By June 1829 Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer had verbalized a desire to be the special three witnesses alluded to in the Book of Mormon.
D&C 17 records a revelation affirming their roles as witnesses and was given to Joseph Smith through a seer stone he apparently found while digging a well in 1822.
As witnesses, the three were very different. Martin Harris was zealous, impetuous, and even a bit eccentric. Oliver Cowdery was an intellectual. And David Whitmer was regarded as clear-thinking, down-to-earth, and honest.
David Whitmer was, perhaps, the strongest witness because he lived so long, never wavered in his testimony of the vision, and gave several newspaper interviews that give us additional details regarding the experience. David reported seeing several plates, the sword of Laban, the Liahona, and the Urim and Thummim.
Joseph Smith was understandably relieved to have others to testify of the existence of the plates. Larry Morris concludes that the experience of the Three Witnesses was both an empirical and spiritual experience.
Join Nick Galieti of LDS Perspectives Podcast as he interviews Larry Morris as part of the Revelations in Context podcast series.
In episode three of our Revelations in Context Series, host Nick Galieti of LDS Perspectives Podcast interviews Matthew McBride of the Church History Department about his essay entitled “The Vision.”
In 1832 Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon reported receiving a vision at the John Johnson home. Apparently while working on a revision of the New Testament, Joseph had just completed “translating” John 5:29 when the vision commenced.
The early nineteenth century culture was highly religious and most Christian sects believed that the Bible was all sufficient. For Joseph Smith to revise what was already considered to be complete was radical. What he and Sidney saw in vision was even more surprising.
The vision touched on matters dealing with one of the most contentious religious debates of the time: who is saved? Suprisingly, the revelation confirmed the least popular position.
Brigham Young, arguably one of Joseph’s most loyal supporters, struggled with this Universalist position for quite a time. Other members had difficulty accepting this paradigm shift as well.
Matthew McBride uses this historical backdrop to provide a powerful metaphor for modern-day members to use when dealing with doctrine that may be difficult to accept.
In November 2014, Smithsonian Magazine named Joseph Smith as the most influence American religious figure of all time.
This founder of the Mormon religion also ran for president of the United States during the last year of his life. Though he left a much smaller imprint on the political scene than the religious one, there is one document in our current canonized scripture that is dedicated to enumerating LDS beliefs regarding governments and laws.
Ironically, though Joseph Smith would refer to it during his lifetime, he didn’t actually author it. What is now D&C 134 was written in 1835 by Oliver Cowdery and Sidney Rigdon and was accepted by common consent in a conference held in Smith’s absence. No leader then or now referred to it as direct revelation from God but rather a declaration of principles.
The document proved highly adaptable as it was used to protest and support the US government. It was also used in petitions to the US Congress for redress from Missouri persecutions.
As part of the Revelations in Context series, McBride shares his insights into this document and its reception and use by early Mormon Apostle Lyman Wight.
Spencer W. McBride believes that members will benefit from the study of the past. He maintains that “Mormons will better understand their own religion if they have a deeper understanding of American history, and Americans will better understand their past if they understand the smaller aspect of the Mormon world.”