In 1521, Martin Luther was called before Holy Roman Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms (diet meaning “a formal meeting, not a weight-loss plan,” and Worms being a “city south of Frankfurt”). At that meeting, Charles demanded that Luther recant all he had said. Charles instead heard Luther’s defiant statement that:
Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures or by evident reason—for I can believe neither pope nor councils alone, since they have often made mistakes and have even said the exact opposite about the same point—I am tied by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience. I cannot and will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither safe nor right. Here I stand. God help me. Amen.1
With these few words, Luther clarified one of the most important principles of orthodox Lutheranism—that all doctrine must be based solely on God’s Word. This standard applies to Christian apologetics as well.
Apologetics does not concentrate on doctrine, but rather focuses on whether or not the source of our doctrine, the Bible, is trustworthy. Christian apologetics deals with the question of whether Scripture and Christianity are true.
The word apologetics comes from the Greek word ἀπολογία (apologia), which means “to defend a person or thing.”2 The Anchor Bible Dictionary defines apologetics as “the art of persuasion employed by the Early Christians.”3 Dr. Rod Rosenbladt explained that apologetics is the presentation of the arguments for the truthfulness of the Christian faith.4
The Apostle Peter admonished us to be ready to make use of apologetics. Said Peter: 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).5 That is, we should be ready to present our reasons, our evidence, for being Christians. Our English term Christian apologetics derives from this text in 1 Peter.
The Greek word apologia has two parts, apo, meaning “from,” and logia, as used in 1 Peter 3:15, meaning “logic.”6 Peter asks us to be ready to defend the truth of the Christian gospel message and do so from logic; that is, by providing arguments and evidence to substantiate the truth of the message. Using logic is indispensable in matters of doctrine as well. The highly respected theologian Francis Pieper said: “Without the use of reason or intellect no one can occupy himself with theology, for theology is not to be presented to the brutes and animals, which lack reason.”7
In his second epistle, Peter gave us a striking example of how he presented reason and evidence. He said: For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty (2 Peter 1:16). Here Peter argued that we can be assured of the truthfulness of everything he told us because he and other disciples were there; they were eyewitnesses of Jesus in His divine glory. Peter meant that he and the other apostles were eyewitnesses in the same sense that someone is an eyewitness in a court of law—someone who can give trustworthy testimony because he saw and heard it all for himself. Whenever the New Testament speaks of persons who are “witnesses,” it always means “eyewitnesses”—people who could give reliable testimony because they were there and saw and heard it for themselves.
In his Pentecost sermon recorded in Acts chapter 2, Peter presented three additional reasons for recognizing that the message of Christ is true. The first reason is that Jesus fulfilled all the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. These prophecies include his being born from the line of David, being born of a virgin in Bethlehem, being killed by crucifixion, his rising from the dead, and many others.
Jewish convert to Christianity Louis Lapides was asked if there was any possibility that the Messianic prophecies could refer to anyone other than Jesus. In answer, he said that the odds of someone fulfilling all the Old Testament Messianic prophecies are astronomical. The truth of the matter is, he stated, that only Jesus managed to do so. The only reasonable conclusion, said Lapides, is that the long-awaited Messiah has come into the world, and his name is Jesus of Nazareth.8
Peter also argued that Jesus’ many miracles demonstrate that he truly is the Messiah of God. These miracles of Jesus were well known among Peter’s listeners. Accordingly, Peter said to them, “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves know…” (Acts 2:22). When the Apostle Paul spoke to Agrippa, he similarly appealed to the common knowledge of Jesus’ miracles as proof that the Gospel message was true. Said Paul, “For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak boldly. For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner” (Acts 26:26). Even Jesus’ enemies admitted to his miracles.
Peter’s last and most important proof for the Christian message was that Jesus demonstrated its truth by rising from the dead. In describing David’s prophecy that the Messiah would be raised, Peter said, “He foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses” (Acts 2:31-32). The resurrection is the most important evidence for the truthfulness of Christianity.
As we have seen, there is a clear apologetics emphasis in Peter’s Pentecost sermon. Peter not only explained the Gospel message of Christ, he presented powerful evidence to demonstrate that the Gospel is true. In Sentinel articles to follow, much of this evidence will be explained in greater detail. Several objections to Christianity will be considered as well.
Mr. Allan Quist
* Member, ELS Doctrine Committee
1Frederick Nohl, Luther: Biography of a Reformer (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2003), 107.
2J. H. Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Fourth Edition (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons Publishing, 1901), 65.
3Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. 1 (New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group. Inc., 1992), 302.
4Dr. Rod Rosenbladt, “Beyond Culture Wars,” Modern Reformation, Vol. 2, No. 3. (May/June 1993), 1.
5This passage is usually considered to be the sedes doctrinæ (basis) for Christian apologetics. All Bible passages quoted here are from the English Standard Version (ESV).
6Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, Fourth Edition, 381.
7Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, Vol 1. (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1953), 198. We are speaking of the ministerial use of reason.
8Louis Lapides, actuarial in Del Tackett DVD series, “Who is Jesus? Building a Comprehensive Case,” Focus on the Family’s The Truth Project (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishing, 2013).