Our Bible verse for today: “Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” 2 Corinthians 13:1 (CSB)
Our thought for today: “You are innocent until proven guilty.”
Many times it’s hard to know if someone is telling the truth or not. A good contemporary case-in-point would be the sexual assault allegations made against current Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. He has been accused of a sexual assault thirty-five years ago. The accuser seems credible to many people, but Judge Kavanaugh insists he didn’t do it. There is no evidence and there are no witnesses. It’s entirely a matter of “He said, she said”. So who do we believe? How do we know what the truth is?
The Biblical standard is that the truth of any matter must be established by two or three witnesses. In other words, there has to be hard evidence or there must be multiple credible witnesses. That’s what the Apostle Paul meant in 2 Corinthians 13:1, and Paul was simply quoting Moses from Deuteronomy 19:15. This was an Old Testament standard for determining truth, and it was reaffirmed in the New Testament.
The presumption of innocence unless proven guilty isn’t just a Biblical standard either, it’s also a foundational precept in both English and American law. In 1765 Sir William Blackstone wrote in his classic work “Commentaries on the Laws of England”, “Better that ten guilty persons escape than one innocent suffer.”
That principle was critical in the thinking of our Founding Fathers as well, and it was absorbed into both American common law and into the American sense of justice and fair play. Benjamin Franklin paraphrased Blackstone when he said, “It is better 100 guilty persons should escape than one innocent person should suffer.” John Adams said it like this, “It is more important that innocence be protected than guilt be punished.” This is where we get our standard of “innocent until proven guilty”. And it is more than just a legal standard to be applied in a court of law – it’s part of the American sense of justice and fair play.
God apparently agrees that it’s better for the guilty to go free than for the innocent to be punished. In Genesis 18:23-32, as God was planning to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham pleaded with Him to relent, just in case there were some innocent people among all the guilty. The way the conversation developed was that if Abraham could show God any righteous people at all in those towns, God would relent and allow all the guilty to go free for the sake of the innocent among them (there weren’t any).
Back to our current contemporary example: Sexual assault is an awful crime that demands punishment. Victims of sexual assault should be taken seriously and dealt with in a kind and compassionate manner. However, it’s also the case that anyone can accuse anyone else of anything at any time – but that doesn’t make it true. Just because an accusation has been made, doesn’t mean it is true. The burden of proof lies with the accuser to demonstrate that an offense has in fact been committed, and also that the person being accused is in fact the person who did it.
We are entitled to the presumption of innocence – both in the courts of law and in the court of public opinion. The burden is on the accuser and on the government to prove guilt, not on the accused to prove him or herself innocent.
Not only do we as individuals have a responsibility to tell the truth, but all of us also have a responsibility to insist that the truth be told. Additionally, we also have a responsibility to withhold judgment until and unless there is either hard evidence, or multiple credible witnesses, to corroborate the alleged offense.