Doctrine and Covenants 17: A Revelation for the Three Special Witnesses

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Student Study Guide, (2005), 27–28

The section heading toDoctrine and Covenants 17gives three references from the Book of Mormon with the prophecy that three persons would be special witnesses of that book when it came forth in the latter days. This section is the revelation given to three men who desired to be those witnesses. In it they were told what they must do to prepare themselves to have that special witness. As you read, think about how the Lord’s counsel to David Whitmer, Martin Harris, and Oliver Cowdery could apply to you as you k to gain or strengthen your witness of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and other spiritual truths.

Understanding the Scriptures

Doctrine and Covenants 17

Prior to(section heading)Before 
Designated(section heading)Chosen 
The miraculous directors(v. 1)The Liahona (1 Nephi 16:10, 28–29;Alma 37:38–42) 
Prevail(v. 8)Be victorious over 
Grace(v. 8)Strength and power from God 
Sufficient(v. 8)Enough, just what is needed 

Doctrine and Covenants 17—When and How Did These Three Men Receive the Promised Witness?

The Three Witnesses

The witness that these three men sought came shortly after the revelation in section 17 was given. The Prophet Joseph Smith, David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and Martin Harris went to the woods near the Whitmer home. There the four men sought the promised witness through earnest prayer—but nothing happened. Finally, Martin Harris excused himself, saying that he believed himself unworthy. While he went off alone to ask for forgiveness, the remaining three men received a marvelous vision and heard the voice of God bear record of what they saw. The Prophet Joseph then went to find Martin Harris. The Prophet joined with him in prayer, and, after a period of time, Martin Harris received the same vision the others had previously received. “The Testimony of Three Witnesses,” in the front of the Book of Mormon, is their description of the experience. The people of this generation will be held accountable for the testimony of these witnesses, just as they will be for the testimonies in the book itself (2 Nephi 33:11–15;Ether 12:38–39).

A few days after that sacred experience, the Prophet Joseph was permitted to show the plates of the Book of Mormon to eight other men. Although they did not have a vision or hear the voice of God, they were able to touch the plates. Their testimony is also found in the front of the Book of Mormon.

Doctrine and Covenants 17:1—What Was the “Breastplate”?

Lucy Mack Smith, the Prophet’s mother, had the opportunity to examine the breastplate that Joseph received with the plates (Joseph Smith—History 1:35). She gave the following description of it in her biography of her son:

“It was wrapped in a thin muslin handkerchief, so thin that I could feel its proportions without any difficulty.

“It was concave on one side and convex on the other, and extended from the neck downwards, as far as the center of the stomach of a man of extraordinary size. It had four straps of the same material, for the purpose of fastening it to the breast, two of which ran back to go over the shoulders, and the other two were designed to fasten to the hips. They were just the width of two of my fingers (for I measured them), and they had holes in the end of them, to be convenient in fastening” (History of Joseph Smith,ed. Preston Nibley [1958], 111).

Doctrine and Covenants 17:6—The Lord’s Testimony of the Book of Mormon

Elder Bruce R. McConkie, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, taught:

Christ's testimony of the Book of Mormon

“One of the most solemn oaths ever given to man is found in these words of the Lord relative to Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. ‘He [meaning Joseph Smith] has translated the book, even that part which I have commanded him,’ saith the Lord, ‘and as your Lord and your God liveth it is true.’ (D&C 17:6.)

“This is God’s testimony of the Book of Mormon. In it Deity himself has laid his godhood on the line. Either the book is true or God ceases to be God. There neither is nor can be any more formal or powerful language known to men or gods” (Conference Report, Apr. 1982, 50; orEnsign,May 1982, 33).

Studying the Scriptures

Do activity A as you studyDoctrine and Covenants 17.

Activity A iconTheir Witness and Yours

  1. 1.

    In your notebook, make a chart like the following:

The Three Witnesses


What did they need to do in order to receive the witness they desired? (D&C 17:1–2).

What must I do to strengthen my witness, or testimony, of the Book of Mormon and other spiritual truths?


What did the Lord say they must do after they obtained that special witness? (vv. 3, 5–6).

What does the Lord expect me to do after I have received a witness?


What did the Lord say about His reason for giving them that witness? (vv. 4, 8–9).

Why does the Lord want me to have a testimony of His gospel and Church?


What promises did the Lord give them concerning the significance of their witness? (vv. 7–9).

How do the Lord’s promises to the Three Witnesses apply to my testimony of the gospel?

  1. 2.

    Answer the questions concerning the Three Witnesses with what you learned inDoctrine and Covenants 17.

  2. 3.

    Answer the other questions by applying those scriptures to yourself. You may also want to use the Index or Topical Guide to find other scriptures that help you answer the questions.