The New Testament Witnesses
Part III of IV
The Solemn Testimony of the Witnesses
Humbly submitting to the commission to serve as witnesses to all the earth, the apostles honored the instructions of Christ by beginning in Jerusalem. The actual testimony of Peter in conjunction with the eleven is recorded in Acts 2:14ff, but Luke further relates, “And with many other words he solemnly testified” (2:40). The ending phrase translates the Greek diemartyrato, from the root diamartyromai, defined “declare solemnly and emphatically; charge under solemn oath” (Barclay, 1993).
The apostles continued witnessing for Christ as the Jerusalem church grew and grew. When the enemies of the gospel began persecuting the apostles, they responded by beseeching the Lord in prayer, saying, “And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence, while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus” (Acts 4:29-30).
The Lord acknowledged the prayer by shaking the place were they were gathered, “and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness…And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus” (4:31-33). Laboring under the directive of the Apostolic Commission, the apostles witnessed to the things which they had seen and heard to those in Jerusalem and Judea, the Holy Spirit testifying in conjunction with the apostles as promised by Christ (cf. John 15:26-27).
Peter and John would afterwards journey to Samaria following the acceptance of the gospel in that region. Regarding the apostles in Samaria, it is specifically stated, “So, when they had solemnly testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they started back to Jerusalem, and were preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans” (Acts 8:25; emp. added). The solemn testimony of the apostles presented the necessary facts which established Jesus as Christ and the gospel as heaven’s plan of salvation.
Peter rehearsed the directive of Christ bound upon the apostles in his presentation of the gospel before the household of Cornelius, explicitly asserting, “We are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:39-42; emp. added).
Luke also records that when Paul was in Corinth, he began “devoting himself completely to the word, solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ” (Acts 18:5; emp. added). In departing Ephesus, Paul acknowledged, “I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ…But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:20-24; emp. added).
Where is the preacher today who can make such a bold statement? Paul received his orders to witness for Christ while on the Damascus Road (Acts 26:15-16). The solemn testimony he delivered to all men involved the presentation of eyewitness facts which prove Jesus is Christ. Absent the Bible, no preacher today has anything to offer as proof that Jesus is Christ. There are no living witnesses to any of the pertinent facts which established Jesus as Christ. The facts are now recorded in the New Testament.
When Paul arrived in Rome, large numbers were coming to him at his place of lodging, “and he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus” (Acts 28:23; emp. added). Here we find fulfillment of the words spoken by Christ when He “stood at [Paul’s] side and said, ‘Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also” (Acts 23:11; emp. added). Paul witnessed both in Jerusalem and in Rome, testifying to the integral facts of the gospel.
Endeavoring to relegate the burden of the Great Commission on all Christians, it has been alleged by men among us that the church is ordered to obey “all that Christ commanded the apostles to do” (cf. Matthew 28:20), implying that Christ ordered the apostles to bind all Christians under the same commission to which they were charged (thus making apostles of us all). However, although these brethren are adamant that every Christian is ordered to obey what was required of the apostles, none known to this writer have ever “witnessed” in Jerusalem or in Rome, and certainly not to all nations. Notwithstanding their persistent denials, their words and their actions reveal gross hypocrisy and rank disingenuousness.
The New Testament context of witness embraces the solemn testimony of an eyewitness sworn to tell the truth regarding actual events. The apostles were witnesses in the truest sense of the term as they were accountable to Christ for delivering the gospel to all nations. The testimony of the resurrection that they proclaimed throughout the world changed the abominable practices of pagan idolatry into the worship of Jesus Christ as Lord and God.
The Witness of the Holy Spirit
The apostles were witnesses of Christ, but they were not the only witnesses. The Holy Spirit was also a witness. The Lord did not leave the treasure of the gospel to the independent testimony of the apostles, but according to the visible pattern developed in the call and commission of Moses, God authenticated the testimony of His human spokesman through the witness of the Holy Spirit.
As can be seen in every narrative of the Apostolic Commission, inspiration was promised to the apostles to aid them in their work of preaching the gospel to all nations. They were promised the “Spirit of truth” (John 14:16-17; 15:26-27) as a guide “into all the truth” (John 16:13). Christ promised the apostles, “He [i.e. the Holy Spirit] will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 16:26). For this reason, the apostle Paul confidently asserted on behalf of the apostles: “But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16), and further affirming, “the truth of Christ is in me” (2 Corinthians 11:10).
The association of the apostolic witnesses with the power of the Holy Spirit should be carefully observed. Unless one can demonstrate miraculous power, his self-appointment to the status of witness is meaningless. Truth is not confirmed by the mouth of a solitary witness, but by two or three credible witnesses testifying together. The testimony of the apostles as mere men would have been insufficient to establish Jesus as Christ, and this explains Paul’s retort: “my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:4-5).
Luke is persistent in expressing the appointment of the apostles as witnesses in connection with the promise of miraculous power through the Holy Spirit. After establishing the authority of the apostles “whom He had chosen” (Acts 1:1-3), Luke records an exchange of dialogue between Jesus and the apostles, including this reply from the Lord: “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority: but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (1:7-8).
As instructed by the Lord, the apostles began witnessing for Christ in the city of Jerusalem (Acts 2:1ff). The Holy Spirit witnessed to the veracity of their message by the various displays of supernatural power that were being seen and heard (Acts 2:2-4, 33). “Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles” (Acts 2:43). The witness of the apostles came in the form of verbal testimony to the facts of the resurrection; the witness of the Holy Spirit came in the form of awe-inspiring wonders and miraculous manifestations.
While Peter and John were in jail for “proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (Acts 4:2), the Jewish authorities conferred among themselves, saying, “What shall we do with these men? For the fact that a noteworthy miracle has taken place through them is apparent to all who live in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it” (Acts 4:16).
On page after page of the book of Acts, Luke records the incontrovertible witness of the Holy Spirit through the apostles, but where are the men claiming the Holy Spirit today whose “witness” is supported by a “noteworthy miracle”? As Wilbur Smith noted, “in a remarkable passage which seems for some strange reason to be overlooked today, is the witnessing of the apostles described as having been with great power, and this when they witness to the resurrection” (1945, pp. 366-67; emp. in orig.). The passage referenced is Acts 4:33, where Luke writes, “And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.”
Ananias and his wife Sapphira both fell dead at the feet of the apostles after they conspired “to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test” (Acts 5:9) by lying about money they were contributing to the church. Although they told the lie before the apostles, it was acknowledged that they had “not lied to men but to God” (5:4), telling their lie “to the Holy Spirit” (5:3). The Holy Spirit witnessed against their lie by smiting them in death, and Luke records that “At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people” (5:12).
These “signs and wonders” are the pillars supporting the testimony of the apostles concerning the resurrection of Jesus, leading to Peter’s assertion, “And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him” (5:32). Truth from God is not established by the testimony of a solitary witness, but by the credible testimony of two or three witnesses. In every instance of divine truth being revealed in Scripture, it is based upon the testimony of at least one human eyewitness in conjunction with the witness of the Holy Spirit through miraculous manifestations, that by the mouth of two or three witnesses, every word is confirmed.
Following the conversion of Saul on the Damascus Road and his subsequent escape from hostile Jews in Jerusalem, Luke describes how “the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase” (Acts 9:31). The church received comfort by the witness of the Holy Spirit testifying through the signs, wonders, and miracles taking place (continue reading Acts 9:32-42 for Luke’s examples).
The witness of the Holy Spirit served not only the establishment of Christianity, but it remained vitally important to the continued confirmation of the church while waiting complete revelation from God. The church was comforted by the recurring substantiation emanating from supernatural manifestations which served the church by providing inspired teaching, inspired songs, inspired prayer, and the requisite edification beneficial to sustaining the infant church. The witness of the Holy Spirit is now recorded in the New Testament; it is not repeated in visible displays of power for every generation.
On the occasion of the first Gentiles receiving the gospel, Peter reviewed how the Lord “has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean. That is why I came without even raising an objection” (Acts 10:28-29). The apostle then testified, saying, “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality; but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him” (10:34-35). He proceeded to preach Jesus and the resurrection to the Gentiles, but how were the Jewish brethren traveling with Peter to know for certain that God was willing to accept the Gentiles? Was the testimony of Peter alone sufficient? No; of course not.
“While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles, also. For they were hearing them speak with tongues and exalting God” (10:44-46). To validate Peter’s testimony that the Gentiles were welcomed by God as recipients of the gospel, the witness of the Holy Spirit spoke in indisputable corroboration. Peter highlighted the purpose of the Gentiles’ reception of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 11:1-18; 15:1-9), offering explicit declaration that God “testified to them giving them the Holy Spirit” (15:8). The truth of Gentile inclusion in God’s scheme of redemption required the testimony of Peter and the Holy Spirit – two witnesses of unquestionable reputation.
When Elymas the magician opposed the preaching of the gospel to the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, in Paphos, “Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, fixed his gaze on him, and said, ‘You who are full of all deceit and fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, you will not cease to make crooked the straight ways of the Lord? Now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and not see the sun for a time.’ And immediately a mist and a darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking those who would lead him by the hand. Then the proconsul believed when he saw what had happened, being amazed at the teaching of the Lord” (Acts 13:9-12). The witness of the Holy Spirit testified to the witness of Paul, confirming “the teaching of the Lord.”
In Iconium, large numbers of Jews and Greeks accepted the gospel, but others disbelieved, stirring up trouble in the city. Paul and Barnabas “spent a long time there speaking boldly with reliance upon the Lord, who was testifying to the word of His grace, granting that signs and wonders be done by their hands” (Acts 14:3). The miracles performed by the power of the Holy Spirit were the testimony of the Lord that Paul and Barnabas spoke the truth.
The same was true in every city where the gospel was preached. The testimony of the apostles was buttressed by the witness of the Holy Spirit in signs, wonders, and miracles. Paul stayed two years in and around the city of Ephesus, preaching the name of Jesus to Jews and Gentiles. However, the people were not expected to believe the testimony of Paul alone, but “God was performing extraordinary miracles by the hand of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were carried from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out” (Acts 19:11-12).
By the mouth of two or three witnesses, the law of Christ was made known to all nations. The truth of the gospel was not revealed or confirmed by the “confessional witness” of uninspired men. Neither did it arise from the solitary witness of an inspired man, but in every instance, the witness of inspired men was authenticated by the witness of the Holy Spirit, “so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:4).
Newman, Barclay M., Jr. (1993), A Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament
(Stuttgart, Germany: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft; United Bible Societies).
Smith, Wilbur (1945), Therefore Stand (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).