Zacharias and Joseph Smith

Today in Sunday School we learned about Zacharias the father of John the Baptist, and his vision in the Temple. As we were discussing, I had an interesting thought about the nature of his vision and the multiple accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision:

From Luke 1:

 13 But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.

 14 And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth.

 15 For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb.

 16 And many of the children of Israel shall he turn to the Lord their God.

 17 And he shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elias, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedientto the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

 18 And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years.

 19 And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and am sent to speak unto thee, and to shew thee these glad tidings.

 20 And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall be performed, because thoubelievest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season.

What is so interesting about this vision, is that the angel immediately begins by offering a message of comfort to Zacharias, and emphasizing that his prayers to God had been heard. Next, the angel first speaks about the personal happiness that will come to Zacharias and his wife as a result of the birth of John. He only later turns to John’s impact on others, and mentions that others will rejoice at his birth. The angel mentions portions of John’s mission, but from this account this might only be a partial account. The angel makes no reference to Jesus for instance, and John’s role in baptizing the savior.

In contrast, when Zacharias’s mouth is loosed after the naming of John, his prophecy is focused completely on the public aspects of John’s ministry:

 67 And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying,

 68 Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited andredeemed his people,

 69 And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David;

 70 As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began:

 71 That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us;

 72 To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant;

 73 The oath which he sware to our father Abraham,

 74 That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear,

 75 In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.

 76 And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways;

 77 To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by theremission of their sins,

 78 Through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspringfrom on high hath visited us,

 79 To give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

It seems likely due to this prophecy that Zacharias recieved far more information from the angel than is initially reported. While it is possible that these details came through additional visitations, prayer, or revelation, it still seems likely that angel imparted far more knowledge than is reported in Luke.

I would suggest that there is a parallel here with Joseph Smith’s telling of the First Vision. On his initial tellings of the vision, Joseph Smith focused far more on the personal aspects of the visitation. Like Zacharias (or Luke speaking of Zacharias) it is likely that he did not speak of all that was said to him. instead, he focused on his sins being forgiven, and his personal standing before God. Yet, as Joseph wrote his most public account for the History of the Church (the one that we are most familiar with), he focused much more on the public aspects of his calling and his role as prophet.

 Luke’s telling of the Story of Zacharias rings true with the nature of humanity and human memory as does Joseph Smith’s telling of his first vision. I have a testimony that both truly were called of God and given special revelation and insight from angelic messengers.

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