Appendix 4: Testimony of Three Witnesses, Late June 1829
Testimony of Three Witnesses, [, Seneca Co., NY, late June 1829]. Featured version typeset [ca. Mar. 1830] for Book of Mormon, . For more complete source information, see the source note for the Book of Mormon.
In this statement, which was published at the end of the Book of Mormon, , , and testified that an showed them the and that the voice of God declared that JS had translated them “by the gift and power of God.” JS’s later history described this vision, saying that Cowdery, Whitmer, and Harris were told, “I command you to bear record of what you now see and hear.” JS also stated, “Having thus through the mercy of God, obtained these glorious manifestations, it now remained for these three individuals to fulfil the which they had received, viz: to bear record of these things; in order to accomplish which, they drew up and subscribed the following document.” JS may have been involved in writing this statement, but it is likely that Cowdery or one of the other witnesses was the author. The document appears as an appendix to this volume rather than as a featured text because even though its connection to JS is well established, its authorship is uncertain.
JS had previously dictated two revelations and two passages in the Book of Mormon explaining that witnesses would see and testify of the plates. Phraseology in this document is similar to that found in those earlier texts. In June 1829 had authored “Articles of the Church of Christ,” which also used very similar language.
In late June 1829, , , and approached JS to ask whether they could view the plates. In response, JS dictated a revelation that stated, “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 and after that you have obtained faith and have seen them with your eyes you shall testify of them by the power of God.” JS’s history later affirmed that the promised experience occurred “not many days after the above commandment was given.”
The vision took place in , New York, likely in the last few days of June 1829, about the time JS completed the Book of Mormon translation. , who had journeyed to Fayette with her , later recalled that the morning after they arrived, JS approached and told him to humble himself, reiterating a commandment given to Harris three months earlier. She added, “Soon after this these four [JS, , , and Harris] left and went into a grove a short distance from the house here they continued in earnest supplication to God untill he permited an angel from his presence to bear to them a message.”
According to JS’s history, the group “made choice of a piece of woods” near the Whitmer home, “and having knelt down, we began to pray in much faith, to Almighty God to bestow upon us a realization of those promises.” After they each prayed aloud sequentially and then repeated the effort, all with no response, excused himself because he felt that his presence was the reason for the lack of divine communication. Once he departed, the remaining three returned to prayer and “beheld a light above us in the air of exceeding brightness, and behold, an angel stood before us; in his hands he held the plates which we had been praying . . . to have a view of: he turned over the leaves one by one, so that we could see them, and discern the engravings thereon distinctly.” They also heard a voice declaring, “These plates have been revealed by the power of God, and they have been translated by the power of God.” Decades later, added, “We not only saw the plates of the B[ook] of M[ormon] but also the Brass plates, the Plates of the Book of ether, the Plates containing the Record of the wickedness of the people of the world, and many other plates.” He also described a table holding the sword of Laban, the Liahona, and the interpreters, all of which were objects mentioned in the Book of Mormon translation and which a previous revelation had promised the witnesses they would see.
JS soon left and and found “a considerable distance” away, praying fervently. JS related in his history that the two “ultimately obtained our desires” and saw and heard the same things JS had witnessed with Cowdery and Whitmer. “’Tis enough, ’tis enough,” cried out Harris. “Mine eyes have beheld, mine eyes have beheld.”
The earliest copy of this document is found in the Book of Mormon manuscript prepared for the printer. penned that copy at the end of the manuscript, on the same page as the last few lines of the Book of Mormon, sometime around February 1830, when the printer’s copy was finished. That copy does not appear to be the original because both ’s and ’s signatures are in Cowdery’s handwriting. David Whitmer later stated that each of the witnesses signed the original statement, demonstrating that they had individually agreed with its contents. Therefore, the original was written sometime between the June 1829 experience and early 1830. Unfortunately, most of the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon has been lost, and it is unknown whether this testimony was appended to the end of that manuscript.
The text featured here is from the first printed edition of the Book of Mormon. Though JS was not explicitly instructed to publish a statement from the witnesses, a March 1829 revelation to announced, “The testimony of three Witnesses will I send forth & my word & behold whosoever beleaveth in my word him will I visit with the manifestations of my spirit & they shall be Born of me & their testimony shall also go forth.” A passage in the Book of Mormon similarly indicated that the testimony of the witnesses and the Book of Mormon would come forth at the same time. The witnesses were also told in a revelation that they should “testify that ye have seen them even as my servant Joseph Smith jr.”
Lucy Mack Smith later related that after the translation was finished, JS “dispatched a messenger to Mr. Smith [Joseph Smith Sr.] . . . request[ing] that Mr. Smith and myself should come immediately.” She then went on to explain that she was at the Whitmer house when the witnesses saw the plates, implying that JS had already finished the translation. However, JS’s history and a recollection by David Whitmer stated that the translation was completed after the Three Witnesses viewed the plates. Whitmer said that “it was about. 11. A. M.” on a Sunday when the witnesses viewed the plates, possibly indicating the date was 28 June, the last Sunday of June 1829. (Lucy Mack Smith, History, 1845, 152; JS History, vol. A-1, 26; Cannon, Journal, 27 Feb. 1884; Stevenson, Journal, 22 Dec. 1877.)
Cannon, George Q. Journals, 1855–1864, 1872–1901. CHL. CR 850 1.
Stevenson, Edward. Journals, 1852–1896. Edward Stevenson, Collection, 1849–1922. CHL. MS 4806, boxes 1–4.
Joseph F. Smith, New York City, NY, to John Taylor et al., [Salt Lake City, Utah Territory], 17 Sept. 1878, draft, Joseph F. Smith, Papers, CHL; Revelation, June 1829–E [D&C 17:1]. In later recollections, Whitmer repeatedly made reference to seeing these objects. (See, for example, Stevenson, Journal, 22 Dec. 1877; “Letter from Elder W. H. Kelley,” Saints’ Herald, 1 Mar. 1882, 66–69; and E. C. Briggs, Chicago, IL, to Joseph Smith III, 4 June 1884, Saints’ Herald, 21 June 1884, 396–397.)
In the 1870s, when asked if Whitmer “and the other witnesses did or did not sign the testimonies themselves,” David Whitmer replied that “each signed his own name,” confirming that an original document did exist. (Joseph F. Smith, New York City, NY, to John Taylor et al., [Salt Lake City, Utah Territory], 17 Sept. 1878, draft, Joseph F. Smith, Papers, CHL.)
Revelation, June 1829–E [D&C 17:5]. Oliver Cowdery preached about this experience in his evangelizing en route to the Indian territory west of Missouri. (Richard W. Cummins, Delaware and Shawnee Agency, to William Clark, [St. Louis, MO], 15 Feb. 1831, U.S. Office of Indian Affairs, Central Superintendency, Records, vol. 6, p. 114; “The Golden Bible,” Painesville [OH] Telegraph, 16 Nov. 1830, ; McLellin, Journal, 1; C. C. Blatchly, “Caution against the Gold Bible,” New-York Telescope, 20 Feb. 1830, 150.)
U.S. Office of Indian Affairs, Central Superintendency. Records, 1807–1855. Kansas State Historical Society, Topeka. Also available at kansasmemory.org.
McLellin, William E. Journal, 18 July–20 Nov. 1831. William E. McLellin, Papers, 1831–1836, 1877–1878. CHL. MS 13538, box 1, fd. 1. Also available as Jan Shipps and John W. Welch, eds., The Journals of William E. McLellin, 1831–1836 (Provo, UT: BYU Studies; Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994).
Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come, that we, through the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, have seen the which contain this record, which is a record of the , and also of the , his brethren, and also of the , which came from the tower of which hath been spoken; 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 shewn unto us 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 marvellous in our eyes: Nevertheless, the voice of the Lord commanded us that we should bear record of it; wherefore, to be obedient unto the 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 judgement 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.