QUESTION: I have many friends who read the Bible constantly. One recently told me that unless I “witness to my faith” I can never be saved. Now that has me wondering about my salvation. What does “witnessing” really mean?
ANSWER: The English word “witness” originates from a Greek word “martyria” which is used frequently in the New Testament. Its use there followed the then commonly understood meaning of the word, namely a “witness” being one who testifies to the fact of an action or occurrence. Witnesses were also called upon to testify on behalf of a person. Frequently we call these “character” witnesses.
The first sense of this word is found frequently in the Acts of the Apostles where the disciples of Jesus are called upon for testimony as to the facts of the teaching, death, resurrection and exaltation of Jesus (see for example, Acts 1:8, 22; 5:32; etc.)
The second sense of the word, however, seems to be that which is more frequently cited as applicable to contemporary Christian life. It is in this sense that the author of the Acts of the Apostles writes: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes down on you; then you are to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, yes, even to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
This is also the sense of the words recorded in Matthew when Jesus says: “You will be brought to trial before rulers and kings, to give witness before them and before the Gentiles on my account” (Matt. 10:18).
From these and similar passages, it does indeed seem that “witnessing” is an obligation of all the disciples of Christ. There is, however, an additional passage that should be considered.
One of the central teachings of Saint Paul is found in his Second Letter to the Corinthians where he writes: “There are different gifts but the same Spirit; there are different ministries but the same Lord; there are different works but the same God who accomplishes all of them in everyone” (II Cor. 12:4-6).
Therefore, it is important that the concept of witnessing for the Lord must be understood in the context of the inspired teaching of Saint Paul. For the disciple of Jesus, being a witness is required but it can take many forms.
One may demonstrate witnessing as a parent’s loving care for children or a son or daughter’s care for an aging parent. It can take place in teaching in a religious education program or in a peaceful demonstration to end violence or hunger. It may be the disciplined prayerful life of a contemplative Religious man or women or the acts of kindness for the needy.
It is always important to understand Gospel demands in the context of the entire message of the Gospel. The New Testament speaks of the “cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1) available to the troubled new Christians. These people of good example were witnessing to Christ and demonstrating their faith. That you witness is expected, how that happens depends on age, ability, disposition, talents, vocation, and many other factors.
Father Bober is administrator of the grouping that includes St. Kilian in Adams/Cranberry townships and Holy Sepulcher in Glade Mills.