The Three Witnesses and Reality

On March 18, 2010 LDS professor Daniel Peterson authored a guest blog for Mormon Times. In “The three witnesses and the reality of the Book of Mormon” Dr. Peterson writes,

“Serious critics of the Book of Mormon must neutralize the testimonies of the witnesses to the golden plates. “

Dr. Peterson praises another LDS professor, Richard Lloyd Anderson. He credits Dr. Anderson’s research into the lives and character of these three Book of Mormon witnesses, “both when they were dedicated followers of Joseph Smith and after they had been alienated from him and his church,” with providing people “a great deal of information about them.” Based on Dr. Anderson’s research, Dr. Peterson decides,

“They [the three witnesses] were plainly sane, honest, reputable men.”

Therefore, Dr. Peterson believes, “it may be impossible” to “neutralize the testimonies of the witnesses to the golden plates.”

Dr. Peterson is entitled to his opinion. When I look at the various testimonies by and about Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer, I believe the witnesses themselves “neutralize” their testimonies.

Consider the following very brief overview of parts of the lives of these three men (please find references and a fuller treatment of these facts in The Changing World of Mormonism, chapter 5).

Martin Harris: Belonged to five different religions before becoming a Mormon; after leaving the LDS Church he changed his religious affiliation 8 more times. The LDS publication Millennial Star reported that Harris “became partially deranged…flying from one thing to another.” Phineas Young wrote his brother Brigham, “Martin Harris is a firm believer in Shakerism, says his testimony is greater than it was of the Book of Mormon” Harris later joined the Strangites, a rival Mormon church, and even went on a mission to England for that group. The Millennial Star said, “In one of his fits of monomania, he [Harris] went and joined the ‘Shakers’ or followers of Anna Lee. …but since Strang has made his entry…Martin leaves the ‘Shakers,’ whom he knows to be right,…and joins Strang….if the Saints wish to know what the Lord hath said to him they may turn to…the Book of Doctrine and Covenants, and the person there called a ‘wicked man’ is no other than Martin Harris…Elder Wheelock will remember that evil men, like Harris, out of the evil treasure of their hearts bring forth evil things….” Harris became part of another “Testimony of Three Witnesses” which supported David Whitmer as the rightful successor to Joseph Smith. Harris rejoined the LDS Church late in his life, but one can’t help but wonder how things may have played out if his life had been extended a few more years.

Oliver Cowdery: According to Joseph Smith, while still a Mormon in good standing, Cowdery was deceived by false revelations received via a peep-stone belonging to a different Book of Mormon witness, one of the eight, Hiram Page. Years later Cowdery accused Joseph Smith of adultery and heresy. Smith accused Cowdery of stealing and uniting “with a gang of counterfeiters, thieves, liars, and blacklegs of the deepest dye, to deceive, cheat, and defraud the saints…” After Cowdery was excommunicated from the LDS Church, the Mormon publication Times and Seasons published a poem suggesting Cowdery had doubts about his testimony of the Book of Mormon. About the same time (1841), Cowdery joined the Methodist Protestant Church in Tiffin, Ohio. A sworn affidavit by a man named C.J. Keen recounts, “Mr. Cowdery expressed a desire to associate himself with a Methodist Protestant Church of this city….he was unanimously admitted a member thereof. At that time he arose and addressed the audience present, admitted his error and implored forgiveness, and said he was sorry and ashamed of his connection with Mormonism.” Cowdery was rebaptized LDS in 1848. However, according to David Whitmer, Cowdery died with a firm testimony that Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet and that Doctrine and Covenants was filled with errors.

David Whitmer: Was also deceived by Hiram Page’s peep-stone, and was accused of joining the same gang of “blacklegs” with which Cowdery was accused of being involved. Years after his 1838 excommunication from the LDS Church, Whitmer supported the Strangite movement for a time, but switched to a church being formed by William McLellin in 1848. Whitmer was to be the prophet of this new church, and in one revelation he claimed he received from God, he was told that the Mormons “polluted my name, and have done continually wickedness in my sight.” Whitmer never rejoined the LDS Church. In 1887, the year before his death, he published An Address to All Believers in The Book of Mormon. Whitmer wrote, “Now, in 1849 the Lord saw fit to manifest unto John Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery and myself nearly all the errors in doctrine into which we had been led by the heads of the old [LDS] church. We were shown that the Book of Doctrine and Covenants contained many doctrines of error, and that it must be laid aside…. They were led out of their errors, and are upon record to this effect, rejecting the Book of Doctrine and Covenants… ” In another 1887 publication, An Address to All Believers in Christ, Whitmer wrote, “If you believe my testimony to the Book of Mormon; if you believe that God spake to us three witnesses by his own voice, then I tell you that in June, 1838, God spake to me again by His own voice from the heavens, and told me to ‘separate myself from among the Latter Day Saints’… In the spring of 1838, the heads of the church and many of the members had gone deep into error and blindness.”

So were the three Book of Mormon witnesses “plainly sane, honest, reputable men”? I don’t have any reason to doubt that they were. But the real question is: Were they reliable witnesses?

It seems to me that these men demonstrated great instability on spiritual matters. They had no discernment regarding revelation and the claims of so-called prophets. On one hand they ask us to believe that an angel showed them gold plates and told them the Book of Mormon was true; on the other hand they ask us to believe that Ann Lee (leader of the Shakers) was Jesus Christ come again in the form of a woman. Or that the book of Doctrine and Covenants is filled with false revelations. Or that God said to get out of the Mormon Church because by 1838 it had gone deep into error and blindness.

Critics of the Book of Mormon do not need to “neutralize the testimonies of the witnesses.” The witnesses have already done that all on their own.

About Sharon Lindbloom

Sharon surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. Deeply passionate about Truth, Sharon loves serving as a full-time volunteer research associate with Mormonism Research Ministry. Sharon and her husband live in Minnesota.
This entry was posted in Book of Mormon and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

70 Responses to The Three Witnesses and Reality

  1. Janet says:

    “Critics of the Book of Mormon do not need to “neutralize the testimonies of the witnesses.” The witnesses have already done that all on their own.”

    Very good, seems that these men where nothing more then common men of great instabiltiy on spiritual matters. So unstable it would be hard for anyone to believe that they would not turn on Joseph Smith and denounce him for the fraud he was. Yet, by some strange reason, they held true to their testimonies of the events they has witnessed, never denying they saw a angel or saw the plates of Gold, yep very unusual men.

    Now how about the other eight witnesses, must we find that they also had dirt on their clean reputable lives?

    What a stretch we find in this article to detract from what is evidence of men who were somewhat week in character, as most men are, to see them as less then perfect so hence there must have been a great deal of dishonesty in there lone testimonies.


  2. falcon says:

    I don’t have the reference right here in front of me, but I believe these witnesses reported seeing whatever they saw with “spiritual eyes” or “eyes of faith”. We know that the occultist Smith made great use of second sight vision, an occult practice, to see all sorts of things. Smith was also a great manipulator and had perfected the power of suggestion to the max. What we have here are three duffeses that you could convince that they saw pigs flying.
    And BTW, didn’t they also report that they saw into the earth a cave with mounds of gold plates stacked-up on tables of stone? Perhaps gindael or one of the others here has the exact reference. The bottom line is that Smith took unstable people and convinced them, through the power of suggestion, that they saw something, not with their physical eyes, but via a “supernatural” means. Quite honestly, this isn’t all that hard to do.
    This is all very easy to debunk but Mormons are like conspiracy freaks. They love the story and can find rationale for believing anything associated with Smith. I just finished watching a documentary on the History Channel about the folks who believe Oliver Stones movie presentation of the grand conspiracy of Kennedy’s assasination. The concluding statement was that the conspiracy buffs have a deep desire and a feeling to believe it and so they do. Even when given access to the archives they still say that some vital piece of information that will prove the conspiracy is being hidden from them. This is Mormonism in spades. There’s nothing like strong desire to purpetuate a myth.
    Say here’s the deal Mormon, if you truly desire it and have enough “faith” you to can see the golden plates, Moroni and even the angel with the sword that threatened to kill Joseph Smith if he didn’t start marrying more women.
    For you men, don’t try that last one at home!

  3. Falcon, for a look at the evidence suggesting the witnesses saw the plates with “spiritual eyes” in a vision rather than with natural eyes in the physical world, see Bill’s article at MRM: Did the Eleven Witnesses Actually See the Gold Plates?

    Janet, in your comment above you’ve misrepresented me. I did not say or imply that the witnesses were dishonest. In fact, I wrote, “So were the three Book of Mormon witnesses ‘plainly sane, honest, reputable men’? I don’t have any reason to doubt that they were. But the real question is: Were they reliable witnesses?”

    And that question remains. They may not have denied their testimonies of the BOM (though there is some evidence that they may have), but neither did they deny their testimonies that are at loggerheads with Mormonism. If we were to accept them as reliable witnesses, what would we be compelled to believe? The BOM is true, but the LDS Church is totally apostate? D&C is filled with false doctrine? Joseph Smith was a pretender? Though some people may choose to ignore the contradictions, in truth, the full picture of the lives and testimonies of the three witnesses severely undermines and neutralize the reliability of their declarations that an angel told them the BOM is true.

  4. mossface says:

    While I agree with the underlying premise that the testimony of the three witnesses is suspect at best, these are basically ad hominem arguments. Yes Joseph Smith was a flake, and yes pretty much all the witnesses were as well, but I think we need to look at the actual arguments presented and dismiss THOSE.

    For example, the “spiritual eyes” anecdote is a HUGE red flag. Functionally, the individual was saying that they didn’t actually see the plates like you and I think when someone claims to have seen something. If that’s true, the testimony uses a completely novel definition of the word “witness”, and no longer means what it appears to mean.

  5. MJP says:

    Mossface, I agree that the spritual eyes is probably the larger issue, but it is relevant to look at who made the assertions to begin with. Their reliability as witnesses certainly helps to discern whether they were telling the actual truth. Certainly, there are problems with addressing the men themselves, but it is indeed relevant to the discussion, because if they were susceptible to spiritual manipulation, it allows for them to have been manipulated by Smith.

  6. iamse7en says:

    The 3 witnesses signed that they also saw the Angel Moroni. What of the 8 witnesses?

    Here, you have 11 people that signed a document affirming they SAW and TOUCHED the golden plates. Suppose you or I were one of those witnesses. You could easily write a negative paragraph to try and discount my credibility as a witness. We are all imperfect. But know this: despite many losing faith and falling away, not one denied their affirming testimony: that they saw and handled the plates, 3 of which actually saw the Angel Moroni.

    How do you explain it? Did they lie for Joseph Smith? What was their motivation for lying? Even many of them became disaffected with Mormonism, why did they continue to affirm their testimony? Were they deceived by Joseph Smith? How could he make them believe an angel appears to them or “make” golden plates for them to touch and feel? Were they hallucinating? Were they deceived by the Devil? Did Satan send one of his spirits to pose as an angel named Moroni?

    Your explanation is not the point though. Here you have 11 people signing before God and the world that they saw and handled the golden plates. That is a fact. You can tarnish their character and expose their faults, but it does not remove their testimony to the world. The experiences of the 11 witnesses either came from God or the Devil. They never denied their experience, even if they claimed Joseph was a “fallen prophet.”

    A witness is a powerful thing. In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established. Here, you have 11. As I said, it either came from God or the Devil. Having read and studied the book, and having asked God of its truthfulness, I received revelation that it’s true. And it’s changed my life. I am a better person for it. If this is all of the Devil, then his book isn’t doing a very good job in turning people away from lives of virtue and faith in Christ. It’s doing the opposite.

  7. MJP says:

    I wonder if they really signed before God or if they actually signed before men.

    Seriously, consider that for a moment. Why would someone have to sign something to show that they saw something? I know signing is attesting to its veracity, but why is that necessary here? I am not sure God requires it, or even that it is in and of itself important.

    But do not underestimate the power of suggestion and peer pressure. If they saw something with their mind’s eyes, and Smith pushed them to sign, then yes, we have a problem.

    Also, how many different churches did the three men join above? One even made a public confession of his errors, which holds the same authority as a signature. Because he did so, his sincereity is certainly in question.

    None of this decides the issue, but it all is relevant in the discussion.

  8. falcon says:

    Let’s take it the next step then and that is the reliability of what they claim they saw. I still think that given Smith’s history and character that he pulled a flim flam much like Mesmer pulled off and had the honor of having Mesmerism named after him. So is what was supposedly written on the tablets of gold reliable in any way? Even from a Mormon point-of-view it wouldn’t be for the most basic doctrine of the nature of God that appears in the BoM is changed two or three times.
    I’m not buying the “saw and handled” the golden plates scenario any more than I think Joseph Smith could see into the ground with his magic rock and find buried treasure. A person would really have to want to believe this fairy tale in order to ignore all the evidence that proves it false.
    Mormonism has a history of claiming all sorts of miraculous appearances that when held up to the light of day fades away into vapor.

  9. MJP says:

    A really dumb question:

    Question on the nature of the plates: were they large plates that required the group to carry then in a way much the same as (pardon the analogy) people carry a casket? Or were they small and in a box or bag or something like pirate treasure?

    Might be off topic, but he (Smith) had to put them in his hat to translate, right? So, if at the beginning they were big, how did they get small?

    I ask because I have always had the idea that the plates were originally on sheets and were fairly large…

    If these guys saw and handled them, perhaps there is a desricption of them that would help.


  10. iamse7en says:

    MJP: There are several different accounts by people on their weight and dimensions. They were somewhere around 6×8×6 (length by width by height) and 40-60 pounds.

    The translation of the Book of Mormon is a fascinating topic, one I have a lot of interest in. It’s important to note that Smith did not explain how he translated them. However, there are enough accounts from reputable people to get a good understanding of how it was done.

    I suggest you read Van Wagoner’s 1982 Dialogue article on the BoM Translation. You’ll get a better idea. You can find it online, or download a pdf of it here: (click link next to “Save file to your PC” in bottom right hand corner).

    Short answer: only the seer stone was placed in the hat. The plates were sometimes off to the side covered by a sheet, and by some accounts, not even present.

    Food for thought: some believe Alma 37:23 refers to Joseph Smith:

    And the Lord said: I will prepare unto my servant Gazelem, a stone, which shall shine forth in darkness unto light, that I may discover unto my people who serve me, that I may discover unto them the works of their brethren, yea, their secret works, their works of darkness, and their wickedness and abominations.

    (In fact, when the D&C was being written, pseudonyms were used in place of real names for security reasons. Joseph’s was Gazelem.) The only way for a stone to shine forth in darkness, is for it to be placed in an object (like a hat), then prevent light from entering that object but while still being able to see the stone (like placing your face over the bottom of the hat). While it may seem strange to outsiders (and many Mormons who have never heard this), I do not find it strange. Seems normal to me that the best way to read from a shining stone is where it can be viewed in darkness. A hat seems like the best and most logical way.

  11. mossface says:


    We’re basically on the same page regarding the veracity of the testimony they gave, but iamse7en’s response serves nicely to illustrate my point about where we should focus our inquiry. We can question the reliability of the witnesses, but ultimately it’s the argument (or witness) itself that will need to be addressed. Until we do, people like iamse7en will have room to say “yes, but…”.


    From other things written by a few of the witnesses, I get the impression that they didn’t “see” them in the same sense that I see the keyboard in front of me now, and they only felt them through a cloth Joseph Smith had draped over them. Further, the witnesses didn’t come together and draft the statements, but simply signed off on something that had already been prepared for them. The angel element seems a little iffy as well, with one of the witnesses withdrawing because the angel wasn’t showing up, then getting his head right and coming back. Taken together, these things make the experience and subsequent statements much less compelling.

    Regarding motive, that’s largely irrelevant. Perhaps all had different reasons for doing what they did.

  12. iamse7en says:


    “Spiritual eyes” does not denote that “they didn’t actually see the plates like you and I think when someone claims to have seen something.” It’s important to understand what early (and even modern) Mormons understood by “spiritual” seeing. Perhaps (what Mormons believe are) Moses’ words from Moses 1:11 can shed some light on the topic:

    But now mine own eyes have beheld God; but not my natural, but my spiritual eyes, for my natural eyes could not have beheld; for I should have withered and died in his presence; but his glory was upon me; and I beheld his face, for I was transfigured before him.

    Moses is inferring that he could not have seen the face of God and live, if not for the glory of God coming upon him. He could not see God in his natural state, by his natural eyes. To see such a heavenly vision (such as God or one of his angels), one’s “spiritual eyes” must be open. This does not mean Moses did not actually “see” God, but refers more to HOW, or in what state, he saw God. From what I have read, one of the 3 witnesses used the term spiritual eyes when referring to the visitation of Moroni, and his showing of the plates. Plus, the 8 witnesses viewed the golden plates without the presence of a heavenly messenger, or you could say they viewed and handled it with their “natural eyes.” Basically, the “spiritual eyes” argument is not really valid from any angle.

    Also, your latest response regarding the witnesses only seeing them through a cloth is wrong. That was Emma Smith who said that. The 11 witnesses saw the whole thing. And the fact that Martin Harris had to withdraw and then return only adds greater credibility in my eyes. In order to receive such a witness, your heart and conscience must be right before God, much like any revelation.

    And I disagree that motive is irrelevant. It helps shed light on whether they were lying, deceived, or really saw the plates and the angel.

  13. iamse7en says:


    What is your understanding of the 11 witnesses? Did Joseph Smith deceive them? Are they lying? Or was it a vision from the Devil? I’m actually curious to hear your viewpoint, as one who doesn’t believe in Mormonism. Thanks.

  14. falcon says:

    So here’s a question, why would I believe these guys? Were any of them part of Smith’s band of treasure hunters? Were they into folk magic with its use of divination rods and scrying by means of seer stones? Mormons buy into the whole program thinking that this is real super spiritual stuff. And they know it’s true because they prayed about it and got a spiritual feeling that proves it’s all true. And of course this makes them hyper-super-spiritual and much better than Christians who are so stupid as to believe the Bible as the source of their revelation.
    Extra Biblical “revelation” is in the mind of the Mormon a much more reliable source of the truth. And of course so is Joseph Smith with his magic rock and the flakey guys who followed and believed him.
    The truth of the witnesses can be tested very easily by examining the BoM that “revealed” what was on the golden plates. We know that the BoM is a fraud so it can be concluded that so were the witnesses. Look, Joseph Smith was a very accomplished con artist whose testimony can be dismissed out of hand. People believe all of this not because it’s true, but because it makes them feel good hence they create their own reality.
    I’d like to get Martin Harris on the witness stand for about ten minutes.

  15. MJP says:

    Falcon, I think that is an absolute part of the question– are these guys believable in the first place. Mossface presented above that they had a cloth over them, which I had never before heard. That is an entirely different proposition than the image they like to show. I had envisioned a scene where they are all crowded around the plates oohing and aahing. Now, if that is true, I now envision something in a dark room that is actually a very solemn and private occasion.

    So, if these guys were “gullible” and unreliable on spiritual matters, it absolutely calls into question the story even before you get to the story. This is also bolstered if they were given a letter to sign that they did not produce themselves.

    As others have said, we have to still address the story, but I think that is pretty clear and is for another post.

    Iamse7en–thanks for the explanation, I thought the plates were in the hat with him.

  16. setfree says:

    YOu know, it’s funny, but Moses, in all of his 5 books, never once used the word “spiritual”.

    Oh yeah, it was those nasty conspirators that took out of the Bible all the stuff about Joseph Smith that deleted “spiritual” from Moses’ books.

  17. mobaby says:

    One thing I notice about Martin Harris’ religious trek is the amazing broad spectrum of beliefs he endorsed. It’s not like he moved from one denomination to another that hold many beliefs in common – these were radical shifts from many gods and polygamy, to one God, to emotional ecstasy and forbidding of sex – these were not small shifts but radical changes from one religion to another. Christianity holds it’s core beliefs in common from one denomination to another – not so the sects that Harris joined. It’s like he went from Islam to Christianity to Hinduism to Buddhism – this is how radical the shifts were from one religion to the other. This is truly a man who had no fast and true convictions about the nature of God, salvation, or truth. Martin Harris did not have to make an outright statement against the Book of Mormon – by going and joining other religions that did not hold that the Book of Mormon was true was statement enough. Quite simply, his witness to the golden plates was not convincing even to him. How come? Did he come to doubt his vision of the plates in his mind’s eye? Tangible physical plates would be hard to doubt, visionary ethereal plates are much easier to doubt. Wasn’t Cowdery there when John the Baptist supposedly appeared and restored the keys? And yet, he wasn’t really all that convinced and was led astray even with John the Baptist. Strange – makes one wonder if it really happened.

  18. Iamse7en wrote

    Seems normal to me that the best way to read from a shining stone is where it can be viewed in darkness. A hat seems like the best and most logical way.

    …so, if Joseph read the BoM from a shining stone, what did he need the plates for?

    Why do we get a “testimony” about plates but no “testimony” about a shining stone?

    Why does the current LDS movement perpetuate the story of the plates, but demurs on the story of the stone in the hat?

    Maybe, they thought that the shining stone strategy was just too spooky to market, so they stuck to the plate story instead.

    Maybe I’m a little too jaded, but what I see in the stories of these witnesses is that they all wanted a piece of the gold plate franchise, but when Joseph hogged it all to himself, they got the hump and decided on a tactical retreat. The Mormon movement later re-converted two of them because it knew how their involvement would help legitimise its cause, and by this time Joseph was out of the picture anyway.

    Never underestimate how vain people can be.

  19. Janet asked

    Now how about the other eight witnesses, must we find that they also had dirt on their clean reputable lives?

    …no we don’t.

    I understand that Joseph Smith already did that job for us, with his later denunciations of the characters of these witnesses (I recall that this was the content of one of Smith’s quotes that grindael posted previuosly).

  20. setfree says:

    Iamse7en wrote
    “Food for thought: some believe Alma 37:23 refers to Joseph Smith”
    “Moses’ words from Moses 1:11 can shed some light on the topic:”

    these books, the book of Mormon and the Pearl of great price, both came from Joseph Smith. I know he claims that they came from somewhere else originally, but the fact is that they can be found nowhere prior to Joseph Smith, and he is the one who introduced them to the world.

    Have you never considered how silly it is to quote his books when seeking to establish the truth of his word?

    I could give the world a book. I could tell everyone that God had visited me, and that an angel gave me some plates and took them back again. And I, in my books, could totally vouch for myself.

    Have you never considered this?

  21. falcon says:

    On a very basic level I’m asking myself, “Isn’t there anything in this story that Mormons want to check out? Are they going to merely be driven by some idea that they have received a personal revelation of Smith and his carnival freak show?” What Smith had here was a bunch of naive bumkins that he could convince of anything including that he could see buried treasure in the ground with a magic rock. Come on Mormons, give it up!
    Time for one of my favorite quotes: “The more obscure and convoluted a subject, the more profound it must be.”
    This is what drives the cult member to grab hold of the most deviant, off-the-wall, preposterous notions and hold on to them like they’ve found some great lost treasure. It’s the idea that they have this special enlightenment that the rest of the folks just can’t grasp. They have exceptional spiritual insight and revelation and whoopie ding aren’t they special now.
    Good grief get a grip!

  22. Janet says:

    Do you think they saw with their natural eyes or their spiritual eyes. Who knows, but what they saw could be well explained with what the witnesses also experienced.

    Mark 9

    The Transfiguration

    2After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. 3His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. 4And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
    5Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 6(He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)

    7Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

    8Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

  23. MJP says:

    Janet, your connection does not prove anything because there is nothing to suggest the disciples saw with their spiritual eyes. Anyone who says they might have is clearly taking something from the text that is not there.

    There is also no evidence to suggest they came together later to sign any sort of document, prepared in advance of them signing or not. There is also no evidence to show they fell from the faith. The only disciple who did so is not in this group.

    These are important distinctions.

  24. setfree says:

    I agree. Janet, you’re reading the Book of Mormon into the Bible. If you want to understand the Bible, you must read it without your Mormon glasses on.


    You have brought up seeing God and Jesus-transfigured. Rightfully you discern that these would be times that a person might need Divine assistance even being able to see. However, how does this translate to needing “spiritual eyes” to view some gold? Gold is not godly, not full of glory, as would be, say, GOD for example.

  25. mossface says:


    I retract my comment about the witnesses handling the plates through cloth. While other individuals had that experience, including Emma, nowhere can I find a reference indicating such was the case for the 11 witnesses. I suspect it was the case, but it is a suspicion; I cannot show evidence of it.

    I concur with setfree that using a reference from Moses to back up a claim made in the BoM is circular. You’ve got to realize we are all starting from the assumption that Joseph Smith mis-represented the source of his revelations. If you wish to demonstrate otherwise, you need to reference sources external to Joseph Smith.

    Regarding your questions regarding motive, I believe it was likely a combination of Joseph Smith manipulating their spirituality, and their own desire to play an important role in something exciting. I have a hard time using the word lie in the context of the witnesses, because I really think it was more nuanced than that. The statements were prepared for them to sign, and they were instructed to sign. Joseph Smith told them under no uncertain terms what God expected of them. They were told “ye shall testify that you have seen them”, which is a bit different than being told “ye shall testify of the things you have seen”, or somesuch.

    Anyway, for me motivation is irrelevant because it’s pretty clear major elements of Mormonism are demonstrably false. Given other evidence (or lack thereof), it’s apparent there never were any gold plates. With that understanding, I see the testimony of the witnesses in a different light. Obviously, if there weren’t plates to be seen and handled, something different actually happened. I can’t say exactly what happened, that appears to be lost to history, but I can confidently point to a couple things that didn’t happen.

  26. grindael says:


    Need some help? You are not wrong.

    While some of the statements made by the various witnesses to the Book of Mormon imply that they saw the plates with their natural eyes, other statements indicate that the viewing was actually in a vision. Stephen Burnett related this event in a letter to Lyman E. Johnson on April 15, 1838:

    I have reflected long and deliberately upon the history of this church & weighed the evidence for & against it—loth to give it up—but when I came to hear Martin Harris state in a public congregation that he never saw the plates with his natural eyes only in vision or imagination, neither Oliver [Cowdery] nor David [Whitmer] & also that the eight witnesses never saw them & hesitated to sign that instrument [their statement at the front of the Book of Mormon] for that reason, but were persuaded to do it, the last pedestal gave way, in my view our foundations was sapped & the entire superstructure fell a heap of ruins . . . M[artin] Harris arose & said he was sorry for any man who rejected the Book of Mormon for he knew it was true, he said he had hefted the plates repeatedly in a box with only a tablecloth or a handkerchief over them, but he never saw them only as he saw a city through a mountain. And said that he never should have told that the testimony of the eight [witnesses] was false, if it had not been picked out of [h]im but should have let it passed as it was . . . (Early Mormon Documents, vol. 2, pp. 291-292).

    Further reinforcing the position that the eight witnesses never saw the actual plates, except for a possible vision, is the following statement of Martin Harris:

    These plates were usually kept in a cherry box made for that purpose in the possession of Joseph and myself. The plates were kept from the sight of the world, and no one, save Oliver Cowdery, myself, Joseph Smith, Jr., and David Whitmer, ever saw them (Early Mormon Documents, vol. 2, p. 306).

  27. grindael says:

    Even though Harris says the three witnesses saw the plates, he obviously is still referring to a vision. In 1840 John A. Clark, pastor of Palmyra’s Zion’s Episcopal Church in the mid-1820’s, gave the following account of Martin Harris seeing the plates:

    A gentleman in Palmyra, bred to the law, a professor of religion, and of undoubted veracity told me that on one occasion, he appealed to Harris and asked him directly, —”Did you see those plates?” Harris replied, he did. “Did you see the plates, and the engraving on them with your bodily eyes?” Harris replied, “Yes, I saw them with my eyes,—they were shown unto me by the power of God and not of man.” “But did you see them with your natural,—your bodily eyes, just as you see this pencil-case in my hand? Now say no or yes to this.” Harris replied,—”Why I did not see them as I do that pencil-case, yet I saw them with the eye of faith; I saw them just as distinctly as I see any thing around me, —though at the time they were covered over with a cloth” (Early Mormon Documents, vol. 2, p. 270).

    And these are the witnesses we are told to believe? None of them could get their stories straight… The whole thing was a sham, and did some deny their testimonies? YOU BET. According to who? Brigham Young:

    SOME of the witnesses of the Book of Mormon who handled the plates and conversed with the angels of god were afterwards left to doubt and to disbelieve that they had ever seen an angel. One of the quorum of the twelve, a young man full of faith and good works prayed and the vision of his mind was opened and the angel of god came and laid the plates before him, and he saw and handled them and saw the angel and conversed with him as he would with one of his friends, but after all this was left to doubt and plunged into apostasy and has continued to contend against this work. There are HUNDREDS in a similar condition.” –Brigham Young, JOD:7:164

  28. mossface says:

    Well there you go. I retract my retraction.

  29. Ralph says:

    Regardless of whether they saw the plates with their own eyes or spiritual eyes it does not matter. Iam7even has done a good job with one plausible explanation but did not give any references to the Bible to give validity. Here is a reference from the Bible –

    2 Cor 12:1-4 2 It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord. I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the chird heaven. And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.

    This is talking about visions and revelation and says that John knew someone who had a vision/revelation, but he (John) does not know if it was in the body or out of the body. Now correct me if I am wrong, but wouldn’t ‘OUT OF THE BODY’ indicate a ‘SPIRITUAL’ experience. If John has decided to talk about visions and revelations and points out that they can be either IN or OUT of the body and still be true/real, then there is no reason to doubt the witnesses even if they saw the plates with their spiritual eyes only.

    But let’s look at another way God gave visions/revelations –

    Numbers 12:6 And he said, Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I the Lord will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream.

    As someone on the Sceptics Annotated Bible stated “Now there’s a reliable way to communicate with someone!”

    So the Bible does have a precedence of people seeing evidence without their physical eyes, whether they are conscious (awake) or unconscious (asleep); physical eyes or spiritual eyes is irrelevant. So the 11 witnesses seeing them with their spiritual eyes is neither here nor there if that is what occurred.

  30. grindael says:

    The Visionaries of the Bible were not talking about ‘seeing’ metal plates that were perfectly observable in the ‘real’ world. Get real. (pun intended)

    But, if you have a prop under a blanket and then tell the person with that gentle voice of persuasion that ‘yes, use your spiritual eyes and you will see, it’s there, just have faith, you can feel them, can’t you, just ask god, pray harder, you must be worthy and he will manifest the vision of them unto you’

    then it all makes perfect sense.

    Or, Smith could have just taken off the blanket, but then he would have had a lot of explaining to do.


    The story I like the best is where Joseph told Martin Harris to follow his tracks out in the snow to where the plates were & Martin did & guess what? No plates.

  31. Ralph says:


    You made the comments and asked the questions –

    ”Quite simply, his witness to the golden plates was not convincing even to him. How come? Did he come to doubt his vision of the plates in his mind’s eye? Tangible physical plates would be hard to doubt, visionary ethereal plates are much easier to doubt. Wasn’t Cowdery there when John the Baptist supposedly appeared and restored the keys? And yet, he wasn’t really all that convinced and was led astray even with John the Baptist. Strange – makes one wonder if it really happened.”

    The Bible states that there were followers of Jesus who decidedly left Him and followed Him no more. They saw Him on an almost daily basis, saw His miracles, heard His voice and teachings. It was a ‘tangible physical’ experience for them of The Saviour. But they left Him and followed Him no more. Why? Does this mean that Jesus is not true or that His teachings are false.

    Satan is working very hard against God and His people, even more so than those who do not believe in God. If one gives way just a little to the enticings of Satan, then there is a possibility that they can be lost altogether regardless of what experiences they have had in their lives.

    But to be honest, a spiritual witness is actually a better/stronger witness than a physical one because it is straight to your spirit, not just your brain. That is why denying the Holy Ghost is an unforgivable sin – He speaks to your spirit not just your brain (I hope you understand what I mean). How many people have seen things in real life, but then deny it because they cannot fathom what it means? It happens all around everyday. Seeing is not always believing. So why did Harris and Cowdrey leave the LDS church? Because they left themselves open to the Tempter. Does it invalidate their witnesses or the validity of the BoM and LDS church? No, unless the followers of Jesus leaving invalidates Him and His teachings.

  32. MJP says:

    Ralph, I can think of one who followed Christ daily and did not believe. He encountered others who wanted to believe but couldn’t, and some that just wouldn’t even believe. The one who followed him daily committed suicide after turning Christ in, because he saw what he’d done.

    Satan is working hard against his people… But if I were you I would not use that argument. It’ll get you no where.

    A spiritual witness is better than a physical one, huh? The trouble with that is anyone can believe anything. Now, I will grant that believing something from the heart is entirely different from believing something only on physical evidence. However, even believing something from the heart needs some physical/tangible/credible logic behind it. In other words, believing something that is spiritual just because a spirit tells you is not credible.

    You, I think, minimize the power of Harris’ and Cowdery’s words both in accepting and then rejecting the LDS claims. Saying they left themselves open to Satan is a cop out, and ignores some very real problems. Judas sold out Christ for money, and then felt the pain so bad for his mistake he took his own life.

  33. MJP says:

    Ralph, your first post is interesting, and the 2 Cor verse has been used by LDS to argue at least two points, one of which you present here– that people can and do have visions.

    That’s all fine and good, but it seems that what happened with them was inherently different than the man whom Paul knew 14 years prior to writing this epistle, and also different from the the Biblical pattern.

    Smith, or someone, seems to have orchestrated a big event, but there is indeed doubt as to why these people were allowed to see (or not see) what was there. Given the power of suggestion and the power of some to manipulate others, the evidence is problematic. No where in the Bible do we see something like this. Its just not there to suggest God would prohibit someone from seeing such important evidence. Jesus himself let Thomas touch the holes in his side!

    Finally, remember what you said about Satan and his power to deceive? That argument can both ways, but there are only 3 options– we’re right, you’re right, or none of us are.

  34. Ralph commented on 2 Cor 12:1-4

    This is talking about visions and revelation and says that John knew someone who had a vision/revelation, but he (John) does not know if it was in the body or out of the body.

    …don’t you mean Paul (the author)?

    Paul might have been speaking about John, but we can’t be sure. He might also have been speaking about himself.

    Did you notice where Paul goes with this?

    But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say.

    (2 Cor 12:6)

    In other words, Paul wants us to judge him by what he does and says, rather than by the (alledged) spiritual experiences he, or his associates, had.

    It seems that LDS ask us to judge Joseph Smith and his associates on the basis of their (alledged) spiritual experiences, rather than what they said or did.

    Come on Ralph, we’ve been here before. When will you start applying Matt 7:15-18 to Joseph Smith and his successors?

    Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.

  35. Enki says:

    “And the fact that Martin Harris had to withdraw and then return only adds greater credibility in my eyes. In order to receive such a witness, your heart and conscience must be right before God, much like any revelation.”

    What about Saul who later became Paul? If the N.T. story is correct he was completely changed from his experience. From what I know he wasn’t at all ready for his ‘witness’ if his heard and conscience had to be ready.

    Did you suggest that the rock in the hat story actually has some basis in fact? Being raised LDS I had heard of the seer stone, but didn’t ever hear of it being placed in a hat. I also had the impression that he physically viewed the plates through the U&T. But something in the whole story doesn’t make sense. Most other religions have physical records of their faith. Like carvings in stone or clay, or on other physical media. Its up to humans to find a way to translate them. Sometimes it takes centuries to find some bit of information to find out how to properly translate them.

    It might be allowable to have a young boy find ancient records, and have him translate. But it seems like it would have been much more believable if J.S. had a natural ability to translate. There also could have been other media which would have been acceptable for a sacred record. Also why would he have to keep this record for himself? Why couldn’t he have allowed anyone to look at these plates? Especially someone who was familiar with ancient things. There is the possibility that it could have gotten out of his hands, but such things if they are real would eventually find their way to the proper place, and be translated correctly. If its a testimony about God, then it wouldn’t matter.

  36. Enki says:

    “Satan is working very hard against God and His people, even more so than those who do not believe in God.”

    I always find it kind of weird how ‘Satan’ is brought up to advance or defeat some perspective. Another popular one is to say something is ‘pagan’ or ‘heathen’. Usually its to indicate that something is bad or misguided. What prompted you to bring up ‘Satan’?

    “Finally, remember what you said about Satan and his power to deceive? That argument can both ways, but there are only 3 options– we’re right, you’re right, or none of us are.”

    Those are possibilities. One spiritual organization claims that the Abrahamic faiths are the deceivers.

    What if there are multiple possibilities? That one idea is True, or False, or appears to be true while actually being false, or appearing to be false while being true.

    What if you are both right, both wrong? or appearing to be both right while actually being wrong? or both appearing wrong while actually being right?

    Well, I didn’t do that justice. But I couldn’t find a link to Jain logic. Its interesting that westerners tend to think true/false. Where I found a Jain webpage which suggests a test where there are 7 possibilities.

    I wish I could find that list of possibilities. That could make this discussion more interesting. It won’t bring everyone to the same conclusion, that is for sure! But might add yet another element. Thats interesting, why did I bring up Jain logic to a LDS Non-LDS christian debate?!!!

  37. Janet says:

    David Whitmer repeatedly reacted against charges of possible “delusion.” To one skeptic, he responded: “Of course we were in the spirit when we had the view…but we were in the body also, and everything was as natural to us, as it is at any time” (Anderson, p. 87).


  38. Enki says:

    Do you think that eventually the whole world will be able to view the sacred record? I mean the original, along with the sword of laban, and the liahona?

    I am having a difficult time understanding why the BOM plates aren’t available for general viewing? Aren’t many of the ancient christian scriptures available for general viewing? I understand that most people won’t be able to touch them directly, but behind glass. Scholars are able to examine them, and novices are available to view detailed photos of them, aren’t they?

  39. Jim says:

    I am having a difficult time understanding why the BOM plates aren’t available for general viewing?

    I agree. Additionally, there are no “proto-BOMs” found, like there are with the Bible. Aside from the testimonies of the BOM witnesses, we need to examine the BOM text–and it is there where problems arise (linguistic and biological to name two) that eliminates the BOM from the Christian canon.

  40. falcon says:

    We can talk about the veracity of Smith’s golden plate witnesses and we can also talk about Smith’s documented role as a sooth sayer, medium and all around accomplished con man. However, for me, all I need to do is go back to the essence of what Smith taught about the nature of God and the nature of man and the case against Smith is made.
    And indeed, cult members have a habit of flipping things making up be down and black be white. The point is to sow confusion which cults do. Thus we have in Mormon lore, Satan deceiving Christians into not seeing the light of Smith’s “restored” gospel.
    Quite frankly, what we’re having here is kind of an interesting discussion because it reveals the degree to which a person, like Smith, can pull-the-wool over the eyes of gullible people, however in the end it comes down to someone telling me who they believe God is. After that I don’t really have to spend a whole lot of time debunking their claims of golden plates, magic rocks and the spirits of dead people appearing begging (Mormons) to do temple work for them.

  41. Janet says:

    As one those gullible pull- the -wool over my eyes people, I quiet well understand that just to have the Golden Plates does not in any way change the faith of an individual..

    Many of Christ deciples could not commit to the Faith, let alone even after witnessing miracles and being with Christ as they listened to His sermons.

    Man does not accept the Gospel by objective convictions, but by Faith alone is man made into the image of God.


  42. falcon says:

    So we get down to this concept of someone really wanting to believe a story they find compelling, intriging and full of positive emoting. Add to that the idea that it was prayed about and another wonderful spiritual feeling confirmed the truth of the matter and you have a perfect psychological trap.
    We can’t get someone untrapped! They have to find their own way out of it. I know on this blog the Christians keep directing the Mormons on how to turn the tumblers to the right combination and open the door, but they have to spin the dial themselves.
    Jesus had a bit of good advice when he said that He stands at the door and is knocking but the reality is that there isn’t a door knob on His side of the door. The Mormon has to open the door and emerge from the darkened chamber of their spirit and mind that they are confined in. As Christians we are doing our part as commanded by our Lord. There also is the element of God’s call which in the end is the whole deal.

    John 6:44

  43. Janet says:

    What does it take to open that door to allow Christ in. Faith, not objective convictions. Even if Christ was at the front door and holding the Golden Plates, it would not be enough. Christ would not just stand there and tell you they were true, He would please ask you to read them, then seek to come back and answer your questions as you sought to know if they were true through humble prayer, there is no other way.


  44. falcon says:

    I think our Mormon posters have pretty much convinced themselves that those fabulous witnesses to the golden plates (and throw in Moroni if you please) had a “spiritual” experience not an actual seeing and feeling experience. That’s about the best they’re going to be able to do and it will do to keep them going. I find it interesting the rationalization Mormons make as the cheap sweater of Mormonism begins to unravel before their very eyes. But that’s OK, it takes time, effort and a whole lot of being honest with one’s self to get to the point were reality sets in.
    I see some are trying to hang on to that last little thread of hope of the “argument from equivalency” that’s so popular. We’ve all seen it. Run to the Bible and try to find anything that talks about dreams or visions and apply it to Mormonism claiming excitingly, “See, it’s the same thing.” They may as well open the Bible to any page, shut their eyes and randomly point to a verse thus is their skill with rightly dividing the Word of God.
    I’ve often pointed out here that the Community of Christ just tells their folks to accept the BoM as a spiritual book if they please and not an actual history. That’s kind of the last gasp I’d say of trying to hold on to something that’s obviously not reality based.

  45. MJP says:

    Janet, how many times did Christ say, “I tell you the truth?’

    What did he tell Thomas to do? Just accept on faith that the wound were real?

    I’d also like to know which diciples, as you claim, fell away from the faith? Give us pecifics.

  46. Janet says:

    Are you saying that all the disciples, meaning students of Christ stayed faithful, how about the rich man for just one example.
    You are confusing those who became his apostles with those who were being taught.

    Thomas was a doubter which proves my point, just because many witnessed Jesus Christ as a healer and giver of miracles, why did Thomas still doubt when even Christ said he would be resurrected.
    You can’t have it both ways. So if you were given the Gold Plates, you would still doubt until you actually read them and asked for confirmation from the HG.


  47. setfree says:

    This conversation is making my brain feel blended.

  48. falcon says:

    See, what Christians just don’t get is that Mormonism can’t be understood in the context of the Bible. One has to go beyond the Biblical text (which is corrupted) and receive personal revelation from the Mormon god in regards to the truth of Mormonism. Once this confirming feeling is received, everything falls into place. A whole new perspective and insight is enjoyed. As one progresses with new revelation, all of these things such as the “witnesses” to the golden plates come to be viewed in light of continuous revelation. It can’t be grasped all at once. That is why something like the Bible is quite antiquated and personal revelation and progressive knowledge a more reliable test of the truth. Personal and progressive revelation also results in feelings of intimacy with the Mormon god that can’t be explained to or understood by those who have not experienced this intense inner witness.
    So Christians need to accept that the stodgy orthodox Christian doctrine and Biblical text have been replaced by a new restored gospel via a revelation to that spiritual giant and prophet Joseph Smith and is confirmed through a personal revelation.
    There really is no need, to a great extent, for the Biblical scriptures. They are useful only as far as they support the revealed truth of Mormonism.
    So if Christians would just humble themselves and honestly and sincerely seek the truth about the restored gospel, all these troubling little questions regarding magic rocks and witnesses would fade-away in light of this new revealed truth.
    How’s that?
    Man, I’m really impressed by my ability to think and talk Mormon. I seem to excell at cross-cultural communication! Maybe I could be an interpreter for Mormons to Christians. Can anyone do any better than I’ve done here?

  49. Ralph says:


    John 6:66 tells us that many of Jesus’ DISCIPLES (ie not just people who heard about Him and came to see what the fuss was all about) left Him and did not follow Him any more after that point in time. They were there with Him and saw His miracles, heard His voice and teachings, but they did not believe. The same with the scribes and Pharisees – they saw Him every day, heard His voice and teachings but decided not to believe in Him. We even have Jesus’ home town ‘throwing’ Him out because they did not believe in Him (Matt 13:54-58).

    The same with the gold plates of the BoM. If we still had them there will be many who will decide not to believe in them. I am sure that you would still be one of the un-believers as you have many issues with the LDS church. You would say that OK, there were gold plates, but they do not align with the Bible, so they are not scripture and thus not true, etc, etc, etc. What if the ‘experts’ looked at the plates and decided that JS had interpreted them incorrectly in places – that too would be an issue for you. So to have the physical tangible evidence there in front of you will not prove to you that the LDS church or the BoM is true, just that there were some gold plates that JS had in his possession.

    Why don’t we have the plates now? I think (NOTE I think) there are 2 reasons. 1 this life is all about faith in God and His word. If we have the plates here it would not be faith anymore as there is physical tangible evidence that they exist. 2 Where much is given much is required (Luke 12:48) – if the plates were still here then God can condemn all who did not believe in them even more harshly than if they were not here. This shows to me that God has compassion and love for us that He is giving us an ‘easier’ path.

  50. MJP says:

    Janet, yes, I am saying the students of Christ stayed faithful (less Judas). The rich man didn’t qualify. He approached Christ only one time. And yes, those who really followed him believed. Some did not get it all until he died and rose again, but they did not fall away. (Appropriate point this week). Thomas is a good example of that, who all the while believed Christ, but who also didn’t fully “get it” until Christ dies and rose again.

    And if someone came to me saying they had plates from God but would not show beyond the sheet that covered them, yes, I would doubt. See, Jesus never withheld anything.

Leave a Reply