David Whitmer/Interview with John Murphy in June 1880

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David Whitmer's rebuttal to John Murphy's June 1880 claims regarding his experience as a Book of Mormon witness

Summary: David Whitmer was interviewed by John Murphy in June 1880. Murphy reported that Whitmer claimed that the angel that showed him the plates "had no appearance or shape" and that Whitmer saw "nothing, in the way you understand it." Upon seeing the published interview, Whitmer strongly objected to the way Murphy had portrayed him, and published a proclamation refuting Murphy's characterization of his experience as a witness.

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Question: Did David Whitmer tell John Murphy that the angel Moroni "had no appearance or shape" and that he saw "nothing"?

John Murphy quoted David Whitmer as saying that his witness experience was just a "feeling" or an "impression"

David Whitmer was interviewed by John Murphy in June 1880. Murphy reported that Whitmer claimed that the angel that showed him the plates "had no appearance or shape" and that Whitmer saw "nothing, in the way you understand it." Upon seeing the published interview, Whitmer strongly objected to the way Murphy had portrayed him, and published a proclamation refuting Murphy's characterization of his experience as a witness.

The following is a portion of Murphy's interview with David Whitmer, written from Murphy's perspective. (John Murphy to the Editor, undated, Hamiltonian, 21 January 1881, quoted in "David Whitmer Interview with John Murphy, June 1880," Early Mormon Documents 5:63):

[Murphy]: "First of all, I heard you saw an angel. I never saw one. I want your description of [the] shape, voice, brogue and the construction of his language. I mean as to his style of speaking. You know that we can often determine the class a man belongs to by his language."

[Whitmer]: "It had no appearance or shape."

[Murphy]: "Then you saw nothing nor heard nothing?"

[Whitmer]: "Nothing, in the way you understand it."

[Murphy]: "How, then, could you have borne testimony that you saw and heard an angel?"

[Whitmer]: "Have you never had impressions?"

[Murphy]: "Then you had impressions as the quaker when the spirit moves, or as a good Methodist in giving a happy experience, a feeling?"

[Whitmer]: "Just so."

When David Whitmer read the Murphy interview, he published a rebuttal to John Murphy's portrayal of his witness experience

Whitmer himself refuted Murphy's account:

Unto all Nations, Kindreds, tongues and people unto whom this present Shall come.

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 since 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.[1]

What was he reaffirming? Let's pull up the statement of the three witnesses:

THE TESTIMONY OF THREE WITNESSES

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


David Whitmer (1878): "I saw them just as plain as I see this bed"

In an 1878 interview with Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith, for example, he gave dramatic and emphatic testimony of his experience as a witness:

It was in June 1829, the very last part of the month, and the eight witnesses, I think the next day. Joseph showed them the plates himself. We (the Three Witnesses) not only saw the plates of the Book of Mormon, but the Brass Plates, the plates containing the record of the wickedness of the people of the world, and many other plates. The fact is, it was just as though Joseph, Oliver and i were sitting right here on a log, when we were overshadowed by a light. It was not like the light of the sun, nor like that of a fire, but more glorious and beautiful. It extended away round us, I cannot tell how far, bu in the midst of this light, immediately before us, about as far off as he sits (pointing to John C. Whitmer who was sitting 2 or 3 feet from him) there appeared, as it were, a table, with many records on it, besides the plates of the Book of Mormon; also the sword of Laban, the Directors (i.e. the ball which Lehi had) and the Interpreters. I saw them just as plain as I see this bed (striking his hand upon the bed beside him), 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.[2]

David Whitmer (1884): "I saw with these eyes and I heard with these ears"

David Whitmer's response when asked if he "had been mistaken and had simply been moved upon by some mental disturbance, or hallucination, which had deceived them into thinking he saw the Personage, the Angel, the plates, the Urim and Thummim, and the sword of Laban."

Whitmer was interviewed by Joseph Smith III, in the presence of others, not all of whom were disposed to believe his account. Significantly, he listed several items that he had seen, besides the golden plates:

Rather suggestively [Colonel Giles] asked if it might not have been possible that he, Mr. Whitmer, had been mistaken and had simply been moved upon by some mental disturbance, or hallucination, which had deceived them into thinking he saw the Personage, the Angel, the plates, the Urim and Thummim, and the sword of Laban. How well and distinctly I remember the manner in which Elder Whitmer arose and drew himself up to his full height—a little over six feet—and said, in solemn and impressive tones: "No, sir! I was not under any hallucination, nor was I deceived! I saw with these eyes and I heard with these ears! I know whereof I speak!"[3]


David Whitmer (1887): "'He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear;' it was no delusion!"

David Whitmer:

'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.[4]

See FairMormon Evidence:
David Whitmer's numerous statements affirming his testimony of the Book of Mormon


Notes

  1. "David Whitmer Proclamation, 19 March 1881," quoted in Early Mormon Documents 5:69
  2. Interview with Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith (Richmond, Missouri, 7—8 September 1878), reported in a letter to President John Taylor and the Quorum of the Twelve dated 17 September 1878. Originally published in the Deseret News (16 November 1878) and reprinted in Cook, ed., David Whitmer Interviews, 40. Cited in Daniel C. Peterson, "Not Joseph's, and Not Modern," in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, edited by Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and John W. Welch, (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2002), Chapter 2, references silently removed—consult original for citations.
  3. Interview with Joseph Smith III et al. (Richmond, Missouri, July 1884), originally published in The Saints' Herald (28 January 1936) and reprinted in Cook, ed., David Whitmer Interviews, 134—35, emphasis in the original. Cited in Daniel C. Peterson, "Not Joseph's, and Not Modern," in Echoes and Evidences of the Book of Mormon, edited by Donald W. Parry, Daniel C. Peterson, and John W. Welch, (Provo, Utah: FARMS, 2002), Chapter 2, references silently removed—consult original for citations. Also quoted in Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), p. 88.
  4. David Whitmer, An Address to All Believers in Christ, page 9 (1887)