There are several important passages in scripture that shed considerable light on just what apologetics is and how it should be done. The first thing that you should understand from Scripture is that apologetics is a biblical word. It comes from the Greek word apologia which doesn’t mean an apology, but rather a defense (a verbal defense, in the legal sense) of something. The word is used this way in several passages in the New Testament including Acts 22:1, Acts 25:16 and 2 Tim 4:16 where Paul uses it to describe a legal defense in a judicial setting (or at least in the face of a mob bent on “justice”). It is also used in the more general sense of defending the Gospel or defending the validity of Christian hope in 1 Corinthians 9:3, Philippians 1:7, and of course 1 Peter 3:15 that says we are always to be ready to make a defense for the hope that is in us.
Now that you understand what the word means, there are several passages that are instructive for the practice of apologetics. The first lesson that scripture teaches us is that those who deny God are not reasonable or rational, they are foolish. Psalm 14:1 states “the fool has said in his heart there is no God.” This does not mean that unbelievers are necessarily unintelligent or incapable of thinking correct thoughts, but essentially an unbeliever is a fool, completely devoid of true wisdom (which begins with the fear of the Lord). Proverbs 26:4-5 teaches, how we should relate to unbelievers in an apologetic encounter; Never meet them on neutral ground of their choosing, stating “never answer a fool according to his folly…answer a fool as his folly deserves, that he not be wise in his own eyes.” We must never allow an unbeliever’s presuppositions set the framework for an apologetic encounter, rather root all of your arguments (in the logical sense, never be angry in these encounters) in the truth of Scripture.
There is never a reason to meet an unbeliever on supposedly neutral ground, scripture is clear that all men have a knowledge of God. Romans 1:19 speaking of unbelievers states “that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.” Likewise Psalm 19 teaches that “the heavens declare the glory of God and the expanse displays the work of His hands.” There is no need to “prove” the existence of God because the unbeliever already knows, he merely suppresses the truth (Romans 1:18). This suppression is never total, it is rather like trying to hold a beach ball under water, it is nearly impossible and despite their best efforts the beach ball of the knowledge of God will occasionally pop to the surface, so we should proceed confident that although they deny it, the unbeliever is keenly aware of the creator God.
And an appeal to God as creator and sustainer of the world is often a prominent feature in apologetic encounters recorded in scripture. In Acts 14:4-18 Paul addresses the crowd who is seeking to worship him as Hermes and Barnabas as Zeus, that they should turn to the living God “who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them (15), and that He left a witness to all people by providing sustaining rains from heaven and regular harvests that sustain men. Creation is a key touch point in any apologetic encounter.
Perhaps the most widely discussed passage in reference to apologetics is Paul’s Aeropagus speech recorded in Acts chapter 17, and it is very instructive. The first thing to note is that Paul addresses their culture (and by extension their world view). He begins his speech by noting that the city is filled with the objects of pagan worship, and he uses an altar to an “unknown god” as a starting point for his discourse. He does not contextualize his message though; he expressly claims to have knowledge that the Athenians do not, stating “that which you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.” And as we have seen previously, he next proclaims the God of the bible as the creator God (26). He emphasizes both the nearness and transcendence of God (27-29). He also declares the coming judgment of God and calls on his hearers to repent (30), which is very instructive for apologetics. We must never forget that our aim in an apologetic encounter is not to be right, but to bring the unbeliever to faith so that they do not face the wrath of God on judgment day, and to this end he proclaims the resurrection of Jesus and Jesus as eschatological judge (31-32), and looks to the resurrection of Christ as the authentication of his message. And it is worth noting that he doesn’t argue for the resurrection, he simply proclaims it as fact.
Another clear teaching of scripture is that apologetics must be decisive and comprehensive. 2 Corinthians 10:5-6 states “We are 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”. Every means every, there is no attack on the truth of the gospel that is beyond the scope of apologetics, and Christians are always to have an apologetic at the ready as 1 Peter 3:15 states; “, always being ready to make a defense [apologia] to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you.” Yet we must always be gentle and winsome sharing this message “with gentleness and reverence.”
There is more to apologetics than merely addressing the objections of unbelievers. Luke 1:1-4, the preamble of the letter, sheds some light on an often overlooked function of apologetics, to strengthen the faith of the believer. Luke wrote Acts so that Theophilus might know the exact truth about the things he had been taught. Apologetics is not just to counter the arguments of unbelievers, but also to strengthen the faith of Christians.
While this is not an exhaustive discussion of all that the Bible has to say about apologetics, these passages are an excellent foundation to help you begin to build a truly biblical apologetic approach.
Next Up: A look at presuppositional apologetics