As Joseph Smith was dictating the translation of the Book of Mormon to Oliver Cowdery, they learned that the gold plates were to “be hid from the eyes of the world” in general. Nevertheless “three witnesses” would be enabled to view the book or plates “by the power of God” in addition to Joseph—“him to whom the book shall be delivered.” These three witnesses would then “testify to the truth of the book and the things therein” (2 Nephi 27:12; see also Ether 5:2-4 and D&C 5:11, 15).
It is well known that Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris were granted the privilege of becoming these three designated special witnesses (see D&C 17, including section introduction). Their signed statement of solemn testimony has been printed with each edition of the Book of Mormon.
Further, the prophecies of the Book of Mormon indicated that “none other[s]” would be able to view it, “save it be a few according to the will of God,” and that the purpose of these others would be “to bear testimony of his word unto the children of men”—the world. This would allow the prophets and saints of the Book of Mormon to “speak as if it were from the dead” (2 Nephi 27:23).
These “few” others are generally thought of as the “eight witnesses,” and include members of the Whitmer and Smith families that helped Joseph by providing board and room and financial assistance.1 The testimony of these eight, who saw, hefted, and closely examined the gold plates, is also printed in the Book of Mormon: “[Joseph Smith] has shown unto us the plates of which hath been spoken, which have the appearance of gold; and as many of the leaves as the said Smith has translated we did handle with our hands; and we also saw the engravings thereon, all of which has the appearance of ancient work.” And, “we have seen and hefted, and know of a surety that the said Smith has got the plates of which we have spoken.”
The view of the plates had by the three witnesses differed from that of the eight in that their experience was visionary; After exercising sufficient faith they saw with their spiritual eyes the gold plates presented to them by an Angel, and heard with their spiritual ears the voice of God bearing witness to them that the translation was correct and the Book’s content true: “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. . . .”
Doctrine and Covenants 17 indicates that not only would the three witnesses be granted a view of the plates by the angel, but “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 [the Liahona] which were given to Lehi while in the wilderness, on the borders of the Red Sea” (D&C 17:1). These items are significant within the Book of Mormon and would be the most sacred and precious artifacts imaginable for validating and testifying of the truth of the content of the book.
The testimonies of the three and the eight witnesses have gone to the world, before all who care to read them, and have powerfully supported the testimony which Joseph Smith himself gave of the events of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. The testimonies of the witnesses also quickly became the target of the attacks of critics, seeking to destroy or at least marginalize their credibility.
Further, at least two women, Emma Smith and Mother Whitmer, were also privileged to become witnesses of the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated; they testified that they knew that Joseph Smith actually possessed the plates and used them in the translation process.2
Having given due notice to the more well-known witnesses; the Three, the Eight, and the women, and not forgetting Joseph Smith himself as the first witness, it becomes possible to ask if there could be additional witnesses to these twelve. The scripture says: “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” (2 Nephi 27:14). While this statement probably refers in general to the countless faithful Latter-day Saints who have received a spiritual witness of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, it could also refer to additional witnesses of the gold plates, the angel, and the contents of the Book of Mormon—shown to others in the same manner as the testimony given the Three witnesses. These accounts are similar to those of the Three in that they are visionary and spiritual in nature—given by faith and the power of God.
Moroni’s Stewardship of the Plates
Moroni, the last prophet mentioned in the Book of Mormon, found his future tied closely with the book he finished writing. He oversaw all matters related to the plates after secreting them safely in a hill that would in the future be located in upstate New York. At some unknown time after his death Moroni was resurrected, and as a glorious angel appeared to Joseph Smith to instruct him in all he needed to know regarding the coming forth of the Book of Mormon (see Joseph Smith—History 1:30-59). When Joseph had finished the translation and was no longer required to possess the plates, Moroni, “called for them, [and] I delivered them up to him; and he has them in his charge until this day.” (Joseph Smith—History 1:60).
In a Church where order prevails when matters are functioning properly, God’s work is done by assignment and Moroni was simply doing the work delegated to him. Of him the Lord explained: “Moroni, whom I have sent unto you to reveal the Book of Mormon, containing the fulness of my everlasting gospel, to whom I have committed the keys of the record of the stick of Ephraim [the Book of Mormon]” (D&C 27:5). In other words Moroni held the keys of stewardship over the Book of Mormon—writing, abridging, preserving, guarding, teaching Joseph about—everything connected with the coming forth of the Book of Mormon was supervised by Moroni. Joseph Smith wrote: “And again, what do we hear? Glad tidings from Cumorah! Moroni, an angel from heaven, declaring the fulfilment of the prophets—the book to be revealed. A voice of the Lord in the wilderness of Fayette, Seneca county, declaring the three witnesses to bear record of the book!” (D&C 128:20).
Having reviewed the doctrine that the resurrected angel Moroni’s stewardship is over the Book of Mormon plates, we should not then be surprised if he is sometimes mentioned in accounts related by additional witnesses to the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. Indeed, if he or other prominent characters or peoples found in the Book were not mentioned, such would be more surprising.
Additional Witnesses of the Coming Forth and Content of the Book of Mormon
Harrison Burgess was an early convert to the Church that left this account:
I was born September 3rd 1814 in the town of Putnam, Washington County, State of New York. I lived with my parents until I was upwards of fourteen years of age, and a part of the time afterwards, and being the oldest of my father’s family I was kept constantly at work and had but little opportunity in acquiring an education. My father made no profession of Religion but led a moral and virtuous life. My childhood was not marked with any crime although I paid but little or no attention to religion until the seventeenth year of my age, in July 1832, when I first heard the fullness of the Gospel proclaimed by Elder Simeon Carter. At this time I was convinced that the scriptures were true and that the Book of Mormon was a Divine Revelation from Heaven. I was baptized by Elder Simeon Carter and confirmed a member of the Church of Latter-day Saints by Orson Pratt. I spent the following winter in going to school, working for my board, and in meeting with the Saints. In the spring of 1833 I started in company with John S. Carter to the State of Vermont, where we labored about two months and then returned to New York. We came to the Benson Branch where I was ordained a Priest under the hands of Brother Carter with whom I continued to travel and preach for about two months in the State of New York.
On the third Sabbath of May while speaking to a congregation I declared that I knew the Book of Mormon to be true and the work of God. The next day while I was laboring in the community something seemed to whisper to me, “Do you know the Book of Mormon is true?” My mind became perplexed and darkened and I was so tormented in Spirit that I left my work and retired into the woods. The misery and distress that I there experienced cannot be described. The tempter all the while seemed to say, “Do you know the Book of Mormon is True?” I remained in this situation about two hours. At last it came into my mind the Faith that the Brother of Jared had in obtaining a knowledge of God for himself and others also. I resolved to know whether I had proclaimed the truth or not, and commenced praying to the God of Heaven for a testimony of these things. When all at once the vision of my mind opened and a glorious personage clothed in white stood before me and exhibited to my view the plates from which the Book of Mormon was proclaimed and taken. In June I took a short mission in the State of New York where I proclaimed the truth in great boldness.3
John Henry Smith
Elder Anthon H. Lund attended a meeting in Lehi, Utah, in late October 1901, with his fellow apostle, Elder John Henry Smith (son of George A. Smith and father of President George Albert Smith), at which he recorded Elder Smith’s testimony, given him at an earlier time in his life: “I saw the man who now presides over the Church in the very place he now occupies. At the same time I saw the Plates and sacred things given to Joseph and my testimony was as clear as it could be.”4
David B. Haight
Some members of the Church may remember Elder David B. Haight’s famous October 1989 General Conference talk in which he testified of marvelous visionary experiences. What most people are less familiar with is the later recounting by President Gordon B. Hinckley, sharing further details of Elder Haight’s experiences. President Gordon B. Hinckley quoted Elder Haight from the minutes of their meeting:
On May 4,  he [David B. Haight] spoke to us at our meeting in the temple. I hope that I am not stepping beyond the bounds of propriety in repeating a few of his words as they were recorded on that occasion. Said he:
I am here as a result of your faith and prayers in my behalf, and the blessing of the Lord. I am grateful for the blessing I received from President Hinckley. I did not know about it until later as I had lapsed into unconsciousness. I pleaded with our Heavenly Father, that if it be His will, my life be spared. I didn’t see God or the Savior but I had the feeling of being in the presence of Holy Personages. I talked to them and pleaded with them. I was taught by vision or inspiration or revelation as a result of my pleadings. I was taught about the Savior, of John the Baptist, of the cries of repentance and of the need to be baptized. I was taught about the baptism of the Savior and of the last supper and the scene was clear—of the Savior washing the feet of the Twelve, of girding Himself and of administering the Sacrament and His suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane and of the trial. Of his beating by the soldiers and of his trying to carry the cross, and of the nails being driven into his wrists and his feet, and of the blood and suffering. The teaching that came to me was that I should teach repentance and baptism and of the Savior. I had marvelous manifestations regarding the Prophet Joseph Smith and of the Angel Moroni and of the prophets since Joseph Smith. This testimony filled my heart and soul during the hours of unconsciousness. There are things that happened to me that I am not able to reveal. I would not have words to express [them]. I knew I would survive the illness. I love this work. It is true. God is our Father. He loves us. We have a responsibility to carry out His teachings of the Savior. (Unofficial transcription of funeral remarks of President Gordon B. Hinckley, 5 Aug. 2004, n.p; see also David B. Haight, “The Sacrament—and the Sacrifice,” Ensign, November 1989, 59-61.)
When someone testifies of manifestations of Joseph Smith and the Angel Moroni, who holds the keys of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, there is only one thing they could be talking about.
Joseph F. Smith
President Joseph F. Smith, in what has come to be known as the vision of the redemption of the dead (D&C 138:49), saw Book of Mormon peoples in the spirit world: “All these and many more, even the prophets who dwelt among the Nephites and testified of the coming of the Son of God, mingled in the vast assembly and waited for their deliverance.”
President Lorenzo Snow testified on numerous occasions of a marvelous manifestation from the Holy Ghost soon after his baptism. While not going into detail, he used expressive enough language to convey that he had been shown in vision details related to the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, which contained the fullness of the gospel:
Having become convinced by reasoning, and by listening to the testimony of others who had received these principles, I became satisfied that it was my duty to experiment upon these principles, that I might be able to test the results. This I consequently did, and there followed the same testimony and the same experiences, so far as the knowledge of the divinity of these principles was concerned, as followed obedience to this Gospel as proclaimed by the apostles in former times. And this knowledge could not be disputed. It was not only acknowledged intellectually, but the inspiration of the Holy Ghost imparted to me a knowledge as physically and as demonstrative as that physical ordinance when I was immersed in the waters of baptism; that as I had passed through the atmosphere into the element of water, so my experience, knowledge and testimony was full and complete, so complete, indeed, that from that day till the present moment, through all of the vicissitudes of life through which I have passed, I have no more doubted the truth of these principles than I do now that I behold this audience, and I never can doubt it. As long as memory continues and reason shall assert its throne, I never can permit the powerful testimony and knowledge that was communicated to me to remain silent. It was revealed to me. The heavens were opened over my head, and the power of God and the life of the Holy Ghost descended and elevated my whole being, and gave me the most perfect knowledge that Jesus was the Son of God. It was not the result simply of opinion or belief, as is the case in many other things, but it was a knowledge far beyond that of belief or opinion. I knew that God had sent His angels and restored the fullness of the Gospel as taught in ancient times; that He sent angels to authorize Joseph Smith, and gave him authority to administer in the ordinances of the Gospel, and to promise the Holy Ghost to all who would be obedient.5
Oscar W. McConkie
Oscar McConkie, father of Elder Bruce R. McConkie, received a vision in which he saw Lamanites (Book of Mormon peoples) in the spirit world. Without going into too much detail of the background, a convert Lamanite named Mark Vest had had great success as a missionary on his reservation, creating a branch. But he became sick and died, and a dispute arose regarding what to do with his remains. The vision given to Oscar McConkie, the mission president, resolved the dispute: “As he prayed, a vision was opened to him of the spirit world. He saw Mark Johnson Vest standing in front of a large group of Lamanites, which he estimated to be twenty to thirty thousand. As he did so, one of the Indians in the middle of the group stood up and said: ‘Do not listen to this man! He is not a Lamanite. He is a Nephite! President McConkie saw Mark Vest rise to the full stature of his height and say, ‘I am not a Nephite! I am a Lamanite, and when I died I was cremated according to the custom of my people.’ At this point the vision closed up.” (As quoted in Dennis B. Horne, Bruce R. McConkie: Highlights from His Life and Teachings, 28.)
Others might be named
In his book Moroni, H. Donl Peterson also identifies, some with more surety and some with less, others that may well be the kind of witnesses described herein. These are Luke Johnson, Mrs. Martin Harris, Zera Pulsipher, W. W. Phelps, and perhaps a few others.6
If one counts all of these witnesses: Joseph Smith, plus three, plus eight, plus the women, plus the other six described herein—not to mention the probable extras—we have at least 20 and probably more witnesses to the coming forth and content of the Book of Mormon. It may well be that others, both past and present, have received similar spiritual knowledge as a result of their faith, but have chosen to keep their experience to themselves. For those with soft hearts and open minds, twenty-plus witnesses to these sacred things is an impressive array. Such evidence sadly will not sway hard-hearted critics, but serves to strengthen the faith of those who already believe so that they may gain ever greater conviction. In a time of doubt and disbelief, faith brings the necessary rewards of quiet but rock-solid conviction to anyone who will pay the price.
The names of the eight witnesses are Christian Whitmer, Jacob Whitmer, Peter Whitmer, Jun., John Whitmer, Hiram Page, Joseph Smith, Sen., Hyrum Smith, and Samuel H. Smith. ↩
Richard L. Anderson, “Book of Mormon Witnesses,” in The Encyclopedia of Mormonism; http://eom.byu.edu/index.php/Book_of_Mormon_Witnesses ↩
“A SHORT SKETCH OF THE LIFE OF HARRISON BURGESS, SON OF WILLIAM AND VIOLATY BURGESS,” Autobiography (1814-1848) in Kenneth Glyn Hales, ed. and comp. Windows: A Mormon Family [Tucson, Arizona: Skyline Printing, 1985]; http://burgess.forefamilies.com/harrison.html ↩
As quoted in Anthon H. Lund, Danish Apostle: The Diaries of Anthon H. Lund, 1890-1921, ed. John P. Hatch (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2006), 159. ↩
Discourse given March 6, 1887, Brigham City, as cited in CD 1: 24; see also Millennial Star, Vol. 39, no. 16 (April 18, 1887), 242. ↩
See H. Donl Peterson, Moroni: Ancient Prophet, Modern Messenger (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2000), 161-72. ↩