Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Testimony of the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon

Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That we, through the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, have seen the plates which contain this record, which is a record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites, their brethren, and also of the people of Jared, who came from the tower of which hath been spoken. And we also know that they have been translated by the gift and power of God, for his voice hath declared it unto us; wherefore we know of a surety that the work is true. And we also testify that we have seen the engravings which are upon the plates; and they have been shown unto us by the power of God, and not of man. And we declare with words of soberness, that an angel of God came down from heaven, and he brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld and saw the plates, and the engravings thereon; and we know that it is by the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, that we beheld and bear record that these things are true. And it is marvelous in our eyes. Nevertheless, the voice of the Lord commanded us that we should bear record of it; wherefore, to be obedient unto the commandments of God, we bear testimony of these things. And we know that if we are faithful in Christ, we shall rid our garments of the blood of all men, and be found spotless before the judgment-seat of Christ, and shall dwell with him eternally in the heavens. And the honor be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen.

Oliver Cowdery
David Whitmer
Martin Harris

This testimony was never denied by any of the three witness, even though all three were at one point excommunicated from the Church. Each were embittered toward Joseph Smith personally. If they had made up such a testimony, surely that would have been the best time to do so. Each testified of the truthfulness of their testimony on their death beds. Surely, if there were any time to deny it, they would have denied it then. This fact is something that the critics of the Church have to ignore or distort. They have no other choice.

Here are some interesting quotes and stories from each of these men.

Oliver Cowdery

I wrote, with my own pen, the entire Book of Mormon (save a few pages) as it fell from the lips of the Prophet Joseph, as he translated it by the gift and power of God, by the means of the Urim and Thummim, or as it is called by the book, Holy Interpreters. I beheld with my eyes, and handled with my hands, the gold plates from which it was transcribed. I also saw with my eyes and handled with my hands the Holy Interpreters. That book is true. Sidney Rigdon did not write it. Mr. Spaulding did not write it. I wrote it myself as it fell from the lips of the prophet.It contains the everlasting gospel, and came forth to the children of men in fulfillment of the revelations of John, where he says he saw an angel come with the everlasting gospel to preach to every nation, kindred, tongue and people. It contains principles of salvation; and if you, my hearers, will walk by its light and obey its precepts, you will be saved with an everlasting salvation in the kingdom of God on high. (Oliver Cowdery, cited in Andrew Jenson, LDS Biographical Encyclopedia [Salt Lake City: Andrew Jenson History Company, 1901], 1:246.)

Oliver Cowdery just before breathing his last, asked his attendants to raise him up in bed that he might talk to the family and his friends, who were present. He then told them to live according to the teachings contained in the Book of Mormon, and promised them, if they would do this, that they would meet him in heaven. He then said, ‘Lay me down and let me fall asleep.’ A few moments later he died without a struggle. (Lucy P. Young who witnessed this event. Cited in Andrew Jenson, LDS Biographical Encyclopedia [Salt Lake City: Andrew Jenson History Company, 1901], 1:246.)

Martin Harris

On one occasion several of his old acquaintances made an effort to get him tipsy by treating him to some wine. When they thought he was in a good mood for talk they put the question very carefully to him, ‘Well, now, Martin, we want you to be frank and candid with us in regard to this story of your seeing an angel and the golden plates of the Book of Mormon that are so much talked about. We have always taken you to be an honest good farmer and neighbor of ours but could not believe that you did see an angel. Now, Martin, do you really believe that you did see an angel, when you were awake?’ ‘No,’ said Martin, ‘I do not believe it.’ The crowd were delighted, but soon a different feeling prevailed, as Martin true to his trust, said, ‘Gentlemen, what I have said is true, from the fact that my belief is swallowed up in knowledge; for I want to say to you that as the Lord lives I do know that I stood with the Prophet Joseph Smith in the presence of the angel, and it was the brightness of day.” (Letter of Elder Edward Stevenson to the Millennial Star quoted in William Edwin Berrett, The Restored Church [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1974], 57–58.)

No man ever heard me in any way deny the truth of the Book of Mormon, the administration of the angel that showed me the plates; nor the organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, under the administration of Joseph Smith, Jun., the prophet whom the Lord raised up for that purpose in these latter days, that He may show forth His power and glory. The Lord has shown me these things by His Spirit, by the administration of holy angels, and confirmed the same with signs following, step by step by step, as the work has progressed, for the space of fifty-three years. (Martin Harris, letter to Hanna B. Emerson, Jan., 1871)

The Book of Mormon is no fake. I know what I know. I have seen what I have seen and I have heard what I have heard. I have seen the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon is written. An angel appeared to me and others and testified to the truthfulness of the record, and had I been willing to have perjured myself and sworn falsely to the testimony I now bear I could have been a rich man, but I could not have testified other than I have done and am now doing for these things are true. (Martin Harris on his death bed. Cited by George Godfrey, “Testimony of Martin Harris,” from an unpublished manuscript copy in the possession of his descendants, quoted in Eldin Ricks, The Case of the Book of Mormon Witnesses [Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1971], 65–66.)

David Whitmer

It is recorded in the American Cyclopedia and the Encyclopedia Britannica, that I, David Whitmer, have denied my testimony as one of the Three Witnesses to the divinity of the Book of Mormon: and that the two other witnesses, Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris, denied their testimony to that book. 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 nor Martin Harris ever at any time denied their testimony. They both died affirming the truth of the divine authenticity of the Book of Mormon. (David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ by a Witness to the Divine Authenticity of The Book of Mormon [David Whitmer: Richmond, Virginia, 1887], 8.)

Unto all Nations, Kindreds, Tongues and People, unto whom these presents shall come:

It having been represented by one John Murphy, of Polo, Caldwell County, Mo., that I, in a conversation with him last summer, denied my testimony as one of the three witnesses to the "Book of Mormon."

To the end, therefore, that he may understand me now, if he did not then; and that the world may know the truth, I wish now, standing as it were in the very sunset of life, and in the fear of God, once for all to make this public statement:

That I have never at any time denied that testimony or any part thereof, which has so long since been published with that Book, as one of the three witnesses. Those who know me best, well know that I have always adhered to that testimony. And that no man may be misled or doubt my present views in regard to the same, I do again affirm the truth of all my statements as then made and published.

"He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear;" it was no delusion! What is written is written, and he that readeth let him understand...

My sincere desire is that the world may be benefited by this plain and simple statement of truth.

And all honor be to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen!
(David Whitmer, Richmond, Mo., March 19th, 1881).

Following his death the Richmond Conservator wrote:

On Sunday evening before his death he called the family and his attending physician, Dr. George W. Buchanan, to his bedside and said, “Doctor do you consider that I am in my right mind?” to which the Doctor replied, “Yes, you are in your right mind, I have just had a conversation with you.” He then addressed himself to all present and said: “I want to give my dying testimony. You must be faithful in Christ. I want to say to you all that the Bible and the record of the Nephites, (The Book of Mormon) are true, so you can say that you have heard me bear my testimony on my death bed....

On Monday morning he again called those present to his bedside, and told them that he had seen another vision which reconfirmed the divinity of the “Book of Mormon,” and said that he had seen Christ in the fullness of his glory and majesty, sitting upon his great white throne in heaven waiting to receive his children.
(Richmond Conservator Report [26 January 1888])

The Richmond Democrat also added this comment:

Skeptics may laugh and scoff if they will, but no man can listen to Mr. Whitmer as he talks of his interview with the Angel of the Lord, without being most forcibly convinced that he has heard an honest man tell what he honestly believes to be true. (Richmond Democrat 16/6 [2 February 1888])


chad said...

When I first began to read the BoM and I saw the page that listed the witnesses I must admit that at first I doubted entirely their testimonies and their motives...especially considering that a couple of the 8 were relatives of Joseph Smith.

Then however I recalled my upbringing and the fact that in the NT gospel records the only information we have regarding the ressurection of Christ are the testimonies of those who either saw him or saw the empty tomb.

Last July I traveled to the Palestinian West Bank for 13 days to learn about the other side of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and to work with and meet Palestinian Christians who have lived in the land for thousands of years - while there I went to the site accepted by most mainstream Christian churches as the tomb of Christ (Church of the Sepluchre). Now although the location of this site is based on oral tradition and no one really knows where Jesus was laid after his crucifixion still I did have a realization while standing in that empty tomb that the testimony of the Apostles and women among the early followers of Jesus coupled with faith is all a believer really needs in order to accept the ressurection tradition.

In all fairness then as an investigator I should use the same yardstick when judging the testimonies of those who saw the gold plates - the stories are somewhat plates seen by a few and then taken up to heaven....ressurected Jesus seen by a few and then taken up into heaven....

I think the biggest struggle for most (including me) is that the story of the gold plates is so fresh and new, not something ancient...and people have a tendency to trust a story more if it has some age to it....anyhow I have decided that I will not discount the testimonies of these witnesses and instead I will accept them as their strong conviction that what they saw was real and true...."Blessed are they who have not seen and yet believe."

Andrew Miller said...


Interesting insights. Thanks for your comments. I have been troubled by some who claim there is "proof" that Jesus was resurrected. I don't think there is proof of such things. Evidence? Sure. Strong evidence? Maybe. Proof? No. The same holds true for all things of spiritual nature. I think God helps us by bringing forth witnesses and other evidences to help us in our faith, but I don't think He usually "proves" things to people through external non-spiritual means until that day comes when every knee shall bow and every tongue confess.

You also have another great point with how it is easier to believe in things that are old facts than things that seem "fresh and new." I have often wondered about the Pharisees' statements that "We have Moses and the prophets" and "Abraham is our father" as an excuse to reject Jesus. It is as though they said "we have everything we need, we don't need you, Jesus!" Likewise, I think some people today are prone to say "We have Peter, Paul,and the New Testament. What do we need Joseph Smith or the Book of Mormon for?"

Thanks for coming by again.

Andrew Miller said...

By the way, it is interesting to look at what the motives of the three witness may have been: Book of Mormon Witnesses: Motives. A careful investigation of this shows there are no reasonable motives ultimately when one considers their lives and circumstances in which they bore testimony.

chad said...

I agree with your treatment on 'proof'. I don't think God 'proves' things that way either...Jesus said it was a wicked generation that demanding a sign....the testimony of the Apostles is the evidence for the ressurection but ultimately it is confirmed through faith and not 'proof' as you say.

I know that Jesus lives because I believe I have experienced his presence in my own life...therefore I believe the ressurection was an actual event.

I am trying to read the BoM that way...not looking for 'proof' per se (although studying the available evidence until the wee hours of the night ;) but rather seeking an answer by way of my spirit....

I still haven't been able to figure out what it was that started me on this road to learning about the BoM and LDS church...I have been relatively satisfied with my religious experience thus far in life...though I do still feel something is missing I suppose...

Thanks for the link - I like what I have read on FAIR up to this point, it seems very scholarly (which I like)...I will read it and share any thoughts I might have

Andrew Miller said...

Although I have seen many things that are compelling to my intellect, like you, it is the spiritual experiences that I have had that convince me that Jesus Christ lives and is the Savior of the world. I have had many spiritual experiences that confirm that the Book of Mormon is true as well. I hope that you will have those experiences as well. Keep studying and seeking inspiration!