Friday, July 29, 2022


The prophets and apostles are witnesses in two different but complementary ways.  They are first of all natural witnesses.  That is to say quite simply that they were there, they encountered something of significance - namely, God's revelation.  This is the sense of 1 John 1, or 2 Peter 1.  Something happened, someone was there, and by virtue of their proximity to that event and that person, they became witnesses.

The fact that the prophets and apostles are natural witnesses has both apologetic and theological significance.  The apologetic significance is already recognised in Scripture - we did not make it up, we were there, we saw.  Appeal is sometimes made to the fact that in this sense the prophets and apostles stand in the midst of a much wider group of natural witnesses, that they are not bearing witness to something which happened hidden away, but to something which was at least in part a very public occurrence.  I can see no reason at all, beyond prejudice, why this status of the prophets and apostles as natural witnesses should not earn them a hearing at least.

The theological significance of these natural witnesses is even greater.  Their existence as witnesses in this way demonstrates that when we are talking about God's revelation we are talking about something - ultimately, someone! - historical, contingent.  An event which took place, a life which was lived, in proximity to other lives, a reality which became a factor in our space and time.  Revelation is a matter of history, of recollection and testimony, rather than philosophy or speculation.

The second way in which the prophets and apostles are witnesses is as legal or commissioned witnesses.  That is the sense in the prophetic call narratives of Isaiah and Jeremiah, or most clearly in the language of the great commission.  'You will be my witnesses' means much more than just 'you are those who have seen and heard', although it depends on that.  As those who are natural witnesses, they are claimed and sent to go and bear witness.  Their relation to what they have seen and heard is not that of neural observers; rather, they are governed and ruled by that to which they bear witness.  To be concrete, the Lord Jesus has become their Lord, in this particular way and for this particular service, their natural witness being taken into the service of his own testimony to his Person and work.

This legal witness is of huge theological significance.  To be sure, the prophets and apostles purely as natural witnesses warrant a hearing and a degree of human credence, but they do not warrant divine confidence, faith.  That can only rest in God's Word itself - in fact, in the very reality to which the prophets and apostles bear witness.  It is as Christ's own commissioned witnesses, empowered by his Spirit, that we have to listen as to Christ himself, because they are his ambassadors.  He continues to accompany and empower their witness as it is laid down in Holy Scripture; having commissioned his witnesses, he does not abandon them or their testimony.  Our doctrine of Scripture is, or should be, built on this foundation

Finally it is worth noting that all of us who are Christians are called to be witnesses - of necessity, secondary witnesses, who weren't there, didn't see or hear, and who are therefore bound to the prophets and apostles as primary witnesses.  Because of their witness, we can bear witness, that we have heard them and have found that in their witness we have heard the Word of God.

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