About the age of ten, Joseph and his family removed to the farm country of upper state New York. Within the few following years, his inquisitive mind began to marvel at the universe and man’s place in it. The more he pondered, the more he felt to mourn for his own sins and the sins of the world. Where on earth was the gospel Jesus taught in the New Testament? And how was Joseph to find its promised salvation? As his searching came to a climax, it was the word of God found in the scriptures that led young Joseph to redirect his questioning. The differing theories of men could offer no definitive answers. It was the Lord to whom he must turn. Trusting the promise found in James 1: 5, Joseph secluded himself in the nearby woods to pray and receive the wisdom he so desperately sought.
In an early account of his First Vision, Joseph initially described the descending radiance he experienced as a “pillar of fire.” He then crossed out “fire” and used the word “light” instead (Milton V. Backman, Jr., Joseph Smith’s First Vision, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1980, p. 157). Later, Joseph elaborated on the event saying that he was filled with that light, and surrounded by it…that it filled the grove, but that “nothing consumed” or was burned by it (Ibid., p. 159). Did he expect it to? It must have been incomprehensibly bright. According to other scriptural references, when the glory of the Lord has shone round about, its brightness that defies description has often been referred to as “fire.” (See Exodus 3: 2; 1 Nephi 1: 6; Helaman 5: 23, 43-44; 3 Nephi 17: 24.)