The Need for Two Witnesses

Let's look at the idea of having 2 witnesses.

De 17:6 At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death.

De 19:15 One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established.

Mt 18:16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.

2Co 13:1 This is the third time I am coming to you. In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.

Here we have 4 verses relating to the idea that 2 or more witnesses are needed to prove something. In the old testament verses, they are witnesses in a case of a capital crime. The 2 witnesses are needed to establish the guilt of a guilty party when there is a death sentence possible.

In the case of the new testament verses, capital punishment is not the issue; the principle is applied much more broadly. It covers any situation where positive proof is needed.

Early in my Christian walk, I was taught that these verses were the foundation of a principle of Bible Study. That is they are generalized to means that in order to prove or establish a teaching or doctrine, you needed to find 2 verses of the bible that said roughly the same thing to support whatever you were trying to prove.

Well this made some sense, and nobody questioned it at the time. It was one of those things you were taught as a baby Christian and never gave much thought to. So what's the problem with it, you ask? Well, everyone gave this principle 'lip service' but nobody really applied it for real. It's one of those things that you can use for emphasis when you have 2 verses that support what you're trying to say. But when you don't have 2 verses, well, 1 will do just fine. That is to say, everyone said they agreed with the 2 witness, 2 verse theory. But nobody actually applied it in any honest way. I have never heard any teaching challenged because the teacher failed to supply 2 verses to make his point. We all operate on the basis that if you can find it in the word of God, then that's enough proof. God only needs to say something once. After all the word is considered infallible and without error. So if God said something, even if only once, it's still something that God said, and has to be true. After all do we go through the bible and rip out every verse that doesn't have a backup somewhere else in the bible? Of course not! So what's wrong with this picture? Why does God say to establish every word by two witnesses. Is this meant to apply only to specific situations where witnesses are called to testify? Is it a mistake to apply this to the word of God itself? Does the Word of God need 2 witnesses before we believe it? Or rather does the Word of God require 2 witnesses before we can understand it?

We find the 2 witness idea repeated several times in the bible, so it must be important; yet we're not sure how to apply it. The reason is we are looking at the matter in an entirely wrong way.

Just recently, I got some new revelation on the matter. We were in a discussion with a skeptical young man about some issues of the bible and faith. I had challenged him to puzzle out the events in John 8: 1-11 on the basis of some background info about the Pharisees, and some verses from the law of Moses. One of these was De 17:6 quoted above. His comment about it really opened my eyes to what the real issue was here. And I found it tied in perfectly with my thinking in preparing this essay.

What he said was: Moses is calling for 2 or three witnesses here. But the only witness that I have that this is really the word of God is Moses. Well, I had never thought about it that way! It's like we take it for granted that the words in the Bible are the words of God which the Holy Spirit spoke to the various authors. Then these authors, like Moses, went and wrote them down. So Moses is the witness. When we read the word of God at the hand of Moses, Moses is the witness that this is what God said. Even if we find 3, 4 or 5 verses that support one of our ideas, there is still only 1 witness! And that witness is Moses. So my friend says, here I am taking Moses word that this is what God said. But Moses is still just one witness!

So I explained to this young man how I understood the inspiration for the bible works. As I did so, the understanding came to me, even while I was talking, that the second witness has to be the Holy Spirit! Here is how I presented it.

The Bible says that 'all scripture is given by inspiration of God. '[i.e. the Holy Spirit]

2 Timothy 3:16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God,

Now this works two ways. Like in the case of Moses, the Lord said to him, take and write these words in a book. Well the Lord appears to Moses and tells him, or he speaks the words directly into his mind. And Moses writes down exactly what God says. He doesn't need to understand what God means by any of it. All he has to do is write it down exactly as given to him. That's the first way that scripture is given by the Spirit.

A witness is someone who gives testimony. A biblical writer is giving his testimony that he has written what God told him to write. And a testament is another word for testimony. So the bible, new and old, is just a series of testimonies. It's one witness, the Spirit is the second one!

The second way the Spirit gives scripture is by giving it to the reader! As the reader is reading in the bible, the Spirit will give him bits and pieces of it. He opens the understanding of the reader so that it makes sense. If you're reading parts of the bible without the guidance of the Spirit, you just won't get it. Get it?

So in reading Moses or Matthew or any book of the Bible, the first witness is the bible itself. You're reading a long, confusing, vague and sometimes boring and sometimes puzzling book that claims to be the word of God. That's your first witness, the book claims to be the word of God. Now along comes the Spirit and takes the long, confusing, vague and sometimes boring book, and brings it to life by showing you what things mean. That's your second witness. And with these 2 witnesses you can prove things. The written word by itself is just a dead letter. The letter kills but the Spirit Gives Life. So the letter plus the Spirit gives life. That's two witnesses. That's the word mixed with faith!

So the implication of this is that without the Spirit, no word can be established. The Spirit is our proof, not man's wisdom. It don't mean a thing if it ain't got the Spirit behind it.

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