Was Jesus a Martyr? [open conversation]

These days we're doing a chapter-by-chapter discussion of Gonzalez's Church History books...what I thought was boring in Seminary makes for lively conversation in the church! 

So the conversation came up about the early Christian martyrs and trying to define what 'martyr' meant.  We waffled between two definitions:
  1. Someone who dies for a cause  *OR*
  2. Someone who dies because of a cause
Then from the leftmost table (the troublemakers) came the question:

Was Jesus a Martyr?

So, which is Jesus?
  1. Did Jesus die for his cause?   *OR*
  2. Did Jesus die because of his cause?
So, sound off.  Which of the above statements is closer to your idea of Christ?

To me, this is an important question.   Because how you answer may rely on your  understanding of what Jesus' death means (ie. atonement).
  1. If Jesus died for his cause, then there's a higher likelihood that you hold a redemptive atonement theory (penalty-satisfaction or substitutionary) because you place a high meaning on Jesus' death.
  2. If Jesus died because of his cause, then there's a higher likelihood that you hold to an incarnational atonement theory (moral-influence or incarnational) because you place a high meaning on Jesus' life (and a prophetic life inevitably leads to death).
So, which is it? 

Did Jesus die for or because of his cause? 

And does either of those make him a martyr?



johnmeunier October 13, 2009 at 7:25 AM  

Interesting questions. I love the troublemakers, as long as they are in your discussion group and not the one I lead. :)

I'm trying to think of the NT answers to these questions. I'm not sure Jesus would interpret his death as martyrdom. It was not for what he was a witness to, but who he was - which is not an inconsequential distinction. We can be witnesses to Christ. But he simply is Christ.

The Epistles seem to read his death as largely redemptive. I was reading Colossians 1:13 just last night and it is still in my mind.

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