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44 A.D.:  The First Apostle To Be Martyred?



  An artist's depiction of the stoning of Steven, the first Christian martyr per the Book of Acts, chapter 6 & 7


  In Foxe's so named 'Book of the Martyrs' Chapter 1, you'll find some statements of the author's knowledge about very early Christian church history.  It is said in that chapter that Stephen, the first martyr, who's death is mentioned in the Book of Acts, died at about Passover one year after the crucifixion of Jesus, which was also at about Passover.

  It says also that this death of Stephen marked the beginnings of a pretty severe persecution of Christians in the area of Jerusalem and beyond which ended up taking the lives of about 2,000 Christians, according to Foxe's book.  I would imagine that - in terms of the percentage of existing Christians who were killed - this may have represented the greatest ever assault upon the Christian population.  Only one year after Jesus' death there may not have been so very many Christians, so losing 2,000 of them must have been a severe blow, and it must have been a terrifying time, though Church growth has historically been greatest surrounding persecutions.  That's only a speculation, though.  I do not know how many Christians existed then, nor do I have any firm idea about how many Christians were killed in later persecutions.  There is little that survives to record such events. 

  But meanwhile, the 12 Apostles had decided upon a precedent for the early Jerusalem church.  They had set in place a group of 7 good men to watch over the welfare of their widows and other needy persons, and to distribute their common bread and other communally held supplies fairly, equally, and as needed among the Christian believers.  That way the Apostles who had spent their days with Jesus, instead of adjudicating accusations of unfairness relating to the distribution of communal food stocks, could focus on preaching and spreading the Words of the Gospel.  The seven selected men, who formed the earliest mentioned version of a group of church elders I believe, could concentrate on the necessary yet worldly task of caring for the needy and on performing other more ground-level administrative tasks.  

  After all, Apostles had the Holy Spirit gifts and direct commission from Jesus to go out and save the souls of those perishing in the spiritual darkness. 

  One of these 7 chosen men was named Nicanor, and he too died during the persecution of Stephen's time, Foxe's writings say.  

  So, because Stephen - the first martyr - was a gifted convert but not an Apostle, it can be noted that one of 'the 7' was chosen by Heaven for martyrdom ahead of any Apostle.  No Apostle had yet died for Jesus' gospel, though Judas had commmitted suicide after betraying Jesus to the Jewish temple government.  But he had then later been replaced by Mathias (or Matathias, some translate it) in order to restore the number of Apostles to 12, as it had originally been during most of Jesus' ministry on Earth.  The Apostles believed that since Jesus had appointed 12 Apostles, that there must be an importance to that particular number.

  But, about 10 years later, as Foxe's book tells it, and some sources say that the year was 44 A.D., the original Apostle named James, the brother of John (both were sons of Zebedee chosen directly by Jesus to be Apostles), was killed by beheading using the sword when Herod Antipas first took the crown (under Rome's allowance) in the area of Jerusalem.  Herod Antipas saw that the Jews were pleased by the killing of Christians, and he was in need of some political capitol with the Jews that he was just beginning to govern.

  Here is the short report of the matter from Foxe's book, as I found it on the internet at  We should probably note with what courage James met his death, such that the one who accused him felt, upon seeing James' character and demeanor, that it was best to seek James' forgiveness, and even to die beside him.  Our witness as Christians can affect others this shows us, even up to the very end of our lives.  Even our enemies might be affected.  Begin quote:

The next martyr we meet with, according to St. Luke, in the History of the Apostles' Acts, was James the son of Zebedee, the elder brother of John, and a relative of our Lord; for his mother Salome was cousin-german to the Virgin Mary. It was not until ten years after the death of Stephen that the second martyrdom took place; for no sooner had Herod Agrippa been appointed governor of Judea, than, with a view to ingratiate himself with them, 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 to be overlooked; 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 and undauntedness, and fell down at his feet to request 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 did the first apostolic martyr cheerfully and resolutely receive that cup, which he had told our Savior he was ready to drink. Timon and Parmenas suffered martyrdom about the same time; the one at Philippi, and the other in Macedonia. These events took place A.D. 44. 

   End quote.


An artist's depiction of the Apostle James, the son of Zebedee, the first martyred Apostle.


  So, according to some writers, James was the first of the 12 Apostles to be martyred for his faith in Jesus, and it was in A.D.44.  That is a pretty great distinction, some would say. I believe it is.  But...interesting that God chose Nicanor, who was appointed by the original Apostles to his post as one of the 7, to precede any Apostle as a martyr. And Nicanor was himself preceded by Stephen, who was mighty in speech, and looked up to as an able expounder and defender of the gospel, but who was a convert to Christianity, and one of the original appointed 7, but not an Apostle.  And, there were at least 2,000 other more or less ordinary Christian persons that were martyred before James was, back in that persecution that was touched off at the death of Stephen.  Perhaps this is for humility, so that no one among men can boast, or perhaps it was ordered in that manner for other reasons that are only known in Heaven, like allowing for James to speak to and convert many to Christ before he died, or something like that.

  But, whatever the case, though I know that James wasn't the first to claim that he would be willing to die for Jesus from among the Apostles, he was apparently the first who did.  And so also there was a Herod (Herod the Great) that tried to find and kill baby Jesus when he was just a babe, but God warned Joseph and Mary to flee to Egypt and so Herod killed only innocent babes.  There was another Herod that killed John the Baptist, the one who made the way straight for the Lord in preparation of Jesus' ministry, and there was a Herod that ordered the death of the first of Jesus' Apostles to be martyred - James, son of Zebedee and Salome.  These were three different Herods. 

  But, there is a prophesied 'Woman' spoken of as a great enemy of the Church and of God and of Christians.  She is mentioned in Revelation.  Sometimes when I see the word 'Herod' I think of how it might be hinting that this 'Woman' may be trying, through much of Biblical history, to strike those who belong to God with 'her rod' smash and destroy them!  That's just conjecture and quite probably wrong like so many human conjectures, but the various Herods certainly bent themselves to the work of attacking Christ's church in all ways that they could.  It was foolishness to try though.  You just can't ever successfully oppose the plans of God, and how foolish to want to oppose your own Creator or Savior or the Holy Spirit anyway. are foolish.  Very foolish.  We are simply not capable of governing ourselves.  Even when we have a good leader or two, or three, or even ten perhaps, there inevitably comes a very wicked one as time unfolds.  It never fails.  We're human, and it's long been proven that we are our own worst enemy.       


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