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Bible Dictionaries
Witness (2)

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

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WITNESS.—The idea of witness as related to Christ and His gospel plays an essential and highly important part in the NT writings and in the Christian faith and life universally. Not only in the primitive preaching, but also in all effectual preaching throughout the history of the Church, the gospel is conceived not as a speculative system, but as a witness to Jesus the Christ as being Himself God’s Witness to the world.

Among the NT writers none appears to have so definitely and fondly reflected upon the idea of witness as St. John. It is one of his ‘leading ideas.’ In his Gospel (cf. Westcott, Speaker’s Com. on ‘St. John,’ Introd.) he mentions a sevenfold witness to Christ: the witness (1) of the Father (John 5:34; John 5:37), (2) of the Son (John 8:14, John 18:37), (3) of His works (John 10:25, John 5:36), (4) of the Scriptures (John 5:39-46), (5) of the forerunner (John 1:7, John 5:35), (6) of the disciples (John 15:27, John 19:35), (7) of the Spirit (John 15:26, John 16:14). In view, however, of the unique significance of the Person of Christ, and in harmony with the method of the NT preaching, it will be most appropriate to consider our subject under these two heads:—I. The witness of Jesus Christ the Son, supported by the witness of the Father and of the Spirit. II. The witness of the disciples to Jesus Christ the Son of God, supported by the witness of the Holy Spirit.

I. The witness of Jesus, supported by the witness of the Father and of the Spirit

1. Jesus’ personal witness.—His first disciples Jesus gathered about Himself through the power of the truth which He spoke and of His own Personality, so marvellously at one with His word. He did not begin with declarations about Himself. He came to make the Father known. He came fulfilling, in word and deed, the Law and the Prophets. He preached repentance and inward righteousness. With a wealth of light He set forth the nature of the Kingdom of God. But in all this Jesus spoke as witness. He was conscious of an immediate, intimate, and unique fellowship with the Father, and out of this consciousness He spoke (Matthew 11:27, John 3:11; John 10:15; John 14:10; John 17:21; John 17:25; see also art. Consciousness). The tone and manner of spiritual authority permeated all that He said and did from His earliest teaching to His sublime declaration before Pilate, and even to His words upon the cross (cf. esp. Matthew 5-7, John 18:37; John 19:30, Luke 11:43; Luke 11:46). But this consciousness of speaking as witness finds also distinct and emphatic expression in His word (cf. esp. John 8:12 ff.).

While Jesus’ witness was primarily concerning the Father,—He even denied in a certain sense that He bore witness of Himself (John 5:31),—it is yet certain that He also bore witness of Himself (cf. esp. John 8:14; John 18:37; John 14:6). Jesus testifies of Himself as the Way. This testimony is unmistakable and unqualified. And yet the method of this witness was chiefly indirect or by way of necessary implication. He appealed to the Father’s testimony concerning Him, or else silently waited till it should be brought to light. And when the revelation from the Father produced in the disciples a believing confession of His Son, Jesus clearly accepted and sanctioned that confession (e.g. Matthew 16:16-20).

2. The witness of the Father to Jesus includes both the personal, inward testimony to Jesus Himself, which resulted in His full consciousness as Messiah and Son (see art. Consciousness), and all the works of God preparatory to and accompanying the life of Jesus Christ on earth designed to lead men to the certainty of faith in Him as Redeemer and Lord. Under this head we note: (1) The witness of the Scriptures (cf. esp. John 5:39, Luke 24:27, Acts 10:43). This must be taken in the most real sense and yet not narrowly. The OT is full of the Messianic hope, and that hope was inspired by God. Jesus was steeped in the Scriptures, and He understood the things in them concerning Himself. We have no longer reason to insist upon a scheme of minute prediction and fulfilment, and yet we still affirm that Jesus is not to be understood otherwise than as the Fulfiller of the Law and the Prophets. (For a fuller discussion of this point see art. Fulfilment. Cf. also Valeton, Christus und das AT [Note: T Altes Testament.] ; and Kähler, Jesus und das AT [Note: T Altes Testament.] ).

(2) The witness of John as a prophet of God (cf. esp. John 1:7-8; John 1:15; John 1:19 ff., John 5:36) is manifestly closely related to that of the Scriptures; but John is, of course, more specific than the earlier prophets could be. John’s witness Jesus accepts as having a very real significance, for He regards it not as the witness of man merely, but as inspired of God.

(3) The witness of the works (cf. esp. John 5:30; John 5:36; John 10:37-38; John 14:10-11, Acts 2:22-24). The works are a testimony from the Father; for Jesus declares: ‘The Father abiding in me doeth his works.’ It would, doubtless, be a grave mistake to regard Christ’s word, ‘The works which the Father hath given me to accomplish, the very works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me,’ as meaning only His miracles. The testimony of the works issues from His whole life and ministry. His whole lifework was a manifestation of God, and as such was, in the larger sense, truly a miracle. See, further, artt. Miracles, Resurrection of Christ, and Sign.

3. The witness of the Spirit to Jesus the Son.—The witness of God concerning His Son calls for faith in the Son (1 John 5:6 ff.). This witness is borne to us primarily in objective facts (1 John 1:1 ff; 1 John 5:8; 1 John 5:10), but it is borne in upon our consciousness only by the Spirit of God. ‘It is the Spirit that beareth witness, because the Spirit is the truth’ (1 John 5:7; cf. also Matthew 16:17). It cannot be too strongly emphasized that the Person and work of Jesus Christ are the object of this testimony. The Paraclete, the Spirit of truth (Christ says), ‘shall bear witness of me’ (John 15:26). The witness of the Spirit, according to the NT, is a much larger thing than the assurance of personal sonship through Christ (Romans 8:16; cf. art. Assurance). Personal assurance is an essential and unspeakably important part—in a sense the climax—of the Spirit’s witness. But it is un-Biblical to speak of this unqualifiedly as the witness of the Spirit. The Spirit’s testimony is coextensive with the objective testimony. The manifestation of the truth of God in objective facts becomes to us an inward illumination only through the inward witness of the Spirit. Without the testimonium Spiritus sancti internum the objective witness is unable to produce full assurance. On the other hand, an inward persuasion that is not firmly grounded in objective reality is miserably insecure. The climax of the inward testimony is personal assurance; but the inward witness is inseparable from the outward. They are not two separate and independent testimonies. God would make us certain of His wonderful love and grace. To this end He reveals Christ for us, and He also reveals Him in us. The outward manifestation is the indispensable means to the inward revelation. The fact of the fellowship with God through the Spirit (e.g. Romans 8:14 ff.) is not a thing by itself, it is the demonstration of the truth of the promise by an initial and progressive realization of the same. The actual fellowship of the Spirit is the Spirit’s own witness. See, further, art. Holy Spirit.

II. The witness of the disciples, supported by the witness of the Holy Spirit.—Nothing could be clearer than that the primitive Christian preaching was not only the most direct and specific witness to Jesus the crucified and risen Lord, but also a witness irrepressibly spontaneous and full of the unconquerable assurance of an over-powering certainty (Acts 4:20, 1 Corinthians 9:16, 2 Corinthians 4:13).

What constitutes, according to the NT, the equipment and competence of a witness of Jesus Christ? Were His original disciples the only genuine witnesses? Are not those also ‘who have not seen and yet have believed’ (John 20:29) competent witnesses? In the first place, then, let us inquire how the original witnesses were prepared for their office. Early in His public ministry Jesus chose from out the larger number of His disciples ‘twelve that they might be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach’ (Mark 3:14). These He trained to be heralds of His gospel (see art. Apostles; and Bruce, The Training of the Twelve), and declared that, when the Paraclete should have come to them, they should bear witness of Him (John 15:26-27). After His Passion and Resurrection He expressly commissioned them to go forth as His witnesses (Luke 24:48, Acts 1:8). They could, of course, have had no vital conception of Jesus and His mission without the illumination of the Holy Spirit. But was there something in their experience which constituted them the only real witnesses? Some have so held; but this is a view unwarranted by Scripture and out of harmony with the principles of evangelical Christianity. The original disciples, it is true, were the only eye-and ear-witnesses. Yet what they literally saw and heard was not the revelation itself, but only the means thereto. In Jesus the flesh was, so to speak, ‘a transparency for the Word.’ Nevertheless multitudes ‘saw and heard’ Jesus and understood not. None of the rulers of this world recognized in Him the Lord of glory (1 Corinthians 2:8). The original heralds of Christ did indeed lay a certain stress upon their being eye- and ear-witnesses. But they prized their experience of sensible intercourse with the Lord not for its own sake, but because it was to them the means of entering into an inward personal fellowship with Him. In the days of His flesh this personal fellowship with Him was necessarily mediated through the senses, though the fellowship itself was not sensuous but spiritual. Even for these original disciples the time must come when their fellowship with their Lord should be wholly independent of the senses. Through the Paraclete the Lord would renew and continue His fellowship with His disciples (cf. esp. John 14, 16 and John 17:26). But He would be no longer manifest through the senses (John 20:17; cf. the fine sermon of H. Hoffmann, Eins ist not, p. 153). It is clear from the NT that after Pentecost the original disciples were immovable in their persuasion that they possessed and had fellowship with their exalted Lord.

From all this it is clear that the visible manifestation of the Lord was designed to be superseded by a manifestation through the word of His witnesses. But can the word really take the place of the sensuous contact with the Lord’s Person? For answer let it be remembered in the first place that Christ foretold that it should be sufficient (e.g. John 17:20 ff., Matthew 28:20). What the original witnesses enjoyed, others should enjoy too—the same immediate fellowship, the same certainty. As the men of Sychar believed at last not for the woman’s speaking, but because they had heard for themselves (John 4:42), so through the word of the Apostles others are brought into actual saving relation with the same Lord Christ. Alike for those who saw Him, and for those who saw Him not, the outward facts must be inwardly apprehended and inwardly tested. And as was the design, so also is the actual experience under the gospel: where the word is truly preached the Spirit does energize and seal it, and those who believe receive the same certainty as the original disciples possessed. The whole NT preaching manifestly rests upon the full persuasion that this is and must be so (e.g. 1 Peter 1:8, Hebrews 13:8, 2 Peter 1:1, esp. Acts 11:15; Acts 11:18). Faith does come by hearing (Romans 10:17)—the fact of the vital union with Christ is proof of the adequacy of the word of testimony. Such is the argument of that wonderful passage, 1 John 1:1-4. Those who through their association with Christ in the flesh had apprehended the life manifested, bear witness to others, that these also may enter into the same fellowship with them—the glorious fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. In the days of His flesh, Jesus was (according to an expression of Beyschlag in his Leben Jesu) ‘His own prophet.’ After His resurrection this office is committed to faithful witnesses. And it is thus that they conceive their office. The ministry of reconciliation is committed to them. As ambassadors of Christ they stand in Christ’s stead (2 Corinthians 5:19-20). To bear witness to Christ is their one aim as heralds (1 John 4:14). And their word is effectual. He who believes through their word is not then ‘a Christian of a secondary order’; his knowledge of Christ is indeed mediated and yet immediate (cf. the vigorous discussion of E. Haupt, Die Bedeutung der heiligen Schrift für den evangelischen Christen). The same holds good throughout all time. The word stands firm; it never passes away (Hebrews 2:1-2, Mark 13:31). Wherever the word of Christ is preached with the certainty of faith, it can bring the hearer into ‘the like precious faith’ (2 Peter 1:1).

But the effectiveness of the word of testimony is absolutely conditioned upon the operation of the Holy Spirit. The essence of the word is the promise of fellowship, grace, eternal life through Jesus Christ. Unless the preacher has the inward consciousness of the reality of the life with Christ through the Spirit, his word is no witness. And unless the hearer is aided by the Spirit to apprehend and to prove the testimony, the word concerning peace, fellowship, freedom, and the power of an endless life would be but empty sound. When, however, the word is spoken in the Spirit, it is quick, powerful, convincing, saving (Hebrews 4:12, John 16:8, James 1:21).

Have, then, the original witnesses no peculiar privilege and authority? So far as personal certainty is concerned, they have no advantage over true believers of any age. Nevertheless, in the economy of the gospel dispensation, the word of the original witnesses is manifestly of cardinal importance. The mere fact that they were the first witnesse is of itself sufficient to give to their testimony a peculiar importance and to make it for evangelical Christians the last resort. Even those believing critics who go farthest in the sifting of Apostolic tradition, agree that the saving knowledge of God in Christ is mediated to us through the primitive Christian preaching. Either we must gain our knowledge of Christ by this means, or else we must give up the inquiry, for no other way is open to us (cf. art. Back to Christ). The primitive witnesses, however, were more than merely the first, as though there by chance. They had been chosen beforehand and specially trained for the work of bearing witness. Either our Lord succeeded in giving to His chosen Apostles such an understanding of His mission and work as to enable them to bear competent witness, or else He failed. If He failed, there could be no certainty for them and no gospel to us through them. The soundness and sufficiency of their witness are established by the demonstration of the Spirit and of power, and this accompanies the same witness in every succeeding age.

For the sake of their testimony many of Christ’s servants have been called upon to suffer death. Such were called in a special ethical sense μάρτυρες Ἰησοῦ (Acts 22:20, Revelation 2:13; Revelation 17:6). ‘This is not to be understood, as in ecclesiastical Greek, in the sense that death was the form of their testimony, but in reference to their testimony of Jesus as having occasioned their death’ (Cremer, Lex.; cf. also Revelation 20:4). An approach to the analogous use of μαρτυρέω is probably to be found in 1 Timothy 6:13 ‘Jesus Christ, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed the good confession.’

Literature.—Besides reff. in the art., see Dale, Living Christ and Four Gospels; Hare, Mission of the Comforter; Stearns, Evid. of Chr. Exper.; Smeaton, Doct. of Holy Spirit; Forrest, Christ of Hist. and of Exper.; Brace, Gesta Christi; R. J. Knowling, The Witness of the Epistles, and The Witness of St. Paul to Christ; Herrmann, Warum bedarf unser Glaube geschichtl. Thatsachen?; H. Scott Holland, Creed and Character, 1, 19; C. Wordsworth, Primary Witness to the Truth of the Gospel; Th. Zahn, Bread and Salt from the Word of God, 185; T. H. Green, The Witness of God; Bapt. Rev. and Expos. i [1904] 321; Kähler, Zur Bibelfrage (1907).

J. R. van Pelt.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Witness (2)'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdn/​w/witness-2.html. 1906-1918.
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