The book “Apologetics in the Roman Empire” is a fascinating study of apologetics not just from Christians, but also from Jews and various other faiths in the Roman Empire (the period covered in the book is from 31 BC to 337 AD). It is an important read because it helps place Christian apologetics in its context at the time, which helps readers understand some of the specific issues and topics covered, as well as why they were addressed in the ways they were addressed.
In the introduction, the editors note that, though “we might have expected [Christians] to have presented themselves simply as carriers of a novel faith, in fact [they] articulated a complex relationship to earlier traditions” (4). The authors claim that the New Testament books were not written “specifically to convinced outsiders of the veracity of the Christian religion…” but rather were almost entirely for convincing “small groups committed to Christ of the plausibility of the step they had taken” in already committing to Christianity (ibid).
Because of this, the earliest Christian apologists had two major boundaries with which to wrestle: they had to interact with Jewish traditions, hashing out the “continuity between the Jewish Scriptures and the beliefs and practices of Christianity” while also navigating the other religious traditions of the environment from which Christianity sprung, largely religions of the Greeks (5-6).
Loveday Alexander’s chapter is entitled “The Acts of the Apostles as an Apologetic Text,” and in it, she argues that Acts may be the book most particularly aimed at any kind of apologetic for Christianity. She notes that there are several ways that apologetic can be taken, especially in the context in which Acts was written: was it an internal apologetic that defended Paul against other theological interests (16)? Was it a self-defense against Judaism? Was it addressed to the Greeks in order to evangelize? Perhaps it was self-defense of Christianity against political charges from Rome, or as a way to legitimize or self-define Christianity.
Alexander notes that while Acts is not an apologetic discourse, specifically, it can be seen as part of the literary apologetic tradition, in which the stories therein function as legitimization and self-definition for the group, while also offering defenses aimed at some of the goals noted above (21-24). Ultimately, then, Alexander sees strands of all of these forms of apologetic in Luke. It functions to try to bring unity to Christianity, legitimizes Paul against those who would downplay or undermine his importance and theology, and offers a way to see Christianity as a legitimate religion in the Roman context.
Our next look at Ancient Apologetics will examine several early Christian apologists and their interactions with the world around them.
Apologetics Read-Through: Historical Apologetics Read-Along– Here are links for the collected posts in this series and other read-throughs of apologetics books (forthcoming).
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There is much to read on the internet (understatement of the century). Here, I’ve tracked down a number of posts that are now linked for your reading pleasure. There’s an amazing post on the historical reliability of the book of Acts, a few posts on creationism and the Flood, and a post on the way we should be doing apologetics.
The Reliability of the Book of Acts– A massive set of 84 points of evidence for the historical accuracy of the biblical book of Acts. I highly recommend you read through this and bookmark it.
The Genesis Flood– Was the biblical flood global? What does the text mean? Here is a biblical and scientific perspective on Noah’s Flood.
A Response to “Refuting Compromise”– A number of creationists continue to put Jonathan Safarti’s book Refuting Compromise forward as a must-read for those who would disagree with a young earth paradigm. Unfortunately, the book is largely a series of ad hominem attacks on Hugh Ross and anyone who would not step firmly into line of the young earth view. Here, Hugh Ross responds to the book.
Apologetics as Loving One’s Neighbor– How might we best do apologetics? Here, Pastor Matt argues that apologetics is a way of loving neighbor. We should operate in such a way that our apologetic reflects the gentleness and respect for others that we are to show.
No Room for a Dry Dead Sea in the Young Earth Timeline– The evidence for the Dead Sea having dried up in the past is discussed in this post alongside the question of whether a young earth creationist perspective can account for it.
I have put together what I consider a very strong list of topics for you this go-round. Here, we have Acts, Osteen, Creationism, apologetics (x2), and C.S. Lewis. Check out the posts, and let me know what you think in the comments below!
Finally: A simple timeline of Acts– This tremendously helpful post provides a timeline of acts which shows when different people were traveling together and where they were at various points throughout the book. It is a great way to keep track of the goings-on in the book. Be sure to follow The Overview Bible, as they constantly have fantastic posts.
A Diluvialist Response to Buckland’s Kirkdale Cave Hyena Den– Flood geology has been around for a little while, and here, Joel Duff describes how early diluvialists-young earth flood geologists-initially reacted to some major important finds.
The Guide to Online Decorum for Christian Apologists– How, then, shall we live? This is a question to ask yourself, no matter your situation. Here, Pastor Matt Rawlings discusses how Christian apologists should interact in online settings.
C.S. Lewis’ (really) 10 Best Books– From Christian philosopher David Marshall, we have this list of C.S. Lewis’ 10 best books. Some might be obvious, some might surprise you. Regardless, it’s time to get some extra reading!
Osteen and Peter (Comic)– A poignant pictorial contrast between prosperity “gospel” and Christian life.
5 Things I Hate about Apologetics– Doing apologetics does present some pitfalls regarding faith and life. Check out this post related to these possible difficulties.
This post is the second in a series I’ve been working on which discusses Bible Difficulties–hard passages in Scripture. Other posts in the series can be accessed here.
How should Christians react when met with Bible difficulties? What about when encountering others interacting with Scripture?
When asked why God didn’t make the Bible easier to read… we should remember the example of the Ethiopian whom Philip met on the road (Acts 8:27-36). Philip asked the Ethiopian,” Do you understand what you are reading?” This is the question all Christians should seek to ask when they encounter someone reading Scripture–do you understand? We must inform ourselves such that we can answer the hard questions. The Ethiopian’s answer is equally enlightening: “‘How can I,’ he said, ‘unless someone explains it to me?’ So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.”
How can others understand the Scripture unless someone explains it to them? We should rust to sit with our fellow man or woman when they read Scripture. We should rush to explain it to them in light of Christ. Not only that, but we can apply this very message to our own lives. What about those times we run into a passage of Scripture we find difficult? Should we give up? No, we have many options. We can turn to a fellow Christian and ask for discernment. More importantly, however, we should remember that, as I’ve said before (a quote from a source I cannot remember), “The Bible is the only book whose Author is always present.” The Holy Spirit not only inspired Scripture, but is also omnipresent and ready to fill us with His Word whenever we approach it. We therefore have access to the Author of Scripture whenever we open the Bible.
Geisler once said that the Bible should be given the benefit of the doubt, in cases where potential difficulties arise. This is because of how often it has been right and vindicated in light of extreme criticism (cited in Lee Stroble, The Case for Faith). Archaeological evidence has vindicated various claims of Scripture. Biblical criticism has failed to provide a serious challenge to the message of Jesus (see N.T. Wright’s monumental study, Christian Origins and the Question of God). Thus, as Christians, when we run into a difficulty, rather than assuming the Bible false, we should seek out the answers.
We should adopt the attitude of the Ethiopian in all things. When we encounter others struggling with Scripture, we should help them through this struggle. When we struggle ourselves, we should give the benefit of the doubt to its Author and seek out the answer in the many resources available, including other Christians, prayer, utilizing Scripture to interpret Scripture, etc. Daily, we should explore the Word with the attitude of the Ethiopian–seeking understanding.
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.