I’m working toward the writing of a kind of brief introduction to the Book of Mormon witnesses. With that in mind, I’ve gathered the scriptural passages that pertain to them, and I thought that I would share them here.
Linking himself with Isaiah and with his own brother Jacob — all of whom, he says, have seen the Lord — Nephi proclaims himself a witness to the Redeemer. “Wherefore,” he explains, “by the words of three, God hath said, I will establish my word. Nevertheless, God sendeth more witnesses, and he proveth all his words” (2 Nephi 11:3).
This seems to be the principle behind the prophecy that three witnesses would be chosen to establish the authenticity of the Book of Mormon at its re-appearance in modern times, centuries away.
Here, for example, is 2 Nephi 27:12-14, which specifically speaks of three witnesses to the Book of Mormon but allows for an indefinite number of others:
12 Wherefore, at that day when the book shall be delivered unto the man of whom I have spoken, the book shall be hid from the eyes of the world, that the eyes of none shall behold it save it be that three witnesses shall behold it, by the power of God, besides him to whom the book shall be delivered; and they shall testify to the truth of the book and the things therein.
13 And there is none other which shall view it, save it be a few according to the will of God, to bear testimony of his word unto the children of men; for the Lord God hath said that the words of the faithful should speak as if it were from the dead.
14 Wherefore, the Lord God will proceed to bring forth the words of the book; and in the mouth of as many witnesses as seemeth him good will he establish his word; and wo be unto him that rejecteth the word of God!
- Note that specifically three witnesses are mentioned, but that an indeterminate number of others are also mentioned, “according to the will of God,” “as many witnesses as seemeth him good.”
- The three witnesses are expressly predicted to see the book “by the power of God.”
The prophecy at Ether 5:2-4 speaks only of the three witnesses, but adds some other important details:
2 And behold, ye may be privileged that ye may show the plates unto those who shall assist to bring forth this work;
3 And unto three shall they be shown by the power of God; wherefore they shall know of a surety that these things are true.
4 And in the mouth of three witnesses shall these things be established; and the testimony of three, and this work, in the which shall be shown forth the power of God and also his word, of which the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost bear record—and all this shall stand as a testimony against the world at the last day.
- Those to whom the plates are to be shown will be “those who shall assist to bring forth this work.”
- Again, it is said that the three will be shown the plates “by the power of God.”
Doctrine and Covenants 17:1-7, was given to Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris through Joseph Smith at Fayette, New York, during June 1829. They have now been specified as the three witnesses who will see the plates “by the power of God”:
1 Behold, I say unto you, that you must rely upon my word, which if you do with full purpose of heart, you shall have a view of the plates, and also of the breastplate, the sword of Laban, the Urim and Thummim, which were given to the brother of Jared upon the mount, when he talked with the Lord face to face, and the miraculous directors which were given to Lehi while in the wilderness, on the borders of the Red Sea.
2 And it is by your faith that you shall obtain a view of them, even by that faith which was had by the prophets of old.
3 And after that you have obtained faith, and have seen them with your eyes, you shall testify of them, by the power of God;
4 And this you shall do that my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., may not be destroyed, that I may bring about my righteous purposes unto the children of men in this work.
5 And ye shall testify that you have seen them, even as my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., has seen them; for it is by my power that he has seen them, and it is because he had faith.
6 And he has translated the book, even that part which I have commanded him, and as your Lord and your God liveth it is true.
7 Wherefore, you have received the same power, and the same faith, and the same gift like unto him.
- Once again, the language is of power (“the power of God”), as well as faith, and of a “gift.”
- The revelation testifies that the Book of Mormon is true. During their experience as witnesses, they will hear the voice of God himself, directly, testifying that it is true.
- They are given a checklist of items that they will see, including not only the plates but (1) the breastplate, (2) the sword of Laban, (3) the Urim and Thummim, and (4) the “miraculous directors” (aka the Liahona).
By the time that Doctrine and Covenants 20:8-11 was given during April 1830, the three witnesses, along with eight additional official witness and several unofficial ones, had seen the plates and, in some cases, other associated artifacts. The English translation of the Book of Mormon had just been published, in March 1830. So this revelation introduces it, speaking of
8 . . . the Book of Mormon;
9 Which contains a record of a fallen people, and the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles and to the Jews also;
10 Which was given by inspiration, and is confirmed to others by the ministering of angels, and is declared unto the world by them—
11 Proving to the world that the holy scriptures are true, and that God does inspire men and call them to his holy work in this age and generation, as well as in generations of old