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Early Christian Martyr Stories

An Evangelical Introduction with New Translations

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Personal narratives are powerful instruments for teaching, both for conveying information and for forming character. The martyrdom accounts preserved in the literature of early Christianity are especially intense and dramatic. However, these narratives are not readily available and are often written in intimidating prose, making them largely inaccessible for the average reader. This introductory text brings together key early Christian martyrdom stories in a single volume, offering new, easy-to-read translations and expert commentary. An introduction and explanatory notes accompany each translation. The book not only provides a vivid window into the world of early Christianity but also offers spiritual encouragement and inspiration for Christian life today.

1. The Maccabean Martyrs: Witnesses for God before Christ
2. Peter and Paul: Apostolic Proto-Martyrs
3. Ignatius of Antioch: Final Journey to Christ
4. Polycarp of Smyrna: A Gospel Passion
5. Justin Martyr: Apologetics at the Ultimate Price
6. The Martyrs of Lyons and Vienne: A Crown of Many Flowers
7. The Scillitan Martyrs: Africa Takes Its Stand
8. Perpetua and Felicity: Heroines of Faith
9. Tertullian: "The Blood of Christians Is Seed"
10. Origen of Alexandria: A Theology of Martyrdom
11. The Great Persecution: The Church's Hour of Fiery Testing
12. The Peace of Constantine: An Empire Conquered by the Cross
13. Augustine of Hippo: Honoring the Martyrs' Memory
Epilogue: The Meaning of the Martyrs


"Reflections on Christian martyrdom often either exaggerate or debunk. Bryan Litfin's book on early Christian martyrs is different. It will satisfy not only academics looking for careful documentation but also readers in general, who should appreciate it for encouraging edification as well as solid scholarship."

Mark A. Noll, author of Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity

"This anthology of the most reliable early Christian martyr stories ought to be required reading for all disciples of Christ. It puts today's Christian 'witnesses' in touch with our ancient spiritual role models, inspiring us to greater acts of faithfulness and courage. Litfin's historical introductions offer just what we need to understand and apply these stories in the twenty-first century--when many more disciples of Christ are suffering persecution than ever before in the history of the world."

Douglas A. Sweeney, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

"Professor Litfin, author of an authoritative introduction to the theology of the early Christians, now provides us with a guide to some of their lives--and deaths. Their witness was inspired by their faith in Christ's glorious resurrection and their hope for the coming fullness of his kingdom. Do we too have this freedom, this faith, hope, and love? Inspired by this marvelous book about the friends of Jesus, let us commit ourselves anew to dying with Jesus, so as to live. Only in him will we find the unity and communion that we seek."

Matthew Levering, Perry Family Foundation Professor of Theology, Mundelein Seminary

"Litfin has the gift of communicating to a wide audience with informed scholarship. Here he provides fresh new translations of a number of key martyr stories and treatises from church fathers and adds introductions and footnotes to make even clearer the messages of these early Christian writings. Read Litfin's contemporary presentations of ancient stories and learn important principles for today: how to be a faithful witness in our world with patience, how to focus on the exclusivity of Christ, how to have confidence in our eternal hope, and how to have unity with Christians in every place and every time."

Rex D. Butler, professor of church history and patristics, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary

"In Early Christian Martyr Stories, Dr. Litfin provides an essential collection of martyrdom accounts freshly translated into lively and lucid English. Along with the primary texts, Litfin includes insightful introductions and notes that reflect the learning of a reliable patristics scholar. Besides blessing us with a wealth of primary source documents, Litfin also provides a responsible (and readable!) martyrological status quaestionis. Sensitive to exaggerated claims among uninformed believers as well as cynical suspicion by modern skeptics, Litfin steers a balanced course. Neither naïve nor incredulous, Litfin's new collection of the great martyr stories is a timely retelling of timeless tales with power to both inform the faithful and transform their faith."

Michael J. Svigel, department chair and associate professor of theological studies, Dallas Theological Seminary

"From the Smyrnaean stadium to African arenas, the reader is led on a dramatic tour. Ever conversant with contemporary scholarship, the masterful guide of this pilgrimage engages carefully selected highlights from a wide swath of literary genres. Whether of Peter or Polycarp or Perpetua, the vivid translations make the martyr materials come alive for a new generation of readers."

Paul Hartog, professor, Faith Baptist Seminary

The Author

  1. Bryan M. Litfin
    Jim Whitmer

    Bryan M. Litfin

    Bryan Litfin is the author of The Conqueror and Every Knee Shall Bow, as well as several works of nonfiction, including Wisdom from the AncientsEarly Christian Martyr StoriesAfter Acts, and Getting...

    Continue reading about Bryan M. Litfin


"The author's opening chapter gives context for the narratives and is in line with the best current scholarship on the subject. . . . The author goes on to translate some key texts that will be familiar to most students of early Christianity. . . . His notes will help general readers understand more of the context that gave rise to the material. . . . General readers will find this helpful work an accessible introduction to early Christian martyr texts for devotional use and perhaps church classes. Litfin does a fine job of introducing this literature to an Evangelical Christian audience who may not encounter it in church or academic settings."

Aaron Klink,

Library Journal

"[A] thoroughly researched study. . . . The bulk of the book consists of martyrdom texts written by prominent Christian authorities with substantial interpretive comments and historical notes. . . . This well-crafted and informative book expertly portrays the early Christians' refusal to bow to false gods, their committed faithfulness to Christ, and their certain hope of the resurrection to everlasting life. Litfin's careful research and expert knowledge of early secular and Christian history brings alive this painful but fruitful period of the 'already' dimension of God's kingdom. . . . This commendable book is certain to raise into consciousness the painful experiences of the tens of thousands of persecuted and martyred believers in our world today."

Bruce Demarest,

Denver Journal

"The strengths of this work are many. The author labored tirelessly to provide new translation samples of martyrdom from the ancient world. Backgrounds and original texts unite into a coherent survey to introduce early martyr stories and the church's response to cultural opposition, instructive to readers today. The author selected the most relevant ancient sources to provide a valuable textbook to undergraduates or any uninformed reader of this ancient tradition. The opportunity for reflection is obvious and reintroduces meaning to these timeless sources. The power of narrative emerges to engage the reader on the early church and the nature of suffering. . . . A powerful 'evangelical introduction' that can inform and inspire readers of any branch of the Christian faith."

W. Brian Shelton,

Fides et Historia

"This is a remarkable book: a volume that is explicitly written from an evangelical perspective and mostly devoted to heroes who have become saints of the Roman Catholic Church and who are incorporated in the Martyrologium Romanum. . . . The book offers a convenient anthology with sections from eight martyrdoms and selected passages from early Christian authors on martyrdom."

Jan Willem van Henten,

Review of Biblical Literature

"Bryan Litfin's scholarship carefully guides readers to consider how the implications of martyrdom can be relevant to Christians today. . . . His selection includes Jews and Gentiles, male and female, orthodox and non-orthodox, all the while presenting geographical and cultural diversity. . . . While historical sketches can be devoid of transformative power, Litfin illuminates the lives of Christian martyrs in a way that resonates with contemporary readers. . . . This timely book will help the general readers as well as college and seminary students of Early Church history, biblical studies, and mission, to not only learn about the Early Church martyrs, but also to 'reflect on what it may mean to take up their cross and follow in the Lord's footsteps.'"

Daniel Shinjong Baeq,

Evangelical Missions Quarterly

"The translations in Early Christian Martyr Stories make the texts accessible for the average reader. . . . This book would make a good introduction to the topic of martyrdom for an undergraduate course on church history."

Collin Garbarino,