"Contending" For The Faith
There has been considerable confusion about the English word 'apologetics', because, in modern English, the word 'apology' means to say you are sorry about something. However, the word 'apologetics' actually comes from the Greek apologia, which means a defense or justification of one's beliefs, that is to endeavor to prove to be just, right, or valid. This can be done by means of a written or oral plea or argument in support of whatever it is one is defending. In other words, apologetics is the discipline of defending a position through the systematic use of information.
Paul used the word apologia on several occasions when different charges were leveled at him. For example, when the Jews brought charges against him, Festus knowing that Paul was a Roman citizen, and that Roman law provided for the accused to face his accusers, laid the case before King Agrippa stating
"I answered them that it is not the custom of the Romans to hand over any man before the accused meets his accusers face to face and has an opportunity to make his defense (Gk. apologia) against the charges. (Acts 25:16 NASB)
Paul used the word apologia in answer to those who, apparently, were questioning his credentials as an apostle.
My defense to those who examine me is this: Do we not have a right to eat and drink? Do we not have a right to take along a believing wife, even as the rest of the apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? (1 Corinthians 9:3-5 NASB)
An attack on Paul was made by a mob of Jews who thought he was preaching against them, the law and the temple, and even worse, had defiled the temple by bringing Greeks into it. (Act 21:28) This uproar was stopped by the Roman commander who gave Paul permission to speak to the crowd. The apostle's opening words were
"Brethren and fathers, hear my defense (Gk. apologia) which I now offer to you." (Acts 22:1 NASB)
However what is to be particularly noted is that this same word was used by Peter when he said
but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense (Gk. apologia) to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; (1 Peter 3:15 NASB)
We Should Not Get Involved In Debates
Unfortunately, much of the Christian world seems to regard debating the Gospel as not only in opposition to 'faith', but also condemned by Scripture. The latter due, in part, to an unfortunate decision made by the translators of the King James version who, in the following verses, rendered the Greek word eris into the English 'debate'. (Note: It is possible that the meaning of 'debate', like many other English words, has subtly shifted over the years)
Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate (Gk. eris), deceit, malignity; whisperers, (Romans 1:29 KJV)
For I fear, lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I would, and that I shall be found unto you such as ye would not: lest there be debates (Gk. eris), envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults: (2 Corinthians 12:20 KJV)
This translation tends to convey the impression that 'debates' are to be avoided at all cost. However, the Greek eris actually means a quarrel, wrangling or strife, which is exactly how several other versions, including the NASB, Young's literal translation, the Concordant Literal version and the ASV, have translated the word.
In short, we cannot use these passages to condemn debating, because Paul was warning both churches against being quarrelsome and contentious, not to refrain from debates.
As we will see, Paul did plenty of debating himself. In fact, from one end to the other, the book of Acts is filled with examples of Paul and the other apostles making reasoned pleas for the Christian Faith.
Dispute and Persuade
The Greek word dialegomai means to reason with... to discuss in argument or exhortation, to dispute. The following two verses make it clear that 'argument' can be, and often is, involved. Certainly Michael was not having a 'friendly conversation' with the devil...
But Michael the archangel, when he disputed (Gk. dialegomai) with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, "The Lord rebuke you!" (Jude 1:9 NASB)
In the next example, the NASB chose to, for whatever reason, translate dialegomai into the English 'discuss' however, other versions render the Greek word 'argued' (CLV) or 'disputed' (KJV), which seems far more appropriate considering the disciples were more likely to be having an argument, not simply speculating amongst themselves..
But they kept silent, for on the way they had discussed (Gk. dialegomai) with one another which of them was the greatest. (Mark 9:34 NASB)
Although this is the only occurrence of the word in the Gospels, it is used some ten times in the book of Acts alone - always in connection with Paul's preaching of the Gospel. Paul defended the Gospel numerous times to extremely varied groups of people in various places ... in Jewish synagogues, before a heathen king, against the very intellectual Epicurean and Stoic philosophers in Athens. In other words, he verbally argued in defense of his beliefs.... offering evidence as to why the other person's belief systems should be rejected in favor of the Gospel.
Now when they had traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And according to Paul's custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned (Gk. dialegomai) with them from the Scriptures, (Acts 17:1-2 NASB)
In Corinth: He did the same in Corinth, trying to persuade both Jew and Greek
And he was reasoning (Gk. dialegomai) in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. (Acts 18:4 NASB)
And he entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning (Gk. dialegomai) and persuading them about the kingdom of God. But when some were becoming hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the Way before the people, he withdrew from them and took away the disciples, reasoning (Gk. dialegomai) daily in the school of Tyrannus. (Acts 19:8-9 NASB)
In Athens: He not only reasoned with the Jews in the synagogue, but with anyone in the market place who happened along
So he was reasoning (Gk. dialegomai) in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and in the market place every day with those who happened to be present. (Acts 17:17 NASB)
They came to Ephesus, and he left them there. Now he himself entered the synagogue and reasoned (Gk. dialegomai) with the Jews. (Acts 18:19 NASB)
Paul even did so with the Roman governor Felix
But some days later Felix arrived with Drusilla, his wife who was a Jewess, and sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. But as he was discussing (Gk. dialegomai) righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, "Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you." (Acts 24:24-25 NASB)
The fact is that Paul was in continual conflict with the enemies of the gospel.
but after we had already suffered and been mistreated in Philippi, as you know, we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition. (1 Thessalonians 2:2 NASB)
The opposition he speaks of is outlined in Acts 17: 1-9, when some of the Jews "formed a mob and set the city in an uproar", even attacking Jason's house. (Jason was likely related to Paul. See Romans 16:21)
Nor was Paul alone. After Priscilla and Aquila heard Apollos, and took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately, he wanted to go across to Achaia
"..., the brethren encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him; and when he had arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace, for he powerfully refuted (Gk. diakatelegchomai ) the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ. (Acts 18:27-28 NASB)
Different translations variously use confuted, convinced, refuted etc. But, in this case, it probably doesn't matter very much. "Refute" means to overthrow by argument or proof, and "confute" means to prove to be wrong or in error. Apollos convinced the Jews that Jesus was the Christ, by using the Scriptures to prove their arguments wrong.
Jude and 'Contending For The Faith'
Most Christians are quite familiar with Jude's exhortation to "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints". (Jude 1:3). However, I wonder how many Christians realize the intensity of the words Jude chose. Jude used the Greek word epagonizomai, which is derived from two other words, one of which is agonizomai... which literally means to struggle, to labor fervently, strive or fight. In fact, I believe agonizomai is the source of our English 'agonize' which should tell us how forceful the Greek word is.
Note other instances of how the word is used in the New Testament.
Strive (Gk. agonizomai) to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. (Luke 13:24 NASB)
Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting (Gk. agonizomai) so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm." (John 18:36 NASB)
Everyone who competes (Gk. agonizomai) in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. (1 Corinthians 9:2
In fact, Paul uses the same word when he wrote to Timothy
Fight (Gk. agonizomai) the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. (1 Timothy 6:12 NASB)
In other words, to contend earnest for the faith means to intensely contest everything that is opposed to it, which it is impossible to do by being non-controversial.
Many people believe that Matthew 10:18-20 shows that it is not necessary to worry about being able to give a reasoned defense of the Christian Faith since, when the occasion arises, God's Spirit will tell us what to say. In other words, we should not get involved in apologetics.
and you will even be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. "But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say. "For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. (NASB)
The problem is that other verses advise believers to study the Scriptures, and increase in knowledge, and always be ready with an answer for those who wonder at our faith and the hope we hold...
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15 NASB)
so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; (Colossians 1:10 NASB)
but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; (1 Peter 3:15 NASB)
So what did Jesus mean? As is so often the case, the clue is in the context. The preceding verse says
But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues; (Matthew 10:17 NASB)
Jesus simply says that Christians will be brought before the authorities who wish to condemn and persecute them. At those times, they do not have to worry beforehand as to what they will say, or how they will say it, since the Holy Spirit that will speak through them. The verse has absolutely nothing to do with trying to persuade people of the truth of the Gospel.
Summary and Conclusion
It sometimes seems that the apostles were contentious in the extreme.. apparently spending much, if not most, of their time disputing or debating with people who held other beliefs... trying their best to persuade their listeners of the truth of their message.
Simply because, they had one fact in the forefront of their minds which we either seem to either have totally forgotten, or we are burying our heads in the sand and completely ignoring .... The Gospel is not just a charming and touching story that people should believe, but a matter of life and death. The penalty for all sin is death, but God has offered us a way out... the only way to be forgiven, instead of condemned. The only way to be eternally free from the fear of the grave. See The Message of The Bible and The Warning of The Bible
We have forgotten that we have a Biblical mandate to earnestly contend for the faith, dispute the validity of other spiritual paths, endeavor to persuade people of the truth of the Scriptures, and demonstrate that the message is reliable. We simply cannot be loyal to the faith we proclaim if we fail to defend our position and hold up the truth against numerous errors. Contending, reasoning, persuading, disputing, proving, debating are, one and all, Scriptural words and concepts.
Yet, tragically, we have adopted the world's current disinclination to 'offend' anyone. God forbid we should actually tell people that Jesus is the only way to eternal life and the spiritual path they are on is a sure road to eternal death. [See Life or Death... The Choice is Yours]
Can Christian apologetics alone bring people to Christ?
In the final analysis, it is the Spirit of God that convicts and convinces. However, if the intention was that the Holy Spirit would do all the work, then it was a plain waste of time for Jesus to send His disciples out into the world with the command to "preach the gospel to all creation" (Mark 16:15). Peter would have had absolutely no need to stand up in front of the entire crowd gathered in Jerusalem for the feast, and Paul and his companions were very much mistaken when they concluded that the vision they had seen was God calling them to preach the gospel in Macedonia (Acts 16:10).
The work begins with us.
However, in order to be able to give a reasoned defense of the faith, we have to know what the Bible teaches. Unfortunately, all too many Christians restrict their reading to an out of context Bible verse, or devotional, of the day, neither of which gives them any more than a very, very superficial knowledge of the Scriptures. While, I suppose, but am far from convinced, that these devotionals have their uses, reading them rarely contributes very much towards Biblical knowledge. Also See CONTEXT IS CRUCIAL
Besides which, in this day and age when there are so many attacks against Christianity, all believers should have a good working knowledge of basic Christian Apologetics. They need to know how to defend their faith against the more common arguments brought up by skeptics and unbelievers. [See Why Christianity?]
Tragically however, people will not devote a fraction of the time to studying God's word that they give to the latest reality show, participating in or watching sports, or generally entertaining themselves.