But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Acts 1:8, NKJV

You’ve probably heard this famous verse before. Many Christian organizations and para-church ministries use this verse as a driving factor of their missions-oriented work. Have you ever stopped to wonder what “witness” means here?

In our contemporary context, we mostly just think of a witness as someone who has seen and can attest to something (like in a courtroom), but the book of Acts was not written in English. By examining the original Greek, we can pull additional meaning from it.

Using the NKJV Reverse Interlinear, we will take a dive into what it means to be a “witness”. Let’s go!

Acts 1:8

Here is Acts 1:8 in the NKJV Reverse Interlinear. As you can see, the Greek appears below the English. For a deeper explanation of how this tool works, click here.

According to this, “witnesses” in Greek is martus. To learn more, we’ll tap that word to bring up the Strong’s info.

Dictionary Definition

g3144 μάρτυς martys; of uncertain affinity; a witness (literally (judicially) or figuratively (genitive case)); by analogy, a “martyr”: — martyr, record, witness

AV (34) – witness 29, martyr 3, record 2;

  1. a witness
    1. in a legal sense
    2. an historical sense
      1. one who is a spectator of anything, e.g. of a contest
    3. in an ethical sense
      1. those who after his example have proved the strength and genuineness of their faith in Christ by undergoing a violent death

This is interesting. In Greek, “witness” is the same word as “martyr”. Obviously, we have separate understandings of these terms, so why are they the same word? Can they be used interchangeably? To see the different passages, we will tap “search for g3144” at the bottom of that box. Let’s pull out each usage of martus by Luke to get a better idea of what’s going on.

Martus as Witness/es (In Luke+Acts)

  • Lk 11:48 “In fact, you bear martus that you approve the deeds of your fathers; for they indeed killed them, and you build their tombs” (This verse is from Jesus’ rebuke of the lawyers.)
  • Lk 24:48 “And you are martus of these things”. (Here, the risen Jesus appears before the disciples and tells them that they have seen and can attest to His suffering, death, and resurrection, and they must be the ones that preach His name to the nations.)
  • 1:8 “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be martus to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
  • 1:21-22 “Therefore, of these men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us, one fo these must become a martus with us of His resurrection.”
  • 2:32 “This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all martus.” (From Peter’s sermon at Pentecost.)
  • 3:14-15 “But you denied the Holy One and the Just, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead, of which we are martus. (Peter’s sermon in Solomon’s Portico, addressed to the ‘men of Israel’. Seems to be directly connected to what Jesus wanted in Lk 24)
  • 5:32 “And we are His martus to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him. (Peter and other apostles say this while on trial. Another fulfillment of Lk 24)
  • 6:13 “They also set up false martus who said, ‘This man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law;'” (false witnesses at the trial of Stephen)
  • 7:58 “And the martus laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul”. (Here, the witnesses were the ones who committed the stoning (dare I say, the martyrdom) of Stephen.)
  • 10:39-41 “And we are martus of all things which He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, whom they killed by hanging on a tree. Him God raised up on the third day and showed Him openly, not to all the people, but to martus chosen before by God, even to us who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead”. (Peter’s sermon to Cornelius and his household)
  • 13:31 “He was seen for many days by those who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are His martus to the people”. (Speaking of Jesus, Paul’s sermon in Antioch addressed to “men of Israel”)
  • 22:15 “For you will be His martus to all men of what you have seen and heard”. (The words of Ananias to Paul within his testimony.)
  • 26:16 “But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a martus both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you”. (Paul’s testimony of the words of Jesus during his conversion).

Martus as Martyr (In NT)

  • Ac 22:20 “And when the blood of Your martus Stephen was shed, I also was standing by consenting to his death, and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.” (Paul’s testimony of his words to Christ)
  • Rev 2:12-13 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamos write, ‘These things says He who has the sharp two-edged sword: “I know your works and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martus, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.”
  • Rev 17:6 “I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martus of Jesus. And when I saw her, I marveled with great amazement.”

What is a martyr, then?

It’s interesting to me how martus translated as “martyr” always also refers to death (Ac 22:20; Rev 2:13, 17:6). The fact that the death of the martus is not implied indicates to me that a martyr or witness of Christ (as all believers are commissioned to be in Ac 1:8) does not necessarily die. In other words, it seems that the original understanding of martus did not require death.

Stephen was a martus of Jesus, not because he died, but because he was willing to lay his life down as an uncompromising witness. In the moments before his death, he was not just a martus of the death and resurrection of Jesus, but also of “the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God” (Ac 7:55).

From what I gathered from the above verses, we as Christians must:

  1. Open our eyes and martus (see) the workings of God around us.
  2. Open our mouths and martus (attest) the Good News to our neighbor.
  3. Open our hearts to the possibility of becoming a martus (martyr), socially, financially, or physically.

Do you agree with the conclusions of this word study? What are some ways you have been called to lay yourself down as a witness of Jesus? Let us know in the comments below!

NKJV Reverse Interlinear New Testament

NKJV Reverse Interlinear New Testament

The NKJV Reverse Interlinear New Testament is an approachable way to gain an intimate understanding of the New Testament as the original audiences would have heard and read. By integrating Strong’s tagging, you can easily perform word studies of your own. Check out this tool in the store today!


  1. Your assumption that this is to everyone is apparent. This contextually is said to the apostles (as in John 14-16) when this promise is made, as well as John 20:20-23). The apostles would be guided by the Holy Spirit, as the were “witnesses” literally eye witness of the resurrection of Jesus Christ..

    • 2 Timothy 3:16
      All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

  2. I like your conclusion. It helps each of us understand how prepared, committed and serious we need to be about our witness to the reality of Jesus Christ and His salvation.

  3. Andrew Osakue Reply

    I am indeed blessed by this. It is indeed revealing also. To open my eyes to the possibility of becoming a martyr, socially, financially or physically is indeed thought provoking. In fact it is real food for thought.. Thanks indeed

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