A Brief History of Apologetics


While apologies or defenses of the Christian faith go all the way back to the first century, the formal science of apologetics is a more recent development. In this chapter we will survey the history of apologetics in three stages. First, we will discuss in some detail apologetics in the New Testament itself. Second, we will give detailed attention to the thought of the leading apologists prior to the Reformation, notably Augustine, Anselm, and Thomas Aquinas. Third, we will present a more cursory overview of apologetics from the Reformation to the present.1 In later chapters we will consider the apologetic thought of several modern Christian thinkers in more detail.

Apologetics in the New Testament

Although perhaps none of the New Testament writings should be classified as a formal apologetic treatise, most of them exhibit apologetic concerns.2 The New Testament writers anticipate and answer objections and seek to demonstrate the credibility of the claims and credentials of Christ, focusing especially on the resurrection of Jesus as the historical foundation upon which Christianity is built. Many New Testament writings are occupied with polemics against false teachings, in which the apologetic concern is to defend the gospel against perversion from within the church.3

Apologetics in Luke-Acts

Of all the New Testament writings, the two volumes by Luke (his Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles) are the most overtly apologetical in purpose.4 In his prologue (Luke 1:1-4) Luke announces that his work is based on careful historical research and will present an accurate record of the origins of Christianity. The very structure and content of this two-part work suggests it was written at least in part as a political apology for Paul: Acts ends with Paul under house arrest yet preaching freely in Rome, and both books emphasize that Jesus and the apostles (especially Paul) were law-abiding persons. In Acts the motif of Jesus’ resurrection as vindication, his fulfillment of Old Testament messianic prophecies, and the charismatic phenomena on and after the Day of Pentecost are used as cumulative evidences of the messianic lordship of Jesus (Acts 2:36) and of the authority of the apostolic truth claims. Along the way Luke uses the speeches of the apostles to present apologetic arguments to a wide variety of audiences, both Jewish and Gentile…


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