martyr / witness
Harper’s Bible Dictionary
edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)
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martyr (Gk. martys), a technical term in second-century Christianity for those who showed allegiance to Christ by their death. In the nt, the death of Stephen (Acts 22:20) and references to Christians who suffered death (Rev. 2:13; 17:6) carry some of the nuances of this later meaning. The earlier Greek term, however, is generally translated witness (see Acts 7:54-58; Rev. 11:2-11, which emphasize the prophetic witness rather than the death itself).
witness (Heb. ayd; Gk. martys), in the legal sphere, one who speaks from personal experience about what happened to oneself or another. This may occur at a trial (Deut. 17:6; Prov. 19:28; Mark 14:63) or a legal transaction (Isa. 8:2; Jer. 32:10). It is in this legal sense that two or three witnesses are called upon to corroborate a members apostasy (Matt. 26:60; 2 Cor 13:1; Heb. 10:28). Witnesses initiate the death sentence (Deut. 17:7; Acts 7:58). Bearing false witness is roundly condemned (Exod. 20:16; Prov. 12:17; Acts 6:13) and can bring severe reprisal (Deut. 19:16-21; Prov. 21:28). Sometimes a pillar or altar of rocks is built as a visible witness to a convenantal agreement (Gen. 31:44; Josh. 22:27, 34; Isa. 19:19-20). God is frequently called upon as a witness to confirm a persons or nations proper or improper conduct (1 Sam. 12:15; Rom. 1:9; Jer. 29:23; Micah 1:2).
The term takes on several specialized meanings in the nt, referring to a person present at the ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus (Luke 24:48; Acts 1:22) or to one who attests to the truth about God (John 8:18; Rev. 1:5; 11:3). The cloud of witnesses in Heb. 12:1 compares the multitude who have suffered but retained their faith to the great crowd of spectators at a Greco-Roman athletic contest, whose presence spurs the contestants to give their best efforts. Martyr is derived from the same Greek word as witness.
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Edited for BibleTexts.com by Robert Nguyen Cramer