The Eight Witnesses were one of the two groups of witnesses who signed a statement (reprinted in the Book of Mormon) stating that they had seen the golden plates which Joseph Smith, Jr. said was his source material for the book. The other prominent group of Book of Mormon witnesses who said they saw the plates are called the Three Witnesses.
The testimony of the Eight Witnesses was first published at the end of the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon and has been printed in nearly every edition since, although most subsequent editions moved the statement to the front of the book and included minor grammatical corrections.
Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That Joseph Smith, Jun., the Author and Proprietor of this work, has shewn 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 of curious workmanship. And this we bear record with words of soberness, that the said Smith has shewn unto us, for we have seen and hefted, and know of a surety that the said Smith has got the plates of which we have spoken. And we give our names unto the world, to witness unto the world that which we have seen. And we lie not, God bearing witness of it.
Unlike the Three Witnesses, the Eight testified that they both saw and handled the plates. Another difference is the Eight testified that they were shown the plates by Joseph Smith, Jr. rather than by an angel as had the Three Witnesses.
The call of the Eight probably also illustrates the significant Mormon doctrine of continuous revelation because in Doctrine and Covenants 5: 11-14 (revealed to Joseph Smith in March 1829) the Three Witnesses are told that they will be given power to see the golden plates, "and to none else will I grant this power, to receive this same testimony among this generation." Nevertheless, in 2 Nephi 27:13, the Three are told that "none other...shall view it, save it be a few according to the will of God."
About the witnesses
The Eight Witnesses were all members of the Whitmer or Smith families: Christian Whitmer, Jacob Whitmer, Peter Whitmer, Jr., John Whitmer, Hiram Page, Joseph Smith, Sr., Hyrum Smith, and Samuel Harrison Smith. Joseph Smith Sr. was Joseph's father, and Hyrum and Samuel H. Smith were his brothers. Christian, Jacob, Peter Jr. and John were David Whitmer's brothers, and Hiram Page was his brother-in-law.
In 1838, the Whitmer family became estranged from Joseph Smith Jr. during a leadership struggle in Far West, Missouri, and all were excommunicated along with other dissenters and fled Caldwell County after receiving an ultimatum from the Danites. The Whitmers never rejoined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Yet despite the estrangement of the Whitmer family, there is little evidence that any of the Eight Witnesses denied his testimony to the authenticity of Book of Mormon or the golden plates—although one third-hand source, the former Mormon leader Stephen Burnett, said in 1838 that Martin Harris had told him that "the eight witnesses never saw [the plates] & hesitated to sign that instrument for that reason, but were persuaded to do it."
In addition to the Three Witnesses and the Eight Witnesses, Mary Whitmer, who took care of the house where much of the translation took place, said that the Angel Moroni showed her the plates as well.
- According to Terryl Givens, Joseph invited the Eight "to a family prayer spot in the woods" and "matter-of-factly displayed to them the golden plates," whereas the Three were shown the plates "by an angel of God [who] came down from heaven." Terryl Givens, By the Hand of Mormon (Oxford University Press, 2002), 40.
- Richard Lyman Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005), 79: "Critics pointed out how many of the witnesses were members of the Smith and Whitmer families, implying that they signed out of loyalty or from a self-serving motive....The witnesses were no substitute for making the plates accessible to anyone for examination, but the testimonies showed Joseph—and God—answering doubters with concrete evidence, a concession to the needs of post-Enlightenment Christians."
- Bushman, 337,339, 350-51. On June 17, Sidney Rigdon "preached a vitriolic sermon based on the theme of salt losing its savor and being cast out and trodden underfoot....Soon after the sermon, eighty-three prominent members in Far West, many of them probably Danites by then, signed an ultimatum demanding the departure of the offenders....Fearing for their property and perhaps their lives, the dissenters fled." (355-51) In 1847, David, John, and Jacob Whitmer and Hiram Page were baptized into the newly formed Church of Christ founded by William E. M'Lellin. In 1831, Joseph Smith received a revelation from God that John Whitmer should "write and keep a regular history" of the church (D&C 47). Whitmer did eventually write such a history, but one which concluded with a detailed description of what Whitmer considered the mistreatment that he and his family had received in Caldwell County. See Bruce N. Westerngren, From Historian to Dissident: The Book of John Whitmer (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 1995).
- Stephen Burnett letter to Lyman E. Johnson dated April 15, 1838. Typed transcript from Joseph Smith Papers, Letter book, April 20, 1837 - February 9, 1843, microfilm reel 2, pp. 64-66, LDS archives; quoted in "Facts On The Book Of Mormon Witnesses," Institute for Religious Research, retrieved from the Internet on 2/16/08 .
- "John C. Whitmer Interview with Andrew Jenson and Edward Stevenson, 11 October 1888," in Dan Vogel, Early Mormon Documents (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2003), V: 262.
- Encyclopedia of Mormonism.
- FAIR Mormon - Three Witnesses- Apologetic bibliography and commentary.
- Book of Mormon Witnesses, Part 1; The Book Of Mormon Witnesses, Part 2 - Critical commentary.