I Have a Question


Questions of general interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of Church policy

I Have a Question

Some historical records indicate that Mary Musselman Whitmer was privileged to see the gold plates, in addition to Joseph Smith and the Three and Eight Witnesses. Do we know of any other persons who may have seen or handled the plates?

Keith W. Perkins, professor of Church history and doctrine at Brigham Young University and president of the Orem Utah Stake. Your question relates to the divine law of witnesses. President Joseph Fielding Smith best described this law: “There is a law definitely stated in the scriptures governing testimony and the appointment of witnesses. This law the Lord has always followed in granting new revelation to the people. … Paul in writing to the Corinthians said: ‘In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established’ (2 Cor. 13:1).” (Doctrines of Salvation, Bruce R. McConkie, comp., 3 vols., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954, 1:203.)

In this dispensation the Lord has given many witnesses to the divinity of the work of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Among them are three special witnesses the Lord prophesied he would provide for the Book of Mormon. (See Ether 5:2–4.) These three men were Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, and David Whitmer. While the Book of Mormon was in the process of being translated in June of 1829, the Lord promised that they would have the privilege of being witnesses to the Book of Mormon. (See D&C 17:1–5.)

But the Lord had promised in the Book of Mormon that others besides the Three Witnesses might be privileged to view the plates: “At that day when the book shall be delivered unto the man of whom I have spoken, the book shall be hid from the eyes of the world, that the eyes of none shall behold it save it be that three witnesses shall behold it, by the power of God. …

“There is none other which shall view it, save it be a few according to the will of God, to bear testimony of his word unto the children of men. …

“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; and wo be unto him that rejecteth the word of God!” (2 Ne. 27:12–14; italics added.)

We know that in addition to the three witnesses, eight other witnesses testified: “Joseph Smith, Jun., the translator of this work, 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.” (Introduction, Book of Mormon.)

In an article in a previous issue of the Ensign (Feb. 1989, p. 36) I detailed the privilege that Mary Musselman Whitmer had in viewing the gold plates because of her faithfulness. The question is, Did any others besides the Three Witnesses, the Eight Witnesses, and Sister Whitmer see the gold plates?

There are recorded in Church history several accounts of others who saw the gold plates, but not in the same way as these witnesses we have mentioned.

Martin Harris was not the only member of his family who showed a great interest in the translating of the Book of Mormon. In the beginning, his wife Lucy also had a keen interest in the work of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Although Lucy Harris lacked the stability of others in her witness of the Book of Mormon, Lucy Mack Smith records what she heard from Mrs. Harris. One day Lucy Harris said to the Prophet, “Joseph, I will tell you what I will do, if I can get a witness that you speak the truth, I will believe all you say about the matter and I shall want to do something about the translation—I mean to help you any way.” (Lucy Mack Smith, History of Joseph Smith, ed. Preston Nibley, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1958, pp. 116–17.)

The next morning she related a remarkable dream she had had the previous night: “She said that a personage appeared to her who told her that as she had disputed the servant of the Lord, and said his word was not to be believed, and had also asked him many improper questions, she had done that which was not right in the sight of God. After which he said to her, ‘Behold, here are the plates, look upon them and believe.’” (Ibid., p. 117.)

Mother Smith stated that Lucy Harris then described the record in minute detail. Mrs. Harris became so convinced of the truthfulness of the record after this remarkable dream that she decided to give to the Prophet Joseph Smith twenty-eight dollars she had received from her mother before she died; Mrs. Harris insisted that he take it to assist in bringing forth the Book of Mormon.

I wish we could say that after this wonderful experience Lucy Harris became a great supporter of the work of the Restoration, but, sadly, this was not the case. She continued to insist to Joseph Smith that she must see the plates; on one occasion, she ransacked the home where he was staying, looking for them, but to no avail. She then commenced a search outside, but was frightened away when she encountered a “horrible black snake.” (Ibid., p. 122.) After this, she became one of the persecutors of the Prophet.

It is also interesting that Joseph Smith recorded in his history a similar experience of Oliver Cowdery before he came to assist in the work of translation. He stated that the Lord “appeared unto a young man by the name of Oliver Cowdery and showed unto him the plates in a vision, and also the truth of the work, and what the Lord was about to do through me, his unworthy servant. Therefore, he was desirous to come and write for me, and translate.” (The Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, ed. Dean C. Jessee, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1984, p. 8. Spelling and punctuation modernized.)

Although Emma Smith never saw the gold plates in the same way the other witnesses did and was also counseled by the Lord not to murmur because of the things which she had not seen (see D&C 25:4), she did have close contact with the plates and the work of her husband. In response to a question from her son, Joseph Smith III, as to the reality of the plates, she responded:

“The plates often lay on the table without any attempt at concealment, wrapped in a small linen tablecloth, which I had given him [Joseph Smith, Jr.] to fold them in. I once felt of the plates, as they thus lay on the table, tracing their outline and shape. They seemed to be pliable like thick paper, and would rustle with a metallic sound when the edges were moved by the thumb, as one does sometimes thumb the edges of a book. … I did not attempt to handle the plates, other than I have told you, nor uncover them to look at them. I was satisfied that it was the work of God, and therefore did not feel it to be necessary to do so. … I moved them from place to place on the table, as it was necessary in doing my work.” (The Saints’ Herald, 1 Oct. 1879, p. 290; spelling modernized.)

Even though Emma did not see the plates directly, what she had seen and felt by the Spirit deepened her conviction of the truth of the Book of Mormon. As a result, she bore this powerful witness and testimony of the book to her son:

“My belief is that the Book of Mormon is of divine authenticity—I have not the slightest doubt of it. I am satisfied that no man could have dictated the writing of the manuscripts unless he was inspired; for, when acting as his scribe, your father would dictate to me hour after hour; and when returning after meals, or after interruptions, he would at once begin where he had left off, without either seeing the manuscript or having any portion of it read to him. This was a usual thing for him to do. It would have been improbable that a learned man could do this; and, for one so ignorant and unlearned as he was, it was simply impossible.” (Ibid.)

The Lord has established the truth of the Book of Mormon already in the mouth of “as many witnesses as seemeth him good.” Now our challenge is to gain a testimony of it for ourselves. That is obtained in the way that millions have gained their witness—by reading, pondering, and praying about the Book of Mormon “with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ.” Then, by the power of the Holy Ghost, we too will know that it is the word of God. (Moro. 10:4.)

As a young man I gained that witness for myself, after some struggle on my part. If you have not gained that testimony for yourself, please accept the challenge of Moroni. If you have already gained that testimony, you can nourish it by reading the Book of Mormon daily, as our beloved prophet, President Ezra Taft Benson, has admonished. (See Ensign, May 1986, p. 78.)

[photo] Replica of gold plates; photo by Phil Shurtleff

How can mothers pursue vocational opportunities while staying at home with their children?

Linda Orvis, Anaheim First Ward, Anaheim California Stake, a bookkeeper, free-lance writer, and mother of six children. Many business ventures lend themselves to home-based operations. Saving some corporations millions of dollars on insurance and other operational costs, home employment is the wave of the future. Computers, modems, fax machines, and networking continue to help make home employment an option for many people.

Jobs for mothers with children at home range from accounting, child care, sewing, and tutoring to innumerable other possibilities limited only by one’s interests, initiative, time, and ability.

The key to successful home employment is advance preparation. Susan, a young mother of two toddlers, was earlier encouraged by her parents to pursue an education that would enable her to stay home with her children. Talented in music, she earned a degree in that field and now teaches piano in her home.

As a mother of three children, Judy wanted to learn an enjoyable craft that would bring in extra money for her family. Stained-glass windows interested her, so she learned the skill and has gone into business making stained-glass windows in her home.

Melissa is a mother of four children who was worried about her husband being laid off from work in the aerospace industry. Not knowing what home occupation would suit her best, she began taking computer classes. She didn’t find her niche there, so she enrolled in another community education class and now prepares to work at home as a medical transcriber.

Before committing yourself to a home business, take the time to weigh the costs, both monetary and personal. If you are required to buy expensive equipment, be sure that your expected income will make the investment worthwhile. Look into hidden costs as well by talking to people already in business. Most important, know how much time the work will entail: Can you arrange your own work schedule? Will you be able to handle the work load without neglecting your family and other responsibilities? Through personal prayer, we can decide what measures must be taken for our material well-being.

Some marketable skills may not detract from family time at all. For example, if you crochet, you can make the items while you are with the family and sell them later.

People who work at home are not exempt from paying federal and state taxes. Other regulations may apply as well, so it’s a good idea to check with the state department of commerce and your local municipal center before undertaking a home-based business.

A major challenge facing working mothers is finding balance on the tightrope between family and career responsibilities. Children need nurturing, which takes perseverance and, as often is the case, undivided attention. Unlike many of their professional counterparts who work away from home, mothers who work at home are in a good position to attend to their children’s needs throughout the day. However, crises do arise, so a home business enterprise with a flexible schedule is a definite advantage.

Although home employment is not for everyone, it can be a good option for mothers who need to earn money while staying at home with their children. If it’s not in the picture now, it may be in the future. In the meantime, it’s wise to develop, maintain, and improve marketable skills that may one day prove crucial to our temporal salvation. “If ye are prepared ye shall not fear.” (D&C 38:30.)