What Is Apologetics?
‘An apologetic’ is just a fancy way to say ‘a defense.’ Christians are clearly expected to be prepared to give this defense of their faith in any situation. The most obvious command for an apologetic (a defense of our faith) is 1 Peter 3:15b:
"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." 1 Peter 3:15b
So, the study of Apologetics is the study of the defenses of the Christian faith. One can hardly imagine the multitude of reasons that may emerge that will require this defense. We may be drawn into a debate over worldviews, or be asked to explain our perspectives on various life situations when we are counseling others who are craving for our (and God’s) help. Therefore the study of apologetics is clearly a very important and serious endeavor, and a requirement for all Christians.
One does not study Apologetics, however, just to win arguments. Although many famous apologists are involved with other highly trained philosophers debating atheism, creationism, and a million other –ism’s, the main purpose of apologetics is not to convince but to confirm. The Master Himself tells us in an explanation of ‘the greatest commandment’ that our faith is an exercise of the mind as well:
"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment." Matthew 22:37-38
The heart will not accept that which the mind cannot. God never says that our faith is to be based upon things we cannot rationalize in our minds, despite what non-believers would have us believe. In fact, Christianity is the most rational of all world beliefs. When one considers some of the wild things that pass for conventional wisdom these days, and compares them against the clear evidences for and the realities of Christianity, one can take comfort in the faith and worldview of the Christian. And the Christian need not be bothered by the some of the things that world takes for granted, because a Christian by definition thinks differently from the rest of the world:
"Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a 'fool' so that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God's sight." 1 Corinthians 3:18-19a
‘Presuppositional’ apologetics assumes that life begins to make sense when it is considered with a Christian perspective in mind. Once you ‘pre-suppose’ that Christianity is true, everything else begins to fall in line and make sense. This does not imply however that an apologetic defense cannot confirm the truth for someone who ‘pre-supposes’ that there is no God or Christ. In this case it is God bringing around the heart of the hardened to Him, and through us (thus the command for the defense preparation!) In the study of Apologetics we confirm our faith both for ourselves, and for others who are truly searching for the truth.
Therefore, Apologetics is an essential evangelism tool. A basic understanding of our faith will enable us to be used by the Spirit of God, when the Spirit moves within someone and draws him or her to you to explain the reasons for your faith in Christ:
"Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage...discharge all the duties of your ministry." 2 Timothy 4:2a, 5c
We must be ready to accomplish the commands of God upon us:
"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations...teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you..." Matthew 28:19a, 20
What a glorious purpose and incredible incentive for the study of apologetics, to be the hands and feet of the Lord in His plan of salvation for the world!
But ultimately, the reasons alone are not enough for anyone to accept the Christian Faith. It is our intuition, our spirit that leads us to accept the evidence as true, because it satisfies our longing and searching. It is
“not philosophy (or logic) but religious experience that propels anyone through the door. The appropriate apologetic is thus not an argument directly for the existence of God, but an argument for the rationality of forming beliefs on the basis of experience, including religious experience."
John Hick, Four Views of Salvation in a Pluralistic World. Pg 248
Who Decided What Would Be In The Bible?
The 'canon' is a term that refers to the ‘standard,’ or ‘rule.’ The early church fathers, in an effort to preserve the integrity of the ancient writings and the doctrines of the Church, 'canonized' the books that were recognized as 'inspired' by God. When the writings were ‘canonized,’ this simply means that the church accepted them as the ‘official’ documents that were prescribed by God. It is important to realize that they were not simply ‘appointed’ as official, but that they had been recognized for some time by the majority of the Church at the time as the inspired word of God and used as such. The canon simply documents this recognition.
The Old Testament was known (essentially) as three 'books', the Law (Genesis to Deuteronomy), the Prophets (Joshua through 2 Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the 12 'minor' prophets), and the Writings (the remainder of the OT books.) These books were confirmed by Christ and the early Church fathers as they referred to them with comments such as 'It is written' or 'God says...'. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls included every book of the Old Testament except Esther, indicating an acceptance of them as scripture from the first Century A.D.
Generically, the New Testament canon includes those writings which were most universally accepted by the majority of the early church. The most controversial (those which were adhered to by a few sects, but not a majority) were eventually culled out of the official 'list'. Several books, including Revelation, James, Jude, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, were included by the end of the second century.
Four key questions were considered by the Council Of Carthage (397 A.D.) that declared the official canon of the New Testament church:
1) Is the writing Apostolic? If an Apostle either was credited with authorship, or with direct influence (as with Mark and Luke) the canonicity was generally assumed. This is not a rigid requirement; for example, the book of Hebrews' authorship is still under question.
2) Is the writing Orthodox? If the writings conform with the early understandings of the faith, and do not obviously contradict another accepted canonical writing, it is generally accepted.
3) Is the writing universal? Writings that seem specific to a certain group, and apparently not intended for the Church as a whole were generally not considered to be appropriate to a canon of the Universal Church.
4) Has the writing had influence over the Church over time? The proven ability for the writing to provide guidance, sustenance and inspiration for the Church is expected.
Understanding these requirements show that the writings were not simply 'chosen', but proven to be inspired by their 'intrinsic authority and constant usage.' (Adapted from Zondervan's Handbook To The Bible.)
What About The 'Apocrypha'?
Even after the official canonization, there was some debate going on. In ~385 A.D., the ancient Church father Jerome developed a version of the Bible that included the books of the Apocrypha, although he later disavowed them as canonical, in his 'Vulgate' Bible. In 1545 the Council of Trent declared the Vulgate Bible the official Bible of the Roman Catholic Church. The protestant movement sided with Jerome, who by then had separated the Apocrypha from the remainder.
Are There Any Independent Collaborations?
The existence of extra-Biblical documentations only helps to confirm the validity of the Bible, and provides incentive for the serious consideration of the Bible's messages.
"Secular" Collaborating Information
Are There Any Archaeological Evidences?
As with the independent collaborations, archaeological evidences discovered confirming items and events in the Bible serve to provide reason to consider the Bible and its teachings seriously. It has been remarked that NO archaeological evidence has been discovered that disproves anything mentioned in the Bible!
Independent Collaborating Information
Which Translation Is The 'Right' Translation?
There are several methods given to translating the Bible. Some are intended to provide strict translation and interpretation from the original (the source) language, and others are intended to relay meaning from the original into today's (the receptor) language. To assure the most independent and unbiased translations and interpretations, in all reputable cases, a board of scholars is employed, along with specialists in history, grammar, etc. Why interpretation along with translation? Because the Hebrew and Greek languages are grammatically quite different from most all others. Just simply translating word to word would be difficult, and in some cases impossible, if the purpose is to relay coherent meaning. For example, according to specialist Raymond Elliot:
The word 'of' is very common in English, and it is used to represent a wide variety of relationships between words. In only the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark, nine different English translations use the word 'of' between eighteen and thirty one times. The word represents such relationships as possession, kinship, location, names of geographical places and features, the material from which something is made, political jurisdictions, the doer of an action, and so on. But there is no word 'of' in Greek at all! Greek has other ways of expressing those relationships that are translated by 'of' in English...The problem for the translator is to find, in the receptor language, those forms that will appropriately represent the structures of the source language - first as to meaning, style, and naturalness, then as much as possible as to form. Raymond Elliot; "Bible Translation"; in The Origin Of The Bible; Philip Wesley Comfort editor
In order to translate and interpret for the masses today, specialists utilize (generically) two forms of strategy:
Formal Equivalence attempts to preserve the original language structure and vocabulary (the form). While strictly preserving what was originally written, it may cause difficulty in understanding items such as a historically unique statement that has no close English parallel. An example of a translation with Formal Equivalence intent is the New American Standard Bible. This type of translation leaves it up to us to figure out what the original meaning is.
Dynamic Equivalence attempts to relate the structure to commonly understood terms in the 'receptor' language (the meaning). For example, when Paul (Romans 7:18) speaks of the 'sinful flesh' (NAS) we know that he is speaking of the 'sin nature' (NIV). Tries to interpret the meaning for us, accurately and fairly.
Examples of Translation and Interpretation
Isn't The King James The Only 'Real' Bible?
There is somewhat of a controversy regarding the King James Bible. Because this version is the 'oldest' English version, it is what many of us grew up with. We are comfortable with it, despite the fact that it was written over 500 years ago, in a style of English that is no longer in use. It is beautiful and poetic, and gives the Word of God a sense of style and class, as one would expect. BUT, it is certainly not the only English interpretation that is accurate and reliable. As has been said 'if the King James Version was good enough for Paul, then it's good enough for me' exposes the silliness of this debate.
Are There Any 'Unreliable' Translations?
Generally, there is minimal scholarly 'issue' with the English translations that we have today. This is easily provable, first, since there is essentially no 'active' debate regarding the translations, and second, because the quantity and availability of scholars (Christian and non-Christian) to assure us is copious. To confirm this in your mind, especially if you still have doubts, take any English translation to your local university Greek or Hebrew scholar, and have them confirm the translation's near perfect validity.
Currently, the only 'active' debate is more political than scholarly, regarding the 'gender-inclusion' translations of the TNIV, or 'Today's New International Version.' In places where the original languages refers to (essentially) mankind as 'he' or 'him', this version has changed the terms to 'they' etc. While troublesome to some traditionalists, this debate seems to miss the mark in practicality, since most parents of daughters explain to them that (in general) the blessings or curses attributed to 'man' means 'mankind', to assure their girls that they are not left out.
The bottom line is, that our English translations of the Bible are assuredly trustworthy, and reliable.
Because of the reliable condition of the English translations, a version should be picked (generally) based upon your purpose and your preference. For beauty and elegance, the King James Version is classic. For readability and study purposes, choose the New International Version. For serious contemplation and consideration, many prefer the New American Standard Bible.
Aren't There A Lot Of Contradictions In The Bible?
One particularly favorite game of a skeptic is to find alleged discrepancies within the Bible, under the assumption that the existence of these discrepancies invalidate the claim of Divine inspiration - after all, if the Bible were truly inspired, then it would be perfect and have no contradictions or discrepancies - right? In addition to this game, the issue can be of serious importance to a seeker who sees the difficulties, perceives intellectual issues and needs resolution in order to continue serious contemplation of Christianity. It can be a significant stumbling block when not properly understood.
Causes of the Perception of Discrepancy - All of the seeming contradictions can, when properly analyzed and understood and not just taken 'at the surface', become resolved. Most are examples of mistaken assumptions by the reader, or of insufficient knowledge about ancient linguistic syntax or cultural interpretation, or simply a misunderstood perspective of the writers intent.
The following are examples of some of these most common types of misunderstandings, and their resolutions:
We can clearly see that things that appear at first glance to be difficulties, are not, yet need to be properly understood. One minor lesson from this is that the Bible is to be studied, not 'glanced'. When you come across a perceived difficulty, don't just simply write the Bible off as errant and therefore not inspired - delve into the facts of the context and pursue proper understanding. In other words, give the Bible the benefit of the doubt!
Finally, when one considers the fact that the Bible has survived incredible persecution (from the abolition of Rome in A.D. 303 where scores of Christians were killed, and a massive 'book burning' of all Bibles that could be found occurred - yet just 10 short years after this Christianity was accepted as the 'official' religion of the Roman Empire, to Voltaire and Thomas Paine's vain predictions in the 18th century that the Bible will soon be forgotten) is evidence of seemingly supernatural intervention. Clearly, these supposed 'contradictions' and 'difficulties' have been worked through for a VAST amount of people for thousands of years. The Bible is clearly meant to be taken seriously.
Why I Believe...God Exists (Its as easy as ABC!)
95% of the people in the world admit to a ‘belief’ in a ‘God.’ Clearly it is not a matter to pass off lightly. But how important is it to carefully consider the subject ? Mortimer Adler explains why the subject of God comprises the largest chapter in his compilation of The Great Ideas: A Synopicon of Great Books of the Western World.
"The subject of God is the most widely published discussion in history because 'More consequences for thought and action follow the affirmation or denial of God than from answering any other basic question.'" (Paul Little, Know Why You Believe, pg 19.)
If God does exist, then the study of God is by definition the most important endeavor a person can undertake. And for Christians required by God to provide a reason for our faith, it is essential for us to understand and be able to explain a clear basis for our faith in God’s existence.
So lets begin an active study of the existence of God, and what it means for us. Here we will study the REASONS FOR BELIEF in the CHRISTIAN GOD. In a different area we will contrast that with the beliefs in other Gods before we are done with our study.
SO TO BEGIN, I believe that there are three clear witnesses to the fact that the CHRISTIAN GOD exists, which are in front of us each day. For starters, by remembering that the belief in God is a BASIC belief, it is easy to start with the basics. So we need to...
Remember our ABC's:
Our AWARENESS, the BIBLE, and the CREATION
AWARENESS - Our own human nature (conscious, moral fiber, etc) suggests to us that there must be something beyond ourselves. – we just ‘know’ in our ‘hearts’ that there is more to life than what we can see and touch. Many of us are good at putting this feeling aside or trying to fulfill the need with outside influences, philosophies, etc., but it always stays there, perpetually unfulfilled. No ‘purpose’ on this earth (money, sex, power) ever seems to fill that vacuum. Many people spend their entire lives striving to fulfill this need, but it always stays there, even after the accumulation of wealth or the fulfillment of personal goals. This ‘God shaped vacuum’ (as described by the eminent scientist Blaise Pascal) can only be filled by the relieving purposeful existence discovered when we understand our position with God, and when we become reconciled back to Him. Could it be that this longing within us is the result of God pulling us to Himself? Because this feeling is universal, it is the first of what is considered ‘general revelation’ from God.
The BIBLE – Our awareness leads us to look for God. The Bible is the evidence that God has left us, as a self-autographed documentation of His nature and His plans (this is the first of the ‘special revelations’ from God.) More than just any other book, even any other 'religious' book, the Bible is singularly unique. It is neither a single book, nor is it written by one person, as are most 'religious' texts. It is a collection of 66 books that were written by 40 or more different authors in three different languages, in 3 different continents. These books were written over a period of about 1600 years. The authors represent society at large. They were not just scholars and preachers, but they also ranged from common folk such as shepherds, doctors, government officials, fishermen, and tax collectors, to Kings. There are many styles of journalistic method involved, including history, poetry, government records, dialogue, parables, sermons, prophecy, letters and religious instruction.
The Bible has been translated into over 1200 different languages or dialects.
Despite this huge diversity of history, there is one central theme of the whole collection of writings: that God loves us and has a plan for our lives.
The Bible is most unique in its claim of Divine inspiration. Is it likely that the above facts of the Bible could have occurred by accident, or by some 'religious conspiracy?' Or must Divine inspiration and purpose must have occurred for the previously mentioned points to come together and to survive for thousands of years. Divine inspiration is a most outrageous claim, and it leaves no room for a gray area. Either the book is of God and deserves our careful study, or it is not and is an incredible and monumentally improbable hoax. Was it by accident that it has become the most influential book in the history of mankind?
CREATION demands a Creator – One of the ‘general revelations’ about God surrounds us each day, as we see the miracles of creation and the evidence of a creator everywhere. Science can only explain or predict what might happen, but not why things happen (what exactly is an electron anyway and how did it get here?) Contrary to popular belief, evolution and the thought that the cosmos began from nothing are simply theories. They are not fact, and they are not as widely believed in academic circles as the general public thinks that they are. To the average non-believer struggling to get through each day, it is convenient (it fits into our self-worldview) to believe that there is a logical explanation for the creation so we don’t have to believe in a creator. But make no mistake, it was all placed here, with a purpose, by a Personal Creator.
Think about it for a minute, which makes more sense? 1) Everything in the cosmos either existed forever or came from NOTHING, that gasses evolved into light elements, and then into heavy elements. Next came the evolution of 'dead' elements into something alive, which finally mutated into a person who has the capability to eat, see, think, procreate and know right from wrong. (None of these steps, by the way, have been observed in nature, and in fact are contrary to known natural law - they are simply what 'must' have happened in an anti-theistic worldview.) OR is it perhaps easier to believe: 2) That Something created everything and shows us the evidence of its authorship in the amazing details, synergies and complexities of the cosmos and of life? Certainly both take an active choice (faith?) to believe, since there were no eyewitnesses (but would we believe the eyewitnesses anyway?) The answer to the question is usually based upon a person's pre-conceived notions, and sometimes upon a misinterpretation of scientific 'facts.' We must however use ALL of our faculties, our intuition and senses, to answer the question truthfully. It does not relieve our minds to accept mere scientific fact if we don't also answer the questions why and how. Between the choices above (and there are no other choices) I believe it is much easier to believe in a Creator.
To Summarize - With all the evidence for God that we’ve reviewed, we have seen that it is certainly not illogical to believe in God. In fact, It is clearly reasonable to believe that God exists, and has placed all the evidence needed within our reach for us to believe in Him, and to cause us to pursue Him. But the final commitment is ours – this is our free will. We know that FAITH is not blind, but informed and rational, indeed a PART of us, leading us (complemented by our emotion and desires) to acknowledge the existence of the Creator, and inflame the desire to know more about Him and His plans for us. And Thank God, He has revealed these to us as well!!
Some Resources For Bible Study
Online Bible Resources:
Bible Gateway - Provides a nice search feature with many translations and lots of additional information.
NET Bible - The New English Translation
Bible Crosswalk - Another nice search feature with many versions online, includes Strong's numbers!
Parallel Comparison - From the folks at Crosswalk - compare texts of two different translations!
Bible History.com - TONS of Bible information, history, maps, geography, timelines, etc etc etc
Public Domain Dictionaries:
Baker Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology - From the folks at Crosswalk - one of the finest Dictionaries in use today!
Public Domain Commentaries:
Crosswalk Commentaries - Many public domain commentaries, including Scofield's notes and Wesley's notes!
Public Domain Concordances:
Bible Study Software:
E-Sword.net - A nice, basic system with many resources and a good search engine. FREE!
Gramcord.org - A nice tool to work with original languages, many versions and reference materials
Logos - The cream of the crop (high end)! $150 - $600.
Greek / Hebrew Information:
Lexicon- From UnboundBible.org, enter a word and determine the Greek or Hebrew meaning/equivalent
Foreign Language Versions: