So over the last weekend I came across one Mr. Kyle Howard tweeting about the pastoral dangers of waving the banner that justice requires 2-3 witnesses. In the course of his short Twitter sermon he proceeded to try to explain away the clearest passages in Scripture that require 2-3 witnesses as primarily having to do with capital crimes/death sentences, excommunication, or protecting against false witnesses. He’s actually close to the truth with this last point, but he vastly underestimates its prevalence and therefore limits its applicability.
Now, the first thing to note is that Mr. Howard is apparently not aware that according to the Bible and the western law tradition verified physical evidence constitutes legitimate “testimony.” In Dt. 22, the “tokens of virginity” are cited as evidence when there are no other eye witnesses besides a man and a woman. The “third witness” in this instance would be some confirmation that this man was with this woman at this time. Even in 1 Kings 3:16-28, a passage that Mr. Howard cites as example of a court case without witnesses, he has missed the fact that there are two witnesses/testimonies (the disputing prostitutes) whose testimony agree on the basic facts (one baby died), there is also the fact of a dead baby and a living baby, constituting another testimony that a crime has occurred (theft of the living baby). But the dispute is whose baby is the living baby, and that’s where there isn’t a witness/testimony to decide the case. And Solomon’s wisdom is seen in evoking yet another “witness” in the disparate responses of women at his suggestion that the baby be divided. 2-3 witnesses. Check.
The worst moment in Mr. Howard’s thread is his attempt to pass Dt. 19:15 off as merely related to capital offenses. But Dt. 19:15 could not be clearer: “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). One witnesses shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, any sin. Not just capital cases, not just death penally cases, any iniquity, any sin. From capital cases all the way down to two first graders quarreling on the playground.
Now the heart of Mr. Howard’s concern is that beating this drum of multiple witnesses is discouraging to the real victims of abuse. He writes: “If you state publicly that you require 2-3 witnesses for a sex crimes to be credible; you’re telling every person in your congregation who has been or will be sexually assaulted that you’ll not believe them & they should not be believed cuz of the Bible’s expectations of justice.” I understand that concern, and so we should regularly also make it clear that anyone who has been violated or assaulted in any way should report it to the proper authorities (police, parents, elders, boss, etc). As I stated in my reply to Mr. Howard, the Bible does not require 2-3 witnesses to report a crime. It requires 2-3 witnesses to charge someone with a crime and convict them.
But, Mr. Howard, the Bible clearly requires this standard, and this standard is the best possible standard for victims. God is the defender of the orphan, the widow, and the stranger. His standard is the best for those without protection. And let me try to explain why:
In my reply to Mr. Howard I said “By your exegesis we’ll be back to mob lynching shortly.” And this is exactly the point. Frequently, decent, law-abiding people simply lack the imagination of evil-doers. Proverbs says that they plot evil in their hearts. Among the things the Lord hates are a “heart that devises wicked imaginations, feet that are swift in running to mischief, a false witness that speaks lies, and that sows discord among brethren” (Prov. 6:18-19). Psalm 2 describes the nations plotting vain things. This is not just something that happens in the movies and in the Bible. Wicked men and women really do plot mischief.
So what could go wrong with raising an unsubstantiated accusation? You, the victim, are utterly helpless in the face of any and all pushback, threats, revenge, payoffs, and political ploys. The truth is what keeps us safe, and the truth is what sets people free. And the truth is protected by independent, corroborating testimony/evidence. But mobs are irrational, insane, bloodthirsty, and fickle. If there are no witnesses, if there is no corroborating evidence what is left but emotion and subjective feelings? I feel that he is telling the truth. I feel that she is telling the truth. But this is like throwing knives in the dark.
We live in an age that has largely granted sainthood to accusers, but we need to be fully aware of the fact that just because the wind is blowing one direction right now, disassembling the ancient dam of justice requiring 2-3 witnesses leaves us utterly vulnerable when the winds shift back the other way. In fact, even the current “victim culture” is all a massive optical illusion and sham. Right now if you bring an accusation against a liberal darling the media dutifully ignores the claim. Not all accusations are created equal you see. You are a useful victim if you can be weaponized against whatever it is that we just now decided is the big bad horrible thing that we must protest.
But the irrational protests, the senseless attacks, the vicious smears are like lightning looking for a conductor. And anything will do, including inconvenient accusers. If your abuse, if your mistreatment is not useful to our cause, you will be persistently ignored, and if you have the audacity not to let it drop, you will shortly be shamed, attacked, maligned, and cyber lynched. And if there is no evidence at all, it is just your word against hers, your word against his, your plea against the shrieking mob. At best this is Russian roulette, at worst you’re just signing up for a ride through the media meat grinder.
Shall we #believewomen? Shall we? Where are all the articles and stories interviewing all of the women who #standwithKavanaugh? Oh, their voices are not as important? Huh. I wonder why. It turns out that this Animal Farm madness means that some women are more believable than others. Some voices are more equal than others. And this is what happens when justice is reduced to accusations, charges, claims without evidence, without 2-3 witnesses.
If you charge a powerful person with serious wrongdoing, God knows that this puts you in a massively vulnerable spotlight. The piranhas will circle. In His wisdom and kindness, He requires 2-3 witnesses as much for the protection of the accuser, the victim, as He does for the accused. Lack of 2-3 witnesses does not mean that a crime cannot be reported, but the 2-3 witness threshold provides ongoing protection for victims. Sometimes this will mean that there will not be enough testimony/evidence to charge or convict, and these instances must be left at the final judgment seat of Christ who will not let any sin go unpunished. But those who claim to want to defend victims need to recognize that their zeal to run victims into the face of the mobs without the protections of 2-3 witnesses is not actually zeal for justice at all. Despite all the sweet tears and pious protests, there is some deep rot at the heart, some masochistic bloodlust all bundled up in a frilly victorian bonnet.