Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Deuteronomy 19:15–21

Deuteronomy 19:15–21: Witnesses


In Numbers 35, a rule was handed down that nobody was ever to be put to death based on the testimony of only one witness; there had to be at least two witnesses to any crime deserving death, for the accused to be executed. In Deuteronomy 16:21–17:7 this was repeated again, specifically regarding people who were accused of idolatry. In this passage, Moses expands a bit on the concept of requiring at least two witnesses before anyone is executed for a crime.

First off, in verse 15, he again states that one witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of a crime. (In this verse he simply says, “accused of a crime,” implying that this applies to any crimes, not just crimes which are punishable by death.)

But then he talks about “malicious” witnesses (verse 16), who try to accuse an innocent man. In cases where there is only one witness—meaning that it is his word against the accused’s—they are to present themselves before the LORD and the priests (and the judges who are in office at the time). A thorough investigation is to be made, and if it turns out that the witness is lying, then his punishment is to be whatever he was trying to have happen to the accused. Or, as it states in verse 19a, “…do to him as he intended to do to his brother.” For example if he maliciously accuses someone of blasphemy—the punishment for which is death—and it turns out that he’s lying, then he should be put to death.

Moses sums up with the reasons for this rule:

You must purge the evil from among you. The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you. Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. (verses 19b–21)


In the rules, it states that if it’s one man’s word against another, they are to thoroughly investigate the case, and, if it turns out that the witness is lying, the witness is to be punished. But what if it’s determined that the witness is not lying? Should the accused still be punished, even though it’s on the word of only one witness?

I don’t think so, since it’s quite clear that people are not to be convicted on the testimony of only one witness. I think the rules here are just to deal with malicious witnesses.

Maybe I should consult a lawyer, as to how things like this in the law would be handled…

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