First Hand Accounts
I am not worried that the Prophet Joseph Smith gave a number of versions of the first vision anymore than I am worried that there are four different writers of the gospels in the New Testament, each with his own perceptions, each telling the events to meet his own purpose for writing at the time. I am more concerned with the fact that God has revealed in this dispensation a great and marvelous and beautiful plan that motivates men and women to love their Creator and their Redeemer, to appreciate and serve one another, to walk in faith on the road that leads to immortality and eternal life. (Gordon B. Hinckley, “God Hath Not Given Us the Spirit of Fear,” Ensign, Oct 1984, 2).
Critics of Mormonism have delighted in the discrepancies between the canonical [1838 PGP] account and earlier renditions, especially one written in Smith’s own hand in 1832. For example, in the 1832 version, Jesus appears to Smith alone, and does all the talking himself. Such complaints, however, are much ado about relatively nothing. Any good lawyer (or historian) would expect to find contradictions or competing narratives written down years apart and decades after the event. And despite the contradictions, key elements abide. In each case, Jesus appears to Smith in a vision. In each case, Smith is blessed with a revelation. In each case, God tells him to remain aloof from all Christian denominations, as something better is in store. (Stephen Prothero, American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003), 171).
Second Hand Accounts of The First Vision
Joseph Smith’s Recitals of the First Vision by Milton V. Backman, Jr., January Ensign 1985.
Elder Quentin L. Cook and Matthew Grow address the question, “Why are the various accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision different?” – September 9, 2018.
Steven Harper, A Seeker’s Guide to the Historical Accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision, Religious Educator 12, no. 1 (2011): 165–176.