Archive for the ‘Martyrdom’ Category

The Passion of St. Saba the Goth

May 2, 2014

Many Goths who professed faith (whether Nicene or not) suffered martyrdom – sometimes at the hands of the pagan Goths, sometimes at the hands of other Christians.  St. Saba the Goth was an apparently orthodox (i.e. Nicene) Christian who died at the hands of the pagans.  For a variety of reasons, it’s hard to have a great deal of confidence in this story, although presumably there was actually a professing Christian man who was drowned by the pagans.  In “The Goths of the Fourth Century,” p. 102, Heather et al. explain: “As with other texts of this nature, part of the function of the Passion is precisely to authenticate the circumstances of martyrdom in order to validate the cult that ensued from it.”  Likewise, p. 104, n. 17: “The first and last paragraphs of the Passion closely imitate the corresponding sections of the Passion of St. Polycarp … .” (see the discussion of that interpolated work at this link).

Review of "The Myth of Persecution" by Dr. Candida Moss

April 9, 2013

Dr. Candida Moss has provided a popular-level (as distinct from scholarly-level) account of what she calls the “myth of persecution.” Unfortunately, popular-level readers may be misled by the scholarly-style nuances that Dr. Moss uses to make her case. Nevertheless, there are a number of interesting features in her work.

The overall purpose of the book seems to be disabuse readers of the idea that until Constantine Christians hid in catacombs, always fearful that Roman soldiers were about to arrest them and throw them to the lions. There may have been times it was like for certain groups of Christians in certain cities (such as in Rome during the time of Nero after the great fire).

Dr. Moss points out that the vast majority of Christian martyrdom accounts from the ante-Nicene are not historically reliable. Dr. Moss points out the work by the Bollandists who, since the 16th century, have been applying historical methods to the accounts of the lives of the saints. She then takes the six accounts deemed most reliable by the Bollandists and shows how even here the accounts are not strictly historical (see my separate discussion on Polycarp).

In the process, she notes many of the tools historians use, such as looking for anachronisms and legal or other improbabilities. She observes some of these in her criticism of Eusebius, who – in her view – was trying hard to elevate the role of bishops through a variety of techniques (see my separate discussion of her comments regarding ante-nicene bishops).

Dr. Moss also points out that many of the stories of saints and martyrs are either fictions or appropriations. She points out the example of “Saint Josaphat” as relatively indisputable example (see my separate discussion on Josaphat).

Dr. Moss seems eager to address the argument that Christians are the best and/or Christianity is true, because only we Christians have martyrs. She points out that were pre-Christian martyrs (though not called “martyrs”), such as Socrates and Maccabees. She also points out a number of pagan martyrdoms, such as Achilles’ giving of his life as described in Homer’s Iliad. This seems to miss the argument that martyrdom does establish the sincerity of the early followers of Christ (see my separate discussion of the truth value of martyrdom).

Dr. Moss unfortunately de-emphasizes the role of Jesus and of the author of Hebrews in discussing both the certainty of Christian martyrdom to come and the unity of that martyrdom with the past (see my separate discussion of Dr. Moss’ surprising omissions).

Dr. Moss is careful in how she defines “persecution” as distinct from “prosecution.” Thus, for example, a law making it a capital crime to deny that Zeus reigns in Olympus would be one that might lead to prosecution of Christians, even if the author of the law had no idea what Christians are. Likewise, Dr. Moss distinguishes between hatred, prejudice, and the like, and actual attacks. Moreover, Dr. Moss distinguishes between regional persecutions of limited duration and officially sanctioned imperial actions.

While the distinctions are understandable and even, in many ways, legitimate distinction, they can lead to popular-level confusion. For example, some may come away thinking that she is saying Christians are just cry-babies who claim to be persecuted even though they are not. Rather, I think her point is intended to emphasize the need to be cautious in how we employ persecution rhetoric (see my discussion on rhetorical excess here).

Dr. Moss’ book has a number of useful remedies for those with an excessively hagiographic view of church history, notwithstanding her ironic use of a little persecution rhetoric of her own (see my discussion here). Dr. Moss seems to represent a moderately liberal/modern view of the New Testament (she is a professor of New Testament at Notre Dame, in South Bend, Indiana) and her religious views are not clearly stated (she mentions attending a mass with a colleague, but nowhere explicitly states that she is a Roman Catholic). So, naturally one should use appropriate discernment in reading.


P.S. I don’t intend the above to be a comprehensive review of Dr. Moss’ book. There is certainly much more that could be said, though for now, I have said what I plan to say.

Candida Moss and the Truth Value of Martyrdom

April 8, 2013

In The Myth of Persecution, Dr. Moss repeats the assertion that martyrdom is used as proof of the truth of the martyrs’ views. For example at page 43 she states, “The notion that her innocence is proved by her death is uncomfortable to us, but it is the same idea that we saw with Socrates: individuals’ worth and the truth of their claims are irrefutably proved by their deaths.”

Likewise, at page 17 she poses the question: “Why would the apostles have been willing to suffer and die for Jesus if he hadn’t really been resurrected from the dead? Why would early Christians have been martyred if Christianity weren’t true?” At page 23, Dr. Moss puts virtually the same words in the mouth of her divinity teacher.

At page 80, Dr. Moss states “the adaptation of paganism into Christianity threatens the idea that Christianity alone has the truth. Those who reject the classical tradition for religious reasons and hold Christian martyrs in high esteem tend to ignore Greek and Roman antecedents to martyrdom.” Likewise, at page 81, Dr. Moss states “The problem is that this isn’t what Christians have said about martyrdom. They have said that it is unique to Christianity, thoroughly new, and a mark of Christianity’s sole possession of the truth. Christianity is true, it is said, because only Christians have martyrs.”

At page 137, Dr. Moss states “The result of this is that the fact of the apostles’ deaths cannot be used as evidence for the truth of Christianity, the resurrection, or any other detail of Jesus’ ministry. We know that the apostles died, but how they died, on what charges, and in what manner are far beyond our grasp. Without that information it is impossible to state that their deaths prove anything.”

At page 250, Dr. Moss states “In Christian terms, if you’re being persecuted, you must be doing something right. It’s a rather easy trick: if anyone can claim to stand in continuity with the martyrs and be victims of persecution, and if being persecuted authenticates one’s religious message, then anyone can claim to be right.”

These form a seemingly central aspect of Dr. Moss’ book – her argument that martyrdom doesn’t prove anything. Yet martyrdom does actually establish the sincerity of the martyr. It’s not infallible, to be sure. A person may suffer martyrdom because they are suicidal, rather than because they really hold to the forbidden view.

Dr. Moss is definitely correct in rebuking those who argue “he died for Christianity, so Christianity must be true.” But that is certainly not the right way to appeal to the martyrs. J. Warner Wallace is an example of a more correct use of the argument from martyrs (link), although I would point out that the source reliable historical information about the death of the apostles is canonical Scripture.

Almost none of Dr. Moss’ arguments would respond to Wallace’s usage. The one argument that might apply is this one: “The result of this is that the fact of the apostles’ deaths cannot be used as evidence for the truth of Christianity, the resurrection, or any other detail of Jesus’ ministry. We know that the apostles died, but how they died, on what charges, and in what manner are far beyond our grasp. Without that information it is impossible to state that their deaths prove anything.” (p. 137)

It seems that Dr. Moss has forgotten about the martyrdom of James.

Acts 12:1-3
Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. And he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.)

Likewise, Dr. Moss seems to have forgotten about the prophecy of Peter’s death:

John 21:17-19
He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep. Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdest thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.

Or perhaps Dr. Moss simply does not trust Acts (she seems rather uncertain that the author of Acts is Luke) or John.

It’s difficult to say what her argument is, on points where she offers no argument.


Candida Moss’ Surprising Omission of Jesus and Hebrews’ Appeal to Abel

April 6, 2013

One surprising omission from Dr. Candida Moss’ book, “The Myth of Persecution,” is discussion of Jesus’ own framework for persecution. Jesus, you recall, stated:

Matthew 23:29-36
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, and say, “If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.” Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers.
Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?
Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom ye slew between the temple and the altar. Verily I say unto you, All these things shall come upon this generation.

Here Jesus connects his own persecution and the persecution of his followers with the persecution of the righteous beginning with Cain’s murder of Abel, and extending down to Joash’s murder of Zechariah.

Moreover, while the term “martyr” is not used there by Jesus, the author of the book of Hebrews makes the identification:

Hebrews 11:4
By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaketh.

Although God is testifying initially, the “he being dead yet speaketh” refers to Abel. Moreover, it is apparent that Abel is the leading example in the Hebrews 12:1 reference to the great cloud of witnesses (μαρτύρων). Of course, it must be conceded that some of the “martyrs” here are witnesses who testified through their life, rather than strictly through their death, like Abel.

This is a surprising omission by Dr. Moss, given that she is quick to attempt to minimize the uniqueness of Christian martyrdom.

Indeed, except briefly at page 5 and then again at page 135, Dr. Moss virtually remains silent regarding Jesus and the relation between Christianity and persecution.

Another surprising omission is the discussion in Revelation (which is Jesus’ revelation to John, do not forget) about the voice of the martyrs crying out for judgment. Here the term is being used in its more technical sense:

Revelation 2:12-13
And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write; These things saith he which hath the sharp sword with two edges; I know thy works, and where thou dwellest, even where Satan’s seat is: and thou holdest fast my name, and hast not denied my faith, even in those days wherein Antipas was my faithful martyr, who was slain among you, where Satan dwelleth.

Revelation 6:9-11
And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: and they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.

Revelation 17:6
And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration.

Frankly, I suppose there may be a variety of reasons for Dr. Moss’ omissions of the Biblical data, mostly because she feels that Christians feeling persecuted has strong negative consequences, and she wishes to minimize those feelings.

The one theme she mentions is Jesus’ comment about his followers taking up the cross, which is not just reported once, but numerous times:

Matthew 10:38
And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.

Matthew 16:24
Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.

Mark 8:34
And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.

Mark 10:21
Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.

Luke 9:23
And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.

Moreover, while she mentions that some people spiritualize this, other passages cannot be so easily dismissed.  For example, Jesus often referred explicitly to coming persecution:

Matthew 5:10-12
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

Matthew 5:44
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;

Matthew 10:23
But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.

Matthew 13:21
Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.

Matthew 23:34
Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city:

Mark 4:17
And have no root in themselves, and so endure but for a time: afterward, when affliction or persecution ariseth for the word’s sake, immediately they are offended.

Mark 10:30
But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.

Luke 11:49
Therefore also said the wisdom of God, I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they shall slay and persecute:

Luke 21:12
But before all these, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name’s sake.

John 5:16
And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day.

John 15:20
Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.

And Paul’s explicit statement:

2 Timothy 3:12
Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.

While I’m sure Dr. Moss is right to criticize Eusebius for embellishing or even possibly fabricating martyrdom stories from the pre-Constantine era, he is certainly not the author of the Scriptures that teach Christians to expect persecution.  Furthermore, Dr. Moss may rightly be critical of those who sought voluntary martyrdom (although surprisingly I did not see Dr. Moss object to Ignatius’ nearly quasi-voluntary martyrdom).  Nevertheless, Dr. Moss seemed to downplay the Biblical data in her critique.


Why Did They Burn the Reformers?

February 19, 2009

The William Tyndale web site has provided a re-print of an article by J.C. Ryle, on the topic, “Why Were Our Reformers Burned?” (link) There are a number of OCR/transcription errors in the article, but the points it makes are important, and often forgotten.


Death of a Non-Martyr

October 12, 2008

There is some very deplorable and evil violence taking place in India. Non-Christians are attacking and killing people and institutions that they believe are Christian. Some time ago I had mentioned that simply being a nun didn’t make one a Christian, and that consequently I would not automatically consider a nun who was apparently killed simply because she was wearing a habit to be a martyr without further investigation. I think some people who read what I wrote had trouble wrapping their heads around the concept.

Perhaps this further sad story of the wicked actions of evil men will help those who had trouble with the nun non-martyrdom issue to see the bigger picture (link) (warning – somewhat graphic description of the persecution). In this case, the woman degraded and killed was actually a Hindu woman who simply happened to work at a Roman Catholic institution.

There is a sense in which she was killed for the faith (since she was killed by Hindus trying to oppose Christianity), but she certainly wasn’t killed for her faith.

For reference, my earlier post in which the nun issue was raised in the comment box can be found here (link) and an earlier post I wrote providing evidence of the lack of faith of one of the most famous Roman Catholics in India is here (link).


Remembering the Martyrs

July 29, 2008

Today, I came across this interesting post by Doug Phillips at Doug’s Blog of a visit to a memorial for the murdered Covenanters, numbering about 18,000. (link) If someone wants to see the sincerity of the Reformed believers in Scotland, this is the place to go.

For another post on the same blog regarding a monument to the lighting of the candle of the English Reformation, follow this link (link).

In between those posts, one can find a number of other Scotland/Britain-related posts, as it seems Doug is presently touring the island.


Persecution Update

October 17, 2007

A martyr in Gaza (link) tortured and killed by those who, if they do not repent, will receive far worse in the life to come. It is a subjectively fearful thing to face torture for Christ, but it is objectively a far more fearful thing to torture someone who is Christ’s.

Nevertheless, Saul of Tarsus received mercy, and perhaps the Gazites who did this may yet be turned to the Lord.

May God be Praised!


Martyrdom Follow-Up

September 18, 2007

Avid readers of the news may recall the kidnap of many, and martyrdom of a few, South Korean professing Christians. This news report (link) suggests that the primary criminal responsible must now come before the Father to answer for the deaths of his children. I would not want to be in his place, and I thank God that he has mercifully restrained me from committing such sin (for which restraint I can take no credit), and mercifully provided an Advocate against that day of judgment.

Yet there are many others who have killed Christians, and yet have been so-far spared by God who permits them still to live. If anyone reading falls in that category, you should be in fear of God’s judgment in the life to come, for God’s longsuffering in permitting you to live only adds to the seriousness of your rebellion if you do not humbly turn to Him.

Repent, and beg God for mercy while there is time, for He has promised that all kinds of sin will be forgiven, and the most famous Christian apostle, Paul, was himself the most notorious persecuter of Christians before God turned His heart. If God has made you recognize His sovereignty, turn from your persecution of His bride, His children, His church, and cast yourself on His bounteous mercy.

Worship Him with me in Fear and Trembling, for He is an Holy God,


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