Biblical Witness

Whilst the concepts of witness and 'sent one' are entirely distinct they are often blended within Biblical thought. Further the act of blending splits the concept 'witness' into three separate trains of thought, each one of which needs to be considered. The first is so distinct that in English we usually use the term 'authenticate' rather than witness. A witness of some form is required to show that 'sent one' is sent. The second notion is the notion of a messenger; a witness that can vouch for some fact of an event that took place at the location from which the witness was sent. The third is that of observer. Someone is sent from a remote location to experience an event which can then be reported back to the sender. All three of these aspects of witness are illustrated in scripture and the aim of this paper is to highlight a few of them.

It should perhaps be noted that the first and primary meaning of witness is independent of sending. The word first appears in Gen 21:30 where sheep are used as a witness to 'notarize' a contract. In Gen 31:44 a contract is used as a witness and in Gen 31:48 a heap of stones is used as a witness to a contract. In these cases there is no change of location required; in fact in the case of the stone heap physical proximity is required for the witness to be effective.

The first case[1] of a remote witness in scripture is given in Exo 22:13. Here the remnants of a torn beast were to be returned to a master by a hireling as proof that the animal had been ravaged. I am not convinced this really counts as a sending example; it would be odd to describe the body parts as 'sent' however the term witness is being used to authenticate an event that took place.

I believe however that the first significant example of the blending of sending and witness occurs in Num 17:7; here we read of the 'tabernacle of witness'. Obviously the tabernacle itself was constructed upon earth using earthly tools. It had been called the 'tabernacle of the congregation' until this point[2]. In this chapter however Aaron's priesthood was questioned and the rods were placed in the tabernacle of witness. Aaron's rod budded and the priesthood was established. However this is a cast-iron example of spiritual authentication of a sent-one being described as a witness.

If we now fast forward to the New Testament (John 1:6-7) we see one of the most important witnesses ever sent; John the Baptist. We are told he came from God and that he was to bear witness to the Light. Thus he was clearly a messenger witness. However whilst his ministry was parallel to that of Elijah we find his ministry was curiously un-authenticated. Once out of the womb[3] John showed no supernatural tendencies at all. It is almost as if God did not want his witness to be too compelling.

The Lord gives an extended discourse upon the witness concept in John 5:31-37. Here He states that it would not be legitimate for Him to have acted as a witness of His own character. He would have been telling the truth but as a witness it would have been untrue because it does not meet the standards of witness that have been set. So instead John was sent as a witness (messenger). However Christ had a greater witness (authentication) which was the works that the father had Him do. Christ also stated that the father had been witness to Him but that He hadn't been listened to[4].

Acts 1:22 is probably the best example[5] of the third witness type.

Act 1:22 Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection

This verse states that the apostles had been sent (or chosen) to witness all that Christ did so that they could be witnesses of it. Thus we see that by being sent we may be called upon to witness to what we know already; but it could also be so that we witness new things.

A more worrying example is seen in Zec 1:7-9. The Lord has beings roaming the earth observing all that is done. In fact Proverbs gives us a verse that will please or terrify us depending upon our standing with Him:

Pro 15:3 The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good.

We have seen previously that whilst God is physically remote He chooses to communicate with us through the medium of sending. In this paper we have really added the notion of authenticated communication. Authenticating the communication involves the concept of a witness is three aspects. First there is the authentication of the person that has been sent. Then there is the message of the one that has been sent. Finally there is the message taken back by the sent one either to the original sender or to some third location to which the witness is sent.

I have deliberately not touched upon the aspect of ourselves as witnesses. The above shows how witnessing is supposed to work; and that is independent of us. The challenge is to see how we measure up to the theory. Are we authenticated as Christians by our actions and attitudes? Do we go into our neighborhoods with a clear and consistent testimony of the truth? Do we bring back the needs of the people and the burdens they carry to God in prayer? Amen.


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