Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Biblical Requirment: Two Eyewitnesses for Criminal Prosecution?

Is There a Biblical Requirement for Two Eyewitnesses for Criminal Prosecution? 
Dudley Sharp 

Some find that God’s mandate for justice is very weak because capital punishment and other criminal sanctions may require two eyewitnesses for prosecution (Numbers 35:30; Deuteronomy 17:6).  

Such would drastically reduce any society's ability to keep order.

Such concern may be unwarranted. 

First, the two eyewitness requirement is for Jews only and not even Israel has such a requirement, now. 

There is always one eyewitness in a murder trial - the murderer, who is never excluded as a potential witness.

Secondly, according to biblical scholar and ancient linguistic expert  Prof. Gleason Archer, some  wrongly isolate the Hebrew ‘d (1) , "witness",  from its broad biblical context and may have, wrongly, concluded that two eyewitnesses are required in capital cases and some other criminal cases (Deuteronomy 19:15).

(See Archer bio at bottom)

As Prof. Archer observed:

"Did God want nearly all criminals, including murderers, to get off, scot-free, if " . . . (they) had not taken the prudent measure of committing (their) crime where two people did not happen to be watching him?" (2)

Prof. Archer finds that the word "witness", ‘ d (1),  has broad meaning, including, anyone with   . . . pertinent knowledge concerning the crime, even though he had not actually seen it." (Lev 5:1), which can mean such things as motive, opportunity, accomplices, overheard confessions, wiretaps, videotape, etc.;  and physical evidence can also bear witness, also ‘ d (Ex 22:13), which could mean such evidence as bloody clothing, murder weapon, DNA, fingerprints, etc.;  written documents may serve as evidence and witness (‘ d or ‘ dah, Jos 25:25-27), which may mean such evidence as a confession, documents showing motive or implication, etc.; or things such as monuments and memorial stones, such as gal-‘ d in Gen 31:46-49, can also bear witness. 

Indeed, Archer says "there is no contravention of biblical principles in allowing such testimony, even though only one actual witness may be found, or none at all."

Prof. Archer finds that witnesses in the OT means either persons or things, as in to bear witness or provide evidence.

All manner of evidence can be used to bear witness to the guilt of the crime, be that written or oral confessions, various physical evidence against the perpetrator, witnesses with knowledge of motive  and other evidence against the perpetrator and/or eyewitnesses to the crime, just as witnesses, today, rightly take the stand and testify as experts/witnesses in psychiatric forensics, financial forensics, DNA, fingerprints, confessions, etc.

It is not necessary to accept Dr. Archer's position that no eyewitnesses are necessary, to accept that many other forms of evidence are also and instead acceptable for prosecution, as we have, today, with many being more reliable. 

Archer's is an interesting translation, particularly in this context:

Would God intentionally provide an avenue for escape for about 99% of the crimes committed by guilty criminals, if convictions could only be based only upon a two eyewitness requirement? 

Such a requirement would destroy the credibility of the justice system, undermine the government's ability to protect its citizens and their property. Respect for the law would, necessarily, not exist.

In the US, with DNA based confirmation, in those cases were it has been confirmed that an actually innocent person had been found guilty in a court of law, the majority of those wrongful convictions were based upon eyewitness testimony.

A two eyewitness requirement suffers from the well known different eyewitnesses giving  different descriptions of the criminal(s) for the same crime, as well as those occasions whereby other evidence, often more precise, such as confessions, alibis, DNA, fingerprints, pictures, etc. has contradicted the eyewitnesses.

Would God mandate such a framework?

Such interpretation might appear to contradict God's call for justice on earth, something He made clear that He cared about. 

Biblically, God knows all things for all times, which could mean that two pieces of evidence, eyewitness or other, would include DNA, fingerprints, pictures, confessions, etc. and would confirm guilt with much greater accuracy, as both circumstances and technology improved, than would two eyewitnesses.


For example:

The Innocent Frauds: Standard Anti Death Penalty Strategy  

The Innocence Project Invents False Confessions 


New Testament Death Penalty Support Overwhelming

The Death Penalty: Fair & Just

NOTE: I have some credible challenges to Archer's position.


(1) 'd - the "d" should have a line over it, which I cannot place. It is important to meaning. 

(2) Dr. Gleason L. Archer, Encyclopedia of Biblical Difficulties, Zondervan Pub., p 143-145, 1982. 

(3) For example:

Innocent Frauds: Standard Anti Death Penalty Strategy

The Innocence Project Invents False Confessions 


Victim's Voices - These are the murder victims

Brief Bio: Gleason Leonard Archer, Jr.

Prof. Archer graduated with his Bachelor of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary where he studied Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic. 

He taught languages at Suffolk University in Boston.

1945-1948 Pastor, Park Street Church, Boston

Dr. Archer served as acting dean of Fuller Theological Seminary in 1948-49 and as professor of Biblical Languages, a position he held for nearly two decades (1948-1965). He taught New Testament Greek, biblical Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, Akkadian, Egyptian, and Syriac.

From 1965-86, Gleason Archer served as professor of Old Testament and Semitics at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL, then as Professor Emeritus from 1989-91.

Some have estimated that he spoke thirty languages.

1938 B.A., Harvard University (summa cum laude in Classics)
1939 LL.B., Suffolk Law School
1940 A.M., Harvard University
1944 Ph.D., Harvard University
1945 B.D., Princeton Theological Seminary

Limited selections:

Dr. Archer translated part of the Book of Psalms for The Berkeley Bible (1959); 
Translated Jerome's Commentary on Daniel (Baker, 1958); 
"The Hebrew of Daniel compared to the Qumran Sectarian Documents" (1974);
The Linguistic Evidence for the Date of Ecclesiates (1969);
The Aramaic of the Genesis Apocrython compared with the Aramaic of Daniel (1970);
"A Reassemsment of the value of the Septuagint of 1 Samuel for textual Emendation in the light of the Qumran Fragments" (1981); 
A number of his summers were spent in Bible translation work for the New International Version and the New American Standard Bible;
Dr. Archer wrote A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Moody, 1964; rev. 1974); 
"Isaiah" in The Wycliffe Bible Commentary (Moody, 1962); 
The Book of Job: God's Answer to Undeserved Suffering (Baker, 1982); and 
Old Testament Quotations in the New Testament: A Complete Survey, with Gregory Chirichigno (Moody, 1983).
A Tribute to Gleason Archer: Essays on the Old Testament, a Festschrift in honor of Gleason's seventieth birthday, was edited by Walter Kaiser and Ronald Youngblood (Moody, 1986);
And the list goes on and on and on. 
Gleason Leonard Archer, Jr.
Birth date: May 22, 1916
Death date: April 27, 2004