As a missionary one of the first things we did was memorize “The First Vision”. We had to make sure that if there was one thing we learned in our 3 weeks (I served an English speaking mission) at the Missionary Training Center, it was that. Even to this day I can recite it, word for word.
What I wasn’t taught though, is that the version I learned wasn’t the only version recorded. It also wasn’t the first. It was the fourth account given. Now, it would be one thing if the details of all these accounts were consistent. However, there are many inconsistencies to be found among all of Josephs accounts of that fateful First Vision.
This was one of the first things that really started to get my shelf breaking. I felt as though I had be lied to my entire life about the First Vision. I felt as though I had be taught to teach a lie repeatedly over the course of my two years as a missionary. I felt… violated somehow. Like I had been made into a patsy to spread half-truths.
The thing, to me, that hurt the most was feeling lied to. Of course, The LDS Church doesn’t lie about there being multiple accounts of the First Vision. They just don’t talk about it. In my opinion that’s as bad as just outright lying.
Why does The LDS Church not tell us about these multiple accounts? Because first of all, the account they picked most closely fits the narrative they’re trying to put forth. That Joseph was a curious boy in a time of religious upheaval. That he sought after knowledge through prayer, and his prayer was answered. Not by 1 God alone, but God and Jesus, which fits with how Joseph Smith was trying to portray God at that current point in time (1838).
Secondly, as Gordon B. Hinckley put it:
Our whole strength rests on the validity of that [First] vision. It either occurred or it did not occur. If it did not, then this work is a fraud.
So they want to make sure you only learn about the account that fits their narrative, because letting you know about the others will cast into doubt the validity of their “official” version thereby making the entire Mormon Church a fraud. So yeah, they have a pretty big reason to keep those version under wraps.
I do have to agree with GBH though. If the First Vision didn’t happen, or didn’t happen the way The Church wants you to believe it happened, then the whole house of cards is going to come crashing down. They say the Book of Mormon is the keystone of the religion, but to me the First Vision is more important.
If it’s not true, then everything that happened after that is a lie. The Book of Mormon, restoration of the Priesthood, temples, everything. That’s a pretty scary thought.
I’m not going to take the time to go into all the problems with all the different accounts of the First Vision here though. I’ll be here all night writing things that so many others have already written. Instead, if you want to learn more about the First Visions the CES Letter is a pretty good place to start. Jeremy Runnells did an excellent job, and has cited all of his sources (many of which are LDS Church approved).