Ask Steve: What is Apologetics?

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The Red Sea Rules: 10 God-Given Strategies for Difficult Times

by Robert J. Morgan

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2001, Thomas Nelson




Question: Hello Steve. What is apologetics? Are there any passages in the Bible that specifically teach us anything about apologetics? If so what are those passages and what can we learn from them?

Answer: Apologetics comes from the Greek term apologia, from which we get the English word ‘apology.’ Contrary to its modern English meaning, apologia does not mean that we are sorry for something or seek for forgiveness from those we have offended. Rather, it means quite the opposite. It is defending a claim against objections. As it relates to Christianity, apologetics is “the defense of the Christian faith against falsehood, inconsistency, and credulity,” as Steven Cowan states. It is both an intellectual and practical exercise that all Christians should be familiar with to some degree, since we are all called to evangelize, give witness, and be ready to make a “defense [apologia] 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).

There are four functions of apologetics. The first one is to provide proof. Apologetics is the art of using scientific, historical, geographical, archaeological, and philosophical arguments to shed light on the accurate words of Scripture. This is often called the positive case for Christianity. In other words, Christianity is reasonable. The second function is to provide a defense. This is defending the truth claims of Scripture against misunderstandings, misrepresentations, and defamations that seek to assault its integrity. By answering objections, questions, and criticisms, Christianity is shown to not be unreasonable, as many skeptics would argue. The third function is to provide an offense. The apologist not only defends God’s word, but seeks to dismantle the foundations of the counterviews (which are many in the world). This discipline shows that other worldviews, religions, and philosophical systems are false, inconsistent, and often times unreasonable. The fourth and last function is to provide a witness. This is the end goal of all apologetics, which is to use apologetics in service of bolstering the gospel message and evangelizing the prospect. People not only need to acknowledge the truth of Christianity, but embrace it, since souls are on the line. Christ commands the church to evangelize in carrying out the Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20), therefore apologetics should ultimately be aimed at reaching the lost with the gospel. Failure to do this will makes apologetics a futile endeavor.

There are many instances in Scripture in which apologetics is used. In Acts 22:1, the Apostle Paul says, “Brethren and fathers, hear my defense [apologia] which I now offer to you.” Paul also defends the faith when standing before King Agrippa, saying, “I answered them that it is not the custom of the Romans to hand over any man before the accused meets his accusers face to face and has an opportunity to make his defense [apologia] against the charges” (Acts 25:16). Paul also speaks in epistles such as 1 Corinthians: “My defense [apologia] to those who examine me is this. . .” (1 Cor 9:3). In all of these cases, Paul’s goal is to defend the Christian faith against attacks and accusations, whether from common citizens or kings, with the goal of proclaiming the truth of the gospel. This has been the practice of 1st century apostles, as well as Christians in the centuries thereafter.

There are many things we can learn from these apologetics passages in the Bible. One of the most valuable implications is the technique of apologetics. One such example comes from Acts 17:16-34. Here, Paul preaches open air to the Gentiles of Athens, examining the “unknown god” that stands prominently in the Areopagus. If you read through this passage, you will notice four things about Paul’s apologetic technique:

Paul identifies and interacts with the falsehood. The Apostle begins his sermon by acknowledging the religious nature of the Athenians, and even pointing to the object of their religion – an altar that displayed an “Unknown god” (v. 23). Of course, we know that this altar god is merely an idol, through it may have been a manifestation of the Gentile’s understanding of God from general revelation. However, this does not equate entirely with the God who revealed Himself in Scripture, who can only be known through special revelation of His word. However, Paul uses the identity of this mysterious god in his opening argument. He identifies the idol and calls it an object that the Athenians worship in ignorance (v. 24). Paul goes on to describe the nature of what God is like – that He does not dwell in temples or is made up of gold and silver. This is all in contrast to man-made idols, which Paul debunks in his speech.

Paul uses logic and reason to reveal the error of the falsehood, and to shed light on the truth. The Apostle does this by not only refuting the erroneous nature of God (which characterizes all false religions in history), but asserting what the true God is like, which can be observed in general revelation. Paul declares that this one true God is Lord over all heaven and earth (v. 24), made all people (v. 25), and sustains life to this day (v. 28). These are observations that we understand from looking at God’s invisible power and nature from creation (Rom 1:19-20). But it is first and foremost true because God revealed these truths about Himself in many parts of Scripture. If the Bible is God’s inspired word, then it is a true testimony concerning all matters of life (2 Tim 3:16-17).

Paul gives historical proof that supports his claim. Now that Paul reveals the falsehood and unravels its error, he goes on to use historical proof to bolster what the word of God already says about the existence and authority of Yahweh. He speaks about the historical event of Jesus’ resurrection (v. 31) as proof that Jesus’ claims of salvation in His name were true and binding on all humanity. This event furnishes sufficient proof to the world that the God of Paul is the true God of this world, that Jesus Himself was God, and that He will one day judge the living and the dead (v. 30).

Paul calls on his audience to believe the gospel. As I have mentioned, this is where apologetics should always lead to. Paul closes this section by exhorting the listeners in the Areopagus to repent, because “He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed…” (v. 30-31). And that man is the person of Jesus Christ. Paul says of faith defense as “destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ…” (2 Cor 10:5).

This is one of a few good passages that demonstrate good apologetics in action. It is always grounded in God’s word. It uses empirical evidence to support Scripture. It is a defense and an offense. It seeks to bolster the faith of Christians and aid in the task of evangelism. Because it is important to help believers know more about their faith and to bring unbelievers to a saving knowledge of Christ, apologetics is indispensable to pastoral ministry, counseling, and the life of the individual believer. It is especially important now in an age where vicious attacks come from all angles to dismantle the Christian faith and get people to disbelieve the Bible. Through not every Christian becomes a world class intellect and arguer of the Christian faith, every Christian is called to know enough to defend his faith and, at times, strengthen the faith of others. That is the essence of 1 Corinthians 9:3 and 1 Peter 3:15.