Question from on 06-25-2007:
I know that St. Stephen is traditionally named the first martyr, but could you explain why isn't St. John the Baptist isn't considered the first martyr? I'm guessing it's because technically he wasn't killed for being a Christian...
Answer by Matthew Bunson on 07-08-2007:
It is useful to remember that John the Baptist is honored as the precursor of the Messiah, and the Gospels preserve Jesus’ own recognition of the validity of the Baptist’s prophetic mission in announcing the imminence of the Messiah.
John is described as the last and the greatest of the prophets (Lk. 1:76; 7:26; cf. Mt. 11:13), exulting from his mother’s womb the coming of Christ (Lk. 1:15, 41). John also bore witness to Christ through his preaching, his Baptism of conversion, and finally his martyrdom (Lk. 1:17; cf. Mt. 6:17-29).
As Luke noted, in John, the Holy Spirit finished the work of preparing the way of the Lord (Lk. 1:17) and where the prophets saw Christ from a distance, John saw him in the flesh (cf. 1Pet. 1:10-12).
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