A Lesson in Failed Apologetics

by Alex Aili

Paul targeted his audiences with precision based on his desire to “become all things to all people” (2 Cor. 9:22).By all appearances, he was a superb orator, able to “hit the message home” with diverse audiences. As he preached in the synagogues he found commonality with the Jews, for he was a Jew himself (and not just any Jew, but a zealously devout one; Phil. 3:4-6), but a significant part of his evangelistic pursuits extended to the Gentiles (Gal. 1:16; 2:9; Eph. 3:8; Col. 1:27). He was certainly the “wild card” of the early church (Acts 9:15).

Apologetics in Action

It was custom for Paul to “reason” in the synagogues (Acts 17:2, 17; 18:4, 19; 19:8-9). The Greek word (dialegomai), as used in Acts, has the idea of “preaching,” but elsewhere it carries the meaning of “fighting with words.” This is not quite different from what we know today as “apologetics.”

During his second missionary journey (Acts 15:36-18:22), the course of events brought his crew (Timothy, Silas and himself) to Thessalonica (17:1), where he preached (dialegomai) in the synagogue for three Sabbath days. Over this period of time, some Jews and a good number of “devout Greeks” believed (v. 4), while others connived a way to bring him down (vv. 5-9).

Paul and Silas fled to Berea, where even more Jews believed (vv. 11-12). But the raucous band from Thessalonica was in hot pursuit and came to Berea to stir up more trouble (v. 13). So while Timothy and Silas remained there, Paul went on to Athens.

And it’s here where he met his match.

He did everything right, too. He contextualized the Gospel, making the message relevant (vv. 23, 28) without compromising its integrity (vv. 24-27, 29-31).

Using the Athenians’ own set of idols as a point of commonality, he wove the Gospel into a message that was compatible with their worldview. The idol attributed to “The Unknown God” was the key (v. 23). Tapping into their religious nature (vv. 22, 28), he challenged them to accept the implications of who the Creator is (vv. 24-29) and modify their worldview and lifestyle (vv. 30-31) because of it.

Like the other times (vv. 4-5, 11-13), there was a mixed reaction; most mocked, some suggested a second hearing (v. 32), but only a few believed (v. 34). The Christianity he proclaimed was apparently unable to win the favor of the intellectuals. He was rejected by the majority…


A Lesson in Failed Apologetics – A Clear Lens