What is Apologetics?

Apologetics… what a strange word if one is not familiar with it. It sounds as if someone has taken the word apology and combined it with ethics: apolog-ethics? Some have responded with dismay at the suggestion of “apologizing” for being a Christian. Thankfully, neither of these two scenarios reflect the meaning of the word.

The word apologetics derives its meaning from ancient Greek. Strong’s concordance defines ἀπολογία (apologia) as “a verbal defense,” and it appears in the original Greek New Testament eight times.

Now that there is a definition, how is this word to be understood as a Christian? If you, the reader, have ever shared the gospel and given answers to objections, or if you have given answers to arguments against Christianity or God’s existence, then you have already engaged in some manner of Apologetics: you have given a verbal defense for the faith that you have. Furthermore, in giving these verbal defenses you have obeyed instructions given by Peter and Jude (see verses below).

Regrettably, there are Christians who oppose apologetics. In fact, many times they present “a verbal defense” to do so. Sometimes the objection to apologetics is stated in this manner: “All that needs to be done is share the gospel and let God do the rest.” Sadly, this view overlooks the passages where Christians are admonished to defend the faith. And this view also overlooks the numerous passages where we see individuals in the New Testament setting an example of defending the faith.

Here are a few passages with such examples:

“On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, 6 with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. 7 And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, ‘By what power or by what name did you do this?’ 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and elders, 9 if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. 11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.'”
Acts 4:5-12 (ESV)

“And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, ‘This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.'”
Acts 17:2-3 (ESV)

“Every Sabbath he (Paul) reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.”
Acts 18:4 (NIV)

“When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers and sisters encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. When he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. For he vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah.”
Acts 18:27-28 (NIV)

Even Jesus engaged in apologetics.

After Jesus healed the invalid of thirty-eight years in John chapter 5, the Jews of that day challenged Jesus on why He healed the man on the Sabbath. Jesus responded with several verbal defenses: His given authority from the Father, John the baptist’s testimony, and Jesus’ own works as testimony.

And as mentioned, there are passages that instruct Christians to defend the faith.

“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 Peter 3:15 (ESV)

“Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”
Jude 3 (ESV)

With examples in the New Testament from Jesus and church leaders, and commands from New Testament authors, it seems pretty clear what Christians should be doing with the gospel and their faith … giving a verbal defense.