The biblical mandate of every believer (esp. to those in Christian ministry positions, viz. pastors, teachers, evangelists) is to grow theologically (2 Pet. 3:18), contend for and defend the faith (1 Pet. 3:15; Jude 1:3), and to evangelize (Rom. 1:16; 10:15, 17)—in obedience to the Lord.
The term “apologetics” comes from the Greek nounapologia (in all case forms), which appears eight times in the Greek NT. The term apologia is a compound word from apo (“from”) and logos (logic/intelligent reasoning”), thus, to provide an answer or logical and coherent response to an objection raised. It is an intelligent verbal defense, or speech. The term was used in an ancient court for making a legal defense.
1 Pet. 3:15: “But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense [apologian] to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” As with the book of James, 1-3 John, and Jude, Peter’s Epistles are “catholic” Epistles, meaning general or universal letters. Unlike the narrative books (Gospels, Acts), the NT catholic Epistles were not written to particular churches or persons; rather, they were to the general population of Christians thus, Peter mandates every Christian to be ready to:
- Make a defense (apologia). All Christians are called to defend the faith not by philosophy, but rather by Scripture.
- Give a reason (logos) for that defense, with gentleness and respect. Apologetics then is a “reasonable defense” of essential biblical theology in which the entire Christian faith rests. In an age where apologetics and essential doctrine become a mere sidebar in the Christian church, it was a primary theme in the Scriptures.
The Apostle Paul, for example, devotes enormous space in his letters to the defense and proclamation of the gospel. In fact, virtually all of the NT Epistles were written to undeceive the church and refute (i.e. provide a defense) a particular false doctrine and affirm essential truths of the gospel (esp. that Jesus was God-man, the triune concept of God, and justification through faith alone apart from works).
Acts 17:16-17—Paul in Athens: 16 “Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was being provoked within him as he was observing the city full of idols.”
The term “provoked” (paroxunō) carries the meaning to incite or jab someone or something. Thayer defines the meaning as “to irritate, provoke, rouse to anger; to stimulate their emotions.” The verb here is an imperfect indicative denoting a repeated action. Paul’s provocation against the idolatry he saw was persistent and ongoing. The term reasoning is from the Greek word dialegomai. This term is a compound word from dia (“through”) and legō (“to reason, speak”). 17 “So [as a result] he was reasoning [dialegomai] in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present.” So what was Paul arguing? Note verses 2-3 of Acts 17:
2 And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.”
Phil. 1:7, 16. Writing from prison (house arrest), Paul explained to the church of Philippi that “it was because of “apologetics” that he was in chains: “Since both in my imprisonment and in the defense [fr. apologia] and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers of grace with me. . . . 16 I am appointed for the defense [from apologia] of the gospel.”
Acts 18:28 “For he [Apollos] powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ (cf. vv. 24-27).
Jude 1:3: “Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.” As with 1 Peter 3:15, Jude, through the Holy Spirit, instructs all Christians to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all [hapax] handed down [delivered] to the saints” (2 Cor. 10:3-5; Titus 2:13).
The Glory of God in Apologetics: The Church of Ephesus
While Paul was meeting with the Ephesian pastors (elders), he gave then pointed instructions of their divine calling as pastors of the church (Acts 20:17:31). Note verses 26-31:
26 “Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. 27 For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. 28 Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which He purchased with His own blood. 29 I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears.”
Note: Paul’s main admonishments to the overseers (syn. with elders, pastors) of the church: Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock (v. 28); against the “false teachers”(savage wolves) within the church (vv. 29-30); “Therefore be on the alert” (v. 31). Question: Did the Ephesian overseers listen? Yes they did! Look at Jesus’ message to them in Rev. 2:2-3:
2 “I know your deeds and your toil [kopon] and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; 3 and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary.”
Jesus says He “knows” (oida) their deeds/works. Jesus sees all in the church and each member, in and out. The term “toil” is from the Greek noun kopos meaning, “toil of labor,” intense laborious work, involving fatigue – from the verb koptō, to hit, denoting deep fatigue; “to cut, by means of a sharp-edged instrument (BDAG). Thayer indicates that the kopos is equivalent to koptein in Jer. 51:33 (LXX): A beating of the breast in grief or sorrow; intense labor. In the NT, kopos is synonymous with ponos, which carries the meaning of “pain” as in Rev. 21:4.
Jesus commended the church of Ephesus for their intense painful labor (kopos) and perseverance in 1) not tolerating evil men (false teachers), 2) testing those who call themselves apostles, who were not, 3) finding them false, and 4) enduring for Jesus’ name sake and not growing weary. They glorified God in their deeds of continuous and laborious apologetics adhering to Paul’s warning of the wolves “from among your own selves” (i.e., in the church). The Apostle Paul’s entire Christian life was defending and affirming the essential doctrines of the Christian faith (the gospel).
Apologetic Duty for Christians
What is our biblical obligation when we encounter false teachings or teachers? See Matt. 7:15: “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (cf. 1 Pet. 3:15; Jude 1:3).
Firm Foundation of Faith
Accurately defending and affirming the truth requires that one is familiar with the truth. If one is not familiar with the basic truth of the gospel, how is he or she going to be familiar with teachings that oppose biblical truth? In 2 Tim. 2:15, Paul stresses directly to the pastors: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling [orthotomeō, lit., “cut straight”!] the word of truth.”
Although written directly to pastors, all Christians should make every effort to handle God’s Word accurately and precisely ensuring with great diligence that their interpretation is correct before they apply it to themselves and others.
The first phrase, “Be diligent” is from the verb, spoudason, which is in the aorist imperative. The tense here stresses urgency. The verb carries the meaning of being swift or fast, “to exert oneself” (Thayer). “Endeavor, earnestly strive” (Mounce). Pastors and church leaders have a higher responsibility to defend and refute false teachers and doctrines (Titus 1:9, 13).
After Paul affirms the sufficiency of Scripture alone for the task of teaching, rebuking, correcting, “training in righteousness” and the equipping the man of God for pan ergon agathon (“every good work,” 2 Tim. 3:16-17), he furthers instructs pastors to: “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Tim. 4:2). Note the five aorist imperatives (stressing urgency): “Preach,” “be ready,” “reprove/refute,” “rebuke,” and “exhort/encourage.” Why is Paul stressing such urgency of these commandments? Note in the next verses, 3-4:
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.
Engaging in affirming and defending the faith, was commanded and addressed by Jesus (Matt. 7:15); Paul (Acts 20:17-31; Gal. 1:6, 8; Col. 2:3-4, 8-9; Titus 2:13); Peter (1 Pet. 3:15; 2 Pet. 2:1ff.); Jude (Jude 1:3); and John (1 and 2 John).
As said, virtually every NT epistle was written for the express purpose of refuting false doctrines and providing a positive affirmation of essential truth. In John 20:31, the Apostle John provides a two-fold reason (apologetic and evangelistic) as to why he wrote his Gospel: “But these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God [apologetic], and that believing you may have life in His name” (evangelistic). Thus, we as Christians are called to always be ready to provide a biblical defense and a reason for our faith.
The church of Ephesus was commended by Christ Himself for engaging in continuous apologetics—in actively testing and finding false teachings and teachers: 2 “I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance. . . . 3 and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary” (Rev. 2:2-3).
“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” (1 Pet. 3:15).
 The verbal form appears in the NT ten times.
 Bauer, Danker, Arndt, and Gingrich, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, 3rd ed.