“Martyr” for Lexham B.D.

February 8, 2011

(Again, this material is copyrighted by Logos Bible Software.)

*Martyr (Gk martus, martur, “witness, one who witnesses until death, martyr”) The witness is one who gives testimony. The martyr gives truthful testimony, notably about Jesus, until the point of dying due to persecution. There is no word for “martyr” in the Old Testament, though there are examples of deaths of faithful ones who die from persecution. In the New Testament, there is also a strong emphasis on witness related to Christ and the gospel.  A number of faithful witnesses who are killed, including Jesus, are called martyrs.*

!! Usage in the Old Testament. The concept of “witness” is very important in the Hebrew Bible and some witnesses lose their lives for standing true to the Lord. The Mosaic Law establishes trustworthy testimony based on “two or three witnesses” (Deut 17:6; 19:15). The Old Testament speaks of true (Ruth 4:9-11) and false witnesses (Prov 6:19). Some true witnesses for the Lord, beginning with Abel (Gen 4:8; see Matt 23:33-35; Heb 11:4, 37) are said to have killed (i.e., martyred).  The “saints” in Dan 7:18, 22, 25 are prophesied to be killed in the end times (which is fulfilled in Rev 13:7).

!! Usage in the Acts of the Apostles. In Acts 1:8, Jesus commands the apostles to be His witnesses to the world, resulting in both the spread of the gospel and some deaths as martyrs. Just before He ascends to heaven, Jesus said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (HCSB). As the witness spread, Stephen (Acts 7:54-60), who was convicted by false witnesses (Acts 6:11-14), and the Apostle James, the brother of John (Acts 12:2), were killed for their faith in Christ. In addition, two of the passages telling of Paul’s conversion emphasize his future role as a “witness” (Acts 22:15; 26:16) to the risen Christ. Acts 14:20-21 describes the stoning in Lystra in which Paul was almost martyred.

!! Usage in the Epistles. The uses in the New Testament Letters mostly call God as “witness,” or refer to the verification standard of “two or three witnesses,” though there are notable exceptions. Paul’s nine uses are all God as witness or “two or three witnesses,” except 1 Thess 2:10 and 2 Tim 2:2. In 1 Thess 2:10, the Thessalonian believers are called as witnesses to Paul’s blameless conduct.  In 2 Tim 2:2, Paul admonishes Timothy to pass on the message he has heard from Paul “in the presence of many witnesses” (HCSB). In addition, Heb 12:1 refers to the Old Testament examples of faith in Heb 11 as “such a large cloud of witnesses” (HCSB). Finally, Peter calls himself “a witness to the sufferings of the Messiah” (1 Pet 5:1, HCSB), that is, Jesus’ martyrdom on the Cross.

!! Usage in Revelation. The five inclusions in the Apocalypse refer to Christ, a believer who has been killed, the blood of many witnesses killed by Babylon the Great, and two witnesses at the end of the age. Jesus is called “the faithful witness” (Rev 1:5) and “the faithful and true witness” (Rev 3:14, HCSB). In Rev 1:5, the context clearly refers to martyrdom (Rev 1:5-6), making Jesus the “prototype martyr” for the teaching of the rest of the Apocalypse. Antipas is also spoken of as a “faithful witness, who was killed among you” (Rev 2:13, HCSB). The two “witnesses” seen in Rev 11:3-12 are killed by the Beast (Rev 11:7; i.e., the Antichrist figure), but, like their Lord, they are resurrected and ascend to heaven (Rev 11:11-12). Finally, a particularly damning aspect of the guilt of Babylon the Great seen in John’s vision in Rev 17 is that she “was drunk on the blood of the saints and on the blood of the witnesses to Jesus” (Rev 17:6, HCSB). This wording connects the prophecy of the martyrdom of the saints in Dan 7 with those martyred by Babylon the Great, for which she will be held accountable at the end of the age.

–A. Boyd Luter

!! Bibliography

Bauckham, Richard. The Climax of Prophecy. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1992. 

Bauckham, Richard. The Theology of the Book of Revelation. New Testament Theology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Cullman, Oscar. Peter: Disciple, Apostle, Martyr. Philadelphia: Westminister, 1953.

Dragas, G. “Martyrdom and Orthodoxy in the New Testament Era,” Greek Orthodox Theological Review 30 (1985), 287-96.=

Horbury, W. and B. McNeil, Eds. Suffering and Martyrdom in the New Testament. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981.

Luter, A. Boyd. “End Times and Mission,” in the Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions. Gen. Ed. A.S. Moreau. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000.

Luter, A. Boyd. “Martyrdom,” in the Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments. Eds. R.P. Martin and P.H. Davids. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1997: 717-22. 

Seeley, D. The Noble Death: Greco-Roman Martyrology and Paul’s Concept of Salvation. Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series 28. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1990. 

Trites, A.A. The New Testament Concept of Witness. Society of New Testament Studies Monograph Series. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977.

Wilkins, Michael J. Following the Master: Discipleship in the Footsteps of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992.


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