The Character of the Bible's Witnesses
by Jerry Blount
"You are My witnesses," declares the LORD, "and My servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe Me and understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, and there will be none after Me. I, even I, am the LORD, and there is no savior besides Me" (Isaiah 43:10-11).
The strength of any testimony absolutely depends on the quality of its witnesses. The Bible is not unique in that respect. In a court of law, the witnesses are often tried as aggressively as the accused. The reason is simple, there is a lot at stake and we need to be sure the story holds up to competent investigation.
God went to a lot of trouble to be sure we would have the ability to test and know that His story was true. The Bible really did come from God. Let's begin looking at the Bible's testimony and evaluating it's witnesses.
The first and obvious testimony inside our modern completed work is prophecy. By 740 B.C. God's batting average is so clearly established that it became the basis of other discussions as we can see in Isaiah 43 under our title.
This broad section in Isaiah (which consists of the second half of the book
of Isaiah) is making that case. God notes that the Jewish people had become
His witness to the world at large. Jehovah is God and He has spoken. The
effect of the Jewish witness is clearly seen in that when Jesus came, He was
expected. In other words, Jesus did not just show up and say, "I have arrived, look at Me!"
Let's look in on one of Jesus' conversations. (He is dealing with the Samaritan woman.) John 4:25-26. The woman said to Him, "I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us." Jesus said to her, "I who speak to you am He."
The bottom line is they were looking for "Messiah!"
For the record, both Joseph Smith (of Mormon fame) and Muhammad, "just arrived." The Bible addresses the kind of witness presented by Smith and Muhammad. Through Isaiah God actually challenges both of these worldly religions to put up or shut up. (Something neither of them did!) The witnesses of both Smith and Muhammad are very different from those bringing us the Bible.
"Do not tremble and do not be afraid; have I not long since announced it to you and declared it? And you are My witnesses. Is there any God besides Me, or is there any other Rock? I know of none. Those who fashion a graven image are all of them futile, and their precious things are of no profit; even their own witnesses fail to see or know, so that they will be put to shame" (Isaiah 44:8-9)
The idolatry aspect of God's challenge would not apply as directly to Islam as it would to the Mormon religion, but the folly of witnesses to a worldly religion is self evident. It leads to shame. Neither of these men could have responded to God's challenge to the world's religions issued from the God of heaven Himself!
"King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets? I know that you do" (Acts 26:27).
Match God's examples of prophecy and expectation. Their inability to do such should leave their followers in shame. Many do not know to be ashamed. Today most people don't take the time to compare Christianity with the world's religions so they really don't know how it stacks up. i.e., As a people, many of us have forgotten our heritage. We have also forgotten that Jesus always intended for us to question before we follow.
Notice that Jesus truly wished for us to demand something greater than the single testimony of men, our eyes, etc. Any one of the avenues of gathering information can sometimes deceive us. but not all of those avenues at once. Here is Jesus' advice in this regard.
The Witness of Jesus
"If I alone testify about Myself, My testimony is not true" (John 5:31).
The Witness of John
"There is another who testifies of Me, and I know that the testimony which He gives about Me is true. You have sent to John, and he has testified to the truth. But the testimony which I receive is not from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved. He was the lamp that was burning and was shining and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light" (John 5:32-35).
Witness of Works
"But the testimony which I have is greater than the testimony of John; for the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish--the very works that I do--testify about Me, that the Father has sent Me" (John 5:36).
Witness of the Father
"And the Father who sent Me, He has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time nor seen His form. You do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him whom He sent" (John 5:37-38).
Witness of the Scripture
"You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life" (John 5:39-40).
Let's separate out Jesus' own list of witnesses.
- The witness of Jesus Himself. (Not enough)
- The witness of John, the herald of Messiah.
- The witness of the miraculous.
- The witness of the Father (some of them saw/heard the heavens open up.)
- The witness of the Scriptures (Old Testament)..
After the resurrection..
- Each of men responsible for writing the Bible would also be added to this list.
- The Jews that hated Jesus would be also (even though they were unwilling witnesses.)
Note the wisdom of God displayed here. People can be duped by any one of the witnesses of the list. Even miracles can sometimes be faked. Not all of these things can be faked at once. That is Jesus' point.
Consider Jesus' comment in His high priestly prayer (just prior to the Gethsemane prayer).
"While I was with them, I was keeping them in Your name which You have given Me; and I guarded them and not one of them perished but the son of perdition, so that the Scripture would be fulfilled" (John 17:12).
"Not one has been lost.." This is the standard set by Jesus Himself.
The witnesses of the Bible virtually all willingly died violent deaths rather than recant their testimony. Can the Mormons (or any other of the "wanna be" religions) truly match the Bible's standard? They like to claim to be on a par with the Bible. Is it true?
Well, let's use Mormonism as a comparison to Christianity. Smith was well aware of the extraordinary requirements placed by Scripture in this regard. He tried to falsely reproduce them. For example in the front of every Book of Mormon you will find two groups of the witnesses the Mormons presented to the world.
A total of eleven men are presented. The follow is from Wikipedia:
An 1830 statement titled "Testimony of Three Witnesses"óone statement signed by three men rather than three separate statementsówas published at the end of the first edition of the Book of Mormon:
Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That we, through the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, have seen the plates which contain this record, which is a record of the people of Nephi, and also of the Lamanites, his brethren, and also of the people of Jared, which came from the tower of which hath been spoken. And we also know that they have been translated by the gift and power of God, for his voice hath declared it unto us; wherefore we know of a surety that the work is true. And we also testify that we have seeen [sic] the engravings which are upon the plates; and they have been shewn unto us by the power of God, and not of man. And we declare with words of soberness, that an angel of God came down from heaven, and he brought and laid before our eyes, that we beheld and saw the plates, and the engravings thereon; and we know that it is by the grace of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, that we beheld and bear record that these things are true. And it is marvellous [sic] in our eyes. Nevertheless, the voice of the Lord commanded us that we should bear record of it; wherefore, to be obedient unto the commandments of God, we bear testimony of these things. And we know that if we are faithful in Christ, we shall rid our garments of the blood of all men, and be found spotless before the judgment-seat of Christ, and shall dwell with him eternally in the heavens. And the honor be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, which is one God. Amen.
The testimony of the Eight Witnesses was first published at the end of the 1830 edition of the Book of Mormon and has been printed in nearly every edition since, although most subsequent editions have moved the statement to the front of the book, made minor grammatical corrections, and altered the phrase "Author and Proprietor" to read "translator."
Be it known unto all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, unto whom this work shall come: That Joseph Smith, Jun., the Author and Proprietor of this work, has shewn unto us the plates of which hath been spoken, which have the appearance of gold; and as many of the leaves as the said Smith has translated we did handle with our hands; and we also saw the engravings thereon, all of which has the appearance of ancient work, and of curious workmanship. And this we bear record with words of soberness, that the said Smith has shewn unto us, for we have seen and hefted, and know of a surety that the said Smith has got the plates of which we have spoken. And we give our names unto the world, to witness unto the world that which we have seen. And we lie not, God bearing witness of it.
What's my point?
Virtually all of these guys that swore they had seen angels, golden plates, etc. and swore to the world that this weird story was true either fell away from the church or were thrown out by the church and had to run for their lives!
For example, on April 12, 1838 the church excommunicated Oliver Cowdery, all the living Whitmers on the list, and Hiram Page (among others). They became known as "the dissenters." On June 17, 1838 Sidney Rigdon preached a sermon that among other things included the admonition, "that it was the duty of the faithful to cast the dissenters out "to be trodden beneath the feet of men!" These folks ran for their lives. (In case you are not already aware of why they ran, the Mormons had a violent underground enforcement group known as the Danites.)
Martin Harris later admitted, repeatedly and publicly, that he wasn't there when an angel supposedly came down and showed the other two the golden plates (the "signed" claim of the first three witnesses). Harris said that he only saw them "spiritually."
If the Book of Mormon really came from God, then why did virtually every one of the Book of Mormon witnesses fail the test? Hyrum Smith died in a gun fight beside Joseph Smith in the Carthage jail in 1844. This is very different from the Christians that were connected in some way with the Bible. These two Mormon founders were not "willing" martyrs! They are more like John Wayne than Jesus!
Sometimes Mormons try to claim both Smiths were martyrs like the writers of the Bible. It is true that they were killed in a gun fight, but they were trying desperately to fight their way out and escape.
Here is a Mormon account of such, "Brother Joseph as he drew nigh to Hyrum, and, leaning over him, exclaimed, 'Oh! my poor, dear brother Hyrum!' He, however, instantly arose, and with a firm, quick step, and a determined expression of countenance, approached the door, and pulling the six-shooter left by Brother Wheelock from his pocket, opened the door slightly, and snapped the pistol six successive times; only three of the barrels, however, were discharged. I afterwards understood that two or three were wounded by these discharges, two of whom, I am informed died." (History of the Church, Vol. 7, p. 100, 102 & 103)"
This is very different from those connected with the New Testament. The Mormons were rather proud that Smith killed two people before they got him!
See how many of the familiar names you recognize below.
Would you like to know what happened to the Christians that wrote (or were connected with) the Bible? Let's take them one by one.
James, the son of Zebedee, brother of John:
First of the apostles to die (A.D. 44; see Acts 12:2).
Andrew, brother of Peter:
After the apostles left Jerusalem he labored in the town of Edessa, Greece. He made the mistake of converting the governor's wife, who then converted the governor's brother. Aepeas, the governor was outraged by the whole affair and ordered him crucified. He was crucified on an x shaped cross, a "Saint Andrew's Cross."
Phillip of Bethsaida:
Died at Hieropolis, Phrygia (A. D. 54). Scourged, imprisoned then crucified.
Thomas (also known as Didymus):
Thomas has been remembered by the world as doubting Thomas. That is a shame, he was an intelligent man whose doubts must be resolved before he would follow. Those doubts were resolved. See John 20:24-29. He died near Madras, India. They ran him through with a spear.
If the Bible were not what it claims to be, why do you suppose none of these men ran? They all "willingly" laid down their lives so that you would respect the Bible? Men don't do this for money.
Nathaniel (also known as Bartholomew):
Do you recall Nathaniel? "Jesus saw Nathaniel coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!" (John 1:47). I picture a kind, decent man without a mean bone in his body. In India, they tried to make him deny Jesus by skinning him alive. They failed, so they beheaded him.
Matthew (also known as Levi):
Labored in Parthia and Ethiopia. Killed with a halberd in the city of Nadabah A.D. 60
James, son of Alphaeus ("The Less"), and James the Lord's brother:
These two men are often confused in history. Their life and death stories are hopelessly intertwined. Eusebius, Josephus and Jerome record that one or both of them were killed by the priests (A.D. 64/66). One of them was thrown from the pinnacle of the temple. The other seems to have been beaten or stoned to death at the hands of the priests as well.
Simon the Zealot:
Preached in Mauritania, Africa, then in Britain. Crucified there (A.D. 74).
Judas, brother of James (Lebbeaus, Thaddeus):
Crucified at Edessa (A. D. 72).
"For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty" (II Peter 1:16).
Crucified by Nero. He requested to be crucified upside down, since he wasn't worthy to die the same way as his Lord. The request was granted.
This seventeenth century painting (Domine quo vadis) is a depiction of the tradition that arose surrounding Jesus' appearing to Peter to encourage before he was crucified. This ancient account of Peter's death is preserved is various accounts. The acts of Peter, the martyrdom of Peter etc.
"And as he went forth of the city, he saw the Lord entering into Rome. And when he saw him, he said: Lord, whither goest thou thus (or here)? And the Lord said unto him: I go into Rome to be crucified. And Peter said unto him: Lord, art thou (being) crucified again? He said unto him: Yea, Peter, I am (being) crucified again. And Peter came to himself: and having beheld the Lord ascending up into heaven, he returned to Rome, rejoicing, and glorifying the Lord, for that he said: I am being crucified: the which was about to befall Peter.
He went up therefore again unto the brethren, and told them that which had been seen by him: and they lamented in soul, weeping and saying: We beseech thee, Peter, take thought for us that are young. And Peter said unto them: If it be the Lord's will, it cometh to pass, even if we will it not; but for you, the Lord is able to stablish you in his faith, and will found you therein and make you spread abroad, whom he himself hath planted, that ye also may plant others through him. But I, so long as the Lord will that I be in the flesh, resist not; and again if he take me to him I rejoice and am glad.
And while Peter thus spake, and all the brethren wept, behold four soldiers took him and led him unto Agrippa. And he in his madness (disease) commanded him to be crucified on an accusation of godlessness."
Note: The non-biblical accounts are always a little suspect to me, but they contain details that can be cross-referenced with others. One thing is clear. Peter was crucified confessing Jesus. If he had denied Jesus at the last, it would have been made known to the entire world!
Matthias (replaced Judas):
Stoned and beheaded at Jerusalem.
"For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God" (II Corinthians 2:17).
Eventually became an elder at Ephesus in AD 65. At the age of 80, in AD 97 he tried to stop a pagan procession that appears to have been very similar to the Mardi Gras of New Orleans. They beat him, dragged him through the streets then stoned him.
Note the compliment Paul paid Timothy, "But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them" (II Timothy 3:4). How many people do you know that have no clue were their beliefs came from? Or why they believe a certain way? Timothy knew why. He knew Jesus was the son of God. He also knew men who had seen and spoke with Him.
He is credited with founding the church at Alexandria. The pagans didn't appreciate it. (Money!) If you make a living carving idols, Christianity is bad for business. They drug him through the streets on Easter day. They weren't sure how the governor would react. When he did nothing, the next day they tied the rope around his neck and drug him to death.
John, son of Zebedee, brother of James:
The only one of the twelve to escape a martyr's death (see John. 21:18-23). While he escaped, it wasn't because he was unwilling. Domitian ordered him to be thrown into a pot of boiling oil. He didn't die, so he was banished to the mines in the isle of Patmos. This story intersects with Scripture. "I John, who also am your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ" (Revelation 1:9).
"But Paul said, "I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I utter words of sober truth. "For the king knows about these matters, and I speak to him also with confidence, since I am persuaded that none of these things escape his notice; for this has not been done in a corner" (Acts 26:25-26).
He was beheaded in Rome by Nero. Traditionally he and Peter died on the same day. Peter being crucified, but Paul a Roman citizen was entitled to beheading. It seems a little strange to say "entitled" to be beheaded, doesn't it? But, compared to crucifixion beheading doesn't sound so bad! Paul was one of the "lucky" ones.
Here's the bottom line. One after another of these men went willingly to their deaths swearing that Jesus had risen from the dead. They didn't run. If any of them had. The Jews and the Romans would have seen to it that we would have known about it. We know very well about all the Mormon false witnesses running.
Only one reasonable explanation comes to mind. They really did see and speak with the risen Savior. One after another of these men wouldn't just go to their deaths without even a whimper!
Paul explains, "For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing" (II Timothy 4:6-8). They had plenty of time to think about it. It wasn't a fluke, it was an honor.
This list is based primarily on Fox's Book of Martyrs, and almost certainly is in error on some details. But in the hostile environment in which these men lived, if they had cowered and ran, we would have known about it. They remained all faithful until death. Let's consider Paul's explanation: "I believed and therefore have I spoken" (II Corinthians 4:13)