By Eric Johnson
Note: The Utah Christian Research Center has an original edition of this book in a display. We invite you to visit and see it for yourself!
Published in 1887 by Book of Mormon witness David Whitmer (1805-1888) just a year before he passed away, An Address to All Believers in Christ: A Witness to the Divine Authenticity of the Book of Mormon provides a look at the mindset of a man who was considered one of the “three witnesses” of the Book of Mormon and, despite leaving The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, kept his faith in this scripture to the very end. You can read it here.
Just what is this book (at 75 pages, we could call it a “booklet”) all about? What can we learn about the author whose name is at the front of every printed Book of Mormon?
Whitmer believed in the Book of Mormon until his death
The book has two parts:
Part First: Chapters 1 and 2. Pages 3-24
Part Second: To Believers in the Book of Mormon. Chapters 3-12. Pages 25-75.
From Whitmer, we get an explanation of how Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon using a magic rock called a “seer stone”:
“I will now give you a description in the manner in which the Book of Mormon was translated. Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man.” (12)
What’s interesting is that the LDS Church did not officially promote this view with a seer stone until a Gospel Topics essay was produced in 2015. Before then, Mormons were led to believe through church writings and church art that Joseph Smith used the plates (with his finger running across the pages) to translate. This notion is no longer taught.
Even a year before his death, Whitmer warned his readers not to deny the authenticity of this important scripture:
“If you will not grant a possibility of the Book of Mormon being true, and sit in judgment and hastily condemn it after reading what I have written, you can surely see for yourself that your heart is full of prejudice. Remember that prejudice is not of God. It is the spirit that hastily condemned and stoned the prophets of God in all ages past. So beware, and look well to your own heart, that Satan does not blind your understanding to the truth. . . . All persons who are spiritual, having a fair understanding of the scriptures, how they can read that Book and reject it, is very strange indeed. The book carries conviction with it. The wise men of this world could never write a book like it. “(14)
Whitmer also wrote,
“I willl prove that God called Brother Joseph to translate the Book of Mormon only, and that he was not called to organized and establish the church any more than the rest of us Elders” (57)
Even though Whitmer felt that Joseph Smith was a false prophet and was incapable of writing down any other God-ordained scripture, he certainly held to the authenticity and accuracy of the Book of Mormon.
The Integrity of David Whitmer
Before a Latter-day Saint gets too excited about Whitmer’s belief in the Book of Mormon, the Latter-day Saint ought to understand that Whitmer’s character was minimized by Smith and other leaders of the LDS Church. For example, each of the three witnesses were excommunicated by Smith:
“Such characters as McLellin, John Whitmer, David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery, and Martin Harris are too mean to mention, and we had liked to have forgotten them.”History of the Church 3:232
Smith even called Whitmer a “dumb ass”! (History of the Church 3:228). Along with other Book of Mormon witnesses, Whitmer was accused in June 1838 in Far West of being “united with a gang of counterfeiters, thieves, liars, and blacklegs of the deepest dye, to deceive, cheat, and defraud the saints out of their property, . . .” He was also accused of running a “bogus money business” with Oliver Cowdery (Senate Document 189, Feb. 15, 1841, 6-9).
After Smith was killed, Whitmer supported James J. Strang (the Strangites) for a time before supporting the McLellin group, of which Whitmer was supposed to be the prophet for the group. He gave a revelation that the Mormons “polluted my name and have done continually wickedness in my sight.”
Needless to say, Whitmer never returned to the LDS Church.
Whitmer’s criticism of Joseph Smith
Perhaps Smith and the other leaders did not care too much for Whitmer, but neither did he think highly of Joseph Smith. For one, he felt Smith was proud and made many errors while introducing false doctrine. For example, he said:
“Now is it wisdom to put your trust in Joseph Smith, and believe all his revelations as if from God’s own mouth! I will say here, that I could tell you other false revelations that came through Brother Joseph as mouthpiece. . . . When Brother Joseph was humble he had the Spirit of God with him; but when he was not humble he did not have the Spirit.” (31-32)
Referring to the founding of the church on April 6, 1830, Whitmer said,
“I do not consider that the church was any more organized or established in the eyes of God on that day than it was previous to that day. I consider that on that day the first error was introduced into the Church of Christ, and that error was Brother Joseph being ordained as ‘Prophet Seer and Revelator’ to the church.” (33)
He said there is no doubt that Smith’s words of teaching were false:
“So we see that the commandment to receive Brother Joseph’s words as if from God’s own mouth was false. . . . Now, can you not see that this revelation for Brother Joseph to be ordained Seer to the Church was false? Of course it was. There is no doubt about it.” (41)
Indeed, Whitmer believed that Smith had been unduly influenced by Sidney Rigdon, explaining,
“Through the influence of Sidney Rigdon, Brother Joseph was led on and on into receiving revelations every year, to establish offices and doctrines which are not even mentioned in the teachings of Christ in the written word.” (59)
Whitmer also wrote,
“Why, oh why will you continue to trust in the man who has erred and introduced doctrines of error into the Church of Christ?” (60)
The Book of Mormon “witness” also did not believe that Smith should be considered a “choice seer”:
“The Latter Day Saints are in error in believing that Joseph Smith was the Choice Seer spoken of in 2 Nephi ii. I will show you that Brother Joseph could not have been this Choice Seer. ” (68)
For one, Whitmer said Smith was wrong about a revelation he supposedly had about the Book of Mormon receiving a Canadian copyright. He wrote,
“When the Book of Mormon was in the hands of the printer, more money was needed to finish the printing of it. We were waiting on Martin Harris who was doing his best to sell a part of his farm, in order to raise the necessary funds. After a time Hyrum Smith and others began to get impatient, thinking that Martin Harris was too slow and under transgressin for not selling his land at once, even if at a great sacrifice. Brother Hyrum thought they should not wait any longer on Martin Harris, and that the money should be raised in some other way. Brother Hyrum was vexed with Brother Martin, and thought they should get the money by some means outside of him, and not let him have anything to do with the publication of the Book, or receiving any of the profits thereof if any profits should accrue . . . Brother Hyrum said it had been suggested to him that some of the brethren might go to Toronto, Canada, and sell the copy-right of the Book of Mormon for considerable money; and he persuaded Joseph to inquire of the Lord about it. Joseph concluded to do so. He had not yet given up the stone. Joseph looked into the hat in which he placed the stone, and received a revelation that some of the brethren should go to Toronoto, Canada, and that they would sell the copy-right of the Book of Mormon. Hiram page and Oliver Cowdery went to Toronto on this mission, but they failed entirely to sell the copy-right, returning wihout any money. . . . Well, we were all in great trouble; and we asked Joseph how it was that he had received a revelatio from the Lord for some brethren to go to Toronto and sell the copy-right, and the brethren had utterly failed in their undertaking. Joseph did not know how it was, so he enquired of the Lord about it, and behold the following revelation came through the stone: ‘Some revelations are of God: some revelations are of man: and some revelations are of the devil.'” So we see that the revelatio to go to Toronto and sell the copy-right was not of God, but was of the devil or of the heart of man.” (31)
This is quite the admission to show how Smith did not always speak for God, in his mind, unless it related to the “translation” of the Book of Mormon. Whitmer especially disagreed with new doctrines that Smith taught, including his teachings in the Doctrine and Covenants:
“The Latter Day Saints believe these new doctrines, which do not agree with the teachings of Christ. Why do they believe them? Because they are putting too much trust in a man!” (26)
Still, Whitmer had affection for Smith even though he believed Joseph Smith was in error:
“Now, I do not judge, nor say whether Saul, David, Solomon, or Joseph will be saved or lost. These are all in the hands of a just God. Perhaps the errors of David were mor grievous than those of Joseph. Now I hope you understand me. I am not persecuting Brother Joseph and never did persecute him. Because he erred is no reason why I should not love him.” (26).
Whitmer believed that Smith should not be judged too harshly because he was responsible to bring forth the scripture known as the Book of Mormon. According to his claim, Smith was no different than other fallen men, including King David:
“Great abominations are recorded of David in the Bible, than is recorded to-day of Joseph Smith; but do you reject the Psalms on this account? Do you reject the Proverbs because Solomon was a polygamist? Stop and think, you who are hasty to condemn” (4).
Disagreements with the LDS Church under Brigham Young and successors
Whitmer disagreed vehemently with the church that ended up in Utah under the leadership of Brigham Young. For one, he did not like the doctrine of plural marriage. He wrote,
“The doctrine of polygamy was not introduced until about fourteen years after the church was established; but other doctrines of error were introduced earlier than this. I left the body in June, 1838, being five years before polygamy was introduced” (4)
Whitmer felt that the Utah church’s doctrines were ” in conflict with the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, as taught in the Bible and Book of Mormon” (9), saying,
“They have departed in a great measure from the faith of the Church of Christ as it was first established, by heeding revelations given through Joseph Smith, who after being called of God to translate his sacred word–the Book of Mormon–drifted into many errors and gave many revelations to introduce doctrines, ordinances, and offices in the church, which are in conflict with Christ’s teachings.” (4)
Whitmer was not impressed with the LDS Church’s teachings:
“I know that the Latter Day Saints are teaching some errors in doctrine, and I hope to convince the honest in heart among them of this fact. The commands of God are strict, and his word is yea, yea, and nay, may. It is a serious thing for man to add doctrines to the doctrine which Christ has taught in his word.” (25)
The problem, he insisted, is that the Mormons were trusting too much in a man:
“But the Latter Day Saints have another book of doctrine–the ‘Doctrine and Covenants’–in which are doctrines that Christ never taught to the ‘twelve’ at Jersualem, nor to the ‘twelve’ upon this continent. The Latter Day Saints believe these new doctrines, which to no agree with the teachings of Christ. Why do they believe them? Because they are putting too much trust in a man!” (26)
Amazingly enough, he claimed in An Address to All Believers in Christ that “in June, 1838, God spake to me again by his own voice from the heavens, and told me to ‘separate myself from among the Latter Day Saints, for as they sought to do unto me, so it should be done unto them.'” He added that, in
“the spring of 1838, the heads of the church and many of the membes had gone deep into error and blindness. I had been striving with them for a long time to show them the errors into which they were drifting, and for my labors I received only persecutions” (27)
None of the witnesses to the most important book in LDS canon were treated well by the Mormon leaders, especially Brigham Young. There are many other citations found in An Address to All Beleivers in Christ to show Whimer’s frustration with the Utah church.
Changing of the church’s name in 1834
From 1834-38, the “Church of Christ” was replaced with “The Church of the Latter Day Saints.” It was a mistake, Whitmer felt, because the change took “Jesus Christ” out of the name. He said that
“. . . when the heads of the church changed the name of the church to ‘The Church of Latter Day Saints’ (leaving out the name of ‘Christ’ entirely) when they did this, and compiled the Doctrines and Covenants in 1835, God had then given them over to blindness of mind, and they could print this revelation in God’s book, as also other revelations, changed and added to with a clear conscience, as they did many other grievous things with a clear conscience after this, thinking they were all right.” (62)
In the final chapter of the book (XII) titled “Changing the Name of the Church,” he wrote sternly,
“Now it is strange, it is marvelous, that the Latter Day Saints to-day consider this matter of changing the name of the church, and the leaders in 1834 dropping out the name of Christ, as a small thing and alight matter! You know not how strict are the commands of God! It is nothing short of trifling with a strict commandment of Almighty God, . . .” (73)
His way of thinking does match the philosophy of 17th President Russell M. Nelson who, in 2018, said Jesus was offended whenever shortcut terms are used to refer to the church, its teachings, and its people. Yet it doesn’t take away the very idea that, for for four years anyway, the church did not include the name of Jesus. I’m not sure How can this be reconciled with the teaching of Nelson.
Consider the following facts about David Whitmer and his An Address to All Believers in Christ:
- Whitmer accepted the Book of Mormon until his death.
- His integrity was called into suspect when the leaders of the church looked at him, including Joseph Smith
- Whitmer did not believe Joseph Smith received revelations from God except for the Book of Mormon
- He disagreed with the teachings of Smith’s successors, including Brigham Young, John Taylor, and Wilford Woodruff
- He believed it was a mistake to take the name of Jesus out of the church’s title
With these things being said, the Latter-day Saint should take David’s Whitmer’s testimony very cautiously. For example, too much excitement should not be expressed that Whitmer believed in the Book of Mormon until his death. After all, this is a man who believed that Joseph Smith was generally a fraud. He also felt the Utah church was apostate.
For the Christian, his views are certainly interesting and give us the best understanding of any Book of Mormon at the end of his life. the other two of the “Three Witnessses” passed away by 1875. (Martin Harris died in 1875 and Oliver Cowdery in 1850 while the “Eight Witnesses” were all deceased by 1856 with the exception of David’s brother John in 1878.)
Whitmer gives us plenty of reasons to doubt Joseph Smith and his claim to have restored the Christian church. Yes, he held on the Book of Mormon until the very end of his life, but with so many reasons why the Book of Mormon is rejected as scripture by Christians, his testimony does not overcome these many problems.
We invite you to the Utah Christian Research Center to see a 1st edition copy of this very important booklet and the rest of our museum.