The Bible Project

Can I Get a Witness?

Episode Summary

The entire story of the Bible can be traced through the word “witness”. It’s a word that can mean a lot of things in Christianity. Learn the history of the word and why modern usage by Christians doesn’t necessarily fit in with the Biblical usage of the word.

Episode Notes

The word witness is a key word in the bible, and the theme of “witnessing” is a key theme in the bible that can be used to understand the whole story of the bible.

Key Takeaways

Favorite Quotes

“It’s weird how simple and how big of a responsibility being a witness is. God wants a group of witnesses who experience him and then talk about it.”

Show Notes

In part 1, (0-7:45) Tim and Jon introduce the topic and also introduce Carissa Quinn a biblical scholar on staff with the bible project. Carisa is responsible for researching and writing the script for the upcoming video on witness. The group talks about the popular usages of the word witness. Jon toes that in a Christian context, “witness” is often meant to be an activity that someone will do to try and logically convince or debate somebody (a non believer) about Jesus and the truth of the bible.

The group also notes that oftentimes ‘witness’ is best understood in a modern legal context.

In part 2, (7:45-16:50) Carissa says the word witness occurs over 400 hundred times in the bible in a variety of forms. In hebrew the word ‘witness’ is basically (1) someone who sees something amazing or important--in Hebrew, this person is an עֵד (eid) and in Greek, a μάρτυς (mártus). And (2) if this person begins to share what they’ve seen, we call this ‘bearing witness’: in Hebrew עוּד (uwd) and in Greek μαρτυρέω (marturéo).

Carissa shares the story of Ruth in Ruth 4:9, when Boaz buys land from Naomi’s family, he calls together witnesses to see the transaction, so that if there’s a later dispute about the land, they can bear witness about what they saw. Tim notes that this passage is somewhat related to Deut 25:9 a law about sandals and witnessing being used as a form of legal documentation.

The group briefly discusses the role of a public notary in modern culture. They act as official witnesses to legal signings.

In part 3, (16:50-24:50) Carissa goes to Psalm 27 and the theme of “false witnesses”. Carissa notes that God is referred to as a witness throughout the bible. For example in Genesis 31:49 ... “May the Lord watch between you and me when we are absent one from the other. 50 If you mistreat my daughters, or if you take wives besides my daughters, although no man is with us, see, God is witness between you and me.”

In the New Testament God the Father is said to bear witness to the identity of Jesus. Jesus also says he bears witness to himself in John 8:17-18 “In your Law it is written that the testimony of two people is true. 18 I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.”

Carissa then notes that many times Paul uses a phrase like “God is my witness” for example in Romans 1:9 “For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I mention you 10 always in my prayers, asking that somehow by God's will I may now at last succeed in coming to you.”

In part 4 (24:50-42:45)

Carissa continues the conversation by bringing up the fact that an object can be a witness in the bible. For example in Joshua 24: 27 And Joshua said to all the people, “Behold, this stone shall be a witness against us, for it has heard all the words of the Lord that he spoke to us. Therefore it shall be a witness against you, lest you deal falsely with your God.”

Carissa then notes that the word “witness” in the bible can be used to trace the whole story of the bible. Tim says that the word “witness” is an interesting way to think about the image of god. People are created in God’s image to “witness” god and his creation to the rest of the world.

Carissa says that israel is called to be a witness to the other nations in Exodus 19:4-6 “ ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

Carissa says that later in the bible the torah is referred to as a “witness” and is often called “the laws of the testimony”. Meaning the laws are testifying or witnessing the relationship between god and israel. Additionally, Moses writes a song in Deuteronomy 32 to bear witness to Israel about God.

Carissa points out that in John 5, Jesus says the Torah points to him in John 5:39 “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.”

In part 5 (42:45-49:20)

Carissa notes the theme of the word witness in the prophets. For example 2 Chronicles 24:19 "Yet he sent prophets among them to bring them back to the Lord. These testified (witnessed) against them, but they would not pay attention.

Carissa notes that to testify against or to witness against was one of the primary roles of prophets in the Old Testament. They were warning/ witnessing to Israel about what would happen to them if they didn’t follow god.

Carissa also notes that Isiah 43:10-12 is a crucial passage to understand the role that the whole nation of Israel was to have in acting as God's witnesses.

Isaiah 42:10 ““You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen,
that you may know and believe me
and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
nor shall there be any after me.
11
I, I am the Lord,
and besides me there is no savior.
12
I declared and saved and proclaimed,
when there was no strange god among you;
and you are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and I am God.

In the last part, (49:20-end)
Carissa talks about Jesus. Jesus claims to be the “chief witness” from Isaiah 61. He was sent to open the eyes of Israel who are the blind witnesses to God and his creation. Tim notes how ironic it is that Jesus is the ultimate witness bearing witness to God's kingdom that gets him killed. Carissa note that the word “μάρτυς (mártus).” is the greek word for witness which is also the root word for martyr. So Jesus was a martus, and a martyr by staking his life on what he believes in.
In Acts followers of Jesus are called to be “witnesses”. But often times in the New Testament being a witness is directly connected to verifying or believing in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
Jon notes that witness in modern context is usually more about debating ore rationalizing Jesus and Christianity to a secular world. Carissa notes that to “bear witness” is a sign of someone's character. Jon then notes that thinking about being a witness in life is actually a really important calling or job. A witness has an important role to play and “bearing witness” is what we are called to do as christians. Not to debate or convince people about the truth of Jesus but to share are own powerful moments of God in our lives.

Show Resources:
Walter Kaiser, Mission in the Old Testament: Israel as a Light to the Nations

Show Music
Can I Get a Witness: The Rolling Stones. Non Profit, Educational Fair Use. Creative Commons
Fills the Skies: Josh White
Blue Skies: Unwritten Stories
Analogs: Moby
The Truth About Flight Love and BB Guns: Beautiful Eulogy

Show Produced by:
Dan Gummel

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