How a Witness is Essential to Your Witness

Introduction

“Stepped out in faith.” “God laid it on my heart.” “Ask Jesus into your heart.” All of these are what we call “Christianese” phrases. UrbanDictionary.com defines “Christianese” as “A communicable language within the Christian subculture with words and phrases created, redefined, and / or patened that applies only to the Christian sphere of influence.” Another example of this sort of sub-cultured speech is the term “witnessing” or “being a witness.” Now, I have absolutely no problem with this particular “Christian term.” In fact, I think it is quite helpful (contrary to most ambiguous Christian lingo). I also believe it can teach us something incredibly vital to our Christian life. However, as with all “Christianese,” confusion can also accompany its use.

An Illustration

In our contemporary setting, the term “witness” is often used in regards to our legal or judicial system. For example, in a murder trial, lawyers might call several different witnesses to the stand. Now, why exactly are they called witnesses? Well, of course it is because they bear witness to some sort of evidence or testify to something that is intended to help in proving or disproving the case at hand. In the case of our pretend murder trial, someone who was a witness to the murder would very likely be called to bear witness to, that is, testify to, or, give an account of, the murder which he or she observed.

A “Lexical Look”

[2] Interestingly enough, in the New Testament (which was originally written in Greek) we find that the word “witness” is used in very much the same way. A Greek word often used in the New Testament for “witness” is μαρτυρία (mapturia–noun–used 37 times) or μαρτυρέω (martureo–verb, participle, infinitive–used 76 times) along with some other etymologically related words of essentially synonymous meaning.[3] As a noun (mapturia), this word can mean a testimony or witness. It is an account that one gives of something. For example, in Mark 14:55-56, 59; Luke 22:71, and John 8:17 it is used in a judicial sense–a testimony or witness in court that serves to sentence a supposed criminal. In this case, it would be an account of someone’s guiltiness. The meaning of the verb (martureo) is then no shocker. It means to confirm, attest, offer testimony, declare, or bear witness to something “on the basis of personal knowledge or belief.” Another noun form, μάρτυς (martus–used 35 times), means one who attests or gives testimony to something. And, as you may have guessed, this word is where we get our English word martyr. It began to be used to mean “one who witnesses at cost of life” which begins to be seen in NT texts such as Acts 2:20 Rev 2:13; Rev 17:6.[4]

Needless to say, it is clear that the sort of witness these words imply involves the communication of a message (I mean, I doubt martyrs were killed because they kept their mouths shut, right?) But glancing back to our discussion of “Christianese,” it would appear as if a large amount of Christians don’t use the term “witness” in this manner.

“Preach the Gospel at all times; use words if necessary”…?

Saint Francis of Assisi has been quoted as saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times; use words if necessary.” Now, whether or not St. Francis actually said this (probably not), the phrase has gained popularity. It has a nice profound ring to it, a “catch-you-by-suprise” clause at the end that makes it sound really intelligent. But may I suggest that this way of thinking is completely erroneous? And unfortunately, I have heard many Christians speak about “witnessing” in this way–“lifestyle witnessing,” witnessing through their morality, through their love, and through their charming smile. Don’t get me wrong, all of those things are great (i.e., being a light in the darkness). But if the message of Jesus Christ becoming flesh, dying for sins, and raising for our justification is not present, then to what is one witnessing?!

Heading towards Home Plate

So, bringing it all together–why have I gone about with the “Christianese” introduction, the illustration, the lexical meaning of “witness”, the Assisi quote? If there is nothing else that you get from this post, get this: if we seek to be witnesses, we must actually bear witness. To say this differently, allow me to misquote the above probable misquotation: “preach the Gospel at all times; use word because it’s necessary.”

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? . . . So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:14-17)

“The Gospel” literally means “the good news.” And as news, the Gospel is a message. And as a message, the Gospel requires articulation.

. . . If I bring the sword upon a land, and the people of the land take a man from among them, and make him their watchman, and if he sees the sword coming upon the land and blows the trumpet and warns the people, then if anyone who hears the sound of the trumpet does not take warning, and the sword comes and takes him away, his blood shall be upon his own head. He heard the sound of the trumpet and did not take warning; his blood shall be upon himself. But if he had taken warning, he would have saved his life. But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, so that the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any one of them, that person is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand. (Ezekiel 33:2-6).

This is a divine illustration of Ezekiel’s role as Israel’s prophet, one who was responsible for warning Israel of God’s impending wrathful judgment due to her sin. Ezekiel was not told to simply dwell among his fellow Israelites, and you know, make himself available to them, to be approachable in case one of them might say, “Ezekiel, I can tell by the way you are living that you are a watchman. It provoked me to ask you if there was any impending doom heading our way by chance?”

No.

He was told, “if you, knowing their doom, say nothing, their blood is on your hands.”

The application is blatant.

Notes

[1] “Urban Dictionary: Christianese.” Urban Dictionary. http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=christianese (accessed August 18, 2012). –Please note, this author does not necessarily condone the content found in the two links provided above in the first paragraph of this article.

[2] The following lexical information is not intended to be an argument per se, but an illustration.

[3] For example, μαρτύριον (marturion)–noun–used 19 times; μαρτύρομαι (marturomai)–verb, participle, infinitive–used 5 times.

This search was conducted using Logos Bible Software and was according to the United Bible Societies Critical Text, 4th edition of the Greek New Testament.

[4] The following lexical information is taken from William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 617-620.

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