TWO-WITNESS RULE


"Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs." (Jesus)

Anonymous

(Investigator 183, 2018 November)



The Bible has a "two-witness rule" which in ancient times protected innocent people from being found guilty. A version of it appears in the U.S. Constitution:

No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two witnesses to the same overt Act, or on confession in open Court. (Article 3, Section 3)

When church elders refuse to report someone accused of child abuse to the police because the only witness is the child are they following the Bible?


NEW TESTAMENT

The New Testament says:

If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. If you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. (Matthew 18:15-16)

Never accept any accusation against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. (I Timothy 5:19)

These verses refer to "sins" of a sort that two individuals should be able to settle between themselves — not to serious crimes. If they can't reach agreement, elders in the church can be recruited to solve the dispute.

When, however, a church member commits sins that correspond to crimes, Christians pass the matter to the secular authorities:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities... It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer... (Romans 13:1-7)

Sexual exploitation of minors is a crime. Church elders should report it to the police or instruct the parents to do so even if the accused denies guilt, so that law-enforcement can investigate and, if guilt is established, act as "the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer..."


OLD TESTAMENT

In the Law of Moses we read

On the evidence of two or three witnesses the death sentence shall be executed; a person must not be put to death on the evidence of only one witness. (Deuteronomy 17:6)

23 If there is a young woman already engaged to be married, and a man meets her in the town and lies down with her,
24 you shall bring both of them to the gate of that town and stone them to death, the young woman because she did not cry for help in the town and the man because he violated his neighbor's wife...
25 But if the man meets the engaged woman in the open country, and the man seizes her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die.
26 You shall do nothing to the young woman; the young woman has not committed an offense punishable by death...
27 Since he found her in the open country, the engaged woman may have cried for help, but there was no one to rescue her. (22:23-27)

Notice in verses 23-27 there is only one witness to rape i.e. the victim herself (since the rapist would probably deny guilt).

Therefore, for the rapist to be found guilty it implies that other evidence besides the woman's testimony could be used and the other evidence counts as additional witnesses.

The judges would have questioned both the man and woman to uncover evidence additional to the woman's initial testimony:

15 A single witness shall not suffice to convict a person of any crime or wrongdoing in connection with any offense that may be committed. Only on the evidence of two or three witnesses shall a charge be sustained.
16 If a malicious witness comes forward to accuse someone of wrongdoing,
17 then both parties to the dispute shall appear before the LORD, before the priests and the judges who are in office in those days,
18 and the judges shall make a thorough inquiry. (Deuteronomy 19:15-17)


The Law of Moses was meant for Israel, not for others, but the principles and intentions behind it can still instruct us. (I Timothy 1:8) The intentions behind Deuteronomy 17, 22 and 19 quoted above are to:

•    Protect innocent people from false accusers;
•    Protect women from sexual predators;
•    Assure that legitimate authorities investigate the evidence and inflict legal punishments.

The legitimate authorities today who investigate crimes are not Jewish priests or Christian elders but the police, various investigative agencies, and courts established by governments.


JESUS

Jesus used the two-witness rule as a reason why people should believe his message:

"In your law is written that the testimony of two witnesses is valid. I testify on my own behalf, and the Father who sent me testifies on my behalf." (John 8:17-18)

"The works that the Father has given me to complete, the very works that I am doing, testify on my behalf that the Father has sent me." (John 5:36)

The "works" that testified on behalf of Jesus are the "miracles" he did as well as the Old Testament prophecies that he fulfilled. People who observed or studied these would in effect be acting similar to the "priests and the judges" who (as we read in Deuteronomy 19:17) "make a thorough inquiry".

Evidently, one person's testimony is sufficient to initiate further investigation if supported by physical evidence that can be checked.


CHILD ABUSE

Applying the above considerations to when child-abuse is alleged, the biblical principle is that one witness — the child — is sufficient for an investigation to start, but two or more witnesses are necessary for a conviction.

And since child-abuse is a crime the investigators in today's world should be the secular authorities, not Jewish priests or church elders.

The secular authorities have experts qualified to interrogate the accused, and psychologists trained to question children, and other experts in forensics and DNA-analysis. If these experts uncover further evidence then they become extra witnesses. The biblical requirement for two or more is satisfied.

To not notify the police of alleged child-abuse leaves children in danger and flouts the following wisdom:

One who justifies the wicked and one who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the LORD. (Proverbs 17:15)


WHETHER MANDATORY OR NOT

One Christian sect apparently reports child abuse by a church-member to the police only if the congregation is located in a state where the law stipulates "mandatory reporting".

An objection to reporting something only when specified as mandatory is that reporting is often common sense. One evening during a walk I saw and heard, in the distance under a streetlight, a man on top of a protesting, struggling woman in the middle of an intersection. It was a quiet suburb and no cars were going by. There is probably no law which specifically says, "It is mandatory for anyone who sees a man subduing a protesting woman on a road to call the police." But I did so anyway, and they arrived very quickly.

The sect has, due to its misunderstanding of the above-discussed biblical principles, paid some huge compensation payments. One recent report stated that it: "must pay $35 million to a woman who says the church's national organization ordered Montana clergy members not to report her sexual abuse as a child at the hands of a congregation member, a jury ruled in a verdict." The judge still had to review the penalty and the religion planned to appeal but the potential financial cost of disregarding the Bible is clearly illustrated.


CONCLUSION

Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me; do not stop them..." Children abused by clergy or church members often associate their mistreatment with Jesus and stay away from churches as soon as they are able to. Instead of letting children come to Jesus, the church itself stopped them!

When the Bible's guidance is followed in societies that also have freedom of religion, it increases the safety and security of children and adults.


REFERENCES:

NRSV Reference Bible1993, Zondervan

https://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/sns-bc-us--jehovahs-witnesses-child-abuse-20180927-story.html

https://www.usconstitution.net/const.pdf


http://users.adam.com.au/bstett/

http://ed5015.tripod.com/