“…have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, 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,
I was in a conversation recently where I was reminded of a time as a new believer in Christ I wanted to share the Gospel with a classmate in college. The conversation lasted about two hours and the primary topic was neo-Darwinian evolution, and its legitimacy or lack there of. When the conversation was over, he went his way and I went mine, all the while a nagging thought continued to linger in my mind. It was the fact that I had just spent two hours with this guy and didn’t mention the Gospel or Christ once the entire time. Unfortunately, this is how many “apologetic” conversations go and at the core of the problem it is unclear what we are supposed to be doing when giving an “apologetic”.
In 399 B.C. the ancient Greek Philosopher, Socrates was charged by the Athenian court with impiety toward the gods and corrupting the youth of Athens. Interestingly, Socrates responded to these charges with an “apology” of all things. Only his “apology” didn’t sound like an apology that we hear today. In fact, among other things, Socrates in his “apology” said for what he has done he shouldn’t be given a sentence of death. On the contrary Socrates said he should be given free room and board at Prytaneion. A subtle mockery of Athenian culture who places athletics above the intellectual life. But none the less, he gave an “apology” that didn’t consist of saying he was sorry. Rather what he gave was a defense.
In ancient or classical Greek an “apology” was simply that, a defense of any allegation made. Here, I believe, is our problem. In 1 Peter 3:15 Peter writes,
“always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you“
We see the word (ἀπολογίαν)”defense” in verse 15, we do a word study, and we are correct that it means to defend something. A more literal translation for (ἀπολογίαν) apo logian is to “speak away.” So, if I’m told that God didn’t create man because evolution did it, I’m going to give a defense, right? Let’s suspend judgment on that question and return to it. I will say there is a place for that kind of conversation and the non-believing world should know some of the problems that exist within a purely naturalistic explanation for life. Having said that, I want to create a distinction between that type of conversation and what Peter is explaining in 1 Peter 3:15.
Since 1 Peter 3:15 is the standard Christian charter for doing “apologetics” it would make sense to look at it with some fresh eyes. The purpose of Peter’s letter is to exhort Christian believers during a time of great persecution (1 Peter 1:6-9; 1 Peter 2:18-25). These words of Peter are words of encouragement under a Roman tyrant, possibly Nero (AD 54 – 68). Peter exhorts these Christians to not fear their accusers (3:14), rather give them a reason for the hope they have (3:15).
So what reason do they have for hope? Well Peter has discussed it in chapter 1. In 1:3 Peter says that we were born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. In 1:13 Peter tell us to set our hopefully on the grace that will be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Lastly, 1:21 says our hope in God was established in Christ. All of this is important to how we read 3:15, the common thread throughout, is Christ.
When we get to 3:15 we understand a particular context from which Peter is making his claim to always be ready to make a defense. This is not a command to answer any and every possible question a non-believer can conjure up. Rather, this is an exhortation to be prepared to give a reason for the hope that Christians have. Our hope isn’t based on responses to speculative cosmologies or theories of origin. The general answer we get from this letter and the whole of Scripture is Christ. That is to say our hope is in the assurance that we get from the promises of grace from the Father and through His Son.
What I propose here is not only in 1 Peter 3:15 but the accumulative teaching throughout Scripture, is that our apologetic or defense should be Christ centered. This isn’t to say that there is no place for second tier discourses, but where the emphasis should always be is with Christ. At this point you should be asking yourself questions on how Christ centered apologetics should be executed or what does that look like. Unfortunately, that is a topic for another conversation.