“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. If a false witness rise up against any man to testify against him that which is wrong; Then both the men, between whom the controversy is, shall stand before the LORD, before the priests and the judges, which shall be in those days; And the judges shall make diligent inquisition: and, behold, if the witness be a false witness, andhath testified falsely against his brother; Then shall ye do unto him, as he had thought to have done unto his brother: so shalt thou put the evil away from among you.”(Deuteronomy 19:15-19)
I love the law of God! How we could learn so much from it, not only as individuals but as a church and even as a country! We find here a law that nobody will be accused by one witness. It had to be at the mouth of two or three witnesses that the matter would be established.
In this law, there was also a part dealing with false witnesses. If someone gave a false witness, in other words, told some big tale that was not true (also known as a lie), then that witness would get the punishment that the other person would have gotten if the tale were true.
Example: If I accused someone of murder, and it was false, then I would be punished for my lies, and given the penalty that a murderer should get.
This would have been the case, whether the lie discovered before or after the penalty was carried out on the accused. And, it would have been the case whether there were one false witness or many.
“Whoso killeth any person, the murderer shall be put to death by the mouth of witnesses: but one witness shall not testify against any person to cause him to die.” (Numbers 35:30)
It was absolutely forbidden that any case would be tried with only one witness. And that is to protect the innocent. If there were only one person who witnessed the crime, that would not be enough to grant the death penalty.
“If there be found among you, within any of thy gates which the LORD thy God giveth thee, man or woman, that hath wrought wickedness in the sight of the LORD thy God, in transgressing his covenant, And hath gone and served other gods, and worshipped them, either the sun, or moon, or any of the host of heaven, which I have not commanded; And it be told thee, and thou hast heard of it, and enquired diligently, and, behold, it be true, and the thing certain, that such abomination is wrought in Israel: Then shalt thou bring forth that man or that woman, which have committed that wicked thing, unto thy gates, even that man or that woman, and shalt stone them with stones, till they die. At the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one witness he shall not be put to death. The hands of the witnesses shall be first upon him to put him to death, and afterward the hands of all the people. So thou shalt put the evil away from among you.” (Deuteronomy 17:2-7)
Again, here are matters involving the death penalty. Notice here we still find the rule involving two or three witnesses, but also note that “The hands of the witnesses shall be first upon him to put him to death and afterward the hands of all the people….” This seems to me that it was another deterrent to keep false witnesses away.
The accusers had to be the first to carry out the punishment for the crime.
“Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 18:15-18)
When it comes to cases involving personal matters in the church, the process is the same. Nobody can bring such a personal accusation before the church until it is established by two or three witnesses. Far too often, things get escalated to the church before the time is proper and it may have just been some misunderstanding. We need to take proper care to follow the requirements found here. Before you make an accusation against some brother or sister public, make sure it is not just you. Maybe you heard that person wrong, or misunderstood. Whatever the case, if it must be brought before the church, let it be by two or three witnesses!
“Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially they who labour in the word and doctrine. For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward. Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses.” (I Timothy 5:17-19)
Here is the proper method given by Holy Scripture for dealing with accusations against elders. Read it again: “Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses.” Notice, the accusation must be supported by two or three credible witnesses and the accusers must face the accused. After all, it is a very serious thing to bring an accusation against the Lord’s man….the reputation of a minister is a serious thing.
I am amazed at how people will take any little bit of gossip as the gospel truth when it comes to some pastors or missionaries. This business of listening and telling some false thing without following this method is absolutely horrible!
Remember, God’s people ought to be treated innocent unless proven guilty and that only after the prescribed method here. It carries a lot of scandal for the man of God to be charged with some sin even if he is later cleared of that accusation. We are told here to not even receive the accusation but before two or three witnesses. Don’t even listen to it! And if you hear of it in such a matter other than the prescribed method, don’t repeat it. Even then, great care should be taken when speaking of the matter.
“Now the chief priests, and elders, and all the council, sought false witness against Jesus, to put him to death; But found none: yea, though many false witnesses came, yet found they none. At the last came two false witnesses,” (Matthew 26:59-60)
The accusers of our Lord were many (more than one), yet they were false. I bring this passage up to say we need to be very careful of what sort the “two or three” witnesses are against the Lord’s people. I am amazed how some people will take the word of a couple of men they do not know very well (if at all) against a man they have known for years. Most usually this happens with missionaries, but really it could happen to any of God’s men. Be careful who you believe.
“Then said they, Come, and let us devise devices against Jeremiah; for the law shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet. Come, and let us smite him with the tongue, and let us not give heed to any of his words.” (Jeremiah 18:18)
Satan was able to come up with false witnesses against Jeremiah and against our Lord. He will do the same to God’s men today. Anyone who is working for the Lord is a target for Satan’s false accusations.
“Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people: neither shalt thou stand against the blood of thy neighbour: I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 19:16)
Let us be very careful what we do with stories we hear about God’s people, lest we become guilty of gossip and spreading lies. Being a talebearer among the people of God is a horrible sin! Don’t listen to gossip, and certainly do not spread it!