“A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offence that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established” (Deuteronomy 19:15 ESV).
As the nation of Israel approached the Promised Land, God insured that they would have a fair system of justice. One aspect of this was that eye-witness testimony was only good if it could be corroborated. It wasn’t enough just to have one person testify against someone else.
There was a good reason for this. One person might give false evidence because he did not like the person. There was even a part of the law to deal with this.
“If a false witness testifies against another person and accuses him of a crime, then both parties to the controversy must stand before the Lord, that is, before the priests and judges who will be in office in those days. The judges will thoroughly investigate the matter, and if the witness should prove to be false and to have given false testimony against the accused, you must do to him what he had intended to do to the accused. In this way you will purge evil from among you. The rest of the people will hear and become afraid to keep doing such evil among you. You must not show pity; the principle will be a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, and a foot for a foot” (Deuteronomy 19:16-21).
Although this might seem a bit extreme to us, I think we can easily see how this would make someone think before they gave a false accusation. The principle of having two or three witnesses is a good principle.
Jesus used this principle when defending who he was to the Jews. In John 5 he had been healing people on the Sabbath and, as a result, was receiving opposition from the Jewish leaders. He needed to establish who he was.
“If I testify about myself, my testimony is not true. There is another who testifies about me, and I know the testimony he testifies about me is true. You have sent to John, and he has testified to the truth…But I have a testimony greater than that from John. For the deeds that the Father has assigned me to complete – the deeds I am now doing – testify about me that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified about me…You study the scriptures thoroughly because you think in them you possess eternal life, and it is these same scriptures that testify about me, but you are not willing to come to me so that you may have life” (John 5:31-40 NET).
To establish who he was and that he had the authority to do what he did, Jesus called three witnesses. The first was John, a man they knew and largely ignored. But he had a greater witness than John: the miraculous signs he was doing should have been evidence enough that he was from God. But even God, his Father, had given his testimony in the scriptures.
These witnesses should establish without any doubt that Jesus is who he said he was – even to us almost two thousand years later. We have John’s testimony. We have the records of what Jesus did – records that can easily be shown to be historically reliable. And we have the scriptures which tell of the Messiah and we can see that Jesus fulfilled these.
No wonder Peter, after giving similar evidence for Jesus on the day of Pentecost, could say, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know beyond a doubt that God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2:36).
We have the same evidence. What is our verdict?
Readings for next week:
1 May – Deuteronomy 17
2 May – Deuteronomy 18
3 May – Deuteronomy 19-20
4 May – Deuteronomy 21
5 May – Deuteronomy 22