Witness. Among people with whom writing is not common, the evidence of a transaction is given by some tangible memorial or significant ceremony. Abraham gave seven ewe-lambs to Abimelech as an evidence of his property in the well of Beersheba. Jacob raised a heap of stones, “the heap of witness,” as a boundary-mark between himself and Laban. Gen. 21:30; 31:47, 52. The tribes of Reuben and Gad raised an “altar” as a witness to the covenant between themselves and the rest of the nation. Joshua set up a stone as an evidence of the allegiance promised by Israel to God. Josh. 22:10, 26, 34; 24:26, 27. But written evidence was by no means unknown to the Jews. Divorce was to be proved by a written document. Deut. 24:1, 3. In civil contracts, at least in later times, documentary evidence was required and carefully preserved. Isa. 8:16; Jer. 32:10–16. On the whole the law was very careful to provide and enforce evidence for all its infractions and all transactions bearing on them. Among special provisions with respect to evidence are the following:
1. Two witnesses at least are required to establish any charge. Num. 35:30; Deut. 17:6; John 8:17; 2 Cor. 13:1; comp. 1 Tim. 5:19. 2. In the case of the suspected wife, evidence besides the husband’s was desired. Num. 5:13. 3. The witness who withheld the truth was censured. Lev. 5:1. 4. False witness was punished with the penalty due to the offence which it sought to establish. 5. Slanderous reports and officious witness are discouraged. Ex. 20:16; 23:1; Lev. 19:16, 18, etc. 6. The witnesses were the first executioners. Deut. 13:9; 17:7; Acts 7:58. 7. In case of an animal left in charge and torn by wild beasts, the keeper was to bring the carcass in proof of the fact and disproof of his own criminality. Ex. 22:13. 8. According to Josephus, women and slaves were not admitted to bear testimony. In the New Testament the original notion of a witness is exhibited in the special form of one who attests his belief in the gospel by personal suffering. Hence it is that the use of the ecclesiastical term “martyr,” the Greek word for “witness,” has arisen.