In dealing with charges made against anyone, one of the first thing that judicious elders should do is divide the witnesses into two categories. Why is this? The scriptural requirement is two or three witnesses. Now, think for a moment. What is meant by or? Two or three? Which is it? Does God want us to have two witnesses or three witnesses? Which is the minimum? Well, life being what it is, the answer is, it depends. And this relates to the categories of witnesses mentioned above.
The categories are “those who are personally involved” and “bystanders.” The testimony of a bystander would go something like this: “Yes, on the evening of April 13th I saw our small group Bible study leader stagger out of the bar with a hoochie-mama on his arm. My wife and I were downtown in order to see a movie, and just happened across him. He seemed surprised.” The bystander happens to be a witness of something, and if this something is independently confirmed by another person from the church who was down there to see the same movie, it appears that you have the requisite two witnesses. Neither set of witnesses have a dog in any fight — they are simply there and can confirm or deny what is alleged.
But suppose the witness does have a dog in the fight, and suppose the judicial mechanism is one of the weapons he picks up to advance that fight? How many witnesses do you need now? Suppose Mr. Martin is exceedingly peeved that he was not hired to be the choir director. And suppose further that reports start mysteriously circulating in the church that the new Scoundrel Choir Director has been seen out late with various hoochie-mamas. Who can verify this? Steps forward Mrs. Martin to confirm, with grief in her heart, that the charges are, alas, true. And after she saw it with her own eyes, she came right home and told Mr. Martin about it. And Mr. Martin has supplied us with a signed affidavit, solemnly averring that this is in fact what Mrs. Martin told him. The concept that some people have of justice is enough to make a cat laugh.
So if the testimony is bogus and/or contradictory, it doesn’t matter how much you multiply it. Did the Pharisees have more than two or three witnesses who were willing to say that they heard Jesus say He was going to destroy the Temple? Sure thing. The numerical requirements are easy enough to meet, especially if you have access to a copy machine. But the Bible does not just require us to hear the charges, and then count the noses of those making them. The Scriptures require that the judges hearing the charges make diligent inquiry (Dt. 19:18). And in making diligent inquiry, it is a matter of interest to everyone whether or not the charges are being brought by a man’s enemies.
A bystander witness is simply discharging a civic or ecclesiastical obligation — testifying to what he saw. He happened to be there, and he can tell us what he saw there. A adversarial witness will use evidence so long as it is doing what he wants it to, and then when the charge doesn’t work anymore, he drops it like a hot rock. But it is still amazing how long they will cling to a story after its usefulness to them has, um, diminished. A very recent (and kind of funny) example of this is found with one adversary of mine who recently referred to the finding by the Idaho Attorney-General that there was no “credible or competent evidence” that I had committed perjury. I particularly enjoyed the AG’s addition of the adjective competent. The AG was wisely uninterested in bringing the charges of another personal enemy of mine into a court of law (where outrages like cross-examination and counter-testimony are permitted). In other words, the AG did not pick this investigation up in the first place because some cracker-jack detective work picked up some chatter in the seamy criminal underworld of Idaho. They investigated it because of wild accusations from a former member of our church, concerning whom the word disgruntled seems woefully inadequate. But my second adversary (another disgruntled former member and elder) recorded the dropped charges this way. It was apparently a finding by the Idaho AG that my “clever rhetoric has not escaped the Attorney General’s notice.” Oh, is that what they said? To paraphrase Chesterton, talking about something else, it was not as though I was nefarious enough to be guilty of any crime whatever, but rather as though any stick was good enough to beat me with.
So there are witnesses, and there are witnesses. And always beware of cyber-witnesses who are carrying a grudge, and who will not submit to cross-examination. This the kind of witness who can be caught out, dead to rights, and still manage to say, “Who are you going to believe? Me or your lying eyes?”