One of the most solid and respected veteran scholars of the Church, the impeccable Richard Lloyd Anderson, gave the Neal. A. Maxwell lecture at BYU on March 20, 2009, where he offered his insights about the authenticity and integrity of the New Testament record. His lecture was just published in the Farms Review of Books, Vol. 21, No. 2, 2009. He points out some serious errors by modern scholars who say that the story of the Gospels are not based on eye-witness accounts but evolved from story-telling over decades. He also turns to the Joseph Smith story, including the First Vision and the Book of Mormon. He is most well known for his work dealing with the latter, for he has been a leader in collecting and analyzing extensive records dealing with the witnesses to the Book of Mormon. His scholarship has amply refuted the allegations of critics regarding the witnesses and has shown with overwhelming evidence that these primary witnesses never denied their witness of the Book of Mormon, even when some had left the Church over other issues, and even when they had nothing to gain and everything to lose for their stand.
One relatively unknown tidbit that Brother Anderson shared comes from an 1871 notebook by William McLellin. The notebook was long missing and only recently acquired by Brent Ashworth. It describes a scene in 1833 when McLellin was being sought by mobs in Missouri, shortly after Bishop Partridge had been tarred and feathered. Armed men were out looking for McLellin and Oliver Cowdery, who were in hiding in woods west of Independence. They met with David Whitmer there, and McLellin recalls his conversation there with two of the Three Witnesses in those dire circumstances, facing death for their religion:
I said to them, “brethren I never have seen an open vision in my life, but you men say you have, and therefore you positively know. Now you know that our lives are in danger every hour, if the mob can catch us. Tell me in the fear of God, is that book of Mormon true?” Cowdery looked at me with solemnity depicted in his face, and said, “Brother William, God sent his holy Angel to declare the truth of the translation of it to us, and therefore we know. And though the mob kill us, yet we must die declaring its truth.” David said, “Oliver has told you the solemn truth, for we could not be deceived. I most truly declare to you its truth!!” Said I, boys I believe you. I can see no object for you to tell me falsehood now, when our lives are endangered.”
The faithful and adamant testimony of the Book of Mormon from every witness of the gold plates, to the end of their lives, is one of the most insurmountable barriers yet to be scaled by those who claim there were no plates, no angel, no divine record translated by the power of God, but merely a fraud concocted by a charlatan. As one observer (can you remind me who?) quipped, it’s one thing to talk about seeing an angel, but it’s quite a different thing to introduce him to your friends.
Here is the Testimony of the Three Witnesses, three honorable and respected men who experienced the miracle of the Angel Moroni showing them the gold plates and declaring that it was of God.
THE TESTIMONY OF THREE WITNESSES
Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That we, through the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, have seen the plates which contain this record, which is a record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites, their brethren, and also of the people of Jared, who came from the tower of which hath been spoken. And we also know that they have been translated by the gift and power of God, for his voice hath declared it unto us; wherefore we know of a surety that the work is true. And we also testify that we have seen the engravings which are upon the plates; and they have been shown unto us by the power of God, and not of man. And we declare with words of soberness, that an angel of God came down from heaven, and he brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld and saw the plates, and the engravings thereon; and we know that it is by the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, that we beheld and bear record that these things are true. And it is marvelous in our eyes. Nevertheless, the voice of the Lord commanded us that we should bear record of it; wherefore, to be obedient unto the commandments of God, we bear testimony of these things. And we know that if we are faithful in Christ, we shall rid our garments of the blood of all men, and be found spotless before the judgment-seat of Christ, and shall dwell with him eternally in the heavens. And the honor be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen.
There were others also, such as the Eight Witnesses, who saw the plates under less miraculous conditions and testified of their reality, never departing from that. So who were these witnesses, and what is the importance of their persistent, consistent, and insistent eyewitness accounts? It’s worth considering.