Question: Were the Book of Mormon witnesses not neutral because they were members of the Church and believers in Joseph's mission?

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Question: Were the Book of Mormon witnesses not neutral because they were members of the Church and believers in Joseph's mission?

The witnesses did not believe they had seen plates because they believed in the restoration; they believed in the restoration because they had seen plates

It is claimed that because the witnesses are "interested"—i.e., they were members of the Church and believers in Joseph's mission—they are therefore not reliable, since they cannot be "neutral" or "disinterested."

  • The critics have the sequence reversed: the witnesses did not believe they had seen plates because they believed in the restoration; they believed in the restoration because they had seen plates. It would be a strange witness if realizing the Joseph had actual plates and divine aid to translate them did not compel them to become members of the restored gospel.
  • As Pratt points out above, the Book of Mormon is something about which one cannot be neutral or disinterested—if one is convinced that it is what it claims to be, then this requires action.
  • Given that many witnesses were subsequently disaffected from Joseph Smith and the Church (some permanently), and yet never denied their witness, this attack has been robbed of much of whatever force it previously had. The disaffected witnesses had many reasons to be "interested" in denouncing Joseph Smith and the faith he founded. Yet, they did not—this argues for the reality of their experience and the sincerity of their witness despite any beliefs they had when they first gave it.
  • Why didn't Martin expose the Book of Mormon as a scam after he lost his investment?
  • Why didn't Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and some of the eleven witnesses expose Joseph as a fraud after they left the Church?
  • If they all knew together that it was a hoax, why didn't any one of them say anything?

Parley P. Pratt replied to this assertion, which was frequently the main means of dismissing the witnesses in early anti-Mormon writing:

Mr. L. complains of all the witnesses to the Book of Mormon being interested witnesses; that is, they are all followers of, and believers in, that system. But, I enquire, who would be a disinterested witness? If all Christendom were to see the original document, and be convinced of its truth, they would all see the original document, and be convinced of its truth, they would all be as much interested in it as those who first witnessed it. The Lord never chose a disinterested witness of his resurrection or any other truth. Would Mr. L. have a witness who would say the thing is true to be sure, but does not concern me, I purpose never to obey it myself, but to go down to hell, for the sake of giving others a disinterested testimony of its truth? But after all, the first witnesses to the Book of Mormon were not members of this church when they gave their testimony; for there was no such church in existence until some time after their testimony had been published.[1]

Notes

  1. Parley P. Pratt, A Reply to...“Complete Failure,”...and...“Mormonism Exposed,” (Manchester: W. R. Thomas, 1840), 1-9. off-site Full title