Sunday, January 07, 2007

The Witness and the Whisper

As I mentioned in passing already, the "threefold method" of gaining assurance betrays an anachronistic understanding of the nature of testimony. In modern usage the words "testify" or "witness," perhaps due to their legal connotations, evoke the idea of a case being made via carefully worded argument and verbal appeal.

But the New Testament was not written in English but in Greek, and the word martureo is a lexeme with a slightly different nuance than its equivalent in our own vernacular.

In Hebrews 2:4, for example, we read that "God also bore witness [to the gospel] by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit...." It is not verbal communication of factual data that is in view here, but the appeal to evidence as confirmation of the preached Word. These spiritual phenomena served as witnesses, not through assertion, but through demonstration and proof.

Likewise in Acts 14:3, concerning Paul's and Barnabbas's ministry in Iconium, we read that the Lord "bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands." As with the passage just considered, God’s method of witness-bearing takes an indirect form. He does not verbally communicate—or inwardly suggest—that the ministry of the apostles is indeed divine, but he testifies to its genuineness by means of appeal to evidence and proof.

If we are to follow the analogia fidei, therefore, we must allow the Scripture to define its own terms rather than forcing them into our own preconceived straitjackets. When this is done it becomes evident that the witness of the Holy Spirit is no internal voice, whisper, or suggestion to our minds that we are the children of God. If such were the case the divinely-ordained harmony between Word and Spirit would be disturbed, and a mystical dissonance would result.

Rather, the witness of the Holy Spirit is an appeal, indirectly made, to the evidence of God’s own handiwork in the lives of his children, resulting in a full and well-grounded assurance of salvation.

Agree? Disagree? Why?