Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Not Just 1 Peter 3:15

People often underestimate the Biblical support for apologetics, largely because 1 Peter 3:15 gets cited so inordinately. There's often a false impression that there isn't much or anything to bring up beyond that passage.

See here for an overview of the importance of apologetics, including a discussion of other relevant Biblical passages and some extrabiblical factors involved. In addition to taking that sort of broad approach, we can cite entire Biblical books or chapters rather than just verses. Proverbs says a lot about the value of knowledge, discernment, wisdom, and other relevant intellectual categories, for example. Acts has a large amount of material relevant to apologetics. Think of chapters 17-19, for example. My article linked above discusses the significance of 17:31. On the significance of 18:27-28, see here. Regarding 19:8, which refutes the notion that we "can't argue people into the kingdom", see here. I've also written about the importance of 1 Peter 1:7. Another passage that's useful, among many more that could be cited, is Jeremiah 3:15. Leaders who "feed you on knowledge and understanding" are "after [God's] own heart". The passage is significant on more than one level. It so explicitly associates relational and emotional aspects of life (going after somebody's heart, shepherding, feeding) with intellectual categories. Because of the shepherding theme, it's a good passage to use in leadership contexts. It's also useful in that it's a 3:15 passage, which makes it easier to remember in light of 1 Peter 3:15.


  1. Jason: Thanks for posting such a needed article and the links are helpful too. I like the following passages as possible support for apologetics (some men may have exegetical disagreements regarding the application to apologetics):

    Jude 3 Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.
    Acts 17:2 Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.”
    Acts 18:4 And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks. 5 When Silas and Timothy had come from Macedonia, Paul was compelled by the Spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ.
    Acts 19:8 And he went into the synagogue and spoke boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God. 9 But when some were hardened and did not believe, but spoke evil of the Way before the multitude, he departed from them and withdrew the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus.
    Phil. 1:16 I am appointed for the defense of the gospel.
    2 Tim. 2:24 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.

    1. Those are all good passages to cite in this context. I don't think any passage has to explicitly advocate apologetics as a whole in order to have some relevance. Some passages do explicitly advocate apologetics, but even the passages that just imply it or offer partial support in a cumulative case are worth bringing up.

      The number of relevant passages in Acts is large. It's sad how little interest people have in emulating that attribute of the early church, even though it's such a big attribute.

  2. I agree, there are a lot of other verses, and maybe even better ones. In fact, I'm a little strange on this one: I think I Peter 3:15 gets somewhat over-used and possibly even taken a bit out of context. The immediate context is persecution. It's unclear to me exactly how Peter pictures giving a "reason of the hope that is in you" as playing out in the context he has in mind. They are told to give a reason instead of being afraid of their persecutors. One can, for example, imagine a person in Iran or Communist China standing up before some board that is about to sentence him to torture and/or death and giving a bold proclamation of the Gospel--the reason for his hope, the reason for his willingness to lay down his life. But without any apologetics as we normally think of it in the sense of arguments or evidences for what he holds. In fact, in that context there might not be time or opportunity. It's hardly a "dialogue" type of context, much less a debate.

    I don't want to be too radical on this or say we should stop using I Peter 3:15 to support giving reasons for faith, but it certainly could include activities that are not apologetic in nature.

    1. Peter is addressing a variety of forms of opposition faced by Christians (greater and lesser, legal and non-legal, etc.). Different forms call for different responses. But Christians should be ready to do what Peter refers to in 3:15, even if factors like the ones you mentioned, such as time constraints, prevent the Christian from saying much. On other occasions, more can be said, like what we see with Paul in Acts and what Polycarp offers to provide to the proconsul in The Martyrdom Of Polycarp (10).

      I agree that what Christians are being called by Peter to do in these circumstances involves some non-apologetic elements and that circumstances would sometimes prevent the Christian from doing apologetics as we normally think of it. But the principle Peter sets down is broad enough that it seems to me to call for a readiness to do apologetics, though the circumstances sometimes don't allow us to carry out what we're ready to do. And different people are going to do apologetics to different degrees, Peter's principle has to be balanced with other principles (e.g., what Jesus said about not casting pearls before swine, which is something a Christian would have to consider in a situation like Polycarp's), etc.

      When responding to Celsus, Origen twice takes the initiative to cite 1 Peter 3:15 as a call for apologetics (Against Celsus, 3:33, 7:12). There's a long history of the passage being taken that way.

    2. I kind of suspect that it gets overused because of Bahnsen.

  3. Jason--

    I guess I think of apologetics as a subset of proclaiming the truth. As such, it's of one piece with catechetics and preaching. We are to proclaim the truth to the community at large, including those who are enemies of the faith. To unbelievers who are inquiring into the faith. To new believers and weak believers whose understanding is faulty or inadequate. To strong believers who need to be reminded of the basics and challenged with the depths of the faith. To struggling believers who need someone to come up beside them and keep them from drowning. And to former believers who need their faith reignited.

    You bring up Acts 18:27-28. That's follows hard up on verses 24-26:

    "Now, a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught faithfully the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately."

    We are to proclaim the Gospel even to wicked and foolish people.

    For example, Romans 1:14, 18-23:

    Right after Paul says this:

    "I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish."

    He says this:

    "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

    For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles."

    And then there's James 5:19-20, on bringing someone back to the faith:

    "My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, consider this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and cover over a multitude of sins."

    In other words, I don't think verses have to specifically cover apologetics to endorse apologetics. The unbiblical anti-intellectualism of fundamentalists pervades how they do evangelism and Sunday School and preaching and seminary (if they even include seminary)...and apologetics.

    1. Eric wrote:

      "In other words, I don't think verses have to specifically cover apologetics to endorse apologetics. The unbiblical anti-intellectualism of fundamentalists pervades how they do evangelism and Sunday School and preaching and seminary (if they even include seminary)...and apologetics."

      Yes, there are connections among these things, and something that's not explicit can be implied.

      A bigger problem than the anti-intellectualism of fundamentalists is the intellectual negligence of Evangelicals and a lot of other people. They acknowledge that there's some significance to intellectual efforts like apologetics, but they don't do enough about it. There's also a problem with inconsistency, in that people will be anti-intellectual or intellectually negligent in one context, but not in another.