What Constitutes a Witness to a Capital Crime?

My wife asked me a hard question today. Given that God’s law, as given to Moses, states that no one can be put to death without the testimony of two witnesses, does that mean a murderer can’t be convicted if he commits his crime out of sight of any witnesses? Can’t we use forensic evidence? Or must there be actual eyewitnesses?

For the answer, we have to turn to the New Testament.

In John Chapter 5, Our Lord Jesus Christ said, “If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true. There is another that beareth witness of me; and I know that the witness which he witnesseth of me is true” (verses 31-32). And he cites John the Baptist as one witness who testified that Jesus was indeed the Lamb of God.

Our Lord continues, in verse 36, “But I have greater witness than that of John: for the works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me.”

So that’s another witness: the works that Jesus did, that no one else could do.

For yet another witness, Christ points to the Old Testament scriptures (verses 45-47): “Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust. For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his witness, how shall ye believe my words?”

We have here three witnesses: John the Baptist, Jesus’ own works, and God’s word delivered through Moses. None of them are eyewitnesses; but they are three witnesses which Christ calls on us to believe.

Therefore a murder done in secret might be judged by witnesses that are not eyewitnesses–such as forensic evidence, the indirect evidence of witnesses testifying to the accused’s behavior, and even circumstantial evidence, if it is strong enough.

And on those rare occasions when no witness at all is available, we must rely on God to judge.

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