WITNESSES WERE KILLED FOR TELLING WHAT THEY KNEW
The New Testament writers died violent deaths for telling what they learned from Jesus. (John was the exception. He was viciously scalded with hot oil and banished to the Greek island of Patmos, where he wrote the book of Revelation before dying of old age.)
Secular history continues beyond the Bible record and tells what happened to them: Matthew was killed with a spear. Mark was dragged to pieces before an idol. Luke was hanged from an olive tree. Paul and James were beheaded. Peter was crucified on a cross (upside down at his request because he felt unworthy to be crucified in the same manner as Jesus).
Vast numbers of Christians have been killed over the centuries in attempts to silence their testimony. Only people who are absolutely sure of the information they are giving – and the importance of that information – would sacrifice their lives to tell it. Whenever we hear someone say the Bible is only for weak people who need a crutch, we know that person doesn’t understand real Christianity.
PERSECUTION WAS SEVERE FOR EARLY CHRISTIANS
Palestine (where Jesus lived, now Israel) was a Jewish province within the Roman empire. During the first three hundred years of Christianity, Rome controlled large parts of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East – including present day Greece and Turkey, where the first churches were established – and the emperors severely punished people who propagated the Bible.
Ten different Roman emperors launched major attacks against the Bible and Christians. The first was under Nero in 67. In a diabolical whim, he ordered the city of Rome set on fire, and then played a musical instrument and sang while it burned for nine days. To excuse his folly, he blamed the Christians for it. He decreed extermination of the Bible and severe persecution of Christians throughout the empire. His cruelty was so great that, for public display, he burned Christians alive in wax-soaked garments on posts to light his gardens at night. And, for sport, he threw Christians to the lions in the coliseum.
There were similar persecutions by nine other Roman emperors, ending with Diocletian, who in 303 commenced to eliminate the Bible and Christians once and for all. He ordered all civil authorities to seize and destroy all Bible manuscripts and to treat all Christians as outlaws. This severe purge lasted throughout the empire for ten years. The vengeance against those known to have copies of Bible text was so great that many non-Christians had sympathy for the Christians and hatred for the emperor.
In a complete turnabout, the next emperor, Constantine, became a Christian and converted the entire Roman empire into a Christian state. The Bible flourished in this new freedom, and copies spread throughout the world.
GOVERNMENTS OFTEN FEAR THE BIBLE
Throughout history, rulers have frequently been afraid of the Bible, even though it teaches love of others and submission to government authority.
Fear of the Bible is not something unique to ancient history. A recent example which almost matches the Roman persecutions occurred in China during the Cultural Revolution (1966-69) when approximately 25 million Red Guards were turned loose with instructions, among other things, to rid China – a fifth of the world’s population – of all Bibles and to ‘re-educate’ all Christians, imprisoning or killing them if necessary to change their beliefs. Christians by the thousands were killed or tortured, and the Bible seemed to be essentially eradicated in China. But today the famous red book of Mao Tse-tung’s sayings – the book of the revolution – has disappeared, and the Chinese government is now printing Bibles for Christians.
And, less than a decade ago, Christians were put to death for smuggling Bibles into Russia, but today Russia is begging the Christian world to send more Bibles for use as text books in its public school systems.
In other parts of the world, however, people are still dying martyrs’ deaths for distributing the Bible and giving testimony of their Christian faith.
The Bible is still restrained to at least some degree in countries representing about one third of the world’s population. In these countries – particularly Muslim countries – the law restricts free distribution of the Bible and its message.
Restrictions usually take the form of government control over the number of Bibles that can be printed or brought into the country each year, or restrictions on who can be told the message. For example, in many countries it’s still illegal for a Christian to tell a non-Christian about his spiritual experience – regarded as ‘proselytizing’ – and those kind of conversations must be kept just within Christian families.
THE BIBLE HAS SURVIVED ALL ATTEMPTS TO DESTROY IT
This is a good time for the Bible because it has greater acceptance now than ever. Over the centuries, however, no book has been more hated or ridiculed than the Bible. Massive attempts have been made throughout history to destroy it.
Even time – which is usually the ultimate enemy of everything – has not destroyed the Bible, or even inflicted damage. It’s miraculous preservation is further evidence that it is God’s book.
History books tell of thousands of people who have given their lives to preserve the Bible for us. The following true story helps us understand the great price they paid:
Timothy, a deacon of Mauritania, and Maura his wife, had not been united together by the bands of wedlock above three weeks, when they were separated from each other by the persecution. Timothy, being apprehended as a Christian, was carried before Arrianus, the governor of Thebais, who, knowing that he had the keeping of the Holy Scriptures, commanded him to deliver them up to be burnt; to which he answered, “Had I children, I would sooner deliver them up to be sacrificed, than part with the Word of God.”
The governor being much incensed at this reply, ordered his eyes to be put out, with red-hot irons, saying, ‘The books shall at least be useless to you, for you shall not see to read them.’ His patience under the operation was so great that the governor grew more exasperated; he, therefore, in order, if possible, to overcome his fortitude, ordered him to be hung up by the feet, with a weight tied about his neck, and a gag in his mouth.
In this state, Maura, his wife, tenderly urged him for her sake to recant; but, when the gag was taken out of his mouth, instead of consenting to his wife’s entreaties, he greatly blamed her mistaken love, and declared his resolution of dying for the faith.
The consequence was, that Maura resolved to imitate his courage and fidelity and either to accompany or follow him to glory. The governor, after trying in vain to alter her resolution, ordered her to be tortured, which was executed with great severity. After this, Timothy and Maura were crucified near each other, A.D. 304.
– Fox’s Book of Martyrs
Universal Book and Bible House, Philadelphia, 1926
Here's a sampling of what the Bible says on this subject.
Price some people have paid for holding to their faith
II Chronicles 24:21, Mark 6:27, Acts 7:58, Acts 12:2
Examples of people killed because of their faith
For help, see Topic 29.