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- D&C 17 is addressed to the Three Witnesses: Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery, and David Whitmer.
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- Received: at Fayette, New York on probably 28 June 1829
- Prior section in chronological order D&C 18
- Next section in chronological order D&C 19
Almost all of the Book of Mormon translation occurred during the three months between April 7, 1829 when Oliver Cowdery began assisting at Harmony, Pennsylvania and the end of June 1829 after they had moved to the Whitmer home at Fayette, New York. Mosiah - Moroni was translated first, and First Nephi - Omni was translated last.
Once Joseph Smith and his assistants learned from Ether 5:2-4; 2 Ne 11:3; 2 Ne 27:12-14 that other witnesses besides Joseph would be allowed to see the plates, Martin Harris, Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer "became very solicitous" that Joseph ask the Lord if they might be the witnesses spoken of. Joseph did ask, and in response he received D&C 17. (Manuscript History of the Church, Vol. A-1, p. 43)
D&C 17 was received on a Sunday morning in late June or early July, most likely on Sunday, June 28.
For a brief overview of D&C 17 in historical relation to the rest of the Doctrine & Covenants, see Historical Overview of the Restoration Scriptures. For lengthier discussions of the historical setting, see Historical Context of the Doctrine & Covenants, chapter 3 or Church History in the Fulness of Times, chapter 5.
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Role of the Three Witnesses in the Restoration
The role the three witnesses played in the restoration was unique. They were certainly more than just witnesses in the legal sense (although they served this role as well, essentially including their affidavits in the book). They were called by revelation, likely foreordained to their mission, and verse 7 explains that they were given power from on high and a special gift in connection with their calling. Yet their calling came with no formal priesthood keys (in fact, probably only Oliver Cowdery even held the Aaronic priesthood at the time they were shown the plates, and the Melchizedek authority would not have been restored yet in June 1829).
Their mission as witnesses was a lifelong calling that they clearly recognized and continued to fulfill even when they were disaffected from the Church. In fact, it seems their mission was separate from the organization of the Church and often not even under the direction of Church authorities. In contrast, within the Church the formal office of "special witnesses" was filled by the Apostles, who could be argued to carry the role within the Church generally that the three witnesses carry specifically with respect to the Book of Mormon. Perhaps it is not so ironic that the witnesses selected the original twelve apostles, as they had related missions.
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- The oldest surviving copy of D&C 17 is the one copied by Frederick Williams into Revelation Book 2, p. 119-20 not earlier than November 1834.
- D&C 17 was first published in the Messenger and Advocate newspaper at Kirtland, September in September 1835 (Vol. 1, No. 12, p. 178).
- D&C 17 was not included in the 1833 Book of Commandments, and was first included in the Doctrine & Covenants in the 1835 edition.
- The text of D&C 17 in significant editions of the Doctrine & Covenants can be found at:
Related passages that interpret or shed light on D&C 17.
- Book of Mormon passages addressing witnesses of the Book of Mormon include: Ether 5:2-4; 2 Ne 11:3; 2 Ne 27:12-14.
- Doctrine & Covenants passages addressing witnesses of the Book of Mormon include: D&C 5:11-12, 24 to Martin Harris; D&C 14:8 to David Whitmer; D&C 6:27-28 to Oliver Cowdery (less clear); and possibly also D&C 8:1 to Oliver Cowdery.
Doctrinal references cited on this page.
Historical references cited on this page.
Footnotes are not required but are encouraged for factual assertions that average readers cannot easily evaluate for themselves (such as the date of King Solomon’s death or the nuanced definition of a Greek word). In contrast, insights rarely benefit from footnoting, and the focus of this page should always remain on the scriptures themselves rather than what someone has said about them. Links are actively encouraged on all sections of this page, and links to authoritative sources (such as Strong's Bible Concordance or the Joseph Smith Papers) are preferable to footnotes.