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The Testimony of Three Witnesses
|The Testimony of Three Witnesses
|Year of Publication
|Gardner, Brant A.
|Book of Mormon Minute, Volume 1: First and Second Nephi
|Book of Mormon Central
|Angel Moroni; Cowdery, Oliver; Harris, Martin; Three Witnesses; Whitmer, David
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The Testimony of Three Witnesses
The witness testimonies arguably began with Martin Harris’s continuing desire to have greater confirmation of the work in which he was involved, both emotionally and financially. After one of Martin’s requests for confirmation, Joseph went to the Lord. The answer to Martin and virtually all others was: “Behold, if they will not believe my words, they would not believe you, my servant Joseph, if it were possible that you should show them all these things which I have committed unto you” (D&C 5:7). It is a problem that persists with the Book of Mormon. No matter the ways it is supported, there are many who continue to not believe.
Nevertheless, that same revelation gave hope to Martin that he might see. That hope was extended to two different groups of men. Their testimonies came to be known as those of the three witnesses and the eight witnesses. A question might be asked why there were two different sets of witnesses rather than having all participate in the same event at the same time. The Lord didn’t not say, but the answer may lie in the different nature of the witness experiences.
The three witnesses has a heavenly angel show them the plates and heard the voice of God. They used both sight and sound as their witnesses. In their context, their witness was one of more than just the existence of plates, it was a confirmation of God and God’s hand in the presence and translation of the plates.
The eight witnesses saw and handled the plates. For them, the angel was absent. This created a different type of witness. Where the three witnesses were contextualized in revelation and spirituality, the witness of the eleven was rooted in physicality. Their witness did not rely on visions but on the tangible. They handled the plates. They turned the pages.
Thus, the two experiences represented two ways of understanding and accepting knowledge. For the three, the emphasis was on the divine hand behind the Book of Mormon. For the eleven, it was the witness for those who demanded a more naturalistic explanation. Combined, they confirmed what only Joseph had truly known prior to that time. Perhaps it is fitting that, combined with Joseph himself, there were twelve official witnesses to the plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated.
Although these were the official witnesses and signed their statements to be included with every publication of the Book of Mormon, it must be noted that Mary Whitmer also received a physical witness of the plates when an unidentified stranger showed them to her as a reward, perhaps consolation, for the work she did in supporting the translation.
Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come:
This is the standard opening for both the statement from the three and the eight witnesses. It is a reference to Revelation 7:9 and 11:9 where the four nouns are used. The specific order of the nouns is different in both instances in Revelation. This particular order is seen multiple times in the Book of Mormon, always in this order.
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.
The witness of the three begins with a declaration that they had an experience based on the grace of God and Jesus Christ. They saw the record, and while seeing the plates could not bear witness of the contents, they nevertheless confirm that the content was as real as were the plates themselves.
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.
The previous declaration of the contents leads to the statement that the content came through the translation of the text on the plates, a text translated through the gift and power of God. Although they describe seeing the plates and the engravings, they continue to emphasize that they were revealed “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.
They describe the event, again emphasizing the sacred nature. Theirs is a spiritually-based event with an angel from God. Their testimony was of more than the physical plates. It was a testimony of the whole of the mission and the God who was behind it.
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.
They testified that “the voice of the Lord commanded” them to bear witness. They now had no choice. This was an event that was tied directly to the Lord and to a direct command. No matter what they might have later felt about Joseph or the Church, none would walk back from this testimony. They knew they could not. Joseph was a man even if a prophet. God, however, had commanded them, not Joseph.
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