The New Testament writers anticipate and answer objections and seek to demonstrate the credibility of the claims and credentials of Christ, focusing especially on the resurrection of Jesus as the historical foundation upon which Christianity is built. Many New Testament writings are occupied with polemics against false teachings, in which the apologetic concern is to defend the gospel against perversion from within the church. – Dr. Robert M. Bowman, Jr., Theologian and Apologist
Over the last two posts we focused on the fact that both the Apostle John and Paul could be considered great Apologists. They wrote the majority of the New Testament and you can find them presenting and defending the Gospel vigorously in all of their writings. But what about the rest of the New Testament authors, did they use apologetics as well?
To be clear for those who are new to the idea of using apologetics let me explain: Apologetics, apologia in the Greek, means to give a defense like one would do in a court of law. Christians have used apologetics since the time of Jesus and if you look closely even Jesus himself used apologetics (example: Luke 5:17-26). Christian Apologetics helps point people to truth (reality) about God, Scripture—the connection of the Old Testament (covenant) to the New Testament (covenant)—and to ultimate truth that came in the person and teachings of Jesus.
There is another term to be familiar with called polemics, derived from the Greek term polemikos. This is a term closely associated with apologetics, but a polemic is more aggressive and offensive instead of defensive. Defined: “It is intended to affirm a specific understanding under attack from a contrary position. Polemics are often used in issues related to religion, philosophy, politics or science.” The Apostles and disciples of Jesus often used a form of polemics when the attack was coming from within the group or the Church itself.
John’s ability to define and defend the Deity of Jesus and Paul’s skill at evaluating people and their world-view, and then explaining and defending the Gospel, were both extraordinary examples of using both apologetics and polemics. What we find in the other writers of the New Testament is just as remarkable.
A summary statement on how the other New Testament Authors used apologetics (and polemics):
Matthew: Presented the defense of Jesus, as the promised Messiah, to Jewish Christians using Jewish history and their knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures and prophecy showing fulfillment found only in Jesus.
Mark: Presented the defense of Jesus’ authority as the Messiah using eyewitness testimony, his own and the Apostle Peter’s, along with a record of Jesus’ teachings and miracles as evidence.
Luke: Presented the defense of Jesus’ ministry and personhood using facts of history, geography, politics and personal interviews to accurately verify all of the things being reported about Jesus as the Christ. Much of his writings also include apologetics for the Apostle Paul and his ministry. He is the author of both Luke and Acts and is arguably one of the greatest historians to ever live.
The author of Hebrews: The author here (who may well have been Paul) presented a historical and theological case in favor of Jesus’ fulfilling the Old Covenant and instituting the New Covenant as the promised Messiah who by evidence is superior to angels, superior to the Jewish leaders, superior to the priests and the most sufficient sacrifice for sins.
James: A half brother of Jesus, wrote polemically to expose hypocritical practices in the early Church and to teach right Christian behavior.
Peter: Should be right up there with John and Paul in his ability to present and defend the Gospel. This is seen through the eyes of Mark in his Gospel and in Peter’s sermons in Acts (1:15-20; 2:14-41; 4:8-13). Peter’s own letters (1 and 2 Peter) were written not only to encourage the early Christians in persecution and warn of false teachers, but also to exhort them to grow in their knowledge and faith in order to defend the truth. It is here that we find what most Apologists use as a theme: But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, (1 Peter 3:15).
Jude: Also a half brother of Jesus, had wanted to write an encouraging letter to Christians about their common salvation but instead penned, “now I find that I must write about something else, urging you to defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time…” (1:3). Jude, the last letter before the book of Revelation, found himself writing a very strong polemic to Christians in opposition of heresy that was growing within the Church.
Jude ends his letter with this encouragement that I believe is just as (if not more) important for us today:
But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, “In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.” These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit. But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.
To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen. – Jude 17-25
Chain of Custody: Can we trust what we have from these authors?
According to J. Warner Wallace in Cold Case Christianity, “The New Testament chain of custody preserved the primacy and sacred importance of the eyewitness documents and delivered them faithfully to those who would later identify them publicly in the councils that established our present canon of Scripture. These councils did not create the canon or the current version of Jesus we know so well; they simply acknowledged the canon and description that had been preserved by the eyewitnesses.”
Let me know what you think:
- Is it important as a Christian to understand the purpose and use of apologetics and polemics?
- Do you have enough knowledge to defend what you believe?
For further reading I highly recommend: The series at bible.org called “Faith Has Its Reasons” by Kenneth D. Boa and Robert M. Bowman, Jr. https://bible.org/series/faith-has-its-reasons
Join us next week as we continue our Case for Christianity.
In these posts I am going to continue to present logical reasoning and sound scientific evidence not found in the public school textbooks.
This blog is part of a series. You can start the series by going back to the September 1, 2014 Introduction called A Case for Christianity: Why do we need one?
Always be ready to give an answer for the hope that you have in Christ Jesus as Lord. 1 Peter 3:15