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Bible Dictionaries
Witness, Martyr

Holman Bible Dictionary

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The testimony of a person, or something which bears testimony to a person or an event. In the Old Testament the Hebrew word moed is used to refer to the “meeting” place of God and His people. This meeting is testimony to a particular person or event, such as God or the giving of the covenant, and provides a place of testimony. See Tent of Meeting.

The second Hebrew word, ed refers to the legal element of witness. One rendered testimony based on observation which was to be true and faithful. This is beautifully illustrated in Ruth 4:9-11 where Boaz called on the elders of the city to be witnesses to his act of redemption. Witnesses were also expected to be involved in the judgment. Thus, in Deuteronomy 17:7 the witness is the first to throw a stone. Joshua ( Deuteronomy 24:22 ) called the people to awareness of their vow to serve the Lord their God by reminding them they were witnesses and thus accountable.

In this last chapter of Joshua, Joshua also set up a memorial, edah , to the commitment. This act of memorializing is also a witness and is commonly practiced in the Old Testament. See Stone . The memorial is a witness response to both present and future generations of God's activity. In Psalm 119:1 , the law is the supreme “testimony” or monument to God. God established the law and gave it to people as a true and faithful witness for righteous living.

The legal concept of witness found in the Old Testament is continued in the New Testament. This aspect of witness, as well as new ones, is covered by only one Greek word, martureo , and its many derivatives. The legal sense of witness/testimony occurs in the synoptics during the trial of Jesus (Matthew 26:65; Mark 14:63; Luke 22:71 ). Paul employed this legal concept when he bore witness to the Galatians of their care for him (Galatians 4:15 ). In a more technical sense of witness, he reminded Timothy not to act too hastily in accusing an elder without at least two or three witnesses (1 Timothy 5:19 ). Nowhere is this sense of witness more developed than in John's writings. Jesus is the supreme witness to God and His love. In John 1:1 , John the Baptist bore testimony to the truth of Jesus' witness. In John 5:1 , Jesus argued pointedly that John the Baptist, the Father, and the Scripture all bear witness to Him. In John 8:1 , Jesus reminded His hearers that according to the law the testimony of two people is true. Thus His hearers needed to respond to the truth of His witness. For John, Jesus's message as witness was inseparable from His very personhood. Jesus is true and faithful, and so is His message. A response is demanded.

This concept of one's person being involved in the witness informs the way witness is used to described the early believers. Believers were challenged by Christ Himself to be His witnesses throughout the world (Acts 1:8 ). As Jesus had indicated earlier, this witness is informed and empowered by the Holy Spirit (John 15:26-27 ). Throughout the New Testament, believers are instructed that their witness is to be true and faithful, reflected both in speech and life-style (Acts 4:33; Acts 14:3; Hebrews 10:15-17; 1 Thessalonians 2:10 ).

This high commitment to witness/testify exemplified by Christ resulted in His persecution and death. Likewise, with His followers there would be persecution for their witness (John 15:20 ). Thus, early in the Book of Acts (Acts 7:1 ), Stephen became the first martyr. That very word comes from martureo and really states that Stephen was first and foremost a witness, giving testimony. Ironically, the witness was put to death by witnesses to his testimony ( Acts 7:58 ).

The death of Stephen serves as a stark reminder that true and faithful testimony to Christ requires total commitment, even one's life. As Christ is the faithful and true witness (Revelation 3:14 ) who clearly presented God to the world, so may believers be. See Acts; Covenant; Evangelism; Martyr .

William Vermillion

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Witness, Martyr'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hbd/​w/witness-martyr.html. 1991.
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