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Early Christian Persecution

QUESTION: Who suffered from early Christian persecution?


Those who have believed in the one God of heaven and earth have continually been persecuted by rulers and kings since time began. However, when we speak of early Christian persecution, we are referring to the time following Jesus Christ's suffering and persecution for His Church - His death on the cross. He paid the price for all of our sins, He was spat upon, beaten beyond recognition, humiliated, and finally nailed to a cross like a hardened criminal until He died. After three days, He rose again and even now, He lives and is the right hand of God the Father where He rules and reigns with Him.

Stephen was one of the first men to suffered early Christian persecution. He was stoned to death outside the gates for the faithful manner in which he preached the Gospel. After this, a great persecution was raised against all who professed belief in Christ as the Messiah.

The fate of the Apostles and close disciples followed in succession.
  • James the Great, the elder brother of John the Apostle, was beheaded in A.D. 44.
  • Philip, who served in Upper Asia was scourged in Phrygia, thrown into prison and later crucified (A.D. 54).
  • Matthew the tax collector served the Lord in Parthia and Ethiopia where he was slain with a halberd (a shafted weapon with an axe-like cutting blade and a speared end) in the city of Nadabah, A.D. 60.
  • James the Less, the brother of the Lord, served the church in Jerusalem and wrote the book of James. He suffered martyrdom at the age of ninety-four by being beaten and stoned by the Jews.
  • Matthias, the man who was chosen to replace Judas as an apostle, was stoned at Jerusalem and then beheaded.
  • Andrew, the brother of Peter, preached the gospel to many Asiatic nations and was crucified on a cross at Edessa. The ends of his cross were fixed transversely in the ground, thus the derivation of the term, St. Andrew's cross.
  • Mark was converted to Christianity by Peter and served as amanuensis (he wrote for Peter). He was dragged to pieces by the people of Alexandria.
  • Peter, the apostle, was sought by Nero to be put to death. Jerome wrote that Peter was crucified with his head down and his feet up, because he thought himself unworthy to be crucified in the same form and manner as the Lord.
  • Paul was really persecuted several times. He was scourged, stoned, and finally, Nero had him beheaded by a sword.
  • Jude, the brother of James, commonly called Thaddeus, was crucified at Edessa in A.D. 72.
  • Bartholomew preached in several countries and translated the Gospel of Matthew into the language of India. He was cruelly beaten and then crucified by in patient idolaters.
  • Thomas, doubting Thomas, preached the Gospel in Parthia and India. He excited the rage of the pagan priests and was martyred by being thrust through with a spear.
  • Luke the author of Luke and Acts travelled with Paul through various countries and was suppose to have been hanged on and olive tree by the idolatrous priests of Greece.
  • Simon the Zealot preached the Gospel in Mauritania, Africa, and even Britain where he was crucified in A.D. 74.
  • John, the Apostle whom Jesus loved, was sent from Ephesus to Rome where he was put into a cauldron of boiling oil. He escaped by a miracle, without injury, but was then banished to the Isle of Patmos and there he wrote the book of Revelation. Nerva, Domitian's successor, said he was the only apostle who escaped a violent death.
There are ten primitive persecutions mentioned in Foxe's Book of Martyrs. The first mass persecution occurred under Nero in A.D. 67. He was the sixth emperor of Rome and is remembered as the one who set Rome aflame and then blamed the Christians for the deaths and destruction caused by the fire. He had some Christians sewn up in skins of wild beasts and thrown to the dogs. Some Christians were dressed in shirts made stiff with wax, fixed to axletrees, and set on fire in his gardens, in order to illuminate them. Rather than diminished the spirit of Christianity, this persecution increased the devotion and commitment of Christianity.

The second persecution happened under Domitian in A.D. 81. Anything bad that happened whether it was famine, pestilence, or earthquakes he blamed the Christians and put them to death. The third primitive persecution occurred under Trajan in A.D. 108. Christians were beaten, beheaded, and devoured by wild beasts. About ten thousand Christians were put to death.

The fourth persecution took place under Marcus Aurelius Antoninas in A.D. 162 and the fifth persecution is credited to Severus in A.D. 192. Christians were burned at the stake, had hot tar poured on their heads, beheaded, placed in boiling water and ravaged by wild beasts.

The sixth persecution took place under Maximus in A.D. 235. At this time, numerous Christians were slain without trial and buried indiscriminately in heaps (mass graves), sometimes fifty or sixty cast into a pit together. The seventh persecution happened under Decius in A.D. 249. At this time, the principle person martyred was Fabian, the bishop of Rome, who beheaded on January 20, A.D. 250.

The eighth persecution occurred under Valerian in A.D. 257. Once again every manner of torture was used to mock those claiming to be Christians and for the entertainment of the rulers and their guests. The ninth persecution occurred under Aurelian in A.D. 274 when Felix, bishop of Rome was martyred.

The tenth persecution took place under Diocletian in A.D. 303. This was commonly called the Era of the Martyr's and was occasioned partly by the increasing number and luxury of the Christians The manner of persecutions was carried out with racks, scourges, swords, daggers, crosses, poisons, and famine.

Information and ideas for this article came from Foxe's Book of Martyrs, 1926 Edition, pages 1-32. For more information on the book and their ongoing ministry, please visit:

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