There are several Bible instructions which involve the need to have two or three witnesses in a matter. We read about that concept in the law of Moses, Jesus spoke about it more than once when He was living on the earth, and it appears in a couple of epistles written to Christians.
First of all, what does a “witness” do? He testifies. “To witness” and “to testify” are the same. A witness does not share a rumor, his personal feelings, or an opinion. Rather, he recounts what he personally saw or heard. “. . . We speak what We know and testify that We have seen . . . And what He has seen and heard, that He testifies . . . (John 3:11,32). Saul of Tarsus was told, “For you will be His witness to all men of what thou hast seen and heard” (Acts 22:15). Again, a witness is one who testifies/gives witness about what he has heard and seen.
Under the law of Moses, two or three witnesses were required to carry out capital punishment for a crime. “Whoever is deserving of death shall be put to death on the testimony of two or three witnesses; he shall not be put to death on the testimony of one witness” (Deuteronomy 17:6). Similar language is found in Deuteronomy 19:15: “One witness shall not rise up against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin he commits; by the mouth of two witnesses or three witnesses the matter shall be established.” God’s decree in this matter was not open to debate. Jehovah spoke. That settled it.
Let it be observed that not every “witness” is reliable. In fact, the last verse we quoted above was Deuteronomy 19:15. The very next statement in the Bible contains these words: “If a false witness rises against any man to testify against him of wrongdoing” (19:16). What kind of witness was under consideration? A false one. Some witnesses are honest; others are not. The Bible says, “A faithful witness does not lie. But a false witness will utter lies” (Proverbs 14:5). Do you recall how Jezebel rounded up two men to “witness” against Naboth? Those witnesses lied (1 Kings 21:9-13). Many bore false witness against Jesus when He stood before the Jewish Sanhedrin (Mark 14:57). Thus, it is obvious that God’s people must be concerned not only about the quantity of witnesses, but also about the quality of their testimony.
Jesus spoke about the need for two or three witnesses when one of His disciples has sinned against another one and they are trying to resolve the matter. “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established’” (Matthew 18:15,16). In some situations, emotions kick in and we do not think or speak rationally. Having two or three reliable witnesses helps to calm folks down, sort things out, and set matters straight.
When Jesus claimed to be the light of the world, the Pharisees responded by saying that when one testifies about himself, that is not acceptable (John 8:13). Jesus told them, “And yet if I do judge, My judgment is true; for I am not alone, but I am with the Father who sent Me. It is also written in your law that the testimony of two men is true. I am One who bears witness of Myself, and the Father who sent Me bears witness of Me” (John 8:16-18). So, Jesus’ approach met the requirement of the law to have two witnesses: He was one witness, and the Father was witness number two.
As Paul prepared to come to Corinth again, he wrote to the saints, “This will be the third time I am coming to you. By the mouth of two or three witnesses every word shall be established” (2 Corinthians 13:1). In the context of that letter, he was speaking about setting in order matters dealing with the sins of the Corinthian saints and their repentance (12:20,21; 13:2).
In another of Paul’s letters, he wrote to Timothy about how to deal properly with elders of the church. Part of the apostle’s instruction was, “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses” (1 Timothy 5:19). The message is clear: if you do not have at least two credible witnesses, then you must not accept an accusation against an overseer as being valid/ worthy of taking action. It is easy to open our mouths and charge someone with wrongdoing. Verifying it with proof is something entirely different. A congregation can face terrible turmoil if it does not handle these matters scripturally.
God has the best interest of people at heart, and the course of action He prescribes for every situation is always the correct one. When His unlimited wisdom calls for two or three witnesses in a matter, we need to be ready to comply with His directions.
— Roger D. Campbell