September 28, 2018
Divine Restraining Order
Sometimes We Can't Judge Who's Telling the Truth
The Fellowship of St. James board met yesterday, so I was not able to watch the Brett Kavanaugh-Christine Ford hearings. Not that I would have watched them.
With this nationally televised "trial" in mind, last night I read the Epistle for September 27 from the St. James Daily Devotional Guide, which opens:
". . . Any charge must be sustained by the evidence of two or three witnesses." (2 Corinthians 13:1)
Paul, trained in the Jewish law, knew the Mosaic (Divine) standard laid down for adjudicating guilt:
"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." (Deut. 19:15)
Paul's instructions to Timothy reflect his commitment to this principle: "Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses." (1 Tim. 5:19)
What is it about "two or three" that is better than one? Two must carefully collaborate if they are lying; adding a third party makes collaboration in a lie even harder. (Jesus's accusers could not agree in their testimony.) This suggests that the Law's interest is preventing the assigning guilt by means of false accusations, something reflected in the Decalogue, "Thou shalt not bear false witness."
Now it is likely that a guilty party at times will not be found guilty, for lack of sufficient witnesses, and will go to his grave without punishment, even if he lied about his innocence.
God reserves ultimate justice to himself. We do not stand in the place of God and are charged with restraint when it comes to condemning the accused without sufficient witnesses. Those who ignore this limit placed on the act of condemnation have transgressed, crossed a line, and placed themselves in the role of God.
But even God, who has supreme authority and who could demand that one voice suffice if the witness is God himself, uses the principle of corroborative witnesses. The Apostle John writes:
For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one." (1 John 5:7-8)
God unfolds his revelation and truth through and in the presence of witnesses.
John uses the word witness often, and in his Gospel Jesus often speaks about bearing witness and about witnesses and their relation to truth:
"If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true. There is another who bears witness of Me, and I know that the witness which He witnesses of Me is true. You have sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. (John 5:31-32)
In abandoning the restraint on condemning the accused by the mouth of one witness, we undermine the Decalogue on false witnesses. A society that moves away from the Decalogue becomes lawless and the innocent are increasingly vulnerable to false accusations.
In the current crisis over sexual assaults, one lesson might be: keep young people free of situations in which one person could later accuse another of a sexual crime. At parties, make sure adults are present and watching, alcohol is proscribed, or if legally consumed, in strict moderation—that young people are essentially, um, chaperoned.
Something similar is wise for adults. A 2017 article about Mike Pence by David French is helpful. Consider the Pence Rule: "the vice president doesn't dine alone with women or attend events where alcohol is served without his wife by his side." Pence's Rule (like the Billy Graham Rule) keeps scandal at bay.
Yet Pence was ridiculed for this, notes French. That was 2017. Now, will our Senate, newly enlightened by Ford-Kavanaugh, ask the Vice President to instruct them on sexual propriety? I doubt much has changed, as French noted:
It's getting wearisome to see a public debate that calls out human failings without grappling with human frailty.
Indeed. And one aspect of human frailty is surely sexuality. Another, false witness, is addressed by the 2 or 3 witnesses rule. Something for true leaders to grapple with.
Yours for Christ, Creed & Culture,
James M. Kushiner
Executive Director, The Fellowship of St. James
James M. Kushiner is Executive Editor of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity, and Executive Director of The Fellowship of St. James.