Richard Lloyd Anderson said in his book Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses: “No witnesses is more compelling than David Whitmer.” This video discusses the life of David Whitmer before and after he left the church and explains why he is an irrefutable witness.
Okay. On this Evidences video I wanted to talk about David Whitmer. I personally feel like he’s the most compelling of any of the witnesses in the Restoration for multiple reasons we’ll talk about today. I wanted to start with a great quote out of this book, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses. This is one of the seminal books that’s done, I think, really on the Book of Mormon witnesses, the eight witnesses and the three witnesses, but he talks about David Whitmer.
Let me share this quote. “Impeccable in reputation, consistent in scores of recorded interviews, obviously sincere and personally capable of detecting illusion, no witness is more compelling than David Whitmer. He answered every objection thrown at him in a half century of life in Richmond, Missouri, and by sheer moral strength forced a non-Mormon community to take him seriously. Through the miracle of modern communication, his testimony now transcends a community and confronts a world.”
Here’s Joe Johnson in the Missouri Plattsburg Democrat newspaper. He wrote, “Skeptics may laugh and scoff if they will, but no man can listen to Mr. Whitmer as he talks in his interview with the angel of the Lord, without being most forcibly convinced that he has heard an honest man tell what he honestly believes to be true.” Now, some of the compelling things that I, when I think of David Whitmer, the eight witnesses today, in fact some even non-Latter Day Saint scholars feel like Joseph Smith had to have had some type of plates.
The evidence is so compelling, but the three witnesses saw the angel of the Lord. They saw more than the plates. They heard the voice of God, extremely compelling witness. All three of them left the church. Two of them came back, Oliver and Martin, but David did not. He was out of the church for 50 years. He fell away out of the Kirtland Safety Society, the Kirtland crisis, I’ve talked about that in another video, but for 50 years out of the Church, he never wavered from his testimony. He was threatened at gunpoint at one time for his testimony. I’ll share that briefly.
He was the last of the remaining witnesses for 13 years. He was the most interviewed. He had the most recorded statements, 70 different statements. Martin Harris was 50, Oliver Cowdery around 30. Citizens viewed him as very intelligent, hardworking, very, very honest. He served multiple terms as the city councilman in his city. In fact, he was the mayor of Richmond, Missouri. He owned and operated a successful business. He had stubborn integrity, as some called it. He pushed back on anyone poking holes in his testimony there. Those are some of the reasons why I view him as really the most compelling witness.
Now you know the statement of the three witnesses of the Book of Mormon at the beginning of the Book of Mormon. I want to share some of the recorded statements where Dave Whitmer elaborated on different elements that I think are interesting. If you look here, he says it was, and these are just little snippets from recorded interviews. “It was in June, 1829 the very last part of the month. It was about 11:00 AM in an open pasture, woods nearby, knelt in prayer, got up and sat on a log and were talking when all once a light came down from above us and encircles us for quite a little distance around, and the angel stood before us.
He was dressed in white and spoke and called me by name. When we were overshadowed by a light, it was not like the light of the sun nor like that of fire, but more glorious and beautiful.” Now here’s some detail. “In the midst of the light, two or three feet away, there appeared as it were, a table with many records on it. Besides the plates of the Book of Mormon, also the sword of Laban, the directors, which would be the Liahona, and the interpreters. I saw them as plain as I see this bed, striking his hand upon the bed beside him, and I heard the voice of the Lord as distinctly as I ever heard anything in my life, declaring that they were translated by the gift and power of God.”
Another statement, “All of a sudden I beheld a dazzlingly brilliant light that surpassed in brightness even the sun at noonday, and which seemed to envelop the woods for a considerable distance around. Simultaneous with the light came a strange entrancing influence, which permeated me so powerfully that I felt chained to the spot, while I also experienced the sensation of joy, absolutely indescribable. The angel stood before us and he turned the leaves one by one. He held the plates and turned them over with his hands so that they could be plainly visible.
They appeared to be of gold, about six by nine inches in size, about as thick as parchment, a great many in number, and bound together like the leaves of a book by massive rings passing through the back edges. The engraving upon them was very plain and a very curious appearance.” Just some interesting tidbits there. Again, Richard Lloyd Anderson, really he is the one that has dug into the witnesses in detail more than anybody else. In his book he talks about again, David Whitmer, the consistency of his reports and the reliability of the source created a trustworthiness in him.
He says, “What about self-interest? Can the distorting force of self-interest be detected? His plain courage in ignoring self-interest in the matter of his testimony was the source of admiration earned from community leaders in Richmond, Missouri. Neither unpopularity, danger, nor tedious inconvenience altered his express convictions. The story about him being at gunpoint was actually, he was tarred and feathered in 1833 in Jackson County, Missouri and was held a gunpoint by a mob and asked him to deny his testimony of the Book of Mormon and he held up his hand and testified of the Book of Mormon, and it actually created a fear in the mob and they left.
He told James Hart recorded this from David Whitmer, “The testimony I gave to that mob made them fear and tremble, and I escaped from them. One gentleman, a doctor and unbeliever, told me afterwards that the bold and fearless testimony born on that occasion, and the fear that seemed to take hold of the mob had made him a believer in the Book of Mormon.” Another one, his grandson, George W. Sweich, who also served as a private secretary for Whitmer, so he heard many of the testimonies and written letters on the subject. Here’s his personal appraisal.
“I have begged him to unfold the fraud in the case, and he had all to gain and nothing to lose, but speak the word if he thought so. But he has described the scene to me many times, of his vision about noon in an open pasture.” James Moyle, 1885, cross-examined Whitmer and recounted the sacrifices and persecutions of his family due to their belief and appealed to Whitmer’s closeness to death while Moyle was just starting his legal career. Quote, “And so I begged of him not to let me go through life believing in a vital falsehood. Was there any possibility that he might have been deceived in any particular?”
All of his life Moyle remembered the unequivocal affirmation of the testimony. He later recorded quote, “To have been insincere seems impossible, would have made him a hideous, soulless, mental deformity.” Then somebody was trying to poke a hole, talking about a spiritual vision versus a physical experience, and then this was Anthony Metcalfe, Dave Whitmer’s reply, “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.” In fact , John Murphy raised the issue suggesting mesmerism and possible delusion.
“Whitmer was so upset, he went to the trouble and expense of publishing his quote, ‘proclamation’, repeating his testimony and emphasizing confidence in his own powers of observation. Quote, ‘He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear. It was no delusion.'” The strongest example, 1884, skeptical Richmond military officers suggesting possible hallucination. Joseph Smith III was there visiting, and he recorded quote, “How well and distinctly I remember the manner in which Elder Whitmer arose and drew himself up to his full height, a little over six feet, and said in solemn and impressive tones, ‘No sir! I was not under any hallucination, nor was I deceived. I saw with these eyes and I heard with these ears! I know where of I speak!'”
Now just to clarify, almost all the statements I just shared were after David Whitmer was out of the Church. He was out of the church for 50 years. The story about him being at gunpoint, that was when he was in the Church in 1833, but he was out of the Church from 1838 to 1888/1887, so almost 50 years out of the Church. That’s where most of the vast majority of all the things that I just shared came from. I hope you found this enjoyable. Subscribe for more content. Thanks.
Fairmormon Q&A on David Whitmer: https://www.fairmormon.org/answers/Da…
Wikipedia article on David Whitmer: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_W…
Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses by Richard Lloyd Anderson
Opening the Heavens – Accounts of Divine Manifestations: 1820-1844 by John Welch
Latter-day Saints’ Q&A is a video series not produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but by me, an ordinary member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, an independent voice, with a passion for studying Church history and defending the faith. In this series, I provide evidences for the restoration, and address tough questions posed by critics of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, offering faithful answers based on accurate research and historical references which will be posted at the end of each video.
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