I was pondering the other day about who the first Christian apologists were. My first instinct was Justin Martyr, or Tertullian. But I’ve long been convinced that what we consider apologetics is very closely related to evangelism. And so, apologetics would go back much further.
Evangelism would be the announcement of good news. In the Christian’s case, the good news is that God sent His Son to die for our sins and that He rose again to reconcile us to God. Evangelism then is announcing this to “all nations”.
Apologetics is to “provide a defense for the hope that is within us.” The “hope that is within us” is surely the gospel – the good news.
And so you see how closely the two are related.
The Original Apologists
The 12 Apostles, plus Paul, were doing apologetics before it was cool. Before John Lennox, before William Lane Craig, before Thomas Aquinas, in fact, all the way back to the beginning, doing apologetics was just what it meant to be a witness for Christ.
The 12 Apostles were commissioned to “make disciples of all nations”. They would do this by preaching the gospel.
Consider this: no Jew, and certainly no Gentile in the first century would simply “take on faith” that some carpenter’s son from Galilee had risen from the dead.
No Jew would have accepted that their Messiah had been crucified as a criminal. No, he would come in royalty and overthrow the Roman government.
How then would the apostles convince people that the gospel was not just good, but true?
The Apostles were enabled by the Holy Spirit to perform miracles. This is why thousands were saved on the day of Pentecost. People from all over, with no prior dispositions (for the reasons mentioned above), came to believe that Jesus was the Messiah and were baptized. Why? They witnessed the Galilean men speaking in languages they couldn’t possibly have known. The message of the gospel was accompanied by a miracle. The evidence was there.
Consider the qualifications for being an apostle. After Judas went his own way, his position had to be filled. How would the 11 remaining apostles choose his replacement? Peter gave the requirements:
Therefore, from among the men who have accompanied us during the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us —beginning from the baptism of John until the day he was taken up from us — from among these, it is necessary that one become a witness with us of his resurrection.” (Acts 1:21-22)
The Apostles were all eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. Their task was to testify to what they had witnessed. Their witness would be accompanied by miracles.
The goal of the evangelist is to preach the gospel. The goal of the apologist is to give a reason (defense) for the gospel.
Sometimes we think of the Apostles’ audience as being gullible, or more prone to believe in a resurrection than our modern audience. I can’t imagine why though. It’s not as if they didn’t understand how death works. In fact, as I already mentioned, Jews at the time didn’t believe in a bodily resurrection. In fact, the only resurrection they believed in would happen at the “end of time”. There was no expectation. Here is how some Greeks responded to Paul’s proclamation of the Resurrection:
When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some began to ridicule him, but others said, “We’d like to hear from you again about this.” (Acts 17:32)
People don’t rise from the dead. To convince a person that Jesus rose from the dead would take evidence. The Apostles had evidence, and so do we.
If we are to preach the gospel to “all nations” we will have to get back to the fervor and urgency with which the Apostles had to preach. We will also have to understand the reasons for the hope that is within us and always be ready to give a defense.