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Witnesses reaffirmed published statements in the Book of Mormon

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Question: Did the Book of Mormon witnesses hold to their published testimonies?

Several of the Book of Mormon witnesses publicly reaffirmed their published testimonies

Some have argued that the witnesses did not hold to their published testimony, or desire to ignore the published testimonies in favor of other, often second hand accounts that seem (often from a superficial examination) to disagree with the published witness testimonies in the Book of Mormon.

However, some of the witnesses (mostly those for whom we have many statements because of their longevity) reaffirmed their published testimonies and encouraged others to read and refer to them. Among these were David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris and John Whitmer.


Richard Anderson: All eleven Book of Mormon witnesses publicly reaffirmed their testimony as printed

Richard Anderson described multiple accounts of all the Witnesses bearing testimony and reaffirming their published testimony:[1]

The three Smiths who formally gave their names as seeing and handling the plates were the Prophet's father, Joseph Smith, Sr.; the Prophet's older brother, Hyrum; and his immediately younger brother, Samuel Harrison. They sometimes joined the other Book of Mormon witnesses to reaffirm their testimony printed in the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon regarding lifting and turning the leaves of the plates. After quoting the published statements of the Three and Eight Witnesses, and describing the experience of the latter group, Lucy Smith relates, "The ensuing evening, we held a meeting, in which all the witnesses bore testimony to the facts as stated above."[2] Two years later, in the period of dynamic preaching of the early elders, a conference was held near Cleveland, Ohio, remembered by Luke Johnson as follows: "At this conference the eleven witnesses to the Book of Mormon, with uplifted hands, bore their solemn testimony to the truth of that book, as did also the Prophet Joseph."[3]


Martin Harris reaffirmed his published testimony of the Book of Mormon

Martin Harris repeatedly reaffirmed the published witness:

My mother has prepared I don't know how many meals for him [Martin Harris], but always the conversation of the early rise of the Church would be the main subject discussed at the table....And he became miffed with the Prophet Joseph because he thought that he should have been one of the leading men in the Church. He had helped Brother Joseph Smith means to publish the Book of Mormon and to assist him in many other ways, and for that reason, I say, and what he had done for the Church, he became miffed; but it would nearly always wind up with the testimony that you find here recorded in the Book of Mormon. He stated that he stood in broad day light, when an angel from Heaven came down with the plates in his arms, and he stood side by side with the angel when the angel did turn over leaf after leaf of the book that had been translated into our language...until he became perfectly satisfied that he has seen enough, and further, that after the angel had shown him the plates and disappeared, he heard a voice from Heaven that thrilled every fiber of his body, stating the the book had been translated by the gift and power of God, and not of man, and he was commanded by the Lord to so make that statement to the world. And he did. Now it was my privilege to hear Martin Harris relate that, time and time again at our table....[4]


John Whitmer reaffirmed his published testimony of the Book of Mormon

John Whitmer, one of the Eight witnesses, likewise reaffirmed the published witness:

I conclude you have read the Book of Mormon, together with the testimonies <underline>that</underline> are thereto attached; in which testimonies you read my name subscribed as one of the Eight witnesses to said Book. That <underline>testimony was</underline>, is, and <underline>will</underline> be <underline>true</underline> henceforth and forever."[5]

John Whitmer's final interview:

I said: I am aware that your name is affixed to the testimony in the Book of Mormon, that you saw the plates?

He–It is so, and that testimony is true.

I–Did you handle the plates with your hands?

He–I did so!

I–Then they were a material substance?

He–Yes, as material as anything can be.

I–They were heavy to lift?

He–Yes, and you know gold is a heavy metal, they were very heavy.

I–How big were the leaves?

He–So far as I recollect, 8 by 6 or 7 inches.

I–Were the leaves thick?

He–Yes, just so thick, that characters could be engraven on both sides.

I–How were the leaves joined together?

He–In three rings, each one in the shape of a D with the straight line towards the centre. I-In what place did you see the plates.

He-In Joseph Smith's house; he had them there.

I–Did you see them covered with a cloth?

He–No. He handed them uncovered into our hands, and we turned the leaves sufficient to satisfy us.

I-Were you all eight witnesses present at the same time?

He-No. At that time Joseph showed the plates to us, we were four persons, present in the room, and at another time he showed them to four persons more....

when Joseph Smith [III]...sent word to John Whitmer to reaffirm his testimony, his answer was: 'I have never recalled it, and I have nothing to reaffirm.'[6]


Oliver Cowdery reaffirmed his published testimony of the Book of Mormon

When Thomas B. Marsh, an excommunicated apostle, approached Whitmer and Cowdery to learn "the real truth" about the Book of Mormon (since they, like him, were now excommunicated and hostile to it) Marsh reported:

I enquired seriously at David if it was true that he had seen the angel, according to his testimony as one of the witnesses of teh Book of Mormon. He replied, as sure as there is a God in heaven, he saw the angel, according to his testimony in that book. I asked him, if so, how did he not stand by Joseph? He answered, in the days when Joseph received the Book of Mormon, and brought it forth, he was a good man filled with the Holy Ghost, but he considered he had now fallen. I interrogated Oliver Cowdery in the same manner, who answered me similarly.[7]


David Whitmer reaffirmed his published testimony of the Book of Mormon

David Whitmer was the most long-lived witness, and we have by far the most material from him. He repeatedly referred to and endorsed the published witness statement.

  • I did see the Angel as it is recorded in my testimony in the Book of Mormon. The Book is true (italics in original, bold emphasis added).[8]
  • Mr. Whitmer turned his large, kind, but penetrating eyes upon me and, in a very pleasant and considerate, but firm and steady voice said: "Read the printed testimony of the three witnesses, which you will find on one of the front pages of the Book of Mormon--and I say to you that every word of it is true."[9]
  • [O]f course [I] would tell you about my vision of the Angel. You ask me if I saw the Angel when he brought the plates. I saw the angel when he brought the plates, and the Angel told us that we must bear testimony to the world, as contained in my testimony written in the Book of Mormon. Doubt not--sister--the Book of Mormon is the Word of God.[10]
  • Mr. Whitmer on being asked if he saw the angel, as stated in some accounts, opened the book and pointing to a section said, "there is my testimony. Read it; that tells all that is necessary for me to say about it. That contains the solemn testimony of myself and the other persons named."[11]
  • In June, 1829, the Lord called Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, and myself as the three witnesses, to behold the vision of the Angel, as recorded in the fore part of the Book of Mormon, and to bear testimony to the world that the Book of Mormon is true. I was not called to bear testimony to the mission of Brother Joseph Smith any farther than his work of translating the Book of Mormon, as you can see by reading the testimony of us three witnesses.[12]
  • My testimony to the world is written concerning the Book of Mormon, and it is the same that I gave at first and it is the same as shall stand to my latest hour in life, linger with me in death and shine as Gospel Truth beyond the limits of life, among the Tribunals of Heaven, and [that] the Nations of the Earth will have known to[o] late the divine truth written on the pages of that book is the only sorrow of this servant of the Almighty Father.[13]
  • In answer to questions by the brethren he recited with graphic distinctness the scene in which he received the testimony he bore any years past and still bears to the Book of Mormon; and averred anew that the statement made by him as published in the book is true. No one who listens to him can doubt the sincerity and truthfulness of the man[14]
  • When Thomas B. Marsh, an excommunicated apostle, approached Whitmer and Cowdery to learn "the real truth" about the Book of Mormon (since they, like him, were now excommunicated and hostile to it) Marsh reported:
I enquired seriously at David if it was true that he had seen the angel, according to his testimony as one of the witnesses of teh Book of Mormon. He replied, as sure as there is a God in heaven, he saw the angel, according to his testimony in that book. I asked him, if so, how did he not stand by Joseph? He answered, in the days when Joseph received the Book of Mormon, and brought it forth, he was a good man filled with the Holy Ghost, but he considered he had now fallen. I interrogated Oliver Cowdery in the same manner, who answered me similarly.[15]
  • As you read my testimony given many years ago, so it stands as my own existence; the same as when I gave it, and so shall stand throughout the cycles of eternity.[16]
  • My testimony to the Book of Mormon is true and I am admonished neither to add to nor take from my testimony already appended to the Book. And if I should do so must be extremely guarded under the risk of being misunderstood.[17]
  • When it was published that Whitmer had denied his witness, he published the following:
It having been represented by one John Murphy of Polo 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 been published with that book as one of the three witnesses.

Those who know me best, well know that I have adhered to that testimony.--

And that no man may be misled or doubt my present views in regard to the same, I do now again affirm the truth of all my statement[s], 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.[18]
  • Orson Pratt: "Did you see the Angel at this time?"
David Whitmer: "Yes, he stood before us. Martin Harris was not with us at this time. I don't think he saw all that we did, but our testimony as recorded in the Book of Mormon is strictly and absolutely true just as it is there written."[19]
  • We asked him if his testimony was the same now as it was at the time the Book of Mormon was published, regarding seeing the plates and the angel. He rose to his feet, stretched out his hands and said, "These hands handled the plates, these eyes saw the angel, and these ears heard his voice; and I know it was of God." That was the strongest testimony I ever heard, and I felt that he was telling the truth....[20]
  • He [David Whitmer] stated that the Book of Mormon was true, that his statement in connection with that of Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris was strictly correct, he had nothing to add to it, nor to diminish from it.[21]
  • "When we were first told to publish our statement, we felt sure the people would not believe it, for the Book told of a people who were refined and dwelt in large cities; but the Lord told us that He would make it known to the people, and people should discover the ruins of the lost cities and abundant evidence of the truth of what is written in the Book."[22]
  • "Mr Whitmer felt very indignant while speaking of certain statements published recently to the effect that he and Oliver Cowdery had denied their statement as published in the Book of Mormon. This he denounced as false in every particular. He said: "Oliver never wavered in his testimony, and when he was on his death bed, I was there, with many of his friends, until he passed away. He bore the same testimony on his dying bed that he had always borne through life, and earnestly called upon all to cleave to the truth revealed through the Prophet Joseph, and to serve the Lord. As for myself, I have never denied my testimony that is published in the Book of Mormon, for I know that God has revealed these things for the salvation of the children of men, and to Him belongs all the honor, the power and the glory."[23]
  • In June, 1829, [when] I [David Whitmer] saw the angel by the power of God, Joseph, Oliver and I were alone, and a light from heaven shone round us, and solemnity pervaded our minds. The angel appeared in the light, as near as that young man. [Within five or six feet - note in original] Between us and the angel there appeared a table, and there lay upon it the sword of Laban, the Ball of [sic] Directors, the Record, and Interpreters. The angel took the Record, and turned the leaves, and showed it to us by the power of God....My testimony in the Book of Mormon is true; I can't deviate from it.[24]
  • During our interview, Mr. Whitmer reiterated his testimony as given at the beginning of the Book of Mormon, saying that all he testified to there was true; that he had seen the plates and the Heavenly messenger, as he had stated.[25]
  • My testimony as published in connection with the Book of Mormon is true--And why Should men ask to know more in regard to all the particulars connected with that all Overshadowing truth--If they will not believe the three and 8 witnesses would they believe though one Should arise from the dead, testify to its truth again.[26]
  • I saw the angel as plainly as I see you; he was surrounded by the glory of God, which overshadowed us, and we heard his voice, and we saw the records of the Book of Mormon...My testimony is the same as at the beginning, as is true.[27]

Notes

  1. Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 137-138. ISBN 0877478465.
  2. Lucy Mack Smith, Biographical Sketches of Joseph Smith the Prophet, and His Progenitors for Many Generations (Liverpool, S.W. Richards, 1853), 141.
  3. Deseret News (26 May 1858).
  4. Martin Harris account of multiple statements to Thomas Farley, circa 1874-75; "Talk Given by Theodore Farley, Sr., at Priesthood Session of Sharon Stake Quarterly Conference, 23 March 1940," 1-2 typescript, LDS Church Archives; in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 2:391.
  5. John Whitmer to Herman C. Smith, 11 December 1876, Artificial Collection, Community of CHrist Library-Archives; in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 5:244.
  6. Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 5:247–249., original in Deseret Evening News, 6 August 1878; citing a letter from P. Wilhelm Poulson to Editors (31 July 1878) from Ovid City, Idaho.
  7. "History of Thomas Baldwin Marsh," November 1857; printed in Deseret News (24 March 1858) and Millennial Star 26 (1864): 406; cited in Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 56-57. ISBN 0877478465.
  8. David Whitmer, to Robert Nelson, 15 February 1887, Richmond, Missouri, David Whitmer Papers, Community of Christ Library-Archives; cited in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 5:225.
  9. David Whitmer, Interview with Franklin D. Richards and Charles C. Richards, 22 May 1885; cited in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 5:224.
  10. David Whitmer, to Sister Gates, 11 February 1887, Richmond, Missouri, David Whitmer Papers, Community of Christ Library-Archives; cited in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 5:224-225.
  11. David Whitmer, interview with St. Louis Republican 77 (16 July 1884): 7; cited in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 5:132.
  12. 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), 31 ; cited in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 5:200.
  13. David Whitmer to Mark H. Frorscutt, 2 March 1875, Scrapbook, 16-17; cited in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 5:219.
  14. David Whitmer, Interview with Joseph Smith III and others on 4 April 1882, Saints' Herald 29 (1 May 1882): 141; cited in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 5:221.
  15. "History of Thomas Baldwin Marsh," November 1857; printed in Deseret News (24 March 1858) and Millennial Star 26 (1864): 406; cited in Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 56-57. ISBN 0877478465.
  16. David Whitmer in letter to James N. Seymond, cited in Saints' Herald 26 (15 July 1879): 223-24; cited in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 5:219.
  17. David Whitmer, to Heman C. Smith, 5 December 1876, Community of Christ LIbrary-Archives; cited in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 5:219.
  18. David Whitmer, Proclamation, 19 March 1881; cited in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 5:69.
  19. David Whitmer, interview with Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith, 7-8 September 1878; Joseph F. Smith, Diary, 7-8 September 1878, LDS Church Archives; cited in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 5:44.
  20. David Whitmer, interview with Jonas W. Chatburn, Saints' Herald (15 June 1882): 189; cited in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 5:94.
  21. David Whitmer, reported by B.H. Roberts, Contributor 9 (March 1888): 169 and Millennial Star 50 (20 February 1888): 120; cited in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 5:223-224.
  22. David Whitmer, interview with James H. Hart on 21 August 1883, Journal-Notebook, 21 August 1883, Special Collections and Manuscripts, Harold B. Lee Library, BYU ; cited in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 5:96.
  23. David Whitmer, interview with James H. Hart on 10 March 1884, Letter to Deseret News (18 March 1884); cited in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 5:105.
  24. David Whitmer, Interview with E.C. Briggs, 1884; recorded in E.C. Briggs to Joseph Smith III, 4 June 1884, Saints' Herald 31 (21 June 1884): 396-97; cited in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 5:121.
  25. David Whitmer, Interview with Edwin G. Woolley, Diary, Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah; cited in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 5:221.
  26. David Whitmer, to S. T. Mouch, 18 November 1882, Richmond, Missouri, Whitmer Papers, Communty of Christ LIbrary-Archives; cited in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 5:222.
  27. David Whitmer, interview with J. Frank McDowell on 8 May 1884, Saints' Herald 31 (9 August 1884): 508; cited in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 5:223.

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