There are competing theories about the etymological root for “testimony.” Testis was apparently a latin word for “witness,” but referring more specifically to a third person who stands apart and speaks disinterestedly. “Testimony” could also share its roots with our word “testes,” suggesting that it may come from the ritual in some ancient cultures to swear by one’s genitals, males then being the only ones who could give sworn testimony. An example is Genesis 24:9, when Abraham had his servant swear that he would obtain a wife for Isaac only from among Abraham’s people. The ritual by which the servant swore was described euphemistically as “placing his hand under the thigh” of Abraham.
We’re well familiar with “testimony” and what it means nowadays. In court we swear “to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” It used to be that we routinely added the phrase “so help me God,” to be reminded that God hears, too, and we are answerable to Him if we lie. Now that last phrase is often left off, because so many people think God doesn’t care about such things, or doesn’t exist at all. The absence of the last phrase implies that one swears by his own head, so the two ways of swearing to tell the truth also exemplify the two competing and irreconcilable worldviews: the one ordered around God, and the one ordered around ourselves. Today, sometimes the swearing is done “under penalty of perjury,” meaning that the witness is reminded that they’re under oath, and that lying under oath is a crime. The point in any event is that once we give the oath, we are to take special care not to evade the truth by elision or prevarication or outright falsehood.
“Testimony” is also used in some religious circles to refer to the story of how one came to belief. This is especially common among protestant denominations which adopt the idea that one acts, in order to cross over from death to life (or to obtain “salvation”). The idea is that we are sinful and in need of redemption; that God provides the means of that redemption in the person of Christ; and that the event of crossing over is something that happens at an identifiable point in our lives, and that the event can be recounted to others. Each individual who claims to enjoy reconciliation to God in this way therefore has a story to tell, about how he came to it, or was drawn to it.
Implicit in such a telling is that one can know that he has crossed over. That is, that he is made aware by his experience of the internal impact it has, such as the change (repentance) one feels inside. Further, behavior changes for the better; attitudes about others improve; a felt sense of God-in-me results. The event of crossing over may be instantaneous or drawn out over weeks or months, but it consists of these elements: belief, action, relationship. Belief is simply accepting the truth of the story of the Christ as related in the Bible. Action relates to acting as though it is true, and includes observable change internally and externally. Relationship refers to ongoing relationship to Christ, which is typically marked by prayer and by reminding oneself, in prayer, of the truth of God’s revelation to us, so that there is a felt sense of Christ’s presence in us.
There are as many testimonies as there are Christians. One testimony is posted here.
Most people have a familiarity with this Christian idea of testimony, whether their religious tradition includes that idea in such explicit terms or not. It is good for anyone who subscribes to Christian faith to consider what his story of faith is; what his “testimony” consists of. You’re invited to write it as a comment to this post, if you feel so moved.
It might also be good for anyone who rejects God to consider what his “testimony” is. After all, it is a binary proposition: there is a God or there is not. There is no in-between or “sort-of” truth about it. Therefore, if one rejects all notions of God or gods, he necessarily embraces materialism. If that describes you, what is your testimony? How did you come to embrace the belief that time and matter comprise all of reality? What effect did it have? You’re invited to post that testimony, too.