Easton's Bible Dictionary
More than one witness was required in criminal cases
17:6 ; 19:15
). They were the first to execute the sentence on the condemned ( Deuteronomy
13:9 ; 17:7
Kings 21:13 ; Matthew
27:1 ; Acts
7:58 ). False witnesses were liable to punishment ( Deuteronomy
). It was also an offence to refuse to bear witness ( Leviticus
Hitchcock's Dictionary of Bible Names
Smith's Bible Dictionary
(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. ( Genesis 21:30 ; 31:47 , 31:52 ) The
tribes of Reuben and Gad raised an "altar" 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. ( Joshua 22:10 , 22:26 , 22:34 ; 24:26
, 24:27 ) But written evidence was by no means unknown to the Jews. Divorce was
to be proved by a written document. ( Deuteronomy 24:1 , 24:3 ) In civil contracts,
at least in later times documentary evidence was required and carefully preserved.
( Isaiah 8:16 ; Jeremiah 32:10 - 16 ) On the whole the law was very careful to
provide and enforce evidence for all its infractions and all transactions bearing
on them. Among special provisions with respect to evidence are the following:
|1. Two witnesses at least are required to establish any
charge. ( Numbers 35:30 ; 17:6 ; John 8:17 ; 2 Corinthians 13:1 ) comp. 1 Timothy
2. In the case of the suspected wife, evidence besides the husbands was desired.
( Numbers 5:13 )
3. The witness who withheld the truth was censured. ( Leviticus 5:1 )
4. False witness was punished with the penalty due to the offence which it sought
5. Slanderous reports and officious witness are discouraged. ( Exodus 20:16 ;
23:1 ; Leviticus 18:16 , 18:18 ) etc.
6. The witnesses were the first executioners. ( Deuteronomy 15:9 ; 17:7 ; Acts
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.
( Exodus 22:13 )
8. According to Josephus, women and slaves were not admitted to bear testimony.
(2) In the New Testament the original notion of a witness
is exhibited in the special form of one who attests his belief in the gospel by
personal suffering. Hence it is that the use of the ecclesiastical term "martyr"
the Greek word for "witness," has arisen.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
wit'-nes (nouns 'edh, and 'edhah, and verb 'anah; martus,
with all derivative words and their compounds):
1. The word "witness" is used of inanimate things, e.g. the heap of stones testifying
to the covenant between Jacob and Laban (Genesis 31:44 - 54), and the song of
Moses. (Deuteronomy 31:19 , 21). The main use of the word is forensic, and from
this use all other applications are naturally derived. Important legal agreements
required the attestation of witnesses, as in the case of the purchase of property,
or a betrothal (Ruth 4:1 - 11, where we are told that the ancient form of attestation
was by a man drawing off his shoe and giving it to his neighbor).
The Mosaic Law insisted on the absolute necessity of witnesses in all cases which
came before a judge, especially in criminal cases. Not only in criminal cases,
but in all cases, it was necessary to have at least two witnesses to make good
an accusation against a person (Deuteronomy 17:6 ; 19:15 ; compare Numbers 35:30
; Matthew 18:16 ; John 8:17 ; 2 Corinthians 13:1 ; 1 Timothy 5:19). According
to the Talmud (Pesachim 113b), if in a case of immorality only one witness came
forward to accuse anyone, it was regarded as sinful on the part of that witness.
On the other hand, anyone who, being present at the adjuration (Leviticus 5:1
the Revised Version (British and American)), refused to come forward as a witness
when he had testimony to bear, was considered to have sinned (Proverbs 29:24).
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 (Sanhedhrin 3 3, 4; Ro'sh Ha-shanah 1 7; Babha'
Kamma' 88a; compare Ant, IV, viii, 15). No one could be a witness who had been
paid to render this service (Bekhoroth 4 6). In cases of capital punishment there
was an elaborate system of warning and cautioning witnesses. Each witness had
to be heard separately (Sanhedhrin 5; compare 3 5). If they contradicted one another
on important points their witness was invalidated (Sanhedhrin 5).
No oath was required from witnesses. The meaning of Leviticus 5:1 was not that
witnesses had to take an oath, as some think; it describes the solemn adjuration
of the judge to all those with knowledge of the case to come forward as witnesses
(see OATH). When a criminal was to be put to death, the witnesses against him
were to take the foremost share in bringing about his death (Deuteronomy 17:7;
compare Acts 7:58), in order to prove their own belief in their testimony. In
the case of a person condemned to be stoned, all the witnesses had to lay their
hands on the head of the condemned (Leviticus 24:14). "False witnessing" was prohibited
in the Decalogue (Exodus 20:16); against it the lexicon talionis was enforced,
i.e. it was done to the witness as he meant to do to the accused (Deuteronomy
19:16 - 21). The Sadducees held that only when the falsely accused had been executed,
the false witnesses should be put to death; the Pharisees, that false witnesses
were liable to be executed the moment the death sentence had been passed on the
falsely accused (Makkoth 17). In spite of prohibitions, false witnessing was a
very common crime among the people (Psalms 27:12 ; 35:11 ; Proverbs 6:19 ; 12:17
; 14:5 ; 19:5 ; 24:28 ; Matthew 26:60 ; Acts 6:13).
2. In Acts 22:20 ; Revelation 2:13 ; 17:6 the word martus, "witness", seems to be
beginning to acquire the meaning of "martyr," as in the King James Version, although
the Revised Version (British and American) translates "witness" in the first two
passages, retaining "martyr" only in the third with "witness" in the margin.
For "Tabernacle of Witness" see TABERNACLE.
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