Why were the numbers three and eight chosen for the special witnesses of the Book of Mormon? And who were the other faithful Latter-day Saints that saw the Golden Plates who weren't a part of this group?
Book of Mormon Central recently answered those questions in this fascinating new article.
“The book shall be hid from the eyes of the world, that the eyes of none shall behold it save it be that three witnesses shall behold it, by the power of God … And there is none other which shall view it, save it be a few according to the will of God” (2 Nephi 27:12–13).
As part of his prophecy about the Restoration and coming forth of the Book of Mormon, Nephi saw that “at that day when the book shall be delivered … [it] shall be hid from the eyes of the world.” Nephi did, however, specify that “three witnesses shall behold it, by the power of God … and they shall testify to the truth of the book and the things therein” (2 Nephi 27:12).
It is likely that the translation of this passage prompted Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris to seek an opportunity to see the plates as the Three Witnesses Nephi mentioned. Oliver remembered, “It was a clear, open beautiful day” when they saw the angel and the plates, probably in late-June 1829. Though they each left the Church for a time, all three frequently, and unashamedly, bore witness to seeing the plates throughout their lives.
In addition to the three, Nephi also saw that there would “be a few [which shall view it] according the will of God, to bear testimony of his word unto the children of men” (2 Nephi 27:13). In 1 Peter 3:20, the author talks about “the days of Noah … wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water” (emphasis added). Since Nephi also used the word few, it is possible that Joseph Smith understood that word to call for eight further witnesses.