Apologetics 101: The Biblical Warrant for Apologetics

By Robie Day

“They did not say, ‘God said it, that settles it, you should believe it!’ They gave a rational defense for their claims.”  – J.P. Moreland on the prophets of the Old Testament

The Greek word apologia appears seventeen times in the New Testament in its noun and verb form.  It is usually used in the context of a speech given to defend oneself against criticisms or accusations brought by others.  However, there are several verses which use apologia in the context of providing a reasoned defense of one’s faith.  The best example of these verses is probably 1 Peter 3:15, which states, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense (apologia) to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (ESV).  Here, Peter distinguishes between an explanation of what a Christian believes and providing a defense or reason for holding that belief.  Another similar verse is found in the opening chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians.  In Philippians 1:7, Paul writes, “It is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense (apologia) and confirmation of the gospel” (ESV).  In expressing his affection for the Philippians, Paul acknowledges their contribution to the cause of sharing the gospel, which includes providing a defense (apologia) of the gospel.[1]

The warrant for apologetics is not only an instruction given in Scripture, but it is also demonstrated by example throughout both the Old and New Testament.  It is a well-known fact that the ancient Israelites were excellent record keepers.  Their exhaustive genealogies were not mere family trees, but historical references to real people and real events .[2]  Apologetics can also be seen in the writing of the OT prophets.  J.P. Moreland wrote of the use of apologetics in the Old Testament

Regularly, the prophets appealed to evidence to justify belief in the biblical God or in the divine authority of their inspired message: fulfilled prophecy, the historical fact of miracles, the inadequacy of finite pagan deities to be the cause of such a large, well-ordered universe compared to the God of the Bible, and so forth.  They did not say, “God said it, that settles it, you should believe it!”  They gave a rational defense for their claims.[3]

Of course, what better example do we have in Scripture than Jesus himself?  When asked what the greatest commandment of the Law was, he replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37)(emphasis added).  Jesus never intended for his followers to follow him blindly without reason.  He instructs believers to worship him with our whole being, including our mind, and demonstrated the use of such reasoning in his own example.  Jesus repeatedly reasoned with the Sadducees and Pharisees who continuously sought to find flaws in his teaching (Matt. 22:23-33).  When Jesus’ claims and teaching were challenged, he repeatedly pointed to the Old Testament to substantiate his claims.  After his resurrection, Jesus stated that the “Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms” are fulfilled in him, referencing the Old Testament as evidence to his claim to deity (Luke 24:44 ESV).

Finally, providing a reasoned defense of the gospel can also be seen in the example of the New Testament writers.  Luke makes it a point to emphasize the accuracy of his gospel by emphasizing the use of eyewitness accounts to “write an orderly account…that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:1-4 ESV).  Luke is explaining that his emphasis on an accurate recording of historical events is for the purpose of proving what is being taught through the use of historical evidence.  We also see the use of apologetics in Paul’s sermon to the Athenians (Acts 17), in which he made his case for a “personal, transcendant, immanent and relational” God, giving the polytheistic Athenians a proper understanding of Jesus, before sharing the gospel.[4]  Paul’s use of apologetics was, in a sense, a preparation for sharing the gospel.  Had he not taken the time to do so, the Athenians may have easily misunderstood Paul, thinking his claim was that Jesus was a mere prophet or some form of a lesser god.[5] (We will look more closely at Paul’s methodology in future posts).

While these passages all demonstrate the use of apologetics, they are only a small sample of the plethora of passages that demonstrate the use of apologetics in the Bible.  My prayer for those who are new to apologetics is that this post has helped you to see the biblical basis for studying apologetics, and that it will encourage you to continue your own study of apologetics in the Bible.

Read the whole series: Defining Apologetics

[1] This is, by no means, an exhaustive list of biblical passages that warrant the use of apologetics.  Other verses that are commonly referred to when demonstrating the biblical warrant for apologetics are Philippians 1:15-16, 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, Colossians 2:8-9, and Jude 3.

[2] Ed Hindson, “Biblical Apologetics,” The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics: Surveying the Evidence for the Truth of Christianity, ed. Ed Hindson and Ergun Caner (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2008), p. 29.

[3] J.P. Moreland, Love Your Go with All Your Mind (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1997), p. 132.

[4] Douglas Groothius, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2011) p. 35.

[5] Ibid., 36.

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