Question: Did the Witnesses who left the Church continue to maintain their witness of the Book of Mormon?

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Question: Did the Witnesses who left the Church continue to maintain their witness of the Book of Mormon?

All of the Three Witnesses and three of the Eight Witnesses left the Church in 1838 and were hostile, at least for a time, against Joseph Smith. Yet, they clung to their witness and continued to affirm it

Three Witnesses

Oliver Cowdery

Oliver would later return to the Church and seek rebaptism.

During his estrangement from the Church, he insisted upon his witness as true.

Martin Harris

Martin Harris would later return to the Church and seek rebaptism.

During his estrangement from the Church, he insisted upon his witness as true, and sought to bear his witness often.

David Whitmer

David Whitmer never returned to the Church, but left an extensive record validating his testimony. 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 the 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.[1]

Eight Witnesses

Hiram Page

Hiram Page never returned to the Church, but continued to bear his witness. Even when approached by the excommunicated William McLellin, Page replied:

As to the Book of Mormon, it would be doing injustice to myself, and to the work of God of the last days, to say that I could know a thing to be true in 1830, and know the same thing to be false in 1847.[2]

Jacob Whitmer

Jacob Whitmer never returned to the Church, but bore his testimony on his deathbed, with no record of denial.

John Whitmer

John Whitmer never returned to the Church, but maintained his testimony as the second-longest lived witness (after his brother David Whitmer).

When asked how he could leave in view of his testimony of the plates' literal reality, John rationalized his choice to disbelieve the translation of the Book of Mormon (despite knowing that the plates were literal and physical):

I cannot read it, and I do not know whether it is true or not.[3]

Whitmer would not, then, deny what he had seen and hefted, even when estranged from Joseph and the Church.

After leaving the Church, John said:

It may not be amiss in this place, to give a statement to the world concerning the work of the Lord, as I have been a member of this church of Latter Day Saints from its beginning; to say that the book of Mormon is a revelation from God, I have no hesitancy; but with all confidence have signed my named to it as such; and I hope, that my patrons will indulge me in speaking freely on this subject, as I am about leaving the editorial department. Therefore I desire to testify to all that will come to the knowledge of this address; that I have most assuredly seen the plates from whence the book of Mormon is translated, and that I have handled these plates, and know of a surety that Joseph Smith, jr. has translated the book of Mormon by the gift and power of God, and in this thing the wisdom of the wise most assuredly has perished: therefore, know ye, O ye inhabitants of the earth, wherever this address may come, that I have in this thing freed my garments of your blood, whether you believe or disbelieve the statements of your unworthy friend and well-wisher.[4]


Notes

  1. "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.
  2. Letter of Hiram Page to William E. McLellin (30 May 1847), Ray County, Mo.; cited in Ensign of Liberty 1 (1848): 63.
  3. "Theodore Turley's Memorandums," Church Archives, handwriting of Thomas Bullock, who began clerking in late 1843; cited in Dan Vogel (editor), Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City, Signature Books, 1996–2003), 5 vols, 5:241.; see also with minor editing in Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957), 3:307–308. Volume 3 link
  4. John Whitmer, "Address To the patrons of the Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate," (March 1836) Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 2:286-287. (italics added)

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