Joseph Smith received a heavenly visitation by God the Father and Jesus Christ when Joseph was only 14 years old. Joseph was much older when he recorded the event. Until his death, Joseph Smith recorded the events if the First Vision 9 times.
A few critics of the LDS Church have at times questioned the several accounts claiming there are glaring discrepancies which put into doubt whether Joseph Smith received any heavenly manifestation . However. Elden J Watson has compiled all the 9 accounts showing the great consistency between all the accounts.
The main criticism that critics make against these First Vision accounts is that in the first written account, Joseph Smith says he saw "the Lord". In all subsequent accounts Joseph clarifies that he saw 2 personages, both God the Father and God the Son. Critics say this proves Joseph is a "charlatan" and made it all up.
Critics are always going to find something to criticize. There will aways be reasons for and against belief. Atheists look at the same beauty of creation and calibrated universe and still deny the existence of God. "Haters are gonna hate". But just because arguments can be made doesn't mean thise arguments are valid.
So how do believers explain the first account? First, because I have prayed to God like Joseph Smith did and God has revealed to me that the First Vision is true. With a witness and testimony of God as my foundation, I interpret the data with an "eye of faith". Faith is not blind. Faith is knowing the will and mind of God. Having had the mind of God reveled, the facts can only then can be properly interpreted. "believing is seeing" and "reason follows revelation".
Joseph wrote the first account years after it happened but that is not the first time he told people about it. In all the 9 accounts Joseph says he was immediately hated by any minister or pastor after telling them of his experience. Believers see that Joseph, in the first account, was trying to make a parallel between himself and Paul. Paul the Apostle received a visitation from the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ, and there is no reason why a latter-day prophet could not also receive a similar vision.
My favorite part in all of the First Vision accounts is in the first account where Joseph tells us that following the First Vision, his heart was filled with love for many days. For those who know the Lord, and understand the workings of the Holy Spirit, this glorious detail together with the Holy Ghost, powerfully reveals the truth of Joseph's words.
Critics use their argument to try and pursuade others that the First Vision account evolved over time from receiving a visitation from an angel, to seeing the Lord, and then to seeing 2 personages as Stephen did in the New Testament. While it makes for a crafty argument, it just is absolutely not true.
The first recorded indirect reference to the First Vision is in a newspaper. "The Reflector," a local Palmyra newspaper reports; "four LDS missionaries (Oliver Cowdery, Orson Pratt, Peter Whitmer Jr. and Ziba Peterson) were publicly teaching that Joseph Smith had seen God "personally" and had received a commission from Him to preach true religion." This independent reference proves that Joseph Smith receiving a vision by God was central to the LDS message from the very beginning.
Gold Bible, No. 4,” The Reflector (Palmyra, New York) 2, no. 13 (14 February 1831)