Regarding your recent comment, I have given some thought in how to respond. And I am sure that nothing I say will convince you or anyone else that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. I'm just not smart or persuasive enough. Rather, I refer you to the words of our Savior, "by their fruits, ye shall know them." (see Matthew 7:16-20).
And we have the fruit of Joseph Smith in the Book of Mormon. How a 24-year-old young man with three years of formal education could produce such a book except by the power of God is beyond me. Its clarity and witness that Jesus is the Christ and Savior of ALL nations is unsurpassed. And I would encourage you to read my witness in and earlier post that the Book of Mormon is true. Because the Book of Mormon is true, its translator was also a prophet of God.
But my hope is that you will not simply take my word for it. It is for you, and you alone, to decide whether Joseph Smith saw and did what he claims to have done. Then, you must ask the only Being in whom can trust unconditionally to tell the truth, even God, whether Joseph Smith was called in these latter days to restore the fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And God will bear witness to your soul of the Truth.
It is my witness that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, and that his successors were and are prophets of the Most High.
Now, moving on to your second question. It is true that only a select few were privileged to see the golden plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated. First, I will relate the circumstances of their seeing the plates, and then I will discuss what happened to them and their relationship with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
As Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon, he learned that three witnesses would be privileged to see the plates. (2 Nephi 27:12; Ether 5:4). Three men who had been involved in the translation, Martin Harris, Joseph's first scribe, Oliver Cowdery, Joseph's scribe for the majority of the translation, and David Whitmer, a young man whose family supported Joseph and his wife during the translation of the Book of Mormon, all desired to be the three to whom the plates would be shown.
After the translation was complete, an angel appeared to them while they were with Joseph Smith and showed them the plates. The following is the testimony of these three men:
THE TESTIMONY OF THREE WITNESSES
Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work
shall come: That we, through the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus
Christ, have seen the plates which contain this record, which is a record of the
people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites, their brethren, and also of the
people of Jared, who came from the tower of which hath been spoken. And we also
know that they have been translated by the gift and power of God, for his voice
hath declared it unto us; wherefore we know of a surety that the work is true.
And we also testify that we have seen the engravings which are upon the plates;
and they have been shown unto us by the power of God, and not of man. And we
declare with words of soberness, that an angel of God came down from heaven, and
he brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld and saw the plates, and the
engravings thereon; and we know that it is by the grace of God the Father, and
our Lord Jesus Christ, that we beheld and bear record that these things are
true. And it is marvelous in our eyes. Nevertheless, the voice of the Lord
commanded us that we should bear record of it; wherefore, to be obedient unto
the commandments of God, we bear testimony of these things. And we know that if
we are faithful in Christ, we shall rid our garments of the blood of all men,
and be found spotless before the judgment-seat of Christ, and shall dwell with
him eternally in the heavens. And the honor be to the Father, and to the Son,
and to the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen.
And in addition to these three men, eight others were privileged to see the plates. But instead of an angel, Joseph Smith showed them the plates. The following is their testimony:
THE TESTIMONY OF EIGHT WITNESSES
Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That Joseph Smith, Jun., the translator of this work, has shown 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 shown 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.
Christian Whitmer Hiram Page
Jacob Whitmer Joseph Smith, Sen.
Peter Whitmer, Jun Hyrum Smith
John Whitmer Samuel H. Smith
This letter is getting long, so to be brief, I will only address what happened to Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, and David Whitmer.
Oliver Cowdery served for some years as Assistant President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints. He was with Joseph during some of the most important and amazing visions and revelations Joseph received. However, Oliver was an educated man and began believing he could run the Church better than Joseph. In 1838, he asked that his fellowship be removed from the Church records. He went on to practice law in Missouri for ten years. During that time, he never denied his testimony of the Book of Mormon. Before he died in 1850, Oliver rejoined the Church, was rebaptized, and died in full fellowship.
Martin Harris also left the Church due to a financial crisis and a failed bank which Joseph had tried to start. However, he later moved to Utah, was rebaptized, and died in full fellowship. Martin never denied his testimony of the Book of Mormon either.
David Whitmer, however, never rejoined the Church and died in Richmond, Missouri. Concering his testimony, I refer you to an editorial which he wrote in response to rumors that he had denied his testimony of the Book of Mormon. The editorial in full is below.
(Published in the Richmond, Mo., "Conservator" of March 25,1881)
Unto all Nations, Kindreds, Tongues and People, unto whom these presents shall come: It having been represented by one John Murphy, of Polo, Caldwell county, Missouri, that I, in a conversation with him last summer, denied my testimony as one of the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon, To the end, therefore, that he may understand me now, if he did not then; and that the world may know the truth, I wish now, standing as it were, in the very sunset of life, and in the fear of God, once
for all to make this public statement:
That I have never at any time denied that testimony or any part thereof,
which has so long since been published with that book, as one of the Three
Witnesses. Those who know me best well know that I have always adhered to
that testimony. And that no man may be misled or doubt my present views in
regard to the same, I do again affirm the truth of all my statements as then
made and published.
He that hath an ear to hear, let him hear; it was no delusion; what is written is written, and he that readeth, let him understand.…And if any man doubt, should he not carefully and honestly read and understand the same before presuming to sit in judgment and condemning the light, which shineth in darkness, and showeth the way of eternal life as pointed out by the unerring hand of God?
In the spirit of Christ, who hath said: "Follow thou me, for I am the life, the light and the way," I submit this statement to the world; God in whom I trust being my judge as to the sincerity of my motives and the faith and hope that is in me of eternal life.
My sincere desire is that the world may be benefited by this plain and simple statement of the truth. And all the honor to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen!
DAVID WHITMER, Sen.Richmond, Mo., March 19, 1881.
Finally, Emma Smith, Joseph's wife never saw the plates. But she acted as a scribe for Joseph before Oliver Cowdery began serving in that capacity. And during the work of translation, when the translators would take a break, Joseph would simply cover the plates with a cloth. Emma, while dusting, would run her fingers along the leaves of the plates under the cloth.
My friend, I pray this has answered your questions. My God bless you is the most sincere desire of