LTRP Note: The following is chapter one of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (LT edition) and covers some of the first martyrs in the Christian faith including Peter, Paul, and Stephen. May we, as believers in Christ, in our present day and age, remember those who have gone before us courageously refusing to deny their faith in Christ and thus paying with their lives. Today, as we watch an apostate church rise quickly to the surface (denying the very essence of the biblical Christian faith), may we, by His grace and strength, stand true to the church that God will preserve and to the same faith for which so many men and women before us valiantly died.
And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death. (Revelation 12:11)
“History of Christian Martyrs until the First General Persecutions Under Nero [A.D. 34 to A.D. 73]”
By John Foxe
(Author of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs)
Christ our Savior, in the Gospel of St. Matthew, hearing the confession of Simon Peter, who was the first to openly acknowledge Him to be the Son of God, [declared] that He would build His church, a church so strong that the gates of hell would not prevail against it.
This prophecy of Christ we see wonderfully fulfilled insomuch that the whole course of the church to this day may seem nothing else but a verifying of that prophecy. First, that Christ has set up a church needs no declaration. Second, it is with great force that princes, kings, monarchs, governors, and rulers of this world, and their subjects, incorporating all their strength and cunning, have bent themselves against this church! And third, how this church, all this notwithstanding, has yet endured and held its own! For this reason, I have set forth to address this present history, to the end that the wonderful works of God in His church might appear to His glory; also by continuing to set forth the proceedings of the church from time to time, more knowledge and experience may result to the profit of the reader and to the edification of the Christian faith.
It is not our business to enlarge upon our Saviour’s history, either before or after His crucifixion. We shall only remind our readers of the changes wrought by His subsequent resurrection. Although one apostle had betrayed Him; although another had denied Him under the solemn sanction of an oath; and although the rest had forsaken Him; the history of His resurrection gave a new direction to all their hearts, and, after the mission of the Holy Spirit, imparted new confidence to their minds. The powers with which they were bestowed emboldened them to proclaim His name, to the confusion of the Jewish rulers and the astonishment of Gentile proselytes.
Stephen suffered the next in order after our Lord. His death was occasioned by the faithful manner in which he preached the gospel to the betrayers and murderers of Christ. To such a degree of madness were they excited, that they cast him out of the city and stoned him to death. The time when he suffered is generally supposed to have been at the Passover which followed our Lord’s crucifixion.
Upon this a great persecution was raised against all who professed their belief in Christ as the Messiah, or as a prophet. We are immediately told by Luke, that “there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem”; and that “they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.” About two thousand Christians, including Nicanor, one of the seven deacons, suffered martyrdom during the “persecution that arose about Stephen.”
And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep. Acts 7: 59-60
James the Great
The next martyr we meet with, according to Luke in the History of the Apostles’ Acts, was James the son of Zebedee. He was the elder brother of John and a relative of our Lord; for his mother Salome was cousin to Mary. It was not until ten years after the death of Stephen that the second martyrdom took place. No sooner had Herod Agrippa been appointed governor of Judea, than, with a view to ingratiate himself to the Jews, he raised a sharp persecution against the Christians and determined to make an effectual blow by striking at their leaders. The account given us by an eminent primitive writer, Clemens Alexandrinus, ought not be overlooked. He reports that as James was led to the place of martyrdom, his accuser was brought to repent of his conduct by the apostle’s extraordinary courage. His accuser fell down at the feet of James requesting his pardon, professing himself a Christian, and resolving that James should not receive the crown of martyrdom alone. Hence they were both beheaded at the same time. Thus the first apostolic martyr cheerfully and resolutely received that cup, which he had told our Saviour he was ready to drink. This event took place in A.D. 44.
Philip was born at Bethsaida, in Galilee and was first called by the name “disciple.” He labored diligently in Upper Asia, and suffered martyrdom at Heliopolis, in Phrygia. He was scourged, thrown into prison, and afterwards crucified in A.D. 54.
Matthew, whose occupation was that of a tax collector, was born at Nazareth. The scene of his labors was Parthia and Ethiopia, in which latter country he suffered martyrdom, being slain with a battle ax in the city of Nadabah in A.D. 60.
James the Less
James the Less was elected to the oversight of the churches of Jerusalem and was the author of the Epistle ascribed to James in the sacred canon. At the age of ninety-four he was beaten and stoned by the Jews; and finally had his brains dashed out with a club.
Less is known about Matthias than of most of the other disciples. He was elected to fill the vacant place of Judas. He was stoned at Jerusalem and then beheaded.
Andrew was the brother of Peter. He preached the gospel to many Asiatic nations; but on his arrival at Edessa he was taken and crucified on a cross, the two ends of which were fixed diagonally in the ground. Hence the derivation of the term, St. Andrew’s Cross.
Mark was born of Jewish parents of the tribe of Levi. He is supposed to have been converted to Christianity by Peter, whom he served as a secretary, and under whose inspection he wrote his Gospel in the Greek language. Mark was dragged to pieces by the people of Alexandria at the yearly celebration of their idol Serapis, ending his life under their merciless hands.
Among many other saints, the blessed apostle Peter was condemned to death and crucified. Hegesippus1 reports that Nero sought a reason to put Peter to death. Jerome writes that Peter was crucified with his head being down and his feet upward at his own insistence because he was (he said) unworthy to be crucified after the same form and manner as was the Lord.
Paul the Apostle, who before was called Saul, after his great travail and unspeakable labors in promoting the Gospel of Christ, suffered also in this first persecution under Nero. Nero sent two of his esquires, Ferega and Parthemius, to bring him word of Paul’s death. They came upon Paul as he was teaching the people and asked him to pray for them that they might believe. He told them that shortly after they should believe and be baptized at the Lord’s sepulcher. This done, the soldiers came and led him out of the city to the place of execution, where he, after his prayers were said, gave his neck to the sword.
The brother of James was commonly called Thaddeus. He was crucified at Edessa in A.D. 72.
Bartholomew preached in several countries, and having translated the Gospel of Matthew into the language of India, he propagated it in that country. He was at length cruelly beaten and then crucified by the impatient idolaters.
Thomas, called Didymus, preached the gospel in Parthia and India. Exciting the rage of the pagan priests, he was martyred by being thrust through with a spear.
Luke the Evangelist was the author of the Gospel which goes under his name. He travelled with Paul through various countries, and is supposed to have been hanged on an olive tree by the idolatrous priests of Greece.
Simon, surnamed Zelotes, preached the Gospel in Mauritania, Africa, and even in Britain, in which latter country he was crucified in A.D. 74.
The “beloved disciple” was brother to James the Great. The churches of Smyrna, Pergamos, Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea, and Thyatira, were founded by him. From Ephesus he was ordered to be sent to Rome, where it is affirmed he was cast into a cauldron of boiling oil. He escaped by miracle without injury. Domitian afterwards banished him to the Isle of Patmos, where he wrote the Book of Revelation. Nerva, the successor of Domitian, recalled him. He was the only apostle who escaped a violent death.
Barnabas was of Cyprus, but of Jewish descent. His death is supposed to have taken place about A.D. 73.
And yet, notwithstanding all these continual persecutions and horrible punishments, the church daily increased, deeply rooted in the doctrine of the apostles and watered plenteously with the blood of saints.
Other Accounts From Foxe’s Book of Martyrs