Learning to Love
Doctrine and Covenants

Section 18: Book of Mormon Witnesses to Choose Twelve Apostles By Michael J. Preece

Section 18: Book of Mormon Witnesses to Choose Twelve Apostles

This revelation was given in June 1829, probably between the 1st and the 14th, in the home of Peter Whitmer, Sr., in Fayette, New York, to Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer. The Lord withheld, for the time being, the blessing of this revelation from Martin Harris.

Section 18 is closely associated with the restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood. No specific date for the receipt of section 18 is known. Joseph and Oliver received the Aaronic Priesthood on May 15, 1829 (see D&C 13), and they left Harmony and moved to Fayette, New York, to stay with the Whitmer family around the 29th or 30th of May. Because the Melchizedek Priesthood was restored to Joseph and Oliver “in the wilderness [woods] between Harmony, Susquehanna county, and Colesville, Broome County, on the Susquehanna River” (D&C 128:20), it is likely that the restoration took place before May 30, by which time Joseph and Oliver had left the area where it is reported to have occurred (see Porter, “Dating the Restoration of the Melchizedek Priesthood,” 5-10; also Porter, “Restoration of the Priesthood,” 3-7). If this is correct, then the Melchizedek Priesthood was restored within about two weeks of the Aaronic Priesthood and before the move to Fayette which began on either the 29th or 30th of May. The 18th section, then, was received sometime between the 1st and 14th of June. On June 14, 1829, Oliver Cowdery wrote a letter to Hyrum Smith, which indicates from its many parallels to section 18 that this revelation had already been received by that date.

The revelation given at the Whitmer home occurred as follows. After arriving at the Whitmer’s on June 1, 1829, the Prophet Joseph and some of his associates gathered in prayer “when the word of the Lord came unto us in the chamber, commanding us that I should ordain Oliver Cowdery to be an Elder in the Church of Jesus Christ; and that he also should ordain me to the same office; and then to ordain others, as it should be made known unto us from time to time. We were, however, commanded to defer this our ordination until such time as it should be practicable to have our brethren, who had been and who should be baptized, assembled together, when we must have their sanction to our thus proceeding to ordain each other, and have them decide by vote whether they were willing to accept us as spiritual teachers or not; . . . The following commandment [section 18] will further illustrate the nature of our calling to this priesthood, as well as that of others who were yet to be sought after” (HC, 1:60-62).

In this revelation Joseph and Oliver are directed in how to proceed in ordaining one another and also in ordaining other prospective elders. Also Oliver and David are given the honor and commandment to choose those who would comprise the first Quorum of Twelve Apostles in this dispensation. The actual selection of the Twelve did not occur until six years later in 1835. By that time Martin Harris had placed himself in the position to be allowed by the Lord to be included with the other two witnesses in choosing the apostles.

Scripture Mastery

D&C 18 Book of Mormon Witnesses to Choose Twelve Apostles

D&C 18:10 The worth of souls is great in the sight of God.

D&C 18:15-16 And if . . . you should labor all your days and bring save it be one soul unto me.

D&C 18:23 There is none other name given whereby man can be saved.

1 Now, behold, because of the thing which you, my servant Oliver Cowdery, have desired to know of me, I give unto you these words:

verse 1 Oliver Cowdery wrote a document known as the Articles of the Church of Christ in 1829. Much of what is in that manuscript is now contained in D&C section 20, and the relationship between the two is unmistakable. It is likely that Joseph assigned Oliver to write this document, and that at the time section 18 was received, Oliver was making plans and preparations for writing this manuscript. Oliver had prayed to know what to include, and he had also approached the Prophet for his counsel as well. See further discussion of this project of Oliver’s in the introductory commentary for section 20.

2 Behold, I have manifested unto you, by my Spirit in many instances, that the things which you have written are true; wherefore you know that they are true.

verse 2 The Lord responds to Oliver’s prayer in these verses of section 18 by reminding him that through the Spirit, Oliver had received a testimony that the things which he had previously written as a scribe for Joseph in translating the Book of Mormon (D&C 6:22-23; 13:1; 17:1).

3 And if you know that they are true, behold, I give unto you a commandment, that you rely upon the things which are written;

4 For in them are all things written concerning the foundation of my church, my gospel, and my rock.

verses 3-4 The Lord then tells him to rely, for his proposed manuscript, on what he had written in the Book of Mormon, because the Book of Mormon contains everything concerning the foundation of the Church.

5 Wherefore, if you shall build up my church, upon the foundation of my gospel and my rock, the gates of hell shall not prevail against you.

verse 5 “my church . . . my gospel . . . my rock” When the Lord refers to his “church,” he is referring to the assembled believers and disciples who have taken upon themselves his name and covenanted to be obedient to his gospel (see D&C 10:67). The Church, of course, has not yet been organized so the Lord speaks in the future tense—”if you shall build up my church.”

The Lord defined his “gospel” in D&C 39:6: “And this is my gospel—repentance and baptism by water, and then cometh the baptism of fire and the Holy Ghost, even the Comforter, which showeth all things, and teacheth the peaceable things of the kingdom.”

His gospel is essentially the “first principles and ordinances of the gospel,” faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost. We should not speak of repentance without reminding ourselves that repentance is essentially obedience. When we want to emphasize obedience following a period of disobedience, we call it repentance.

The term “rock” is used in scripture with a few different meanings. While it is true that “the rock” sometimes refers to the rock of revelation, Christ is also the Rock (1 Corinthians 10:4; Helaman 5:12). In one context, Peter (or Cephas), whose name both in Greek and in Aramaic means “rock,” is referred to by the Savior as the rock. Peter was the last one to hold all the keys anciently (see D&C 27:12; see also Matthew 16:18­19, where “rock” has more than one meaning). In this particular verse, the gospel is the rock, as it is also in D&C 11:24 and 3 Nephi 11:32-39.

“the gates of hell shall not prevail against you” If Oliver’s document is written from the truths in the Book of Mormon, then the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church (verse 5).

6 Behold, the world is ripening in iniquity; and it must needs be that the children of men are stirred up unto repentance, both the Gentiles and also the house of Israel.

verse 6 One major purpose for restoring the gospel to the earth is to call the world to repentance.

7 Wherefore, as thou hast been baptized by the hands of my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., according to that which I have commanded him, he hath fulfilled the thing which I commanded him.

verse 7 The Lord tells Oliver that Joseph is so far doing just what he (the Lord) has commanded him to do.

8 And now, marvel not that I have called him unto mine own purpose, which purpose is known in me; wherefore, if he shall be diligent in keeping my commandments he shall be blessed unto eternal life; and his name is Joseph.

verse 8 “and his name is Joseph” In Hebrew the name Joseph means “added.” The prophet Lehi, just before his death gathered his family and quoted from writings of ancient Joseph who was sold into Egypt. In these writings, ancient Joseph prophesied that in the latter days a branch of the tribe of Joseph would be raised up to gather scattered Israel. They would be led by a choice seer named Joseph (2 Nephi 3:5-15).

9 And now, Oliver Cowdery, I speak unto you, and also unto David Whitmer, by the way of commandment; for, behold, I command all men everywhere to repent, and I speak unto you, even as unto Paul mine apostle, for you are called even with that same calling with which he was called.

verse 9 For the remainder of this section, the Lord will speak to both Oliver and to David Whitmer.

“I command all men everywhere to repent” A call to repentance is a call to obey. It is not just a plea or a request of God. It is an ongoing commandment given to the greatest and to the least; to the righteous and to the wicked; to members of the Church and to nonmembers alike.

“for you are called even with that same calling with which he was called” What does it mean to be called “with the same calling with which [Paul] was called”? It means to be called to be an apostle.

Brigham Young taught that “Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer were the first apostles of this dispensation, though in the early days of the Church David Whitmer lost his standing, and another took his place” (JD, 6:320). To these, according to Heber C. Kimball, Martin Harris was later added (JD, 6:29). These men will be instructed in verse 37 to find and ordain twelve others who will form the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

10 Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God;

verse 10 A verse and scriptural reference worth memorizing! The Savior was willing to pay an infinite price to provide us an opportunity to return to our celestial home.

11 For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him.

verse 11 “wherefore he suffered the pain of all men” Men commit sin because they fall prey to their natural selves (Mosiah 3:19). We are naturally inclined to seek for social acceptance, for physical comfort and security, for material comfort, for respect, for self-esteem, for financial security. We are driven to satisfy our sexual cravings. The influences of the world are powerful and immediate and difficult to resist. These temptations of the world are amplified by the sufferings of men, particularly discouragement, despair, physical pain, addictions, and others of life’s vicissitudes. In order for Jesus Christ to possess perfect empathy for all men, he had to experience first hand every combination of temptations and hardships ever experienced by any man (Alma 7:11-12; Hebrews 2:18). It would certainly take a miracle for him to experience all of this in the space of less than twenty-four hours. It was a miracle. This miracle was the infinitely excruciating ordeal he undertook in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross. It was orchestrated by the Father (3 Nephi 11:11; D&C 76:107). It was the atonement of Jesus Christ.

12 And he hath risen again from the dead, that he might bring all men unto him, on conditions of repentance.

13 And how great is his joy in the soul that repenteth!

14 Wherefore, you are called to cry repentance unto this people.

15 And if it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!

16 And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!

verses 15-16 Another scriptural passage and scriptural reference well worth memorizing! Contemplate these two verses for a few moments. Indeed, “The worth of souls is great in the sight of God.”

17 Behold, you have my gospel before you, and my rock, and my salvation.

18 Ask the Father in my name, in faith believing that you shall receive, and you shall have the Holy Ghost, which manifesteth all things which are expedient unto the children of men.

19 And if you have not faith, hope, and charity, you can do nothing.

verse 19 “faith, hope, and charity” These three virtues are not listed together by accident. Faith is initially deliberate obedience. We receive in turn for our obedience, through personal revelation, increments of the attributes of Christ in the form of gifts of the Spirit, which refine us and incline us toward further and less difficult obedience. Most of God’s commands define for us how we should treat one another and how we should place the interests of others ahead of our own. As we obey these commands, initially deliberately, our hearts are softened toward others; we come to have spiritual insight into the hearts of others. We come to sense their true identity stripped of all of their earthly defenses; we come to truly understand and love them.

This love also comes to us in the form of gifts of the Spirit—incremental bits of that charity which Christ possesses for us all. Gradually, we come to place others first and ourselves second. A side benefit of this spiritual progress is the quiet growing assurance that our efforts are acceptable to the Lord and that we are okay—we are headed to our celestial home. This assurance, this hope is whispered to our souls by personal revelation. This is the gift of hope.

20 Contend against no church, save it be the church of the devil.

verse 20 We are commanded to avoid contention (arguing, fighting, or “bashing”) in our dealings with other churches. The Lord taught his missionaries: “And according as I have commanded you thus shall ye baptize. And there shall be no disputations among you, as there have hitherto been; neither shall there be disputations among you concerning the points of my doctrine, as there have hitherto been. For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another. Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away” (3 Nephi 11:28-30).

The prophet Joseph Smith taught the same principle:

The elders would go forth, and each must stand for himself . . . to go in all meekness, in sobriety, and preach Jesus Christ and him crucified; not to contend with others on account of their faith, or systems of religion, but pursue a steady course. This I delivered by way of commandment; and all who observe it not will pull down persecution upon their heads, while those who do, shall always be filled with the Holy Ghost; this I pronounced as a prophecy, and sealed with hosanna and amen (HC, 2:431).

“save it be the church of the devil” What is the “church of the devil”? It is no individual denomination. Our enemies are not the Methodists, or the Baptists, or the Catholics, for there are many people among these denominations and all others who love light and seek to serve God as far as their understanding allows them. The church of the devil is wickedness. It is those who love darkness more than light—those who would attack other denominations. It is Satan’s kingdom, the sphere of his influence and power. It is the same as the “great and abominable church” defined in 1 Nephi chapter 14. See the commentary for that chapter.

21 Take upon you the name of Christ, and speak the truth in soberness.

22 And as many as repent and are baptized in my name, which is Jesus Christ, and endure to the end, the same shall be saved.

23 Behold, Jesus Christ is the name which is given of the Father, and there is none other name given whereby man can be saved;

verse 23 “there is none other name given whereby man can be saved” Just as there is but one true God, so is there but one true name endowed by him with saving power—Jesus Christ. That name was confirmed in the days of Adam as “the only name which shall be given under heaven, whereby salvation shall come unto the children of men” (Moses 6:52). All other names, titles, and epithets applied to other supposed deities are spiritually impotent.

The restoration of the gospel—of necessity—involved the restoration of the saving name of Jesus Christ. Not, of course, the literal person/name familiar to all Christians, but the correct understanding of the personality behind that name, together with that authority and those doctrines and ordinances encompassed by it. For just as there are false gods, so are there false Christs or, rather, false concepts associated with him. Christ condemns those “who use the name of the Lord, and use it in vain, having not authority” (D&C 63:62). Therefore, we cannot receive Christ and validly take his name upon us without committing ourselves to the gospel as restored through Joseph Smith. The Lord made this clear to James Covill, a Baptist minister: “He that receiveth my gospel receiveth me; and he that receiveth not my gospel receiveth not me” (D&C 39:5).

24 Wherefore, all men must take upon them the name which is given of the Father, for in that name shall they be called at the last day;

25 Wherefore, if they know not the name by which they are called, they cannot have place in the kingdom of my Father.

26 And now, behold, there are others who are called to declare my gospel, both unto Gentile and unto Jew;

27 Yea, even twelve; and the Twelve shall be my disciples, and they shall take upon them my name; and the Twelve are they who shall desire to take upon them my name with full purpose of heart.

verse 27 This verse portends the eventual calling in 1835 of the twelve apostles. In February of that year the Quorum of the Twelve was organized. Note that in the following verse this priesthood calling was initially intended to be a traveling missionary calling.

28 And if they desire to take upon them my name with full purpose of heart, they are called to go into all the world to preach my gospel unto every creature.

29 And they are they who are ordained of me to baptize in my name, according to that which is written;

verse 29 “According to that which is written” in the newly translated Book of Mormon and in the revelations to the Prophet Joseph.

30 And you have that which is written before you; wherefore, you must perform it according to the words which are written.

31 And now I speak unto you, the Twelve—Behold, my grace is sufficient for you; you must walk uprightly before me and sin not.

verse 31 “And now I speak unto you, the Twelve” Again, the Lord speaks to the Twelve six years before they are called.

32 And, behold, you are they who are ordained of me to ordain priests and teachers; to declare my gospel, according to the power of the Holy Ghost which is in you, and according to the callings and gifts of God unto men;

33 And I, Jesus Christ, your Lord and your God, have spoken it.

34 These words are not of men nor of man, but of me; wherefore, you shall testify they are of me and not of man;

35 For it is my voice which speaketh them unto you; for they are given by my Spirit unto you, and by my power you can read them one to another; and save it were by my power you could not have them;

36 Wherefore, you can testify that you have heard my voice, and know my words.

verses 34-36 These verses contain the reason why an apostle, or any of us for that matter, can testify that he has heard the voice of Christ. When we read the scriptures, we hear the voice of Christ.

37 And now, behold, I give unto you, Oliver Cowdery, and also unto David Whitmer, that you shall search out the Twelve, who shall have the desires of which I have spoken;

verse 37 The question might well be raised: Is not apostolic authority necessary before a man can call and ordain another apostle? Did Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer possess such authority? Were they apostles? B. H. Roberts suggested that the three special witnesses of the Book of Mormon were indeed “three very special witnesses” not only of the Book of Mormon, but of the Lord’s work in general. Brother Roberts suggested that it was “pre-eminently proper” that the Twelve should be chosen by the three witnesses (HC, 2:187). The implication is that the calling of the Three Witnesses was an apostolic one.

Again, only Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer are mentioned here (see D&C 19:15, 20), but in 1835 Joseph Smith directed that Martin should also assist in choosing the Twelve.

38 And by their desires and their works you shall know them.

39 And when you have found them you shall show these things unto them.

40 And you shall fall down and worship the Father in my name.

41 And you must preach unto the world, saying: You must repent and be baptized, in the name of Jesus Christ;

42 For all men must repent and be baptized, and not only men, but women, and children who have arrived at the years of accountability.

verse 42 This is the first mention of the concept of accountability, which was later clarified by revelation to be eight years of age (see D&C 68:25; JST Genesis 17:11; see also D&C 20:71).

43 And now, after that you have received this, you must keep my commandments in all things;

44 And by your hands I will work a marvelous work among the children of men, unto the convincing of many of their sins, that they may come unto repentance, and that they may come unto the kingdom of my Father.

45 Wherefore, the blessings which I give unto you are above all things.

46 And after that you have received this, if you keep not my commandments you cannot be saved in the kingdom of my Father.

verse 46 Those who have been given the greater blessings are held to a higher standard (see D&C 82:3). Those who have received the blessings that are “above all things” (see the previous verse), will surely be dealt with severely in the eternities, especially if they then rebel against God.

47 Behold, I, Jesus Christ, your Lord and your God, and your Redeemer, by the power of my Spirit have spoken it. Amen.

Brief Historical Setting

1829 July

One morning in early July 1829, the three witnesses and Joseph retired to a secluded spot in a pasture between two roads on the Whitmer farm. They took turns praying, not once, but twice, and nothing happened. Before making a third attempt, Martin Harris withdrew, perceiving that he was the obstacle. The remaining three prayed again, and this time they were granted the glorious experience of having an angel appear and show them the plates of the Book of Mormon, the brass plates, the plates of the book of Ether, the plates containing the records of the wickedness and secret combinations of the people of the world down to the time of their being engraved, and many other plates. There appeared as it were, a table with many records or plates upon it. They also saw the breastplate, the Liahona, the Urim and Thummim, and the sword of Laban. David Whitmer later said, “I saw them just as plain as I see this bed (striking the bed beside him with his hand), and I heard the voice of the Lord, as distinctly as I ever heard anything in my life, declaring that the records of the plates of the Book of Mormon were translated by the gift and power of God.” When asked if he saw the angel at that time, Brother Whitmer replied, “Yes; he stood before us, our testimony as recorded in the Book of Mormon is strictly and absolutely true, just as it is there written” (“Report of Elders Orson Pratt and Joseph F. Smith,” 771-72).

Joseph then left Oliver and David and found Martin Harris engaged in prayer, as he had previously been instructed by the Lord (see D&C 5:24). Joseph and Martin prayed together, and at length, Martin was favored with the same experience. See the Testimony of the Three Witnesses and its commentary in Learning to Love the Book of Mormon.

Another account of the experience of the three witnesses further enriches our understanding of this remarkable incident:

Not many days after the above commandment was given, we four, viz., Martin Harris, David Whitmer, Oliver Cowdery and myself, agreed to retire into the woods, and try to obtain, by fervent and humble prayer, the fulfilment of the promises given in the above revelation—that they should have a view of the plates. We accordingly made choice of a piece of woods convenient to Mr. Whitmer's house, to which we retired, and having knelt down, we began to pray in much faith to Almighty God to bestow upon us a realization of these promises.

According to previous arrangement, I commenced prayer to our Heavenly Father, and was followed by each of the others in succession. We did not at the first trial, however, obtain any answer or manifestation of divine favor in our behalf. We again observed the same order of prayer, each calling on and praying fervently to God in rotation, but with the same result as before.

Upon this, our second failure, Martin Harris proposed that he should withdraw himself from us, believing, as he expressed himself, that his presence was the cause of our not obtaining what we wished for. He accordingly with drew from us, and we knelt down again, and had not been many minutes engaged in prayer, when presently we beheld a light above us in the air, of exceeding brightness; and behold, an angel stood before us. In his hands he held the plates which we had been praying for these to have a view of. He turned over the leaves one by one, so that we could see them, and discern the engravings theron distinctly. He then addressed himself to David Whitmer, and said, “David, blessed is the Lord, and he that keeps His commandments;” when, immediately afterwards, we heard a voice from out of the bright light above us, saying, “These plates have been revealed by the power of God, and they have been translated by the power of God. The translation of them which you have seen is correct, and I command you to bear record of what you now see and hear.”

I now left David and Oliver, and went in pursuit of Martin Harris, whom I found at a considerable distance, fervently engaged in prayer. He soon told me, however, that he had not yet prevailed with the Lord, and earnestly requested me to join him in prayer, that he also might realize the same blessings which we had just received. We accordingly joined in prayer, and ultimately obtained our desires, for before we had yet finished, the same vision was opened to our view, at least it was again opened to me, and I once more beheld and heard the same things; whilst at the same moment, Martin Harris cried out, apparently in an ecstasy of joy, “‘Tis enough; ‘tis enough; mine eyes have beheld; mine eyes have beheld;” and jumping up, he shouted, “Hosanna,” blessing God, and otherwise rejoiced exceedingly (HC, 1:54-55).

Joseph was greatly relieved that the Lord had allowed others to see the plates so that they might now share with him the responsibility of witnessing to the authenticity of the Book of Mormon record. Lucy Mack Smith, the Prophet’s mother, gave the following account describing Joseph’s feelings after he returned home from the manifestation to the three witnesses:

When they returned to the house it was between three and four o’clock p.m. Mrs. Whitmer, Mr. Smith, and myself were sitting in a bedroom at the time. On coming in, Joseph threw himself down beside me, and exclaimed, “Father, mother, you do not know how happy I am: the Lord has now caused the plates to be shown to three more besides myself. They have seen an angel, who has testified to them, and they will have to bear witness to the truth of what I have said, for now they know for themselves, that I do not go about to deceive the people, and I feel as if I was relieved of a burden which was almost too heavy for me to bear, and it rejoices my soul, that I am not any longer to be entirely alone in the world. Upon this Martin Harris came in: he seemed almost overcome with joy, and testified boldly to what he had both seen and heard. And so did David and Oliver, adding that no tongue could express the joy of their hearts, and the greatness of the things which they had both seen and heard (History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, 152-53).

Shortly thereafter, back in Manchester, New York, eight additional witnesses were allowed to see and handle the plates. These included four Whitmer brothers (Christian, Jacob, John, and Peter, Jr.), their brother-in-law, Hiram Page, Hyrum and Samuel Harrison Smith, and Joseph Smith, Sr. They were shown the plates by Joseph, rather than an angel, and they did not see the artifacts (see the Testimony of the Eight Witnesses and its commentary, again in Learning to Love the Book of Mormon).

Character Vignette David Whitmer

David Whitmer was born a Pennsylvania German and carried into adulthood a hint of a German accent. He was about the same age as the Prophet Joseph. He was an outspoken rugged individualist and this quality verged on stubbornness. This utterly honest personality would have been the first to detect fraud and expose it. If Joseph had been intending to perpetrate some type of fraud, David Whitmer is not one he would have picked as a partner in his conspiracy. Throughout his eight years in the Church and his fifty years strictly separated from it, he never wavered regarding his testimony of the Book of Mormon.

In addition to being one of the three Book of Mormon witnesses, he became prominent in the leadership of the Church, serving as the “president of the Church in Missouri” which would be comparable to a stake president in terms of the current church organization.

Tragic events culminated in David Whitmer’s excommunication in April 1838. In the previous year of doctrinal and financial trial, prominent dissenters moved in open council to depose the Prophet Joseph and replace him with David Whitmer, a commentary on the public stature of the man. Long afterward he gave his own version of the processes of his thinking. In summary, he resisted change and was jealous of the power and suspected influence of Sidney Rigdon: “Rigdon was a thorough Bible scholar, a man of fine education, and a powerful orator. He soon worked himself deep into Brother Joseph’s affections, and had more influence over him than any other man living” (An Address to All Believers in Christ, [Richmond, Missouri, 1887], 35). At his excommunication, the main charge was “possessing the same spirit with the dissenters” (Donald Q. Cannon and Lyndon W. Cook, eds., Far West Record, Minutes of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1830-1844, Salt Lake City, 1983, 177). This meant that he was skeptical of the new policies of the Kirtland era and had declared doctrinal and economic independence. But David really sought to recreate the intimate days of 1829-30 at his father’s home in Fayette. His later writings idealize this period when he felt closest to God and the Prophet. So David Whitmer is really a man who declined to grow with the Church. He accepted the founding divine guidance of the Church, and then he became skeptical of further revelations. This position plus opposition to polygamy characterized his feelings.

Following his excommunication he moved to Richmond, Missouri, where he lived in a society hostile to his religious views, a situation that continually highlighted his rugged independence. There he ran a livery stable and haulage business. He remained in Richmond for fifty years until his death in 1888 at the age of 85.

David earned the solid respect of his non-Mormon townsmen through a half century of private integrity and doing business with them. He was also active in civil government. This is the critical issue of the life of David Whitmer. During fifty years in non-Mormon society, he insisted with the fervor of youth that he knew that the Book of Mormon was divinely revealed. Relatively few people in Richmond could accept such testimony, but none doubted his intelligence or complete honesty. No one summarized this view more clearly than Hiram Parker, a prominent businessmen, who lived near David Whitmer for a decade: “No one could know Uncle Davy and not like and trust him. . . . Children like him, men respected him and trusted him, and I never heard a word from anyone during my ten years’ acquaintance with him and those who had known him intimately for years that spoke a harsh word or uttered a doubt as to his truthfulness and general kindness of heart” (“Mormon Reminiscences,” published letter of Hiram Parker, Detroit, uncertain date). Parker had obviously reflected a good deal on how one might admire the man without accepting his message. Few of his townsmen could accept his Book of Mormon testimony, but “on any other subject or statement of fact neither myself or others could doubt.” Hiram Parker spent most of his life in selling in several states but had never met “a more honest guileless man”—”How one can account for the delusion that must have possessed this old man is beyond me” (Ibid.).

The story of the episode in 1833 in the public square at Independence, Missouri was told by New York convert John P. Greene:

When the mob assembled they went to the houses of several of the leading Mormons. And taking Isaac Morley, David Whitmer, and others, they told them to bid their families farewell, for they would never see them again. Then driving them at the point of the bayonet to the public square, they stripped and tarred and feathered them, amidst menaces and insults. The commanding officer then called twelve of his men. And ordering them to cock their guns and present them at the prisoners’ breasts, and to be ready to fire when he gave the word, he addressed the prisoners, threatening them with instant death unless they denied the Book of Mormon and confessed it to be a fraud; at the same time adding that if they did so, they might enjoy the privileges of citizens. David Whitmer, hereupon, lifted up his hands and bore witness that the Book of Mormon was the Word of God. The mob then let them go (Facts Relative to the Expulsion of the Mormons, [Cincinnati, 1839]: 17).

David became widely known as “the last surviving witness,” and consequently he was interviewed far more extensively than the others. He claimed that thousands came to inquire, and more than fifty of these conversations are reported in reasonable detail in contemporary diaries, letters, and newspapers, supplemented by later recollections. These reports furnish us with a detailed historical record. So, today an investigator can test David Whitmer’s convictions almost as well as the visitor of the past century who talked with him personally. The following replies are taken from the better recorded interviews of about the last decade of his life. This composite interview has been constructed by the historian Richard Lloyd Anderson and reported in his book, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (80-82).

Q: Is your published testimony accurate?

A: “As you read my testimony given many years ago, so it stands as my own existence, the same as when I gave it, and so shall stand throughout the cycles of eternity” (Letter of David Whitmer to Dr. James N. Seymour, December 8, 1875).

Q: When did this event take place?

A: “It was in June, 1829, the very last part of the month” (Life of Joseph F. Smith, [Salt Lake City, 1938], 242).

Q: What was the approximate time of day?

A: “It was about 11 AM” (Journal of Edward Stevenson, December 22, 1877).

Q: What were the circumstances of the vision?

A: “[We] went out into the woods nearby, and sat down on a log and talked awhile. We then kneeled down and prayed. Joseph prayed. We then got up and sat on the log and were talking, when all at once a light came down from above us and encircled us for quite a little distance around, and the angel stood before us” (Letter of William H. Kelley to Saints’ Herald, January 16, 1882, Coldwater, Michigan).

Q: Describe the angel.

A: “He was dressed in white, and spoke and called me by name and said, ‘Blessed is he that keepeth His commandments.’ This is all that I heard the angel say” (Ibid.).

Q: Did the angel have the Book of Mormon plates?

A: “[He] showed to us the plates, the sword of Laban, the Directors, the Urim and Thummim, and other records. Human language could not describe heavenly things and that which we saw” (Journal of George Q. Cannon, February 27, 1884, cit. Instructor 80 [1945]:520).

Q: Did the vision take place under natural circumstances?

A: “The fact is, it was just as though Joseph, Oliver, and I were sitting right here on a log, when we were overshadowed by a light. It was not like the light of the sun, nor like that of a fire, but more glorious and beautiful. It extended away round us. I cannot tell how far, but in the midst of this light, immediately before us, about as far off as he sits (pointing to John C. Whitmer, who was sitting 2 or 3 feet from him) there appeared, as it were, a table, with many records on it—besides the plates of the Book of Mormon, also the sword of Laban, the Directors, and the Interpreters. I saw them as plain as I see this bed (striking his hand upon the bed beside him), and I heard the voice of the Lord as distinctly as I every heard anything in my life declaring that they were translated by the gift and power of God” (Journal of Joseph F. Smith, cit. Joseph Fielding Smith, Life of Joseph F. Smith, [Salt Lake City, 1938], 242).

Q: Can you explain the supernatural power that surrounded you?

A: “All of a sudden I beheld a dazzlingly brilliant light that surpassed in brightness even the sun at noonday, and which seemed to envelop the woods for a considerable distance around. Simultaneous with the light came a strange entrancing influence which permeated me so powerfully that I felt chained to the spot, while I also experienced a sensation of joy absolutely indescribable” (Omaha Herald, October 17, 1886).

Q: “Did you see the Urim and Thummim?”

A: “I saw the Interpreters in the holy vision; they looked like whitish stones put in the rim of a bow—looked like spectacles, only much larger” (Interview notes of Zenas H.Gurley, Jan. 14, 1885, also cit. Autumn Leaves 5 (1892):452).

Q: Did you see an actual table?

A: “You see that small table by the wall? . . . Well, there was a table about that size, and the heavenly messenger brought the several plates and laid them on the table before our eyes, and we saw them” (Letter of James H. Hart to Deseret News, August 23, 1883, Seneca, Missouri, cit. Deseret Evening News, September 4, 1883).

Q: Did you handle the plates?

A: “I did not handle the plates—only saw them” (Journal of James H. Moyle, June 28, 1885). “Joseph, and I think Oliver and Emma, told me about the plates, and described them to me, and I believed them, but did not see except at the time testified of” (Journal of Nathan Tanner, Jr., April 13, 1886).

Q: How clearly could you see the plates?

A: “The angel stood before us, and he turned the leaves one by one” (Letter of P. Wilhelm Poulson to Deseret News, August 13, 1878, Ogden, Utah, cit. Deseret Evening News, August 16, 1878). “He held the plates and turned them over with his hands, so that they could be plainly visible” (Chicago Times, October 17, 1881).

Q: “Did the angel turn all the leaves before you as you looked on it?”

A: “No, not all, only that part of the book which was not sealed, and what there was sealed appeared as solid to my view as wood” (Journal of Edward Stevenson, December 22, 1877).

Q: “Can you describe the plates?”

A: “They appeared to be of gold, about six by nine inches in size, about as thick as parchment, a great many in number and bound together like the leaves of a book by massive rings passing through the back edges. The engraving upon them was very plain and of very curious appearance” (Kansas City Daily Journal, June 5, 1881).

Q: Is it possible that you imagined this experience?

A: “Our testimony is true. And if these things are not true, then there is no truth; and if there is no truth, there is no God; and if there is no God, there is no existence. But I know there is a God, for I have heard His voice and witnessed the manifestation of his power” (Letter of James H. Hart to Deseret News, August 23, 1883, Seneca, Missouri, cit. Deseret Evening News, September 4, 1883).

Q: “Do you remember the peculiar sensation experienced upon that occasion?”

A: “Yes, I remember it very distinctly. And I never think of it, from that day to this, but what that spirit is present with me” (Letter of William H. Kelley to Saints’ Herald, January 16, 1882, Coldwater, Michigan, cit. Saints’ Herald 29 [1882]:68).

More than one person appealed privately to the last-surviving witness to disclose deceit if it existed. James H. Moyle was later Assistant Secretary of Treasury in two

U.S. adminstrations. Graduating with legal training at the University of Michigan in 1885, he determined to cross-examine the remaining Book of Mormon witness before returning to Utah. Young Moyle journeyed to Richmond, secured an appointment with David Whitmer, and spent some time recounting the persecutions and sacrifices of his family because of belief in Mormonism. He further contrasted his own situation with Whitmer’s. He was just beginning his own life’s career, and Whitmer was not far from death: “And so I begged of him not to let me go through life believing in a vital falsehood.” The thoughtful law student requested not confirmation, but disclosure: “Was there any possibility that he might have been deceived in any particular?” All of his life Moyle remembered the “unequivocal” affirmation of the testimony: “There was no question about its truthfulness” (James H. Moyle, “A Visit to David Whitmer,” Instructor 80 [1945]:401).

He said himself toward the end of his life, “Those who know me best, well know that I have always adhered to that testimony” (David Whitmer, A Proclamation [Richmond, Missouri, 1881]).

Character Vignette

Egbert Bratt Grandin

A Palmyra, New York, publisher who printed the first edition of the Book of Mormon.

Grandin was born in Freehold, Monmouth County, New Jersey, on March 30, 1806. At age four (in 1810) he moved with his family to northern Ontario County, New York (later Wayne County). The Grandins located at Pultneyville, town of Williamson, on the shore of Lake Ontario. At about age sixteen or seventeen (ca. 1822-23), E. B. Grandin entered into an apprenticeship with a printer Pomeroy Tucker in the village of Palmyra, New York.

Brief Historical Setting

1829 June

Toward the end of June 1829, and having secured the copyright on June 11, 1829, Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, Hyrum Smith, and Martin Harris sought the services of Egbert B. Grandin of Palmyra to publish the manuscript. Negotiations began in June 1829. A momentary delay was experienced when Grandin initially refused on moral and religious grounds to print the volume. Eventually, Grandin’s primary concerns were satisfied, and he consented to publish the work.

Grandin asked that John H. Gilbert, an experienced printer, assist him in estimating the cost. Gilbert stated, “A few pages of the manuscript were submitted as a specimen of the whole, and it was said there would be about 500 pages” (ultimately there were 590 pages from the title page to the two-page testimonials of the Three and Eight Witnesses at the back of the 1830 edition). Gilbert further explained, “The size of the page was agreed upon, and an estimate of the number of ems [an ‘em’ is the unit measure of type, the width of the letter M] in a page which would be 1000, and that a page of manuscript would make more than a page of printed matter, which proved to be correct.” The resulting contract specified that Grandin would print and bind in leather five thousand copies for the sum of $3,000 (“Memorandum, made by John H. Gilbert Esq, Sept 8th, 1892,” King’s Daughters’ Free Library. Palmyra, New York).

Payment for the job was secured in a mortgage agreement between Martin Harris and E. B. Grandin on August 25, 1829. Harris was to pay the sum of $3,000 for the requisite copies within eighteen months “from the date hereof.” Should he fail to do so, his land would be sold at public auction to meet the demand. The press was situated in E. B. Grandin’s printing shop on the third story of the west bay of the newly constructed (1827-28) “Thayer & Grandin’s Row” (later “Exchange Row,” 1831). Grandin rented his quarters from his brother Philip Grandin and his partners. The binding process was to be conducted by Egbert Grandin’s partner, Luther Howard, on the second story of that same bay. Copies could then be made available for sale in Grandin’s Palmyra Bookstore on the first level.

In an 1847 publication, Frederick Follett quoted Pomeroy Tucker as contending that “the largest printing job ever done in it [Wayne County], was the first edition of Joe Smith’s ‘Book of Mormon,’ or the ‘Golden Bible.’ This was done at the office of the ‘Wayne Sentinel,’ by E. B. Grandin . . . in 1829-30 (History of the Press of Western New York. Rochester: Jerome & Brother, Daily American Office, 1847). The printing of five thousand copies was unusually large as press runs were ordinarily from five hundred to two thousand copies.

Preparations were made by Grandin to ready his printing shop. He went to New York to purchase the type and paper. To print and bind five thousand copies of the book required an increase in the number of workers at the press. Among the known members of the printing shop crew assembled by Grandin were (1) Pomeroy Tucker, “foreman of the office,” reader of the proof sheets, and a brother-in-law to Grandin; (2) John H. Gilbert, chief compositor (one who sets type, makes up pages and forms, and does some presswork); (3) William Van Camp, compositor; (4) Daniel Hendrix, periodic compositor and proofreader; (5) Jacob H. Bortles, presswork; (6) Thomas McAuley, or “Whistling Tom,” presswork; and (7) Franklin P. Rogers, a nine-year-old boy and youngest brother of Grandin’s wife Harriet, who was reported to have assisted in the typesetting process. Lucy Smith said that “a young Mr. Robinson son of our friend Dr. [Gain C.] Robinson,” was also involved in the printing shop. Luther Howard operated the bookbindery. One of Howard’s assistants was sixteen-year-old Albert Chandler, who recalled, “I was an apprentice in the bookbindery connected with the Sentinel office. I helped to collate and stitch the Gold Bible” (Linne, William Alexander. The Story of the Mormons. New York: Macmillan, 1902).

About the middle of August 1829, the printer was ready to begin typesetting. Martin Harris was notified. Hyrum Smith then brought the first installment of twenty-four pages from the larger “printer’s manuscript.” He had them buttoned under his vest and coat for security.

The Prophet remained in Palmyra through September 1829. Assured that the details of the publication had been arranged, he returned to Emma and his home in Harmony, Pennsylvania, on October 4. Oliver Cowdery was left to oversee their interests in the proofing and printing of the work with the assistance of Hyrum Smith and Martin Harris. Gilbert specified that “Oliver Cowdery was not engaged [employed] as a compositor on the work—was not a printer. He was a frequent visitor to the office, and did several times take up a ‘stick’ and set a part of a page—he may have set 10 or 12 pages, all told” (letter February 10, 1879). Gilbert also stipulated: “Cowdery held and looked over the manuscript when most of the proofs were read. Martin Harris once or twice, and Hyrum Smith once, Grandin supposing that these men could read their own writing as well, if not better, than anyone else; and if there are any discrepancies between the Palmyra edition and the manuscript these men should be held responsible” (“Memorandum, made by John H. Gilbert Esq, Sept 8th, 1892.” King’s Daughters’ Free Library. Palmyra, New York).

Most available information about the role of the compositor John Hulburt Gilbert (1802-1895) in the printing of the Book of Mormon comes from two letters written by Gilbert to James Cobb (10 February and 16 March 1879), and an 8 September 1892 memorandum. In these documents Gilbert stated that after Grandin agreed to publish the Book of Mormon, Hyrum Smith and Martin Harris brought him each morning the pages he was to set in type that day. Each night they retrieved the pages to guard against possible theft. Gilbert also noted that the prophet Joseph Smith entered the print shop only once, for a few minutes, during the entire course of the work.

The pages Hyrum and Martin brought Gilbert were nearly always pages from a second copy of the manuscript, called the printer’s copy, which Joseph had asked Oliver Cowdery to prepare. The original dictated manuscript was to remain in their keeping. In producing the printer’s copy, Oliver was to correct grammar and spelling errors found in the original manuscript, apparently because it had been written very rapidly. Gilbert could not merely replicate the printer’s copy but divided it into sentences and paragraphs because “every chapter, if I remember correctly, was one solid paragraph, without a punctuation mark, from beginning to end” (Wood, Wilford C., Joseph Smith Begins His Work [Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1963], 29). Both the original and printer’s copies show each chapter to be a solid paragraph with a period only at the end. When Gilbert asked Hyrum and Martin about sentences and paragraphs, they instructed him to make them as needed but not to change any words.

Gilbert’s claim of no punctuation is not entirely true because Oliver did add some punctuation, as an examination of the original translation copy shows. Pomeroy Tucker asserted that Gilbert “was given a limited discretion in correcting, which was exercised in the particulars of syntax, orthography, punctuation, capitalizing, paragraphing, etc.” (Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1867, 35).

It was no easy task to set the type, punctuate, and make the paragraphs for a five-hundred-page manuscript that Gilbert was permitted to see only in segments (the first segment was twenty-four pages long and included the title page). The whole procedure was ripe for error. But the most significant challenge Gilbert faced was his total ignorance of the book he had to set in type. Nearly all the people, places, and circumstances were totally unfamiliar to him. He had never heard of Moroni, or the Lamanites, or the Jaredites. He did not know who they were or what relationship any might have had to any other. Examination of the title page, which was reproduced from the printer’s copy, illustrates the difficulty. The entire page was written with indiscriminate capital letters and no periods. Slash marks indicated the ends of lines. Gilbert had to decide what words to place in the title, which in the subtitle, and what sizes of type he should set them in. When modern readers look at the printed page, it all seems so simple, but creating the printed page from a handwritten account without punctuation was no easy matter.

In his attempt “to make it read as I supposed the author intended” (Ibid., 29), Gilbert made a major error on the title page. Because he had not yet been able to read the book of Ether, he did not know that it was the record of the Jaredites, so he placed the statements about those people in two different paragraphs, as if they referred to two different records. This error was printed on the title page of the first edition of the Book of Mormon but was changed in the second edition printing in 1837. Finally, Gilbert requested and received permission to take the manuscript home and punctuated it at night so he could “get along faster in the day time,” for, as he explained, “now I have frequently to stop [setting type] and read half a page to find how to punctuate it” (“Memorandum, made by John H. Gilbert, September 8th, 1892.” King’s Daughters Library, Palmyra, New York). Gilbert promised to protect the pages and not leave them at the shop overnight.

Gilbert said he worked from August 1829 until early March 1830 before he had the Book of Mormon all set and printed. It went then to the bindery, and some bound copies became available for sale 26 March 1830.

John H. Gilbert performed an extremely valuable service to the Church in setting the type, punctuating the sentences, and building the paragraphs for the first edition of the Book of Mormon. All his obituaries note that Gilbert was most widely known as the typesetter for the first Book of Mormon.

Gilbert described the actual printing process: “The Bible [Book of Mormon] was printed 16 pages at a time, so that one sheet of paper made two copies of 16 pages each, requiring 2,500 sheets of paper for each form of 16 pages. There were 37 forms of 16 pages each—570 [590] pages in all” (“Memorandum, made by John H. Gilbert Esq. Sept 8th, 1892.” King’s Daughters’ Free Library. Palmyra, New York). A further explanation specified that “the ‘matter’ was ‘paged’ so that 32 pages could be printed at a time on one of Hoe’s ‘Smith’ six-column hand presses. After the sheets had been run through once and properly dried, they were reversed and printed on the other side. The bookbinder then folded them by hand and severed them with an ivory paper cutter. The result was that the 2,500 large sheets made 5,000 small sheets with 16 pages printed on each side” (New York Times, 26 February 1888, 16). The 37 forms of 16 pages each, having printing on both sides, made up eighteen and a half signatures in each book. Every form required 2,500 sheets of paper, for a total of 47,500 sheets of paper to print the consignment. It is estimated that the printer made 95,000 pulls of the lever during the seven months it took to print the volume.

Joseph had to return to Palmyra twice during the printing, in the late fall of 1829 and early in 1830 when he traveled to Palmyra to prevent a man named Abner Cole, using the pseudonym of Obadiah Dogberry Jun., from violating the copyright laws by publishing parts of the Book of Mormon in his weekly periodical, The Reflector. The unfinished work was still at the Grandin press, and The Reflector was printed at the same office. This provided ease of access to printed pages of the Book of Mormon.

Cole stated in his December 9, 1829 issue: “As much curiosity has been excited in this section of the country on the subject, and as the work itself will not be ready for delivery for some months to come, at the solicitation of many of our readers we have concluded to commence publishing extracts from it on or before the commencement of the second series” (57).


In the January 2, 1830 issue of The Reflector, Cole printed a portion of “The First Book of Nephi. His Reign and Ministry, Chapter 1,” containing the copy found in the first eleven paragraphs of the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon. And in the January 13 issue he printed the next four paragraphs. This was followed on January 22 by copy from the book of Alma (Alma 43:22-40).

Hyrum Smith, in company with Oliver Cowdery, became aware of Cole’s actions and requested that he desist. Cole, even with the threat of copyright violation, refused to comply. Joseph Smith, Sr. went to Harmony, Pennsylvania, to inform Joseph Smith, Jr. of the situation. The Prophet and his father returned to New York to stop the pilfering. Cole, a lawyer and former justice of the peace, finally acknowledged his vulnerability when Joseph again confronted him with his intrusion on the copyright. Lucy Smith said, “He made us no further trouble” in that regard (History of Joseph Smith by His Mother, Lucy Mack Smith. Edited by Preston Nibley. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1958, 166). But Cole continued to satirize the Book of Mormon and the Mormons in succeeding issues.

Lucy Smith said that “a party of restless religionists” (Ibid, 158) sponsored a boycott of the Book of Mormon during the printing process. They held a mass meeting, organized into a committee, and appointed persons to wait on E. B. Grandin and urged “the necessity of his putting a stop to the printing” (Ibid, 167). Grandin became concern that the boycott may prevent his being paid. The Prophet was again summoned from Harmony, Pennsylvania, to allay Grandin’s fears (Ibid., 158, 167). The boycott eventually proved effective in curtailing sales of the work within the community.

Because of this boycott, Martin Harris was forced to sell his property to pay the debt to Grandin. It is not known for a certainty if Martin Harris ever recovered the cost of printing the book.

1830 March

Finally, on March 26, 1830, the Book of Mormon was finished and offered for sale. To Martin Harris’s dismay, initial sales of the book were slow, as the Palmyra residents had boycotted it. Martin was consequently worried about the security of his investment. When Joseph came up from Harmony shortly after the publication, Martin was dejected and declared that he “must have a commandment.” After asking Joseph several times for a commandment, Joseph finally received a revelation on Martin’s behalf [D&C 19 -Eternal and Endless Punishment—Atonement].

- Michael J. Preece