In ministering to the Persecuted Church, it is important that there be a common understanding of what exactly a "martyr" is. The word, itself, comes from the Greek (martus) meaning a “witness”. The word has a wide range of meaning in the New Testament ranging from:
1. bearing witness in a court of justice (Matthew 18:16; 26:65; Acts 6:13; 7:58; Hebrews 10:28; 1 Timothy 5:19) to
2. one bearing testimony to the truth of what he has seen or known (Luke 24:48; Acts 1:8,22; Romans 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 2:5,10; 1 John 1:2) to
3. a more specialized meaning of one who bears witness of the truth and suffers even to the point of death in the cause of Christ (Acts 22:20, Revelation 2:13, Revelation 17:6).
As noted in the last meaning, by the end of the 1st century, the term had evolved into a proper title to refer to those who witnessed to the faithfulness of God and their commitment to Him by
1) choosing to suffer death rather than to deny Christ or His work, 2) sacrificing in order to further the Kingdom of God, 3) enduring great suffering for their Christian witness and/or identity. The critical component is that a martyr suffers and/or is killed specifically because of his/her witness or identity as a Christian.
John Pobee in his book, Persecution and Martyrdom in the Theology of Paul notes that a biblical martyr was characterized by three things:
1. Suffering, whether it issues in death or not
2. His suffering is seen as a witness to his zeal for or devotion to God
3. His devotion is rooted in a conviction about the sovereign omnipotence and transcendence of God; he looks ahead to a coming kingdom