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Persecution, however, soon arose from both Jew and Gentile, with the result that many of those who bore faithful witness experienced physical attack and even death. Stephen the Deacon (Acts 8:5-8) and James, the brother of John (Acts 12:2) were two of the earliest witnesses who suffered the extreme penalty for witnessing to Christ. Others followed in their train, including the Apostles Peter, Paul and a number of lesser fame (Rev 20:4). Those who so suffered became in a special sense witnesses to Christ (cf. Heb 11), which led the Church to accord them a special place in its tradition, as those who had given the utmost in witness by being faithful unto death.

In post-NT times the tendency became common to regard those who died for their witness as having a special place in heaven, with special rights of intercession. Under the influence of Neo-Platonism this led to the development of the idea of “saints” who had the privilege of intercession for Christians upon earth. The NT, however, provides no ground for such beliefs, since it gives no place of special privilege even to those who have as “martyrs” died for the faith.


H. B. Workman, Persecution in the Early Church, n.d., see Persecution.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

One who gives heed, and so, a "witness," so translated in numerous passages, both as of one bearing testimony, and also as of one who is a spectator of anything (see Witness). In the King James Version rendered "martyr" in Ac 22:20, "thy martyr Stephen"; and Re 2:13, "Antipas my faithful martyr"; also 17:6, "the blood of the martyrs of Jesus," where alone the American Standard Revised Version retains "martyrs." These 3 passages are the beginning of the use of the word "martyr" for such witnesses as were faithful even unto death, its uniform modern use.