Early Christian Martyr Stories: Fact, Fiction, or Both?

Jeff Robinson | March 3, 2016


Many Christians have heard the story of Polycarp. In the mid-second century, he was burned at the stake for refusing to recant his faith. The 86-year-old church leader’s final days reportedly mirrored those of Christ: betrayal, arrest, no real trial. Refusing to deny his Lord, he was sentenced to be burned.

Though Polycarp was certainly murdered for the gospel, the details are murky. When he was tied to the stake and the fire was lit, the flames allegedly formed an arc around him and didn’t burn him. The frustrated officials then ordered him to be stabbed to death, whereupon a dove was seen to fly from his body.

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How much of this is fact, and how much fiction? And what about the dozens of similar martyr stories from the early church?

In his book Early Christian Martyr Stories: An Evangelical Introduction with New Translations (Baker, 2014), Bryan Litfin provides some answers. I spoke with the professor of theology at Moody Bible Institute about martyr stories that have proven false, whether Foxe’s Book of Martyrs is legit, whether Peter was crucified upside down, and more.


Early Christian Martyr Stories takes a closer look at the facts behind some of the best-known martyr accounts in the early church and shows some to be fabrications. How did some of


To read the rest of this article, visit http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/early-christian-martyr-stories-fact-fiction-or-both.