Topics from the Gospel of John Part III: The Meaning of “Witness” in John -- By: Merrill C. Tenney

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 132:527 (Jul 1975)
Article: Topics from the Gospel of John Part III: The Meaning of “Witness” in John
Author: Merrill C. Tenney


Topics from the Gospel of John
Part III:
The Meaning of “Witness” in John

Merrill C. Tenney

[Merrill C. Tenney, Professor of Bible and Theology, Wheaton College Graduate School of Theology, Wheaton, Illinois.]

[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third in a series of four articles, first delivered by the author as the Louis S. Bauman Memorial Lectures at Grace Theological seminary, Winona Lake, Indiana, February 12–15, 1974.]

Among the numerous terms that can be classed as specially Johannine, the word witness, whether a verb or a noun, is outstanding. The noun μαρτυρία occurs fourteen times in the Gospel, and the verb μαρτυρέω thirty-three times; in the Johannine Epistles μαρτυρία occurs seven times, and μαρτυρέω ten times; and in Revelation μαρτυρία is used nine times, and μαρτυρέω four times. The Johannine usages of these two terms outnumber their total usage in the rest of the New Testament.

Obviously John gave great importance to this concept in his presentation of the message about Christ. Its general meaning denotes attestation of some person or event which might naturally be the object of antagonism or skepticism. Because of the stupendous miracle of the Incarnation which brought other miracles with it, some sort of confirmation was necessary if Jesus were to be regarded as anything more than a wandering prophet who made fantastic claims. The support for His claims became the witness which is Christian testimony. This term thus became the summary of the apologetic teaching that the Gospel advanced in defense of Jesus’ life and work.

Μαρτυρία (“witness”) does not refer primarily to the corroboration of Jesus’ historical existence and works, though it is so used on occasion (John 15:27; 21:24; 1 John 1:2; 4:14), nor to particular events in the story (except in John 19:35). The witness

is mainly to the character and significance of His person. The attestation of the factual history is only the first step toward the witness of His significance in the divine revelation and in the reality of experience.1

The concept of witness is also closely related to the progressiv...

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