Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament 
1. Introduction.-‘For so persecuted they the prophets which were before you’ ( Matthew 5:12). ‘If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you’ ( John 15:20). Jesus Christ traced the red trail of the martyr’s blood throughout the history of Israel, which He sums up in the words-‘from the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zachariah’ ( Genesis 4:8, 2 Chronicles 24:20-21, Luke 11:51). He Himself was in the succession of martyrs, for the trail is deeply marked in connexion with His life. But the trail does not cease at the tragedy of the Cross. It is obvious that our Lord often warned His disciples in regard to the attitude of Jerusalem and Rome to those who would remain faithful to Him and His teaching. He could see the blood-stained track in connexion with the history of the Church. We must consider our subject in the light of this three-fold reference, so that we may see to what degree, and in what sense, the term ‘persecution’ is applicable to the attitude of the nation through its rulers (1) to her religious teachers, (2) to Christ, and (3) to His followers. When we deal with Jesus Christ and His followers we shall find Jerusalem allying herself with Rome in her effort to crush the New Teacher and His teaching, and finally Rome taking matters into her own hands, and devoting her whole energy to the extermination of what one of her historians described as a pestilent superstition._
If we define ‘persecution’ provisionally as the infliction of suffering, whether it be temporary discomfort or death, upon individuals for holding or advocating religious views, and adopting or propagating religious practices, which are obnoxious to the community, or to those in authority, we shall have a definition sufficiently broad and comprehensive to cover the cases in connexion with which the term has been used. It may not be necessary for the persecuted persons to be active in the propagation of their tenets, although the strong conviction, which has generally inspired men to endure persecution rather than abandon their views, produces the missionary spirit. Those who inflict punishment on religious offenders may not admit the charge of persecution, as, according to them, the whole life of the individual is subject to the control of the State, and any and every activity comes under the law of the land. In the strict sense of the term, the infliction of suffering on account of religious opinions is persecution, if the adoption of such views on the part of individuals is not incompatible with loyalty to the throne or the secular power, and with the due discharge of their duties as citizens of the realm. From the point of view of the State, such punishment deserves to be described as persecution if the secular authorities admit the contention that there is a sphere within which the secular authority has no jurisdiction, and if nevertheless it punish those who use their freedom within this sphere. But the advocates of punishment in the case of religious recusancy deny the existence of such a sphere in the life of the individual, and therefore they do not plead guilty to the charge of persecution. In short, the whole problem is concerned with the assertion on the part of the individual, and the denial on the part of the State, that there is a sphere within which the subject is free, and must be permitted to follow the promptings of his conscience. When we consider, in its historical aspects, the relationship between the individual and the State, and when we trace the struggle on the part of the former to secure that measure of freedom which individuality presupposes, it becomes clear that there is a region which the individual claims as his own peculiar territory. For the annexation of this territory, and afterwards for the defence of it, Hebrew prophet and Christian martyr have laid down their lives, and the struggle has been continued throughout the centuries in many lands. It is being increasingly recognized that the individual has demonstrated the justice of his claim to the sole possession of this territory. Within this limited sphere he is free. To change the figure, whilst the individual admits the right of the State to enter the Outer Court and even the Holy Place, there is a Holy of Holies which is reserved for himself. There he deals not with the State, or with his fellow-citizens, but with God. As we follow the struggle for religious freedom, whether the struggle be with the secular authority or with a Church which has taken the place of the State, and exercises its functions, it is plain that the conflict is waged around this territory-the freedom of the religious man. Whether they are Hebrew prophets or Christian martyrs-Albigenses, Pilgrim Fathers, or Huguenots-the struggle is at bottom of the same nature, and for the same ideal. It will not be denied that various motives have been operative, both in the case of those who persecute, and of those who submit to persecution; for it is seldom that human motives are unmixed. Nevertheless the passion for religious freedom has been a genuine and powerful factor in all the truculent conflicts between the State or the Church on the one hand, and individuals or communities on the other who have refused to conform. It may be said that no other motive would have been potent enough to create that ‘sheer obstinacy’ of which Marcus Aurelius had occasion to complain in the case of the Christians of his time. But kings have been loath to acknowledge the right of subjects to decide for themselves how they are to worship, or what they are to believe. States have persecuted because they have refused to recognize the existence of a sphere in which men are free, and men have endured persecution because they have grasped, more or less clearly, the truth that freedom belongs to the very essence of the religious attitude, and determines its moral worth. They have endured great affliction, and taken joyfully the spoiling of their possessions, seeing they had themselves for a better possession. This better spiritual possession was conditioned by their retaining their religious freedom ( Hebrews 10:32; Hebrews 10:34).
2. Persecution in the OT.-In Matthew 5:12 Jesus Christ warns His disciples of the troublous times which await them at the hands of the representatives of Judaism, and reminds them that their experience will be a repetition of the bitter experience of the nation’s religious teachers whom God had raised up from time to time, and whose writings indicate their growing insight into the nature of God and religion. To Jerusalem our Lord gave the hard but not unjust name of ‘prophet-killer’ ( Matthew 23:35, Luke 13:34). Stephen re-echced his Master’s interpretation of the nation’s attitude when he asked ‘which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute?’ ( Acts 7:52). Jesus charged His contemporaries with raising sepulchres to the prophets whom their ancestors had put to death ( Luke 11:47). He did not mean that they erected expiatory monuments to the nation’s martyrs. The sepulchres they built indicated their approval of the misdeeds of their forefathers. In the parable of the Vineyard He gave a similar account of the nation’s attitude to her God-sent teachers ( Mark 12:3 ff.).
But it is obvious that the prophets were not simply men who suffered for their religious opinions. They were aggressive religious and social reformers. In their teaching they came into collision with the existing order of things in social life and religious custom. In the period which succeeded the settlement of the Israelites in Canaan the people adopted the gods and the religious observances of the original inhabitants of the land. The prophets of this early age advocated the sole worship of Jahweh. Moses impressed upon Israel the two-fold truth-Jahweh is Israel’s God, and Israel is Jahweh’s people. The burden of early prophecy was ‘Israel for Jahweh’ and ‘Jahweh for Israel.’ They were patriots rather than religious teachers. Patriotism and religion were identical. They opposed the popular tendency to worship the gods, and imitate the religion, of Canaan, as it indicated disloyalty to Jahweh. They were not fully aware of any profound difference between Jahweh and other gods, except that Jahweh was the God of Israel, and, as such, interested in the welfare of Israel and entitled to their undivided homage.
When we come to Elijah, we find ourselves on the confines of a new age. Henceforth the prophets denounced the existing order of things-religious and social. They ethicized theology and religion, and in their capacity as religious teachers they became inevitably social reformers, for the whole basis and structure of society were religious. The message they delivered became increasingly unpalatable, especially to those who were responsible for the existing State. The true prophets parted company with the false prophets because they would not ‘fall in’ and preach what was popular. In the time of Elijah the antagonism between the prophet and the throne-or between religious conviction and the secular authority-issues in open conflict. Elijah is more than a passive resister; he carries the conflict into the enemy’s territory, and fights the throne with its own weapons. We have seen that Elijah, like his predecessors, advocated the sole worship of Jahweh. Ahab had married the daughter of the king of Tyre, and proceeded to strengthen the alliance between Israel and Tyre by introducing the worship of Melkarth, the presiding deity of Tyre. The example of the throne was a potent influence in the life of Israel. It was easy to persuade the people that the alliance with Tyre was not complete unless the Tyrian Baal shared with Jahweh the homage of Israel. The people were halting between two opinions. They were not conscious of any inconsistency or duplicity. If gods could help, the more gods they worshipped the better. There was safety in numbers. Elijah stemmed the tide and a strong party refused to follow the example of the throne. The conflict between Elijah and Ahab was not simply whether one god or another should be worshipped-Jahweh of Israel or Melkarth of Tyre. It was a clashing of two incompatible theologies. It is probable that Ahab would have recommended the worship of both deities. The tendency of the age was in the direction of religious syncretism. But from Elijah’s standpoint it was a matter of impossibility to practise this religious dualism. We can trace in Elijah’s attitude the germ of that exclusiveness which is inevitable when the terms ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ or ‘true’ and ‘false’ are introduced into religion. The line of cleavage is sharply drawn in the story of the prophet’s life. Right is exclusive; truth is intolerant. It was absolutely necessary that the stand should be made and the protest raised. To Elijah ‘Baal and Yahweh represented, so to speak, a contrast of principles, of profound and ultimate practical convictions; both could not be right, nor could they exist side by side. For him there existed no plurality of Divine Powers, operating with equal authority in different spheres, but everywhere One Holy and Mighty Being, who revealed Himself, not in the life of nature, but in those laws by which alone human society is held together, in the ethical demands of the spirit’ (J. Wellhausen, Isr. und jüd. Gesch.3, Berlin, 1897, p. 74, quoted in Century Bible, ‘1 and 2 Kings,’ Edinburgh, n.d., p. 222). We must not be surprised or disappointed that Elijah believed in the use of force. Centuries must pass before the idea is fully understood that religion is voluntary, and that ccercion is alien to its very nature. Elijah delighted in violent measures. He was at home in an environment of earthquake, storm, and fire. He met the king on his own ground, and prosecuted the struggle with his own weapons. Moral suasion would have made no appeal to the mind of the age, and it was only poetic justice that the prophet was able to turn the tables on his adversaries. It is not always easy to decide whether Elijah or Ahab is the persecutor, for both believed in violence as the only means to the end which they had in view. But we find in the story of the life and work of Elijah a religious conviction that is daring enough to stand up to the secular authority and defy its directions. Ahab’s policy may seem to suggest breadth of mind, whilst Elijah’s attitude betokens theological narrowness; but in this case the narrow way was the way of life, whilst the broad way was also the way of death.
But Elijah came into still closer grips with Ahab. He denounced the throne on moral grounds. He spoke in the name of Jahweh, and therefore in the name of righteousness. The prophet’s predecessors identified the cult of Jahweh with patriotism. Elijah identified the worship of Jahweh with social morality. This was the new note which prophecy struck, and it occurs as a refrain in the teaching of all his successors. Elijah had the courage to denounce Ahab for his treatment of Naboth, and the prophet did so, not as a statesman or economist, but as a theologian. The religion of Jahweh issues in social righteousness. Ahab might worship Baal and steal his subject’s private property. As a worshipper of Jahweh he could only ‘do justly.’ Jahweh’s will was everlasting right. The problem raised by the king’s seizure of Naboth’s estate was not social or economical, but religious, for it fell within the scope of the religion of Jahweh. Ahab’s conduct was not larceny, but sacrilege. It was not the violation of a social law as such that roused the anger of the prophet, but his defiance of the will of God. For Jahweh requires of His worshippers that they do justly ( Micah 6:8). When the prophet condemned the king’s effort to legitimize the worship of the Tyrian Baal, or his unsocial conduct, he spoke in the name of God, and in the interest of religion. He was prepared to employ force himself, as he was ready to endure persecution rather than cease from condemning what he believed to be wrong or false, i.e. contrary to the Divine will, or from advocating what he believed to be right and true. We shall search in vain for a parallel fact in the whole Semitic world. In other lands the prophets were obliging courtiers and fell in with the royal wishes. We should traverse the Semitic world in vain for an attitude like that of Micaiah-ben-Imlah-‘what the Lord saith unto me, that will I speak’ ( 1 Kings 22:14)-when the king had given peremptory orders that he should fall in with his fellow-prophets. The latter received their reward in royal bounties, but Micaiah’s message secured for him the bread-and-water diet of the jail ( 1 Kings 22:27).
Elijah was the Wycliffe of Hebrew prophetism; the principles which emerge in connexion with the story of his life were clearly grasped by Amos and his successors, and fearlessly applied to the criticism of the religious and social situation of Israel and Judah. The prophets loved their nation and their country. There never were truer patriots than Hosea and Jeremiah. But they were not patriots of the common type. They would not preach smooth things. That was the privilege of the court-prophets whose message was inspired from the throne. The false prophet was concerned with the question ‘What does the king want?’ The true prophet was concerned with the question ‘What does Jahweh your God require?’ The latter was sure of his ground and of the Divine approval as the former was of his reward and of the royal favour. The prophets thus came into collision with current theology, for they declared that Jahweh was not simply the God of Israel, but the God of righteousness, and they came up against popular religion, for they identified religion with the practice of social justice. Their patriotism was sincere and unmistakable, but they placed social righteousness above the mere continuity or safety of the realm or the mere practice of ceremonial religion. Their theology played havoc with the current belief that Jahweh was simply the God of Israel, as well as with the prevalent view that religion was ritual. If Jahweh was a moral governor, and if, further, the national life was totally at variance with the requirements of ethical religion, the expected ‘day of Jahweh’ would be darkness and not light-disaster, not deliverance ( Amos 5:18). The power that worked for righteousness in national and international affairs would wreck any society which ignored or violated the fundamental principle of moral government, for the will of Jahweh must prevail. Their theology made the prophets preachers of judgment and destruction. The doom which they announced might be staved off by national repentance and reform, but Jeremiah, who had witnessed a religious reformation carried out by the throne, was forced to the conclusion that repentance of the true kind was beyond the reach of Judah. The nation’s illness was incurable ( Jeremiah 30:12-15). It was inevitable that the prophet should come into collision with the State. The prophet would not be cajoled, threatened, or silenced; his consciousness of the urgency of his message was such that silence, or even any modification of the truth as he perceived it, would be moral treachery. The prophet is necessarily insistent, uncompromising, intolerant, exclusive. To him the line of demarcation between the true and false-the right and wrong-is clear, and it must be recognized and enforced. The retort of the nation’s official leaders to this fearless exposition of the demands of true religion was persecution.
3. Persecution of the Jews by the Seleucid kings.-It is universally admitted that the Exile introduced a new epoch in the history of the Jew. But it is easy to exaggerate the nature of the cleavage. There are no absolute beginnings in the history of nations. The student has no difficulty in discovering ample evidence of continuity in social organization and religious praxis. Nevertheless the post-Exilic period was a new age in the history of the nation. The religious leaders of the new age believed that the Exile was the judgment announced by their pre-Exilic predecessors. The nation had completed her period of servitude and made ample compensation for all her sins. Her iniquity was pardoned ( Isaiah 40:2). According to the teaching of the prophets the Israel of God would be a nation which organized its whole life-social and religious-in accordance with the Divine will. Such a people would constitute a kingdom of God. It was the belief of the post-Exilic community that its national life was organized on the lines laid down in the Book of the Law. Judah had become once more the people of Jahweh; in possession of a Bible which embodied the will of God, and controlled her whole life, she stood over against the Gentile world, with its idols and superstitions. God was known and worshipped only in Judah. Pure religion was the sole possession of the Jew.
The rest of the world was without God and without religion, for the gods of the nations were idols, and their religions were superstitions. The post-Exilic Jew was conscious of his superiority among the nations of the Semitic world, and his tendency was to stand aloof in contemptuous isolation. In post-Exilic literature we can trace the universalism of Deutero-Isaiah and the particularism of Ezekiel and Ezra. The Jew owed no less to the universalism of the former than to the particularism of the latter his sense of superiority to the rest of the world. In both Judah occupied a central and unique position. According to Deutero-Isaiah it was the mission of Israel to convert the nations of the world and make the religion of Judah the religion of the nations. According to Ezekiel the Jew would come to his inheritance through the annihilation of the heathen. The one believed in the incorporation, and the other in the destruction, of the nations. The Jew found a solid foundation for his religious exclusivism in Deutero-Isaiah as well as in Ezekiel. To the former Jahweh alone was God, and Israel was His servant and His missionary to the ends of the earth. No God but Jahweh-no religion but the religion of Judah: a people that held that view dwelt alone in the ancient world with its easy-going polytheism and its indolent syncretism.
The result was that every conqueror found in Judah an attitude which he discovered nowhere else throughout the Semitic world, and he could no more understand the significance of it than the Roman Emperor at a later date could understand the attitude of the Christian believer. Other nations were prepared to fall in with the wishes of the conqueror. They were willing conformists, but Judah was an implacable nonconformist. ‘You are the only people,’ said Agrippa, in his effort to dissuade the Jews from rebelling against Rome, ‘who think it a disgrace to be servants of those to whom all the world hath submitted.’ Judah would not submit, and the reasons for her recusancy were not so much political as religious. Judah’s nationalism was rooted in her religion. The cause of Judah was the cause of Jahweh. The Kingdom of God was identified with the kingdom of Judah. It is interesting to note that the nation’s religious teachers in the past arraigned Israel on the ground of her eagerness to imitate neighbouring nations by adopting their gods and religious customs. It was during the exile in Babylon that the Jew thoroughly mastered the prophetic doctrine of the uniqueness of Jahweh and of His religion. Conscious of the nature of the possession which he had in his religion, he cultivated national self-confidence and self-reliance, which ultimately degenerated into national pride and exclusiveness. In exile the Jew learnt how to resist the pressure of a hostile environment, and the lesson stood him in good stead throughout the post-Exilic period, for the position of Judah in the Semitic world was precisely the position of the exiles in Babylon. The Book of Daniel, which purports to describe the situation of the Jew in exile, could not be otherwise than a powerful appeal to Judah in the 2nd cent. b.c. to imitate the heroes of the Exile and remain loyal to her ancestral faith and religion. But a nation like this was a disturbing element and a standing menace to the unity of the Empire to which it belonged. Most nations are conquered when their army is defeated, their territory annexed, and their independence taken from them. Nation after nation in the Semitic world succumbed to the domination of the Macedonian conqueror. But neither Assyria nor Babylon, nor Persia, nor Macedon nor Rome conquered Judah, for a nation is conquered only when her soul is subjugated. Judah retained her unconquerable soul. Antiochus Epiphanes, the most powerful representative of the Seleucid dynasty, made an effort to complete the subjugation of Judah by conquering her soul, but in his campaign he came across a stronghold in the nation’s conscience-or her religious self-consciousness-which defied all his assaults. The invader possessed no arms to carry the campaign to a successful issue. Antiochus was an extremely able ruler. It was his programme to unify his Empire by universalizing Hellenism. Greek civilization was to be the tie that would bind together the different parts of his heterogeneous Empire. It was a magnificent scheme, well conceived and vigorously carried out, and the Emperor met with little or no opposition until he reached Judah. He did not persecute on religious grounds. The Emperor had no deep-rooted objection to the religion of Judah-except its exclusiveness. He approached the problem as a ruler, and his policy was the unification of his Empire by exterminating national religions. But Judah’s resistance was religious and not political. Mattathias of Modin raised the standard of revolt, and the rising, in its initial stages, was inspired by loyalty to the ancestral religion. It ultimately resolved itself into an attempt to secure the political independence of Judah, for the simple reason that full religious liberty is a precarious possession without political independence. But it was the desecration of the Temple, and the attempt to force loyal Jews to sacrifice to heathen deities that roused the are of the nation, and moved the Maccabaean family to defend the national religion. It is extremely probable that many Psalms date from this period, and the fierce nature of the struggle carried on by the Maccabees in defence of their ‘nation, religion, and laws’ is reflected in those passionate hymns which still throb with the intense feeling which the conflict roused in the breasts of the Ḥasidim, or ‘loyalists,’ who supported Judas Maccabaeus in his campaign.
In regard to persecution on the part of the Church of Rome, Lecky writes: ‘If men believe with an intense and realising faith that their own view of a disputed question is true beyond all possibility of mistake … these men will, sooner or later, persecute to the full extent of their power.’_ This ‘intense faith,’ which accounts for the will to persecute on the part of the Church, also explains the willingness on the part of religious persons to be persecuted rather than abandon their faith. Antiochus Epiphanes was not actuated by any such intense faith in Greek culture. He was concerned solely with his dream of a homogeneous Empire, but Judaism was inspired by this ‘intense faith,’ with the result that the Jew, as afterwards the Christian believer, constituted a problem to the rulers of the ancient world. Seleucid rulers found in Judaism, as Roman procurators and proconsuls found in Christianity, an obstinacy which baffled all their efforts to secure universal uniformity. It was not an inheritance in the case of the Christian Church from the Jewish synagogue, but the outcome of the ‘intense faith’ which inspired Jew and Christian to endure torture, not accepting deliverance ( Hebrews 11:35).
4. Persecution of Jesus by the Jews.-Irenaeus called Jesus Christ the ‘Master of Martyrdom.’ The martyrs followed in His footsteps. In each martyr Origen saw the Lord Himself condemned. The true imitatio Christi was martyrdom. John calls Jesus Christ ‘the faithful witness’ ( Revelation 1:5), and Paul adds that He ‘witnessed the good confession’ ( 1 Timothy 6:13). Our Lord warned His disciples that the persecution which He endured would also be their lot ( John 15:18). It becomes, therefore, necessary to examine the opposition which culminated in the tragedy of the Cross, and the reasons which actuated Jerusalem and Rome in their combined resolve to compass His death. According to the Gospels, Jesus Christ was conscious of a growing premonition as to the issue of the conflict between Himself on the one hand and the Pharisees and Sadducees on the other, the representatives of the democracy and the aristocracy of Judaea . The Pharisees were the nationalist party, and carried on the traditions of the Ḥasidim, or ‘loyalists,’ who supported Judas Maccabaeus in his struggle for religious liberty in the 2nd cent., whilst the Sadducees were the priestly caste, and were willing to put up with Roman domination as long as they were left in undisturbed possession of priestly prerogatives, and especially of the revenues of the Temple. Jesus Christ could not miss their growing hostility to Him and His teaching, and the ominous closing of the ranks on the part of these prominent parties which otherwise had very little in common. The Pharisees were profoundly religious. Their religion consisted in rigid observance of the ‘Law,’ and of the ‘traditions of the fathers.’ To the religious zeal of the Puritan they added intense patriotism. But their religion was soulless formalism. They were not lacking in religious self-confidence. The Pharisaic Paul contended that in the light of the Pharisaic ideal he was blameless (Philippians 3). They made a fetish of the Law. It had come from God, and contained a complete and final system of religious praxis. They were rigorously and exclusively Jewish in their outlook. There was nothing good outside Judaism. They were immovably opposed to anything and everything foreign. Among them the Messianic hope flourished. From their midst emanated the apocalyptic literature of the nation, with its dream of a glorious triumph for Judah. The dream of a world-wide kingdom troubled the long sleep of Jewish oppression, and occasionally the sleep was disturbed by a violent effort to realize the national ambition and shake off the yoke which weighed like an incubus upon the nation’s soul. But the Pharisees did not fall in with the policy of the ‘zealots’ or ‘Cananaeans’ or the followers of Judas of Galilee ( Acts 5:37). They shared the zealots’ hatred of everything alien or non-Jewish, but they recognized the futility of rebellion. They were too well aware of the irresistible might of Rome. It was their mission to keep the national life Jewish, and religion ‘pure and undefiled,’ and God would appear on their behalf in the fullness of time and bring in the ‘Messianic age.’ It is evident that the Pharisees were keenly interested in Jesus Christ and in the claim which was being made that He was the Messiah. They would welcome any reliable evidence that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand, and that the hope of the nation was nearing fulfilment. The Pharisees generally mingled with the crowd which followed Jesus, and they were not always present as captious critics. Their astonishment that Jesus ate with ‘publicans and sinners’ proves that they expected different conduct from one who was going to realize the Messianic ideal, and bring in the Messianic age ( Mark 2:15). They were on the same quest when they asked for a sign-some unmistakable evidence that He was the Divinely-appointed Saviour of the nation. Nicodemus was a Pharisee, and displays the Pharisee’s interest in Jesus Christ and His claim to be the Messiah (John 3). But it was soon obvious to the Pharisees that Jesus could not be the Messiah whom they expected. He displayed no respect for the Pharisaic ideal, in either its political or its religious aspects. He contradicted the Messianic expectation as it was held among the Pharisees-viz. a great national hero who could and would bring in the Messianic age as it was understood by them. He also opposed Pharisaism as a religious system. He undermined their whole philosophy of religion. He was especially severe on their emphasis on trivial rules, and their neglect of the weightier matters of the law ( Matthew 23:23). It was evident to the Pharisees that, if this teaching prevailed, the national hope was doomed, for the teaching of Jesus implied that the outstanding institutions of Judaism were not essential. They could all be scrapped as obsolete and useless. Towards the end of His life Jesus Christ makes no effort to conceal His contempt for Pharisaism. He condemns the Pharisee on religious, not on political, grounds. It was as obvious to the Pharisee as to Jesus that their respective teaching was mutually antagonistic. There was no hope for Pharisaic religion if the teaching of Jesus prevailed. Paul discovered in his own way at a later stage that Pharisaism and Christianity were incompatible.
It was only towards the end of His life that the Sadducees became prominent in controversy with Jesus. They possessed neither the piety nor the patriotism of the Pharisees. They were interested in the continuance of the Temple and its worship, as the Pharisees were concerned with the continuance of the Synagogue and its service. They were interested in religion only in so far as it involved the continued existence of the Temple where they found their living. They were immovably conservative, for they were anxious that the existing order of things should remain undisturbed. They were supreme in the Sanhedrin, and they were favourable to Rome as long as they were secure in the enjoyment of the Temple revenue. As friends of Rome, they were naturally afraid of the growing popularity of Jesus. They knew the Jewish temperament, and they knew the disposition of Rome. They were anxious that the religious and political situation should remain undisturbed, that they might continue to enjoy the privileges which Roman rule extended to them. After the raising of Lazarus and the impression which it made upon the people, the high priests and Pharisees were thrown into consternation, for they feared that the disturbance would attract the notice of the Roman representative, who would take away their place and their nation ( John 11:48). Jesus’ clearing of the Temple roused the anger of the Sadducees, for it interfered with vested interests. It was this act that moved them to compass His death ( Mark 11:15; Mark 11:18). The only restraint was their fear of the people.
The charge of blasphemy was often on the lips of His Pharisaic adversaries, and from the Jewish point of view the indictment was perfectly intelligible. To the Pharisees, who rejected the Messianic claims of Jesus, His utterances and His deeds were often blasphemous ( Mark 2:7, John 5:16; John 5:18), just as to His disciples who acknowledged Him to be the Messiah the attitude of the Jews was equally blasphemous ( Mark 15:29, Acts 13:45; Acts 18:6; Acts 19:37). Any disparaging speech in reference to Jahweh was blasphemy, or any act which was disparaging to His dignity, e.g. Sennacherib’s sneer that Jahweh was no better than the numerous gods of the nations which the Assyrian army had conquered ( 2 Kings 19:16). The worship of Jahweh with the rites of the Baalim was blasphemy, for it degraded Jahweh to the level of Baal ( Ezekiel 20:27). Any irreverent allusion to any institution connected with Jahweh came under the same condemnation, e.g. Jesus’ alleged reference to the Temple ( Mark 14:58, Acts 6:13). His violation of the sacredness of the Sabbath was of the same nature ( Numbers 15:32, John 10:33; John 10:36). When Jesus arrogated to Himself the right to forgive sins, He encroached upon the prerogatives of Deity, and He was guilty of blasphemy ( Mark 2:7, Matthew 9:3). John adds that His assumption of Divinity was provocative of violent opposition. The high priest, at the trial of Jesus, put to Him the question, ‘Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed,’ or ‘the Son of God?’ ( Mark 14:61, Matthew 26:63). It was a definite challenge whether He was the Messiah or not. The answer was equally clear and emphatic, and the charge of blasphemy was at once raised. The alternatives were clear-Jesus was the Messiah, or else He was a blasphemer, and as such worthy of death ( Leviticus 24:16). This was the technical charge against Jesus, but it is obvious that His whole teaching was antagonistic to and subversive of the religious formalism and narrow nationalism of the Pharisee no less than the scepticism and worldliness of the Sadducee. But the Sanhedrin could not inflict capital punishment without the confirmation of the Roman governor. It was therefore necessary to put in an indictment of a different character in order to make sure of the verdict. The prosecutors held that according to Jewish law ( Leviticus 24:16) Jesus was guilty of death, for He made Himself ‘Son of God’ ( John 19:7). It would not be difficult to make out that His claims to be the ‘Messiah’ or ‘King of the Jews’ constituted not only blasphemy but high treason, and the Roman Emperor was exceedingly sensitive on the question of laesa majestas or high treason. The main object of the prosecution was to bring home the charge of high treason as the only indictment that would move Pilate to confirm the verdict of the Sanhedrin. Luke sums up the three points in the indictment. (1) Perverting the nation. This was a charge of seditious agitation. His adversaries knew what they were about when they suggested that He was trying to work up a revolt in Palestine. (2) Forbidding the payment of tribute to Caesar. Jesus Christ had recently discriminated between duty to God and obligations to Caesar, and His words suggested the existence of a sphere to which the authority of Caesar did not extend. (3) Making Himself to be Messiah, king. The Jewish leaders raised the cry of blasphemy over the claim. It was the political aspect of the claim which they emphasized before Pilate. The insinuation of the mob, that Pilate would not uphold the authority of Caesar if he released Jesus, stung the Roman governor to the quick and materially helped to get his confirmation of the findings of the Sanhedrin. It is obvious that, as far as Pilate was concerned, everything depended upon the significance of the Messianic claim made by Jesus, and accepted by His accusers for their own purpose, at His trial. In their desperate efforts to secure an adverse verdict the Jews were prepared to trample underfoot the national expectation of a Messiah-‘We have no king but Caesar.’ They knew what charge would carry weight before the proconsul. It is obvious that Pilate was moved by the charge. The Jewish world at the time was full of unrest, and insurrections were not uncommon. The Jews repeated the charge, in their opposition to Paul at Thessalonica. They knew that would get a hearing from the representative of Caesar ( Acts 17:7). It is obvious that the Jews were actuated in their opposition to Jesus Christ by motives which were partly nationalistic and partly religious, whilst Pilate, the Imperial representative, was concerned mainly with the political aspects of the situation.
5. Persecution of the Christians by the Jews.-We have already referred to the fact that Jesus Christ prepared His disciples for persecution. He seemed to have a clear premonition as to the issue of His own life. He was equally certain that fidelity to His teaching would evoke the deep and implacable hostility of Judaism and of the Roman Empire. Their contention that the Crucified Jesus was the Messiah and a Saviour for all nations would offend Jewish nationalism, and the ethical ideal of the gospel would evoke the scorn and the hatred of the Graeco-Roman world. Jerusalem and Rome would work together in opposition to His disciples, as they had done in opposition to Him, and for the same reasons. The unexpected manner in which references to persecution as the inevitable lot of His faithful followers occur in His speeches proves that it was ever on His mind. He met every situation that arose in the history of the early Church. Fidelity to Him and His teaching would be supremely difficult, but it would not miss its reward. He pronounced a beatitude on those who would suffer persecution for righteousness’ sake-i.e. upon those who would bring upon their own heads the hostility of the world on account of their adherence to His teaching. Their endurance of persecution for this reason entitled them to membership in the Kingdom of God. Through their endurance of the hostility of the world without flinching or denying their faith, they would win their souls, and thereby prove their claim to be citizens of the kingdom of heaven ( Luke 21:19). The vivid and constant sense of their belonging to another kingdom-real and abiding-would alone enable them to endure the hatred of the world; no other motive would be sufficiently strong. Persecution was the crucible which tested the faith of the disciple-its genuineness and its strength. Persecution would be the form in which the antagonism of the world-Jewish and pagan-would manifest itself. It would be a tribute to the reality of their faith. The believers would be sheep in the midst of wolves. But theirs was a life which wolves could not harm. ‘Let not the lambs fear the wolves when they are dead’ are words which are ascribed to Christ in an ancient homily (J. B. Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers, pt. i., London, 1890, vol. ii. p. 219). Sanhedrins and synagogues-the political and religious institutions-of Judah would be arrayed against the disciples. They would be dragged before kings like Herod Agrippa (Acts 26) or Emperors like Nero ( 2 Timothy 4:6) and Roman governors like Felix and Festus ( Acts 24:24; Acts 25:6). Peter reminds his readers that they must be careful that persecution is due to their Christian faith and Christian conduct ( 1 Peter 4:16). Among the rewards of fidelity to Jesus Christ are ‘houses … with persecutions’ ( Mark 10:30). We are not surprised when we read of the persecutions that many lapsed from the faith-the good seed was choked ( Matthew 13:21). But the true believer will face all the trials and sufferings of life (Romans 8, 1 Corinthians 4:12, 2 Corinthians 4:9; 2 Corinthians 12:10).
Jesus’ forecast of the future was fulfilled to the letter, and His disciples had not long to wait. The representatives of Rome did not appear on the scene for some time; the opposition came from the Jews. The earliest Christians were Jews, and the earliest form of apostolic Christianity was essentially Jewish. Its early exponents were only dimly aware of the full content of the claim which they made when they contended that Jesus was the Christ. It required many minds to bring out the full meaning of the teaching of the Master. The author of ‘Acts’ rendered a service in this connexion which comes next only to the Gospels and Paul’s Epistles. It is clear that the burden of the apostolic preaching was the fulfilment of the Messianic hope in Jesus. Jesus is the Christ. The disciples never abandoned their belief that Jesus was the Messiah-viz. the Messiah of Jewish belief. ‘We hoped that it was he which should redeem Israel’ are the pathetic words in which two disciples express their poignant disappointment ( Luke 24:21). ‘Dost thou at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ is the question put to Jesus Christ after His resurrection ( Acts 1:6). The Crucifixion laid their Jewish hope in ruins. The Resurrection, however, brought about a renewal of their faith, but it had changed its content. The apostolic gospel was simply the claim that Jesus, who had been crucified and buried, but who had risen and ascended to heaven, was the Messiah. It is noteworthy that the Sadducees, and not the Pharisees, began the opposition to Peter and his fellow disciples. It was the claim that ‘Jesus was the Messiah’ that evoked their antagonism. As the movement seemed to spread at an alarming rate, the Sadducees feared a popular rising. They were satisfied with things as they were, and they were exceedingly anxious not to give any offence to Rome. They opposed the apostolic preaching, as they had opposed the claim of Jesus to be the Messiah, for they knew how similar movements had ended. The Pharisees took no part, at first, in the opposition to the new movement. This seeming indifference is quite intelligible. We have already pointed out that the Pharisees were greatly interested in Jesus and in the claim which was made by His followers that He was the Messiah. They were equally interested in the apostolic contention that the Resurrection demonstrated the truth of His Messiahship. The ‘rising from the dead’ had put the whole matter in a new light. The disciples themselves had temporarily relinquished their view that Jesus was the expected deliverer, but the Resurrection enabled them to recover their faith in a transfigured form. We are not surprised that many Pharisees were among the early disciples ( Acts 15:5). Gamaliel, a prominent Pharisee, counselled caution in dealing with the new movement. He suggested that they should wait developments and accept the verdict of Providence. It was a Pharisaic belief that history judged all movements. Gamaliel was willing to keep an open mind, and in this attitude he represented the more enlightened Pharisaism of the day. When they considered the question in the light of the Resurrection, there seemed nothing in the doctrine that Jesus was the Messiah which was inconsistent with the Messianic hope as it prevailed among the Pharisees. But they had not long to wait before they saw the significance of the new movement, and their interest was converted into determined and relentless opposition when they understood its true inwardness. The historian of Acts puts into the mouth of Stephen one of the most epoch-making utterances in the New Testament. Stephen was a Hellenistic Jew, and his early training had fitted him to grasp the universality of the gospel. Christianity was the true completion of the religion of Israel, and, therefore, the supersession of Judaism. It was the fulfilment of the hope of Israel. The religious teachers of the nation had tried to bring out the true nature of religion, but the nation, in the person of its official leaders, had offered continued resistance to the Holy Ghost, with the result that the religion of the prophets had degenerated into Judaism. In the light of Stephen’s conception of the gospel, Jewish institutions were temporary; they had no abiding significance. They were not essential to the spiritual and universal gospel of Christianity. This speech contradicted Pharisaism at every point. Stephen was charged with speaking ‘words against this holy place, and the law’ ( Acts 6:13). He spoke ‘blasphemous words against Moses and against God’ ( Acts 6:11). These accusations were inevitable from the Pharisaic point of view, for to the orthodox Pharisee the Law was a complete and final system. The charge of blasphemy had been brought against Jesus Christ, and the repetition of the indictment in the case of Stephen shows that the disciple had understood the mind of the Master. Henceforth the opposition of Judaism to the Christian Church is uncompromising and unbroken, and the martyrdom of Stephen was followed by the death of other prominent members of the Church. But the scattering of the Church meant the spreading of the gospel. There seems little doubt that refugees played no small part in the earliest missionary activities of the Church. It is hardly possible to exaggerate the opposition which Judaism was able to offer to the young churches which came into existence in different towns and villages in Asia Minor and in Europe, for throughout the Roman Empire there were large Jewish settlements. In connexion with the repeated outbreaks of persecution in various centres, the unbelieving Jew was the dark figure that stood in the background. There is truth in Tertullian’s statement_ that Jewish synagogues were the chief sources of persecution. The historian of Acts saw in Judaism the real opponent of Christianity. To him there was no other rival religion, for the heathen world was irreligious. Its numerous religions were not worthy of the name. To the strict Pharisee it was also equally clear that the real opponent of Judaism was Christianity. Judaism could hold its own against heathen religions, but Christianity was a powerful rival, for it deprived Judaism of everything except its nationalism. The Jew repeated, in the case of the Christian missionary, the charge which had been brought against Jesus. He knew that it carried weight with the representative of Rome. In Thessalonica they urged ‘certain vile fellows of the rabble’ to lead the opposition. The charge of high treason was insinuated in the words ‘These all act contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus’ ( Acts 17:7). It was this charge that finally decided Pilate to speak the fateful word and hand over Jesus to His persecutors. Generally throughout the Acts, Rome, in the person of its proconsuls, is represented as taking on the whole a favourable view of Christianity. The brunt of the opposition came from the representatives of Judaism. But much depended on the temperament and character of the Roman governor as well as on the manner in which the prosecutors conducted the charge. The Jews in Corinth were not quite so alive to the possibilities of the situation as their compatriots at Thessalonica. The Corinthian Jews indicted Paul for urging men to worship contrary to the Law. Gallio replied that he was not concerned about their religious controversies. He would interfere only in case of crime or political misdemeanour ( Acts 18:14-15). It is possible that the historian lays stress on the favourable attitude of Rome to the early Christians in order to impress on his Roman readers that there was no real incompatibility between the Christian religion and the interests of the Empire. The Christian Church felt the force of Jewish persecution in a peculiarly violent manner in the first half of the 2nd cent. when they refused to join in the revolt of Bar Cochba-the ‘Son of the Star’ ( Numbers 24:17), who headed a Messianic movement. The Christians refused to admit his claim, and were exposed to the vengeance of both Rome and the would-be Messiah. To the Romans they were Jews, whilst to the insurrectionists they were renegades.
The Church of Pentecost consisted entirely of Jews who accepted the apostolic doctrine that Jesus-Crucified and Risen-was the Messiah. Apart from that confession, they remained Jews and retained their Judaism in its entirety; and we must not read too much into that elementary creed. Even Peter and John, not to mention their converts, had not fully understood the teaching of Jesus. But it is an astonishing fact that within half a century the leading minds of the Church had set forth the content of the Christian religion, in Gospel and Epistle. When the Jew perceived the universal character of the gospel, he became its relentless opponent. He was too much of a nationalist to accept a gospel that placed all nations on an equality, whilst his reverence for the Law would not permit him to believe that it could be superseded. His nationalism and conservatism made him a bitter persecutor of ‘the Way.’ There were two alternatives for the Jew-conversion or persecution. He had a profound reverence for the Torah. It was complete and final. The orthodox Jew believed that the world would be saved by being Judaized, as the Christian preacher believed it would be saved by being evangelized. Judaism was not one religion among many-it was the religion. The Jew claimed for Judaism what the Christian apologist claimed for Christianity-finality and absoluteness. The Jew had to embrace Christianity or oppose it by every means at his disposal. Both Judaism and Christianity were exclusive religious. The Jew who refused to be converted must have possessed that ‘intense faith’ in which Lecky has discovered the origin of persecution. The Christian religion also produced a faith which counted it all joy to suffer for righteousness’ sake. It was this exclusiveness and sense of superiority which made Judah the best hated nation in the ancient world; but for the same reason the Christian Church won the bitter hatred of the Graeco-Roman world with its indolent syncretism and low ethical ideals. It has been maintained that persecution in the strict sense of the term originated within Judaism, and in this doctrine of exclusiveness, inasmuch as the Jew persecuted Christians solely for their religious views-i.e. for heresy, and for no other reason. But there was a close intermingling of religious and political motives, and in Judah especially nationalism and religion were closely associated.
6. The attitude of Rome to Christianity.-The representatives of Rome paid little or no attention to the ‘new and magical superstition’ which had sprung up in Judah. To them Christianity was simply a Jewish movement. But they were alive to the possibilities of the movement and were always on the look-out for political developments in connexion with any religious agitation. Rome was familiar with ‘Messianic’ risings in Palestine, and the Jew never missed an opportunity of laying before the Emperor a charge of disloyalty against Christians. It was the only way to overcome the apparent apathy of Rome. Throughout Acts, Rome is represented, in the person of her proconsuls, as indifferent to the quarrels between Christian missionaries and their Jewish adversaries ( Acts 18:14-15; Acts 25:19). The attitude of Pilate to Jesus was typical of the attitude of Roman governors to His followers. They were interested in religious doctrines in the light of their influence on individuals as subjects of the Empire. They were often guilty of gross indifference. The Jews relied on the apathy of Roman governors and frequently took matters into their own hands. It is admitted that the Empire possessed a magnificent system of law. But it is easy to indulge in exaggerated language in regard to the administration of law, especially in remote parts of the Empire. Roman governors frequently turned their blind eye to the sufferings inflicted on Christians by their Jewish or pagan persecutors.
It is obvious that for some time Rome looked upon the followers of Christ as a Jewish sect. In so far as the representative of Rome had condemned Jesus on political grounds, it would follow that His disciples would experience similar treatment at the hands of Imperial governors. It is interesting in this connexion to consider the account which the Roman historian gives of the movement. According to Tacitus, the founder of the sect, Chrestus by name, had been condemned by Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius. His followers were vulgarly called ‘Christians.’ They were universally hated on account of the abominable deeds of which they were guilty, and their hatred of the human race. The execution of their leader gave a temporary check to the pestilent superstition. But it broke out afresh, and extended to Rome, where everything that is vile and scandalous accumulated._ The historian gives the ordinary Roman view. Christians were simply Christ’s faction. The attitude of Pilate to the Founder of the sect should also be the attitude of Rome to His followers-an attitude of contempt mixed with hatred. In view of this fact the question arises how it came about that Rome ultimately became such an implacable enemy of the ‘pestilent superstition,’ which at first seemed to be beneath contempt.
In religion Rome practised ample tolerance. This does not mean that Roman Emperors favoured religious liberty or freedom of conscience. Centuries must elapse before governments will be found to admit the rights of individuals in religion, or even of States which form parts of a larger Empire, although Jesus Christ did suggest a sphere within which Caesar could exercise no jurisdiction. But Roman Emperors would not admit that view, for the power of the State, in the person of the ruler, was absolute, and it covered all the activities of life. Nevertheless it was the policy of Rome to allow conquered States to retain their gods and their religious customs, in so far as the free exercise of their ancestral religion or their worship of their national deities did not interfere with loyalty to the Empire, and especially with their willingness to pay homage to the Emperor by sacrificing in his name. Rome’s interest in religion was entirely political. It was the continuance and stability of the Empire that concerned Rome and her rulers. Religions were tolerated and encouraged in so far as they promoted tranquillity and good order. ‘The various modes of worship which prevailed in the Roman world were all considered by the people as equally true; by the philosopher as equally false; and by the magistrate as equally useful.’_ The toleration of local or national religions was part of Rome’s method of governing her extensive dominions. ‘The Jews,’ wrote Celsus, ‘are not to be blamed, because each man ought to live according to the custom of his country; but the Christians have forsaken their national rites for the doctrine of Christ.’_
Rome permitted the worship of national gods and the continuance of national cults. But there was no religious liberty in this apparent tolerance. The gods worshipped and the cults practised in different parts of the Empire had to receive the Imperial sanction. Cicero_ remarks that the worship of gods which had not been recognized by law was a punishable offence. No religion had any standing until it received the Imperial imprimatur. No gods could be worshipped unless they were ‘publice adsciti.’ The State’s approval was necessary. Christianity was not a national faith, and for a time it did not secure the Imperial sanction. In the former sense it was a unique phenomenon within the Empire. It seems that for a time Christianity enjoyed the privileges which had been extended to Judaism as a national religion. Judaism had been treated with exceptional favour, for the Jew was exempted from the worship of the Emperor. It was a concession to Jewish monotheism. But the open rupture between Judaism and Christianity which was manifest to the world by the middle of the century, and the persistent persecution of Christians by Jews, compelled Rome to inquire into the meaning of the new movement. The Empire tolerated old and national religions, but Christianity was a thing of yesterday, and belonged to no nation, but embraced all peoples. As such Christianity stood outside the law of the Empire. It created divisions in every nation, and town, and family. Judaism was the religion of the Jews, but Christianity gathered or created its own clientele. John saw ‘a great multitude, which no man could number, out of every nation, and of all tribes and peoples and tongues’ ( Revelation 7:9). That was the condemnation of the Christian religion in the opinion of Imperial Rome. The first edict of toleration (a.d. 311) cast in the face of the Christian religion that it had ‘collected a various society from the different provinces of the Empire.’ Christianity, because of its non-national or international character, was divisive and anarchical, although, when rightly understood, the gospel supplied the universal religion and formed the bond of union which made of all nations a world-wide brotherhood.
What Judaism was in the pre-Christian world, Christianity was in the Roman Empire-an exclusive religion. From the very start Christianity was proclaimed as the religion of fulfilment. It was final and absolute-‘and in none other is there salvation; for neither is there any other name under heaven that is given among men, wherein we must be saved’ ( Acts 4:12). Peter stated in the name of Christianity what every orthodox Jew would have claimed for Judaism. Christianity was essentially exclusive and intolerant. The apostles proclaimed one God-the Father of their Lord Jesus Christ. They preached one Saviour-the Crucified Christ. There was only one religion-and that was Christianity. When Jesus stated that He was ‘the way, the truth, and the life’ ( John 14:6), it became impossible for His disciples to be tolerant of any other religion, for tolerance would be treachery. We have already traced the germ of this antagonism between the true and the false in the teaching of Elijah, who maintained that Jahweh and Baal were mutually exclusive, and it developed into the religion of post-Exilic Judah. Paul had stated the Christian attitude-‘Though there be that are called gods, … to us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we unto him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and we through him’ ( 1 Corinthians 8:5 f.). The Christian who worshipped the ‘God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ’ could not fall in with the prevalent syncretism which implied that every god was as good as another, and every religion a matter of nationality. The Empire had experienced the same exclusiveness in the case of Judah, and had, in the interest of tranquillity, made allowance for it by extending t
Charles Buck Theological Dictionary 
Is any pain or affliction which a person designedly inflicts upon another; and, in a more restrained sense, the sufferings of Christians on account of their religion. Persecution is threefold.
1. Mental, when the spirit of a man rises up and opposes another.
2. Verbal, when men give hard words and deal in uncharitable censures.
3. Actual or open, by the hand, such as the dragging of innocent persons before the tribunal of Justice, Matthew 10:18 . The unlawfulness of persecution for conscience sake must appear plain to every one that possesses the least degree of thought or of feeling. "To banish, imprison, plunder, starve, hang, and burn men for religion, " says the shrewd Jortin, "is not the Gospel of Christ; it is the Gospel of the Devil. Where persecution begins, Christianity ends. Christ never used any thing that looked like force or violence, except once; and that was to drive bad men out of the temple, and not to drive them in." We know the origin of it to be from the prince of darkness, who began the dreadful practice in the first family on earth, and who, more or less, has been carrying on the same work ever since, and that almost among all parties. "Persecution for conscience sake, " says Dr. Doddridge, "is every way inconsistent, because,
1. It is founded on an absurd supposition, that one man has a right to judge for another in matters of religion.l
2. It is evidently opposite to that fundamental principle of morality; that we should do to others as we could reasonably desire they should do to us.
3. It is by no means calculated to answer the end which its patrons profess to intend by it.
4. It evidently tends to produce a great deal of mischief and confusion in the world.
5. The Christian religion must, humanly speaking, be not only obstructed, but destroyed, should persecuting principles universally prevail.
6. Persecution is so far from being required, or encouraged by the Gospel, that it is most directly contrary to many of its precepts, and indeed to the whole of it." The chief objects who have fell a prey to this diabolical spirit have been Christians; a short account of whose sufferings we shall here give, as persecuted by the Jews, Heathens, and those of the same name. Persecution of Christians by the Jews. Here we need not be copious, as the New Testament will inform the reader more particularly how the first Christians suffered for the cause of truth. Jesus Christ himself was exposed to it in the greatest degree. The four evangelists record the dreadful scenes, which need not here be enlarged on.
After his death, the apostles suffered every evil which the malice of the Jews could invent, and their mad zeal execute. They who read the Acts of the Apostles, will find that, like their Master, they were despised and rejected of men, and treated with the utmost indignity and contempt. II. Persecution of Christians by the Heathen. Historians usually reckon ten general persecutions, the first of which was under the emperor Nero, thirty-one years after our Lord's ascension, when that emperor, having set fire to the city of Rome, threw the odium of that execrable action on the Christians. First. Those were apprehended who openly avowed themselves to be of that sect; then by them were discovered an immense multitude, all of whom were convicted. Their death and tortures were aggravated by cruel derision and sport; for they were either covered with the skins of wild beasts and torn in pieces by devouring dogs, or fastened to crosses, and wrapped up in combustible garments, that, when the day-light failed, they might, like torches, serve to dispel the darkness of the night. For this tragical spectacle Nero lent his own gardens; and exhibited at the same time the public diversions of the circus; sometimes driving a chariot in person, and sometimes standing as a spectator, while the shrieks of women burning to ashes supplied music for his ears.
2. The second general persecution was under Domitian, in the year 95, when 40, 000 were supposed to have suffered martyrdom.
3. The third began in the third year of Trajan, in the year 100, and was carried on with great violence for several years.
4. The fourth was under Antoninus, when the Christians were banished from their houses, forbidden to show their heads, reproached, beaten, hurried from place to place, plundered, imprisoned, and stoned.
5. The fifth began in the year 127, under Severus, when great cruelties were committed. In this reign happened the martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas, and their companions. Perpetua had an infant at the breast, and Felicitas was just delivered at the time of their being put to death. These two beautiful and amiable young women, mothers of infant children, after suffering much in prison, were exposed before an insulting multitude to a wild cow, who mangled their bodies in a most horrid manner: after which they were carried to a conspicuous place, and put to death by the sword.
6. The sixth began with the reign of Maximinus, in 235.
7. The seventh, which was the most dreadful ever known, began in 250, under the emperor Decius, when the christians were in all places driven from their habitations, stripped of their estates, tormented with racks, &c.
8. The eighth began in 257, under Valerian. Both men and women suffered death, some by scourging, some by the sword, and some by fire.
9. The ninth was under Aurelian, in 274; but this was inconsiderable, compared with the others before-mentioned.
10. The tenth began in the nineteenth year of Dioclesian, 303. In this dreadful persecution, which lasted ten years, houses filled with Christians were set on fire, and whole droves were tied together with ropes, and thrown into the sea. It is related that 17, 000 were slain in one month's time; and that during the continuance of this persecution, in the province of Egypt alone, no less than 144, 000 Christians died by the violence of their persecutors; besides 700, 000 that died through the fatigues of banishment, or the public works to which they were condemned. III. Persecution of Christians by those of the same name. Numerous were the persecutions of different sects from Constantine's time to the reformation; but when the famous Martin Luther arose, and opposed the errors and ambition of the church of Rome, and the sentiments of this good man began to spread, the pope and his clergy joined all their forces to hinder their progress. A general council of the clergy was called: this was the famous council of Trent, which was held for near eighteen successive years, for the purpose of establishing popery in greater splendour, and preventing the reformation.
The friends to the reformation were anathematized and excommunicated, and the life of Luther was often in danger, though at last he died on the bed of peace. From time to time innumerable schemes were suggested to overthrow the reformed church, and wars were set on foot for the same purpose. The invincible armada, as it was vainly called, had the same end in view. The inquisition, which was established in the twelfth century against the Waldenses (
See Inquisition was not more effectually set to work. Terrible persecutions were carried on in various parts of Germany, and even in Bohemia, which continued about thirty years, and the blood of the saints was said to flow like rivers of water. The countries of Poland, Lithuania, and Hungary, were in a similar manner deluged with Protestant blood. In Holland and in the other Low Countries, for many years the most amazing cruelties were exercised under the merciless and unrelenting hands of the Spaniards, to whom the inhabitants of that part of the world were then in subjection. Father Paul observes, that these Belgic martyrs were 50, 000; but Grotius and others observe, that there were 100, 000 who suffered by the hand of the executioner.
Herein, however, Satan and his agents failed of their purpose; for in the issue great part of the Netherlands shook off the Spanish yoke, and erected themselves into a separate and independent state, which has ever since been considered as one of the principal Protestant countries of the universe. FRANCE. No country, perhaps, has ever produced more martyrs than this. After many cruelties had been exercised against the Protestants, there was a most violent persecution of them in the year 1572, in the reign of Charles IX. Many of the principal Protestants were invited to Paris under a solemn oath of safety, upon occasion of the marriage of the king of Navarre with the French king's sister. The queen dowager of Navarre, a zealous Protestant, however, was poisoned by a pair of gloves before the marriage was solemnized. Coligni, admiral of France, was basely murdered in his own house, and then thrown out of the window to gratify the malice of the duke of Guise: his head was afterwards cut off, and sent to the king and queen-mother; and his body, after a thousand indignities offered to it, hung by the feet on a gibbet. After this the murderers ravaged the whole city of Paris, and butchered in three days, above ten thousand lords, gentlemen, presidents, and people of all ranks.
A horrible scene of things, says Thuanus, when the very streets and passengers resounded with the noise of those that met together for murder and plunder; and groans of those who were dying, and the shrieks of such as were just going to be butchered, were everywhere heard; the bodies of the slain thrown out of the windows; the courts and chambers of the houses filled with them; the dead bodies of others dragged through the streets; their blood running through the channels in such plenty, that torrents seemed to empty themselves in the neighbouring river, in a word, an innumerable multitude of men, women with child, maidens, and children, were all involved in one common destruction; and the gates and entrances of the king's palace all besmeared with their blood. From the city of Paris the massacre spread throughout the whole kingdom. In the city of Meaux they threw above two hundred into gaol; and after they had ravished and killed a great number of women, and plundered the houses of the Protestants, they executed their fury on those they had imprisoned; and calling them one by one, they were killed, as Thuanus expresses, like sheep in a market. In Orleans they murdered above five hundred, men, women, and children, and enriched themselves with the spoil.
The same cruelties were practised at Angers, Troyes, Bouges, La Charite, and especially at Lyons, where they inhumanly destroyed above eight hundred Protestants; children hanging on their parents's necks; parents embracing their children; putting ropes about the necks of some, dragging them through the streets, and throwing them, mangled, torn, and half dead, into the river. According to Thuanus, above 30, 000 Protestants were destroyed in this massacre; or, as others affirm, above 100, 000. But what aggravates these scenes with still greater wantonness and cruelty, was, the manner in which the news was received at Rome. When the letters of the pope's legate were read in the assembly of the cardinals, by which he assured the pope that all was transacted by the express will and command of the king, it was immediately decreed that the pope should march with his cardinals to the church of St. Mark, and in the most solemn manner give thanks to God for so great a blessing conferred on the see of Rome and the Christian world; and that, on the Monday after, solemn mass should be celebrated in the church of Minerva, at which the pope, Gregory, XIII. and cardinals were present; and that a jubilee should be published throughout the whole Christian world, and the cause of it declared to be, to return thanks to God for the extirpation of the enemies of the truth and church in France. In the evening the cannon of St. Angelo were fired to testify the public joy; the whole city illuminated with bonfires; and no one sign of rejoicing omitted that was usually made for the greatest victories obtained in favour of the Roman church!!! But all these persecutions were, however, far exceeded in cruelty by those which took place in the time of Louis XIV.
It cannot be pleasant to any man's feelings, who has the least humanity, to recite these dreadful scenes of horror, cruelty, and devastation; but to show what superstition, bigotry, and fanaticism are capable of producing, and for the purpose of holding up the spirit of persecution to contempt, we shall here give as concise a detail as possible. The troopers, soldiers, and dragoons, went into the Protestants' houses, where they marred and defaced their household stuff; broke their looking- glasses and other utensils; threw about their corn and wine; sold what they could not destroy; and thus, in four or five days, the Protestants were stripped of above a million of money. But this was not the worst: they turned the dining rooms of gentlemen into stables for horses, and treated the owners of the houses where they quartered with the greatest cruelty, lashing them about, not suffering them to eat or drink. When they saw the blood and sweat run down their faces, they sluiced them with water, and, putting over their heads kettle-drums turned upside down, they made a continual din upon them till these unhappy creatures lost their senses. At Negreplisse, a town near Montaubon, they hung up Isaac Favin, a Protestant citizen of that place, by his arm-pits, and tormented him a whole night by pinching and tearing off his flesh with pincers.
They made a great fire round about a boy, twelve years old, who, with hands and eyes lifted up to heaven, cried out, "My God, help me!" and when they found the youth resolved to die rather than renounce his religion, they snatched him from the fire just as he was on the point of being burnt. In several places the soldiers applied red hot irons to the hands and feet of men, and the breasts of women. At Nantes, they hung up several women and maids by their feet, and others by their arm-pits, and thus exposed them to public view stark naked. They bound mothers, that gave suck, to posts, and let their sucking infants lie languishing in their sight for several days and nights, crying and gasping for life. Some they bound before a great fire, and, being half toasted, let them go; a punishment worse than death. Amidst a thousand hideous cries, they hung up men and women by the hair, and some by their feet, on hooks in chimneys, and smoked them with wisps of wet hay till they suffocated. They tied some under the arms with ropes, and plunged them again and again into wells; they bound others, put them to torture, and with a funnel filled them with wine till the fumes of it took away their reason, when they made them say they consented to be Catholics. They stripped them naked, and, after a thousand indignities, stuck them with pins and needles from head to foot. In some places they tied fathers and husbands to their bed-posts, and, before their eyes, ravished their wives and daughters with impunity.
They blew up men and women with bellows till they burst them. If any, to escape these barbarities, endeavoured to save themselves by flight, they pursued them into the fields and woods, where they shot at them, like wild beasts, and prohibited them from departing the kingdom (a cruelty never practised by Nero or Dioclesian, ) upon pain of confiscation of effects, the galleys, the lash, and perpetual imprisonment. With these scenes of desolation and horror the popish clergy feasted their eyes, and made only matter of laughter and sport of them!!! ENGLAND has also been the seat of much persecution. Though Wickliffe, the first reformer, died peaceably in his bed, yet such was the malice and spirit of persecuting Rome, that his bones were ordered to be dug up, and cast upon a dunghill. The remains of this excellent man were accordingly dug out of the grave, where they had lain undisturbed four-and-forty years. His bones were burnt, and the ashes cast into an adjoining brook. In the reign of Henry VIII. Bilney, Bayman, and many other reformers were burnt; but when queen Mary came to the throne, the most severe persecutions took place. Hooper and Rogers were burnt in a slow fire. Saunders was cruelly tormented a long time at the stake before he expired. Taylor was put into a barrel of pitch, and fire set to it. Eight illustrious persons, among whom was Ferrar, bishop of St. David's, were sought out, and burnt by the infamous Bonner in a few days. Sixty-seven persons were this year, A. D. 1555, burnt, amongst whom were the famous Protestants, Bradford, Ridley, Latimer, and Philpot.
In the following year, 1556, eighty-five persons were burnt. Women suffered; and one, in the flames, which burst her womb, being near her time of delivery, a child fell from her into the fire, which being snatched out by some of the observers more humane that the rest, the magistrate ordered the babe to be again thrown into the fire, and burnt. Thus even the unborn child was burnt for heresy! O God, what is human nature when left to itself! Alas! dispositions ferocious as infernal then reign, and usurp the heart of man! The queen erected a commission court, which was followed by the destruction of near eighty more. Upon the whole, the number of those who suffered death for the reformed religion in this reign, were no less that two hundred and seventy-seven persons; of whom were five bishops, twenty-one clergymen, eight gentlemen, eight-four tradesmen, one hundred husbandmen, labourers, and servants, fifty-five women, and four children. Besides these, there were fifty-four more under prosecution, seven of whom were whipped, and sixteen perished in prison. Nor was the reign of Elizabeth free from this persecuting spirit. If any one refused to consent to the least ceremony in worship, he was cast into prison, where many of the most excellent men in the land perished.
Two Protestant Anabaptists were burnt, and many banished. She also, it is said, put two Brownists to death; and though her whole reign was distinguished for its political prosperity, yet it is evident that she did not understand the rights of conscience; for it is said that more sanguinary laws were made in her reign than in any of her predecessors, and her hands were stained with the blood both of Papists and Puritans. James I. succeeded Elizabeth; he published a proclamation, commanding all Protestants to conform strictly, and without any exception, to all the rites and ceremonies of the church of England. Above five hundred clergy were immediately silenced, or degraded, for not complying. Some were excommunicated, and some banished the country. The Dissenters were distressed, censured, and fined, in the Star-chamber. Two persons were burnt for heresy, one at Smithfield, and the other at Litchfield. Worn out with endless vexations, and unceasing persecutions, many retired into Holland, and from thence to America. It is witnessed by a judicious historian, that, in this and some following reigns, 22, 000 persons were banished from England by persecution to America. In Charles the First's time arose the persecuting Laud, who was the occasion of distress to numbers. Dr. Leighton, for writing a book against the hierarchy, was fined ten thousand pounds, perpetual imprisonment, and whipping. He was whipped, and then placed in the pillory; one of his ears cut off, one side of his nose slit; branded on the cheek with a red hot iron, with the letters S. S. whipped a second time, and placed in the pillory.
A fortnight afterwards, his sores being yet uncured, he had the other ear cut off, the other side of his nose slit, and the other cheek branded. He continued in prison till the long parliament set him at liberty. About four years afterwards, William Prynn, a barrister, for a book he wrote against the sports on the Lord's day, was deprived from practising at Lincoln's Inn, degraded from his degree at Oxford, set in the pillory, had his ears cut off, imprisoned for life, and fined five thousand pounds. Nor were the Presbyterians, when their government came to be established in England, free from the charge of persecution. In 1645 an ordinance was published, subjecting all who preached or wrote against the Presbyterian directory for public worship to a fine not exceeding fifty pounds; and imprisonment for a year, for the third offence, in using the episcopal book of common prayer, even in a private family. In the following year the Presbyterians applied to Parliament, pressing them to enforce uniformity in religion, and to extirpate popery, prelacy, heresy, schism, &c. but their petition was rejected; yet in 1648 the parliament, ruled by them, published an ordinance against heresy, and determined that any person who maintained, published, or defended the following errors, should suffer death. These errors were.
1. Denying the being of a God.
2. Denying his omnipresence, omniscience, &c.
3. Denying the Trinity in any way.
4. Denying that Christ had two natures.
5. Denying the resurrection, the atonement, the Scriptures. In Charles the Second's reign the act of uniformity passed, by which two thousand clergymen were deprived of their benefices. Then followed the conventicle act, and the Oxford act, under which, it is said, eight thousand persons were imprisoned and reduced to want, and many to the grave. In this reign also, the Quakers were much persecuted, and numbers of them imprisoned. Thus we see how England had bled under the hand of bigotry and persecution; nor was toleration enjoyed until William III. came to the throne, who showed himself a warm friend to the rights of conscience. The accession of the present royal family was auspicious to religious liberty; and as their majesties have always befriended the toleration, the spirit of persecution has been long curbed. Ireland has likewise been drenched with the blood of the Protestants, forty or fifty thousand of whom were cruelly murdered in a few days, in different parts of the kingdom, in the reign of Charles I. It began on the 23d of October, 1641. Having secured the principal gentlemen, and seized their effects, they murdered the common people in cold blood, forcing many thousands to fly from their houses and settlements naked into the bogs and woods, where they perished with hunger and cold.
Some they whipped to death, others they stripped naked, and exposed to shame, and then drove them like herds of swine to perish in the mountains: many hundreds were drowned in rivers, some had their throats cut, others were dismembered. With some the execrable villians made themselves sport, trying who could hack the deepest into an Englishman's flesh: wives and young virgins abused in the presence of their nearest relations; nay, they taught their children to strip and kill the children of the English, and dash out their brains against the stones. Thus many thousands were massacred in a few days, without distinction of age, sex, or quality, before they suspected their danger, or had time to provide for their defence. Scotland, Spain &c. Besides the above-mentioned persecutions, there have been several others carried on in different parts of the world. Scotland for many years together has been the scene of cruelty and blood-shed, till it was delivered by the monarch at the revolution. Spain, Italy, and the valley of Piedmont, and other places, have been the seats of much persecution. Popery, we see has had the greatest hand in this mischievous work. It has to answer, also, for the lives of millions of Jews, Mahometans, and barbarians. When the Moors conquered Spain, in the eighth century, they allowed the Christians the free exercise of their religion; but in the fifteenth century, when the Moors were overcome, and Ferdinand subdued the Moriscoes, the descendants of the above Moors, many thousands were forced to be baptised, or burnt, massacred, or banished, and the children sold for slaves; besides innumerable Jews, who shared the same cruelties, chiefly by means of the infernal courts of inquisition.
A worst slaughter, if possible, was made among the natives of Spanish America, where fifteen millions are said to have been sacrificed to the genius of popery in about forty years. It has been computed that fifty millions of Protestants have at different times been the victims of the persecutions of the Papists, and put to death for their religious opinions. Well, therefore, might the inspired penman say, that at mystic Babylon's destruction, 'was found in her the blood of prophets, of saints, and of all that was slain upon the earth, ' Revelation 18:24 . To conclude this article, Who can peruse the account here given without feeling the most painful emotions, and dropping a tear over the madness and depravity of mankind? Does it not show us what human beings are capable of when influenced by superstition, bigotry, and prejudice?
Have not these baneful principles metamorphosed men into infernals; and entirely extinguished all the feelings of humanity, the dictates of conscience, and the voice of reason? Alas! what has sin done to make mankind such curses to one another? Merciful God! by they great power suppress this worst of all evils, and let truth and love, meekness and forbearance universally prevail! Limborch's Introduction to his History of the Inquisition; Memoirs of the Persecutions of the Protestants in France by Lewis De Enarolles; Comber's History of the Parisian Massacre of St. Bartholomew; A. Robinson's History of Persecution; Lockman's History of Popish Persec. Clark's Looking-Glass for Persecutors; Doddridge's Sermon on Persecution; Jortin's ditto, ser. 9. vol. 4: Bower's Lives of the Popes; Fox's Martyrs; Woodrow's History of the Sufferings of the Church of Scotland; Neal's History of the Puritans, and of New England; History of the Bohemian Persecutions.
Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary 
is any pain or affliction which a person designedly inflicts upon another; and, in a more restrained sense, the sufferings of Christians on account of their religion. The establishment of Christianity was opposed by the powers of the world, and occasioned several severe persecutions against Christians, during the reigns of several Roman emperors. Though the absurdities of polytheism were openly derided and exposed by the Apostles and their successors, yet it does not appear that any public laws were enacted against Christianity till the reign of Nero, A.D. 64, by which time it had acquired considerable stability and extent. As far the greater number of the first converts to Christianity were of the Jewish nation, one secondary cause for their being so long preserved from persecution may probably be deduced from their appearing to the Roman governors only as a sect of Jews, who had seceded from the rest of their brethren on account of some opinion, trifling in its importance, and perhaps difficult to be understood. Nor, when their brethren were fully discovered to have cast off the religion of the synagogue, did the Jews find it easy to infuse into the breasts of the Roman magistrates that rancour and malice which they themselves experienced. But the steady, and uniform opposition made by the Christians to Heathen superstition could not long pass unnoticed. Their open attacks upon Paganism made them extremely obnoxious to the populace, by whom they were represented as a society of atheists, who, by attacking the religious constitution of the empire, merited the severest animadversion of the civil magistrate. Horrid tales of their abominations were circulated throughout the empire; and the minds of the Pagans were, from all these circumstances, prepared to regard with pleasure or indifference every cruelty which could be inflicted upon this despised sect. Historians usually reckon ten general persecutions.
First general persecution. —Nero selected the Christians as a grateful sacrifice to the Roman people, and endeavoured to transfer to this hated sect the guilt of which he was strongly suspected; that of having caused and enjoined the fire which had nearly desolated the city. ( See Nero . ) This persecution was not confined to Rome: the emperor issued edicts against the Christians throughout most of the provinces of the empire. He was far, however, from obtaining the object of his hopes and expectations; and the virtues of the Christians, their zeal for the truth, and their constancy in suffering, must have considerably contributed to make their tenets more generally known.
Second general persecution. —From the death of Nero to the reign of Domitian, the Christians remained unmolested and daily increasing; but toward the close of the first century, they were again involved in all the horrors of persecution. In this persecution many eminent Christians suffered; but the death, of Domitian soon delivered them from this calamity.
Third general persecution. —This persecution began in the third year of the Emperor Trajan, A.D. 100. Many things contributed toward it; as the laws of the empire, the emperor's zeal for his religion, and aversion to Christianity, and the prejudices of the Pagans, supported by falsehoods and calumnies against the Christians. Under the plausible pretence of their holding illegal meetings and societies, they were severely persecuted by the governors and other officers; in which persecution great numbers fell by the rage of popular tumult, as well as by laws and processes. This persecution continued several years, with different degrees of severity in many parts of the empire; and was so much the more afflicting, because the Christians generally suffered under the notion of malefactors and traitors, and under an emperor famed for his singular justice and moderation. The most noted martyr in this persecution was Clement, bishop of Rome. After some time the fury of this persecution was abated, but did not cease during the whole reign of Trajan. In the eighth year of his successor Adrian, it broke out with new rage. This is by some called the fourth general persecution; but is more commonly considered as a revival or continuance of the third.
Fourth general persecution. —This took place under Antoninus the philosopher; and at different places, with several intermissions, and different degrees of severity, it continued the greater part of his reign. Antoninus himself has been much excused as to this persecution. As the character of the virtuous Trajan, however, is sullied by the martyrdom of Ignatius, so the reign of the philosophic Marcus is for ever disgraced by the sacrifice of the venerable Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, the friend and companion of St. John. A few days previous to his death, he is said to have dreamed that his pillow was on fire. When urged by the proconsul to renounce Christ, he replied, "Fourscore and six years have I served him, and he has never done me an injury: can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?" Several miracles are reported to have happened at his death. The flames, as if unwilling to injure his sacred person, are said to have arched over his head; and it is added, that at length, being despatched with a sword, a dove flew out of the wound; and that from the pile proceeded a most fragrant smell. It is obvious that the arching of the flames might be an accidental effect, which the enthusiastic veneration of his disciples might convert into a miracle; and as to the story of the dove, &c, Eusebius himself apparently did not credit it; since he has omitted it in his narrative of the transaction. Among many other victims of persecution in this philosophic reign, we must also record that of the excellent and learned Justin. But it was at Lyons and Vienne in Gaul, that the most shocking scenes were acted. Among many nameless sufferers, history has preserved from oblivion Pothinus, the respectable bishop of Lyons, who was then more than ninety years of age; Sanctus, a deacon of Vienne; Attalus, a native of Pergamus; Maturus, and Alexander; some of whom were devoured by wild beasts, and some of them tortured in an iron chair made red hot. Some females, also, and particularly Biblias and Blandina, reflected honour both upon their sex and religion by their constancy and courage.
Fifth general persecution. —A considerable part of the reign of Severus proved so far favourable to the Christians, that no additions were made to the severe edicts already in force against them. For this lenity they were probably indebted to Proculus, a Christian, who, in a very extraordinary manner, cured the emperor of a dangerous distemper by the application of oil. But this degree of peace, precarious as it was, and frequently interrupted by the partial execution of severe laws, was terminated by an edict, A.D. 197, which prohibited every subject of the empire, under severe penalties, from embracing the Jewish or Christian faith. This law appears, upon a first view, designed merely to impede the farther progress of Christianity; but it incited the magistracy to enforce the laws of former emperors, which were still existing, against the Christians; and during seven years they were exposed to a rigorous persecution in Palestine, Egypt, the rest of Africa, Italy, Gaul, and other parts. In this persecution Leonidas, the father of Origen, and Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons, suffered martyrdom. On this occasion Tertullian composed his "Apology." The violence of Pagan intolerance was most severely felt in Egypt, and particularly at Alexandria.
Sixth general persecution. —This persecution began with the reign of the Emperor Maximinus, A.D. 235, and seems to have arisen from that prince's hatred to his predecessor, Alexander, in whose family many Christians had found shelter and patronage. Though this persecution was very severe in some places, yet we have the names of only a few martyrs. Origen at this time was very industrious in supporting the Christians under these fiery trials.
Seventh general persecution. —This was the most dreadful persecution that ever had been known in the church. During the short reign of Decius, the Christians were exposed to greater calamities than any they had hitherto suffered. It has been said, and with some probability, that the Christians were involved in this persecution by their attachment to the family of the Emperor Philip. Considerable numbers were publicly destroyed; several purchased safety by bribes, or secured it by flight; and many deserted from the faith, and willingly consented to burn incense on the altars of the gods. The city of Alexandria, the great theatre of persecution, had even anticipated the edicts of the emperor, and had put to death a number of innocent persons, among whom were some women. The imperial edict for persecuting the Christians was published A.D. 249; and shortly after, Fabianus, bishop of Rome, with a number of his followers, was put to death. The venerable bishops of Jerusalem and Antioch died in prison, the most cruel tortures were employed, and the numbers that perished are by all parties confessed to have been very considerable.
Eighth general persecution. —The Emperor Valerian, in the fourth year of his reign, A.D. 257, listening to the suggestions of Macrinus, a magician of Egypt, was prevailed upon to persecute the Christians, on pretence that by their wicked and execrable charms they hindered the prosperity of the emperor. Macrinus advised him to perform many impious rites, sacrifices, and incantations; to cut the throats of infants, &c; and edicts were published in all places against the Christians, who were exposed without protection to the common rage. We have the names of several martyrs, among whom were the famous St. Laurence, archdeacon of Rome, and the great St. Cyprian, bishop of Carthage.
Ninth general persecution. —This persecution took place under the Emperor Aurelian, A.D. 274; but it was so small and inconsiderable, that it gave little interruption to the peace of the church.
Tenth general persecution. —The tenth and last general persecution of the Christians began in the nineteenth year of the Emperor Diocletian, A.D. 303. The most violent promoters of it were Hierocles the philosopher, who wrote against the Christian religion, and Galerius, whom Diocletian had declared Caesar. This latter was excited not only by his own cruelty and superstition, but likewise by his mother, who was a zealous Pagan. Diocletian, contrary to his inclination was prevailed upon to authorize the persecution by his edicts. Accordingly, it began in the city of Nicomedia, whence it spread into other cities and provinces, and became at last universal. Great numbers of Christians suffered the severest tortures in this persecution, though the accounts given of it by succeeding historians are probably exaggerated. There is, however, sufficient of well authenticated facts to assure us amply of the cruel and intolerant disposition of the professors of Pagan philosophy. The human imagination was, indeed, almost exhausted in inventing a variety of tortures. Some were impaled alive; some had their limbs broken, and in that condition were left to expire. Some were roasted by slow fires; and some suspended by their feet with their heads downward, and, a fire being placed under them, were suffocated by the smoke. Some had melted lead poured down their throats, and the flesh of some was torn off with shells, and others had splinters of reeds thrust under the nails of their fingers and toes. The few who were not capitally punished had their limbs and their features mutilated. It would be endless to enumerate the victims, of superstition. The bishops of Nicomedia, of Tyre, of Sidon, of Emesa, several matrons and virgins of the purest character, and a nameless number of plebeians, arrived at immortality through the flames of martyrdom. At last it pleased God that the Emperor Constantine, who himself afterward became a Christian, openly declared for the Christians, and published the first law in favour of them. The death of Maximin, emperor of the east, soon after put a period to all their troubles; and this was the great epoch when Christianity triumphantly got possession of the thrones of princes.
The guilt of persecution has, however, been attached to professing Christians. Had men been guided solely by the spirit and the precepts of the Gospel, the conduct of its blessed Author, and the writings and example of his immediate disciples, we might have boldly affirmed that among Christians there could be no tendency to encroach upon freedom of discussion, and no approach to persecution. The Gospel, in every page of it, inculcates tenderness and mercy; it exhibits the most unwearied indulgence to the frailties and errors of men; and it represents charity as the badge of those who in sincerity profess it. In St. Paul's inimitable description of this grace he has drawn a picture of mutual forbearance and kindness and toleration, upon which it is scarcely possible to dwell, without being raised superior to every contracted sentiment, and glowing with the most diffusive benevolence. In the churches which he planted he had often to counteract the efforts of teachers who had laboured to subvert the foundation which he had laid, to misrepresent his motives, and to inculcate doctrines which, through the inspiration that was imparted to him, he discerned to proceed from the most perverted views, and to be inconsistent with the great designs of the Gospel. These teachers he strenuously and conscientiously opposed; he endeavoured to show the great importance of those to whom he wrote being on their guard against them; and he evinced the most ardent zeal in resisting their insidious purposes: but he never, in the most distant manner, insinuated that they should be persecuted, adhering always to the maxim which he had laid down, that the weapons of a Christian's warfare are not carnal but spiritual. He does, indeed, sometimes speak of heretics; and he even exhorts that, after expostulation with him, a heretic should be rejected, and not acknowledged to be a member of the church to which he had once belonged. But that precept of the Apostle has no reference to the persecution which it has sometimes been conceived to sanction, and which has been generally directed against men quite sincere in their belief, however erroneous that belief may be esteemed.
Upon a subject thus enforced by precept and example, it is not to be supposed that the first converts, deriving their notions of Christianity immediately from our Lord or his Apostles, could have any opinion different in theory, at least, from that which has been now established. Accordingly, we find that the primitive fathers, although, in many respects, they erred, unequivocally express themselves in favour of the most ample liberty as to religious sentiment, and highly disapprove of every attempt to control it. Passages from many of these writers might be quoted to establish that this was almost the universal sentiment till the age of Constantine. Lactantius in particular has, with great force and beauty, delivered his opinion against persecution: "There is no need of compulsion and violence, because religion cannot be forced; and men must be made willing, not by stripes, but by arguments. Slaughter and piety are quite opposite to each other; nor can truth consist with violence, or justice with cruelty. They are convinced that nothing is more excellent than religion, and therefore think that it ought to be defended with force; but they are mistaken, both in the nature of religion, and in proper methods to support it; for religion is to be defended, not by murder, but by persuasion; not by cruelty, but by patience; not by wickedness, but by faith. If you attempt to defend religion by blood, and torments, and evil, this is not to defend, but to violate and pollute it; for there is nothing that should be more free than the choice of religion, in which, if consent be wanting, it becomes entirely void and ineffectual."
The general conduct of Christians during the first three centuries was in conformity with the admirable maxims now quoted. Eusebius has recorded that Polycarp, after in vain endeavouring to persuade Anicetus, who was bishop of Rome, to embrace his opinion as to some point with respect to which they differed, gave him, notwithstanding, the kiss of peace, while Anicetus communicated with the martyr; and Irenaeus mentions that although Polycarp was much offended with the Gnostic heretics, who abounded in his days, he converted numbers of them, not by the application of constraint or violence, but by the facts and arguments which he calmly submitted for their consideration. It must be admitted, however, that even during the second century some traces of persecution are to be found. Victor, one of the early pontiffs, because the Asiatic bishops differed from him about the rule for the observation of Easter, excommunicated them as guilty of heresy; and he acted in the same manner toward a person who held what he considered as erroneous notions respecting the trinity. This stretch of authority was, indeed, reprobated by the generality of Christians, and remonstrances against it were accordingly presented. There was, however, in this proceeding of Victor, too clear a proof that the church was beginning to deviate from the perfect charity by which it had been adorned, and too sure an indication that the example of one who held so high an office, when it was in harmony with the corruption or with the worst passions of our nature, would be extensively followed. But still there was, in the excommunication rashly pronounced by the pope, merely an exertion of ecclesiastical power, not interfering with the personal security, with the property, or with the lives of those against whom it was directed; and we may, notwithstanding this slight exception, consider the first three centuries as marked by the candour and the benevolence implied in the charity which judgeth not, and thinketh no evil.
It was after Christianity had been established as the religion of the empire, and after wealth and honour had been conferred on its ministers, that the monstrous evil of persecution acquired gigantic strength, and threw its blasting influence over the religion of the Gospel. The causes of this are apparent. Men exalted in the scale of society were eager to extend the power which had been intrusted to them; and they sought to do so by exacting from the people acquiescence in the peculiar interpretations of tenets and doctrines which they chose to publish as articles of faith. The moment that this was attempted, the foundation was laid for the most inflexible intolerance; because reluctance to submit was no longer regarded solely as a matter of conscience, but as interfering with the interest and the dominion of the ruling party. It was therefore proceeded against with all the eagerness which men so unequivocally display when the temporal blessings that gratify their ambition or add to their comfort are attempted to be wrested from them. To other dictates than those of the word of God the members of the church now listened; and opinions were viewed, not in reference to that word, but to the effect which they might produce upon the worldly advancement or prosperity of those by whom they were avowed. From the era, then, of the conversion of Constantine we may date, if not altogether the introduction, at least the decisive influence of persecution.
Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology 
Just as the Bible graphically describes the introduction and spread of sin in the world, it also depicts the presence and reality of oppression and persecution in the world and presents many examples of people persecuting God, people persecuting people, nations persecuting nations, the wicked persecuting the righteous, and even, in some cases, the righteous persecuting the wicked or other righteous persons.
The Meaning of Persecution . The primary Hebrew word for persecution, radap [ Genesis 44:4; Luke 17:23 ), press on ( Proverbs 11:19; Philippians 3:12 ); their meanings can be extended to include pursuing or pressing on, to oppress, harass ( Deuteronomy 30:7; Job 19:22; Acts 8:1 ), and also to bring to judgment or punishment ( Jeremiah 29:18; Lamentations 3:43; Matthew 5:11-12; Luke 11:49 ). Two other Greek words, also sometimes used to mean "oppress, " "persecute, " are thlipsis [Θλῖψις] (oppression, affliction) and thlibo [Θλίβω] (press on, oppress; in the passive, to be oppressed, persecuted).
The Nature of Persecution . Both the Old Testament and New Testament give examples of physical, social, mental, and spiritual persecution. Physical persecution includes taking another's life ( Genesis 4 , Cain murdering Abel) or maiming the body ( Exodus 22,23 ). Social persecution (sometimes called discrimination) consists of making individuals or a group outcasts. An example of extreme mental and spiritual persecution is seen when Peter and John were threatened not to preach the gospel ( Acts 5:28,40 ).
The Objects of the Persecution . The Bible teaches that those who follow Christ and God's Word and who practice his commandments will be persecuted. Examples in the Old Testament include Abel, who offered a better sacrifice than Cain ( Genesis 4:4-10; Hebrews 11:4 ); Lot, also a "righteous man who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men" ( 2 Peter 2:7 ) who rejected him and who "kept bringing pressure on [him] and moved forward to break down the door" of his house in Sodom ( Genesis 19:9 ); Elijah, who spoke against the prophets of Baal ( 1 Kings 18:25-40 ) and against the idolatry of Israel ( 1 Kings 18:16-21 ), and was persecuted by Jezebel for his godly stand ( 1 Kings 19:1-3 ); David, who conducted himself in a godly manner despite the machinations and pursuit of Saul ( 1 Samuel 9-27:1 ); Jeremiah, who spoke God's message of condemnation against Judah for her sins and the coming judgment against her to be brought by the Babylonians ( Jeremiah 9:11,13-16; 21:3-7; 25:1-14 ), had his message rejected ( Jeremiah 36-37 ), was beaten ( Jeremiah 37:15 ), and finally dropped into a muddy cistern ( Jeremiah 38:6-13 ). Examples in the New Testament include John the Baptist, who spoke out against the adultery of Herod Antipas and was beheaded ( Mark 6:21-29 ); Stephen, the deacon, who, preaching the gospel before the Sanhedrin and proclaiming God's judgment because of the sins of the people, was rejected and stoned ( Acts 6:5; 7:1-60 ); Paul, who was persecuted, beaten, and imprisoned as he preached from place to place, and was finally killed in Rome ( 2 Timothy 4:6-8 ); and climactically, Jesus himself who preached God's grace and judgment ( Matthew 4:17; 11:28-29 ), was persecuted by his hearers ( Luke 4:28-30 ), plotted against by his adversaries ( Mark 3:6 ), rejected ( Luke 13:34; John 6:66 ), tried ( John 18:12-40 ), and finally crucified ( John 19:16-37; Philippians 2:9 ). His was a perfect and God-honoring life and message, reflected in part by the Old Testament prophets whom, as Jesus reminds them, they had also persecuted and killed ( Matthew 23:29-36 ). All of this persecution of the godly came as the result of the sin and the animosity of sinners who rejected these who lived godly lives and also rejected their message that sinners must repent ( Acts 2:38 ) and turn in faith to Jesus Christ for salvation ( 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 ).
The Lord, too, in his righteous indignation, raised up adversaries against his backsliding people, against Abimelech for his murder of his seventy brothers, sons of Gideon ( Judges 9:22-25 ); against Solomon for his sin ( 1 Kings 11:14,23 ); against rebellious Israel ( 2 Kings 17:7-20 ); and against Judah ( Jeremiah 20:4 ) and Babylon for their wicked, ungodly Acts ( Jeremiah 25:12-14 ). Also the Lord, through natural elements and his own direct power, brings persecution and calamity on the whole world ( Genesis 6-7 Matthew 24:21,29; Mark 13:19 ).
Reasons for Persecution . The Bible gives examples of good people pursuing and persecuting others ( Judges 8:16 ,; Gideon against the men of Succoth, to teach them a lesson Mark 9:38-41 ,; the disciples, in prejudice, opposing a brother witnessing to God's power ). However, in contrast, the Scriptures teach that we are to love our enemies, "because he [God] is kind to the ungrateful and wicked" ( Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:35 ), and to exercise forbearance and mercy, because "It is mine to avenge; I will repay, ' says the Lord" ( Romans 12:19; Deuteronomy 32:35 ). The Scriptures are also full of examples of evil persons persecuting the good and righteous persons for various reasons, such as jealousy for a godly sacrifice ( Genesis 4:2-10 ); revenge for a godly humanitarian deed done ( 1 Samuel 21:1-19 ); vengeance for action against heathen worship ( 1 Kings 19:2 ,; Jezebel against Elijah ); vengeance for warnings against idolatry and ungodly living, as exemplified by opposition to the messages of Jeremiah and John the Baptist ( Jeremiah 37; Matthew 4:1-12 ); vengeance against preaching the gospel and condemnation of rebellion against God ( Acts 7:54-60 ); opposition to the Jerusalem church for its stand for Jesus ( Acts 8:1; 11:19 ), to the Thessalonian Christians for their stand for Christ ( 1 Thessalonians 3:3-4 ) to Paul for his faithfulness to the Lord Jesus ( 2 Corinthians 11:16-33; cf. Galatians 6:17 ), etc.
A godly testimony will often result in ridicule, scorn, deprivation, physical harm, and even death. Jesus and his disciples were, are, and will be, subject to ridicule/insult: Jesus, "despised and rejected of men" ( Isaiah 53:3; Matthew 27:39; 1 Peter 2:23 ) and finally crucified ( John 19:16-18 ); his disciples, insulted ( Matthew 5:11 ), jeered ( Hebrews 11:36 ), mistreated (v. 25), deprived (clothed in sheepskins and goatskins), destitute, persecuted, wandering in deserts and mountains, "in caves and holes in the ground" (vv. 37-38), tortured (v. 35), sawed in two (v. 37), jailed ( Acts 5:18; 16:23 ), flogged ( Hebrews 11:36 ), chained (v. 36), "shut the mouths of lions" (v. 33), "put to death by the sword" (v. 37), "quenched the fury of the flames" (v. 34), and stone (v. 37; Acts 7:59 ).
The underlying biblical reasons given for persecution consist of an antipathy of evil toward the good ( Romans 8:6-8 ); of wicked men opposing God and rejecting his divine precepts ( Romans 3:10-18 ). Jesus indicated that since the world hated him, it will hate his disciples ( John 15:18-19 ), and declared that if they persecuted him, they will also persecute his disciples (v. 20). The Bible's climactic teaching about the believer and persecution: "Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" ( 2 Timothy 3:12 ).
Reaction to Persecution . Forbearance: Turn the other cheek ( Matthew 5:38-42 ). Mercy: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this you will heap burning coals on his head" ( Romans 12:20 ). Love: "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" ( Matthew 5:44 ). Confidence: "It is mine to avenge; I will repay, ' says the Lord" ( Romans 12:19 ). Realization: "If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also" ( John 15:20 ). Concentration on Jesus: "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith" ( Hebrews 12:2 ). A firm stand with Paul and other saints: "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that dayand not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing" ( 2 Timothy 4:7-8 ). Challenge: "You should follow in his steps. He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.' When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly" ( 1 Peter 2:21-23 ).
W. Harold Mare
Bibliography . G. W. Bromiley, ISBE, 3:771-74; W. H. C. Frend, Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church ; W. S. Reid, ZPEB, 4:704-7; H. Schlier, TDNT, 3:139-48; W. B. Workman, Persecution in the Early Church .
Bridgeway Bible Dictionary 
Those who love evil rather than good will inevitably want to persecute those who desire to live godly lives ( John 3:19-20; 2 Timothy 3:12). Christians should not be surprised when they suffer persecution. If they show themselves to be Christ’s people, they can expect the sort of opposition that Christ suffered. They should consider it a privilege to suffer for Christ’s sake ( Matthew 5:10-11; John 15:20; Acts 5:41; 2 Corinthians 12:10; 1 Peter 4:12-13).
Both Jesus and the New Testament writers taught Christians that they should pray for their persecutors. Certainly they should not try to return evil upon those who attack them. God’s people should have confidence in him that, when they are persecuted, they will know how to act and what to say ( Matthew 5:44; Matthew 10:17-20; Romans 12:14; 1 Peter 2:21-24; 1 Peter 4:14-16).
Persecution tests the genuineness of a person’s faith, but true believers will endure it, knowing that God will not forsake them ( Matthew 13:21; Romans 5:3-5; Romans 8:35; 2 Corinthians 4:9; 2 Thessalonians 1:4). The early Christians proved the reality of God’s presence with them when they suffered persecution, much of which was at the hands of the Jews ( Acts 4:29-31; Acts 5:17-21; Acts 7:54-56; Acts 18:9-10; 2 Timothy 4:17).
This persecution came first from the Sadducees ( Acts 4:1-3; Acts 5:17; Acts 5:27-28), then from the Pharisees, whose fiery leader was the young Saul of Tarsus ( Acts 7:58-60; Acts 8:1-3; Acts 9:4; Galatians 1:13; Philippians 3:6). When Saul the persecutor was converted to Paul the Christian preacher, he himself was persecuted by the Jews, violently and unceasingly ( Acts 9:15-16; Acts 14:19-20; Acts 16:22-24; Acts 21:35-36; 2 Corinthians 11:23-25). In his preaching Paul warned of the persecution that believers could expect; yet people continued to turn to God. And as Paul warned, they met opposition from their fellow citizens ( Acts 14:22; 1 Thessalonians 1:6; 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16).
During the reign of Nero the persecution of Christians became government policy throughout the Empire. Government officials and common people alike hated the Christians for their refusal to follow the practices of a society that they considered idolatrous and immoral (1 Peter 2;12; 4:12-16). So severe was the persecution that some Christians were tempted to give up their faith in the hope of avoiding trouble ( Hebrews 10:32-36).
Although official persecution later died down, it increased again towards the end of the century during the reign of the Emperor Domitian. But no matter how great the persecution, God’s people are repeatedly assured that in the end they will triumph ( Revelation 2:13; Revelation 6:9-11; Revelation 12:11; Revelation 19:1-2).
Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible 
PERSECUTION. Jesus Christ frequently warned His disciples that persecution would be the lot of all who followed Him ( John 15:18; John 15:20 ). So far from being dismayed at this, it should be a cause of rejoicing ( Matthew 5:11-12 ). The early Church had not long to wait for the fulfilment of these words. The martyrdom of Stephen was the signal for a fierce outburst of persecution against the Christians of Jerusalem, by which they were scattered in all directions. Saul of Tarsus was the moving spirit in this matter, until, on his road to Damascus to proceed against the Christians there, ‘Christ’s foe became His soldier.’ The conversion of Saul seems to have stayed the persecution. The attempt of Caligula to set up his statue in the Temple at Jerusalem also diverted the attention of the Jews from all else. Hence ‘the churches had rest’ ( Acts 9:31 ).
The next persecution was begun by Herod, who put to death the Apostle St. James, and would have done the same to St. Peter had he not been delivered. Herod’s motive was probably to gain a cheap popularity, but the persecution was ended by his own sudden and terrible death.
After this the history of persecution becomes more the history of the sufferings of certain individuals, such as St. Paul, though passages in the Epistles show us that the spirit of persecution was alive even if the details of what took place are hidden from us ( 1 Thessalonians 2:14 , Hebrews 10:32-33 , 1 Peter 2:19-25 ). Finally, in the Revelation of St. John, the seer makes frequent reference to the persecution and martyrdom of the saints as the lot of the Church in all ages.
King James Dictionary 
PERSECU'TION, n. The act or practice of persecuting the infliction of pain, punishment or death upon others unjustly, particularly for adhering to a religious creed or mode of worship, either by way of penalty or for compelling them to renounce their principles. Historians enumerate ten persecutions suffered by the Christians, beginning with that of Nero, A.D. 31, and ending with that of Diocletian, A.D. 303 to 313.
1. The state of being persecuted.
Our necks are under persecution we labor and have no rest. Lamentations 5
Easton's Bible Dictionary 
2 Kings 21:16
Christians are forbidden to seek the propagation of the gospel by force ( Matthew 7:1; Luke 9:54-56; Romans 14:4; James 4:11,12 ). The words of Psalm 7:13 , "He ordaineth his arrows against the persecutors," ought rather to be, as in the Revised Version, "He maketh his arrows fiery [shafts]."
Webster's Dictionary 
(1): ( n.) A carrying on; prosecution.
(2): ( n.) The state or condition of being persecuted.
(3): ( n.) The act or practice of persecuting; especially, the infliction of loss, pain, or death for adherence to a particular creed or mode of worship.
Charles Spurgeon's Illustration Collection 
The cold water of persecution is often thrown on the church's face to fetch her to herself when she is in a swoon of indolence or pride.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia 
pûr - sḗ - kū´shun ( διωγμός , diōgmós ( Matthew 13:21; Mark 4:17; Mark 10:30; Acts 8:1; Acts 13:50; Romans 8:35; 2 Corinthians 12:10; 2 Thessalonians 1:4; 2 Timothy 3:11 )):
1. Persecution in Old Testament Times
2. Between the Testaments
3. Foretold by Christ
4. A T est of Discipleship
5. A M eans of Blessing
6. Various Forms
7. In the Case of Jesus
8. Instigated by the Jews
10. The Apostles James and Peter
11. Gentile Persecution
Christianity at First Not a Forbidden Religion
12. The Neronic Persecution
(1) Testimony of Tacitus
(2) Reference in 1 Peter
(3) Tacitus Narrative
(4) New Testament References
13. Persecution in Asia
14. Rome as Persecutor
15. Testimony of Pliny, 112 AD
16. 2nd and 3Centuries
18. Causes of Persecution
19. 200 Years of Persecution
20. Persecution in the Army
21. Tertullian's Apology
22. "The Third Race"
23. Hatred against Christians
24. The Decian Persecution
27. Results of Persecution
The importance of this subject may be indicated by the fact of the frequency of its occurrence, both in the Old Testament and New Testament, where in the King James Version the words "persecute," "persecuted," "persecuting" are found no fewer than 53 times, "persecution" 14 times, and "persecutor" 9 times.
1. Persecution in Old Testament Times:
It must not be thought that persecution existed only in New Testament times. In the days of the Old Testament it existed too. In what Jesus said to the Pharisees, He specially referred to the innocent blood which had been shed in those times, and told them that they were showing themselves heirs - to use a legal phrase - to their fathers who had persecuted the righteous, "from the blood of Abel the righteous unto the blood of Zachariah" ( Matthew 23:35 ).
2. Between the Testaments:
In the period between the close of the Old Testament and the coming of Christ, there was much and protracted suffering endured by the Jews, because of their refusal to embrace idolatry, and of their fidelity to the Mosaic Law and the worship of God. During that time there were many patriots who were true martyrs, and those heroes of faith, the Maccabees, were among those who "know their God ... and do exploits" ( Daniel 11:32 ). 'We have no need of human help,' said Jonathan the Jewish high priest, 'having for our comfort the sacred Scriptures which are in our hands' (1 Macc 12:9).
In the Epistle to the Hebrews, persecution in the days of the Old Testament is summed up in these words: "Others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, they were tempted, they were slain with the sword: they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, illtreated (of whom the world was not worthy)" ( Hebrews 11:36-38 ).
3. Foretold by Christ:
Coming now to New Testament times, persecution was frequently foretold by Christ, as certain to come to those who were His true disciples and followers. He forewarned them again and again that it was inevitable. He said that He Himself must suffer it ( Matthew 16:21; Matthew 17:22 , Matthew 17:23; Mark 8:31 ).
4. A T est of Discipleship:
It would be a test of true discipleship. In the parable of the Sower, He mentions this as one of the causes of defection among those who are Christians in outward appearance only. When affliction or persecution ariseth for the word's sake, immediately the stony-ground hearers are offended ( Mark 4:17 ).
5. A M eans of Blessing:
It would be a sure means of gaining a blessing, whenever it came to His loyal followers when they were in the way of well-doing; and He thus speaks of it in two of the Beatitudes, "Blessed are they that have been persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven"; "Blessed are ye when men shall reproach you, and persecute you ... for my sake" ( Matthew 5:10 , Matthew 5:11; see also Matthew 5:12 ).
6. Various Forms:
It would take different forms, ranging through every possible variety, from false accusation to the infliction of death, beyond which, He pointed out ( Matthew 10:28; Luke 12:4 ), persecutors are unable to go. The methods of persecution which were employed by the Jews, and also by the heathen against the followers of Christ, were such as these: (1) Men would revile them and would say all manner of evil against them falsely, for Christ's sake ( Matthew 5:11 ). (2) Contempt and disparagement: "Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a demon?" ( John 8:48 ); "If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more them of his household!" ( Matthew 10:25 ). (3) Being, solely on account of their loyalty to Christ, forcibly separated from the company and the society of others, and expelled from the synagogues or other assemblies for the worship of God: "Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man's sake" ( Luke 6:22 ); "They shall put you out of the synagogues" ( John 16:2 ). (4) Illegal arrest and spoliation of goods, and death itself.
All these various methods, used by the persecutor, were foretold, and all came to pass. It was the fear of apprehension and death that led the eleven disciples to forsake Jesus in Gethsemane and to flee for their lives. Jesus often forewarned them of the severity of the persecution which they would need to encounter if they were loyal to Him: "The hour cometh, that whosoever killeth you shall think that he offereth service unto God" ( John 16:2 ); "I send unto you prophets ... some of them shall ye kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city" ( Matthew 23:34 ).
7. In the Case of Jesus:
In the case of Christ Himself, persecution took the form of attempts to entrap Him in His speech ( Matthew 22:15 ); the questioning of His authority ( Mark 11:28 ); illegal arrest; the heaping of every insult upon Him as a prisoner; false accusation; and a violent and most cruel death.
8. Instigated by the Jews:
After our Lord's resurrection the first attacks against His disciples came from the high priest and his party. The high-priesthood was then in the hands of the Sadducees, and one reason which moved them to take action of this kind was their 'sore trouble,' because the apostles "proclaimed in Jesus the resurrection from the dead" ( Acts 4:2; Acts 5:17 ). The gospel based upon the resurrection of Christ was evidence of the untruth of the chief doctrines held by the Sadducees, for they held that there is no resurrection. But instead of yielding to the evidence of the fact that the resurrection had taken place, they opposed and denied it, and persecuted His disciples. For a time the Pharisees were more moderate in their attitude toward the Christian faith, as is shown in the case of Gamaliel ( Acts 5:34 ); and on one occasion they were willing even to defend the apostle Paul ( Acts 23:9 ) on the doctrine of the resurrection. But gradually the whole of the Jewish people became bitter persecutors of the Christians. Thus, in the earliest of the Pauline Epistles, it is said, "Ye also suffered the same things of your own countrymen, even as they (in Judea) did of the Jews; who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove out us, and please not God, and are contrary to all men" ( 1 Thessalonians 2:14 , 1 Thessalonians 2:15 ).
Serious persecution of the Christian church began with the case of Stephen ( Acts 7:1-60 ); and his lawless execution was followed by "a great persecution" directed against the Christians in Jerusalem. This "great persecution" ( Acts 8:1 ) scattered the members of the church, who fled in order to avoid bonds and imprisonment and death. At this time Saul signalized himself by his great activity, persecuting "this Way unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women" ( Acts 22:4 ).
10. The Apostles, James and Peter:
By and by one of the apostles was put to death - the first to suffer of "the glorious company of the apostles" - J ames the brother of John, who was slain with the sword by Herod Agrippa ( Acts 12:2 ). Peter also was imprisoned, and was delivered only by an angel ( Acts 12:7-11 ).
11. Gentile Persecution:
During the period covered by the Acts there was not much purely Gentilepersecution: at that time the persecution suffered by the Christian church was chiefly Jewish. There were, however, great dangers and risks encountered by the apostles and by all who proclaimed the gospel then. Thus, at Philippi, Paul and Silas were most cruelly persecuted ( Acts 16:19-40 ); and, even before that time, Paul and Barnabas had suffered much at Iconium and at Lystra ( Acts 14:5 , Acts 14:19 ). On the whole the Roman authorities were not actively hostile during the greater part of Paul's lifetime. Gallio, for instance, the deputy of Achaia, declined to go into the charge brought by the Jews at Corinth against Paul ( Acts 18:14 , Acts 18:15 , Acts 18:16 ). And when Paul had pleaded in his own defense before King Herod Agrippa and the Roman governor Festus, these two judges were agreed in the opinion, "This man doeth nothing worthy of death or of bonds" ( Acts 26:31 ). Indeed it is evident (see Ramsay, St. Paul the Traveler and the Roman Citizen , 308) that the purpose of Paul's trial being recorded at length in the Acts is to establish the fact that the preaching of the gospel was not forbidden by the laws of the Roman empire, but that Christianity was a religio licita , a lawful religion.
Christianity at First Not a Forbidden Religion.
This legality of the Christian faith was illustrated and enforced by the fact that when Paul's case was heard and decided by the supreme court of appeal at Rome, he was set free and resumed his missionary labors, as these are recorded or referred to in the Pastoral Epistles "One thing, however, is clear from a comparison of Philippians with 2 Timothy. There had been in the interval a complete change in the policy toward Christianity of the Roman government. This change was due to the great fire of Rome (July, 64). As part of the persecution which then broke out, orders were given for the imprisonment of the Christian leaders. Poppea, Tigellinus and their Jewish friends were not likely to forget the prisoner of two years before. At the time Paul was away from Rome, but steps were instantly taken for his arrest. The apostle was brought back to the city in the autumn or winter of 64.... That he had a trial at all, instead of the summary punishment of his brethren. witnesses to the importance attached by the government to a show of legality in the persecution of the leader" (Workman, Persecution in the Early Church , 38). See Pastoral Epistles; Paul The Apostle .
12. The Neronic Persecution:
The legal decisions which were favorable to the Christian faith were soon overturned on the occasion of the great fire in Rome, which occurred in July, 64. The public feeling of resentment broke out against the emperor to such a degree that, to avoid the stigma, just or unjust, of being himself guilty of setting the city on fire, he made the Christians the scapegoats which he thought he needed. Tacitus ( Annals xv. 44) relates all that occurred at that time, and what he says is most interesting, as being one of the very earliest notices found in any profane author, both of the Christian faith, and of Christ Himself.
(1) Testimony of Tacitus.
What Tacitus says is that nothing that Nero could do, either in the way of gifts to the populace or in that of sacrifice the Roman deities, could make the people believe that he was innocent of causing the great fire which had consumed their dwellings. Hence, to relieve himself of this infamy he falsely accused the Christians of being guilty of the crime of setting the city on fire. Tacitus uses the strange expression "the persons commonly called Christians who were hated for their enormities." This is an instance of the saying of all manner of evil against them falsely, for Christ's sake. The Christians, whose lives were pure and virtuous and beneficent, were spoken of as being the offscouring of the earth.
(2) Reference in 1 Peter.
The First Epistle of Peter is one of the parts of the New Testament which seem to make direct reference to the Neronic persecution, and he uses words ( 1 Peter 4:12 ff) which may be compared with the narrative of Tacitus: "Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial among you, which cometh upon you to prove you, as though a strange thing happened unto you: but insomuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings, rejoice.... If ye are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are ye; because the Spirit of glory and the Spirit of God resteth upon you. For let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or an evil-doer, or as a meddler in other men's matters: but if a man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God in this name. For the time is come for judgment to begin at the house of God.... Wherefore let them also that suffer according to the will of God commit their souls in well-doing unto a faithful Creator."
(3) Tacitus' Narrative.
How altogether apposite and suitable was this comforting exhortation to the case of those who suffered in the Neronic persecution. The description which Tacitus gives is as follows: "Christus, the founder of that name, was put to death as a criminal by Pontius Pilate, procurator in the reign of Tiberius. But the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time, broke out again not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also, whither all things horrible and disgraceful flow from all quarters as to a common sink, and where they are encouraged. Accordingly, first, those were seized who confessed they were Christians; next, on their information, a vast multitude were convicted, not so much on the charge of setting the city on fire, as of hating the human race. And in their deaths they were made the subject of sport, for they were covered with the skins of wild beasts and were worried to death by dogs, or nailed to crosses, or set fire to, and when day declined were burned to serve for nocturnal lights. Nero offered his own gardens for that spectacle, and exhibited circus games, indiscriminately mingling with the common people dressed as a charioteer, or else standing in his chariot. Whence a feeling of compassion arose toward the sufferers, though guilty and deserving to be made examples of by capital punishment, because they seemed not to be cut off for the public good, but to be victims to the ferocity of one man." See Nero .
(4) New Testament References.
Three of the books of the New Testament bear the marks of that most cruel persecution under Nero, the Second Epistle to Timothy, the First Epistle of Peter - already referred to - and the Revelation of John. In 2 Timothy, Paul speaks of his impending condemnation to death, and the terror inspired by the persecution causes "all" to forsake him when he is brought to public trial ( 2 Timothy 4:16 ).
The "fiery trial" is spoken of in 1 Peter, and Christians are exhorted to maintain their faith with patience; they are pleaded with to have their "conversation honest" ( 1 Peter 2:12 the King James Version), so that all accusations directed against them may be seen to be untrue, and their sufferings shall then be, not for ill-doing, but only for the name of Christ ( 1 Peter 3:14 , 1 Peter 3:16 ). "This important epistle proves a general persecution ( 1 Peter 1:6; 1 Peter 4:12 , 1 Peter 4:16 ) in Asia Minor North of the Taurus ( 1 Peter 1:1; note especially Bithynia) and elsewhere ( 1 Peter 5:9 ). The Christians suffer 'for the name,' but not the name alone ( 1 Peter 4:14 ). They are the objects of vile slanders ( 1 Peter 2:12 , 1 Peter 2:15; 1 Peter 3:14-16; 1 Peter 4:4 , 1 Peter 4:15 ), as well as of considerable zeal on the part of officials ( 1 Peter 5:8 (Greek 3:15)). As regards the slanders, the Christians should be crcumspect ( 1 Peter 2:15 , 1 Peter 2:16; 1 Peter 3:16 , 1 Peter 3:17; 1 Peter 4:15 ). The persecution will be short, for the end of all things is at hand ( 1 Peter 4:7 , 1 Peter 4:13; 1 Peter 5:4 )" (Workman, Persecution in the Early Church , 354).
13. Persecution in Asia:
In Rev the apostle John is in "Patmos for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus" ( Revelation 1:9 ). Persecution has broken out among the Christians in the province of Asia. At Smyrna, there is suffering, imprisonment and prolonged tribulation; but the sufferers are cheered when they are told that if they are faithful unto death, Christ will give them the crown of life ( Revelation 2:10 ). At Pergamum, persecution has already resulted in Antipas, Christ's faithful martyr, being slain ( Revelation 2:13 ). At Ephesus and at Thyatira the Christians are commended for their patience, evidently indicating that there had been persecution ( Revelation 2:2 , Revelation 2:19 ). At Philadelphia there has been the attempt made to cause the members of the church to deny Christ's name ( Revelation 3:8 ); their patience is also commended, and the hour of temptation is spoken of, which comes to try all the world, but from which Christ promised to keep the faithful Christians in Philadelphia. Strangely enough, there is no distinct mention of persecution having taken place in Sardis or in Laodicea.
14. Rome as Persecutor:
As the book proceeds, evidences of persecution are multiplied. In Revelation 6:9 , the apostle sees under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held; and those souls are bidden to rest yet for a little season "until their fellow-servants also and their brethren, who should be killed even as they were, should have fulfilled their course" ( Revelation 6:11 ). The meaning is that there is not yet to be an end of suffering for Christ's sake; persecution may continue to be as severe as ever. Compare Revelation 20:4 "I saw the souls of them that had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus, and for the word of God, and such as worshipped not the beast," for the persecution had raged against all classes indiscriminately, and Roman citizens who were true to Christ had suffered unto death. It is to these that reference is made in the words "had been beheaded," decapitation being reserved as the most honorable form of execution, for Roman citizens only. So terrible does the persecution of Christians by the imperial authorities become, that Rome is "drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus" ( Revelation 17:6; Revelation 16:6; see also Revelation 18:24; Revelation 19:2 ).
Paul's martyrdom is implied in 2 Timothy, throughout the whole epistle, and especially in 2 Timothy 4:6 , 2 Timothy 4:7 , 2 Timothy 4:8 . The martyrdom of Peter is also implied in John 21:18 , John 21:19 , and in 2 Peter 1:14 . The abiding. impression made by these times of persecution upon the mind of the apostle John is also seen in the defiance of the world found throughout his First Epistle ( 1 John 2:17; 1 John 5:19 ), and in the rejoicing over the fall of Babylon, the great persecuting power, as that fall is described in such passages as Revelation 14:8; Revelation 15:2 , Revelation 15:3; Revelation 17:14; Revelation 18:24 .
Following immediately upon the close of the New Testament, there is another remarkable witness to the continuance of the Roman persecution against the Christian church. This is Pliny, proconsul of Bithynia.
15. Testimony of Pliny, 112 A.D.:
In 111 or 112 AD, he writes to the emperor Trajan a letter in which he describes the growth of the Christian faith. He goes on to say that "many of all ages and of all ranks and even of both sexes are being called into danger, and will continue to be so. In fact the contagion of this superstition is not confined to the cities only, but has spread to the villages and country districts." He proceeds to narrate how the heathen temples had been deserted and the religious rites had been abandoned for so long a time: even the sacrificial food - that is, the flesh of the sacrificial victims - could scarcely find a purchaser.
But Pliny had endeavored to stem the tide of the advancing Christian faith, and he tells the emperor how he had succeeded in bringing back to the heathen worship many professing Christians. That is to say, he had used persecuting measures, and had succeeded in forcing some of the Christians to abandon their faith. He tells the methods he had used. "The method I have observed toward those who have been brought before me as Christians is this. I asked them whether they were Christians. If they admitted it, I repeated the question a second and a third time, and threatened them with punishment. If they persisted I ordered them to be punished. For I did not doubt, whatever the nature of that which they confessed might be, that a contumacious and inflexible obstinacy ought to be punished. There were others also, possessed with the same infatuation, whom, because they were Roman citizens, I ordered to be sent to Rome. But this crime spreading, as is usually the case, while it was actually under legal prosecution, several cases occurred. An anonymous information was laid before me, containing the names of many persons. Those who denied that they were Christians, or that they had ever been so, repeated after me an invocation of the gods, and offered prayer, with wine and incense, to your statue, which I had ordered to be brought in for this very purpose, along with the statues of the gods, and they even reviled the name of Christ; whereas there is no forcing, it is said, those who are really Christians into any of these compliances: I thought it proper to discharge them. Others who were accused by a witness at first confessed themselves Christians, but afterward denied it. Some owned indeed that they had been Christians formerly, but had now, some for several years, and a few above 20 years ago, renounced it. They all worshipped your statue and the images of the gods.... I forbade the meeting of any assemblies, and therefore I judged it to be so much the more necessary to endeavor to extort the real truth by putting to the torture two female slaves, who were called deaconesses, yet I found nothing but an absurd and extravagant superstition."
In Trajan's reply to Pliny he writes, "They (the Christians) ought not to be searched for. If they are brought before you and convicted, they should be punished, but this should be done in such a way, that he who denies that he is a Christian, and when his statement is proved by his invoking our deities, such a person, although suspected for past conduct, must nevertheless be forgiven, because of his repentance."
These letters of Pliny and Trajan treat state-persecution as the standing procedure - and this not a generation after the death of the apostle John. The sufferings and tribulation predicted in Revelation 2:10 , and in many other passages, had indeed come to pass. Some of the Christians had denied the name of Christ and had worshipped the images of the emperor and of the idols, but multitudes of them had been faithful unto death, and had received the martyr's crown of life.
16. 2nd and 3Centuries:
Speaking generally, persecution of greater or less severity was the normal method employed by the Roman empire against the Christian church during the 2nd and the 3centuries It may be said to have come to an end only about the end of the 3or the beginning of the 4th century, when the empire became nominally Christian. When the apostolic period is left, persecution becomes almost the normal state in which the church is found. And persecution, instead of abolishing the name of Christ, as the persecutors vainly imagined they had succeeded in doing, became the means of the growth of the Christian church and of its purity. Both of these important ends, and others too, were secured by the severity of the means employed by the persecuting power of the Roman empire.
Under Trajan's successor, the emperor Hadrian, the lot of the Christians was full of uncertainty: persecution might break out at any moment. At the best Hadrian's regime was only that of unauthorized toleration.
17. Best Emperors the Most Cruel Persecutors:
With the exception of such instances as those of Nero and Domitian, there is the surprising fact to notice, that it was not the worst emperors, but the best, who became the most violent persecutors. One reason probably was that the ability of those emperors led them to see that the religion of Christ is really a divisive factor in any kingdom in which civil government and pagan religion are indissolubly bound up together. The more that such a ruler was intent on preserving the unity of the empire, the more would be persecute the Christian faith. Hence, among the rulers who were persecutors, there are the names of Antoninus Pius. Marcus Aurelius the philosopher-emperor, and Septimius Severus (died at York, 211 Ad).
18. Causes of Persecution:
Persecution was no accident, which chanced to happen, but which might not have occurred at all. It was the necessary consequence of the principles embodied in the heathen Roman government, when these came into contact and into conflict with the essential principles of the Christian faith. The reasons for the persecution of the Christian church by the Roman empire were (1) political; (2) on account of the claim which the Christian faith makes, and which it cannot help making, to the exclusive allegiance of the heart and of the life. That loyalty to Christ which the martyrs displayed was believed by the authorities in the state to be incompatible with the duties of a Roman citizen. Patriotism demanded that every citizen should united in the worship of the emperor, but Christians refused to take pat in the worship on any terms, and so they continually lived under the shadow of a great hatred, which always slumbered, and might break out at any time. The claim which the Christian faith made to the absolute and exclusive loyalty of all who obeyed Christ was such that it admitted of no compromise with heathenism. To receive Christ into the pantheon as another divinity, as one of several - this was not the Christian faith. To every loyal follower of Christ compromise with other faiths was an impossibility. An accommodated Christianity would itself have been false to the only true God and Jesus Christ whom He had sent, and would never have conquered the world. To the heathen there were lords many and gods many, but to the Christians there was but one God the Father and one Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world ( 1 Corinthians 8:5 , 1 Corinthians 8:6 ). The essential absoluteness of the Christian faith was its strength, but this was also the cause of its being hated.
"By a correct instinct paganisms of all sorts discerned in the infant church their only rival. So, while the new Hercules was yet in the cradle, they sent their snakes to kill him. But Hercules lived to cleanse out the Augean stables" (Workman, op. cit., 88).
19. 200 Years of Persecution:
"For 200 years, to become a Christian meant the great renunciation, the joining a despised and persecuted sect, the swimming against the tide of popular prejudice, the coming under the ban of the Empire, the possibility at any moment of imprisonment and death under its most fearful forms. For 200 years he that would follow Christ must count the cost, and be prepared to pay the same with his liberty and life. For 200 years the mere profession of Christianity was itself a crime. Christianus sum was almost the one plea for which there was no forgiveness, in itself all that was necessary as a 'title' on the back of the condemned. He who made it was allowed neither to present apology, nor call in the aid of a pleader. 'Public hatred,' writes Tertullian, 'asks but one thing, and that not investigation into the crimes charged, but simply the confession of the Christian name.' For the name itself in periods of stress, not a few, meant the rack, the blazing shirt of pitch, the lion, the panther, or in the case of maidens an infamy worse than death" (Workman, 103).
20. Persecution in the Army:
Service in the Roman army involved, for a Christian, increasing danger in the midst of an organized and aggressive heathenism. Hence, arose the persecution of the Christian soldier who refused compliance with the idolatrous ceremonies in which the army engaged, whether those ceremonies were concerned with the worship of the Roman deities or with that of Mithraism. "The invincible saviour," as Mithra was called, had become, at the time when Tertullian and Origen wrote, the special deity of soldiers. Shrines in honor of Mithra were erected through the entire breadth of the Roman empire, from Dacia and Pannonia to the Cheviot Hills in Britain. And woe to the soldier who refused compliance with the religious sacrifices to which the legions gave their adhesion! The Christians in the Roman legions formed no inconsiderable proportion of "the noble army of martyrs," it being easier for the persecuting authorities to detect a Christian in the ranks of the army than elsewhere.
21. Tertullian's Apology:
In the 2nd and 3centuries, Christians were to be found everywhere, for Tertullian, in an oftentimes quoted passage in his Apology , writes, "We live beside you in the world, making use of the same forum, market, bath, shop, inn, and all other places of trade. We sail with you, fight shoulder to shoulder, till the soil, and traffic with you"; yet the very existence of Christian faith, and its profession, continued to bring the greatest risks. "With the best will in the world, they remained a peculiar people, who must be prepared at any moment to meet the storm of hatred" (Workman, 189). For them it remained true that in one way or another, hatred on the part of the world inevitably fell to the lot of those who walked in the footsteps of the Master; "All that would live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" ( 2 Timothy 3:12 ).
22. "The Third Race":
The strange title, "the third race," probably invented by the heathen, but willingly accepted by the Christians without demur, showed with what a bitter spirit the heathen regarded the faith of Christ. "The first race" was indifferently called the Roman, Greek, or Gentile. "The second race" was the Jews; while "the third race" was the Christian. The cry in the circus of Carthage was Usque quo genus tertium? "How long must we endure this third race?"
23. Hatred Against Christians:
But one of the most powerful causes of the hatred entertained by the heathen against the Christians was, that though there were no citizens so loyal as they, yet in every case in which the laws and customs of the empire came into conflict with the will of God, their supreme rule was loyalty to Christ, they must obey God rather than man. To worship Caesar, to offer even one grain of incense on the shrine of Diana, no Christian would ever consent, not even. when this minimum of compliance would save life itself.
The Roman empire claimed to be a kingdom of universal sway, not only over the bodies and the property of all its subjects, but over their consciences and their souls. It demanded absolute obedience to its supreme lord, that is, to Caesar. This obedience the Christian could not render, for unlimited obedience of body, soul and spirit is due to God alone, the only Lord of the conscience. Hence, it was that there arose the antagonism of the government to Christianity, with persecution as the inevitable result.
These results, hatred and persecution, were, in such circumstances, inevitable; they were "the outcome of the fundamental tenet of primitive Christianity, that the Christian ceased to be his own master, ceased to have his old environment, ceased to hold his old connections with the state; in everything he became the bond-servant of Jesus Christ, in everything owing supreme allegiance and fealty to the new empire and the Crucified Head. 'We engage in these conflicts,' said Tertullian, 'as men whose very lives are not our own. We have no master but God'" (Workman, 195).
24. The Decian Persecution:
The persecution inaugurated by the emperor Decius in 250 Ad was particularly severe. There was hardly a province in the empire where there were no martyrs; but there were also many who abandoned their faith and rushed to the magistrates to obtain their libelli , or certificates that they had offered heathen sacrifice. When the days of persecution were over, these persons usually came with eagerness to seek readmission to the church. It was in the Decian persecution that the great theologian Origen, who was then in his 68th year, suffered the cruel torture of the rack; and from the effects of what he then suffered he died at Tyre in 254.
Many libelli have been discovered in recent excavations in Egypt. In the The Expository Times for January, 1909, p. 185, Dr. George Milligan gives an example, and prints the Greek text of one of these recently discovered Egyptian libelli . These libelli are most interesting, illustrating as they do the account which Cyprian gives of the way in which some faint-hearted Christians during the Decian persecution obtained certificates - some of these certificates being true to fact, and others false - to the effect that they had sacrificed in the heathen manner. The one which Dr. Milligan gives is as follows: "To those chosen to superintend the sacrifices at the village of Alexander Island, from Aurelius Diogenes, the son of Sarabus, of the village of Alexander Island, being about 72 years old, a scar on the right eyebrow. Not only have I always continued sacrificing to the gods, but now also in your presence, in accordance with the decrees, I have sacrificed and poured libations and tasted the offerings, and I request you to countersign my statement. May good fortune attend you. I, Aurelius Diogenes, have made this request."
(2nd Hand) "I, Aurelius Syrus, as a participant, have certified Diogenes as sacrificing along with us."
(1st Hand) "The first year of the Emperor Caesar Gaius Messius Quintus Trajan Decius Plus Felix Augustus, Epiph. 2" (= June 25,250 AD).
Under Valerian the persecution was again very severe, but his successor, Gallienus, issued an edict of toleration, in which he guaranteed freedom of worship to the Christians. Thus Christianity definitely became a religio licita , a lawful religion. This freedom from persecution continued until the reign of Diocletian.
26. The Edict of Milan:
The persecution of the Christian church by the empire of Rome came to an end in March, 313 AD, when Constantine issued the document known as the "Edict of Milan," which assured to each individual freedom of religious belief. This document marks an era of the utmost importance in the history of the world. Official Roman persecution had done its worst, and had failed; it was ended now; the Galilean had conquered.
27. Results of Persecution:
The results of persecution were: (1) It raised up witnesses, true witnesses, for the Christian faith. Men and women and even children were among the martyrs whom no cruelties, however refined and protracted, could terrify into denial of their Lord. It is to a large extent owing to persecution that the Christian church possesses the testimony of men like Quadratus and Tertullian and Origen and Cyprian and many others. While those who had adopted the Christian faith in an external and formal manner only generally went back from their profession, the true Christian, as even the Roman proconsul Pliny testifies, could not be made to do this. The same stroke which crushed the straw - such is a saying of Augustine's - separated the pure grain which the Lord had chosen.
(2) Persecution showed that the Christian faith is immortal even in this world. Of Christ's kingdom there shall be no end. "Hammer away, ye hostile bands, your hammers break, God's altar stands." Pagan Rome, Babylon the Great, as it is called by the apostle John in the Apocalypse tried hard to destroy the church of Christ; Babylon was drunk with the blood of the saints. God allowed this tyranny to exist for 300 years, and the blood of His children was shed like water. Why was it necessary that the church should have so terrible and so prolonged an experience of suffering? It was in order to convince the world that though the kings of the earth gather themselves against the Lord and against His Christ, yet all that they can do is vain. God is in the midst of Zion; He shall help her, and that right early. The Christian church, as if suspended between heaven and earth, had no need of other help than that of the unseen but divine hand, which at every moment held it up and kept it from falling. Never was the church more free, never stronger, never more flourishing, never more extensive in its growth, than in the days of persecution.
And what became of the great persecuting power, the Roman empire? It fell before the barbarians. Rome is fallen in its ruins, and its idols are utterly abolished, while the barbarians who overwhelmed the empire have become the nominally Christian nations of modern Europe, and their descendants have carried the Christian faith to America and Australia and Africa and all over the world.
(3) Persecution became, to a large extent, an important means of preserving the true doctrines of the person and of the work of Christ. It was in the ages of persecution that Gnosticism died, though it died slowly. It was in the ages of persecution that Arianism was overthrown. At the Council of Nicea in 325 AD, among those who were present and took part in the discussion and in the decision of the council, there were those who "bore in their bodies the branding-marks of Jesus," who had suffered pain and loss for Christ's sake.
Persecution was followed by these important results, for God in His wisdom had seen fit to permit these evils to happen, in order to change them into permanent good; and thus the wrath of man was overruled to praise God, and to effect more ultimate good, than if the persecutions had not taken place at all. What, in a word, could be more divine than to curb and restrain and overrule evil itself and change it into good ? God lets iniquity do what it pleases, according to its own designs; but in permitting it to move on one side, rather than on another, He overrules it and makes it enter into the order of His providence. So He lets this fury against the Christian ith be kindled in the hearts of persecutors, so that they afflict the saints of the Most High. But the church remains safe, for persecution can work nothing but ultimate good in the hand of God. "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church." So said Tertullian, and what he said is true.
Persecution has permanently enriched the history of the church. It has given us the noble heritage of the testimony and the suffering of those whose lives would otherwise have been unrecorded. Their very names as well as their careers would have been unknown had not persecution "dragged them into fame and chased them up to heaven."
Persecution made Christ very near and very precious to those who suffered. Many of the martyrs bore witness, even when in the midst of the most cruel torments, that they felt no pain, but that Christ was with them. Instances to this effect could be multiplied. Persecution made them feel how true Christ's words were, that even as He was not of the world, so they also were not of it. If they had been of the world, the world would love its own, but because Christ had chosen them out of the world, therefore the world hated them. They were not greater than their Lord. If men had persecuted Jesus, they would also persecute His true disciples. But though they were persecuted, they were of good cheer, Christ had overcome the world; He was with them; He enabled them to be faithful unto death. He had promised them the crown of life.
Browning's beautiful lines describe what was a common experience of the martyrs, how Christ "in them" and "with them," "quenched the power of fire," and made them more than conquerors:
"I was some time in being burned,
But at the close a Hand came through
The fire above my head, and drew
My soul to Christ, whom now I see.
Sergius, a brother, writes for me
This testimony on the wall -
For me, I have forgot it all."
Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature 
is any pain or affliction which a person designedly inflicts upon another. In its variability it is threefold:
(1.) Mental, when the spirit of a man rises up and malignantly opposes another;
(2.) Verbal, when men give hard words and deal in uncharitable censures;
(3.) Actual or Open by the hand; such as the dragging of innocent persons before the civil tribunal.
In its more restricted sense, persecution for conscience' sake concerns us here only in so far as it has occurred within the Church, or the Church has been the guilty, party. The Church of Christ, in her purity, knows nothing of intolerance, and therefore can never be guilty of persecution. Indeed, the unlawfulness of persecution for conscience' sake, under the New- Testament dispensation, must appear plain to every one that possesses the least degree of Christian thought or feeling, "To banish, imprison, plunder, starve, hang, and burn men for religion," says the shrewd Jortin, "is not the Gospel of Christ; it is the Gospel of the devil. Where persecution begins, Christianity ends. Christ never used anything that looked like force or violence except once; and that was to drive bad men out of the Temple, and not to drive them in." Yet would we not overlook that true religion is essentially aggressive and intolerant of error, inasmuch as it "earnestly contends for the faith," and therefore abhors indifferentism and syncretism, believing that their true source is not faith and charity, but the very opposite of these, Laodicean lukewarmness and tacit infidelity. Toleration of error on the part of the Church would render useless God's revelation of truth, would make God the abettor of error — would either destroy the Church as a society of believers, or contradict the divine order which establishes it as the way of salvation. But the Church as such uses only spiritual weapons — the earnestness of entreaty, the force of prayer, the terrors of conscience, the powers of the Gospel. Its punishments, too, are entirely spiritual censures, and the different degrees of excommunication. This is shown from the nature of religion in general and the spirit of Christianity in particular; from the constitution of the Church as a spiritual body; from the tenor of Scripture, which explains the compulsion of Luke 14:23 as being spiritual compulsion only; from Paul's language to Timothy, as 2 Timothy 2:24, etc. (see Samuel Clarke's Sermons Against Persecution For Religion, Serm. 1, p. 659), and from the fathers (see Bp. Taylor's Liberty Of Prophesying, § 14). For these very reasons, however, all temporal penalties inflicted by the Church as a spiritual body must be classed as persecution; for such penalties can be meted out only by a power either usurped or wrongfully given.
The Church, being a spiritual society, has no power over the physical, i.e. the body. Its capital punishment is deliverance to Satan. It may impose penance, it may enjoin restitution. it may arbitrate, but these sentences it can enforce only by spiritual inducements. Coercive jurisdiction it has none; and if any such jurisdiction be assigned it, it becomes so far a minister of the civil authority which makes the assignation; and so far it leaves its own sphere and becomes a temporal power. Temporal pains and penalties belong only to the temporal power, which moves in the external sphere of overt acts, and does not deal with the will and conscience. The cause of this is that, inasmuch as Almighty God has put man's life into man's keeping, and entrusted him with goods, the society which is to have power over life and goods is not formed without man's concurrence. The Church, on the other hand, is not formed by man's consultation, nor can it be modified at man's pleasure. Man joins it by voluntary submission, without any power of altering its constitution. The Church, therefore, has no power over life and goods; for the power over these which God has once given he will not take away. The concurrence of men in the formation of civil society is properly considered by holding up the ideal of a social contract, a contract perpetually forming and modifying, as the mind of a nation expresses itself in law; and such ordinances of man are ratified by God's providence, which has worked also in their formation. Whence it is said, "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake." Such compact, then, according to the religious state of those who make it, may be (1) a complete identity of the members of the Church and State; (2) or an established and preferred Church, with toleration in different degrees for other religious bodies (Jeremy Taylor, e.g., advocated toleration for all those who accept the Apostles' Creed); (3) or complete equality of all religious bodies. Any one of these positions the Church of Christ may hold. In any case it ought to retain distinctly its proper position as a society of divine institution in the world, but not of the world. Especially it ought not to usurp in the name of religion the powers and aims of the state law. There cannot be a greater mistake in statesmanship than to confound the temporal and spiritual estates and jurisdictions. The Church as a spiritual body has nothing to do with the state. It continues its own course, neither intruding into the sphere of the state nor refusing to aid the state, but ever rejecting an alliance with the state. (See Church And State).
It is from dogmatism invested with political power, and authorized to use that power for the inculcation of its dogmas, that persecution is sure to spring, aye, really springs. The first community based on freedom of conscience was the Roman Catholic colony of Maryland; yet Roman Catholicism in Maryland was as dogmatic as in Spain. The great consequence from the principles we have tried to establish is that the temporal penalties spoken of can be inflicted only for overt acts. The compact of society does not profess to touch the mind. It leaves the will and conscience to the divine institution of the Church.. Consequently for matters of opinion, for belief privately held, there can be no temporal penalty at all. The temporal penalty is outside the power of the Church; the private belief is outside the supervision of the state. We may therefore define persecution thus: the infliction of temporal penalties by the spirituality as the spirituality, or by the civil power for other than overt acts. Roger Williams has the honor of being the first in modern times who took the right ground in regard to liberty of conscience. It was he who, in 1642, cleared the subject from the subtleties of a thousand years of darkness, and held up to Christian abhorrence in all its forms the "Bloody Tenet" (as he justly called it) of persecution for conscience' sake. John Owen, John Milton, John Locke, and a host of later writers have followed in, his steps. "Persecution for conscience' sake," says Dr. Doddridge, "is every way inconsistent; because,
1. It is founded on an absurd supposition that one man has a right to judge for another in matters of religion.
2. It is evidently opposite to that fundamental principle' of morality that we should do to others as we could reasonably desire they should do to us.
3. It is by no means calculated to answer the end which its patrons profess to intend by it.
4. It evidently tends to produce a great deal of mischief and confusion in the world.
5. The Christian religion must, humanly speaking, be not only obstructed, but destroyed, should persecuting principles universally prevail.
6. Persecution is so far from being required or encouraged by the Gospel, that it is most directly contrary to many of its precepts, and indeed to the whole of it." (See Religious Liberty); (See Toleration).
Romanism has alone stood out in the Christian Church supplying an interpretation of the Scriptures which Protestantism has as steadfastly discarded. Popes and Church councils have repeatedly declared the extermination of heretics a duty, and pronounced execrable and damnable all opinions to the contrary; so much so that there is no doctrine whatever more absolutely asserted by the Church officially than this; and the moderate nominal Romanist who allows himself to dissent from it might just as well set his individual judgment against that of the Church upon any other article of its creed. The liberal Protestant must be told that the very central and fundamental conception of the Roman Catholic system must produce, as its natural and inevitable consequence, wherever it is dominant, those three great objects of sacerdotal ambition in the Middle Ages — persecution of recusants at home, propagation of the faith by force abroad, and the supremacy of the religious over the civil power. If these objects are but partially attainable in our modern world, it is because the principle itself has lost its power over the minds of men; half the world is anti-Catholic, and multitudes, who are Roman Catholics by birth and education, and who, in their indifference, are satisfied with the forms of the religion they have inherited, have never really imbibed its spirit.
The doctrine of the Papacy is this: God has entrusted the salvation of mankind to the Church that is, to the clerical order. This salvation is essentially effected by the administration of the sacraments. The spiritual dominion exercised by the Church extends by right over the whole world; every human creature belongs to it as much as he belongs to the civil society of which he is born a member, without any choice of his own, both the one and the other being established of God. Lastly, the great mission of the Church is to make this right a fact, by bringing the entire race to obedience to their spiritual advisers, and to the habitual use of the sacraments, and by obtaining from all local civil governments entire freedom of action for the universal spiritual government. A bad logician may admit this theory, and deny its consequences; but no man can embrace it from the heart, and prize it as the great divine appointment for the everlasting weal of mankind, without approving its consequences, and desiring practically to follow them out. Why scruple at converting barbarians by the sword? The method has been successful; whole populations have thus been brought within reach of sacramental grace; and if the hearts of a first generation are-too obdurate to profit by it, their descendants will. Why shudder at the fearful punishment of heretics? They are rebels, rebels against the highest and holiest authority: we must, cut off the diseased member for the good of the whole body: we must punish those that would poison souls. Why be astonished at the assumption of a priest's superiority over the kings of the earth?
Is he not a nearer representative of God, the possessor of a higher order of authority, addressing itself to the deepest powers and susceptibilities of our nature? The king, as well as the peasant, in all his conduct comes under the cognizance of the authorized interpreter of the divine will. "The king of England," wrote Innocent III to Philip Augustus, "thy brother in the faith, complains that thou hast sinned against him: he has given thee warning; he has taken as witnesses great lords, in order to re-establish peace; and when that failed, he has accused thee to the Church. The Church has sought to employ paternal love, and not the severity of a judge. She has entreated thee to conclude a peace, or, at least, a truce; and if thou wilt not hear the Church, must thou not be to us as a pagan and a publican? "It is impossible to adopt the conception of the Church and its agency supposed in the pope's reasoning, and not admit that his conclusion is just and scriptural. An expression constantly recurring in Innocent's letters is that of "the liberty of the Church:" in its use he was not always wrong; for the pretensions of the spiritual power produced reprisals and usurpations on the part of the temporal; but the phrase generally meant that the civil power was to walk out of the Church's way whenever they came into conflict. And so it ought to do, if it were true that the Creator of heaven and earth had founded the sacerdotal body, and given it the mission to take men and save them, as children are carried out of a burning house, with a merely passive cooperation of their own. The priest' does not want to be king; but he claims the right to reign over the king, which is the surest way of reigning; and, from his point of view, the great business of the secular arm — the reason for which it exists — is the repression of heresy. It is an arm, and no more. Here are two systems in presence of each other. On the one, man belongs to himself, that he may give himself to God; the Church is the society formed by those who have freely given themselves to God; individual piety thus logically, even when not chronologically, preceding collective life; the knowledge of God in Jesus Christ being the introduction to the Church, and the ordinances of the latter being means of grace, the blessing of which depends upon the recipient's moral state and personal relation to God. On the other system, man belongs to the sacerdotal order, and the services of the Church are the only introduction to Jesus Christ: she is the nursing mother of his members, receiving them into her bosom before they are conscious of it, and feeding them with ordinances, the blessing of which is independent of the recipient's moral experiences. It is evident that conceptions so utterly at, variance must make their opposition felt throughout the whole series of ecclesiastical relations, in the character of their proselytism, in their manner of dealing with the impenitent, in their attitude toward the heretic or the heathen.
As has already been said, religious indifference may make the merely nominal Catholic tolerant, but the real Romanist must persecute wherever he has the power; he must interpret after the letter that favorite text of the Dominicans, "Compel them to come in." That is no misrepresentation which makes him say to his adversaries, "When you are the stronger, you ought to tolerate me; for it is your duty to tolerate truth. But when I am the stronger, I shall persecute you; for it is my duty to persecute error." What are Rome's doings in Spain and Italy at the present moment? Let the Romish hierarchy become dominant in some distant island at the antipodes, away from all foreign influences and all excuse of political interest, and it will immediately exhibit its inevitable tendencies. In 1840 the inhabitants of the largest of the Marquesas, at the instigation of their priests, expelled from the island the minority that had become Protestant. An infallible Church can persecute with a good conscience; for the infallibility of an authority implies its resistless evidence, so that it cannot be resisted without guilt, nor can it ever be mistaken in its blows. This is so true that it is avowed by the most consistent ultramontane organs of England and the Continent, by the Tablet, and more unreservedly still by the Universe. Nay, the zeal of the Anglo-Catholic might shame many a lukewarm Romanist; for one of the symptoms of a thorough appropriation of the sacramental system among recreant Protestants is a cordial approbation of the use of the sword against the Albigenses and their fellows, who dared to mar the unity of the Church. The late dean Hurter retained the presidency of the Protestant clergy L, Schaffhausen for many years after he wrote his Life of Innocent III; yet in that work he boldly advocates the propagation of Christianity by force, and. notwithstanding some hypocritical reserves, can hardly be said to conceal his sympathy with the crusaders of Simon de Montfort and the inquisitors of the Middle Ages. We have an authoritative declaration of Romish doctrine in the bull of Pius VI, A.D. 1794, which condemns the reforming Synod of Ricci, bishop of Pistoia.
The synod had affirmed, "Abusum fore auctoritatis ecclesise transferendo illam ultra limites doctrinne ac morum, et eam extendendo ad res exteriores, et per vim exigendo id quod pendet a persuasione et corde, turn etiamn multo minus ad eamr pertinere, exigere per vim exteriorem subjectionem suis decretis;" and this proposition is declared heretical so far as by the Indeterminate words "extendendo ad res exteriores" denenoted an abuse of Church power; and "Qua parte insinuat, ecclesiam non habere auctoritatem subjectionis suis decretis exigendse aliter quam per media quae pendent a persuasione-quatenus intendat ecclesiam; non habere collatam sibi a Deo potestatem, non solum dirigendi per consilia et suasiones, sed etiam jubendi per leges, ac devios contumacesque exteriore judicio ac salubribus poenis coercendi atque cogendi" (ex Bened. XIV in brevi Ad Assiduas, anni 1755; comp. Damnatio Synodi Pistoiensis, art. iv, v, in the Appendix to Canones Conc. Trident. Tauchnitz ed. p. 298). By this determination of two popes must be interpreted the oath taken by a bishop upon consecration: "Haereticos, schismaticos, et rebelles eidem Domino nostro vel successoribus praedictis, pro posse persequar et impugnabo" (Pontificale Ronm.). The claim from the Church of the power of temporal punishment is distinct. The union of civil sovereignty over the Papal States with the ecclesiastical primacy makes such a claim more natural to the head of the Romish Church; but as the history of the Papal States does not recommend such a union of the temporal and civil powers, so neither does the history of the Romish obedience recommend a transfer of coercive jurisdiction from the civil to the ecclesiastical tribunals. That there is no such power divinely given to the Church we have endeavored to show. See Elliott, Romanism; Milman, Lat. Christianity; Leakey, Hist. of Europ. Morals, and his Hist. of Rationalism, 1:74, 156, 331, 350, and esp. 2:11, 99; Thompson, Papacy and the Civil Power (see Index); Riddle, Persecutions of the Papacy (Lond. 1859, 2 vols. 8vo). (See Romanism).
- Persecution from Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament
- Persecution from Charles Buck Theological Dictionary
- Persecution from Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary
- Persecution from Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology
- Persecution from Bridgeway Bible Dictionary
- Persecution from Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible
- Persecution from King James Dictionary
- Persecution from Easton's Bible Dictionary
- Persecution from Webster's Dictionary
- Persecution from Charles Spurgeon's Illustration Collection
- Persecution from International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
- Persecution from Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature