Book of Mormon/Witnesses/"Eye of Faith" and "Spiritual Eye" statements by Martin Harris

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    Martin Harris' "Eye of Faith" and "Spiritual Eye" statements

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Gentlemen, do you see that hand? Are you sure you see it? Are your eyes playing a trick or something? No. Well, as sure as you see my hand so sure did I see the angel and the plates.

—Martin Harris, quoted in "Statement of William M. Glenn to O. E. Fischbacher," May 30, 1943, Cardston, Alberta, Canada, cited in Deseret News, October 2, 1943.
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It is not a mere belief, but is a matter of knowledge. I saw the plates and the inscriptions thereon. I saw the angel, and he showed them unto me.

—Martin Harris, quoted in Robert Aveson, "Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon," Deseret News, April 2, 1927.
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Well, just as plain as you see that chopping block, I saw the plates; and sooner than I would deny it I would lay my head upon that chopping block and let you chop it off.

—Martin Harris, quoted in "Statement of Comfort Elizabeth Godfrey Flinders to N. B. Lundwall," September 2, 1943, Ogden, Utah, cited in Assorted Gems of Priceless Value.
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I know what I know. I have seen what I have seen, and I have heard what I have heard. I have seen the gold plates...An angel appeared to me and others.

—Martin Harris, quoted in "Affidavit of George Godfrey, October 29, 1921, original still held by attesting notary John J. Shumway, Garland, Utah.

Questions


Martin Harris sometimes told people that he did not see the golden plates and the angel with his natural eyes but rather with “spiritual eyes” or the “eye of faith.”

John A. Clark, a former pastor who considered Joseph Smith a fraud and the Book of Mormon “an imposture,” states,

To know how much this testimony [of three witnesses] is worth I will state one fact. A gentleman in Palmyra, bred to the law, a professor of religion, and of undoubted veracity told me that on one occasion, he appealed to Harris and asked him directly,-”Did you see those plates?” Harris replied, he did. “Did you see the plates, and the engraving on them with your bodily eyes?” Harris replied, “Yes, I saw them with my eyes,-they were shown unto me by the power of God and not of man.” “But did you see them with your natural,-your bodily eyes, just as you see this pencil-case in my hand? Now say no or yes to this.” Harris replied,-”Why I did not see them as I do that pencil-case, yet I saw them with the eye of faith; I saw them just as distinctly as I see any thing around me,-though at the time they were covered over with a cloth.

(“Martin Harris interviews with John A. Clark, 1827 & 1828,” Early Mormon Documents 2:270.)

To see citations to the critical sources for these claims, click here

See FairMormon Evidence:
A collection of all known statements related to Martin Harris's witness of the Book of Mormon

Answer


The source cited is “Martin Harris interviews with John A. Clark, 1827 & 1828,” Early Mormon Documents 2:270. However, rather than being an interview between Clark and Harris, as implied by the title of reference work using in the citation, Clark’s actual statement clearly says that he received his information from a “gentleman in Palmyra…a professor of religion,” who said that he had talked with Harris. This is not an interview between Clark and Harris.

Larry E. Morris notes that the “claim that ‘Harris told John A. Clark’ is not accurate. This is not secondhand testimony but thirdhand—’he said that he said that he said.’….As if that weren’t enough, Clark does not name his source—making it impossible to judge that person’s honesty or reliability. What we have is a thirdhand, anonymous account of what Martin Harris supposedly said.” (Larry E. Morris, FARMS Review, Vol. 15, Issue 1.)

Note also that the date assigned to these comments places them prior to the publication of the Book of Mormon, yet Clark’s statement appears to include elements from both before and after Harris viewed the plates as a witness. Harris “saw them” with his eyes when he acted as one of the Three Witnesses, but he only saw them through the “eye of faith” when they were covered with a cloth prior to his being a witness. Clark’s third-hand hostile relation of another hostile source, makes no distinction between these events, and instead portrays Harris as contradicting himself.

When Martin Harris said that he had seen the angel and the plates with his "spiritual eyes" or with an "eye of faith" he may have simply been employing some scriptural language that he was familiar with. Such statements do not mean that the angel and the plates were imaginary, hallucinatory, or just an inner mental image—the earliest accounts of Martin Harris' testimony makes the literal nature of the experience unmistakable.

Rather than being hallucinatory or "merely" spiritual, Martin claimed that the plates and angel were seen by physical eyes that had been enhanced by the power of God to view more objects than a mortal could normally see (cf. DC 76:12; DC 67:10-13).

Those who claim otherwise do not provide their readers with all of Martin's statements, distorting the historical record.

Detailed Analysis

Some wish to make it appear as though the statements made by Martin Harris about the Three Witnesses’ manifestation discount its reality. Doing so pulls Brother Harris’ statements out of their proper context. This vital viewpoint can be regained by simply taking a look at several passages from the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants—which all predate Martin’s public statements about the nature of his experience.

Early hostile accounts disagree

An early hostile account of the three witnesses' testimony from February 1830 is instructive:

In the Investigator, No. 12, Dec. 11, I published, by way of caution, a letter of Oliver H.P. Cowdry, in answer to my letter to Joseph Smith, Jun. Martin Harris, and David Whitmore—the believers in said bible of gold plates—which they affirm they have miraculously, or supernaturally beheld. I sought for evidences, and such as could not be disputed, of the existence of this bible of golden plates. But the answer was—the world must take their words for its existence; and that the book would appear this month.[1]

Clearly, the author here uses "supernatural" as a synonym for "miraculous," not an attempt to argue that the plates do not literally exist, since "their words" are intended as "evidences...for its existence."

Furthermore, Martin Harris' testimony is reported in a mocking newspaper article, which still makes it clear that Harris' experience was tangible and literal:

Martin Harris, another chief of Mormon imposters, arrived here last Saturday from the bible quarry in New-York. He immediately planted himself in the bar-room of the hotel, where he soon commenced reading and explaining the Mormon hoax, and all the dark passages from Genesis to Revelations. He told all about the gold plates, Angels, Spirits, and Jo Smith.—He had seen and handled them all, by the power of God! [2]

The scriptural witnesses

Ether 5:2–3

This prophetic passage had a direct application to Martin Harris as one of the Three Witnesses. It said: “the plates . . . . unto three shall they be shown by the power of God

DC 5:11,13,24–26

“unto [three of my servants] I will show these things . . . . I will give them power that they may behold and view these things as they are.” Speaking specifically of Martin Harris: “then will I grant unto him a view of the things which he desires to see. And then he shall say unto the people of this generation: Behold, I have seen the things which the Lord hath shown unto Joseph Smith, Jun., and I know of a surety that they are true, for I have seen them, for they have been shown unto me by the power of God and not of man. And I the Lord command him, my servant Martin Harris, that he shall say no more unto them concerning these things, except he shall say: I have seen them, and they have been shown unto me by the power of God; and these are the words which he shall say.”

DC 17:1–3,5

All three of the witnesses were told: “you shall have a view of the plates . . . . And it is by your faith that you shall obtain a view of them, even by that faith which was had by the prophets of old . . . . And after that you have obtained faith, and have seen them with your eyes, you shall testify of them . . . . And ye shall testify that you have seen them, even as my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., has seen them; for it is by my power that he has seen them, and it is because he had faith

From these scriptural texts it is evident that:

  • The Three Witnesses were required by God to exercise faith like “the prophets of old” in order to view the angel and the plates (cf. Moroni 7:37; DC 20:6).
  • God would exercise His power to enable the Three Witnesses to see things that were not usually visible to mortal eyes.
  • Nevertheless, the Three Witnesses would see the angel and the plates “with [their] eyes” and “as they are” in objective reality.

Contemporary witnesses

Joseph Smith was an eyewitness to what Martin Harris said at the exact moment that the manifestation took place. He reported that Martin's words were: "Tis enough; mine eyes have beheld". [3] Another eyewitness, named Alma Jensen, saw Martin Harris point to his physical eyes while testifying that he had seen both the angel and the plates. [4]

Oliver Cowdery wrote a letter to a skeptical author in November 1829, and spoke for both himself and Harris on the question of whether there was some trickery or "juggling" at work:

"It was a clear, open beautiful day, far from any inhabitants, in a remote field, at the time we saw the record, of which it has been spoken, brought and laid before us, by an angel, arrayed in glorious light, [who] ascend [descended I suppose] out of the midst of heaven. Now if this is human juggling—judge ye".[5]

David Whitmer helps clear up the "spiritual" vs. "natural" viewing of the plates. Responding to the questions of Anthony Metcalf (the same Metcalf who interviewed Harris) Whitmer wrote:

In regards to my testimony to the visitation of the angel, who declared to us three witnesses that the Book of Mormon is true, I have this to say: Of course we were in the spirit when we had the view, for no man can behold the face of an angel, except in a spiritual view, but we were in the body also, and everything was as natural to us, as it is at any time. Martin Harris, you say, called it 'being in vision.' We read in the Scriptures, Cornelius saw, in a vision, an angel of God. Daniel saw an angel in a vision; also in other places it states they saw an angel in the spirit. A bright light enveloped us where we were, that filled at noon day, and there in a vision, or in the spirit, we saw and heard just as it is stated in my testimony in the Book of Mormon. I am now passed eighty-two years old, and I have a brother, J. J. Snyder, to do my writing for me, at my dictation. [Signed] David Whitmer. [6]

And to leave absolutely no doubt about the nature of the manifestation Whitmer explained, "I was not under any hallucination . . . . I saw with these eyes." [7]

Early hostile newspapers claimed that the witnesses' descriptions did not match, but were clear that both Harris and Whitmer had at some point physically handled and examined the plates:

Whitmar’s [sic] description of the Book of Mormon, differs entirely from that given by Harris; both of whom it would seem have been of late permitted, not only to see and handle it, but to examine its contents. Whitmar relates that he was led by Smith into an open field, on his father’s farm near Waterloo, when they found the book lying on the ground; Smith took it up and requested him to examine it, which he did for the space of half an hour or more, when he returned it to Smith, who placed it in its former position, alledging that the book was in the custody of another, intimating that some Divine agent would have it in safe keeping. [8]

David, like Martin, had been charged with being deluded into thinking he had seen an angel and the plates. One observer remembers when David was so accused, and said:

How well and distinctly I remember the manner in which Elder Whitmer arose and drew himself up to his full height--a little over six feet--and said, in solemn and impressive tones: "No sir! I was not under any hallucination, nor was I deceived! I saw with these eyes, and I heard with these ears! I know whereof I speak!" (Joseph Smith III, et al., Interview, July 1884, Richmond Missouri, in Lyndon W. Cook, David Whitmer Interviews, 134-35) [9]

On another occasion in which Whitmer was asked about the plates, the interviewer recorded:

He then explained that he saw the plates, and with his natural eyes, but he had to be prepared for it--that he and the other witnesses were overshadowed by the power of God and a halo of brightness indescribable. ("David Whitmer Interview with Nathan Tanner, Jr., 13 May 1886," Early Mormon Documents, Dan Vogel (editor) 5:166)

Paul understood the difficulty of describing spiritual experiences when he wrote:

I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) 2 Corinthians 12:2

Paul's vision was real, yet he was unsure whether he had the experience in or out of his body. Harris may have felt a similar experience. He knew the plates were real, yet he also knew that when the angel showed him the plates he was only able to see them by the power of God. On a separate occasion Harris testified to the reality of his vision. The scene as recorded by Edward Stevenson was instrumental in getting Harris to re-enter the Church.

On one occasion several of his old acquaintances made an effort to get him tipsy by treating him to some wine. When they thought he was in a good mood for talk they put the question very carefully to him, "Well, now, Martin, we want you to be frank and candid with us in regard to this story of your seeing an angel and the golden plates of the Book of Mormon that are so much talked about. We have always taken you to be an honest good farmer and neighbor of ours but could not believe that you did see an angel. Now, Martin, do you really believe that you did see an angel, when you were awake?" "No," said Martin, "I do not believe it." The crowd were delighted, but soon a different feeling prevailed, as Martin true to his trust, said, "Gentlemen, what I have said is true, from the fact that my belief is swallowed up in knowledge; for I want to say to you that as the Lord lives I do know that I stood with the Prophet Joseph Smith in the presence of the angel, and it was the brightness of day." (Letter of Elder Edward Stevenson to the Millennial Star quoted in William Edwin Berrett, The Restored Church (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1974), 57–58.)

Choice of phrase

The only question that remains, then, is why Martin Harris used the particular phraseology that he did in describing his experience. Perhaps the answer lies in another passage found in the book of Ether 12:19 (created by June 1829). Here it is noted that those people who have "exceedingly strong" faith can see things "within the veil." But even though they see things in the spiritual realm "with their eyes" it is described as beholding things with "an eye of faith."

Another possibility can be seen in the text of Moses 1:11 (created in June 1830). It reads:

"But now mine own eyes have beheld God; but not my natural, but my spiritual eyes, for my natural eyes could not have beheld; for I should have withered and died in his presence; but his glory was upon me; and I beheld his face."

This dovetails nicely with the description of David Whitmer who "explained that he saw the plates, and with his natural eyes, but he had to be prepared for it—that he and the other witnesses were overshadowed by the power of God." [10]

Other accounts

Harris made his views clear in other statements, and they do not match the critics' reading:

When in England to preach for an LDS splinter group, Martin Harris was ejected from a meeting of Latter-day Saints. He left, and began to loudly criticize the Church leadership. Critics of Mormonism arrived quickly:

When we came out of the meeting Martin Harris was beset with a crowd in the street, expecting he would furnish them with material to war against Mormonism; but when asked if Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, he answered yes; and when asked if the Book of Mormon was true, this was his answer: "Do you know that is the sun shining on us? Because as sure as you know that, I know that Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, and that he translated that book by the power of God." [11]

An LDS author reported in 1870:

On one occasion several of his old acquaintances made an effort to get him tipsy by treating him to some wine. When they thought he was in a good mood for talk they put the question very carefully to him, ‘Well, now, Martin, we want you to be frank and candid with us in regard to this story of your seeing an angel and the golden plates of the Book of Mormon that are so much talked about. We have always taken you to be an honest good farmer and neighbor of ours but could not believe that you did see an angel. Now, Martin, do you really believe that you did see an angel, when you were awake?’ ‘No,’ said Martin, ‘I do not believe it.’ The crowd were delighted, but soon a different feeling prevailed, as Martin true to his trust, said, ‘Gentlemen, what I have said is true, from the fact that my belief is swallowed up in knowledge; for I want to say to you that as the Lord lives I do know that I stood with the Prophet Joseph Smith in the presence of the angel, and it was the brightness of day.” [12]

And, at his death, Harris reported:

The Book of Mormon is no fake. I know what I know. I have seen what I have seen and I have heard what I have heard. I have seen the gold plates from which the Book of Mormon is written. An angel appeared to me and others and testified to the truthfulness of the record, and had I been willing to have perjured myself and sworn falsely to the testimony I now bear I could have been a rich man, but I could not have testified other than I have done and am now doing for these things are true. [13]


Notes


  1. C. C. Blatchley, “Caution Against the Golden Bible,” New-York Telescope 6, no. 38 (20 February 1830): 150. off-site
  2. Martin Harris . . .,” Painesville Telegraph (Painesville, Ohio) 2, no. 39 (15 March 1831).
  3. NeedAuthor, Times and Seasons 3 no. 21 (1 September 1842), 898. off-site GospeLink (requires subscrip.)
  4. Autobiography of Alma L. Jensen, 1932.
  5. Oliver Cowdery and Martin Harris, in letter dated 29 November 1829, quoted in Corenlius C. Blatchly, "THE NEW BIBLE, written on plates of Gold or Brass," Gospel Luminary 2/49 (10 Dec. 1829): 194. (emphasis added)
  6. Anthony Metcalf, Ten Years Before the Mast (Malad, Idaho: A. Metcalf, 1888), 74.
  7. Palmyra Reflector, 19 March 1831; cited in The Saints' Herald, 28 January 1936.
  8. “Gold Bible, No. 6,” The Reflector (Palmyra, New York) 2, no. 16 (19 March 1831): 126–27. off-site
  9. Joseph Smith III visited David Whitmer in 1884, along with a committee from the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and several onlookers. According to Joseph III's memoirs, one of the non-believers there was a military officer, who suggested the possibility that Whitmer "had been mistaken and had simply been moved upon by some mental disturbance or hallucination, which had deceived him into thinking he saw" the angel and the plates. Joseph III's recollection of Whitmer's response is quoted above. See Memoirs of Joseph Smith III, cited in Mary Audentia Smith Anderson, Joseph Smith III and the Restoration (Independence, MO: 1952), pp. 311-12. Cited in Richard Lloyd Anderson, Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1981), 88. ISBN 0877478465.
  10. Nathan Tanner Jr. Journal, 13 April 1886.
  11. Matthew Roper, "Comments on the Book of Mormon Witnesses: A Response to Jerald and Sandra Tanner," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 2/2 (1993): 164–193. wiki citing George Mantle to Marietta Walker, 26 December 1888, Saint Catherine, Missouri, cited in Autumn Leaves 2 (1889): 141.
  12. Letter of Elder Edward Stevenson to the Millennial Star quoted in William Edwin Berrett, The Restored Church (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1974), 57–58.
  13. George Godfrey, “Testimony of Martin Harris,” from an unpublished manuscript copy in the possession of his daughter, Florence (Godfrey) Munson of Fielding, Utah; quoted in Eldin Ricks, The Case of the Book of Mormon Witnesses (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1971), 65–66.


Further reading and additional sources responding to these claims

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