Friday, March 28, 2014

Why I Believe: Evidence Eleven: Joseph Smith's Testimony Of Jesus Christ: Part 2, The Law Of Witnesses And Faith

101 Reasons Why I Believe Joseph Smith Was A Prophet

Evidence Eleven: 
Joseph Smith’s Testimony Of Jesus Christ: Part 2, The Law Of Witnesses And Faith© 

The Law of Witnesses

In the Church we talk a lot about the “law of witnesses.”  What exactly is it and why is it important?  The law of witnesses was expressed in its most elementary form in precisely the same words by both Jesus and Paul, when they said, “in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.”(1) This is a matter of both civil and religious law in the Bible.  In the Deuteronomy reference, charges of iniquity had to be substantiated by two or three witnesses.  Similar principles guide our present legal system.  In religion the principle extends to the words and works of God–they are to be “established” by accredited witnesses. Some relevant definitions of “establish” are: to put on a firm or stable basis, to show to be valid or true, to prove, to cause to be accepted or recognized.  All of these and perhaps more are the work of witnesses in the Church and kingdom of God.  But why?  How does it work?  And what has all of this got to do with Joseph Smith and the various aspects of his calling?

The Purpose and Importance of Witnesses

There are a number of answers to the above questions.  In this essay we will focus on perhaps the most basic purpose for witnesses–the establishment of faith.  In the book of Romans the Apostle Paul taught a principle that isn’t clearly understood by many, but which is vital to understanding the role of witnesses, particularly that of Joseph Smith.  In chapter 10 he taught:
13) For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.  14) How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?  15) And how shall they preach, except they be sent? .... 17) So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.(2)
There is a sequence toward faith outlined here by Paul:
  1. If you call on the name of the Lord you shall be saved.
  2. How can you call on Him in whom you have not believed?
  3. How can you believe unless you have heard about Him?
  4. How can you hear unless God sends someone to tell you?
  5. Principle: Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
Joseph Smith clarified the principle when he said, “Faith comes by hearing the word of God, through the testimony of the servants of God; that testimony is always attended by the Spirit of prophecy and revelation.”(3) On another occasion he taught that “Salvation cannot come without revelation,” and “Whenever salvation has been administered, it has been by testimony.”(4)

Paul also taught that faith is built upon evidence.  Hebrews 11:1 says “faith is ... the evidence of things not seen.”  The testimony of eye witnesses becomes evidence and that evidence is intended to generate faith to believe, accept, and act.  Without getting too involved in a philosophical  discussion, it is important to remember that in the gospel context, evidence is not just physical evidence, it may include spiritual evidence as well. Thus Paul speaks of revelation in this sense.  “But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit.... For what man knoweth the things of a man,  save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.”(5) According to Joseph Smith the Spirit of God will attend the testimony of one legitimately sent as a witness to testify of something and confirm that testimony by revelation.

So, as we saw in part 1 of this series, Peter taught Cornelius that he (Peter) had been 1) sent, 2) was an especially chosen eyewitness, 3) he was commanded to testify of what he had seen, 4) all the prophets were likewise witnesses of Christ, and 5) following his testimony the Spirit fell upon Peter’s audience just as Joseph Smith said.(6)  As an aside, we have in these two New Testament passages and Joseph’s simple commentary, another significant evidence of his great ability to understand, interpret, and teach the Holy Scriptures.

These principles are taught in other ways in several passages of scripture.   Christ’s final charge to his disciples as found in Matthew 28 illustrates this pattern:
19) Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; 20) Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you....(7)
Notice the sequence–teach, baptize, teach.  There are different Greek words for each of the words translated into English as “teach”.  In Greek they mean different things. These ideas are highlighted for us in the footnotes of the LDS edition of the KJV. Footnote 19a tells us that the first “teach” means to preach or make disciples. As we see in these examples this is done by the teaching and testimony of the missionary. Then they are baptized, after which they are taught again and footnote 20a tells us that this is “post-baptismal teaching.” Investigators do not have to know everything about the gospel before they are baptized. They need to hear the basics and the testimony of a properly authorized and sent “witness.” Once the Holy Ghost confirms the teachings and testimony, they are baptized.  When they are in the Church they will be taught the fulness of the gospel throughout the rest of their lives. That is the proper manner of building faith in investigators to bring them to Christ.

Here is a precious example from the book of Moroni chapter 7:
30) For behold, they [angels] are subject unto him [God], to minister according to the word of his command, showing themselves unto them of strong faith and a firm mind in every form of godliness.  31) And the office of their ministry is to call men unto repentance, and to fulfill and do the work of the covenants of the Father, which he hath made unto the children of men, to prepare the way among the children of men, by declaring the word of Christ unto the chosen vessels of the Lord, that they may bear testimony of him. 32) And by so doing, the Lord God prepareth the way that the residue of men [mankind] may have faith in Christ, that the Holy Ghost may have place in their hearts, according to the power thereof....(8)
Once again lets analyze the sequence:
  1. The office of angels is to show themselves unto “them of strong faith and a firm mind in every form of godliness,”–“chosen vessels of the Lord”--prophets and apostles.
  2. Angels are to call men to repentance and “prepare the way among the children of men, by declaring the word of Christ unto the chosen vessels of the Lord, that the chosen vessels may bear testimony of him. 
  3. And by so doing, the Lord God prepares the way that mankind may have faith in Christ, that the Holy Ghost may have place in their hearts, according to the power thereof, just as Joseph Smith explained. 
When we discuss Joseph Smith as a seer we will have occasion to refer back to this passage. The point here, however, is that the sequence is the same in different scenarios. Here the witness sees angels and hears their words and then testifies of what he has seen and heard. This testimony becomes evidence to their audience–the residue of men–and is a potential source of faith when it is believed and the Holy Ghost confirms it.

Joseph Smith's Witness And Testimony

What does this all have to do with our theme relative to Joseph Smith’s various assignments as a prophet, apostle, translator, seer, revelator, and presiding elder? In each of these roles Joseph Smith acted as a divinely “sent” witness of Christ and his gospel. I have set myself the task to examine the evidence that he did so in each of these roles. As a prophet he will teach and testify about Christ by the spirit of prophecy and revelation.  As an apostle we will see him as a special “sent” witness of Christ and his resurrection.  As a seer he will truly become a witness of many things central to Christ and his gospel and as a revelator he will open to us the Lord’s plan of salvation based upon the infinite atonement of Jesus Christ. As a translator we will see him bring us more testimony of ancient prophets and apostles than any other single prophet or apostle in the history of the world. Indeed, more than the top three combined, if not the top five. As presiding elder over the Dispensation of the Fulness of times and of the Church and Kingdom of God upon the earth, he will be the preeminent witness in and to this dispensation. Cumulatively this study will constitute what I think is the superstructure of the most profound evidence of Joseph Smith’s divine calling(s).

Thank God for Joseph Smith.

Lets think together again, soon


1. Mt. 18:16; 2 Cor. 13:1; see also Deut. 19:15; Eth. 5:4; D&C 6:28, and 128:3.  Elder Robert D. Hales has written: “God established the divine law of witnesses so that there would be witnesses to attest to the significant bestowals and proclamations that affected the people on earth.”   Robert D. Hales, “Oliver Cowdery,” in Heroes of the Restoration, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997), p. 14.  On pages 14-15 he lists nine tests to apply to witnesses to determine their legitimacy and credibility.

2.   Rom. 10:13-17, all emphasis added.

3.  Joseph Smith, TPJS, p. 148; HC 3:379, 27 June 1839.    Compare also 2 Ne. 33:1 and D&C 100:7-8.  

4.   Joseph Smith, TPJS, p. 160; HC 3:389-90, 2 July 1839.

5.  1 Cor. 2:10-11.  Several significant passages referring to the importance of evidence are in The Book of Mormon at: Al. 30:40-14; Hel. 5:50, and 8:24.  See also Lectures on Faith, lectures 2-4.  Several General Authorities have addressed the relationship between evidence and faith.   For example: Orson Pratt, “True Faith,” in N. B. Lundwall, Lectures on Faith, (Salt Lake City: n.p. n.d) pp. 70-71, “The Kingdom of God,” in Orson Pratt’s Works on the Doctrines of the Gospel, (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1945), pp. 48-49;  Jedediah M. Grant, JD 2:273, 3:278; James E. Talmage, Articles of Faith,(Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1975), pp 100-101; Harold B. Lee, Youth and the Church, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1970), p. 75; Gene R. Cook, Living by the Power of Faith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1985), p. 57.

6.  Acts 10:34-45.

7. Mt. 28:19-20.

8.  Moroni 7:30-32, all emphasis added.

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