James B. Allen cites evidence supporting that the First Vision had relevance in the lifetime of Joseph.

James B. Allen

James B. Allen, "The Significance of Joseph Smith's First Vision in Mormon Thought," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 1, no. 3 (Autumn 1966): 29-45

Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought
James B. Allen
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This paper has been an attempt to trace the significance of the story of Joseph Smith’s First Vision in the development of Mormon thought. It seems apparent that if Joseph Smith told the story to friends and neighbors in 1820, he stopped telling it widely by 1830. At the least, it can be demonstrated that the public image of Joseph Smith and his spiritual experiences did not include the story of the First Vision. Throughout most of the 1830s, the story was not circulated in either Church periodicals or missionary literature. In about 1833, however, Joseph Smith apparently made a preliminary attempt to write the story, but this account was never published. In 1835 he was willing to tell the story to a visitor. There is further evidence, based on reminiscences, to suggest that the story was known on a limited basis in the 1830s, but it is clear that it was not widely circulated. Non-Mormon accounts of the rise of the Church written in the 1830s made no mention of the story of the vision. It is apparent, furthermore, that belief in the vision was not essential for conversion to the Church, for there is no evidence that the story was told to prospective converts of the early 1830s.

In 1838, however, Joseph Smith decided to write the story for publication, and within a few years it had begun to achieve wide circulation within the Church. It was published first in 1840 by Orson Pratt as a missionary tool, and two of Joseph Smith’s own versions were published in 1842. Since then, both Mormon and non-Mormon writers have made reference to it when dealing with the history of the Church. The story was accepted as scripture by the Mormons in 1880.

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