McCreary: Biblical Due Process
God's Specification For Earthly Justice
By Dann McCreary
What has become of justice in the world? We have all, from childhood, learned to recognize the precept "Innocent until Proven Guilty". When we look around us, however, we all too readily find examples of the miscarriage of justice; the innocent mistreated while the guilty go unpunished.
I believe that the root of this lack of justice is ignorance and misapplication of Biblical principles. Sadly, we have become accustomed to injustice and dull to the value of truth. We no longer clearly recognize nor can we clearly enumerate the fundamental principles upon which earthly justice relies.
The thesis of this paper is that God has given us in His word a blueprint for the administration of justice. When the blueprint is followed, justice is done. When it is ignored or set aside, oppression is the result. Furthermore, because all justice is rooted in truth, the keystone of God's blueprint for justice is His explicit requirement for two or three witnesses to establish the truth of any matter.
Thankfully, the Scriptures contain many explicit directives for the administration of justice, examples of the proper use of testimony and evidence, and examples of the miscarriage of justice by means of false witnesses, error, and human prejudice.
In this paper I will briefly summarize the elements of Biblical due process, and will discuss in considerable detail the essential requirement for two or three witnesses. In light of the importance of truth, evidence, and testimony, let us seek the answers to some questions. What are the Biblical standards for the administration of justice? What does it mean to bear false witness? What is a true witness? What directives and examples of these things can we find in Scripture? When giving testimony, are there standards for truth and penalties for falsehood?
The Elements of Biblical Due Process
God has provided us in His word with sufficient information to understand how He expects justice to be administered. The administration of God's justice must follow a regular procedure with definable elements that are to be applied impartially. Because God insists that His ministers act justly, fair and even-handed treatment is everyone's right. This has come to be known as "due process", that is, treatment that is due, or owed, to all alike. "God is no respecter of persons." Acts 10:34. What, then, are the basic elements of due process?
The Law - In order for a crime to take place, there must first be a law. The law sets forth some requirement for behavior. Adam and Eve were charged and penalized only because God had previously said to them "Thou shalt not".
"...But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." Genesis 2:17
Paul makes this principle of due process very clear in his discussion in the book of Romans.
"...For the Law brings about wrath, but where there is no law, neither is there violation." Romans 4:15
"...But sin is not imputed when there is no law." Romans 5:13
And so the existence and application of the law is a prerequisite for any judicial action.
A Violation of the Law - After there is an established law in place, a violation of that law must occur. Some person, to whom the law applies, must transgress that law.
"...And when they had threatened them further, they let them go (finding no basis on which they might punish them)." Acts 4:21
Obviously, if no one violates the law, there is no problem and no further need for due process.
Witnesses - In order to establish the fact of a transgression of the law, there must be at least two witnesses to the violation of that law:
"One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established." Deuteronomy 19:15
This requirement for witnesses will be discussed at great length in what follows.
The Charge - There must be an accusation made by the witnesses. In civil society, this accusation is known as an indictment. Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary defines indictment as: "a formal written statement framed by a prosecuting authority and found by a jury (as a grand jury) charging a person with an offense."
Pilate asked for an indictment when Jesus was led before him in the Praetorium.
"...Pilate therefore went out to them, and said, "What accusation do you bring against this Man?" John 18:29
In the church there must also be an indictment, which, according to Matthew 18, may be brought by any member of the congregation.
The Tribunal - There must be a judicial body qualified to pass judgement. In civil society, this is the civil magistrate and the courts of law, and is known as a "court of competent jurisdiction". In the church, this is usually the governing body of elders, but ultimately, when a transgression is not repented of, it is the whole congregation who passes judgement (Matthew 18).
The Sentence - There must be a just sentence imposed by a duly authorized judge. When the Jews did not have the requisite authority to put Jesus to death, they brought Him before someone who did.
"...Then said Pilate unto them, Take ye him, and judge him according to your law. The Jews therefore said unto him, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death:John18:31
The Penalty - Finally, the penalty of the sentence must be carried out.
"...For the wages of sin is death." Romans 6:23
It should be clear that the process can and should be terminated at any of several points if God's requirements for proceeding are not met. Why is due process important? It is mandatory that those wielding authority adhere to God's standard of justice by acting in accord with these enumerated principles of Biblical due process. Scripture repeatedly emphasizes the obligation of just judgement laid upon those who rule. Psalm 82 is short but pointed:
"A Psalm of Asaph. God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods. How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked? Selah. Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked."
"They know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness: all the foundations of the earth are out of course. I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High. But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes. Arise, O God, judge the earth: for thou shalt inherit all nations."
According to Psalm 82, those who judge men are exercising an authority delegated to them by God. In so doing, they are obligated to judge justly. Judging justly means applying all of the principles of due process enumerated in Scripture. Should they fail in this solemn responsibility, they must answer to God. This psalm applies to the ministers of God, whether they are civil magistrates or rulers in the congregation.
The rest of this paper will address in greater detail one of the most important elements of Biblical Due Process: the requirement for witnesses who can firmly establish the historical facts of any matter in question.
The Requirement for Two or Three Witnesses
The Bible, in both Old and New Testaments, holds up a very high, but clearly delineated, standard of evidence and testimony whenever there is a charge against a man. Simply stated, in order for an indictment against a man to be considered valid or substantiated, it must be supported by the testimony of no less than two, and preferably three, witnesses. This principle is enumerated repeatedly in the Pentateuch:
"Whoso killeth any person, the murderer shall be put to death by the mouth of witnesses: but one witness shall not testify against any person to cause him to die. Numbers 35:30
"At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death. The hands of the witnesses shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterward the hands of all the people. So thou shalt put the evil away from among you." Deuteronomy 17:6
"One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established." Deuteronomy 19:15
It is important to note these points:
Judgement against all crimes, from what is arguably the most severe of crimes (murder), to any lesser crime or sin, is subject to this rule which requires no less than two witnesses.
The two witnesses who would testify against a man did so in the knowledge that they would be required not only to execute sentence, but that (should they be found to be lying) they were subject to the same penalty that they sought, up to and including death. The consequence of false witness is described as follows:
"If a false witness rise up against any man to testify against him that which is wrong; Then both the men, between whom the controversy is, shall stand before the LORD, before the priests and the judges, which shall be in those days; And the judges shall make diligent inquisition: and, behold, if the witness be a false witness, and hath testified falsely against his brother; Then shall ye do unto him, as he had thought to have done unto his brother: so shalt thou put the evil away from among you. And those which remain shall hear, and fear, and shall henceforth commit no more any such evil among you. And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot." Deuteronomy 19:16-21
Does this principle still apply to us under the New Covenant? Both Jesus and Paul repeated the requirement for at least two witnesses. Jesus said:
"Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. 16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established." Matthew 18:15-16
"Even in your law it has been written, that the testimony of two men is valid." John 8:17
Charles Hodge concludes that this Old Testament law still applies:
This principle of justice was transferred by our Lord to the New Dispensation... Every word, pa'n rh'ma, every accusation, a sense which, agreeably to the usage of the corresponding Hebrew word, the Greek word rh'ma has here in virtue of the context, as in Matt. 5, 11. 18, 16. 27, 14. Shall be established, i.e. legally and conclusively proved. 
Paul applied this principle of law in the congregation at Corinth. When contemplating how he would deal with the sins of unrepentant members of the congregation, he had this to say:
"This is the third time I am coming to you. In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established." II Corinthians 13:1
Lenski has this to say on the matter:
"Paul follows this reminder with a cold legal statement, which is abbreviated from Deut. 19:15: By mouth of two witnesses and of three shall every matter be established. That, Paul says, is what this my third coming means if there should be any in Corinth who need this procedure when I come. The corroborating testimony of at least two witnesses was required by the Jews when legal action was to be taken, that of three witnesses was considered a maximum. The same principle holds good in law everywhere. The Christian Church cannot possibly dispense with this principle when it deals with cases of discipline, and its action may be that of expulsion from the congregation. Jesus subjected himself to this principle of law, John 5:31, etc.; 8:17, 18; he prescribed it for us in Matt. 18:16; Paul holds to it in I Tim. 5:19. Paul's word is intended as a warning. He has just mentioned repentance (12:21). He hopes that there will be no unrepentant sinners with whom he must deal when he arrives. They will get a fair trial, but a trial they will get."
Paul would, of course, not take such cases into his own hands and out of the hands of the congregation, he would not act as judge supreme and dictate the verdict by virtue of his apostolic authority. In I Cor. 5:3-5 he did the very opposite; in II Cor. 1:24 he declares the direct opposite. The congregation alone can expel. It hears the necessary witnesses, it passes every motion in every case. What would be Paul's function? The same as that which he exercised in his letters: to advise and to guide the congregation in the true spirit of Christ.[ 2]
Paul reiterates this principle to Timothy when instructing him as to how to deal with accusations against elders.
"Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses." I Timothy 5:19
And so we see that God has instituted a very simple, yet profound, principle of law for the protection of the accused, and that this principle of old is just as valid today as it was in the day of Moses. But some may say, "If we are required to adhere rigorously to such a strict standard of evidence, won't many guilty go unpunished?" Of this objection, Hodge says: In the judgement of God, therefore, it is better that many offenders should go unpunished through lack of testimony, than that the security of reputation and life should be endangered by allowing a single witness to establish a charge against any man.[ 3]
When the witnesses against the woman caught in adultery (John 8) ultimately failed to press charges (i.e., there were NO witnesses other than Jesus), Jesus did not condemn her although He (as God) knew the truth of the charges.
Philip Edgcumbe Hughes discusses Paul's application of the principle of two or three witnesses to the discipline of the Corinthian church.
The Apostle is forewarning the Corinthians that he will not hesitate to execute condign justice should the state of affairs require it during his forthcoming visit, but that everything will be carried through in strict accord with the principles of justice laid down in the Mosaic code and approved by Christ Himself as applicable to disputes within the Church (Mt. 18:16): an adequate number of witnesses will be called and their evidence considered before a charge is accepted as proven and sentence passed. Paul is saying in effect that he will deal with any such cases in a manner that is both scriptural and also sanctioned afresh by Christ. The abrupt quotation (which by this time was probably generally recognized as not only a pentateuchal but also a dominical precept) lends emphasis to his determination to take formal and effective action.[ 4]
This is the source of the well-known precept "Innocent until Proven Guilty". If this is accepted traditionally as our societal norm, how much more ought this principle be applied in the governance of the church?
John Murray, in his essay on The Sanctity of Truth, soundly condemns precipitate judgements, unsupported by evidence.
In entertaining belief or conviction it is necessary that our minds be so informed and our judgment so disciplined that we shall not allow conviction to be induced, judgment registered, or representation made until adequate evidence is discovered and evaluated to ground conviction, judgment, and representation. No warning or plea is more germane to the question of truth than that we cultivate the reserve and exercise the caution whereby we shall be preserved from rash and precipitate judgments and from the vice of peddling reports that are not authenticated by the proper evidence. And we must also strive to be blinded by no prejudice, nor impeded by the remissness of sloth and indifference, which render us impervious to the force of the compelling evidence with which we are confronted. Jealousy for truth and for the conviction that is correspondent will make us alert to evidence when it is presented and to the absence of evidence when it is not sufficient. The man of truth is the man of resolute, decisive conviction; he is also the man of scrupulous reserve. "Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people" (Leviticus 19:16).[ 5]
If the requirement for two or three witnesses still stands today, we should carefully consider the meaning and purpose and nature of witness and testimony.
What Is a True Witness?
At the most fundamental level of analysis there are only two kinds of testimony or witness - true and false. What constitutes a true witness? The purpose of calling a witness is to arrive at the truth of the historic reality of a particular event or circumstance. History is comprised of the actions of God and men in time and space. Truthful witness is at the very heart of Biblical due process. While God is omniscient, men are not. Therefore, men call witnesses to report what they may have seen and heard in order to establish an agreed upon record of relevant events.
To testify against a man is a serious matter, entailing responsibilities of truthfulness and penalties for falsehood. Bearing false witness against a neighbor is such a fundamental evil that it is prohibited by one of the Ten Commandments. Rushdoony comments:
A fundamental aspect of Biblical law appears in the commandment, "Thou shalt not bear false witness." Basic to this law is its reference to the courts and perjury. The courts represent God's vengance as ordered and channelled through human but God-ordained agencies. Within the courts, for justice to prevail, honest and faithful testimony is a necessity. However, because man is a sinner, and the agencies of human society reflect man's sin, checks and balances are necessary. The testimony of a witness must be subject to cross-examination and to corroboration. The law is clear at this point:[ 6]
There are a variety of types of witness distinguished in scripture, both explicitly and by example.
Testimony from direct observation
The testimony of the injured party
The testimony of Scripture applied to actions
Direct observation by a living person is the most basic, and when corroborated, the most reliable indicator of historic reality.
In John 8 a woman was accused of adultery. There were multiple witnesses who had "caught her in the very act". That this was a set-up is likely, and so the witnesses probably walked in at a pre-determined time and observed the adultery in progress.
Direct observation may be by any reasonable path to the senses; sight, hearing, even touch. Samuel, for example, confronted Saul with evidence from his (Samuel's) sense of hearing.
"And Samuel said, What meaneth then this bleating of the sheep in mine ears, and the lowing of the oxen which I hear?" 1 Samuel 15:14 (EMPHASIS ADDED)
Saul could hardly contest the evidence that was "evident".
The apostle John lived and wrote with his mind and thoughts never far from the importance of authentic testimony. He begins his first epistle by presenting the testimony of a strong claim of direct observation:
"What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled, concerning the Word of Life - and the life was manifested, and we have seen and bear witness and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us - what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, that you also may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ." I John 1:1-3 (EMPHASIS ADDED)
Notice the repeated references to the direct observation by the apostles. The testimony of direct observation goes right to the heart of the historical veracity of the gospel.
Self-testimony is a particular kind of witness by direct observation. The man blind from birth (John 9) had this to say of himself:
"... one thing I do know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see." John 9:25
A person's own conscience may act as testimony to that person; however, it is not always reliable; it must be supported or contradicted by other, more reliable evidence.
"I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me." I Corinthians 4:4
"For if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things." I John 3:20
For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. Hebrews 4:12
It is possible for a man to be self-condemned by speaking or acting in violation of the law in the presence of a lawful number of witnesses. For example, at the trial of Jesus, after the rulers were unable to find consistent testimony even among perjurers, the high priest put Jesus under obligation to answer truthfully under oath (per Leviticus 5:1) whether or not He was Christ, Son of God.
And the high priest answered and said unto him, I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether thou be the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven. Then the high priest rent his clothes, saying, He hath spoken blasphemy; what further need have we of witnesses? behold, now ye have heard his blasphemy. What think ye? They answered and said, He is guilty of death. Matthew 26:63-66
Of course, had this answer been given by any other human being, the conclusion of the high priest would have been valid.
Testimony against oneself may not legitimately be compelled. Rushdoony says this:
As noted previously we are not under any moral obligation to tell the truth to an enemy seeking to harm or destroy us. The duty to tell the truth is reserved for normal relationships which are within the framework of law, and to the proceedings of courts of law in church, state, and other institutions.
Even here, however, there are limitations on the power of the court or the demands of other persons. The Biblical law of testimony does not permit torture or coerced confessions. Voluntary confession is possible, but two or more witnesses are required for conviction. More strictly, confession is never cited in the law; its place in a court was apparently only in connection with corroborating evidence. Thus Achan's confession required confirming evidence before he was sentenced and executed (Josh. 7:19-26). The voluntary aspect of Achan's confession must be noted. Biblical law preserves the integrity of the individual against forced confession; the right of citizens to be protected from the power of the state to compel their self-incrimination does not appear outside of Biblical legal tradition.[ 7]
The testimony of an injured party is a special case of self-testimony witness.
For example, Jesus spoke in Matthew 18 "If your brother sins against you" In this situation, the injured party is a witness to his own injury. He has standing to bring an accusation against the one who injured him because he has direct personal knowledge of the injury.
Another example is found in Deuteronomy 22:13-21, where we see a new husband accusing his bride of pre-marital infidelity. Assuming that he is being truthful, the husband has direct personal knowledge of his bride's condition on their wedding night.
Documentary evidence is a form of witness. It is the usual and customary form of recording a covenant or contract.
Men shall buy fields for money, and subscribe evidences, and seal them, and take witnesses in the land of Benjamin, and in the places about Jerusalem, and in the cities of Judah, and in the cities of the mountains, and in the cities of the valley, and in the cities of the south: for I will cause their captivity to return, saith the LORD. Jeremiah 32:44
Note that in this example, the document is witnessed so that the parties cannot later claim that the document is fraudulent. Should a dispute arise, those who witnessed the signing and sealing of the document may be called to testify in the matter.
Verbal covenants are usually witnessed as well. A wedding is perhaps the most common example; many guests witness the exchange of vows between bride and groom.
Physical evidence may be a form of witness. Here are a few scriptural examples.
When a man was keeping an animal for his neighbor, to protect the owner of the beast from fraud, the carcass of the beast had to be produced as physical evidence in the event that the beast was killed by wild animals. Note especially verse 13:
If a man deliver unto his neighbour an ass, or an ox, or a sheep, or any beast, to keep; and it die, or be hurt, or driven away, no man seeing it: Then shall an oath of the LORD be between them both, that he hath not put his hand unto his neighbour's goods; and the owner of it shall accept thereof, and he shall not make it good. And if it be stolen from him, he shall make restitution unto the owner thereof. If it be torn in pieces, then let him bring it for witness, and he shall not make good that which was torn. Exodus 22:11-13
There was a certain man lame from birth. (Acts 3) He used to sit at the temple gate daily, begging, and so was seen and recognized by virtually everyone who went in and out of the temple.
One day, Peter took his hand and the man was healed. Not everyone who knew him was there at the moment of his healing. Nevertheless, everyone who saw him after the healing could easily see the physical evidence that a miracle had occurred.
"What shall we do with these men? For the fact that a noteworthy miracle has taken place through them is apparent to all who live in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it." Acts 4:16
In James 5:3 we see rust acting as a witness. In John 19:34, the blood and water that flowed from Jesus' side bore witness that he had actually died. In Deuteronomy 22:13-21, the parents of a virgin daughter brought some kind of physical evidence of her virginity. A recording can be a witness.
"this stone shall be for a witness against us, for it has heard all the words of the Lord" Judges 24:27
The testimony of Scripture (law) applied to actions (facts) may be a witness. This can be a positive thing, as when Jesus by his life showed Himself to be the Son of God.
You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; John 5:39
This can be a negative thing, as when the fruit of a person's life shows them to be living in unbelief.
Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Matthew 7:16
The first example of law ("Thou shalt not eat") being applied to action ("I did eat... I did eat") is seen in Genesis chapter 3. Note that there were two witnesses to the facts, Adam and Eve.
And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat? And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat. And the LORD God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat. Genesis 3:11-13
The testimony of Conscience may be a witness (within certain limits). A man's conscience is a powerful force for directing his actions.
I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost. Romans 9:1
They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them Romans 2:15
Conscience by itself does not constitute conclusive evidence.
I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. I Corinthians 4:4
Much more could be said of various kinds of witness and testimony. The common thread is that they all act to bring to light and establish the truth of an historical event. The importance of understanding the nature of witnesses in the context of Biblical due process is the fact that at least two or three valid witnesses are absolutely required in order to convict a man of any crime.
What Is a False Witness?
Now let us consider examples of false, or invalid, witness.
What constitutes a false witness?
A malicious lie
Hearsay, speculation, and opinion
Inaccurate testimony, however well-meaning
Tampering with evidence
Uncorroborated testimony - The testimony of only one witness can never be valid by itself. No matter how reliable, how unimpeachable the witness, under Biblical principles, corroborating testimony must be sought and found before a case can move forward to sentencing.
Even in your law it has been written, that the testimony of two men is true. John 8:17
If anyone kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death at the mouth of witnesses, but no person shall be put to death on the testimony of one witness. Numbers 35:30
I include this here because, although the testimony of a single witness may be true, it must be judicially rejected. Even our Lord, who is The Truth, acknowledged this rule of due process:
If I alone bear witness of Myself, My testimony is not true. John 5:31
Jesus here has acknowledged the absolute necessity of at least two witnesses.
Inconsistent testimony - To be valid, the testimony of the two or three witnesses being relied upon must be consistent.
Mark's account of the false witnesses against Jesus brings out the recognized requirement for witness agreement:
And the chief priests and all the council sought for witness against Jesus to put him to death; and found none. For many bare false witness against him, but their witness agreed not together. And there arose certain, and bare false witness against him, saying, We heard him say, I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands. But neither so did their witness agree together. Mark 14:55-59
Two harlots came before King Solomon for judgement (I Kings 3). Their testimony agreed only up to a point; they both lived together, they both had sons; but the testimony diverged at the significant point of contention; namely, whose son was living.
Malicious testimony - A malicious (i.e. deliberate) lie is perhaps the worst form of false witness. David complained of this in Psalm 35:
Malicious witnesses rise up: They ask me of things that I do not know. Psalm 35:11
Two worthless men testified "Naboth cursed God and the king" (I Kings 21).
False witnesses were recruited to testify against Stephen:
Then they secretly induced men to say, "We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and against God." And they stirred up the people, the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and dragged him away, and brought him before the Council. And they put forward false witnesses who said, "This man incessantly speaks against this holy place, and the Law; for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us." Acts 6:11-14
False witnesses were sought to testify against Jesus.
Now the chief priests, and elders, and all the council, sought false witness against Jesus, to put him to death; But found none: yea, though many false witnesses came, yet found they none. At the last came two false witnesses, And said, This fellow said, I am able to destroy the temple of God, and to build it in three days. And the high priest arose, and said unto him, Answerest thou nothing? what is it which these witness against thee? But Jesus held his peace. Matthew 26:59-63
Joseph's cloak, left in the hand of Potiphar's wife, was used as a false witness against him.
And she caught him by his garment, saying, Lie with me: and he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out. And it came to pass, when she saw that he had left his garment in her hand, and was fled forth, That she called unto the men of her house, and spake unto them, saying, See, he hath brought in an Hebrew unto us to mock us; he came in unto me to lie with me, and I cried with a loud voice: Genesis 39:12-14
Hearsay, speculation, and opinion. Everyone is entitled to hold their own opinion; however, testimony based upon opinion is invalid because it is not based on direct observation or experience.
One of the clearest scriptural examples of unjust condemnation based on hearsay and speculation is the testimony of Job's friends. They concluded that Job must have sinned in some grievous fashion. However, they had no direct observation of Job sinning and their conclusion was based entirely upon inferences from the disaster that had befallen Job.
And his anger burned against his three friends because they had found no answer, and yet had condemned Job. Job 32:3
Job himself is reproved for a similar error. God points out that Job was not personally present to witness most of God's creation activity, and therefore does not have the direct personal knowledge required to testify. In the end of the book, Job admits that in his statements he had gone beyond his competence to be a witness.
Who is this that darkens counsel By words without knowledge? Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell Me, if you have understanding. Job 38:2
Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Job 42:3
Hearsay has never been acceptable as evidence.
The idea of testimony or of a witness derived from uncertifiable subjective convictions is not known in the OT, and also has no place in Judaism.[ 8]
Any testimony presuming knowledge of the internal intention or motivation of another person is, at its core, a false witness. While it is normal to form opinions of what makes someone else "tick", it is not possible to know with certainty what is in the heart or mind of another.
For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. I Corinthians 2:11
Apart from the man himself, only God has direct knowledge of man's heart.
Then hear thou in heaven thy dwelling place, and forgive, and do, and give to every man according to his ways, whose heart thou knowest; (for thou, even thou only, knowest the hearts of all the children of men;) I Kings 8:39
"I am He who knows, and am a witness," declares the Lord. Jeremiah 29:23
Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God. I Corinthians 4:5
But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew all men, And needed not that any should testify of man: for he knew what was in man. John 2:24, 25
To pass judgement based upon a presumed understanding of what is in the heart of an accused party is a violation of scripture.
I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men's hearts; and then each man's praise will come to him from God. I Corinthians 4:4,5
To pass judgement based upon hearsay alone is unacceptable. While hearsay may be the cause of initiating an inquiry, it must be followed by a thorough investigation.
If thou shalt hear say in one of thy cities, which the LORD thy God hath given thee to dwell there, saying, Certain men, the children of Belial, are gone out from among you, and have withdrawn the inhabitants of their city, saying, Let us go and serve other gods, which ye have not known; Then shalt thou enquire, and make search, and ask diligently; and, behold, if it be truth, and the thing certain, that such abomination is wrought among you; Thou shalt surely smite ... Deuteronomy 13:12-15 (EMPHASIS ADDED)
Notice how the necessity for certainty in validating the claim of wrongdoing is reiterated repeatedly. This validation must be subject to and governed by the requirement, clearly delineated elsewhere, of a minimum of two or three witnesses.
Inaccurate testimony, however well meaning, is false witness. In I Corinthians 15:15, Paul argues for the resurrection by showing the logical consequences that would result if there were no resurrection:
Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. I Corinthians 15:15
Evidence tampering is a form of false witness. Joseph's brothers tampered with evidence when they dipped his coat in animal blood in order to deceive their father.
And they took Joseph's coat, and killed a kid of the goats, and dipped the coat in the blood; And they sent the coat of many colours, and they brought it to their father; and said, This have we found: know now whether it be thy son's coat or no. And he knew it, and said, It is my son's coat; an evil beast hath devoured him; Joseph is without doubt rent in pieces. Genesis 37:31-33
These are all examples of the false kinds of witness that God despises. "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor". We must take exceeding care to eliminate any witness of this nature from all of our judicial proceedings.
The Scriptures make it clear that God considers earthly justice a matter of paramount importance. He requires those who administer justice to do so in rigorous adherence to His specifications. The bible presents for our instruction many clear examples of justice carried out by means of the due process of law as well as examples of the miscarriage of justice.
The requirement for at least two or three legitimate witnesses is the central element of due process. All of God's ministers, whether civil magistrates or overseers in the congregation, are bound to abide by God's requirements for due process in the administration of justice. Those ministers who substitute their own subjective judgement for God's specified due process are acting outside of the domain of God's delegated authority and, according to Psalm 82, will consequently come under the judgement of God.
Copyright 1999 Dann McCreary