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Bible Dictionaries

Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words

Witness

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A. Noun.

‛Êd (עֵד, Strong's #5707), “witness.” The 69 ouurrences of this word are scattered throughout the various biblical literary genres and periods although it does not appear in historical literature outside the Pentateuch.

This word has to do with the legal or judicial sphere. First, in the area of civil affairs the word can mean someone who is present at a legal transaction and can confirm it if necessary. Such people worked as notaries, e.g., for an oral transfer of property: “Now this was the manner in former time in Israel concerning redeeming and concerning changing, for to confirrn all things.… And Boaz said unto the elders, and unto all the people, Ye are witnesses this day, that I have bought all that was Elimelech’s, and all that was Chilion’s and Mahlon’s, of the hand of Naomi” (Ruth 4:7, 9). At a later time the “witnesses” not only acted to attest the transaction and to confirm it orally, but they signed a document or deed of purchase. Thus “witness” takes on the new nuance of those able and willing to affirm the truth of a transaction by affixing their signatures: “And I gave the evidence of the purchase unto Baruch the son of Neriah … in the sight of Hanameel mine uncle’s son, and in the presence of the witnesses that subscribed the book of the purchase …” (Jer. 32:12). An object or animal(s) can signify the truthfulness of an act or agreement. Its very existence or the acceptance of it by both parties (in the case of the animals given to Abimelech in Gen. 21:30) bears witness: “Now therefore come thou, let us make a covenant, I and thou; and let it be for a witness between me and thee [let it attest to our mutual relationship]” (Gen. 31:44—the first biblical occurrence of the word). Jacob then set up a stone pillar or heap as a further “witness” (Gen. 31:48) calling upon God to effect judgment if the covenant were broken.

In Mosaic criminal law the accused has the right to be faced by his/her accuser and to give evidence of his/her innocence. In the case of a newly married woman charged by her own husband, his testimony is sufficient to prove her guilty of adultery unless her parents have clear evidence proving her virginity before her marriage (Deut. 22:14ff.). Usually the accused is faced with someone who either saw or heard of his guilt: “And if a soul sin, and hear the voice of swearing, and is a witness, whether he hath seen or known of it …” (Lev. 5:1). Heavy penalties fell on anyone who lied to a court. The ninth commandment may well have immediate reference to such a concrete court situation (Exod. 20:16). If so, it serves to sanction proper judicial procedure, to safeguard individuals from secret accusation and condemnation and giving them the right and privilege of selfdefense. In the exchange between Jacob and Laban mentioned above, Jacob also cites God as a “witness” (Gen. 31:50) between them, the one who will see violations; God, however, is also the Judge. Although human courts are (as a rule) to keep judge and “witness” separate, the “witnesses” do participate in executing the penalty upon the guilty party (Deut. 17:7), even as God does.

B. Verb.

‛Ûd (עוּד, Strong's #5749), “to take as witness, bear witness, repeat, admonish, warn, assure protection, relieve.” This verb, which occurs 42 times in biblical Hebrew, has cognates in Ugaritic (perhaps), Arabic, Aramaic, Syriac, Phoenician, and Ethiopic.

In 1 Kings 21:10 ‛Ûd means “to bear witness”: “And set two men, sons of Belial, before him, to bear witness against him.…” The word means “to warn” in Jer. 6:10: “To whom shall I speak, and give warning, that they may hear?”

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Bibliography Information
Vines, W. E., M. A. Entry for 'Witness'. Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/vot/w/witness.html. 1940.

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