Simon Brace | 26 March 2020 | 8 min read
The word apologetics is not a word that is familiar to many folks today. If this is you, don’t feel bad, rather see this as an opportunity to learn a new word and at minimum increase your vocabulary. More importantly though, it is an opportunity to learn something about a critical discipline that has been neglected by the Church for many years and which is needed again today.
When first hearing the word apologetics, many Christians get concerned. That is probably because it sounds to them like apology. “Why would I want to be sorry or say that I am sorry about my faith and the Gospel,” you might think. If you have thought along these lines, then this article is here to help you understand that apologetics, does not imply an apology about the Gospel. While the word apology in English has its historical roots in the Greek word which we find in the New Testament and other ancient Greek literature, apologetics is not apologising for the Gospel or Christianity.
There are a number of English words which for various reasons are not common in the vocabulary of those who speak English today. Here is one example: Fudgel. The word fudgel is rarely if ever used today. I certainly have never heard a person use it, but a few hundred years ago you may well have heard the word being used quite commonly. It seems that the word fudgel needs to make a comeback, because, given its definition, it is quite useful in describing something, that we are all guilty of at some point in time. Fudgel means “to pretend to work when you are not actually doing anything.”
Apologetics, like the word fudgel, needs to make a serious comeback into our modern vocabulary, and especially so within the Church. It is particularly unfortunate that many Christians are not familiar with the word since it appears indirectly in the Bible on a number of occasions. Now what do I mean by indirectly? Some of you who have read the Bible are thinking to yourselves: “I have never seen the word before!” The reason for this is that the word apologetics has been translated and you have been reading an English word which, as we are going to discover, is connected to the word apologetics.
Remember, the New Testament was not written in English but in Greek. If you could read Greek, you would certainly be very familiar with the word since you would come across the Greek word apologia (ἀπολογία), which is where we get the word apologetics from, in many instances throughout the Greek New Testament. This word apologia is often translated with the English word reason or defense.
Here is an example from Philippians 1:15-16 written by the apostle Paul:
“Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.”
Now pay attention to the word defense. In the Greek New Testament these two verses from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, would look like this:
“Τινὲς μὲν καὶ διὰ φθόνον καὶ ἔριν, τινὲς δὲ καὶ δι’ εὐδοκίαν τὸν Χριστὸν κηρύσσουσιν· οἱ μὲν ἐξ ἀγάπης, εἰδότες ὅτι εἰς ἀπολογίαν τοῦ εὐαγγελίου κεῖμαι…”
The Greek word underlined and highlighted is the word directly translated from Greek into English as defense. If we did take the word in Greek and replace it with the word apology, then this is what the verse would say:
“Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the apology of the gospel.”
Of course, to any modern reader and Christian, this would seem very strange since it sounds like Paul has been appointed to say that he is sorry for the Gospel. But it would be strange for Paul to say he is sorry about the Gospel and then, only a few verses later, in Philippians 3:8, say this:
“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…”
Paul is obviously not sorry for knowing Christ. So, what is going on here then?
When scholars translate the Bible from Greek to English, they must understand what the Greek word means, and then decide which English word best conveys the meaning of the word in the context of the particular passage. The word apologia in the Greek can be unpacked as follows: The first word apo means from and logia comes from logos which means intelligent reasoning. So, apologia means “from intelligent reasoning,” indicating a well-reasoned reply or a thought-out response to adequately address the issues that are raised in a specific context. Understandably, apologia (reasoned defense) is also the term which refers to a legal defense in an ancient court. So an apology in classical times had nothing to do with saying, “I’m sorry,” but rather was a reasoned argument (defense) that presented evidence and supplied compelling proof.
Therefore, if this is how the word was understood during the times of the New Testament, it is correct to use the word reason or defense for the Greek word apologia. But this verse applies to Paul who was commissioned by Jesus, and so why should we think that all Christians are meant to do apologetics as well?
The Apostle Paul Depicted in Athens
I maintain that all Christians ought to do apologetics for two Biblical reasons: First, the Bible commands all Christians to do apologetics. And second, the early Christians who are an example to us are found to be practicing apologetics in the New Testament.
Let us now consider some verses which establish both the command and the example to do apologetics. You might say that the apostle Peter lays the foundation for the mandate in the New Testament for all Christians to do apologetics:
“But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, 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.”
In these verses the apostle Peter is speaking to all believers, and he urges them to be ready to give a defense or a reason for the hope that is in their hearts. Here we find a command to do apologetics. As was explained earlier the word used for defense in the Greek New Testament is apologia. So Christians should be ready to give an apologetic to everyone who asks them to give an account for the hope that is in them. There are a few things to notice. First, if you are attacked for your faith do not be troubled. Second, in an age of ever increasing skepticism and differing beliefs, ideas and worldviews, it has become common place to meet people who do not know Christ. A Christian should be ready not only to tell another person what the Gospel is, but also why it is reasonable to believe the Gospel. Third, and this is a critical observation, when you do give the reason for the hope within, it should be done in a specific way. Your conversation with others, no matter how contentious they might be towards you, should always be done with “gentleness and reverence” or “gentleness and respect.”
We find another example in Titus 1:7-9:
“For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.”
In the context you will see that this passage in Titus 1 applies to those who are overseers in the Church. An overseer is an elder. So, if you are an elder in a Church or are going to become an elder in a Church, Paul is explaining the characteristics and responsibilities of an elder. One of the main differences between elders and deacons in the local church is that elders are expected to be able to teach. Paul is being specific about what that teaching responsibility of elders ought to include. Elders should be able to encourage people by sound preaching of the word, and they should also be able to refute those who contradict good preaching. A pastor, in short, should not only be able to preach, but defend or give a reason for what he preaches against those who might argue that he is wrong. This clearly is an apologetic task. A pastor should be able to preach and defend the Gospel. So we have established that doing apologetics is a command for both elders and congregants in the local church.
Let us now consider another passage of Scripture which is an excellent example of apologetics being done by the apostle Paul:
“While Paul was saying this in his defense, Festus said in a loud voice, ‘Paul, you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you mad.’ But Paul said, ‘I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I utter words of sober truth. For the king knows about these matters, and I speak to him also with confidence, since I am persuaded that none of these things escape his notice; for this has not been done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets? I know that you do.’ Agrippa replied to Paul, ‘In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.’ Paul said, ‘I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains.'”
The passage above comes from Acts 26, and this is the specific context: Paul had gone to Jerusalem, and some Jews had attacked him because he was preaching the Gospel. The authorities had sent soldiers to rescue Paul, and Paul had been put in custody and sent to Caesarea away from the Jews who were plotting to kill him. The authorities now wanted to hear from Paul why he had been attacked by the Jews. Paul was given an opportunity to defend himself and now finds himself in a hearing before Festus and Agrippa. At the end of his statement, which is basically Paul’s testimony, Festus interrupts Paul and tells him that he is insane. Paul’s response is to say that he is not insane, and the reason he is not, is because the things of which he was speaking, that is, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, were public events that were not hidden “in a corner.”
In 1 Corinthians 15 we are made aware of the fact that there were more than 500 eyewitnesses to the risen Christ and probably many more than that to the public crucifixion of Jesus. Christianity is “true and reasonable” to believe because these events really did happen and therefore do not fit into the categories of myth or legend. It is reasonable and legitimate to appeal to the historical facts surrounding the life of Jesus and the apostles. Remember, salvation in Christianity is not a way of life, nor a sophisticated philosophy, but rather a message grounded upon the historicity of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It is these events alone which can save mankind. This is a beautiful example of apologetics being done by Paul in the New Testament.
So in summary, we have established that apologetics is giving a reason for why you believe Christianity to be true and reasonable. Alongside the definition of apologetics, we have also established the reasons for doing it. It is clear from the Scripture both in terms of commands and example that all Christians ought to be able to give a defense or reason for their faith.
The word apologetics should definitely be reclaimed into the Church’s vocabulary once again. May the task of apologetics never be forgotten or neglected in a world that is becoming increasingly skeptical and hostile to the Christian Faith! And let not the Lord find us guilty of fudgeling in the light of the fact that all Christians have a clear mandate and example to proclaim and defend the Faith.
Beilby, James K. Thinking About Christian Apologetics: What It Is And Why We Do It? Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2011.
Craig, William Lane. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics. Wheaton: Crossway, 2008.
Geisler, Norman L. Christian Apologetics, 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013.
Habermas, Gary R. and Licona, Michael R. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2004.
Moreland, J.P. Scaling the Secular City. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1987.
The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the employees and members of Ratio Christi South Africa.
 The Bible Hub on “apologia,” available at https://biblehub.com/str/greek/627.htm accessed Feb. 13, 2020.
 1 Peter 3:15-16.
 Acts 26:24-29.