I sat in one of my film and literature classes discussing how everything goes through an interpretation process because we can not directly translate our life experiences into concise wording. Suddenly, my professor said, “Now imagine trying to translate the most spiritual experience you’ve ever had in your life into words. . . . Imagine trying to capture what was felt, seen, and heard. It’s no wonder there are variations on the First Vision.”
Elder Cook recently sat in front of the Nauvoo Temple with two historians of the Church and answered questions from young adults specific to Church History. The discussion of the multiple accounts of the first vision started, and I wanted the whole world to hear the answers. Essentially, it was precisely what my professor said: it is impossible to concisely describe the most sacred experiences of life. Additionally, you will change your story based on whom you are telling it to. We interpret our own life scenarios to fit the audience. You would describe your first kiss to your best friend differently to your best friend than to your mom. You would also share different facts about a sacred experience with those familiar with you than with strangers.
It can be a confusing thing to learn that there are multiple accounts of the First Vision, but if you take time to logically think about the various situations Joseph would tell the story in, it makes sense. Having multiple versions of a story does not make the experience false; it makes it more real. It should be disconcerting to NOT have multiple accounts; that would show rote memorization of something, not an actual experience told through personal experience and interpretation.
If you have struggled with this question, know that you are not alone. Also know that there are resources of clarity for you through the Church. Namely, the Gospel Topics Essays found here. I know that this can be a confusing matter for some within the Church, but I testify to you of the truthfulness of Joseph Smith as a Prophet; including the truthfulness of all his accounts of the First Vision.