Apologia and “Be Ready”
I’ve been writing on a commonly misused verse, I Peter 3:15. It is not a verse about modern apologetics ministries, evangelism training, or willingness to teach, but how believers are to respond to persecution. (Part One, “This verse is about persecution.” Part Two, “Courage, Dear Hearts.“)
We may not face severe persecution yet, but few serious believers who watch the news would doubt that it could come soon. We cannot afford to throw away Biblical instruction for persecuted believers, mangling it into something completely different. As we still have freedom to teach freely, believers should be learning what the Scriptures say about persecution and preparing for our own fiery trials.
Perhaps someone who knows Greek has been reading through these posts, patiently. He’s just dying to say, “Wait a minute, Jon! The Greek word for ‘answer’ in this verse is apologia. It’s the very word from which apologetics is derived, and it means answer, or defence, or reason. Of course this is talking about apologetics.”
If that is your response, your Greek is correct, but the “of course” is mistaken, and I have an apologia (defence) for saying so. 🙂
I Peter 3:15
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer (apologia) to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.
The Greek word apologia appears in the New Testament in seven other places. Five of the seven (Acts 22:1; 25:15; Philippians 1:7; 1:17; II Timothy 4:16) are in a persecution context, four in a formal trial setting. (The other two are I Corinthians 9:3 and II Corinthians 7:11). None of these are comparable to modern “apologetics.”
The verb form of the word, apologeomai (to speak in one’s own defense, to answer), occurs ten times. Eight are in a persecution context (Luke 12:11; 21:14; Acts 19:33; 24:10; 25:8; 26:1, 2, 24), most of which are referring to a formal legal trial. The other two are Romans 2:15 (which is using legal trial language metaphorically) and II Corinthians 12:19.
If apologia means “apologetics,” it means a far different thing from what we think of today when we talk about “apologetics ministry.”
At this point, someone might say, “OK, but it says to give a reason. So this is telling us to have a reasoned, logical defence, designed to persuade the hearers, ready to give out when needed at a trial or in other times of persecution.”
New Testament Apologia
Perhaps we can look at the examples in Acts for a pattern of what this logical defence should look like. Perhaps not — when it comes to “reasoned defence” it seems Stephen and Paul missed the memo. They did just about everything except logical explanations of Christianity when answering persecution. Here is the essence of their “reasoned, logical defences designed to convince the hearers.”
Stephen (Acts 7)
“You are as rebellious and as murderous as your forefathers.” (This did not win the debating prize that day — the audience wasn’t convinced.)
Paul and Silas in Philippi (16:36-37)
This wasn’t a trial, but Paul has a message for the magistrates. Remember Alice in Wonderland (“Sentence first – Verdict afterward”)? That had nothing on these chaps — both sentence and punishment came before the trial and verdict. Paul’s “defence?” “How dare you do what you did to us, we are Roman citizens!” (This one did earn some respect, though not in the way we usually think of it.)
Paul in Corinth and Ephesus (18:12-16, 19:29-31)
“Don’t I even get to say anything this time?” (Paul never got to speak.)
Paul Before the Multitude in Jerusalem (22:1-22)
“I persecuted Christians, but I saw the risen Jesus on the Damascus road, I believed, and He sent me to the Gentiles.” (Another failure to convince anyone.)
Paul Before Roman Soldiers (22:24-29)
“I’m a free-born Roman citizen, so watch yourselves, or you’ll be in big trouble!” (This one was VERY convincing — but not about Christianity.)
Paul Before the Jewish Council (23:1-10)
“I’m a Pharisee. This is all about the resurrection of the dead.” (Started another riot….)
Paul Before Felix (24:1-21)
“They are making stuff up and can’t prove their silly accusations, but it is certainly true that I am a Christian.” (Felix was convinced to stall for a bribe.)
Paul Before Festus (25:1-12)
“I’ve done nothing wrong, and you know it. I’m not playing this game, I have rights and I appeal to Caesar. You get to figure out what in the world you are going to tell Caesar about why you sent him a prisoner who has done nothing wrong.” (Not a bad result — it won him a royal audience in the next chapter.)
Paul Before Agrippa (26:1-28)
“I was a committed Jew and hated Christianity, but when I learned that Jesus rose from the dead, I became a Christian! Won’t you become one, too? You believe the prophets, I know you do. You know what I’m saying is true!” (Almost persuaded….)
Here are a couple more (implied) which aren’t in Acts.
Paul in Rome (Philippians 1:12-13)
“Everyone knows I’m in prison because I’m a Christian, and they are hearing the Gospel.” This suggests his defence at his preliminary trial was to give the Gospel.
Paul in Rome (II Timothy 4:16-17)
“The preaching was fully known, and all the Gentiles heard it” — Paul preached a complete Gospel message at this trial.
There is no pattern at all to these “defences.” Some are legal, some confrontational, some friendly and appealing, some give the Gospel and others don’t. Some “worked” — some “didn’t.” It is almost as if Paul and Stephen didn’t have any plan at all as to how to handle these situations….
Jesus and Apologia
The first two places the word appears in the New Testament are in the teachings of the Lord Jesus (both in the verb form).
11 And when they bring you unto the synagogues, and unto magistrates, and powers, take ye no thought how or what thing ye shall answer (apologeomai), or what ye shall say:
12 For the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say.
12 But before all these, they shall lay their hands on you, and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues, and into prisons, being brought before kings and rulers for my name’s sake.
13 And it shall turn to you for a testimony.
14 Settle it therefore in your hearts, not to meditate before what ye shall answer (apologeomai):
15 For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist.
Jesus told His disciples not to plan their apologia, what they would say. He promised to give them wise words. Perhaps that is why Paul’s defences were all so different. They were being planned by the One who had perfect knowledge of what should be said.
You can’t plan the right defence. You may not know when the crisis is coming. You won’t know if you are going before those to whom you should not cast Gospel pearls (Matthew 7:6) or someone open to God’s Word. You won’t know if they need rebuke, or appeal, if God’s purpose is to deliver you, or that you suffer for His sake. He might prevent you from speaking at all, as happened to Paul in Corinth. You may only get one sentence, or you may get an hour, and you may not know which until after your first sentence. You might get cut off halfway through (Acts 22). You may face a mob, or a formal trial, and you may not know beforehand which it will be.
How could any human being plan effectively for all this?
“Be Ready Always”
If you can’t plan ahead what you will say, if the Holy Spirit won’t tell you until “the same hour” (Luke 12:12), how can you “be ready always?” What does “Be ready” mean if you aren’t supposed to get ready, anyway? We’ve talked about boldness, but is it just boldness?
For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit.
This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.
For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.
And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.
And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
I Peter 1:22
Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently:
Mind the things of the Spirit. Stop grieving the Spirit with your sin. Live in the Spirit, and fill your mind with the Word. Through the Spirit love the brethren. You will be ready.
The Holy Spirit is your readiness, the only readiness you will ever have or ever need for this purpose. If you walk in the Spirit, are filled with the Spirit, you’ll be ready to hear, and speak, the words He gives. He’ll bring to mind the Scriptural truths you need for that particularly day and place. The greatest key to “Be Ready Always” is to live a life that makes you ready for the Master’s use, ready to hear His voice, ready to proclaim His Word.
Severe persecution may be coming.
Start getting ready now.
Part Four (Rightly Using) — “Sanctifying the Lord God“