Special Witnesses – Have Mormon Apostles Seen Jesus?

One of the foundational pillars of the church is the First Vision, in which Joseph Smith claims to have seen the Lord (or both God the Father and God the Son, Jesus Christ – depending on which of his accounts you read) while praying in the woods. There is an assumption in the church that all senior church leaders may have similar experiences, but that they are too special or sacred to discuss openly. Defendants of the church speak of casting pearls before swine, as if anyone who wouldn’t believe the claims of these leaders at face value with no questioning, are no better than swine.

But senior church leaders slyly lead members to believe they may have seen God or Jesus in some miraculous experience, but when being honest, they admit that they have not seen anyone or anything special, though they still regularly call themselves “special witnesses.”

Special Witnesses of Christ

In the year 2000, the church released a video of all the apostles discussing their Special Witness of Christ. Some thought this would reveal some of their sacred moments and visitations or experiences with diety, but in reality, it was more of the same. They bore testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel and the authority of the Church and themselves as the leaders of the church.

Today, church leaders continue to themselves up as “Special Witnesses” of Christ. They act as though and encourange others to believe that they sit, talk, and walk with Jesus Christ in the flesh. They have a “sure knowledge” that he lives and directs the church. They claim repeatedly that he is at the head of the church, and that they lead the church under his direction and with his authority. Does this mean they have a close working relationship with Jesus? As in closer than just listening to the Spirit and following the promptings they receive?

So I now speak in a very personal tone. In my lifetime I have visited all fifty states in the USA. I have also set foot upon the soil of eighty-six other countries of the earth. Wherever I walk, it is my divine calling and sacred privilege to bear fervent testimony of Jesus the Christ. He lives! I love him. Eagerly I follow him, and willingly I offer my life in his service. As his special witness, I solemnly teach of him. I testify of him.

Russell M. Nelson, Jesus the Christ—Our Master and More, February 2, 1992

Modern prophets have also borne witness of Him, including this declaration by the Prophet Joseph Smith: “And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!” I also declare that Jesus the Christ lives, that His Church has been restored to the earth, complete with His power and authority, with apostles and prophets and essential ordinances and covenants.

President Russell M. Nelson’s Special Witness of the Living Christ, 2018

Have the senior church leaders and Apostles seen God? Do they see beyond the veil or know of a surety anything more than the rest of us? Have they seen angels perhaps? Or are they still operating on faith like the rest of us? They have the air of knowing more than they let on, or of having a perspective directly from God. Is there something to this? Well, they may have had their second anointing, but do they just believe “really hard” like the rest of us and call it “knowledge”?

They have ways of understanding “knowledge” and “truth” in odd ways sometimes and we know they base the truthfulness of facts on their feelings as they instruct members to do. They tell us about their yellow notebooks and claim every policy change they make is coming from a place of revelation for the church and the world. Where is the revelation though? What are the messages from the savior? What has President Russell M. Nelson received as revealtion from God?

According to the recent church updates and direction, the Lord is keen to have the church drop the Mormon moniker. He also really wants the church to have a new logo. Yet, he’s told us nothing in recent years about managing pandemic diseases that kill millions of people, or how to help warring nations find peace. He must be more involved in leading the church on how to grow it’s wealth. Even when the SEC fines the leadership for misfiling their investments there is no divine guidance on managing his money – other than growing it and doing anything and everything to avoid any and all taxes possible. Even though, during his life, he taught to pay taxes fairly and “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.”

Candid Leader Statements

So what have church leaders actually said about being a “Special Witness” of Christ? Cumulatively we can see that they explian that General Authorities receive revelation by finding consensus among themselves. That their testinomy is as strong “as if” they had seen Jesus, but they have not. None of the church leaders have had miraculous visitations and they don’t expect to, but they claim that the witness of the Holy Ghost is stronger and better anyways. So their designation as “special witnesses” really means nothing when it comes down to it. It just means they claim authority to speak for God, even though they have had no more real experience with God than any of the rest of us. They’re running things on gut feelings and impulses they credit as revelation.

Henry B. Eyring

Henry B. Erying told a story once of becoming an apostle and coming to the apostolic meeting with an expectation of “special” revelation in mind. He was surprised that there was none. It was just a discussion where old men voiced opinions in turn until they were all persuaded to align their opinions with their senior more experienced apostles.

When I first came as the president of Ricks college, I attended my first meeting that I’d ever been in watching the General Authorities of the church, the First Presidency and others, running a meeting. I had been studying for the ten years I was a professor at Stanford how you make decisions in meetings in groups, so I got a chance, here’s my chance to see the way the Lord’s servants do it (of which I now am one).

I looked at it with my Harvard and Stanford eyes and I thought. This is the strangest conversation I’ve [heard]. I mean, here are the prophets of God and they’re disagreeing in an openness that I had never seen in business. In business you’re careful when you’re with the bosses, you know.

Here they were just — and I watched this process of them disagreeing and I thought, “Good Heavens, I thought revelation would come to them all and they’d all see things the same way, in some sort of…, you know.” It was more open than anything I had ever seen in all the groups I had ever studied in business. I was just dumbfounded.

But then after a while the conversation cycled around. And they began to agree and I saw the most incredible thing. Here are these very strong, very bright people all with different opinions. Suddenly the opinions began to just line up and I thought, “I’ve seen a miracle. I’ve seen unity come out of this wonderful open kind of exchange that I’d never seen in all my studies of government or business or anywhere else.” And so I thought, “Oh, what a miracle!”


What makes councils in the Church different from councils in secular settings? What is the difference between consensus and compromise?

President Eyring: In the Church, councils are about revelation. Consensus doesn’t mean I just have to agree with him. It has to be that I’ve listened to him enough that I said, “Aha!” It may not be the view that he or I had to begin with — it may be a joint thing that we’ve seen together.

President Oaks: It is true that revelation is the ultimate objective of the council, either revelation in the council, revelation to participants or revelation to presiding officers. And it is true that our councils function more with consensus than compromise.

Compromise implies that I have a position, he has a position. We negotiate. Each of us gives up something. On the other hand, the next step, and a better step, is consensus. We look for a way to agree on a total package. We don’t see ourselves giving up anything. We agree on a better solution than we came to the council with.

We may come to a consensus, but the Lord, through His servants, has something else in mind. Either this is not the time for decision or you need to consider it further or something else. So you can think of it as three levels.

President Eyring: By the way, the point that you’re making is that whatever the level, there is generally a decision-maker. I’ve seen the leader say: “I have a sense there’s someone in the room who has not yet settled. We’ll bring this back another time.” And that is interesting. I’ve seen it more than once.

President Oaks: That’s a case of revelation to the presiding officer overruling apparent consensus.

President Eyring: Yes, it looked like consensus. In fact, the first time I was ever in a meeting where the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was assembled, I was an observer. I thought they had reached, after a lot of differences of opinion, a consensus. And the President of the Church, who was in the chair, said: “I sense there’s someone in the room who’s not settled yet. We’ll bring it back another time.” As they filed out of the room, one of the Brethren, a member of the Twelve, said, “Thank you.” So he had sensed that.

That’s a very high standard, by the way. The ideal would be that there would come enough consensus that it would be a decision-making group, in the sense that the Prophet could sense that that consensus was not just to get along, that it was they really had arrived at the same place.

Presidents Oaks and President Eyring: Answers to 8 Questions About Revelation in Councils, 4 February 2022, Church Newsroom

Howard W. Hunter

Howard W. Hunter discusses this special witness calling of Apostle in a talk given in 1983. He confirms that the twelve apostles in the New Testament were special witnesses of Jesus’ divinity and literal resurrection. They knew him during his life and he appeared to them once resurrected. In other words, they saw him face to face after his death and resurrection. The definition of a “special witness” is clearly defined here.

"The resurrected Lord has continued his ministry of salvation by appearing, from time to time, to mortal men chosen by God to be his witnesses, and by revealing his will through the Holy Ghost. It is by the power of the Holy Ghost that I bear my witness. I know of Christ’s reality as if I had seen with my eyes and heard with my ears."  - Howard W. Hunter, as LDS Apostle
Satellite Fireside from the Tabernacle on Temple Square, 30 October 1983 | wasmormon.org
“The resurrected Lord has continued his ministry of salvation by appearing, from time to time, to mortal men chosen by God to be his witnesses, and by revealing his will through the Holy Ghost. It is by the power of the Holy Ghost that I bear my witness. I know of Christ’s reality as if I had seen with my eyes and heard with my ears.” – Howard W. Hunter, as LDS Apostle, Satellite Fireside from the Tabernacle on Temple Square, October 30, 1983.

Hunter continues to explain that again today we have apostles, and that today these apostles are ordained as “special witnesses.” He stops short of saying the same definition applies though, he only says that they “know” “with a certainty born of the Spirit.” In other words, they felt the spirit confirm that their beliefs are true, which is the same witness that anyone can say. Their feelings confirm the bias when they felt exactly what they expected to feel, or were taught to feel. He gives his witness that he knows Jesus is Lord, etc, etc. Then he gives an important distinction, he states that he knows of Christ’s reality “as if [he] had seen with [his] own eyes and heard with [his] ears.”

These twelve Apostles served a vital function in the Lord’s plan. They were special witnesses of the Savior’s divinity and of his literal resurrection. Not only did they know him during his mortal ministry, but they communed with him after his resurrection. The resurrected Redeemer appeared in the midst of his disciples in the upper room. They handled the Lord’s hands and feet and learned that Jesus was not merely a spirit but a resurrected being with flesh and bones. These Apostles knew of the Lord’s divinity and of his resurrection with a certainty beyond all disputation…

In our day the Lord has again called Apostles. These Apostles have been ordained as special witnesses of Christ in all the world. They know of the reality of Christ and his redemption with a certainty born of the Spirit… 

As an ordained Apostle and special witness of Christ, I give to you my solemn witness that Jesus Christ is in fact the Son of God…

The resurrected Lord has continued his ministry of salvation by appearing, from time to time, to mortal men chosen by God to be his witnesses, and by revealing his will through the Holy Ghost. It is by the power of the Holy Ghost that I bear my witness. I know of Christ’s reality as if I had seen with my eyes and heard with my ears. I know also that the Holy Spirit will confirm the truthfulness of my witness in the hearts of all those who listen with an ear of faith.

Howard W. Hunter, An Apostle’s Witness of Christ, Ensign, January 1984
From an address delivered at a friendshipping and fellowshipping fireside satellite broadcast from the Tabernacle on Temple Square, October 30, 1983.

Hunter admits here that he has no more “special witness” than any of us. He knows “as if” he has seen and heard the Savior, but he hasn’t seen or heard him. What then, is special about his witness? After defining the special witness as being a literal because they knew “with a certainty beyond all disputation” because they saw Christ appear to them and they handled his hands and feet. He restates that the “resurrected Lord has continued his ministry of salvation by appearing, from time to time, to mortal men chosen by God to be his witnesses.” He then states that his witness is by the power of the Holy Ghost only, and not a literal appearance from Jesus. He clarifies further by stating that he knows of Christ “as if” he has seen and heard him with his own eyes and ears. But clearly, he wouldn’t include this distinction had he actually seen and heard Jesus.

Thus, we can conclude that Howard W. Hunter, the 14th President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, did not seen Jesus face to face. He felt that a spiritual witness by the Holy Ghost was enough to grant him the “special witness” status. The very same testimony that every single member of the church has.

Dallin H. Oaks

Dallan H. Oaks confirms that he hasn’t seen God or even angels. He states that he hasn’t had any such miraculous experience and that he doesn’t know any apostles that have.

He answered questions from the youth of the Bellevue South Stake on January 23rd, 2016 in a Devotional. One girl asked about how to have powerful experiences like Alma the Younger, and in answer the question, Elder Oaks said this:

“I've never had an experience like that [a miraculous experience with an angel], and I don't know anyone among the First Presidency or Quorum of the Twelve who had that kind of experience.” - Dallin H. Oaks, LDS Apostle
Bellevue South Stake Fireside January 23rd, 2016 | wasmormon.org
“I’ve never had an experience like that [a miraculous experience with an angel], and I don’t know anyone among the First Presidency or Quorum of the Twelve who had that kind of experience.” – Dallin H. Oaks, LDS Apostle, Bellevue South Stake Fireside January 23rd, 2016

What should you pray for to have the kind of experience that Alma the Younger had? I don’t think you’re likely to have the kind of experience that Alma the Younger had. Do you remember he had a miraculous experience with an angel and really got hit over the head spiritually. Most of us don’t have that kind of experience. But I interpret your question, , as being “How can we get the kind of testimony that he received?” I don’t think we’ll get it like Paul did on the road to…where the angel appeared to him where Alma the Younger had that startling experience. The Lord gives a few of those kinds of exeriences and they’re recorded in the scriptures to catch our attention and teach us the answer, but I’ve never had an experience like that, and I don’t know anyone among the First Presidency or Quorum of the Twelve who had that kind of experience. Yet everyone of us knows of a certainty the things that Alma knew. But it’s just that unless the Lord chooses to do it another way, as he sometimes does, for millions and billions of his children, a testimony settles upon us gradually like so much dust on a windowsill, or so much dew on the grass. One day you didn’t have it and another day you did and you don’t know which day it happened. That’s the way I got my testimony. And then I knew it was true but it continued to grow.

Dallin H. Oaks, an Apostle of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, along with two other general authorities, answered questions from the youth of the Bellevue South Stake on January 23rd, 2016 at the Bellevue South Stake Center.

Oaks Walking It Back

Oaks also clarifies that even though the original Apostles were eyewitnesses to Christ’s resurrection, that isn’t enough. He states that without the Holy Ghost, the eyewitnessing is not enough. Then he even says that an impression from the Holy Ghost is more significant than any physical visitation. So, as instructed by the Bible, he testifies about the Holy Ghost’s impressions so that others will feel it, rather than any eyewitness visitation he may or may not have had. He’s claiming that the witness he’s received from the Holy Ghost, the same witness any person can have, is superior to a physical visitation of meeting Jesus face-to-face. He states that he’s a special witness but claims no special witness. Only that he’s been called as an Apostle to bear a special witness. His special witness is no more special than anyone else’s. He has no claim to undisputable evidence or experience. He just

How do members become witnesses? The original Apostles were eyewitnesses to the ministry and resurrection of the Savior. He told them, “Ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” However, he cautioned them that their witnessing would be after they had received the Holy Ghost.

An eyewitness was not enough. Even the witness and testimony of the original Apostles had to be rooted in the testimony of the Holy Ghost. A prophet has told us that the witness of the Holy Ghost makes an impression on our soul that is more significant than “a visitation of an angel.” And the Bible shows that when we testify on the basis of this witness, the Holy Ghost testifies to those who hear our words.

Dallin H. Oaks, Witnesses of Christ, October 1990 General Conference

Doctrines of Salvation

Oaks references Joseph Fielding Smith’s book Doctrines of Salvation, compiled by Bruce R. McConkie. Joseph Fielding Smith claimed the same thing, that manifestations such as “a visitation of an angel, a tangible resurrected being would not leave the impression and would not convince us” like what we receive “through a manifestation of the Holy Ghost.” This sets up the narrative and removed the expectation that a “special witness” would be made any stronger with a tangible visitation over a spiritual experience. The Joseph Smith Foundation refers to the Doctrines of Salvation as “an authoritative work.” Here is the reference and the scriptures referenced as footnotes, which don’t seem to say what Joseph Fielding Smith is saying:

TESTIMONY COMES FROM HOLY GHOST. Christ is the second person in the Godhead. But Christ has himself declared that the manifestations we might have of the Spirit of Christ, or from a visitation of an angel, a tangible resurrected being, would not leave the impression and would not convince us and place within us that something which we cannot get away from which we receive through a manifestation of the Holy Ghost.* Personal visitations might become dim as time goes on, but this guidance of the Holy Ghost is renewed and continued, day after day, year after year, if we live to be worthy of it.

* Footnote: Luke 16:27-31; D&C 5:7-10.

Doctrines of Salvation, Volume 1, Sermons and Writings of Joseph Fielding Smith Compiled by Bruce R. McConkie, Volume 1, Chapter 3, Page 28-29.

Were you raised to expect that the LDS Apostles had manifestations and experiences like seeing angels or talking with Jesus face to face? Where do we learn about these experiences? Are they happy to imply that they do have this level of “special witness” so that their authority is strengthened? Are these experiences assumed too sacred to discuss openly as in casting perals before swine? Is this the technicality that lets the leaders off the hook?

Witness of the Name of Christ

Today the church pushes a different message about the meaning of an Apostolic Special Witness. They no longer compare themselves to the Apostles called in Jesus’ day, who were Special Witnesses (capital ‘S’ and capital ‘W’), meaning they had physically witnessed Jesus as a resurrected being. Now they push the fact that they are special witnesses of the name of Christ (lowercase ‘s’ and ‘w’). They claim to be a special witness of the name of Jesus, whatever that means is anyone’s guess. They are a “special” witness that Jesus’ name is Jesus?

As each Apostle speaks about his calling, it quickly becomes apparent that administrative matters are not their primary concern. Their principal responsibility is exactly the same as it has always been—they are to be “special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world”


We have the First Vision story from Joseph Smith, which has it’s own issues and troublesome contradictions, strange account, and unlikely timeline. The top church leaders of the day and the past few generations have made no claim to seeing God, or Jesus, or even angels. They repeat the claim of Joseph Smith, that they know Jesus lives, but they don’t claim to know first hand. Their testimony is based on revelation and what they feel from the Holy Ghost. Do they really believe or are they just operating the church as a board of executives? How does it feel to see that they don’t even actually claim to see anything special when they continually call themselves “special witness” akin to the Apostles in the New Testament who were physical witnesses to the ministry and resurrection of Jesus? Share your thoughts in the comments or by contributing your own I was a Mormon story to wasmormon.org today!

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