Archive for October 30th, 2008

Martyrdom and the Reformation

Posted on October 30, 2008. Filed under: Church History |

Martyrdom and the Reformation

Summary: Hebrews 11:35-38 “Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated- of whom the world was not worthy- wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”

Biblical Background and the Roman Persecutions:

  • Grk. martyr means witness, as in Heb. 12:1. The word came to mean “blood witness” as believers died for the Faith. The first martyr in the Church was James in Acts12:1-2. Heb.11, however, points us back to Abel in Gen.4 as a martyr.
  • AD 64 Rome burns and Emperor Nero blames the Christians; many are burned, crucified, put in the arena to be eaten by wild animals. Peter and Paul are killed. AD 95 Domitian  persecuted the Jews and Christians; Apostle John exiled to Patmos. The great persecution of AD 250 under Decius was the most widespread persecution; Origen is tortured.

Martyrs of the Reformation Era:

  • 1415 Jan Hus is burned at the stake and Wycliffe’s bones are dug up, burned and scattered in the river by the Council of Constance.
  • 1498 Savonarola hanged in Florence for preaching against the pope.
  • 1525 the first Anabaptist known to have died for his faith was Eberli Bolt, a preacher burned at the stake in Schwyz, Switzerland by Catholic authorities. “With the death of Bolt began a period of martyrdom for the Anabaptists that was to continue…through three centuries or more.” (Estep, The Anabaptist Story, rev. ed. 1975). Felix Manz, one of Zwingli’s disciples turned Anabaptist, was executed by drowning outside of Zurich in the Limmat River, January 5, 1527. Michael Sattler, another Anabaptist, was executed on May 20, 1527 by having his tongue cut out, hot tongs ripping portions of his flesh out, then burned to death; 8 days later his faithful wife, refusing to recant her faith, was drowned in the river. Balthasar Hubmaier, Anabaptist, was burned at the stake in Austria on March 10, 1528 and his wife Elizabeth was drowned several days later.
  • 1536 William Tyndale is executed by strangling in Belgium.
  • The Spanish Inquisition killed more than 12,000 Protestants.
  • Protestants grew rapidly in France so that by about 1550 there were 400,000. Called Huguenots, the French Reformed were so powerful (a lot of nobility converted) that they were almost a kingdom within a kingdom. There were several bloody persecutions but from 1562 on wars were waged against the Protestant French. August 24, 1572 was the infamous St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in Paris where 3,000 Protestant’s were murdered and another 8,000 rounded up and killed in the outlying provinces.
  • 1553-58 Mary Tudor (Bloody Mary) executes 275+ Protestant preachers. Bishops Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley and Archbishop Thomas Cranmer are martyred. Cranmer thrusts his hand into the fire first, to repent of signing a recantation.

Questions for Further Study and Application on Martyrdom

Why were the Anabaptists so despised, persecuted, hunted down and executed, even by other Protestants who themselves had faced persecution?


How is it possible for one group of Bible believing Christians to persecute and even execute another group of Bible believing Christians?


What were the long term effects for France of the terrible persecutions of the Huguenots and the long religious wars?


Why has America been persecution free for the most part?

Questions for Application:

Do you pray for the persecuted church of today?


We hear a lot about martyrs on the news as it concerns muslims. What are the differences between their martyrdom and the Christian martyrs?

Recommended Reading:

The Voice of the Martyrs,   is an excellent ministry that can provide you with a lot of information and action plans for the persecuted church.


Fox’s Book of Martyrs, or- History of the Acts and Monuments of the Church, by John Fox. First published in Latin at Basel in 1554, in English in 1563, and has been in continuous print since.


The Anabaptist Story, rev. ed., William R. Estep. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, MI. 1975 (250pp).


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