Most of the time when we hear of the concept of being a witness, we think about someone who testifies about what he has seen, heard or has knowledge of. Certainly, this is also one of the meanings the Bible means when the term “witness” is found. However, there are some other aspects and meanings of the term that would also enlighten and enrich our understanding of the concept of being witnesses if we properly understood them.
The first occurrence of the word in the Old Testament is in Genesis 21:30, but I’m going to start the citation at Genesis 21:27 and go through verse 32 for context: “And Abraham took sheep and oxen, and gave them unto Abimelech; and both of them made a covenant. And Abraham set seven ewe lambs of the flock by themselves. And Abimelech said unto Abraham, ‘What mean these seven ewe lambs which thou hast set by themselves?’ And he said, ‘For these seven ewe lambs shalt thou take of my hand, that they may be a witness unto me, that I have digged this well.’ Wherefore, he called that place Beersheba; because there they sware both of them. Thus they made a covenant at Beersheba: then Abimelech rose up, and Phichol the chief captain of his host, and they returned into the land of the Philistines.” (Gen 21:27-32 KJV) Note that Abraham said that the seven lambs were a witness that he dug the well. Of course, we know that the lambs could not talk, therefore they could not testify of what they knew, seen, or heard, so obviously, they were a witness in another context of the term. So how were they a witness? Abraham used the term; “witness” to mean, evidence or proof! The Abraham gave the lambs to Abimelech so that they might serve as evidence or proof that Abraham had dug the well and as evidence or proof of the covenant the two of them made concerning that fact. So it is indeed interesting to note that the first introduction of the concept of witness or witnessing in the Bible is not about testifying, but rather about evidence or proof!
The concept is used in a similar manner in the Greek in James 5:3, where the author wrote to the rich men of his day: “Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl for your miseries that shall come upon you. Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver is cankered; and the rust of them shall be a witness against you, and shall eat your flesh as it were fire. Ye have heaped treasure together for the last days.” (James 5:1-3 KJV) Note that whereas the sheep couldn’t talk in our Old Testament example, but yet they served as a witness, here, the inanimate rust of the rich men’s gold and silver served as a witness! Again, the idea is not that of testifying, but rather that of being evidence or proof!
Now, I cited these two examples of the use of the word “witness” in its Hebrew and Greek origins to emphasize the point that being a witness in the Bible was not always just about testifying or speaking! Sometimes, it was about being evidence or proof! Could it be, that when Jesus spoke to his disciples about being “witnesses unto me” in Acts 1:8, in addition to their verbal testimony, he may have also had in mind that they would also be physical, living proof and evidence that he was indeed who he said he was? That seems to have been the idea in our Lord’s High Priestly Prayer recorded in John 17. He prays to the Father in John 17:20-23: “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.” (John 17:20-23 KJV) Do you see the connection? Jesus prayed that his disciples would be “one” just as he and the Father were one because that unity would serve as proof to the world that he was sent by the Father! Yes! According to Jesus, the unity of his disciples past, present, and future was and is the witness; the evidence and proof to the world that he was sent by the Father!
It is also interesting to note that the Greek word translated as “witness” is a word that means; martyr! A martyr was one who proved their faith to Christ by suffering a violent death! In the New Testament, the word; “witness” was, in a sense, a synonym for one who died a violent death!
So these are some things we should be mindful of the next time we hear somebody asking in church: “Can I get a witness?” They may just be asking for an “amen” or some form of acknowledgement to something they said. But when the Lord asks the question: “Can I get a witness?” I think the Lord is asking for a whole lot more! The Lord is asking for someone who will not only just confess with their mouth, but also who will be an example, proof, and evidence of the presence and reality of Christ! The Lord is asking for someone who is willing to die for the faith! No! “Can I get a witness” is not just a simple call for an “amen.” “Can I get a witness” is a call to be true disciples and followers of Christ! Can I get a witness?