Why does an accusation against an elder require two or more witnesses?
Could you explain I Timothy 5:19?
"Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses."
I was studying this chapter with another Christian and we both have been confused about what exactly is prohibited in verse 19. Must any and all concerns about an elder be kept quiet if there are no other witnesses? For example, if an elder is abusive toward his wife but such is the case that only he, his wife, and God are aware of it. Is the wife prohibited from charging him with abuse if she has no way to bring two other witnesses into the scenario? I don't want to get bogged down in hypotheticals, but I'm unsure about whether or not the accusation or charge against an elder in verse 19 is limited to accusations of a certain nature (ie. only accusations that can be proved with two or three witnesses), or if it is all-inclusive (including even accusations that cannot be proved but are true).
We have a problem. We know that people lie, but we have a strong tendency to believe whatever a person says about another, especially if it is something bad. "The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and examines him" (Proverbs 18:17). We see this in politics constantly. One side rises to power and immediately there are accusations of misconduct that the other side treats as truth because it undermines the people in charge. People forget that accusations do not prove something to be true.
To counter this tendency, God told the Israelites:
"One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established" (Deuteronomy 19:15).
This fundamental principle is carried over into the Law of Christ. When two people have a dispute that cannot be settled between them, it is required that one or two additional people be brought into the matter to serve as witnesses (Matthew 18:16). Even Jesus pointed out that if people only had his word for being the Messiah, it wasn't enough. "If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true" (John 5:31).
Notice that this principle of establishing truth applies to everyone. When a person makes a claim, it should not be entertained until there is supporting independent information. But it especially needs to be applied to the leaders of God's people. "Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses" (I Timothy 5:19). Elders lead by their example and reputation (I Peter 5:1-3). Destroy their reputation and they will have a difficult time doing their duties.
Thus, if a woman accuses her husband of abuse, the first question is: Is there anyone who can collaborate the story? Perhaps neighbors who overheard the arguments, physical evidence of harm, etc. If not, then one or two need to go and talk to the husband and wife to see if they can find out what is going on. What should not be allowed is simply accepting an accusation just because it is made. People do lie and you don't know the accuser's motivations.