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Greek Word Study - Witness

This is a tale of two words. When they were young, these two Greek words grew up together in the vicinity of the courtroom. Both became important words in the first century church; both became common words in twentieth century English. The words began together, but they ended poles apart.
The first word was martyreo (mar tur REH oh), which meant to give testimony in court to confirm a truth. The witness who gave his testimony was called a martyr. Quite naturally, this was the word used by Jesus in Acts 1:8 when he appointed his apostles to be “witnesses” to the fact of his resurrection. Other men, such as Stephen in Acts 6 and 7, also became witnesses for Jesus. When Stephen gave his testimony before the court of the Sanhedrin, his witness cost him his life (Acts 22:20). Soon many others were to die as witnesses. Within sixty years John would write of “the blood of the witnesses (martyres) of Jesus" (Rev 17:6). Thus, the simple word "witness" was baptized in blood and took on a wholly new aspect. For all time to come the word “martyr” would look beyond one’s testimony and see his waiting tomb.

The other word was apologia (ah pol oh GEE ah), which meant a formal defense spoken in court. It was a noble term, emphasizing the kind of clear statement of the truth which would lead to one’s vindication. The early defenders of the faith, like Justin Martyr and others, were known as Apologists. In this same way, 1 Peter 3:15 urges all of us to “always be ready to make a defense (apologia) to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you."
But somewhere in the intervening centuries the word “apology” took a nasty fall. Today the word is commonly used to mean “an expression of regret for causing offense.” The most common apology is the abject admission: “I'm sorry.”

Now--which of the two words describes the development of your Christian witness? Are you ready to face fire or sword, apathy or scorn, when you witness for Jesus? Or do you make apologies for a faith of which you are ashamed? Check the statement that describes you:

  • I'm a Christian and I'm willing to witness and die.
  • I'm a Christian . . . and I'm sorry.