The Man in the Mirror: 4 Observations about apologetics and 1 Peter 3:15
by Travis Dickinson
…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)
1 Peter 3:15 is often the “go to” passage for many apologetics textbooks and presentations but, unfortunately, the context of the passage is rarely highlighted. If we fail to consider the context, we risk missing what Peter is saying. The overall context of the passage is that Peter is describing how to do relationships Christianly. He begins chapter 3 talking directly to husbands and wives and then more broadly to how we are to relate to others. And then he says:
To sum up, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead (1 Peter 3:8-9)
As we see in this passage, it is thoroughly Christian to work for harmony and peace. However, the reality is that it is not always going to work. Sometimes folks will persecute us precisely for doing good and for being Christians. When this sort of suffering occurs, Peter tells us that we should not fear the intimidation and should not be troubled (v. 14). Instead, and here it comes, with Christ as Lord in our hearts, we are to be ready to make an intellectual defense (an apologia) of the hope, namely, the gospel, that is within us (v. 15).
So the context of this passage is that Peter is detailing how Christians should relate to others and live in the world. The interesting thing is that he links having Christ sanctified in our hearts with being ready to make a defense.
There are many things we see in this passage. I will mention four observations.
First observation: The term Peter uses here, from which we get the name Apologetics, is apologia. This is a legal term that would bear at least a resemblance with what a contemporary lawyer does in a court room. The lawyer does not only respond to objections but will assert positive theses about his or her client and will defend these theses. In short, the lawyer provides reasons for thinking a certain thesis is true. Similarly, the disciple of Jesus Christ is called to be prepared to provide reasons for thinking that Christianity is true…