The Two Witness Rule

The child abuse policy of Jehovah's Witnesses states: "When any one of Jehovah's Witnesses is accused of an act of child abuse, the local congregation elders are expected to investigate. Two elders meet separately with the accused and the accuser to see what each says on the matter.

If the accused denies the charge, the two elders may arrange for him and the victim to restate their position in each other's presence, with elders also there. If during that meeting the accused still denies the charges and there are no others who can substantiate them, the elders cannot take action within the congregation at that time. Why not? As a Bible-based organization, we must adhere to what the Scriptures say, namely, "No single witness should rise up against a man respecting any error or any sin . . . At the mouth of two witnesses or at the mouth of three witnesses the matter should stand good." (Deuteronomy 19:15) Jesus reaffirmed this principle as recorded at Matthew 18:15-17."

From the outset let it be noted that the two witness policy has nothing to do with whether the alleged abuse is reported to the authorities or not although that is what opposers and apostates want you to believe. The Watchtower publications have never said that abuse or crime should not be reported unless there are two witnesses to the crime. The two witness rule as applied by Jehovah's Witnesses is only applied to determine if a judicial committee should be formed to handle the sin or wrongdoing congregationally not criminally. Over and over again the Watchtower publications and letters to the elders have shown that anyone is free to report child abuse to the authorities at any time without sanctions from the congregation, even encouraging such reporting. (See the chapters If Only One Witness and Keeping It In the House)

Still opposers say this is bad policy since child molesters usually do not molest with others around. This protects the molester and not the child. To this we say, The rule book is the Bible. Repeatedly the Bible speaks of the need for two witnesses to establish any matter. Take note of just a few of these scriptures.

  • Matthew 18:16: " the mouth of two or three witnesses every matter may be established."
  • 2 Corinthians 13:1: “...At the mouth of two witnesses or of three every matter must be established."
  • 1 Timothy 5:19 "Do not admit an accusation against an older man, except only on the evidence of two or three witnesses."

    Do we just throw these Bible verses out the door. That is what many opposers would have Jehovah's Witnesses do, even calling these Bible passages obscure and not applicable in these modern times. But Jehovah's Witnesses believe that it is best to follow the words of the son of God and the inspired apostle Paul rather than the opinions of others.

    The fact is that many critics do not realize just what the two witness rule entails. Others may know but they don't want you to know and so they try to hide just who or what can serve as two witnesses. You may have heard opposers make the claim that Jehovah's Witnesses require two witnesses to the SAME incident. They will then tell you how molesters do not work in public where another witness might see them thus there will never be two witnesses and thus Jehovah's Witnesses protect child molesters. But this information is inaccurate and quite misleading.

    Notice what the Watchtower policy further states along these lines: "However, if two persons are witnesses to separate incidents of the same kind of wrongdoing, their testimony may be deemed sufficient to take action." 'Its about time they changed that rule,' some may exclaim.'No doubt credit can be given to Bill Bowen and his SilentLambs organization for this change.' But the truth is that this was stated as far back as 1981 in the Pay Attention to the Flock Book. It instructs on page 119: "If there is another witness to the same type of sin on the part of the accused, this would be basis for forming a judicial committee."

    Making application of this directive, given long before Silent Lambs even existed, we know that two different children who are molested on separate occasions by the same person would qualify as the two witnesses. Other information from the Society has revealed that the two witnesses do not have to both be children who were molested or persons who saw the molesting. It can be the court evidence and the child. It can be the DNA evidence and the child. That is why J.R. Brown, Watchtower spokesman, is reported by the Associated Press on February 11, 2001 to have said: "...corroborating evidence can be used instead of a second witness to prove wrongdoing." And the Jan 30 1992 letter to elders states: "Also, should further wrongdoing come to light during the trial it would be necessary for the matter to be re-examined, as is true of any judicial matter when additional wrongdoing is discovered."

    But doesn't the November 1, 1995 Watchtower, pp. 28-29 contradict this aspect of the two witness rule? Doesn't it say that "even if more than one person remembers abuse by the same individual", this would not be enough evidence to "base judicial decisions on them without other supporting evidence."? Isn't this just more double-speak by the Society?

    No, it is not. A reading of the entire article and taking note of the context and what is being discussed in that particular Watchtower, we see that the article is talking about repressed memories. That is why at the beginning of the article there is a footnote which says, "“Repressed memories” and similar expressions are enclosed in quotation marks to distinguish them from the more typical memories that all of us have."

    Experts agree that repressed memories cannot always be trusted and false memories are sometimes implanted in a person's mind. And that is why the Watchtower article states, "It is noteworthy, however, that a number of individuals have been unable to corroborate their “memories.” Some afflicted in this way have had vivid recollections of a certain individual committing abuse or of the abuse being committed in a specific place. Later, though, legitimate evidence to the contrary made it clear that these “remembered” details could not be true."

    Then later in the article the statement in question is made that is often taken out of context by opposers of Jehovah's Witnesses: "Even if more than one person “remembers” abuse by the same individual, the nature of these recalls is just too uncertain to base judicial decisions on them without other supporting evidence." It is only in the case of repressed memories, and not the typical normal memories, that this applies. There is absolutely no contradiction here with the stated child abuse policy of Jehovah's Witnesses.

    The two witness rule was established by Jesus Christ and clearly re-enforced by the Apostle Paul. The bottom line is that it is unscriptural to disfellowship someone at the mouth of one witness. Surely God's word should take precedent over the thinking of imperfect men. Thus Jehovah's Witnesses apply the two witness rule using both reason and logic. To do otherwise would be to deny the Bible. But what if there is only one witness? Then what should be done according to the policy of Jehovah's Witnesses?

    Chapter Three: If Only One Witness