One of the stranger aspects of witness in the Bible is that the task tends to go two ways. It is by no means surprising to those of us who grew up in legal systems that have been influenced by the evidentiary protections the Bible establishes regarding multiple eyewitnesses in testimony. This may be surprising, it must be admitted, to those people who come from societies where people can be put to death on rumor and hearsay, but it is not surprising to those who come from societies where the rights of the accused to a fair trial and to be able to face those who are testifying against them openly and honestly. It is rather the other side of witnessing in the Bible that is somewhat strange when we stop to think about it.
In some religious cultures, it rolls off the tongue rather easily. “Have you witnessed your faith?” one is asked, and it is assumed that what one is being asked is how one has has testified about one’s faith and one’s godly walk and the ways in which God has transformed one’s life to a world that may be more skeptical about such matters. If we think of witnessing in its criminal context, this would seem strange, since we are not bearing witness about criminals or criminal activity to a court or to an authority figure, as one might expect, but rather are sharing knowledge about our spiritual lives to unbelievers as a means of persuading them to take our beliefs more seriously and to open their hearts, as it were, to revealed truths that they may wall themselves off against.
It is rather telling that in the biblical tradition one does not only witness about criminals to others, but one witnesses to sinners about God’s authority and ways. A witness is called not only to report on what is going on that one experiences or sees in a wicked and fallen and rebellious world such as our own, but is also called upon to witness the reality of God’s kingdom and of the eventual justice that will come to this benighted planet. It is perhaps not surprising in light of this that so many people have set themselves up as the two witnesses (see again the biblical pattern of two witnesses being the minimum sufficient number) because of the desire of the prestige of so doing.
This past Sabbath our pastor gave a message on witnesses, the first of at least two messages, that appears to be closely related to a recent message I gave on snitching and the role of repotting on evil being the first stage of biblical investigation, to be followed by the search for witness testimony. I found interesting as well the speaker’s point that requiring multiple witnesses is also a check on personal pet doctrines, which is definitely a worthwhile check as well. To the extent that what we think can be agreed upon by others who come from a different perspective and who have thought about the issue themselves, we can be better sure that we are not simply going off on our own wayward path that will separate ourselves from other believers, as many people often do by thinking that they have been privileged with special knowledge that others do not possess.