Leadership, Authority, and Religious Roles

Have martyrs been accorded any special status in Christian history?

According to Christian tradition, Stephen was the first person to die for his commitment to faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 6-7). Paul, one of those among the crowd that stoned Stephen to death, would later become a martyr himself, as would Peter and many others among the earliest Christians. In Christian prayer, martyrs have enjoyed an honor above that of all other saints. Most of the martyrs whose stories are told in a literary form called “martyrology” lived during the first three centuries, the time of direst persecution by Roman authorities. But martyrs more recently have also been celebrated for their witness to the faith as missionaries in far-flung lands. The high age of missionary martyrs coincided roughly with the opening of new maritime routes around the globe. Even more recently a young woman shot to death in a Colorado school massacre has been hailed as a martyr, for when her assailant asked her if she believed in God, she bravely said “Yes,” and died moments later. Martyrs are those who witness to their faith regardless of the threat of dire consequences to themselves.


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