Home > Apologetics, Questions and Answers > What’s the difference between martyrs of early Christianity and other religions?

What’s the difference between martyrs of early Christianity and other religions?

Sometimes, I’m a bit surprised that people don’t see the difference between early Christian martyrs and, say, Muslim martyrs. It’s really quite clear once you think about it.

A typical conversation might go something like this:

Christian: “The disciples’ willingness to die proves that Christianity is true!”

Skeptic: “Well, other religions have had plenty of martyrs throughout their history. According to you, their religion is false, so it seems people are willing to die for things that aren’t true.”

Christian: “…”

Here’s the simple but important difference: martyrs of other religions are willing to die for their beliefs. Early Christian apostles and martyrs died for something they knew to be true—something they had seen with their own eyes.

I’m willing to give Islam the benefit of the doubt and say that Muhammad probably wasn’t intentionally deceiving people. He doubted the veracity of his own dreams and visions, even wondering if they were demonic (possibly). But his wife convinced him that he was hearing the word of God.

Now, many people throughout history have mistakenly believed to have heard or felt God, instructing them to do something or leading them in a direction. If they are wrong but delude themselves, then yes, they may be willing to die for that belief. Unless someone has actually had God speak to them for real, they probably wouldn’t know the difference between a true vision and one conjured up by their own imaginations (or demonic deception). Relying on a second-hand analysis, such as by one’s spouse, is even more unreliable. In the past, our understanding of dreams was also very poor, so this kind of misinformed conviction is to be expected.

But with Jesus’ disciples, this kind of delusion is not really a possibility. If they were making up the story of the gospel, or if they had stolen the body of Jesus, they would have ridden the wave of Christianity for as long as it benefited them…then given it up once their lives were on the line. Instead, we see all of the disciples except one (John, who miraculously survived and died years later) courageously and willingly going to their deaths.

They didn’t die for a belief or convictions from a vision. They died after having seen the risen Christ in person with their own eyes—together in groups, no less. This wasn’t a story they made up or something they heard from others. They died for first-hand knowledge of the most tangible kind.

That’s the difference.

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  1. michael
    July 8, 2011 at 9:15 am

    My understanding is that in religions like Islam, they benefit from dying for their God. this becomes merit-based. What’s the reward? like 77 virgins in paradise? These martyrs died because they simply wanted to be in the presence of God, like any child wants to be with their Father; creation and creator relationship restored. Plus, these martyrs probably wouldn’t get themselves killed for something they knew was a lie. Would you?

  2. July 8, 2011 at 9:57 am

    Muslims believe that if they do five sets of things (such as praying five times a day, traveling to Mecca once in their life, giving alms, etc.), they have the “reasonable expectation” that Allah will let them get into heaven. They have no other moral obligations. However, it is ultimately up to the will of Allah. He could choose not to let them in, even if they follow these rules.

    If a Muslim dies in a holy war (“jihad”), however, or becomes a martyr, they are told that they are GUARANTEED entrance into heaven. This is why Muslim parents are so eager to send their young ones off to die in battle. This is also why Muslim leaders take advantage of this courage-inducing motivation and are quick to label their enemies “infidels,” implying that they are acting in a holy war setting. Again, this is all based on BELIEFS and hopeful expectations.

    Early Christian martyrs died based on first-hand knowledge. Subsequent Christian martyrs, like you said, are simply wanting to be with their Lord. They already had assurance of salvation apart from the act of martyrdom.

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