); Esther J. Hamori, "When Gods Were Men": The Embodied God in Biblical and Near Eastern Literature (de Gruyter, 2008), reviewed in RBL, Feb 2012, online at http://www.bookreviews.org/bookdetail.asp?TitleId=8190 .

[5] ADer Mensch als Imago Dei,@ in Eranos Jahrbuch 40 (1971), and also published in Urbild und Abbild: Der Mensch und die mythische Welt: gesammelte Eranos-Beitrage (Leiden: Brill, 1974), 326, English version in Benz, AImagio Dei: Man in the Image of God,@ in T. Madsen, ed., Reflections on Mormonism (Provo, 1978), 201-219.

[6] J. Bassler, AGod (NT),@ in D. Freedman, ed., Anchor Bible Dictionary, II:1055.

[7] Klaus Baer (then of the Oriental Institute, Univ. of Chicago) said that Amon-Re-Ptah subsume all gods and that all gods are three, and three are one.  According to him, the Christian Trinity was developed at Alexandria (Harry Wolfson agreed on the place, but maintained that the Christians got the idea more immediately from Philo Judaeus [Philo: Foundation of Religious Philosophy in Judaism , Christianity, and Islam]).  Moreover, Ptah the Creator God/ Chaos (Memphis), is both male & female.  All the gods arose from him, are joined to him, and are him.  AThe divine@ is a monophysite substance and could be seen as one god, as in Coptic Christianity.  My personal notes of Baer lecture at BYU (Provo, Utah), Aug 20, 1974.  However, J. Assmann argues for the expression of the Egyptian trinity or Atriunity@ at least as early as the Middle Kingdom, Search for God, 177-180,238-239.

[8] Paulsen & Bruening, AThe Social Model of the Trinity in 3 Nephi,@ in Skinner & Strathearn, eds., Third Nephi, 191-233.

[9] Lemke, ATheology (OT),@ in D. Freedman, ed., ABD, VI:471.

[10] Michael O. Wise, The First Messiah: Investigating the Savior Before Christ (S.F.: Harper SanFrancisco, 1999); Israel Knohl, The Messiah Before Jesus: The Suffering Servant of the Dead Sea Scrolls (Berkeley: U.C. Press, 2000).

[11] Walter P. Weaver, "Introduction," in J. H. Charlesworth and W. P. Weaver, eds., The Old and the New Testaments: Their Relationship and the "Intertestamental" Literature, Faith and Scholarship Colloquies (Valley Forge, Penn.: Trinity Press International, 1993), 3-4,13-14,17, and n. 1, citing James Charlesworth, Jesus Within Judaism (Doubleday, 1988), and E. P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism (Phila.: Fortress Press, 1985); cf. Paula Fredriksen, Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews: A Jewish Life and the Emergence of Christianity (N.Y.: Knopf, 1999); Amy-Jill Levine, “Jesus Who?” Moment, 27/4 (Aug 2002), 48-54,74-75.

[12] Melodie M. Charles, AThe Mormon Christianizing of the Old Testament,@ Sunstone, 5/6 (Nov-Dec 1980):35-39, with response from Lowell Bennion on p. 40 = reprinted in D. Vogel, ed., The Word of God: Essays on Mormon Scripture (Signature Books, 1990), 131-142, but with the Bennion response removed.  Reviewed by Kevin Christensen in FARMS Review, 16/2 (2004):59-90, online at http://publications.mi.byu.edu/publications/review/16/2/S00004-5176ac935b13a4Christensen.pdf .

[13] Margaret Barker, AWhat Did King Josiah Reform?@ in J. Welch, D. Seely, and A. Seely, eds., Glimpses of Lehi=s Jerusalem (FARMS, 2004), 523-542; Barker, The Older Testament: The Survival of Themes from the Ancient Royal Cult in Sectarian Judaism and Early Christianity (SPCK, 1987), reviewed by G. Nicklesburg in JBL, 109 (1990):335-337.

[14] Kevin Christensen, AThe Deuteronomist De-Christianizing of the Old Testament,@ FARMS Review, 16/2 (2004):59-90, online at http://publications.mi.byu.edu/publications/review/16/2/S00004-5176ac935b13a4Christensen.pdf ; M. Barker, AJoseph Smith and Preexilic Israelite Religion,@ paper delivered in 2005, at Library of Congress in Washington, DC., published in J. Welch, ed., The Worlds of Joseph Smith: A Bicentennial Conference at the Library of Congress (Provo: BYU Press, 2006), 69-82, saying re Book of Mormon, AThis revelation to Joseph Smith is the ancient wisdom symbolism, intact, and almost certainly as it was known in 600 BCE.@

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I do like Robert's point about the Holy Ghost appearing to Nephi in bodily form.

On the early inner circle, D&C 19 is further evidence that some doctrines were kept only among a small group very early on. D&C 19 is likely an 1829 revelation, which explains that hell is not eternal, another doctrine arguably not in clear exposition in the BOM. After outlining the doctrine, the revelation reads,

"21 And I command you that you preach naught but repentance, and show not these things unto the world until it is wisdom in me.

22 For they cannot bear meat now, but milk they must receive; wherefore, they must not know these things, lest they perish."

EDIT: I also like that these verses are consistent with the pattern I've suggested. A given doctrine is had among a select few and eventually becomes increasingly public.

Edited by Benjamin Seeker
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