The following New Testament texts represent a sampling of apostolic teaching concerning the defense of Christian faith. Jesus told his disciples that he would prepare them for their ministry after his resurrection (Mark 14:28). He would commission them to take the message of the gospel to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). When it became abundantly clear that Jesus was risen from the dead, the disciples were transformed from a demoralized group to a band of zealous missionaries who would indeed bring the good news to the whole world .
At first they were constituted in Jerusalem. They became the ecclēsia, the church. On the day of Pentecost, when the Spirit was poured down in “tongues as of fire,” it became clear that a new age was being inaugurated, the age of the Spirit, the final installation of the kingdom of God (Acts 2:33; 1 Cor. 10:11).
From the beginning there were troubles for the church. There was opposition from without. The Sadducee party fiercely opposed the new church. They denied its view of the resurrection (Acts 4:2), and they worried about its gatherings in traditionally Jewish institutions, such as the Portico of Solomon (Acts 3:11; 5:12), and the threat it represented to the Jewish establishment. There was regular opposition to the public speeches of the apostles, at times leading to their arrest (Acts 5:18). Among the Hellenistic Jews was Stephen, a follower of Christ, a member of the Synagogue of the Freedmen, and a strong critic of the corruption of the temple. Indicted by the supreme court, he was charged with blasphemy for proclaiming that Jesus abolished the Mosaic ceremonial laws (Acts 6:14). After an eloquent speech, Stephen was stoned to death, becoming the first Christian martyr (Acts 7). As the church spread beyond the walls of Jerusalem, it would continue to experience opposition. Accordingly, many of the apologetic writings in the New Testament are meant to equip Christians to respond to persecution in a gracious and courageous manner.
There was also conflict within. The churches were constantly tempted by heresies such as Gnosticism, mentioned earlier. They were susceptible to pride, as in the Corinthian church. They were tempted by legalism, often expressed by an unnecessary attachment to the Jewish ceremonial laws, which Christ had abrogated. This was the case in Galatia and Colossae .
Nevertheless the gospel message spread and reached both Jews and Gentiles. In his report to the Jerusalem Council, Peter justifies the true reception of the Gentiles by recounting the coming of the Holy Spirit to those who heard his grace-based message (Acts 15:7–11). The first large-scale conversion of the Gentiles occurred at Antioch under the preaching of certain “men of Cyprus and Cyrene” who had fled from Jerusalem after Stephen’s martyrdom (Acts 11:20). Significant also is that it was in Antioch that the name Christians (Christianoi: Christ’s ones) was first used. This is a distinctively Gentile title, one that would eventually prevail throughout the world. Indeed Antioch, the third largest city of the world, would become a hub for sending out missionaries to various corners of the ancient world.
The most systematic outreach to the Gentiles was through Saul of Tarsus, called Paul after his conversion. After persecuting the church, he was met by a heavenly vision of Christ on the road to Damascus and then became one of the ablest defenders of the faith of the entire epoch, and of all times. Much of his writing has an apologetic purpose. The beginning of Romans represents a standard defense of the faith, wherein the point of contact is social depravity, proof of the wrath of God against fallen humanity. Both Jews and Gentiles are accountable, since they have in their different ways “suppress[ed] the truth” (Rom. 1:18). Whereas God is clearly known through his revelation, people refused to acknowledge him, and so they became fools (1:19–23). The Jews, who have had the oracles of God, nevertheless practice the things they condemn in others (2:1–4). Yet there is good news: God has revealed his righteousness and a way to be justified before him through Jesus Christ, his only Son, whose atoning sacrifice opened the way for God’s mercy to be poured out.
Paul’s speech given on Mars Hill in Athens also represents a model for Christian apologetics to a mixed audience (Acts 17:16–34). As mentioned above, Paul took this gospel to the capital of the empire, ending his days in Rome, where “boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 28:31).
Although he never identifies himself by name, Luke clearly is the author of both the Gospel by that name and the book of Acts. Luke was not an eyewitness to the events he recorded, as the preface to his Gospel makes clear, yet he knew them well, having done careful research into the matters. He also accompanied Paul on some of his travels (Acts 16:10–17; 20:5–16; 21:1–18; 27:1–28:16). Colossians 4:14 identifies Luke as a physician. The Gospel of Luke was likely written around AD 63 and was addressed directly to a person called Theophilus, and through him to all subsequent readers. The brief passage quoted below is the introduction to the entire Gospel. Luke is clearly concerned not only for the historical data but for the message of salvation surrounding the person and work of Jesus Christ.
“Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, 2just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, 3it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, 4that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.”
John’s Gospel is also anonymous, but all the evidence points to the author being John the son of Zebedee. He was not only an eyewitness to the events he reports but was also the disciple “whom Jesus loved,” a title signifying a very close friendship with Jesus ( John 13:23). Tradition suggests that John wrote his Gospel toward the end of his life, around AD 85–90. The passage below tells us that John’s purpose was apologetic. At the center is Jesus Christ, who “was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him” ( John 1:10). Throughout the Gospel various discourses and various miracles are recorded. It is clear that they are not ends in themselves but are meant to lead to saving faith in the Son of God.
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
The book of Acts is the second part of what Luke began to write in his Gospel. Although tradition has called it “The Acts of the Apostles,” we might more appropriately call it “The Acts of Christ,” which he continues to perform through the Holy Spirit after his resurrection and ascension. Like the Gospel, it is addressed to Theophilus. Though the time of writing is disputed, the strongest evidence points to around AD 60–64, thus, before the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. At the end of Acts Paul is portrayed as awaiting his appearance before Caesar, preaching freely to any who came to visit him.
Chapter 17 covers the mid portion of Paul’s second missionary journey, begun at Antioch in ca. AD 49 and ending in Jerusalem in ca. AD 52. Thessalonica was the provincial capital of Macedonia, now in Greece. Berea is now Verria, on the foothills of the Olympian Mountains. Athens is the ancient city where the Acropolis still stands. Near it was the Areopagus, or “Hill of Acres,” also known as Mars Hill, named for the god of war (whose Greek name was Ares). Although it had served as the seat for the city council, it was now a public forum where speeches were given and heard for many purposes, including simply entertainment.
“Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews.2And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3explaining 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.’ 4And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. 5But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. 6And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, ‘These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, 7and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.’ 8And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. 9And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.
10“The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. 11Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. 12Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men. 13But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was proclaimed by Paul at Berea also, they came there too, agitating and stirring up the crowds. 14Then the brothers immediately sent Paul off on his way to the sea, but Silas and Timothy remained there. 15Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens, and after receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, they departed.
16“Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. 17So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, ‘What does this babbler wish to say?’ Others said, ‘He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities’—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. 19And they took hold of him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, ‘May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.’ 21Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new .
22“So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: ‘Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, “To the unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28for
“In him we live and move and have our being”;
as even some of your own poets have said,
“For we are indeed his offspring.”
29Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.’
32“Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, ‘We will hear you again about this.’ 33So Paul went out from their midst. 34But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.”
The author of 1 Peter is the apostle by that name (1 Peter 1:1), the one who early manifested a clear understanding of Christ’s identity (Matt. 16:13–20), whose faith wavered at Jesus’ arrest (Matt. 26:69–75), but who was restored and given special prominence to lead in the early church ( John 21:15–19; Acts 2:14). Possibly written in Rome, referred to as “Babylon” in 5:13, Peter’s first letter is an encouragement to endure and to stand up for the faith in the midst of severe persecutions. The selection here, the classic mandate for doing apologetics, tells believers how to defend Christian hope against hostile interlocutors .
“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? 14But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason, “to make a defense,” an apology—from the word logos. for the hope that is in you; 16yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. 17For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.
18“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. 21Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.”
The book of Revelation, also known as the Apocalypse, was written by John, who wrote the Gospel and the three letters by his name (Rev. 1:1, 4, 9; 22:8). The book is not only a call to perseverance in the light of God’s rule over history, but also a window into the early church. The original readers were the seven churches named in chapters 2 and 3, all of them located in what is now western Turkey. These communities lived in various kinds of conditions, requiring different kinds of encouragement or rebuke. Their strengths and weaknesses were not unlike those of the church throughout the centuries.
“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands .
2“‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. 3I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. 4But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. 6Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’
8“And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: ‘The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life.
9“‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.’
12“And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword.
13“‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. 14But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. 15So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth. 17He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’
18“And to the angel of the church in Thyatira write: ‘The words of the Son of God, who has eyes like a flame of fire, and whose feet are like burnished bronze.
19“‘I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. 20But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. 21I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. 22Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, 23and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve. 24But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden. 25Only hold fast what you have until I come. 26The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, 27and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. 28And I will give him the morning star. 29He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
3:1“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.
“‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.
2Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. 3Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. 4Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. 5The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. 6He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
7“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: ‘The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens.
8“‘I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. 9Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say that they are Jews and are not, but lie—behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet and they will learn that I have loved you. 10Because you have kept my word about patient endurance, I will keep you from the hour of trial that is coming on the whole world, to try those who dwell on the earth. 11I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. 12The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name. 13He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. ’
14“And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.
15“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! 16So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. 17For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. 20Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. 21The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”
1 Peter 3:13–22