In the Hebrew Scriptures, the noun rendered “witness” (‛edh) is derived from a verb (‛udh) meaning “return” or “repeat, do again.” Regarding the noun (‛edh), the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says: “A witness is one, who by reiteration, emphatically affirms his testimony. The word [‛edh] is at home in the language of the court.” A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language for Readers of English adds: “The orig[inal] meaning [of the verb ‛udh] prob[ably] was ‘he said repeatedly and forcefully.’”
The rendering “witnesses” at Hebrews 12:1 comes from the Greek word mar′tys. According to Wuest’s Word Studies From the Greek New Testament, this word denotes “one who testifies, or can testify, to what he has seen or heard or knows by any other means.” Christian Words, by Nigel Turner, says that the word means one who speaks “from personal experience . . . , and from conviction about truths and views.”
This was shown in the eighth century B.C.E., when God’s prophet recorded at Isaiah 43:8-28 what is, in effect, a court case between Jehovah and idol-gods. In it God’s people Israel were on one side, and the worldly nations on the other. Jehovah challenged the false gods of the nations to tell “the first things,” to prophesy accurately. Not one could do so. Turning to his people, Jehovah said: “You are my witnesses . . . and I am God.” The nations could not prove that their gods existed ahead of Jehovah or that they could prophesy. But Jehovah foretold Babylon’s ruin and the release of his captive people.