The Biblical Mandate for Apologetics


Set for the Defense of the Gospel


 
What is Christian apologetics? A better and more precise question is, “What is a biblical, Christian apologetic?” One does not have to go far in order to find answers to this question. If you enter “apologetics” in Google, you return almost 7 million hits. There seems to be about as many definitions for apologetics as there are Google results. Should Christians engage in apologetics? This is another good question. What does Scripture say about “apologetics?” Finally, if Christians should engage in apologetics, how should they go about it?

 Some would define Christian apologetics as the practice of showing Christianity to be true. Others may define it as defending the truth claims of Christianity against all other opposing truth claims. In answer this question, it is best that we turn to the only source that can help us truly acquire a working knowledge the art and practice Christian apologetics: the Bible.

 First of all the words apologeomai (defend oneself) and apologia (defense) appear 10x and 8x respective in the Greek New Testament. In order to understand the meaning of a word, it is always a best practice to see how it is used throughout Scripture. Once you establish the broad range of meanings for the word, and how it is used, you can then narrow the meaning down to how it is used in the specific passage under study.

The word is first used by Luke as he records the words of Jesus concerning the persecutions and trials that His disciples will be forced to endure. Jesus said, “When they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not worry about how or what you are to speak in your defense, or what you are to say (Lu. 12:11).” Then again, Jesus said, “So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves” (Lu. 21:14). Here, the use of apologeomai is clearly in the context of a formal trial with formal indictments. In this case Jesus specifically instructed His disciples not to prepare a defense.

The next time we see this word, it is in Luke’s second volume, the Acts of the Apostles. This incident occurred in Ephesus after the merchants created a mob that eventually ended up gathered in the Ephesian theatre. The setting was an impromptu sort of court. The gospel was threatening the livelihood of the idolatrous merchants and the question of what to do about it had to be answered. In the midst of the chaos, after everyone was gathered, Luke writes, “Some of the crowd concluded it was Alexander, since the Jews had put him forward; and having motioned with his hand, Alexander was intending to make a defense to the assembly.” Here again Luke uses the Greek word apologeomai. Once more the word appears in a setting that involves a formal hearing or legal inquiry. The use of the word so far clearly conveys the idea of putting up a formal defense.

After the events at Ephesus, Paul continues his push to Jerusalem. In Acts 21, he arrives in Jerusalem. The Jews who opposed Paul is Asia saw him in the temple and the crowd seized him. The Roman authorities intervened and Paul was given a chance to stand before the crowd in order to defend himself. Luke writes, “Brethren and fathers, hear my defense which I now offer to you (Acts 22:1).” Once more, apologia is used in the legal sense of offering a defense against formal charges. The word is used in this same context, with Paul under arrest, in Acts 24:10 in Paul’s defense before Felix, in Acts 25:8 when he appears before Festus, and once more when Festus briefs King Agrippa on the matter in Acts 25:16, then twice in Acts 26:1-2 as Paul appears before Agrippa, and then finally toward the end of his defense before Agrippa in Acts 26:24. Of the 18 times these words occur in the NT, 7 times it appears during Paul’s arrest at Jerusalem. That accounts for nearly 50% of the word’s occurrences in the NT.

We now shift gears from Luke’s usage of the term to Paul’s usage of it. The Corinthian correspondences contain the use of these words three times. In a response to criticism of his ministry and apostleship, Paul said, “My defense to those who examine me is this 1 Cor. 9:3).” It is beyond dispute that Paul was defending himself against contradictory statements about his character, his ministry, and even his authority. The common denominator in each instance for apologetics is the attacking opponent. The attack has been legal and religious up to this point. In this case, it is ecclesiastical. It relates to Paul’s role and function in the Church. In 2 Cor. 7:11, we see a much different use of the word, apologia, in the sense of vindication, having clearly shown one’s innocence or proven one’s character. The response of the Corinthians to Paul’s rebuke vindicates their faith, defends its genuineness. “All this time you have been thinking that we are defending ourselves to you. Actually, it is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ; and all for your upbuilding, beloved (2 Cor. 12:19). Once more the word is used in the sense of responding to attacks.

Romans 2:15 is the next pericope we want examine. “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, 15 in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them. Here apologeomai is used to illustrate the law of God written on the human conscience. Human conscience serves to praise our behavior, judge our behavior, and defend our behavior. Human conscience defends our behavior when that behavior accords with the law of God written on the conscience. The idea of defense against attack remains present In Paul’s writings despite the fact that there is no formal legal or ceremonial court involved.

As we make our way through Paul’s use of this word, we now move a little closer to Luke’s usage. In Phil. 1:7, Paul writes, “For it is only right for me to feel this way about you all, because I have you in my heart, since both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me.” Paul describes his imprisonment in terms of his legal defense he describes as the defense and confirmation of the gospel. I am tempted to chase bebaiosei, the Greek word translated confirmation, but space will not permit it. That word means to confirm, verify, to prove to be true and certain. If you are have an apologetic orientation, you may want to spend some time on the use of this word and it’s meaning to include the two semantic domains in which it either is classed, or has very close connections. Clearly, Paul’s reference here is to his formal legal defense as the connection with his imprisonment demonstrates.

A few verses later, in Phil. 1:16, Paul writes, “the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel.” The language is straightforward here. Paul sees himself as appointed for the defense of the gospel. What exactly is Paul getting at when he describes this behavior as the “defense” of the gospel? The use of this word appears in the context of proclaiming the gospel. In v. 14, he refers to those who are speaking the word of God without fear, and in verse 15 he mentions some who are preaching Christ. In v. 17, again, Paul uses the phrase “proclaim Christ.” The context makes it obvious that defending the gospel is bound up in proclaiming the gospel. That is to say that preaching the gospel, publishing the gospel, is also defending the gospel. The word literally means, “to speak on behalf of oneself, or others.” Anytime we publish truth, we speak for something and against something else, namely, falsity. To truly preach Christ is to denounce everything opposed or contradictory to Christ.

In 2 Tim. 4:16, Paul is clearly referring to his formal trial. Hence, the word apologia here indicates a defense in the sense of a legal setting. Scholars are not in agreement on which trial this referred to in Paul’s life. That point is irrelevant. The broader historical fact is that the word is used once more to reference a formal legal hearing of some sort.

We finally come to Peter’s use of the word, apologia. We conclude then that the word was used by Luke on 10 occasions, Paul on 7 occasions, and Peter only on one occasion. It is Peter’s use that most apologists point to in order to frame up an argument for apologetics. Peter wrote, “But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” Here, Peter is dealing with Christians who are obviously under a degree of threat. He encourages the believers not to be intimidated by the threats of the unbelieving culture. He then issues the mandate that Christians are to be ready to provide a defense to everyone who demands that we give a reason of hope that is in us. The apologetic thrust of this verse is located, not only in the word apologia, but in conjunction with the term, aitounti. This word, in this context, means to ask with urgency or to demand.

What does this it look like when Christians are actually defending the gospel? Some would argue that it means going around debating the same person about the same issue repeatedly. Others would say that we should spend years debating specific atheists, engaging all the dozens, hundreds, or thousands of objections they can come up with for why they don’t believe the gospel. Some apologists will rudely accuse fellow believers of anti-intellectualism if they ever draw a line in the sand and refuse to be carried away with complex philosophical schemes designed to produce as many roadblocks to Christian faith as there are days in one’s lifetime. Jesus Himself commanded us not to cast our perils before the swine. He told us that if they don’t receive us, that we are to shake the dust off our feet and move on. Paul left off debating the Jews and turned to the Gentiles because they rejected His gospel.

What have we learned? We have learned that Christians absolutely must be prepared in some circumstances to provide a defense to those who demand that we give an account for the hope that is in us. In other circumstances, Christ has told us NOT to prepare because HE will give us the argument. We ought to be able to articulate the gospel when asked to do so. Contrary to what some apologists claim, this is not a command for Christians to go out and spend hundreds of hours studying ungodly philosophy and the intricacies of logic so that they can deal with every conceivable objection to the faith imaginable. The only reasonable defense of the gospel is a reasoned defense from the gospel. I do believe Christians must be better critical thinkers. We have work to do in terms of how we think. God created us to think excellently. He did not intend for us to be slothful in any area of our lives. We should not be physically, mentally, or spiritually lazy. We should apply ourselves to the word and we should at least understand some of the more basic arguments against the truths of Scripture so that we can address them when we encounter them. The next time you think about criticizing those who bother to learn, to know, to understand, think about this: “How long, O naive ones, will you love being simple-minded? And scoffers delight themselves in scoffing. And fools hate knowledge (Prov. 1:22)?

On the one hand, it is wrong to imply that Christians must be acquainted with every, or even most of the philosophical objections that contradict the Christian worldview. It is simply not possible, not practical, and not biblical to expect people with full-time jobs, families, and other responsibilities to do this. On the other hand, it is also wrong to simply ignore the need for educating and preparing believers in the art and skill of articulating the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the reason for the hope that is in us. We should be able to articulate it. It is equally unacceptable not to teach believers something about opposing views so that they can intelligently engage in these discussions when they are fulfilling their duty in practical evangelism. This also applies to false versions of Christianity, and any doctrine that contradicts the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Apologetics is actually, practical evangelism. It is not going on the internet and arguing ad nauseam, ad infinitum with atheists and skeptics. These websites and forums are more often about who has the best argument, who has the superior intellect, and who is the most logical than they are about the loving proclamation of the truth. If you don’t believe me, go visit a few and dare to disagree, on even the smallest issue and see what happens. These “apologists” will turn their intellectual guns on you and there will hardly be a charitable response to be found. It is a blight on Christianity that seems beyond the Church’s ability to govern. We are commanded to be ready to give a defense to anyone who demands an account of the hope that is us. Such an account is located in the gospel and how God regenerated our own heart. I will blog about how we are to give this response in my next blog.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matt. 28:19-20).”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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