In this work, we present an exact 3D plate solution in the conventional form of 2D plate theories without invoking any of the assumptions inherent to 2D plate formulations. We start by formulating a rectangular plate problem by employing Saint Venant’s principle so that edge effects do not appear in the plate. Then the exact general 3D elasticity solution to the formulated interior problem is examined. By expressing the solution in terms of mid-surface variables, exact 2D equations are obtained for the rectangular interior plate. It is found that the 2D presentation includes the Kirchhoff, Mindlin and Levinson plate theories and their general solutions as special cases. The key feature of the formulated interior plate problem is that the interior stresses of the plate act as surface tractions on the lateral plate edges and contribute to the total potential energy of the plate. We carry out a variational interior formulation of the Levinson plate theory and take into account, as a novel contribution, the virtual work due to the interior stresses along the plate edges. Remarkably, this way the resulting equilibrium equations become the same as in the case of a vectorial formulation. A gap in the conventional energy-based derivations of 2D engineering plate theories founded on interior kinematics is that the edge work due to the interior stresses is not properly accounted for. This leads to artificial edge effects through higher-order stress resultants. Finally, a variety of numerical examples are presented using the 3D elasticity solution.