Joseph Smith’s First Vision

For historically-orthodox Christians, the foundational event that undergirds the Christian faith is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. For members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), the foundational event for the Mormon faith is the “First Vision,” as described by Joseph Smith, most importantly, in an account written in 1838. The “First Vision” is about establishing the claim that Joseph Smith was selected by God to restore Christianity back to its true, original foundations. The Christian church had fallen into confusion, due to centuries of corrupt doctrine and traditions, having taken the Christian church away from its proper course.

In the “First Vision,” Joseph Smith encounters a vision of Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father, in the spring of 1820, close to his teenage home, near Palmyra, New York. There he inquires of the vision, wishing to know which branch of Christianity he should follow: Would it be the Presbyterians? The Methodists? The Baptists? The answer was “none of the above.” The LDS church has a four-minute video, detailing a depiction of that signal event:

However, the narrative of this “official” story of the “First Vision” is complicated by the fact that Joseph Smith also details another account, written in 1832, that differs in detail from the 1838 account. Two differences stand out:

  • (1) In the 1832 account, Joseph Smith only sees “the Lord,” thus indicating the appearance of only one personage, and not two, according to the standard 1838 account.
  • (2) In the 1832 account, Joseph Smith has already himself determined that none of the churches are true, which differs from the standard 1838 account, where the visionary personages instruct Joseph to believe that none of the churches are true, as an answer to his inquiry.

Can these two accounts be reconciled? For a detailed explanation, suggesting that the accounts can NOT be reconciled, you may wish to view this 35-minute YouTube video, by Dan Vogel, author of Joseph Smith: The Making of a Prophet.

How would you answer the question? is an evangelistic ministry of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. They often post YouTube videos encouraging others to consider the Mormon faith. Is the message of Mormonism consistent with the message of historically orthodox Christian faith?

Christians and the Coronavirus: Lessons From Church History

What did Martin Luther and Charles Spurgeon have in common? Both Christian leaders dealt with the challenge of plagues and pestilence, in their day. Luther, the 16th century German Reformer, and his wife, Kate, ministered to the sick when the Black Death descended upon their city of Wittenberg. Spurgeon, one of England’s finest preachers of the 19th century, was a 20-year-old young pastor, when a cholera epidemic swept through London.

The mortality rate for COVID-19 is high, but the rate was even far worse for the Black Death (up to 1 out of 4 people died) and London’s cholera (around 5.5 percent).

I recently read a great article by UK author Glen Scrivener, that briefly chronicles these and several other examples of how Christians faced plagues, pestilence, and pandemics in the past. Today’s coronavirus pandemic is new to many of us, but we have much to learn from believers who lived before us, who can show us examples of how followers of Jesus sought to love others, in difficult and scary times, and how the church was able to survive such challenges.

Along those same lines, I also read a great article by C.S. Lewis, whereby you can substitute the word “atomic bomb” with “coronavirus” and gain some of the Oxford don’s encouraging insight. Below is a video podcast featuring Glen Scrivener expanding upon the themes in his article.

Who Are the 144,000? — A Case Study in Understanding the Book of Revelation

From a 12th century commentary on Revelation 7, by Saint John of Lorvao, Portugal, depicting the 144,000. The variety of existing interpretations that attempt to decipher the 144,000 are legion. Which is the “correct one?”

Have you ever tried to read the Book of Revelation, and wondered to yourself, “Huh? What is this all about?

Despite its early reception in many quarters, Revelation was one of the last books to be accepted into the New Testament canon of Scripture. Eastern Orthodox Christians, even today, do not publicly read Revelation in their worship services. The early church fathers were reticent about Revelation, not because they did not value it, but because they were concerned that overly-enthusiastic, misguided readers might misuse it, and read all sorts of crazy stuff into it.

History has proven this reticence to be 100% correct. Remember Family Radio’s Harold Camping? Or David Koresh in Waco, Texas? All of the crazies have looked to Revelation, believing that they, and they alone, have figured out the true message of this book. Yet, they were all 100% wrong.

Still, Revelation simply fascinates people.

I once had a friend in college who supposedly “knew” all about Revelation, what the bowls and trumpets all mean, and those spooky, multi-headed beasts. My friend knew very little about what the rest of the Bible talked about, such as the basics about sin, our need for a Savior, and what it means to have a personal relationship with Jesus. But he sure knew all about the Antichrist!

It seems like there are two kinds of people in the world when it comes to the Book of Revelation. First, you have folks, who are simply curious about understanding Revelation. Most folks are at least mildly interested, but more than a few are sort of like my college friend, simply obsessed with all things “End Times.” Many of them watch late night cable TV channels devoted to figuring out “Last Days” prophecies, reading New York Times bestsellers all claiming to reveal the “true secrets” about Bible prophecy, while others love to go to various, church-sponsored Revelation seminars. It is fine to take an initial interest in these things, I suppose, but only if it gets people to read the rest of the Bible.

The second group are those who just get really fed up with all things “End Times,” or at least the cacophony of voices that surround the discussion. They are bothered by the fact that there seems to be endless theories as to how to interpret the Book of Revelation. Even the great Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther, observed that “everyone thinks of the book whatever his spirit imparts.” For Luther, at one point, he went so far as saying that Revelation is “neither apostolic nor prophetic, for Christ is neither taught nor recognized in it.” Nevertheless, despite discouraging its use, Luther recognized that the church historically did view Revelation as part of the New Testament canon, so he did include it in his 16th century translation of the Bible into German.

So that is where we are at: Some feel absolutely compelled to defend their own pet theory about Revelation, and demonizing others, while others simply just want to skip that book of the Bible all together! Well, that is all quite understandable, but both of those attitudes, too, are wrong-headed.

In this “deep-dive” blog post, I want to do a case study in Revelation, by explaining why this book is so difficult to understand, just by examining one, short passage, comparing different approaches, and then draw some positive lessons from the study of Revelation. The bottom line: We should not neglect the Book of Revelation, but neither should we cling too tightly to a particular interpretive tradition of the book. But before I start, I must issue this disclaimer: If you are new to Revelation, I would strongly encourage you to stop reading this blog post, and then click through to first read my introductory post on the Book of Revelation from a few years ago here on Veracity. Otherwise, this will get too confusing way too fast. 

So, who are the 144,000 spoken of in Revelation 7:1-8? Let us walk through this very intriguing question. This is not a short blog post, so you may want to pour yourself a beverage before we move on. Continue reading

Will Jesus Reign for 1000 Years after His Second Coming?

Clarence Larkin, popular dispensationalist Bible teacher of the early 20th century, produced this chart explaining the millennium.

Clarence Larkin, popular dispensationalist Bible teacher of the early 20th century, produced this chart explaining the millennium (credit: clarencelarkin.charts). Click on it to expand.

We have an old joke in our church told by our late pastor emeritus, Dick Woodward. Someone once asked him about his views concerning the Second Coming of Jesus. Was he was a premillennialist, an amillennialist, or a postmillennialist? Dick’s response was that he was a pan-millennialist. When asked, “What is a pan-millennialist?,” Dick replied that it is all going to “pan out” in the end.

The point that Dick was trying to make is that Christians differ on their views regarding the millennium, but they are all united on one important truth:  Jesus is coming back!

Interestingly enough, I find that a lot of people these days do not get the pan-millennialist joke. The main reason it escapes them is that they are not familiar with all of these different ideas about the “millennium” and the whole “pre,” “a,” and “post” bit. Sadly, a lot of churches today do not do such a great job explaining Bible doctrine to their people, so I thought it might be good to do a little Bible study on the subject of the millennium.

Continue reading

Sarah Osborn’s World #4

The fourth in a series of posts about the life of Sarah Osborn. The first three are found here (#1, #2, #3)

Not too long after her young son died, Sarah Osborn was given the gift of a slave boy by friends. Sarah was too impoverished to afford her own slave. Our “tour guide” examining Sarah Osborn’s life, religious historian Catherine Brekus, surmises that Sarah’s friends hoped that having another young child to raise would assist Sarah in working through her grief. Furthermore, having a young slave might prove to be a sound investment for such a poor New England woman. In an era more than a hundred years before America was bitterly ripped apart by a Civil War, the evils of slavery were never thoroughly considered by Sarah, or her Christian friends, at that moment in time(p. 174). Continue reading

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