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Bible Dictionaries

Holman Bible Dictionary

Persecution in the Bible

Harassment and suffering which people and institutions inflict upon others for being different in their faith, world view, culture, or race. Persecution seeks to intimidate, silence, punish, or even to kill people.

Old Testament Israel was the agent of persecution of nations (Judges 2:11-23; Leviticus 26:7-8 ). The Bible gives special attention to Israel's fate in Egypt (Exodus 1-3 ) and in the Exile (Psalm 137:1 ). On an individual level, Saul persecuted David (1 Samuel 19:9-12 ), and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were persecuted because they refused to worship the image of the king (Daniel 3:1 ). Jezebel persecuted the prophets of the Lord, and the prophet Elijah persecuted and killed the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:1 ). Job felt persecuted by God himself (1 Kings 7:11-21 ). The prophets—Amos (1 Kings 7:10-12 ), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:19; Jeremiah 15:15; Jeremiah 37-38 ), and Urijah (Jeremiah 26:20-23 )—suffered persecution because they fleshed out the will of God in adverse circumstances. The Psalms speak of the righteous sufferer who felt persecuted as a result of faith in God, and who prayed to God for deliverance (7; 35; 37; 79; Psalm 119:84-87 ).

Intertestamental period This era is important because it witnessed the concerted attempt to make the Jewish people renounce their faith in God. In this conflict, persecution took place on both sides (1,2Maccabees). See Intertestamental History.

New Testament Jesus was persecuted and finally killed by the religious and political establishments of His day (Mark 3:6; Luke 4:29; John 5:16; Acts 3:13-15; Acts 7:52; passion stories). He fleshed out the liberating passion of God (Luke 4:16-29 ) and came into conflict with the religious institutions of the cult by healing on the sabbath (Mark 3:1-6 ), criticizing the Temple activities (Mark 11:15-18 ), and the law (Matthew 5:21-48 ).

Jesus pronounced God's salvation upon those who are persecuted for righteousness sake (Matthew 5:10-12 ). In an evil world, disciples are to expect persecution (Matthew 10:16-23; Mark 4:17; Mark 13:9; John 15:20; John 16:2 ), just as was the case with the prophets in the Old Testament (Matthew 5:12; Matthew 23:31; Luke 11:47-51; Acts 7:52; Hebrews 11:32-38 ). Paul (1 Corinthians 4:11-13; 2 Corinthians 4:8-12; 2 Corinthians 6:4-10; 2 Corinthians 11:24-27; Galatians 5:11; 1 Thessalonians 2:2; 1 Thessalonians 3:4; Acts 17:5-10; Acts 18:12-17; Acts 21:30-36; Acts 23:12-35 ), as well as Stephen (Acts 6:8-7:60 ), James (Acts 12:2 ), and Peter (Acts 12:3-5 ), together with many anonymous martyrs experienced the truth of the Johannine saying: “If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20; see Acts 4:3; Acts 5:17-42; Acts 8:1; Acts 12:1; Revelation 2:26 ,Revelation 2:26,2:9-10 ,Revelation 2:9-10,2:13 ,Revelation 2:13,2:19; Revelation 3:8-10; Revelation 6:9; Revelation 16:6; Revelation 17:6; Revelation 18:24; Revelation 20:4 ).

Whole epistles and books like 1Peter, Hebrews, and Revelation were written to encourage Christians in a situation of persecution (1 Peter 3:13-18; 1 Peter 4:12-19; 1 Peter 5:6-14; Hebrews 10:32-39; Hebrews 12:3; Revelation 2-3 ). Something like a theology of persecution emerged, which emphasized patience, endurance, and steadfastness (Romans 12:12; 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16; James 5:7-11 ); prayer (Matthew 5:44; Romans 12:14; 1 Corinthians 4:12 ); thanksgiving (2 Thessalonians 1:4 ); testing (Mark 4:17 ) and the strengthening of faith (1 Thessalonians 3:2-3 ); experiencing the grace of God (Romans 8:35; 2 Corinthians 4:9 , 2 Corinthians 12:10 ), and being blessed through suffering (Matthew 5:10-12; 1 Peter 3:14; 1 Peter 4:12-14 ). For Paul, persecuting Christians could be a living and visible testimony to the crucified and risen Christ (2 Corinthians 4:7-12 ).

There seems to be an element in religious fanaticism (Paul before his conversion: 1 Corinthians 15:9; Galatians 1:13 ,Galatians 1:13,1:23; Philippians 3:6; Acts 8:3; Acts 9:1-2; Acts 22:4 ) which breeds intolerance and can lead to persecution. Christians should repent of this element in their own history and must be radically committed to the abolition of all persecution. See Apostles; Maccabees; Martyr; Prophets; Prophecy; Suffering; War.

Thorwald Lorenzen

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Persecution in the Bible'. Holman Bible Dictionary. 1991.

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