The Oxford English Dictionary defines "bear witness" as

1- Testify to.

2- State or show one’s belief in.

Are both these definitions correct? I mean for instance, you don't bear witness or become a witness in a courtroom to "show your belief". You do it if you are an eye-witness or have solid evidence.

Please clarify this. Thanks.

  • The examples given in ODO (it's not the OED) help, surely? – Andrew Leach Jun 18 '14 at 12:31

You are confusing one kind of belief (religious usage, i.e. faith) with a different kind of belief (acceptance or understanding of something to be true).

Both definitions are correct, and you should be able to rationalise them with the second (actually primary) definition of belief.

If you are giving testimony, you are giving answers to questions to the best of your ability, which is replying with what you believe to be true, i.e. what you 'know'.

  • Yes, the religious meaning needs to be considered separately. In a UK court one 'gives evidence' whilst Americans 'testify'. The terms are synonymous. – WS2 Jun 18 '14 at 12:35
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    +1 for reminding folks that certainty in the things of this world is only approached asymptotically, along a continuum. – Brian Donovan Jun 18 '14 at 13:33
  • @BrianDonovan: a "helpful" upvote from me for your use of "asymptotically." Now if I could only wrap my brain around what an asymptote is! Care to elaborate? Don – rhetorician Jun 18 '14 at 16:16
  • @rhetorician: a metaphor from analytic geometry, where it means a line that a given curve always approaches but never quite reaches, such as the x and y axes when you plot the function y=1/x (as x gets ever larger y gets ever smaller but never reaches zero--see Wikipedia article for a start). I apply the concept metaphorically to the relation between discourse and truth, in rhetorical epistemology. Gorgias & Isocrates both insisted on the universally doxastic or, in EL&U lingo, "opinion-based" character of rhetorical (i.e., human) discourse. – Brian Donovan Jun 18 '14 at 17:21
  • @rhetorician an asymptote is a function that approaches a limit, with the specific behaviour that as it gets closer to the limit, the rate at which it approaches decreases, resulting in it getting infinitely closer, yet never actually reaching, the limit value. A good basic example is shown on that wiki page, and is the function y = 1/x which you can see will tend to 0 as x increases, but never actually reach it. Ed: beaten to the punch! – Sam Jun 18 '14 at 17:22

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