Comments about ‘Defending the Faith: Defending the Faith: John Whitmer's testimony endures’

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Published: Thursday, June 2 2011 6:00 a.m. MDT

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New Yorker
Pleasant Grove, UT

I, for one, appreciate Dan Peterson's contributions here. He synthesizes and presents a lot of material that I haven't had the time to get to.

Idaho Coug
Meridian, Idaho

For me, the witnesses are the strongest (non-spiritual) evidence for the Book of Mormon. I know the criticisms of the witnesses. I do wish that they included individuals who were not either related to one another or connected to the BofM process. Some completely objective, non-Mormon signatures would undoubtedly strengthen the makeup of the group.

But, the criticism that some witnesses left the Church is mitigated by their non-denials. I suspect one could have made some decent money to say something like, "the Book of Mormon was a deception. I was in on it and I ask for your forgiveness." Some of these men didn't just leave the church for trivial reasons. They had some major theological and behavioral issues with Joseph Smith and that provided a real opportunity to deny their testimonies and really weaken the church.

Daniel Peterson - I believe there is a huge need for apologists to take a very transparent look at the translation process. The record indicates that the majority of the translation process did not even involve the plates but rather the stone and hat process. That is a gaping hole in LDS art and correlated material.

Mormoncowboy
Provo, Ut

Admittedly, I know very little about John Whitmer, though I understood that the eight witnesses viewed the plates on two seperate occassions - and that this story seems a little inconsistent with the vagaries offered by some of the other statements.

Still, of all the arguments about the validity of the witnesses testimonies - to date, this is the most compelling story. Far more than any of the three witnesses.

Brahmabull
sandy, ut

There is one problem to John Whitmer's account. In his signed testimony he claims to have handled the plates. On another occasion he states

"I now say, I handled those plates; there were fine engravings on both sides. ...they were shown to me by a supernatural power"

Now why would he have to be shown the plates by a "supernatural power" if they were actual physical plates? That makes no sense. Either he handled them in reality, or was shown them in a vision and he didn't actually handle them but thought he did in the vision.

Brahmabull
sandy, ut

One of the more telling accounts is that of Josephs brother William:

"I did not see them uncovered, but I handled them and hefted them while wrapped in a tow frock and judged them to have weighed about sixty pounds. ... Father and my brother Samuel saw them as I did while in the frock. So did Hyrum and others of the family." (Zion's Ensign, p. 6, January 13, 1894).

When William was asked if he wanted to remove the cloth . he replied . "No, for father had just asked if he might not be permitted to do so, and Joseph, putting his hand on them said; 'No, I am instructed not to show them to any one. If I do, I will transgress and lose them again.' Besides, we did not care to have him break the commandment and suffer as he did before." (Zion's Ensign, p. 6, January 13, 1894, cited in Church of Christ broadside.)

So even though Joseph's father and Samuel were 2 of the 8 witnesses, it appears as if they only handled the plates while covered. Hardly being a witness, unless William Smith was a liar, which I doubt.

yarrlydarb
Ogden, UT

Brahmabull,

What causes you to doubt that William Smith was a liar?

You hardly have any evidence of that.

KC Mormon
Edgerton, KS

Brahmabull
What William is saying is that up to the point were Joseph was told to show them to the eight witnesses all who had seen them had seen them in that same state. That does not mean that after Joseph was instructed to show them to the eight that they did not see them and handle them just as they said in their testimonies of the plates.

Allen
Salt Lake valley, UT

@Brahmabull

In their testimony, as recorded and compiled with the translation of the plates, the eight witnesses said they saw the plates and handled and hefted them. Yet, in the 1894 booklet published by the Church of Christ, William Smith said he handled and hefted the plates while they were covered and JS said he was forbidden by God to show the plates to anyone.

To understand the two statements about the plates, we need to know the dates the statements were made. If the statement by William Smith was made before the eight witnesses made their statement, it would appear that (1) God forbid anyone from seeing the plates, and then later (2) God allowed the eight witnesses to see and handle the plates. Even if the statement by William was made after the eight witnesses made their statement, it would appear that God allowed the eight witnesses to see the plates and then afterwards forbid JS from showing the plates to others. I don't see any justification for the statement that the eight witnesses "only handled the plates while covered. Hardly being a witness, unless William Smith was a liar, which I doubt."

Allen
Salt Lake valley, UT

Another factor that should be considered is the quality of the statement made by William Smith. His statement was published in 1894. The statement of the eight witnesses was made prior to the publishing of the BoM in 1830. That means over 60 years passed before William Smith's statement was published. In other words, even though William handled the plates while they were covered, 60 years passed before his statement was published, and this means his 1894 statement is a secondary evidence about the BoM. People tend to think of William's statement as a primary evidence, but it isn't. Secondary evidences have value, but not as much value as primary evidences. Instead of assuming that William's statement overruled the primary evidence of the statement of the eight witnesses, it is much more reasonable to reverse the relationship and to recognize that the primary evidence of the eight witnesses is more important than the secondary evidence of William Smith's statement.

Even better, is to look for ways that the two statements could be in harmony rather than in conflict, as KC Mormon and I have done.

skeptic
Phoenix, AZ

It seems Mr. Petersen is always working at white washing the issues with incomplete, or one sided stories. Wouldn't it be more worthy to tell the whole story and seek the truth of the matter. The more white wash the more things look suspicious and fake.

Brahmabull
sandy, ut

Allen and Kc mormon - you make good points and a valid arguement. I still do not buy completly that theory. Clearly, William's statement was made after Joseph had lost the 116 pages in 1828 because he says

'No, I am instructed not to show them to any one. If I do, I will transgress and lose them again.' Besides, we did not care to have him break the commandment and suffer as he did before."

The witnesses statement was made in 1829, so that gives a small 1 year window in which William could have witnessed the plates (by handling them and lifting them).

If the statement was made after the witness statements then there is a problem.

The other issue is that your arguement is that Martin, David Whitmer, and Oliver Cowdery did actually handle the plates - but there are several statements from them stating that the plates were seen only in vision, or by their "spiritual eyes."

So which one is it? These are primary sources, stating that they only saw them with their spiritual eyes. So my question is that why couldn't they see a real object with their normal eyes, without a vision?

So. Cal Reader
Escondido, CA

What a fascinating article! Re: skeptic. An apt name, indeed! I enjoyed this article quit a bit. Thank you for the background! There's also an in-depth Feb 1989 Ensign article about the Whitmers. I am very satisfied with the fact that although none of the Whitmers returned to the church (for various reasons), NONE of them every recounted what they saw and/or held and "knew to be true." That is sufficient for me!

Doctor
Tucson, AZ

I think the point about the witnesses is that if they left the church/were excommunicated and did not return, it indicates they felt J. Smith was a fallen prophet. So at best, using the witnesses as your source, J. Smith was given plates to translate but fell away from God's purpose because of a desire for power, wealth, and women. If B. Young continued these traditions then the LDS church of Salt Lake followed a false prophet. Not good in my estimation.

KC Mormon
Edgerton, KS

Brahmabull
First Williams statement does not require a small 1 year time frame. Joseph had the plates from Sept 1836 to some point in 1829 with a small time periode were he lost the plates. Also he tried to get the plates in 1823 but was denied the plates because of his own thoughts of wealth rather than the works of God. William and other family members repeatedly saw the plates covered durring the 3 years Joseph had the plates. William is simply taking the three year time frame and condencing it into a couple of sentences. It is also possiable that William is speaking of the three years before Joseph recieved the plates. It could be said that Joseph lost them durring that time because he was denied having them after being told to get them. It can also be said that he suffered durring that time. Either way Williams statment does not deny his fathers claim of having seen the plates uncovered.

Brahmabull
sandy, ut

Yarrlydarb wrote:

What causes you to doubt that William Smith was a liar? You hardly have any evidence of that.

My respones is I doubt that he was a liar with the same reasoning that you probably doubt that Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, John Whitmer, Martin Harris etc. were liars. I assume that based on the information that I have. We all do that, we come to conclusions based on the facts, statements, and witness accounts that we have. Are they all reliable? Probably not, but you can't say in one breath that William could be a liar, but Joseph, Martin, Etc. were not liars. We simply don't know. We all have out opinions on it. I may be wrong, but that is the conclusion that I have come to. At best, the 8 and 3 witnesses thought Joseph was a prophet, but later felt he had gone astray. There is no other logical explanation, at least in my mind. That most of the 8 witnesses and all of the 3 witnesses were excommunicated or left the church is a glaring fact in my view. Others obviously feel different and that is ok.

KC Mormon
Edgerton, KS

Brahmabull
As to the three witnesses they NEVER denied thatthey actualy saw and heard what they calimed yes they did say that "spiritual eyes" were involved however as they saw an angle and heard God it would be both physical and visionary. One can not see an angel without being in the spirit, that does not mean that they do not physicaly see as well. Each of the threewho used the "SPIRITUAL EYES" term also made this point clear. Here for example are just a tast of what Whittmer said "I saw with these eyes" and "Of course we were in the spirit when we had the view, for no man can behold the face of an angel, except in a spiritual view, but we were in the body also, and everything was as natural to us, as it is at any time"

Mormoncowboy
Provo, Ut

While we're comparing dates, we should also note of at least equal importance is the nature of the various "statements". The Testimony of the Eight Witnesses was NOT a statement made by William, John, or any of the other witnesses. Rather, it was a pre-written document that each man merely signed. To understand what their individual unique perspectives on the matter were, individual statement made (even years later) should be given preference over the joint statement each man signed.

To me a great indictment against the witnesses is the nature of their "testimonies". It is neither a testimony in a spiritual sense, nor a legal sense, given that none of the witnesses wrote those documents. At best it is an affidavit - and not a good one, since the witness merely signed Joseph Smith's statement as to what happened. It would have made more sense for there to be a total of eleven individual statements each more or less testifying of the same thing. So, as it stands - when comparing statements - the Testimony of the Eight Witnesses cannot be used to represent the words or perspective of a single signer.

Allen
Salt Lake valley, UT

Brahmabull,

Concerning the statements that the three witnesses used their spiritual eyes.

What did the three witnesses mean when they spoke of spiritual eyes? You seem to believe they were saying they saw the plates in vision. LDS usually interpret the word "vision" to refer to seeing God or his messengers, and that definition certainly applies to their statement that is bound with the BoM. I'm sorry but I don't understand your point about the three witnesses using their spiritual eyes. It seems to me that all visions are with "spiritual eyes" because the person sees things not normally seen.

To LDS, visions are real. Call it a vision or what ever you want to name it, but the three witnesses testified they saw an angel, heard the voice of God, and saw the plates and characters engraved on the plates. Their statement is primary evidence. I don't know when their statement about spiritual eyes was given, but it it was years after their statement that is bound with the BoM, their statement would be secondary evidence.

Mormoncowboy
Provo, Ut

Again, Allen - the three witnesses never made the statement that is contained in The Book of Mormon - they merely signed it. True, that does not render the documents completely ineffectual - but it does mean that you cannot parse out words or intent from that statement to try and clarify each mans perspective on the experience. If you want to try and understand their individual perspectives you must wholly turn to the "unofficial" statements each man made on their own. In many cases, David Whitmer in particular, stated that he saw the plates with his own eyes. In his final interview on the matter, the journalist that interviewed him walked away more confused about the event after their discussion. Nobody can say what exactly what was meant by "spiritual eyes" as the witnesses themselves never offered cogent explanations. All we can say is that their statements are very confusing, abstract, and seemingly contradictory.

Mormoncowboy
Provo, Ut

"David Whitmer in particular, stated that he saw the plates with his own eyes"

sorry, correction; ...stated that he saw the plates his spiritual eyes.

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