The First Christian Martyr

What is a martyr anyway? People nowadays throw that word around like it's nothing. In fact, it is generally used as an insult, accusing someone of trying to gain pity, as in "She's just playing the martyr." A true martyr is someone who chooses to face death rather than renounce a belief.

All of Christ's apostles, except Judas Iscariot and John the Beloved, died martyr's deaths. This is significant, because these men, above all others, knew whether or not the Gospel was true. They could have easily avoided gruesome and painful deaths by simply confessing their story was a hoax. But as Peter said, "we were eyewitnesses," and John said "our hands touched Him," they clearly knew with absolute assurance that the story of Jesus was true.

Stephen is considered to be the first Christian martyr. At the time when Stephen lived, Christianity was a very new religion. In fact, the officials who had crucified Jesus were still in power. Rather than try to retell the story, I will share it with you as it appears in the book of Acts, in the New Testament of the Bible.

AC 6:8 Now Stephen, a man full of God's grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. [9] Opposition arose, however, from members of the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called)--Jews of Cyrene and Alexandria as well as the provinces of Cilicia and Asia. These men began to argue with Stephen, [10] but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke.

AC 6:11 Then they secretly persuaded some men to say, "We have heard Stephen speak words of blasphemy against Moses and against God."

AC 6:12 So they stirred up the people and the elders and the teachers of the law. They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. [13] They produced false witnesses, who testified, "This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. [14] For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us."

AC 6:15 All who were sitting in the Sanhedrin looked intently at Stephen, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.

AC 7:1 Then the high priest asked him, "Are these charges true?"

AC 7:2 To this he replied: "Brothers and fathers, listen to me! The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham while he was still in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran. [3] `Leave your country and your people,' God said, `and go to the land I will show you.'

Stephen goes on to recount the history of the Nation of Israel. He's hoping to show them from history, that they are making the same mistake as thier ancestors. I'll pick up the story again in verse 51

AC 7:51 "You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! [52] Was there ever a prophet your fathers did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him-- [53] you who have received the law that was put into effect through angels but have not obeyed it."

AC 7:54 When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. [55] But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. [56] "Look," he said, "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God."

AC 7:57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, [58] dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul.

AC 7:59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." [60] Then he fell on his knees and cried out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he fell asleep.

AC 8:1 And Saul was there, giving approval to his death. On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. [2] Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. [3] But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison.

AC 8:4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.

Stephen was just the first of thousands who would give their lives for their faith in Jesus. To me, this is the most compelling evidence for the truth of the Gospel. Please don't let this obvious conclusion escape you. Not one of the men who said they were witness to the risen Christ ever went back on their story. What would they possibly have to gain by perpetrating a fraud? Were any of them standing to profit ,financially or otherwise, from such an elaborate scheme? Surely you must understand that the far easier choice for them would have been to recant the claims and live. But they took their stand and lost their lives.

If nothing else, certainly this could convince you to give Christianity a further look. Disbelieve if you must, but if you were to refuse to even consider or investigate the claims of Christ, you would be, quite simply, a fool.

I would be more than happy to discuss Christianity with you further. I am not interested in badgering you or "shoving it down your throat." You owe it to yourself to find out what the facts are, and I'd like to help you any way I can. You have to make up your own mind.

Send comments or questions to
Neal Rolett

Return to articles menu.

All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version (North American Edition), copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by the International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.
Make your own free website on