Does the Bible Teach Modern Day
“Witnessing” & “Testimonials”?
Introduction. There is a concept and practice conducted in the denominational world which is beginning to find its way into some services of the Lord’s church that demands that we spend some time in consideration of its scriptural soundness.
I. The Denominational Concepts of “Witnessing.”
- Personal Testimony concerning an experience.
- “I was drunk and I saw a cross and turned my life around.” -- “I went bankrupt and a friend gave me a tract and I put my faith in Jesus.”
Note: I am not talking about using one’s experience as an illustration of scriptural obedience to the gospel. Instead:
- Replacement of Bible with Personal experience.
- Claiming that we have witnessed (i.e. seen or heard) Jesus do something.
- Even faulty notions about teaching - “I can’t preach, but I can ‘witness.’”
- Special services where men, women and children all give “testimonials” disregarding restrictions of a woman’s role in worship.
- Denomination called “Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
Are these ideas and approaches taught in Scripture?
II. The Biblical Words for “Witnessing” & “Testifying.”
- Five main words in NT used for the concepts of “witnessing” or “testifying” which are all from the same root. [Note: there are a number of other words which use these same words adding various prefixes of time or intensity.]
- Verbs. martureo - “to bear witness, testify” and marturomai - “to call to witness”
- Nouns. martus - “a witness” [Eng. martyr] marturion and marturia - “testimony, evidence” [Related etymologically to the Sanskrit word smri meaning “to remember” - believed to be from a common Indo-European root SMAR of the same meaning.]
- These are legal terms. They are used of things for which one would convey a record of something to someone else both in a trial situation and in daily life.
III. Biblical Teaching on “Witnessing.”
The Testimony of Jesus.
- The Bible Emphasizes the Value of a witnesses testimony.
- Death penalty required 2-3 witnesses. (Deuteronomy 17:6).
- NT withrawal requires 2-3 go first (Matt. 18:16).
- NT accusations against elders only validated by 2-3 witnesses (I Tim. 5:19).
- OT one witness was insufficient. (Deut. 19:15). Note: the Pharisees tried to say that Jesus bore witness to Himself (John 8:13).
- The Identity of Jesus Was Dependent Upon the Valid tesimony of Witnesses.
- John the Baptist was a witness for Jesus. (John 1:7,8; 15; 32-34).
- Jesus works were a witness. (John 5:36).
- The Father was a witness. (John 5:37). These are the three - but these would not be all that Jesus “called to witness.” Note two others:
- The Witness of the Holy Spirit & the Apostles.
- The Holy Spirit would be a witness of who Jesus was (John 15:26).
- Those who had been with Jesus would be witnesses (John 15:27).
- They were those who had seen the resurrected Christ. (Luke 24:46-48).
- The replacement apostle had to be a witness of Jesus resurrection. (Acts 1:22).
- This becomes one of the main points that they stress in their preaching.
- On Pentecost Peter says - “This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses.” (Acts 2:32).
- While preaching after a healing Peter tells the Jews - “But you denied the Holy One and the Just, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, "and killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses.” (Acts 3:14,15).
- In I Peter the Apostle identifies himself as a “witness of the suffering of Christ” (I Peter 5:1).
- Paul, to whom the resurrected Christ appeared is called to be a “witness to all men” (Acts 22:15).
- This is such a vital point that Paul says if Jesus wasn’t resurrected they are “false witnesses” (I Corinthians 15:15).
- The witness of the Apostles was also connected with the Holy Spirit coming upon them. (Acts 1:8; 5:32). How would the Holy Spirit act as witness? Primarily through the works that He enabled the Apostles to do. (Hebrews 2:4).
We have seen the importance of witnesses in establishing the validity of who Jesus was. We have also seen that the Apostles fulfilled this function in testifying to the resurreciton. These things established the validity of who Jesus was but what was it that Jesus Himself offered as Testimony?
- Jesus came to bear witness to the truth. (John 18:37). Note: His testimony is “the truth.”
- OT law was called the “Testimony” (Exodus 25:16,21; 32:15; 34:29).
- The Gospel is the “Witness” or “Testimony” of God in Christ. (Matthew 24:14).
- Paul called this the “Testimony of God” (I Corinthians 2:1,2 cf. I Cor. 15:1-4).
- In Revelation Christians are said to be those who “keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 12:17).
- Note: Testimony of God (i.e. the New Law of God in Christ) is the Gospel message that Jesus died for our sins. It is the means by which salvation comes.
- This is what the Apostles bore witnesses to and this is what we must testify to others. (I John 1:1-4) If this is in us, we have salvation. (I John 5:10).
Conclusion. Should personal experience have a bearing upon our testimony of Jesus to others? Paul said “For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake.” (2 Cor. 4:5). The emphasis must always be upon who Jesus is and what He has done -- and as a result what He asks of us.
Doesn’t Paul relate the circumstances of his conversion? Yes, on two occasions in Acts he explains what led him to obedience to the gospel. -- In Acts 22 he explains to Jews why he joined the cause that he once persecuted. -- In Acts 26 in defense against the accusations of the Jews before Agrippa he does the same.
What is the difference between this and modern day denominational “testimonials”?
1. Many modern day testimonials do not lead to the Biblical plan of salvation put rely upon personal feelings and experience.
2. Many modern day testimonials do not claim to bear witness to “the truth” but to some personal experience with Jesus. Since we are not eye-witnesses to Jesus’ life, death & resurrection we can not serve as witnesses in the same sense that Peter, John & Paul did.
3. The Apostle’s actions serve as a binding example to us regarding what we must do (Philippians 4:9) -- our experiences do not provide such examples.
Note: There can be value in sharing with one another how coming to Christ has changed or helped our lives (see II Corinthians 1:4), but let us never confuse this with offering to the world the Gospel, the “testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 12:10,11).