“One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”
- Deuteronomy 19:15
The Deuteronomic law sets forth the “rule of evidence” that carries forward throughout Old and New Testament teaching. Matters must be established by more than one witness. In the Old Testament, someone could not be convicted of a crime on the testimony of just one witness. In the New Testament accusations against brothers and sisters as well as those in church authority (elders) must be established by two or three witnesses (see Matthew 18:15-17 and I Timothy 5:19). Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection was established by the apostles and one occasion where he appeared to more than five hundred at one time (I Corinthians 15:5). Moreover, I John 5:6-7 indicates that three that testify to Jesus: the Spirit, the water, and the blood (Jesus did not come by water only, but by water and blood, and the Spirit testifies to this). In addition, in our faith, we stand in a great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1).
Keeping the teaching and wisdom of the scripture in mind can be transforming in a congregational setting as we interact with one another. Matthew 18:15 is clear that if someone has sinned against us, we need to go to that person first and try and work out the problem. We need to get the facts. We do not need to talk “about” that person or the problem at hand with others who were “not there” and who may not be apprised of all the details. Only when we cannot resolve the problem one-on-one does Jesus permit us to bring others in (one or two) to help hear the situation out and come to a resolution. The biblical teaching on evidence applies: every matter must be established by two or three witnesses (Matthew 18:16). The same approach applies to accusations against shepherds: Paul told Timothy not to entertain accusations brought against an elder (or elders) unless there was more than one witness (I Timothy 5:19).
In the church, we too often draw conclusions about events, people, and their motives without facts or witnesses. We also try to resolve problems with others by talking “about” them instead of talking “with” them directly. We make assumptions about what “might” be going on with someone without actually talking with them and finding out the facts. In so doing, we not only run the risk of misunderstanding the situation, but we might also cause needless conflict, and hurt.
The “rules of evidence” so to speak are spoken by Jesus himself. As followers of Christ, we need to take heed to what Jesus says as we interact with others, especially our brothers and sisters. In so doing, we will be blessed!