Friday, August 22, 2008

Pillar of Fire and the First Vision

I recently bought all 6 volumes of Second Witness: Analytical & Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon by Brant A. Gardner. I've only read about 100 pages of the first volume so far, but I am highly impressed. I do not agree with every take Brother Gardner has on different issues, but I have found it very insightful with very useful information and references. It's like someone has pulled together into one place all of the scholarly information on the Book of Mormon. I highly recommend it.

Gardner cites John Welch in his commentary on Lehi's vision in 1 Nephi 1 in specific reference to the pillar of fire that came down "and dwelt upon a rock before him" (1 Nephi 1:6-7):

As Lehi prayed, he beheld a pillar of fire dwelling upon a rock in front of him. From this pillar Lehi saw and heard many powerful things, but Nephi does not elaborate on who or what Lehi saw in this pillar of fire. Joseph Smith described how God, angels, and spirits appear in fiery manifestations; he taught, for instance, "spirits can only be revealed in flaming fire and glory." From ancient sources, too, one learns that the appearance of fire, especially a pillar of fire, was a frequent mode of heavenly manifestation, sometimes of God and other times of his messengers or of the holy beings who surrounded him. (Cited in Gardner, Second Witness, Vol. 1, page 68).

After reading this, something came to my remembrance--Joseph Smith's first recorded recollection of the First Vision.

[T]he Lord heard my cry in the wilderness and while in < the > attitude of calling upon the Lord < in the 16th [15th?] year of my age > a pillar of fire light above the brightness of the sun at noon day come down from above and rested upon me and I was filled with the spirit of god and the < Lord > opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord... (Joseph Smith, "A History of the Life of Joseph Smith," in Joseph Smith Letterbook 1).

The Prophet struggled to describe what he saw. He first wrote that he saw a "pillar of fire" but then crossed out "fire" and replaced it with "light."

On another occasion he related his experience to the "prophet Matthias" who claimed he was "Joshua the Jewish Minister:"

A pillar of fire appeared above my head; which presently rested down upon me, and filled me with un-speakable joy. A personage appeared in the midst of this pillar of flame, which was spread all around and yet nothing consumed. Another personage soon appeared like unto the first: he said unto me thy sins are forgiven thee. He testified also unto me that Jesus Christ is the son of God. I saw many angels in this vision. I was about 14 years old when I received this first communication... (see

In an account written by Orson Pratt, he state that Joseph thought the trees would burn up:

He expected to have seen the leaves and boughs of the trees consumed, as soon as the light came in contact with them; but perceiving that it did not produce that effect, he was encouraged with the hope of being able to endure its presence. It continued descending slowly, until it rested upon the earth, and he was enveloped in the midst of it. (see

This isn't earth shattering or anything, just thought it was interesting that Joseph Smith's accounts of the vision, like Lehi's account in the Book of Mormon, accurately portray the pillar of fire concept.


Anonymous said...

These manifestations are of plasma discharging. See the following post for more on this.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget Nephi and Lehi in Helaman 6. Same thing happened while they were in prison. The verbage also seems to indicate an indecisiveness as to whether it was light or fire...

Andrew I. Miller said...


Great point. Thanks.

BHodges said...

Andrew, congrats on the big purchase. It's an investment, but in my view, the best one regarding scholarship on the BoM available today. I hope you check out my ongoing series with Brant at my site.