|During translation of the Book of Mormon Joseph Smith read the following passage in 2 Nephi, “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. 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. 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.”1Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer, all men who had helped Joseph while translating the Book of Mormon, asked if Joseph would ask the Lord if they could be the three witnesses mentioned in the scripture.Joseph asked the Lord and was told that if they were faithful they would have the opportunity to see the plates, and the other items found with the plates, including the breastplate, Urim and Thumim, Liahona, and sword of Laban. They were told that after seeing these things they would be bound to testify of their reality to the world.When translation of the Book of Mormon was completed, Joseph sent word to his family, who traveled to Fayette bringing Martin Harris. The morning after his family and Martin Harris arrived, Joseph, Martin, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer went into the woods to pray. After two unsuccessful attempts at receiving revelation Martin excused himself from the group to go and pray privately. The other three continued to pray, and the angel Moroni appeared to them holding the gold plates. Joseph recorded the experience, “He turned over the leaves one by one, so that we could see them, and discern the engravings thereon distinctly…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 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 cried out, apparently in an ecstasy of joy, ’tis enough; ’tis enough; mine eyes have beheld; mine eyes have beheld.’”2The four returned home and Joseph expressed relief at having others to bear witness that he was telling the truth. A couple of days later, eight other men were chosen to see the plates as witnesses. These men were Joseph Smith Sr., Hyrum Smith, Samuel Smith, Christian Whitmer, Jacob Whitmer, Peter Whitmer, John Whitmer and Hiram Page. Joseph was allowed to show these men the plates and let them hold them and look at the characters on the pages. The testimonies of the three witnesses as well as of the eight witnesses can now be found in the beginning of the Book of Mormon. Of these eleven witnesses, six eventually left the Church, but none ever denied their witness of the Book of Mormon and often defended it.
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1 2 Nephi 27:12-14. Book of Mormon
2 History of the Church, 1:54-55