by Sharon Lindbloom
8 February 2021
The February issue of Liahona magazine (published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) includes a supplement to the church’s religious study curriculum, “Come, Follow Me.” The magazine article looks briefly at two Book of Mormon witnesses, David Whitmer and Martin Harris–both of whom, along with Oliver Cowdery (a third Book of Mormon witness), left the LDS church in the late 1830s. Around that time, Joseph Smith leveled all sorts of charges against these men (e.g., lying, cheating, deceiving, etc.) and told the Latter-day Saints that the three Book of Mormon witnesses were “too mean to mention; and we had liked to have forgotten them” (History of the Church, 3:232). Nevertheless, the LDS church today promotes them as “men of integrity” (Come, Follow Me, Book of Mormon, 2020, Appendix C) and puts great stock in their testimonies that are always published in front of the Book of Mormon (testimonies which they never denied).
As I read the February issue of Liahona, I was interested to see what the article had to say about David Whitmer because, not only did he leave the LDS church in 1838 never to return, he also published a “pamphlet” in 1887 to testify further about the history and teachings of “the so-called Mormons.” In fact, I was somewhat surprised to see that the Liahona article quotes from that source when it includes David Whitmer’s statement affirming that he had never denied his published testimony regarding the Book of Mormon.
The Liahona article doesn’t say much more than that about David Whitmer, yet it seems to me that if Mr. Whitmer is considered by the LDS church to be a trustworthy witness, and his 1887 pamphlet is quoted as trustworthy as well, perhaps David Whitmer’s further testimony about the LDS church is worthy of consideration.
David was one of five Whitmer brothers who formally testified to the validity of the Book of Mormon. His two sisters were married to two additional Book of Mormon witnesses, thus the Whitmer family alone represented seven of the eleven witnesses. In 1838, all Whitmer-affiliated family members who were still living (two of the Whitmer brothers had died in 1835) left the LDS church (only David’s sister, Elizabeth Ann, and her husband, Oliver Cowdery, ever returned, and this for a relatively short time).
Over the years, many rumors floated about that David Whitmer had denied his testimony of the Book of Mormon. Thus his affirmation of “the truth of all [his] statements, as then made and published” that he included in the opening pages of his 1887 pamphlet, An Address to All Believers in Christ. To his dying day, David Whitmer claimed that the experience to which he attested in the Book of Mormon’s “Testimony of Three Witnesses” actually happened, and so he remained convinced that the Book of Mormon was the word of God.
But David Whitmer also believed and testified—unequivocally–that Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet and that many of the teachings embraced by the LDS church would cause a man to “lose his soul” (35).
What follows are some examples of further passionate testimony from David Whitmer, a “man of integrity” that the LDS church hopes people will believe when it comes to the Book of Mormon, but simultaneously hopes people will disbelieve and dismiss when it comes to the rest of his testimony.
“We do not indorse the teachings of any of the so-called Mormons or Latter Day Saints, which are in conflict with the gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, as taught in the New Testament and the Book of Mormon. 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; original spelling and punctuation retained from the original)
“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 Jerusalem, nor to the ‘twelve’ upon this continent. 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 man!” (26)
“If you believe my testimony to the Book of Mormon; if you believe that God spake to us three witnesses by his own voice, then I tell you 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 should it be done unto them.’ In the spring of 1838, the heads of the church and many of the members had gone deep into error and blindness.” (27)
“Now, all honest men will understand, after they have read this pamphlet through, that I am doing God’s will in bringing the truth to light concerning the errors of Brother Joseph. They will see that it is necessary, as he is the man who introduced many doctrines of error into the Church of Christ; and his errors must be made manifest and the truth brought to light, in order that all Latter Day Saints shall cease to put their trust in this man, believing his doctrines as if they were from the mouth of God.” (39)
“The revelation given through Brother Joseph as mouthpiece on April 6, 1830, that he should be ordained Seer to the Church, after God had commanded him that He would grant him no other gift but to translate the Book of Mormon, I give you my testimony brethren that this revelation is not of God.” (41)
“And when the Book of Commandments was printed, Joseph and the church received it as being printed correctly. This I know. In the winter of 1834 they saw that some of the revelations in the Book of Commandments had to be changed, because the heads of the church had gone too far, and had done things in which they had already gone ahead of some of the former revelations. So the book of ‘Doctrine and Covenants’ was printed in 1835, and some of the revelations changed and added to.” (56; italics in the original)
“There is nothing in the New Testament part of either the Bible or Book of Mormon concerning a one-man leader or head to the church…Who was ‘Prophet Seer and Revelator’ to the church at Jerusalem? They had none. Who was ‘Prophet Seer and Revelator’ to the church upon this land? They had none. And we had no such office in the church in these last days for the first eight months of its existence, until Brother Joseph went into this error on April 6, 1830, and, after unwittingly breaking a command of God by taking upon himself such an office, in a few years those revelations were changed to admit this high office, which otherwise would have condemned it. They were changed to mean something entirely different from the way they were first given and printed in the Book of Commandments; as if God had not thought of this great and important office when he gave those revelations. Yet in the face of the written word of God, and in the face of all this evidence, the majority of Latter Day Saints will still cling to the revelations of Joseph Smith and measure the written word of God by them, instead of measuring Joseph Smith and his revelations by the written word.” (46)
The LDS church asks people to trust and believe David Whitmer’s unverifiable testimony that an angel showed him the Book of Mormon gold plates, and that God’s voice told him the translation of the book was true. At the same time, the LDS church denies David Whitmer’s eyewitness, evidence-laden testimony regarding Joseph Smith and the false revelations, altered revelations, and pretended revelations that have led the Latter-day Saints “deep into error and blindness.”
David Whitmer feared that Latter-day Saints would eschew all the available evidence; that they would “cling” to Joseph Smith and his fallacious revelations, choosing something similar to what was urged by LDS apostle Neil Andersen at the church’s October 2015 General Conference:
“To those of faith who, looking through the colored glasses of the 21st century, honestly question events or statements of the Prophet Joseph from nearly 200 years ago, may I share some friendly advice: For now, give Brother Joseph a break!” (“Faith Is Not by Chance, but by Choice”)
David Whitmer looked at Joseph Smith as a contemporary. He was there. He understood the events and statements that he witnessed in their context. He was definitely not looking through the colored glasses of centuries gone by; he was looking through the tears of one who had at one time been a devoted follower of Joseph Smith and a true believer in the Mormon church.
While David Whitmer believed, via a spiritual experience, that the Book of Mormon was of God, he never denied his eyewitness testimony that Joseph Smith was guilty of teaching “many errors and gave many revelations to introduce doctrines, ordinances and offices in the church, which are in conflict with Christ’s teachings.”
These are serious charges, brought by one whom the LDS church recognizes as a man of integrity. Are they not, then, worthy of serious consideration?
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