Richard L. Anderson,”Book of Mormon Witnesses”,Maxwell Institute
For over forty years, I have been a student of Joseph Smith’s life and teachings. I have a testimony of what those close to Joseph reported: They had full confidence that, as a prophet, Joseph Smith was in touch with God and powerfully brought those hearing him closer to Christ; they knew that Joseph translated the Book of Mormon, an ancient record of Christ’s American ministry, from metal plates; they felt God’s power as Joseph privately and publicly taught the gospel and gave full meaning to Bible verses ignored by traditional Christians. The Book of Mormon relies not only on the record of an ancient people, but also on the separate testimonies of Three and Eight Witnesses published in the back of the book’s original 1830 edition and in the front of its more recent editions.
I first encountered the concept of witnesses in law school as I learned that in property transactions and other legal documents, you need two or three witnesses to attest to the signature. Then while studying history in graduate school, I learned that all history is reconstructed by witnesses. I feel there is no religious leader whom I know about—in the contemporary scene or historically—outside of the Bible, who really deals with the issue of witnesses.
Perhaps God doesn’t need witnesses, but as humans we need a basis for our faith. Man does not usually understand the law of witnesses as a religious concept or as God’s law. God has never given a revelation from his courts to this earth without sending more than one witness. He sustains, or backs up, his servants. In Moses’ day, Aaron was to be a second witness to Pharaoh and to the Egyptian courts. He is also a witness to all of us in the book of Exodus today. In Christ’s day a second witness, John the Baptist, came; Christ said John “was a burning and a shining light” (John 5:35). Jesus relied upon John’s testimony of his own mission. Think, too, of the resurrection of Jesus. It didn’t happen in some out-of-the-way place with nobody seeing it. Eleven men witnessed Christ’s resurrection, and other witnesses are reported in the New Testament. So the concept of witnesses is critical as we examine God’s work.
Why doesn’t God make all people witnesses? Latter-day Saints have an insight into that. We know, through revelation, that we must prove ourselves in this life. We come to this earth to exercise our faith, growing and learning through searching and seeking. Peter commented on this subject as he explained his position as a Christian to Cornelius, a very well-to-do and high-placed Roman Centurion who had sent for him. Peter said: “Him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly; Not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead”‘ (Acts 10:40—41). just as God furnished witnesses of Christ’s resurrection in the Bible, God provided witnesses in the Book of Mormon for Christ’s appearance as a resurrected being on the American continent, and then he provided witnesses for the Book of Mormon in modern times.
I have spent a good deal of my life trying to identify the lives and the testimonies of those three men who said they saw the angel, and of those eleven men who said they saw the plates when the Book of Mormon was ready to be published. Their stories are remarkable. Their lives went in different directions, but all had a common denominator: All had seen a thing that changed their lives. In my life I have heard scores of questions about these witnesses, and I would like to address some of those questions here.
How did Joseph and his companions first learn that there would be witnesses? Martin Harris, one of the Three Witnesses, received a special revelation very early in 1829 at the outset of the translation of the Book of Mormon somewhat as a comfort for him because he no longer acted as scribe. In the revelation, recorded in Doctrine & Covenants 5:11—14, the Lord said: “The testimony of three of my servants . . . shall go forth with my words [unto this generation]. Yea, they shall know of a surety that these things are true, for . . . will give them power that they may behold and view these things as they are; And to none else will I grant this power, to receive this same testimony among this generation.” So right at the outset of the translation, the promise of Book of Mormon witnesses was given by revelation.
Also, Joseph later found that the Book of Mormon prophesies in two places of its modern witnesses.1 As the scribes of Joseph Smith sat and took dictation, they heard these words, addressed from the ancient writer to the modern translator:
And behold, ye may be privileged that ye may show the plates unto those who shall assist to bring forth this work;
And unto three shall they be shown by the power of God; wherefore they shall know of a surety that these things are true.
And in the mouth of three witnesses shall these things be established; and the testimony of three, and this work, in the which shall be shown forth the power of God and also his word, of which the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost bear record—and all this shall stand as a testimony against the world at the last day. (Ether 5:2—4)
Now, interestingly, that verse designates only three witnesses to assist in bringing forth the work, yet Joseph Smith showed the plates first to three individuals and then to eight individuals—a total of eleven. So why are there two sets of witnesses? Only the Three Witnesses had a supernatural vision by the power of God. In their testimony, located on the present flyleaf of the Book of Mormon—we transferred the testimonies from the back of the book to the front—the Three Witnesses say they saw the plates and an angel. The Eight Witnesses say they felt, handled, and lifted the plates but saw no angel.
There are those, especially in our day, who would account for the Three Witnesses’ supernatural vision by saying that Joseph Smith simply got people emotionally excited enough to think they were seeing visions. But how would these people account for the physical evidence of the plates? In response to the Eight Witnesses’ testimony, people might say, “Perhaps Joseph Smith made a set of plates so that people could examine something physical,” but that doesn’t explain that the angel came to the Three Witnesses with supernatural power and glory from God. So you know, by the testimony of the Three Witnesses, the supernatural reality of the book and God’s will in giving it. The physical nature of the Eight Witnesses’ testimony complements the spiritual nature of the Three Witnesses’.
Who were the Eight Witnesses? Of the eight witnesses to the Book of Mormon who signed that they had lifted the plates, five were from the Whitmer family and three were from the Smith family, including a brother-in-law, Hyrum Page. Since the process of translating the Book of Mormon took place under the surveillance of people in fairly compact households, it is understandable that some of them constituted the witnesses. In the nineteenth century, privacy was not really the same thing as it is today. People lived more closely together in smaller homes. The women and men, first in the Smith household and then in the Whitmer household, where the work was finally finished, watched the translation process, and everybody in those households was convinced of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. As we read earlier from the Book of Mormon, the translator was told by the ancient prophets that he could share the knowledge of these plates with those who would assist to bring forth the work. It was from this group of faithful people who had helped to bring forth the work that the Eight Witnesses were selected.
Some say that because the Eight Witnesses were closely related to Joseph and to each other, their testimony is invalid. That is simply not so. Consider the example of Christ’s resurrection: Of the eleven witnesses who saw Christ’s resurrected body, several were brothers, and some of those witnesses were even related to Christ.
Who were the Three Witnesses? Martin Harris was a very prominent farmer in Palmyra, New York, who originally contacted Joseph Smith after learning about the discovery of the plates. Martin gave Joseph fifty dollars to help him move away from Palmyra to escape persecution and to relocate in Pennsylvania, where Joseph began the first translation of the Book of Mormon. Then in the summer of 1828, Martin went to Pennsylvania and spent almost three months as a scribe for the translation of the Book of Mormon. (Unfortunately, that work was lost.) Martin, because he was already a man of maturity, owned a farm, and he willingly financed the Book of Mormon by mortgaging his farm. So Martin Harris assisted from the beginning as the financier for the Book of Mormon.
Oliver Cowdery came onto the scene the next summer, in 1829, and he was the effective scribe for the present Book of Mormon. Oliver was the village school teacher, and he boarded in various houses in the communities of Manchester, where Joseph Smith’s parents lived, and Palmyra. (Joseph Smith was away at that time. He was married and living in Pennsylvania.) Oliver began to hear about the experiences of Joseph Smith. Of course, there was a good deal of ridicule in the community, but Oliver took these experiences very seriously and received some very deep manifestations. He went to Joseph Smith in the spring of 1829 and then wrote the entire original manuscript of the Book of Mormon.
The third person who was selected was David Whitmer. David, in a sense, represented a whole family, and his special contribution was as an investigator. David Whitmer was acquainted with Oliver Cowdery. When Oliver went to see Joseph, David asked him to send back information about the translation. After David received the information and a spiritual witness of the translation, he got a letter from Joseph and Oliver requesting help and a place to stay because persecution was increasing in the area. David brought the translators up to his home in Fayette, New York, thirty miles from Palmyra. Because he provided this refuge and assistance, David was a natural choice as one of the Three Witnesses.
How were they chosen? How did the Three Witnesses learn that they were ones selected for this privilege? As the Book of Mormon translation neared completion, those who were assisting directly with the translation process came upon one of the verses that made so vivid the promise that there would be Three Witnesses. Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer went to Joseph Smith and asked Joseph to ask the Lord if they could see this great vision and have this experience, that they might be the witnesses of the Book of Mormon to this generation. Joseph said they became persistent; in fact, he used the word “teased.” Joseph inquired of the Lord and was given a revelation, recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 17. Though it consists of only nine verses, it is a remarkable revelation because it is so specific about what the witnesses would see.
There are those, even today, who persist in saying that the Three Witnesses had a subjective experience, but the very first verse of this revelation says: “‘Behold, I say unto you, that you must rely upon my word, which if you do this with full purpose of heart, you shall have a view of the plates”‘ (D&C 17:1). This scripture makes it clear that the Three Witnesses would have a physical view of the plates. Further on in the first verse, they are promised a view of the sword of Laban, the Urim and Thummim (the means of translating ancient records), and the miraculous directors that led Lehi and his colony to the New World. Some of these artifacts the prophet Moroni placed into the Hill Cumorah to be found in the latter days. So God promises that the Three Witnesses will see five ancient objects from the Book of Mormon. The Three Witnesses are told that they would see these plates by the power of God, just as the Book of Mormon says in 2 Nephi 27:12—14. The promise is very specific.
To illustrate how the promise of the revelation was carried out, I am going to paraphrase what Joseph Smith’s mother said. I love her history because she was a woman in the wings. Lucy Smith observed extremely carefully and gave so much color and detail of what was happening. She said that at the Whitmer home they had a family devotional of prayer and some hymns. She said that Joseph stood up in the midst of that family devotional and walked over to Martin Harris and told him that it was the will of the Lord that he should see the Book of Mormon plates if he humbled himself that day.2 Martin Harris really had a struggle with faith, more so than the other two witnesses, who were younger than Joseph (around twenty-three or twenty-four years old), but Martin was about forty-six years old. He was skeptical because he had seen a lot of people deceived. The men left the house that morning to go into the woods near the Whitmer home.
Lucy said that she waited in the house until late in the day. In the late afternoon, she said, these men burst into the house filled with joy and enthusiasm, and Joseph threw himself beside her on the bed and said: “Mother, you do not know how happy I am: the Lord has now caused the plates to be shown to three more besides myself. . . . For now they know for themselves, that I do not go about to deceive the people.”3 And they all told her what happened in those woods. More than anybody else, Joseph gave the details, the spontaneous little bits and pieces of that remarkable experience, when he dictated his history,4 and the Three Witnesses uphold him in interviews recorded later.
Joseph records that the four men prayed and nothing happened. Finally, Martin admitted that he was the problem, that he lacked faith and needed to separate himself from them. Martin left the group and went off by himself to pray. As soon as the prayers were reiterated (without Martin), Oliver, David, and Joseph saw a light materialize at midday that June in 1829. They said this light—David later called it a “soft light”—was brighter than the sun and more intense. In the midst of that light, the angel appeared with the plates. David later told that the angel showed them the plates and turned the leaves. The angel spoke to David, the one witness who did not come back to the Church, saying: “David, blessed is the Lord, and he that keeps His commandments.”5
Then they heard the voice of God, and. Joseph reported it exactly as the witnesses remembered it. The Lord said: “These plates have been revealed by the power of God, and they have been translated by the power of God. The translation of them which you have seen is correct, and I command you to bear record of what you now see and hear.”6 As the vision closed, Joseph went and found Martin. The two men knelt in prayer, and the same revelation was repeated for them. Then they all returned to the house, as Lucy described.
The Eight Witnesses not only saw the plates, as the Three Witnesses did, but they felt them too Lucy Smith said that a few days after the first witnessing, the Smiths, the Whitmers, and Oliver made the thirty-mile journey from Fayette to the Smith home in Manchester, which is south of Palmyra. She said that the male Whitmers, Joseph Sr., and her sons Hyrum and Samuel accompanied Joseph Jr. into the woods where an angel had deposited the plates on a tree stump. The Eight Witnesses testified that they saw these plates, picked them up, and examined the “curious” characters. (“Curious” did not mean “strange” in that day; it meant that the characters were very carefully crafted. These men were craftsmen and artisans, remember, so they recognized fine workmanship. The witnesses also used the word heft, which is archaic for our day; it means “‘to lift.”) They examined the plates and bore testimony in their formal statement that they had “lifted” the gold plates.
They described the physical plates as weighing between forty and sixty pounds and being approximately eight inches long, five or six inches wide, and five or six inches thick. Their descriptions varied, from seven by five by four to eight by six by five, but the descriptions are consistent because they are estimations. They didn’t take a measurement. Not only did the Eight Witnesses see the characters and turn over the leaves, but they reported seeing a sealed part. They described the plates as bound with “D”-shaped rings, saying a perpendicular center ran through the plates, like a loose-leaf notebook, and then the ring curved in a half circle across the spine. There is definitely a consistency in what the Eight Witnesses claim they saw.
I have often thought that Joseph Smith would have been in a terrible position if he was somehow putting people on. How could he produce a revelation? How could he produce five ancient objects? How could he satisfy people that a personage with the power of God was really there? You cannot counterfeit the power of God. You cannot counterfeit ancient objects.
Some people wonder if any of the Three Witnesses ever denied his testimony. The answer is, No, never. The Three Witnesses’ lives went in different directions, but none ever denied his testimony of the Book of Mormon and its coming forth. So what did each say he experienced, and how did each support his testimony?
Let’s examine each of these men individually to establish their characters. I will start with Martin Harris because he was older. Oliver Cowdery was a young school teacher; not too many people paid attention to him. David Whitmer was a young farmer; he was not really very visible. But Martin Harris was visible. He had a large farm of multiple acres (perhaps a total of around three or four hundred), and that farm was a matter of business through the whole community. The townspeople knew who he was. They knew his reputation. So what did the members of the community think of Martin Harris?
The townspeople said two things about Martin Harris. The people who talked to him accused him of being a fanatic because he believed in the Bible. That sounds like a strange fact, but I think we see that in our own culture as well. We tend to look at people who are secular as pleasing; they don’t really ruffle our feathers in any way. But religious people stir us up, challenging us to be better. Martin Harris had read the prophecies in the Bible that God would do a great work in the latter days, and he believed them. He was a believer, so sometimes he was accused of being religiously overdone.
Second, the townspeople said Martin Harris was honest. Every one of the individuals in Palmyra who commented on Martin’s character said he was an extremely honest individual. In fact, one of the people who set the type for the Book of Mormon, Pomeroy Tucker, later wrote a book about the early Mormons in the community and said that Martin’s usual honesty was a very puzzling thing to him. Tucker wondered, How could Martin Harris, who was such an honest man and an intelligent man, say that he had seen an angel and plates? Well, that’s simple. Martin was being honest; it really happened.
When Martin Harris moved out of the community quite a few months after the book was printed, E. B. Grandin, whom Harris paid three thousand dollars to print the Book of Mormon, published his opinion of Harris in the local newspaper for the community to read. The statement almost sounds like a funeral eulogy. Grandin wrote: “Mr. Harris was among the early settlers of this town, and has ever borne the character of an honorable and upright man, and an obliging and benevolent neighbor. He had secured to himself by honest industry a respectable fortune—and he is left a large circle of acquaintances and friends to pity his delusion.”7
Martin Harris was born in 1783, which means he was middle-aged when he became a Book of Mormon scribe and witness in 1828. He mortgaged his farm to pay for the first edition of the Book of Mormon. Then in early 1831 he moved with the faithful Latter-day Saints to upper Ohio, and there he continued to contribute to the success of the restoration of the gospel in Kirtland, Ohio. Harris was extremely faithful for a time, but all three witnesses became disenchanted with the policies of the church, and in 1837 and the beginning of 1838, they were each excommunicated from the church because they simply were not in harmony with church leadership.
The Three Witnesses left the church because they disagreed with Joseph’s policies, but they never once threw doubt upon their testimonies. (Even Peter and Paul, who had both seen visions, sharply disagreed on policy at times.) Had they not really seen the plates, when they were out of the church, the Three Witnesses would have disavowed their experience, and they would not have tried to keep ties with the church. All three witnesses left the church for a time, but two came back before their deaths to make peace with God, and they all continued to bear witness to the Book of Mormon and their vision of the plates to the end.
Let me give an example of Martin Harris’s testimony. Just before his rebaptism in 1870, a relative, William H. Homer, who was passing through Kirtland went to Martin’s house, and Martin Harris volunteered to take him, as he did many people, to the Kirtland Temple. In the temple Martin expressed some fairly bitter feelings toward some of the Latter-day Saints in Utah and even displayed a jealous spirit toward the leadership of the church, saying, “I should have been president of the Church.” Then Homer asked Martin Harris, “‘Do you still believe that the Book of Mormon is true and that Joseph Smith was a prophet?” Martin Harris, standing in the Kirtland Temple on a bright, winter day, pointed to one of the arched Gothic windows where the sun was streaming through it and said, “Do I see the sun shining? Just as surely as the sun is shining on us . . . I saw the plates; I saw the angel.”8
As a very old man, Martin went to Utah and spent the last five years of his life there in upper Cache Valley. When people in his community asked him about the plates of the Book of Mormon, he continued using physical objects like the sun to illustrate his testimony. One time he raised his hand and asked, “‘Do you see that hand? . . . Are your eyes playing you a trick or something? . . . Well, as sure as you see my hand so sure did I see the angel and the plates.”9 Martin Harris, like all the witnesses, was especially desirous at the end of his life to have people hear and repeat his testimony.
Now let’s turn to Oliver Cowdery’s life. Oliver was born in 1806 about a year after Joseph Smith. Later in his life, he said that the days he acted as scribe for Joseph were never to be forgotten. As he sat within the sound of the Prophet’s voice, he could feel the Spirit of the Lord. Oliver always remembered the spirituality of that experience. The first thing he did of real significance in New York after the Church was organized was lead a mission west to Kirtland, where he and four other missionaries converted about one hundred people within a few weeks. As with Martin Harris, those who knew Oliver may not have agreed with his testimony, but they agreed that he was of admirable character. A vigorous leader of a Shaker community gave a candid impression of Oliver coming into his community. He recorded that Oliver claimed that “he [Oliver] had been one who assisted in the translation of the golden Bible, and had seen the angel, and also had been commissioned by him [the angel] to go out and bear testimony that God would destroy this generation. . . . [We] gave liberty for him to bear his testimony in our meetings. . . . He appeared meek and mild.”10 That characteristic of Cowdery is reflected in other sources—he was a man of powerful witness, but he was also a man of great personal humility.
Another description of Oliver is given in a history of Seneca County written in about 1880 by P. W. Lang. After Oliver was excommunicated in Missouri, he returned to Ohio and became an attorney. And for ten years, when he was outside of the church, he was very active in all the community circles where an attorney would have circulated in those days. P. W. Lang, who apprenticed in Oliver’s law office and whom Oliver tutored in law for two years, wrote this candid description of Oliver:
Mr. Cowdery was an able lawyer and a great advocate. . . . [H]e was polite, dignified, yet courteous. . . . With all his kind and friendly disposition, there was a certain degree of sadness that seemed to pervade his whole being. His association with others was marked by the great amount of information his conversation conveyed and the beauty of his musical voice. His addresses to the court and jury were characterized by a high order of oratory, with brilliant and forensic force. He was modest and reserved, never spoke ill of any one.11
He continued by saying, in essence, “I read law with Mr. Cowdery in Tiffin [Ohio] and was intimately acquainted with him from the time he came here until the time he left, which afforded me every opportunity to study and love his ‘noble and true manhood.'”
So Oliver was a person respected by those inside and outside the church wherever he lived. Later in life Oliver returned to the church. As he came back in 1848, he stood in the church conference in Kanesville, Iowa—Winter Quarters, or Council Bluffs, as it was called at that time—and said that Sidney Rigdon did not write the Book of Mormon. He said, “I wrote . . . the entire Book of Mormon . . . as it fell from the lips of the Prophet [Joseph Smith].” He said, “I beheld with my eyes, and handled with my hands, the gold plates from which it was translated. I also beheld the Interpreters.”12
Now let’s turn to David Whitmer’s story. David Whitmer was born about a year before Joseph Smith, at the beginning of 1805. After becoming a witness, David joined with his family in selling their rather well-to-do farm holdings in Seneca County, New York. They moved for a short time to Ohio and then moved quickly to Jackson County, Missouri, a tragic experience for them and about three thousand other Latter-day Saints because they were forced out of Jackson County at gunpoint. David was a strong personality and was very visible in helping to defend and protect the Mormon community. He was appointed president of the church in Missouri, for Joseph Smith had a great deal of confidence in him. But in 1838 David exerted his will, disagreed with Joseph Smith, and was excommunicated.
David stayed in Richmond, Missouri, for fifty years and became the most interviewed of all eleven witnesses of the Book of Mormon because he lived longer than any of them. David summed up the testimonies of all the witnesses, and he had an irreproachably honest character. He parlayed an investment of a team and a wagon into a whole livery business and became a prominent business man, providing transportation and rentals and even funeral transportation in Richmond, Missouri.
One proof that David was a distinguished and respected individual was that he appeared in an 1877 historical atlas of Ray County, Missouri, as one of twenty prominent members of the community. (From one point of view, those pictured had to be prominent; from another point of view, they probably had to have enough money to pay for the picture.) David is pictured on a page of the atlas with his nephew David P. Whitmer underneath him. David P. Whitmer was the son of Jacob, one of the Eight Witnesses of the Book of Mormon, and he was named after his uncle David. To the left of David Whitmer, on the top line, is Alexander Donaphen, who was a lawyer for Joseph Smith at one time and who actually saved Joseph’s life by refusing to execute an order of the court-martial. So David’s reputation in the community was appreciably strong. Everybody respected him. Time and again, Mormons and non-Mormons came into the community and interviewed David, and he insisted that he had seen the plates and the angel.
Let me give the flavor of two interviews with David Whitmer. First, Orson Pratt, who had known David as a fellow leader of the church before David left the church, visited David as an old man. Pratt was accompanied by Joseph F. Smith, who was then a young Apostle, but who later became president of the church from about 1900 to 1918. As these two men interviewed David, Joseph F. Smith wrote down what David said:
We not only saw the plates of the Book of Mormon but also the brass plates, the plates of the Book of Ether, the plates containing the records of the wickedness and secret combinations of the people of the world. . . . The fact is, it was just as though Joseph, Oliver and I were sitting just here on a log, when we were overshadowed by a light. It was not like the light of the sun . . . but more glorious and beautiful. It extended away round us . . . [We saw] many records or plates . . . besides the plates of the Book of Mormon, also the Sword of Laban, the Directors . . . and the Interpreters. I saw them just as plain as I see this bed (striking the bed beside him with his hand), and I heard the voice of the Lord, as distinctly as I ever heard anything in my life, declaring that the records of the plates of the Book of Mormon were translated by the gift and power of God.13
My favorite interview of David was done by James Henry Moyle, whose son, Henry D. Moyle, served as one of President McKay’s counselors. On his way back to Utah after he completed his law school training in Michigan, James Henry Moyle stopped in Richmond to see David Whitmer. Henry was a young man, and he wanted to be certain that David had been telling the truth. He wanted to cross-examine him and see what kind of a man he was.
That Moyle was a man of great quality, is indicated by Gordon B. Hinckley’s biography of Moyle, written while Hinckley lived in the Cottonwood area in Salt Lake City and knew Moyle. Moyle became one of the very first Latter-day Saints to succeed in national politics. Although his candidacy for senator and governor was unsuccessful in Utah, his party rewarded him with the post of undersecretary of the treasury in the cabinet in Washington, D. C. Later he was appointed as collector of customs in New York City for eight years. He was a very close friend of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Furthermore, Moyle was a singularly candid, intelligent, and honest man all his life.
Later, when Moyle talked about the David Whitmer interview in an address given in Salt Lake City, he said he wondered if it was possible that David Whitmer might have been deceived. Moyle stated:
I induced him to relate to me, under such cross-examination as I was able to interpose, every detail of what took place. He described minutely the spot in the woods, the large log that separated him from the angel, and that he saw the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated. . . . I asked him if there was any possibility for him to have been deceived, and that it was all a mistake, but he said, “No.” I asked him, then, why he had left the Church. [He answered by talking about the policies that differentiated him from Joseph Smith.] He said he knew Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, that through him had been restored the gospel of Jesus Christ in these latter days. To me this was a wonderful testimony.14
Did the Eight Witnesses also maintain their testimony to the end? Yes! David Whitmer quoted both the Three and the Eight Witnesses in a pamphlet published a year before his death in 1887. In this pamphlet, addressed to all believers in Christ, David tried to put his message and his own feelings about the Book of Mormon in such a way that they would be available to everybody. Toward the beginning of the pamphlet, Whitmer said the following in answer to articles in two encyclopedias that had reported him as having denied his testimony:
I will say once more to all mankind, that I have never at any time denied that testimony or any part thereof. I also testify to the world, that neither Oliver Cowdery or Martin Harris ever at any time denied their testimony. . . . I was present at the death bed of Oliver Cowdery, and his last words were, “Brother David, be true to your testimony to the Book of Mormon.”15 [David went on to talk about the Eight Witnesses also as having never denied their testimony.]
It is as important to believe the witnesses of the Book of Mormon as it is to believe the testimony of Peter and Paul that they had seen the resurrected Christ. In 1 Corinthians 15:15, Paul said people could set aside the Apostles’ testimonies and essentially call the witnesses liars, but God’s chosen witnesses were not liars. They were honest men telling the truth.
I have been in every county where the witnesses lived, read the newspapers of their time, and seen the court records, and I know they were honest men with a divine mission. When Jesus sent apostles out, he gave them instructions (see Matthew 10), and he sent seventies out on missions and gave them instructions (see Luke 10). In both cases, he said this to them: “He that receiveth whomever I send receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me” (John 13:20).
God’s voice said the Book of Mormon was translated correctly. The eleven witnesses are God’s modern servants, supporting, with Joseph Smith, the truth of the Book of Mormon. This is the message of God’s law of witnesses for us today. I would appeal to everyone to read the Book of Mormon, gain a testimony of its divinity, understand its truth, and apply its principles. I also pray that we will understand the divinity of Joseph Smith’s mission to restore the gospel because the Book of Mormon is a part of that great process of restoring God’s kingdom in the latter days.
1. See 2 Nephi 27:12—14 and Ether 5:2—4. (The latter is cited below.)
2. Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith, by His Mother, Lucy Mack Smith (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1979), 151—52.
4. Joseph Smith, History of the Church (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1978), 1:52—56.
5. Ibid., 1:54.
6. Ibid., 1:54—55.
7. Wayne Sentinel, 27 May 1831. See also Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1981), 103.
8. Preston Nibley, comp., The Witnesses of the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1973), 117—18.
9. Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses, 116.
10. Ibid., 55.
11. Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses, 41.
12. Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses, 61.
13. Nibley, comp., Witnesses of the Book of Mormon, 68.
14. Gordon B. Hinckley, James Henry Moyle: The Story of a Distinguished American and an Honored Churchman (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1951), 367.
15. David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ (Richmond, Mo.: David Whitmer, 1887), 8.