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Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature


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This word means properly a witness, and is applied in the New Testament— 1. To judicial witnesses (; ; ; ; ; ; ; ). 2. To one who has testified, or can testify to the truth of what he has seen, heard, or known. This is a frequent sense in the New Testament: as in ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; , and elsewhere. 3. The meaning of the word which has now become the most usual, is that in which it occurs most rarely in the Scripture, i.e., one who by his death bears witness to the truth. In this sense we only find it in ; ; . This now exclusive sense of the word was brought into general use by the early ecclesiastical writers, who applied it to everyone who suffered death in the Christian cause. Stephen was in this sense the first martyr [STEPHEN]; and the spiritual honors of his death tended in no small degree to raise to the most extravagant estimation, in the early church, the value of the testimony of blood. Eventually a martyr's death was supposed, on the alleged authority of the under-named texts, to cancel all the sins of the past life (; ); to supply the place of baptism (); and at once to secure admittance to the presence of the Lord in Paradise (). In imitation of the family custom of annually commemorating at the grave the death of deceased members, the churches celebrated the deaths of their martyrs by prayer at their graves, and by love-feasts. From this high estimation of the martyrs, Christians were sometimes led to deliver themselves up voluntarily to the public authorities—thus justifying the charge of fanaticism brought against them by the heathen. For the most part, however, this practice was discountenanced, the words of Christ himself being brought against it (; see Gieseler, Ecclesiastes Hist. i. 109, 110).





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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Martyr'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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