The Book of Ether in the Book of Mormon states that the plates would be shown to certain individuals "who shall assist to bring forth this work." It also said that three would be "shown [the plates] by the power of God." Smith later said he was told, "that you should not show them except to those persons to whom I commanded you" (Doctrine and Covenants 5:3).
Aside from the Three Witnesses who were shown the plates by the power of God, Smith apparently was told to show them to eight others, who are known as the "Eight Witnesses."
The Eight Witnesses were Christian Whitmer, Jacob Whitmer, Peter Whitmer, Jr., John Whitmer, Hiram Page, Joseph Smith, Sr., Hyrum Smith, and Samuel Harrison Smith. Their joint testimony has been printed with nearly every edition of the Book of Mormon, since its initial publication in 1830.
All of the Eight were members of either the family of Joseph Smith Jr. or the family of David Whitmer's father. Joseph Smith Sr. was Joseph's father, and Hyrum and Samuel H. Smith were his brothers. Christian, Jacob, Peter Jr., and John were David Whitmer's brothers, and Hiram Page was his brother-in-law.
As printed at the end of the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon, the Testimony of the Eight Witnesses is as follows:
- Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That Joseph Smith, Jun., the Author and Proprietor of this work, has shewn unto us the plates of which hath been spoken, which have the appearance of gold; and as many of the leaves as the said Smith has translated we did handle with our hands; and we also saw the engravings thereon, all of which has the appearance of ancient work, and of curious workmanship. And this we bear record with words of soberness, that the said Smith has shewn unto us, for we have seen and hefted, and know of a surety that the said Smith has got the plates of which we have spoken. And we give our names unto the world, to witness unto the world that which we have seen. And we lie not, God bearing witness of it.
Most subsequent editions have moved the statement of the Eight Witnesses to the front of the book, and in addition to minor grammatical corrections, have altered the original phrase "Author and Proprietor" to read "translator."
The Whitmer family became estranged from Joseph Smith Jr. during a leadership struggle in Far West, Missouri in 1838. Although they were all excommunicated, none denied their testimony of the Book of Mormon or the Golden Plates. Smith's family members, Joseph Sr., Hyrum, and Samuel H. Smith remained loyal to the founding prophet until their deaths.
Since the Book of Mormon's first publication, many readers have found the testimony of the Eight Witnesses to be a compelling evidence of the work's authenticity.
In addition to the Three Witnesses and the Eight Witnesses, Mary Whitmer, who took care of the house where much of the translation took place, said she was shown the plates by the Angel Moroni, and at least three others say that they touched, moved or otherwise handled the plates. See Golden Plates.