Numbers 35:30—Does the need for two witnesses mean that it is wrong to condemn someone on other evidence?

Problem: According to Numbers 35:30, a man accused of murder could be convicted and condemned on the testimony of two witnesses, but not on the testimony of only one witness. However, the great majority of crimes are not committed in the open for people to witness. Does this make it wrong to convict and condemn someone on the basis of other evidence when there have been no eyewitnesses?

Solution: It would be wrong to assume that the Hebrew word translated “witness” (ed), is exactly equivalent to the English usage. Leviticus 5:1 gives a good example of the wider range of use of this Hebrew word: “If a person sins in hearing the utterance of an oath, and is a witness, whether he has seen or known of the matterif he does not tell it, he bears guilt.” In this verse, the same Hebrew word translated “witness” refers to someone who has either seen or known of a matter. According to the Mosaic Law, then, there were two types of witnesses who could offer testimony to the guilt of an individual. One was an eyewitness, the other was one who, though not an eyewitness, could provide testimony to the identity of the offender. This verse does not make it wrong to convict a person on evidence that is other than direct eyewitness evidence. Further, the OT writer did not have in view, nor intend to exclude, such modern things as fingerprints and audio and video tapes.

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.