Evidence #64 | May 25, 2023

Prophecy of Witnesses

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Scripture Central

Abstract

The Book of Mormon’s prophecy that it would be shown to multiple witnesses whose testimonies would establish its truth was miraculously fulfilled.
An Angel Showing the Gold Plates by William L. Maughan.

The prophet Nephi foresaw that the plates of the Book of Mormon would be “hid from the eyes of the world” and that “the eyes of none shall behold it save it be that three witnesses shall behold it, by the power of God” and “none other … shall view it, save it be a few according to the will of God” (2 Nephi 27:12–13). Moroni likewise prophesied that “in the mouth of three witnesses shall these things be established” (Ether 5:4).

In response to these and other revelations,1 Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, and David Whitmer, accompanied by Joseph Smith, went into the woods to pray for a special witness of the Book of Mormon. In the resulting vision,2 which occurred near the end of June, 1829,3 these men were visited by the angel Moroni, who presented the gold plates to their view and “turned over the leaves one by one, so that [they] could see them, and discern the engravings thereon distinctly.”4 The solemn testimony of these three witnesses “has appeared in every edition of the Book of Mormon from the beginning.”5 Importantly, throughout their lives and even during periods of estrangement from the church, none of these witnesses ever denied their testimonies.6 In addition, we also have the Eight Witnesses and other informal witnesses who had various encounters with the plates and other Nephite artifacts.7 

Conclusion

The Book of Mormon’s prophecy that it would be shown to three chosen witnesses (as well as a few others) and that through them its truth would be “established” should not be taken lightly. Any theory that attempts to natrualistically explain the Book of Mormon,8 must deal not only with the consistent testimony of the these collective witnesses, but also the fact that their miraculous experience was predicted in the very text of which they testified. 

If Joseph Smith had simply fabricated the contents of the Book of Mormon, there would be no guarantee that he could get multiple other people to (1) either falsely claim that they had seen the plates or (2) have some sort of hallucination which would induce them into thinking they had seen them. Thus, it would have been a bold risk on Joseph’s part to make such a prediction in his text, especially considering the high likelihood that it would fail if he didn't, in fact, have a believably ancient set of engraved metal plates in his possession. 

Larry E. Morris, A Documentary History of the Book of Mormon (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2019), 370–412.

Neal Rappleye, “‘Idle and Slothful Strange Stories’: Book of Mormon Origins and the Historical Record,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 20 (2016): 21–37.

Alexander L. Baugh, “The Testimony of the Book of Mormon Witnesses,” in A Reason for Faith: Navigating LDS Doctrine & Church History, ed. Laura Harris Hales (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2016), 45–58.

Larry E. Morris, “The Experience of the Three Witnesses,” Revelations in Context December 26, 2012, online at churchofjesuschrist.org.

Richard Lloyd Anderson, “Personal Writings of the Book of Mormon Witnesses,” in Book of Mormon Authorship Revisited: The Evidence for Ancient Origins, ed. Noel B. Reynolds (Provo, UT: FARMS, 1997), 39-60.

Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book, 1981).

2 Nephi 27:12 Ether 5:3–4

2 Nephi 27:12 

Ether 5:3–4

  • 1 For the role that 2 Nephi 27:12 and Ether 5:2–4 played in generating interest for the three witnesses to seek a divine manifestation, see John W. Welch, “The Miraculous Timing of the Book of Mormon Translation,” in Opening the Heavens: Accounts of Divine Manifestations, 1820–1844, 2nd ed., ed. John W. Welch (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and BYU Press, 2017), 112–113, n. 98.
  • 2 This vision actually took place in two stages. Initially, these companions all joined in prayer together, but after their second failed attempt Martin Harris withdrew himself, “believing ... that his presence was the cause of [their] not obtaining” the witness they desired. With Martin Harris departed, Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer jointly experienced the reported vision. Soon after this, Joseph Smith found Martin and joined him in prayer. It wasn’t long before Joseph Smith and Martin Harris experienced the same vision the other companions had witnessed. History, 1838–1856, volume A-1, p. 24–25, online at josephsmithpapers.org.
  • 3 See Welch, “The Miraculous Timing,” 124.
  • 4 History, 1838–1856, volume A-1, p. 25, online at josephsmithpapers.org.
  • 5 See Daniel C. Peterson, “Tangible Restoration: The Witnesses and What They Experienced,” 2006 FairMormon Conference presentation, 2, online at fairmormon.org. See also, Michael Hubbard MacKay and Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, From Darkness Unto Light: Joseph Smith’s Translation and Publication of the Book of Mormon (Salt Lake City and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and BYU Religious Studies Center, 2015), 151: “Their written statement was included with the manuscript pages of the Book of Mormon and was eventually printed in the back of the published book in 1830.”
  • 6 For a brief summary of the lives of the witnesses and their unwavering testimonies, see Richard Lloyd Anderson, “Book of Mormon Witnesses,” Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 4 vols., ed. Daniel H. Ludlow (New York, NY: Macmillan, 1992), 1:214–216.
  • 7 See Daniel C. Peterson, “Variety and Complexity in the Witnesses to the Book of Mormon,” Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship 43 (2021): vii–xxxii.
  • 8 For an evaluation of the various theories which have attempted to explain the Book of Mormon, see Daniel C. Peterson, “The Divine Source of the Book of Mormon in the Face of Alternative Theories Advocated by LDS Critics,” 2001 FairMormon Conference, online at archive.bookofmormoncentral.org.
Fulfilled Prophecies
Book of Mormon

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