By Brad Cooper. “Do we need to teach apologetics in the church?” Asking this question is like asking:
*Do we need to obey the commands of Scripture?
*Are we obligated to follow the example of Christ?
*Should we follow the example of the apostles and other New Testament leaders?
*Do we need the Bible?
If we are Christians, the obvious answer to all of these is an emphatic “YES!” Let me show you the connection.
1) “Do we need to obey the commands of Scripture?” In 1 Peter 3:15, we are given the command to “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,….” The Greek word that is used in this verse (apologia) is the word for preparing a legal defense for a court of law (1). This is what we are commanded to do in defending the Gospel–prepare a reasonable defense of what we believe. Therefore, part of the job of the church is to equip people to do just that.
2) “Are we obligated to follow the example of Christ?” Jesus constantly used apologetics in declaring himself to be the Messiah and in defending his message. Let me give you a couple of clear examples:
“Jesus answered: ‘Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.'” (emphasis mine; John 14:9-11; also 10:28, 35)
“When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?’ Jesus replied, ‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.'” (emphasis mine; Matthew 11:2-5)
We see here that Jesus provided tangible evidence of his Messiahship even to those who knew him best. (Also, see John 20:24-29.)
3) “Should we follow the example of the apostles and other New Testament leaders?” The book of Acts makes it clear that apologetics was an emphasis among those who first declared the Good News. Consider the following verses:
“These men began to argue with Stephen, but they could not stand up against his wisdom or the Spirit by whom he spoke.” (Acts 6:9-10)
“Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.” (emphasis mine; Acts 9:22)
“As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. ‘This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ,’ he said.” (emphasis mine; Acts 17:2-3)
“For he [Apollos] vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.” (emphasis mine; Acts 18:28)
(Also, see Acts 1:1-3; 2:22; 14:17; 17:17, 27, 31; 18:28; 19:8; 22:1; and 28:23-24.)
It is also instructive to note that the qualification for being an apostle was to have personally witnessed all of Jesus’ ministry and miracles from the time of his baptism to the time of his death, resurrection, and ascension (Acts 1:21-22). And also note that the mark of an apostle was the ability to do “signs, wonders and miracles” to confirm their testimony (2 Corinthians 12:12). It seems very clear that God desires to provide us with concrete evidence that Jesus is the Messiah.
4) “Do we need the Bible?” The entire Bible is an apologetic for faith in God through Jesus his Messiah. To demonstrate that would take a rather lengthy book. But let me outline the case for the fact that the four Gospels are first and foremost an apologetic that Jesus is the Messiah. Luke and John are quite explicit about their apologetic intent; but when examined carefully, it can be seen that Matthew and Mark were also designed with the purpose of providing convincing evidence that Jesus Christ is the Messiah.
A) Matthew wrote his gospel to the Jews. And so Matthew is constantly providing the kinds of evidence that a Jew would want to see in order to believe that Jesus is the Messiah. He begins with Jesus’ genealogy, showing that Jesus was a descendant of Abraham and of David, the line through which the Messiah must come. He then shows the miraculous nature of his birth, including an angelic announcement that his virgin birth was a fulfillment of Isaiah 7:14. He then adds an inadvertent admission of his Messiahship by the chief priests and teachers of the law (Matthew 2:3-5). He also records endorsements by John the Baptist (the greatest contemporary prophet; see chapter 3) and Moses and Elijah (the greatest prophets of the past; see 17:1-7). And these accounts are further confirmed by a voice from heaven. Throughout his Gospel, Matthew is constantly showing how Jesus fulfills the prophecies of the Messiah that were recorded in the Old Testament. And he frequently clarifies this by using some form of this explicit formula: “this happened to fulfill what was said through the prophet” (1:22; 2:15, 17, 23; 4:14; 8:17; 12:17; 13:35; 21:4; 26:56; 27:9). Furthermore, he weaves in numerous accounts of Jesus’ miracles and of prophecies given by Jesus. And all of this culminates in what was to be the most important sign of his Messiahship: his death and resurrection (see 12:38-39; 16:4). Matthew includes all of this and more for the purpose of demonstrating to the Jews that Jesus is the Messiah promised through the prophets.
B) Mark’s apologetic is much simpler. His gospel is directed towards the Romans and the thing that the Romans were looking for as evidence more than anything else was demonstrations of power. So–while occasionally using some of the same types of evidence seen in Matthew and the other Gospels–Mark focuses on Jesus’ miracles and exorcisms as evidence of his Divine nature.
C) Luke’s apologetic is geared towards Greeks. He begins his gospel by explicitly stating that the whole purpose of writing it is to provide certainty about the things that are taught about Jesus (1:1-4). Here he also makes clear that this is accomplished by his very careful and thorough historical investigation. He assures his readers that his gospel is not filled with hearsay or legend, but with trustworthy accounts that he has personally investigated with the same kind of rigor that was known of the greatest Greek historians. And indeed, Luke has been shown to be a historian of first rank (2, 3).
Like Matthew, Luke makes note of Jesus’ virgin birth and accompanying angelic proclamations (1:5-2:14), along with his genealogical line through Abraham and David (3:23-38). Also like Matthew and Mark, Luke notes that Jesus is endorsed by the greatest living prophet (John the Baptist; 3:1-22) and the greatest prophets of the past (Moses and Elijah; 9:28-35)–and confirmed by the voice from heaven. But Luke goes further than the other gospels in providing several accounts of lesser known prophecies given at the time of Jesus’ birth that recognized him as the Messiah: John the Baptist’s father and mother (Zechariah and Elizabeth), Jesus’ mother Mary, Simeon and Anna (1:42-55, 67-79; 2:25-38). And as with the other gospels, he gives accounts of Jesus’ miracles and his fulfillment of Messianic prophecies. Finally his gospel closes with a detailed account of Jesus’ death and of his appearances to his disciples after his resurrection. All of these carefully investigated accounts converge to prove that Jesus is the Messiah.
D) John’s gospel has many of the same apologetic devices as the other gospels: accounts of Jesus’ miracles and prophetic utterances, his fulfillment of Messianic prophecy, his death, and his resurrection appearances. But John, writing towards the end of his life and by this time well known and respected, adds the weight of his own personal testimony in his account: “The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken,’ and, as another scripture says, ‘They will look on the one they have pierced.’” (19:35-37) And also: “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (20:30-31) And finally: “This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.” (21:24)
CONCLUSION: So the command and example of God’s inspired Word, and the example of Jesus’ and those who first proclaimed the Gospel are all one in declaring the need for us to provide a defense of the faith we teach.
Let me close with this final thought: When we make disciples, we are to teach them to obey everything that Christ has commanded–up to and including being ready to die for him. We must be sure that they are not like a builder who has set out to build a tower but has not done the intellectual work of securing the deed for the land, drawing up workable blueprints and finalizing a working budget (see Luke 14:25-33). This is what a person is like who decides to follow Jesus but has no means of verifying that he is really the Messiah, Savior, Creator and Judge. What will such a person do when persecution comes? How will they handle the mocking of skeptics? And what will you do to prepare yourself and others?
As a repsonse to this, I want to encourage you to read and sign the following petition as a pledge to make sure that your church is doing what it needs to do to equip its people “to defend the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3).
Please read and sign the petition here: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/churches-for-apologetics
*You will also find examples of what others have pledged and some great apologetics resources at this link.
*Note: All Scripture references are quoted from the New International Version, 1984.
(1) Verbrugge, Verlyn. New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology: Abridged Edition. (Zondervan, Grand Rapids: 2000), 63-64.
(2) “Luke is a first-class ancient historian, and most good ancient historians understood their task well.” Bock, Darrell L.Luke 1:1-9:50 (Baker Academic, Grand Rapids: 1994), 13; also 54-61.
(3) “Luke is a historian of the first rank; not merely are his statements trustworthy . . . this author should be placed along with the very greatest of historians.” – Ramsay, William. The Bearing of Recent Discoveries on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1953), 222. As quoted in the following excellent web article on Sir William Ramsay: http://www.blueletterbible.org/faq/don_stewart/stewart.cfm?id=804
This article originally published at To Be Sure.