wit'-nes (nouns `edh, and `edhah, and verb `anah; martus, with all derivative words and their compounds): The word "witness" is used of inanimate things, e.g. the heap of stones testifying to the covenant between Jacob and Laban (Ge 31:44-54), and the Song of Moses. (De 31:19,21). The main use of the word is forensic, and from this use all other applications are naturally derived. Important legal agreements required the attestation of witnesses, as in the case of the purchase of property, or a betrothal (Ru 4:1-11, where we are told that the ancient form of attestation was by a man drawing off his shoe and giving it to his neighbor).
The Mosaic Law insisted on the absolute necessity of witnesses in all cases which came before a judge, especially in criminal cases. Not only in criminal cases, but in all cases, it was necessary to have at least two witnesses to make good an accusation against a person (De 17:6; 19:15; compare Nu 35:30; Mt 18:16; Joh 8:17; 2Co 13:1; 1Ti 5:19). According to the Talmud (Pesachim 113b), if in a case of immorality only one witness came forward to accuse anyone, it was regarded as sinful on the part of that witness.
On the other hand, anyone who, being present at the adjuration (Le 5:1 the Revised Version (British and American)), refused to come forward as a witness when he had testimony to bear, was considered to have sinned (Pr 29:24). Among those not qualified to be witnesses were the near relations of the accuser or the accused, friends and enemies, gamesters, usurers, tax-gatherers, heathen, slaves, women and those not of age (Sanhedhrin 3 3, 4; Ro'sh Ha-shanah 1 7; Babha' Kamma' 88a; compare Ant,IV , viii, 15). No one could be a witness who had been paid to render this service (Bekhoroth 4 6). In cases of capital punishment there was an elaborate system of warning and cautioning witnesses. Each witness had to be heard separately (Sanhedhrin 5; compare 3 5). If they contradicted one another on important points their witness was invalidated (Sanhedhrin 5).
No oath was required from witnesses. The meaning of Le 5:1 was not that witnesses had to take an oath, as some think; it describes the solemn adjuration of the judge to all those with knowledge of the case to come forward as witnesses (see OATH). When a criminal was to be put to death, the witnesses against him were to take the foremost share in bringing about his death (De 17:7; compare Ac 7:58), in order to prove their own belief in their testimony. In the case of a person condemned to be stoned, all the witnesses had to lay their hands on the head of the condemned (Le 24:14). "False witnessing" was prohibited in the Decalogue (Ex 20:16); against it the lexicon talionis was enforced, i.e. it was done to the witness as he meant to do to the accused (De 19:16-21). The Sadducees held that only when the falsely accused had been executed, the false witnesses should be put to death; the Pharisees, that false witnesses were liable to be executed the moment the death sentence had been passed on the falsely accused (Makkoth 17). In spite of prohibitions, false witnessing was a very common crime among the people (Ps 27:12; 35:11; Pr 6:19; 12:17; 14:5; 19:5; 24:28; Mt 26:60; Ac 6:13).
In Ac 22:20; Re 2:13; 17:6 the word martus, "witness", seems to be beginning to acquire the meaning of "martyr," as in the King James Version, although the Revised Version (British and American) translates "witness" in the first two passages, retaining "martyr" only in the third with "witness" in the m. For "Tabernacle of Witness" see TABERNACLE.