Witness (עֵד, fern. עֵדָה; Sept. and New Test μάρτυς; Vulg. testis) is used in the English Bible botb of persons and things.
I. Leading Significations. — This frequent term occurs,
1. In the sense of a person who deposes to the occurrence of any fact, a witness of any event. The Hebrew word is from עוּד, to repeat. The Greek word is usually derived from μείρω), to "divide," "decide," etc., because a witness decides controversies (Heb 6:16); but Damm (Lex. Bom. col. 1495) deduces it from the old word μάρη, "the hand," because witnesses anciently held up their hands in giving evidence. This custom, among the ancient Hebrews, is referred to in Ge 14:22; among the heathens, by Homer (Iliad, 10:321), and by Virgil (AEneid, 12:196). God himself is represented as swearing in this manner (De 32:40; Eze 20:5-6,15; comp. Nu 14:30). So also the heathen gods (Pindar, Olymp. 7:119, 120). These Hebrew and Greek words, with their various derivations, pervade the entire subject. They are applied to a judicial witness in Ex 23:1; Le 5:1; Nu 5:13; Nu 35:30 (comp. De 17:6; De 19:15; Mt 18:16; 2Co 13:1); Pr 14:5; Pr 24:28; Mt 26:65; Ac 6:13; 1Ti 5:19; Heb 10:28. They are applied, generally, to a person who certifies, or is able to certify, to any fact which has come under his cognizance (Jos 24:22; Isa 8:2; Lu 24:48; Ac 1:8,22; 1Th 2:10; 1Ti 6:12; 2Ti 2:2; 1Pe 1:5). So in allusion to those who witness the public games (Heb 12:1). They are also applied to any one who testifies to the world what God reveals through him (Re 11:3). In the latter sense the Greek word is applied to our Lord (Re 1:5; Re 3:14). Both the Hebrew and Greek words are also applied to God (Ge 31:50; 1Sa 12:5; Jer 42:5;. Ro 1:9; Php 1:8; 1Th 2:5); to inanimate things (Ge 31:52; Ps 89:37). The supernatural means whereby the deficiency of witnesses was compensated under the theocracy, have been already considered under the articles SEE ADULTERY, TRIAL OF; SEE URIM AND THUMMIM. For the punishment of false witness and the suppression of evidence, SEE PUNISHMENT. For the forms of adjuration (2Ch 18:15), SEE ADJURATION. Opinions differ as to what is meant by "the faithful witness in heaven" (Ps 89:37). Some suppose it to mean the moon (comp. Ps 72:5,7; Jer 31:35-36; Jer 33:20-21; Ecclus. 43:6); others, the rainbow (Ge 9:12-17).
2. The witness or testimony itself borne to any fact is expressed by עֵד; μαρτυρία (testimonium) . . . They are used of judicial testimony (Pr 25:18; Mr 14:56,59). In verse 55, Schleusner takes the word μαρτυρία for μάρτυρ, the abstract for the concrete (Lu 22:71; Joh 8:17; Josephus, Ant. 4:8, 15). It denotes the testimony to the truth of anything generally (Joh 1:7,19; Joh 19:35); that of a poet (Tit 1:13). It occurs in Josephus (Cont. Apion, 1:21). In Joh 3:11,32, Schleusner understands the doctrine, the thing professed; in 5:32, 36, the proofs given by God of our Saviour's mission; comp. 5:9. In 8:13, 14, both he and Bretschneider assign to the word the sense of praise In Ac 22:18, the former translates it teaching or instruction. In Re 1:9, it denotes the constant profession of Christianity, or testimony to the truth of the gospel (comp. 1:2; 6:9). In 1Ti 3:7,
μαρτυρία καλή means a good character (comp. 3Jo 1:12; Ecclus. 31:34; Josephus, Ant. 6:10, 1). In Ps 19:7, "The testimony of the Lord is sure" probably signifies the ordinances, institutions, etc. (comp. Ps 119:22,24, etc.). Those ambiguous words, "He that believeth in the Son of God hath the witness in himself" (1Jo 5:10), which have given rise to a variety of fanatical meanings, are easily understood, by explaining the word ἔχει, "receives," "retains," etc., i.e. the foregoing testimony which God hath given of his Son, whereas the unbeliever rejects it. The whole passage is obscured in the English translation by neglecting the uniformity of the Greek, and introducing the word "record," contrary to the profession of our translators in their Preface to the Reader (ad finem). The Hebrew word, with μαρτύριον, occurs in the sense of monument, evidence, etc. (Ge 21:30; Ge 31:44; De 4:45; De 31:26; Jos 22:27; Ru 4:7; Mt 8:4; Mr 6:11; Lu 21:13; Jas 5:3). In 2Co 1:12, Schleusner explains μαρτύριον, commendation. In Provo 29:14, and Am 1:11, לעד is pointed to mean perpetually, forever, but the Septuagint gives εἰς μαρτύριον; Aquila, εἰς ἔτι ; Symmachus, εἰς ἀεί; Vulg. in ceternum. In Ac 7:44, and Re 15:5, we find ἡ σκηνὴ τοῦ μαρτυρίου, and this is the Sept. rendering for אהל מועד (which really means "the tabernacle of the congregation") in Ex 29:42,44; Ex 40:22,24 — deriving מועד from עוד, "'to testify," instead of from יוד, "to assemble." On 1Ti 2:6, see Bowyer, Conjectures. In Heb 3:5, Schleusner interprets εἰς μαρτύριον τῶν λαληθησομένων, "the promulgation of those things about to be delivered to the Jews."
3. To be or become a witness, by testifying the truth of what one knows. Thus the Sept. translates העיד (Ge 43:3), μαρτυρέω, to bear witness, and Am 3:13: see also 1Ki 21:10,13. In Joh 1:7; Joh 15:26; Joh 18:23, Schleusner gives as its meaning, to teach or explain; in Joh 4:44; Joh 7:7; 1Ti 6:13, to declare; in Ac 10:43; Ro 3:21, to declare prophetically. With a dative case following, the word sometimes means to approve (Lu 4:22). So Schleusner understands Lu 11:48, "Ye approve the deeds of your fathers," and he gives this sense also to Ro 10:2. In like manner the passive , μαρτυρέομαι, "to be approved," "beloved," "have a good character," etc. (Ac 6:3; 1Ti 5:10; comp. 3Jo 1:6,12). "The witness of the Spirit," alluded to by St. Paul (Ro 8:16), is explained by Macknight and all the best commentators, as the extraordinary operation of the Holy Spirit concurring with the filial disposition of converted Gentiles, to prove that they are "the children of God," as well as the Jews. (See below.)
4. "To call or take to witness," "to invoke as witness," μαρτύρομαιt (Ac 20:26; Ga 5:3; Josephus, War, 3:8, 3). A still stronger word is διαμαρτύρομαι, which corresponds to העיד (De 4:26). It means "to admonish solemnly," "to charge earnestly," "to urge upon" (Ps 81:8; Ne 9:26; Lu 16:28; Ac 2:40). In other passages the same words mean to "teach earnestly." In Job 29:11, a beautiful phrase occurs, "When the eye saw me it gave witness to me." The admiring expression of the eye upon beholding a man of eminent virtue and benevolence, is here admirably illustrated. The description of the mischief occasioned by a false-witness, in Pr 25:18, deserves notice: "A man that beareth false witness against his neighbor, is a maul, and a sword, and a sharp arrow." Few words afford more exercise to discrimination, in consequence of the various shades of meaning in which the context requires they should be understood.
II. Hebrew Usages. —
1. Among people with whom writing is not common, the evidence of a transaction is given by some tangible memorial or significant ceremony. Abraham gave seven ewe-lambs to Abimelech as an evidence of his property in the well of Beersheba. Jacob raised a heap of stones, "the heap of witness," as a boundary-mark between himself and Laban (Ge 21:30; Ge 31:47,52). The tribes of Reuben and Gad raised an "altar," designed expressly not for sacrifice, but as a witness to the covenant between themselves and the rest of the nation; Joshua set up a stone as an evidence of the allegiance promised by Israel to God; "for," he said, "it hath heard all the words of the Lord" (Jos 22:10,26,34; Jos 24:26-27). So also a pillar is mentioned by Isaiah as "a witness to the Lord of hosts in the land of Egypt" (Isa 19:19-20). Thus also the sacred ark and its contents are called "the testimony" (Ex 16:33-34; Ex 25:16; Ex 38:21; Nu 1:50,53; Nu 9:15; Nu 10:11; Nu 17:7-8; Nu 18:2; Heb 9:4).
Thus also symbolical usages, in ratification of contracts or completed arrangements, as the ceremony of shoe-loosing (De 25:9-10; Ru 4:7-8), the ordeal prescribed in the case of a suspected wife (Nu 5:17-31), with which may be compared the ordeal of the Styx (Class. Mus. 6:386). The Bedawin Arabs practice a fiery ordeal in certain cases by way of compurgation. (Burckhardt, Notes, 1:121; Layard, Nin. and Bab. page 305). 'The ceremony also appointed at the oblation of first-fruits (q.v.) may be mentioned as partaking of the same character (De 26:4)
But written evidence was by no means unknown to the Jews. Divorce was to be proved by a written document (De 24:1,3), whereas among Bedawin and. Mussulmans in general a spoken sentence is sufficient (Burckhardt, Notes, 1:110; Sale, Koran, c. 33, page 348;. Lane, Mod. Egypt, 1:136, 236). In civil contracts, at least in later times, documentary evidence was required and carefully preserved (Isa 8:16; Jer 32:10-16).
On the whole Moses was very careful to provide and enforce evidence for all infractions of law and all transactions bearing on it: e.g. the memorial stones of Jordan and of Ebal (De 27:2-4; Jos 4:9; Jos 8:30); the fringes on-garments (Nu 15:39-40); the boundary- stones of property (De 19:14; De 27:17; Pr 22:28); the "broad plates" made from the censers of the Korahites (Nu 16:38); above all, the ark of testimony itself-all these are instances of the care taken by the legislator to perpetuate evidence of the facts on which the legislation was founded, and by which it was supported (De 6:20-25). Appeal to the same principle is also repeatedly made in the case of prophecies as a test of their authenticity (De 18:22; Jer 28:9,16-17; Joh 3:11; Joh 5:36; Joh 10:38 ;14:11; Lu 24:48; Ac 1:3; Ac 2:32; Ac 3:15, etc.)..
2. Among special provisions of the law with respect to evidence are the following:
(1) Two witnesses at least are required to establish, any charge (Nu 35:30; De 17:6; De 19:15;. 1Ki 21:13; Joh 8:17; 2Co 13:1; Heb 10:28); and a like principle is laid down by Paul as a rule of procedure in certain cases in the Christian Church (1Ti 5:19).
(2) In the case of the suspected wife, evidence besides the husband's was desired, though not demanded. (Nu 5:13).
(3) The witness who withheld the truth was censured (Le 5:1).
(4) False witness was punished with the punishment due to the offence which it sought to establish. SEE OATH.
(5) Slanderous reports and officious witness are discouraged (Ex 20:16; Ex 23:1; Le 19:16,18;: De 19:16-21; Pr 24:28).
(6) The witnesses were the first executioners (De 13:9; De 16:7; Ac 7:58).
(7) In case of an animal left in charge and torn by wild beasts, the keeper was to bring the carcass in proof of the fact and disproof of his own criminality (Ex 22:13).
(8) According to Josephus, women and slaves were mot admitted to bear testimony (Ant. 4:8, 15). To these exceptions the Mishna adds idiots, deaf, blind, and dumb persons, persons of infamous character, and some others, ten in all (Selden, De Synedr. 2:13, 11; Otho, Lex. Rabb. page 653). The high-priest was not bound to give evidence in any case except one affecting the king (ibid.). Various refinements on the quality of evidence and the manner of taking it are given in the Mishna (Sanhedr. 4:5; 5:2, 3; Maccoth, 1:1, 9; Sheb. 3:10; 4:1; 5:1). In criminal cases evidence was required to be oral; in pecuniary, written evidence was allowed (Otho, Lex. Rabb. page 653).
3. In the New Test. the original notion of a witness is exhibited in the special form of one who attests his belief in the gospel by personal suffering. So Stephen is styled by Paul (Ac 22:20), and the "faithful Antipas " (Re 2:13). John also speaks of himself and of others as witnesses in this sense (Re 1:9; Re 6:9; Re 11:3; Re 20:4). See also Heb 11; Heb 12:1, in which passage a number of persons are mentioned, belonging both to Old Test. and New Test., who bore witness to the truth by personal endurance; and to this passage may be added, as bearing on the same view of the term — "witness," Da 3:21; Da 6:16; Da 1 Macc. 1:60, 63; 2 Macc. 6:18, 19. Hence it is that the use of the ecclesiastical term "martyr" has arisen, of which copious illustration may be seen in Suicer, Thes. 2:310, etc. SEE MARTYR.