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The Application of the Law of Witnesses in 2 Nephi 27 and 28

A Video Supplement for
Come, Follow Me Book of Mormon Lesson 9:
“A Marvelous Work and a Wonder” (2 Nephi 26-30)

 

 

Transcript

In 2 Nephi 27, Nephi describes the witnesses who will testify of the Book of Mormon. This is in many respects parallel to something he has done earlier in which he has used his own testimony together with those of Jacob and Isaiah to testify to his people as well as his later readers of the Messiah. In this case, however, what is being witnessed is The Book of Mormon. I will first give a brief background on the Law of Witnesses in the scriptures following my earlier comments, and then discuss the implications.

The latter part of 2 Corinthians 13:1 states the Law of Witnesses succinctly as, “…In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.” Deuteronomy 19:15 states the principle in its legal context, “One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established.” Numbers 35:30 does likewise, but gives a more specific legal requirement for capital murder cases, “Whoso killeth any person, the murderer shall be put to death by the mouth of witnesses: but one witness shall not testify against any person to cause him to die.” The gist of all this is that before a fact can be established upon which any person shall be judged for there life, the fact must be attested to by two or three witnesses.

2 Nephi 27:

12 Wherefore, at that day when the book shall be delivered unto the man of whom I have spoken, the book shall be hid from the eyes of the world, that the eyes of none shall behold it save it be that three witnesses shall behold it, by the power of God, besides him to whom the book shall be delivered; and they shall testify to the truth of the book and the things therein.

These scriptures establish several important ideas: First, God directed that the Book of Mormon must be attested by three witnesses who should see it by the power of God. This is indeed what we have in the Three Witnesses. They testified, “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.” Joseph Smith also participated in both of the occasions—once with Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer, and a separate time with Martin Harris—so that in each of these showings of the plates the Law of Witnesses was individually observed as well. It is worth noting that at various times each of the witnesses were estranged from the Church and all of them continued to bear testimony that they had seen an angel and heard the voice of God tell them that the translation is true.

Continuing with verse 13,

13 And there is none other which shall view it, save it be a few according to the will of God, to bear testimony of his word unto the children of men; for the Lord God hath said that the words of the faithful should speak as if it were from the dead.

A Book of Mormon Central KnoWhy comments on the question of why there were eight (https://knowhy.bookofmormoncentral.org/knowhy/who-are-the-few-who-were-permitted-to-see-the-plates). 1 Peter 3:20, describes those who survived Noah’s flood, “Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.” Thus one reasonable idea is that Joseph took that verse as backing for few being eight people, so he showed the plates to eight people.

Continuing with verse 14,

14 Wherefore, the Lord God will proceed to bring forth the words of the book; and in the mouth of as many witnesses as seemeth him good will he establish his word; and wo be unto him that rejecteth the word of God!

In this verse, it is stated that the Lord will provide as many witnesses as seemeth him good. As discussed in a recent Interpreter Roundtable (https://interpreterfoundation.org/cfm-audio-roundtable-come-follow-me-book-of-mormon-lesson-9/) it seems like God chose a few witnesses of his own. Mary Whitmer, for example, was shown the plates by the angel (https://journal.interpreterfoundation.org/another-account-of-mary-whitmers-viewing-of-the-golden-plates/) to strengthen her faith while she was carrying the added burden resulting from Joseph, Emma, and Oliver living at their home carrying out the work of translation. A number of others including Emma, and other members of the Smith family and some visitors felt or moved the plates while they were covered in connection with the translation. Beyond these, however, the Church of Jesus Christ has at no point in its history lacked for witnesses of the Book of Mormon because whatever curious theories unbelieving men may concoct, theories don’t dictate 532-page books. Thus the Book of Mormon itself, its existence, its ancient content and literary devices, its internal consistency and profoundly powerful witness of Christ is its own tangible witness, available for the interrogation of the honest in heart from that day to this. There is, in addition to these, the witness of the Holy Ghost which has been received by millions of the book’s divine endorsement and together with its recognized capacity to change human lives for the better. The last part of the verse ought to humble us: ” and wo be unto him that rejecteth the word of God!” With so many witnesses, if we do not choose to believe God’s witnesses and repent, we put ourselves at risk of the judgement of God. The legal context of the Law of Witnesses is that there should be two or three witnesses if one is to be tried for life, and in the Book of Mormon, God is fulfilling this requirement preparatory to bringing the world to judgement based on their response. The Book of Mormon with the Bible also serve together as witnesses agreeable to this law. 2 Nephi 29:8 states, “Wherefore murmur ye, because that ye shall receive more of my word? Know ye not that the testimony of two nations is a witness unto you that I am God, that I remember one nation like unto another? Wherefore, I speak the same words unto one nation like unto another. And when the two nations shall run together the testimony of the two nations shall run together also.”

The witnesses are arrayed, and we must be prepared to answer for what we have done in response to their witnesses at the bar of God.

1 Corinthians 15:

3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:
5 And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve:
6 After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.
7 After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles.
8 And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.

2 Nephi 28:14:

14 They wear stiff necks and high heads; yea, and because of pride, and wickedness, and abominations, and whoredoms, they have all gone astray save it be a few, who are the humble followers of Christ; nevertheless, they are led, that in many instances they do err because they are taught by the precepts of men.
15 O the wise, and the learned, and the rich, that are puffed up in the pride of their hearts, and all those who preach false doctrines, and all those who commit whoredoms, and pervert the right way of the Lord, wo, wo, wo be unto them, saith the Lord God Almighty, for they shall be thrust down to hell!

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