Thursday, January 23, 2014


“The basic structure of Christian theology is simple. Its every teaching should be taken from the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament as being the words of prophets and apostles spoken on the authority of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man, the Savior of sinners.”[1] Since the discipline of Christian apologetics rightly comes under the rubric of Christian theology, it is only logical to see this disciple as also relying exclusively on Scripture as its sole authority. How could it be otherwise? Contrary to numerous Christian philosophers, Christian apologetics does not belong to the field of philosophy. It belongs to theology and with theology it must remain. The constituents of contemporary apologists, if they demonstrate anything at all, they show us what happens to a thoroughly biblical practice when the philosophers are finished with it. It is the conviction of this writer that we must begin with Scripture, employ Scripture continually, and end with Scripture if our apologetic method has any hope at all of approaching the cadence and model of the apologetics of the ancient church.

The most common Hebrew word translated witness is עֵד. “This word, appearing some sixty-seven times in the ot, is also derived from the root ʿûd meaning “return” or “repeat, do again.” The semantic development apparently is that a witness is one, who by reiteration, emphatically affirms his testimony. The word is at home in the language of the court.”[2] Another Hebrew word that catches our attention is עֵדָה, “used only of things posited to establish permanence and unequivocal facts such as ownership (Gen 21:30), an agreement (Gen 31:52). and a covenant with God (Josh 24:27).[3] One cannot over-emphasize the significance that a witness played in ancient Hebrew culture. The law placed great significance on the qualities of a witness.
Among those not qualified to be witnesses were the near relations of the accuser or the accused, friends and enemies, gamesters, usurers, tax-gatherers, heathen, slaves, women and those not of age (Ṣanhedhrīn 3:3, 4; Rō’sh Ha-shānāh 1:7; Bābhā Ḳammā’ 88a; cf Ant, IV, viii, 15). No one could be a witness who had been paid to render this service (Bekhōrōth 4:6). In cases of capital punishment there was an elaborate system of warning and cautioning witnesses. Each witness had to be heard separately (Ṣanhedhrīn 5; cf 3:5). If they contradicted one another on important points their witness was invalidated (Ṣanhedhrīn 5).[4]
“On the evidence of two witnesses or three witnesses, he who is to die shall be put to death; he shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness. “The hand of the witnesses shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.”[5]

In the New Testament, the significance of the witness is not diminished. The Greek word translated witness is μαρτυρία. The work of the witness was to testify on behalf of another. John 1:7 captures the essence of the role of the witness: “He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him.”[6] Louw & Nida explain that the word means, “to provide information about a person or an event concerning which the speaker has direct knowledge—‘to witness.”[7] BDAG explains that it is confirmation or attestation on the basis of personal knowledge or belief, testimony. The witness possesses information that the object of his testimony does not. Why would I need someone to testify to me about an event of which I possessed knowledge? The idea behind the witness is that he possesses information that the non-witness does not. Moreover, it is implied that this information is vital to the circumstances surrounding the event. This point cannot be overemphasized.

In summary then, from this information on witnesses and testimony, we can conclude four things about the concept of witness. Frist, the qualities of a witness are vitally important. Second, the role of the witness is to testify about an event of which he possesses intimate knowledge. Third, the content of the testimony is unknown to the recipients of the testimony. Fourth, the content is not only relevant to the case, it is vital to the circumstances surrounding the case otherwise the testimony would be superfluous. 

My aim in this short post is simply to turn your attention to the significance of the witness in Scripture. Once we understand the significant role the witness played Hebrew culture, we can then begin to grasp the nature and role of the Holy Spirit as the witness to the truth of divine revelation. It my hope that that understanding will influence your approach to Christian apologetics.

[1]. Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith (United States: Presbyterian and Reformed, n.d.), 7.
2. Carl Schultz, “1576 עוּד,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 648.
3. Carl Schultz, “1576 עוּד,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 649.
4. Paul Levertoff, “Witness,” ed. James Orr et al., The International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Volumes 1–5 (Chicago: The Howard-Severance Company, 1915), 3099.
5. New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Dt 17:6–7.
6. New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Jn 1:7.
7. Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 417.

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