[ Mormonism's Three Inadmissible Witnesses - No. 2 ]
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the third and final installment examining Joseph Smith's three witnesses to the "authenticity" of The Book of Mormon.
Judas betrayed Christ and Peter denied him before he was crucified. But after witnessing his resurrection, no apostle ever afterward recanted his testimony. Their utter devotion to the cause of Christ — even to the point of death — is a powerful testimony to the truth of what they taught. They did not recant their eyewitness testimony, but steadfastly maintained its truth. They would certainly not have done so in the face of death if it had been untrue.
Consider the following accounts of the deaths of Christ's witnesses from Fox's Book of Martyrs:
Harris was known for being very unstable religiously. Over his whole life he changed his affiliation over 13 times. He signed his name to a statement: "Testimony of three witnesses: We Cheerfully certify... The Lord has made it known to me that David Witmer is the man. David was then called forward, and Joseph and his counselors laid hands upon him, and ordained him to his station, to succeed him... He will be prophet, seer, Revelator and Translator before God." Signed Martin Harris, Leonard Rich, Calvin Beebe." Of course, this never came to pass as Brigham Young became Joseph Smith's successor.
Of Martin Harris and a few other men, the Mormons stated within the pages of the church's official newspaper at the time, "a lying deceptive spirit attend them...they are of their father, the devil... The very countenance of Harris will show to every spiritual-minded person who sees him, that the wrath of God is upon him." (Latter-Day Saints' Millennial Star, Vol 8 pp124-128).
Martin Harris is also said to have rejoined the Mormon church and died in full fellowship, affirming his commitment to the Book of Mormon. Yet sources contemporary with Martin Harris referred to him as "feeble both in body and mind" (Des Moines Daily News, Oct. 16, 1886, cited in Case, p. 31). In fact, Anthony Metcalf who interviewed Harris wrote, "Harris never believed that the Brighamite branch of the Mormon church, nor the Josephite church, was right, because in his opinion, God had rejected them; but he did believe that Mormonism was the pure gospel of Christ when it was first revealed, I believe he died in that faith" (Ten Years Before the Mast, Anthony Metcalf, p. 73, microfilm copy).
Mormon writers have also acknowledged that Harris was religiously unstable, saying, "Martin Harris was an unaggressive, vacillating, easily influenced person" (E. Cecil McGavin, The Historical Background for the Doctrine & Covenants, p. 23, cited in Case, Vol. 2, p. 33).
Wayne C. Gunnell in his 1955 Brigham Young University thesis on Martin Harris wrote, "Martin's motives in being baptized at that time are not known, but the data of later events would indicate a lack of sincerity." Gunnell goes on to quote a letter written in 1844 by Phineas Young to Brigham Young, "Martin Harris is a firm believer in Shakerism, says his testimony is greater than it was of the Book of Mormon" (Martin Harris-Witness and Benefactor to the Book of Mormon, Wayne C. Gunnell, BYU thesis, 1955, p. 52).
One of the problems with relying on the 'Witnesses' for the authenticity of Mormonism is the testimony of David Whitmer given later in life. In his Address to All Believers in Christ, page 27, Whitmer declares, "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. 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."
This quote creates a quandary. If we accept Whitmer's testimony regarding his experience with the angel and the gold plates, then we must also accept his testimony that God also declared the current Mormon church is in a fallen state. To disavow the revelation he received stating that the Mormon church since 1838 has "gone deep into error and blindness" means we must hold as suspect his testimony to the Book of Mormon. Whitmer inseparably links the two events.
Cowdery later became a member of the "Methodist Protestant Church" in Tiffin, Seneca County, Ohio. Before joining, it appears he made a complete and full renunciation of Mormonism. He later served as a Superintendent of the Sabbath-School, and Secretary of a church meeting and was recognized as a charter member (Affidavit quoted in The True Origin of Mormonism, by Charles A. Shook, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1914, pp. 58-59, cited in Case Against Mormonism, Vol. 2, p. 16; also The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power, by D. Michael Quinn, Signature Books, 1994, p. 545).
Oliver Cowdery returned to the Mormon church and was rebaptized in October of 1848, but there are questions as to his motivation for joining and how long he remained a member after rejoining. Some Mormons were suspicious of his motives and against his rebaptism. There is interesting evidence that indicates Cowdery was never completely reconciled to the Mormon church. The Gospel Herald of November 1, 1849 carried the following comments: "You will observe also that they make no mention of Oliver Cowdery filling up their organization. The truth is, he is not the sort of man for them. It was a singular fit of mania by which he was led off after them, and seems to have lasted him but a few weeks...they would not trust power in his hands a single moment." (Cited in Case Against Mormonism, by Jerald & Sandra Tanner, 1968, p. 28)
Oliver Cowdery died, not in Utah, but at the home of fellow witness David Whitmer, who had also left the Mormon church. Whitmer makes it clear that Cowdery "died believing as I do today," which included a belief that Joseph was a fallen prophet, and that the Doctrine and Covenants contained false revelations (An Address to All Believers in Christ, 1887, pp. 1-2).
The testimony of Joseph Smith's three witnesses is as false as the Book of Mormon. Their testimony and Joseph's book are figments of their imaginations and concoctions devised to delude men. Joseph Smith was a false prophet and his witnesses were liars. (Gal. 1:6-9; Rom. 3:4).