Initially, Joseph Smith was the sole witness of the reality of the ancient record (the Gold Plates) from which sprang the Book of Mormon. This was a great burden of loneliness and peculiar solitude for an uneducated man in his twenties. From the fall of 1827 until the summer of 1829 he wasn’t allowed to show the plates to another person.
Though he had several scribes during the translation process he was commanded to not display a full view of the plates to other eye witnesses, including his wife. Notwithstanding the mandate she herself later testified: “My belief is that the Book of Mormon is of divine authenticity. I have not the slightest doubt of it. … Though I was an active participant in the scenes that transpired, and was present during the translation of the plates … and had cognizance of things as they transpired, it is marvelous to me, ‘a marvel and a wonder,’ as much as to anyone else.”
Joseph Smith must have felt like Moses did after the Lord appeared to Him asking him to go and deliver the children of Israel from Egypt. “They will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice” he told the Lord. “For they will say the Lord hath not appeared unto thee.” The Lord promised Moses signs and other witnesses as he did what was commanded. In His wisdom the Lord sent Aaron and the elders of Israel before Moses’ meeting with Pharaoh. Others had been prepared to be witnesses.
About the time the Book of Mormon went to the printer, three additional witnesses were granted the experience to see and handle for themselves the plates and other divine objects (see D&C 17:1).
After a secluded afternoon experience in the woods with Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, Martin Harris, and Moroni, a resurrected personage Joseph returned to the Whitmer home. His parents were visiting at the time. He entered the bedroom where he found his parents and Mrs. Whitmer sitting on a bed talking. Joseph heartily declared: “Father, mother, you do not know how happy I am. The Lord has now caused the plates to be shown to three more besides myself. They have seen an angel, who has testified to them, and they will have to bear witness to the truth of what I have said, for now they know for themselves, that I do not go about to deceive the people, and I feel as if I was relieved of a burden which was almost too heavy for me to bear, and it rejoices my soul, that am not any longer to be entirely alone in the world.”
Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris bore witness of the event. Part of their testimony reads:
“Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That we, through the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, have seen the plates which contain this record….And we also know that they have been translated by the gift and power of God, for his voice hath declared it unto us; wherefore we know of a surety that the work is 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; and we know that it is by the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, that we beheld and bear record that these things are true… the voice of the Lord commanded us that we should bear record of it; wherefore, to be obedient unto the commandments of God, we bear testimony of these things.”
What began with three witnesses before its publication nearly two hundred years ago, has today millions and millions over who can testify of the reality of the book as a witness of the resurrected Jesus Christ. They can testify of the Savior’s great mercy and interest in souls of men in all generations, then and now.
For a time, Broadway hands sweep the theater and prepare for another showing. Occasionally spiteful articles and blogs and videos and podcasts surface. There will always be handful of individuals who carelessly and ignorantly mock from the comfortable seats of the plaza. There will be additional people stooped in false traditions and biases, jeering from the terrace level. And of course additional people from the upper balcony, vocalizing their bitterness for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As long as the convenience of the internet stands, there will always be people, openly and anonymously, attacking Joseph Smith.
But Joseph Smith is no longer entirely alone in the world.
Day after day, for over 185 years, the Book of Mormon has been flooding the earth by a continuous rotation of faithful missionaries and members of the Church. It has blessed millions of people to better align their lives with Jesus Christ and His gospel. Ezra Taft Benson was right, “the Book of Mormon…tells in a plain manner of Christ and His gospel…..The Book of Mormon exposes the enemies of Christ. It confounds false doctrines and lays down contention. It fortifies the humble followers of Christ against the evil designs, strategies, and doctrines of the devil in our day.”
Like Emma Smith, this is “marvelous to me, ‘a marvel and a wonder.”
Even the Prophet’s most vehement critics—then and now—can at least agree on one thing: Joseph Smith was murdered in cold blood. This account begins in October 1838; Joseph is thirty-two years old and has less than six years to live. This fast-paced, driving narrative provides a factual account leading to the murder and is sure to capture the attention of Latter-day Saints and those not of the faith. Learn more about Ryan Jenkin’s latest book here.
RYAN C. JENKINS has been a student of the life and teachings of Joseph Smith for nearly 25 years. After obtaining his Master of Education from Weber State University in 2004, Ryan began writing opinion pieces for Northern Utah newspapers on family, freedom, politics, and religion. He was a blogger on the subject of faith for two years; many of his posts were featured on realclearreligion.org. He was also an associate editor for Great American Documents for Latter-Day Saint Families (2012). Professionally, he has experience in business, public relations, and religious education. He has been teaching and writing for 18 years. Ryan and his wife Melissa have six children. They reside in Columbia, Missouri.