What is a Testimony?

We hear testimony  a lot in church or in our Christian circles. We usually like to pair it with “share your testimony,” and in this sense, we implicate, or substitute, testimony with story. Sometimes we even hear that we need to protect our testimony, an affectionate (but effective) way of striking fear into someone’s life to live “like a Christian.” I think these cultural understandings of this word are accurate, but our understanding can always use a good refresh. Our words and the Greek and Hebrew words used in the Bible get mixed up often. In that process of mixing words and understandings, we render definitions to fit our culture. This word study offers a slightly larger perspective into the words testimony and testify. Maybe a little more information will help broaden our understanding of what it is to give or to protect a testimony.

This word study will also offer insight into the thinking behind what this blog aims to do: to tell true stories about real humans living as Christians.

Definitions

(Vine’s Concise Dictionary) Testimony:

  • Old Testament
    • ‘edut, “testimony; ordinance.”
      • Exodus 31:18 “And when He had made an end of speaking with him on Mount Sinai, He gave Moses two tablets of the Testimony, tablets of stone written with the finger of God.” Exodus 31:18 NKJV
      • “And you shall put into the ark the Testimony which I will give you.” Exodus 25:16
      • “And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are on the ark of the Testimony, about everything which I will give you in commandment to the children of Isreal.” Exodus 25:22
      • “As the Lord commanded Moses, so Aaron laid it up before the Testimony, to be kept.” Exodus 16:34
      • “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple…” Psalm 19:7
      • “And keep the charge of the Lord your God: to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His judgements, and His testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn …” 1 Kings 2:3

* In the Old Testament, testimony can be understood using synonyms like law, ordinance, or God’s word. In this part of the word’s history, synonyms like story are not in the picture yet because its users wanted to establish it as a thing that only came from a holy God, which made it easy to justify a means to protect it; hence, the Ark of the Covenant, which was used to keep God’s testimony, or law/ordinances.

  • New Testament
    • 1. marturion, “a testimony, witness”
      • “Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all.” Acts 4: 32, 33
      • “Our fathers had the tabernacle of witness in the wilderness, as He appointed, instructing Moses to make in according to the pattern that he had seen.” Acts 7:44
      • …when he comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed.” 2 Thessalonians 1:10 (passage also connotes kerugma, “the thing preached, the message”)
    • 2. marturia, “witness, evidence, testimony”
      • “He who has received His testimony has certified that God is true.” John 3:32
      • Jesus: “Yet I do not receive testimony from man, but I say these things that you may be saved.” John 5:34
      • Jesus: “It is also written in your law that the testimony to men is true.” John 8:17
      • “This is the the disciple who testifies of these things, and wrote these things; and we know that his testimony is true.” John 21:24
      • “He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His son. And this is the testimony: that He has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.” 1 John 5: 10, 11
      • “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show His servants — things which must shortly take place. And He sent and signified it by His angel to His servant John, who bore witness to the word of God, and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, to all things that he saw.” Revelation 1: 2, 3
      • “And the dragon was enraged with the woman, and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” Revelation 12:17

*You should read that last one again. Seriously. But if you’re lazy, here’s a translation of the Revelation 12:17 passage: The devil is on a mission to keep us (the woman’s offspring) from telling Jesus’ testimony, the one that lives in all of our hearts.

*We can start to see a broader understanding of the word in the New Testament, where writers are using the word to describe a witness’ account of something God has said or something they have experienced as a literal encounter with Jesus. It is my theory that the word takes on a new meaning once the Day at Pentecost takes place. Without Jesus in the flesh, the Holy Spirit is now our only link between the physical world and God’s kingdom. This new meaning, in which we are operating under presently, is more subjective by nature because we are now responsible for relaying our experience with the Holy Spirit through our language.

(Merriam-Webster): testimony

    • : something that someone says especially in the court of law while formally promising to tell the truth.
    • : proof or evidence that something exists or is true
    • 1. a (1): the tablets inscribed with the Mosaic law. (2): the ark containing the tablets.
      • b: a divine decree attested in the scriptures
    • 2. a: firsthand authentication of a fact : evidence
    • b: an outward sign
    • :  a solemn declaration usually made orally by a witness under oath in response to interrogation by a lawyer or authorized public official
    • 3. a: an open acknowledgement
    • b: a public profession of religious experience
  • *This is just interesting … English-Learner’s definition of testimony : proof or evidence that something exists or is true: testament.

 

*Here’s some more food for thought:

(Vine’s Concise Dictionary): testify

  • 1. martureo, “to bear witness, to witness”
    • “But Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew all men, and had no need that anyone should testify of man, for He knew what was in man.” John 2:25
    • Jesus: “Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness.” John 3:11
    • “But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me. And you also will bear witness, because you have been with Me from the beginning.” John 15: 26, 27
    • “And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world.” 1 John 4:14
    • “If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater; for this is the witness of God which He has testified of His son.” 1 John 5:9
    • “For I rejoiced greatly when brethren came and testified of the truth that is in you, just as you walk in the truth.” 3 John 3
    • “And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, ‘He told me all that I ever did.’” John 4:39
    • Jesus: “The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it that its works are evil.” John 7:7
    • “When Jesus had said these things, He was troubled in spirit, and testified and said, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” John 13:21
    • “They knew from the first, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.” Acts 26:5
    • “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches. I am the Root and Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star … For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues written in this book … He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely, I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Even so, come Lord Jesus!” Revelation 22:16, 18, 20
  • 2. epimartureo “to bear witness to”
    • “By Silvans, our faithful brother as I consider him, I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God in which you stand.” 1 Peter 5:12
  • 3. marturomai “to summon as witness, to bear witness”
    • “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men.” Acts 20:26
    • “Therefore, having obtained help from God, to this day I stand, witnessing both small and great, saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come …” Acts 26:22
    • “And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law.” Galatians 5:3
    • “This I say, therefore, and testify to the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind…” Ephesians 4:17
    • 1 Thessalonians 2:11 & 12, charged is synonymous with “testifying.” “For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.”
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