One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sins: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established.Deuteronomy 19:15 (See also Deuteronomy 17:6.)
One of the features of this mortal life is dealing with uncertainty. There is so much that we don’t know, and we are constantly required to evaluate information, put it into some reasonable context, and then make decisions based upon it. The volume of information available today through social media and the news has only compounded this problem. How can we distinguish truth from falsehood and prioritize information that is important and relevant over information that is not worth our time and energy?
One answer to the question is to rely on witnesses. We can’t test the validity of every assertion by direct experience. But if I identify people whom I can trust, then I can rely on their testimony to supplement the knowledge I gain first-hand. If more than one witness testifies of the same truth, then my confidence is expanded.
To ancient Israel, God said that a person should not be condemned on the testimony of a single witness. The Savior and the apostle Paul both endorsed this principle. (See Matthew 18:16, 1 Timothy 5:19.)
Nephi quoted the words of his brother Jacob and of the prophet Isaiah to add credibility to his own testimony. To explain the extensive quotations, he wrote, “By the words of three, God hath said, I will establish my word.” And Nephi extended the principle further: “Nevertheless, God sendeth more witnesses, and he proveth all his words” (2 Nephi 11:3).
In the middle of his abridgment of the Jaredite record, the prophet Moroni gave some instructions to the person who would later translate his words. Some of these writings will be sealed, he said. Don’t touch those or attempt to translate them. Then, he promised that the translator would not be alone: other people would see the metal plates on which the record was engraved.
And behold, ye may be privileged that ye may show the plates unto those who shall assist to bring forth this work;
And unto three shall they be shown by the power of God; wherefore they shall know of a surety that these things are true.
And in the mouth of three witnesses shall these things be established.Ether 5:2-4
Elder D. Todd Christofferson emphasized that this principle of multiple witnesses applies even to the words of people we sustain as prophets:
It should be remembered that not every statement made by a Church leader, past or present, necessarily constitutes doctrine. It is commonly understood in the Church that a statement made by one leader on a single occasion often represents a personal, though well-considered, opinion, not meant to be official or binding for the whole Church.“The Doctrine of Christ,” General Conference, April 2012
And Elder Neil L. Andersen underscored this point six months later:
There is an important principle that governs the doctrine of the Church. The doctrine is taught by all 15 members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve. It is not hidden in an obscure paragraph of one talk. True principles are taught frequently and by many.“Trial of Your Faith,” General Conference, October 2012
Last October, after quoting both of these passages, President Dallin H. Oaks added the following practical guidance:
Beyond something as formal as the family proclamation, the prophetic teachings of the Presidents of the Church, affirmed by other prophets and apostles, are also an example of this.“Trust in the Lord,” General Conference, October 2019
President Oaks went on to share some principles taught by the Prophet Joseph Smith which have been ratified by subsequent presidents of the Church.
Today, I will remember the principle of witnesses. I will avoid being deceived by looking for multiple evidences of information I receive instead of relying on a single source of truth.