“The Vision,” , OH, 16 Feb. 1832; signed by and JS. Featured version copied [between 16 Feb. and 8 Mar. 1832] in Revelation Book 2, pp. 1–10; handwriting of and JS; CHL. Includes redactions. For more complete source information, see the source note for Revelation Book 2.
On 16 February 1832, JS and saw a vision “concerning the economy of God and his vast creation throughout all eternity,” likely while in the upstairs bedroom of the and Alice (Elsa) Jacobs Johnson home in , Ohio. This vision came after JS returned from the January in , Ohio, and after he resumed his work of revising the New Testament at the Johnson home, with Rigdon working as scribe. According to a later JS history, revelations JS had dictated up to February 1832 showed “that many important points, touching the salvation of man, had been taken from the Bible, or lost before it was compiled.” Included in these “important points” was information on what happens after death. This information led JS to think “that if God rewarded every one according to the deeds done in the body, the term ‘heaven,’ . . . must include more kingdoms than one.” According to the description of the vision, on 16 February 1832, JS and Rigdon reviewed John 5:29, wherein Jesus Christ prophesies that the dead will “come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” They reported that when they pondered this verse they together beheld a vision of what awaited humankind after death.
JS and ’s description of the vision outlined three levels of heavenly glory—, , and —and the requirements for entrance into each. According to their report, every person who lived on earth—apart from followers of known as “sons of perdition”—would spend the afterlife in one of these “kingdoms.” These concepts differed considerably from views of the afterlife held by most Protestant churches that the souls of the “righteous” are received into heaven while the “wicked” are cast into hell. Other thinkers and theologians, however, had conceptions of heaven that were more similar to JS and Rigdon’s vision: The Universalist church, with which JS’s grandfather Asael Smith had affiliated, proclaimed that Christ would temporarily punish sinners but eventually redeem all people. Emanuel Swedenborg, a Swedish scientist and mystic, posited in the mid-1700s that heaven consisted of three different levels (celestial, spiritual, and natural). , Rigdon’s former associate in the Disciples of Christ, also wrote about “three kingdoms”—the Kingdom of Law, the Kingdom of Favor, and the Kingdom of Glory. Campbell’s Kingdoms of Law and Favor, however, could be experienced during mortal life, and only the Kingdom of Glory was reserved for the afterlife. In describing these three kingdoms, Campbell wrote that the first was entered through birth, the second through baptism, and the third through good works. One differed from the next, Campbell declared, “as the sun excelled a star.”
Neither JS nor described in detail how the vision occurred—only that they both saw it at the same time. The shared nature of the vision made it somewhat unusual. Although some experiences of angelic visitations had multiple participants—including the appearance of John the Baptist to JS and in May 1829 and the appearance of an showing the to Cowdery, , and in the summer of 1829—most visions and revelations had been experienced by JS alone. , who claimed to have been with JS and Rigdon in the Johnson home when the vision occurred, later recounted that JS and Rigdon sat in the upstairs room, where they had conducted much of their work on the Bible revision, with twelve other men. By turns, either JS or Rigdon would ask, “What do I see?” and then relate the scene, after which the other would reply, “I see the same.” There is no indication in Dibble’s account that anyone was recording the vision as it occurred; instead, Dibble said there was “not a sound nor motion made by anyone” in the room. Dibble recalled that neither JS nor Rigdon “moved a joint or limb during the time I was there.”
The text of the vision account itself contains JS and ’s descriptions of what they saw, interspersed with the voice of Deity explicating parts of the vision. According to this record, Jesus Christ conversed with JS and Rigdon during the vision. In some ways, such interaction parallels other visions recounted in the Bible and the Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon, for example, describes a prophet named Nephi being taken by “the spirit” to “an exceeding high mountain,” where he is shown, among other things, Jesus Christ’s life on earth. Nephi’s account of this vision records both what he saw and questions and statements made by “the spirit” and by an angel as they observed the vision with Nephi.
How or precisely when JS and recorded the experience of seeing the vision is unknown. According to the written account of the vision, JS and Rigdon were commanded four separate times to record what they were seeing. It may be that they made a record after each command and then proceeded. Alternatively, JS and Rigdon may not have recorded anything until after the vision concluded. They were instructed to write their account while they were “yet in the spirit,” and the text in the account indicates that they did so. If JS and Rigdon recorded the event after its conclusion, therefore, they apparently did so soon thereafter. The first part of the vision (beginning “Here O ye heavens” and ending “. . . yet entered into the heart of man”) seems similar in language and style to JS’s revelations, suggesting that JS may have dictated the first part separately from the rest of the account. It is unknown whether JS dictated the entire record to Rigdon, Rigdon wrote it himself, or the two worked collaboratively. Whatever the case, both apparently signed the record after its preparation as a testament to its legitimacy. The placement of Rigdon’s signature before JS’s indicates that Rigdon was serving as the scribe for the account and signed after completing it. Moreover, JS and Rigdon’s vision occurred, as their own account attests, “as we sat doing the work of translation”—in which process Rigdon served as a scribe. Rigdon had also recently transcribed some of JS’s dictated revelations.
The earliest extant copy of the account of the vision is in ’s handwriting, with a few lines penned by JS. Williams was doing scribal work for JS in July 1832 (and possibly as early as February). He and JS copied the account of the vision into a new blank book—probably during February or March 1832—making the vision the first item in Revelation Book 2. Indeed, JS may have purchased the book for the purpose of entering the account of the vision, given the vision’s emphasis on writing down what was seen. Additional copies of the document quickly circulated.
Reaction to the contents of the vision varied among individuals in the community and among church members in other areas. Some, such as , thought it contained “great & marvilous things.” Others struggled to reconcile its concepts of the afterlife with traditional notions of heaven and hell. It also became a target of criticism by outsiders, some of whom regarded it as both “pompous” and an attempt to “embrace and teach Universalism.” A later JS history stated that the vision transcended the knowledge of the afterlife available at the time, declaring that “nothing could be more pleasing to the Saint, upon the order of the kingdom of the Lord, than the light which burst upon the world, through the . . . vision.”
Dibble gave his recollection of the experience on at least three occasions, and each retelling included unique features. Dibble told a congregation in Payson, Utah, in 1877 that “he was present when Jos. Smith and Sidney Rigdon . . . had that glorious vision of the creation &c.” In 1882, Dibble stated that he arrived at the Johnson home “just as Joseph and Sidney were coming out of the vision.” In neither of these accounts did he give a description of how JS and Rigdon experienced the vision; that detail came only in a retelling published in 1892. (Payson Ward, General Minutes, vol. 5, 7 Jan. 1877; Dibble, “Philo Dibble’s Narrative,” 81; Dibble, “Recollections of the Prophet,” 303–304.)
Payson Ward. General Minutes, 1850–1892. CHL. LR 6814 11.
Dibble, Philo. “Philo Dibble’s Narrative.” In Early Scenes in Church History, Faith-Promoting Series 8, pp. 74–96. Salt Lake City: Juvenile Instructor Office, 1882.
Dibble, Philo. “Recollections of the Prophet Joseph Smith.” Juvenile Instructor, 15 May 1892, 303–304.
Seth Johnson and Joel Johnson brought a copy to New York state and showed it to Samuel Smith and Orson Hyde on 27 March 1832 while Smith and Hyde were proselytizing. William W. Phelps also published it in the second issue of The Evening and the Morning Star, which indicates its importance to church members. (Samuel Smith, Diary, 27 Mar. 1832; “A Vision,” The Evening and the Morning Star, July 1832, –.)
Smith, Samuel. Diary, Feb. 1832–May 1833. CHL. MS 4213.
The Evening and the Morning Star. Independence, MO, June 1832–July 1833; Kirtland, OH, Dec. 1833–Sept. 1834.
world, but of the holy ghost through the ministration of the and the Terestrial through the administration of the and also the receive it of the administring of angels who are appointed to minister for them or who are appointed to be ministering spirits for them for they shall be heirs of salvation and this we saw in the heavenly vision the glory of the Telestial which surpasseth all understanding and no man knoweth it except him to whom God hath reveiled it and this we saw the glory of the Terestrial which excelleth in all things the glory of the Telestial even in glory and in power and might and in dominion and thus we saw the glory of the Celestial which excelleth in all things where God even the father reigneth upon his throne forever and ever before his throne all things bow in humble reverence and giveth glory forever and ever, they who dwell in his presence are the church of the first born and they see as they are seen and know as they are known having received of his fulness and of his grace and he maketh them equal in power and in might and in dominion, and the glory of the celestial is one even as the glory of the son is one, and the glory of the Terestrial is one even as the glory of the of the moon is one, and the glory of the Telestial is one even as the glory of the stars is one for as one star differeth from another star in glory even so differeth one from an other in glory in the Telestial world for these are they who are of Paul, and of Apolus and of cephus these are they who say they are some of one and some of another some of Christ & some of John and some of Moses and some of Elius [Elias] and some of Esaises [Esaias] [p. 8]