Christian apologetics is a popular segment of biblical and theological studies. It’s become a well-liked and in-demand topic among Christian academics, pastors, and churchgoers. Apologists write books, post videos on YouTube, and educate followers of Jesus Christ about arguments, strategies, and tactics. Yet many people still aren’t sure what the term “Christian apologetics” describes.
Christian apologetics, a field of biblical and theological studies that may also include history, science, or literature, seeks to defend the beliefs of Christianity. The word “apologetics” comes from the Greek word for “defend.” Apologists answer the arguments and accusations of skeptics, atheists, and others.
What is the origin of Christian apologetics? Can readers find apologetics in the New Testament? How did the early church practice Christian apologetics? Where is the Greek word for apologetics found in the New Testament, and in what contexts? What are common topics that Christian apologists defend today? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
Also see What’s the Difference Between Christianity and Mormonism? to learn more.
What is the origin of Christian apologetics?
Jesus of Nazareth is the center of Christian apologetics. Understanding who Jesus is and what he did begins with knowing what he said about himself. Therefore, defending the truth claims about Jesus starts with his words recorded in the New Testament Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
Next, people who knew Jesus, like his friends and family, and others who followed him on a daily basis during his public ministry, also defended his identity, works, and teachings. People like Peter, James, and John, broadly speaking, were Christian apologists. The Apostle Paul refers to himself as an apologist in Philippians 1:16 when he writes, “I am put here for the defense [apologia] of the gospel.” (ESV)
|Part of speech||noun|
|Definition||a speech in defense|
Apologetics in the early church
In the first few centuries of the Christian faith, apologists like Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and Jerome, defended the teachings of the Bible against antagonists in the Roman Empire. Some Romans, including emperors, were overtly hostile toward followers of Jesus and sought to persecute and kill them. Other non-Christians believed in false rumors and had misunderstandings that apologists worked to clarify.
For example, opponents of Christianity accused followers of Jesus of being cannibals because they “ate” the body and blood of Jesus at the Lord’s Supper. Apologists defended Christians against such charges and explained the real meaning of remembering Jesus’ death through eating bread and drinking wine.
Also see Why Do Christians Worship on Sundays? to learn more.
Eight topics common in Christian apologetics today
Skeptics of the Christian faith no longer accuse believers of being cannibals. Yet, they make other arguments against Christianity. Some opponents are resentful, hostile, and angry. Others demonstrate more emotional stability; nevertheless, they believe Christianity is incorrect. Common biblical and theological teachings that Christian apologetics defend against today include:
- The reliability and truthfulness of the Old and New Testament
- The divine origin of the universe, including the creation of the earth, plants, animals, and people
- The virgin birth of Jesus, including his sinless nature and moral perfection
- Jesus’ physical resurrection from the dead three days after his death on the cross
- The historical reality of miracles
- The existence of God and his intervention in the world
- The coexistence of God’s omnipotence (all-powerful) and omnibenevolence (all-good)
- Reasons, explanations, and hope in the presence sin, evil, and suffering
“Apologetics is about knowing what we believe, why we believe it and being able to communicate that to others in a winsome and effective way. Once we understand that we realize that all of us are not only called to apologetics, but all of us are equipped to be apologists.” – Voddie Baucham
Also see Why Are Christians So Mean? to learn more.
The Greek word Apologia in the New Testament
The Greek word apologia in any form (noun, verb, or adjective) appears 20 times in the New Testament, mainly in Luke and Paul’s writings. As a verb, it occurs ten times; as a noun, it occurs eight times; and as an adjective, it occurs twice. In most contexts, the word refers to a court of law.
Example 1: Apologia used as a verb in Luke’s writings
- Luke 12:11, “And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say.”
- Luke 21:14, “Settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer” (ESV; NIV: “how you will defend yourself.”)
- Acts 24:10, “And when the governor had nodded to him to speak, Paul replied: ‘Knowing that for many years you have been a judge over this nation, I cheerfully make my defense.'” (ESV)
Example 2: Apologia used as a noun in Peter and Paul’s writings
- 1 Peter 3:15, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect”
- 1 Corinthians 9:3, “This is my defense to those who would examine me.”
- 2 Timothy 4:16, “At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them!”
Example 3: Apologia used as an adjective in Paul’s writings
- Romans 1:20, “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”
- Romans 2:1, “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.”
“Christendom must have men who are able to floor their adversaries and take armor and equipment from the devil, putting him to shame. But this calls for strong warriors who have complete control of Scripture, can refute a false interpretation, know how to wrest the sword they wield, that is their Bible passages, from the hands of the adversaries and beat them back with them.” – Martin Luther
Also see What Is a Christian Apologist? to learn more.
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