This is the sermon transcript for the sermon I preached July 19th, 2015 at Grace Reformed Baptist Church, Palmdale, CA.
- Introduction & Exposition of Acts 17
- General Principles of Apologetics
- MUCH acronym for apologetics
1. Introduction to Apologetics & Exposition of Acts 17
The term apologetics is derived from the Greek word apologia, which is used in 1 Peter 3:15, probably the most well-known verse on apologetics, “Sanctify Christ as Lord, always being prepared to give a defense (ἀπολογία) for the hope that is within you, yet with gentleness and reverence”. It does not mean to apologize for something, but rather, “to give a speech of defense, reply, the act of making a defense”. There are 3 important New Testament passages pertaining to Apologetics: Romans 1:18-21, Acts 17, and 1 Peter 3:15, but since Acts 17 implements the methodology of the other 2 passages I will focus on Acts 17 to demonstrate Paul’s methodology for apologetics, which provides the apostolic model for apologetics.
It is important to keep in mind Paul’s use of the OT to properly understand the Apostle Paul’s apologetic approach at the Areopagus address to the Athenian philosophers (Acts 17:22-34). Paul only had the Old Testament canon as the basis for his apologetic methodology, this is testified by Paul’s frequent allusions to Isaiah and the Old Testament, even though he was trained in Greek philosophy and could have engaged the Athenians on common ground Paul refused to do so,
“Although Paul is addressing an audience which is not committed or even predisposed to the revealed Scriptures, namely educated Gentiles, his speech is nevertheless a typically Jewish polemic regarding God, idolatry, and judgment! Using Old Testament language and concepts, Paul declared that God is the Creator, a Spirit who does not reside in man-made houses (v. 24). God is self-sufficient, and all men are dependent upon Him (v. 25). He created all men from a common ancestor and is the Lord of history (v. 26). Paul continued to teach God’s disapprobation for idolatry (v. 29), His demand for repentance (v. 30), and His appointment of a final day of judgment (v. 31)”.
The previous context before Paul Areopagus address in Acts 17:22-34, verses 16-21 describes Paul’s burden for the lost when he was in Athens, his spirit was being provoked, the verb is in the imperfect tense, so it denotes a process describing Paul’s burden for the lost, and as a result of Paul’s burden he reasoned with both Jews and god fearing Gentiles (Greek converts to Judaism) in the synagogues (Acts 17:17). This reflects the pattern mentioned by Peter in 1 Peter 3:15 that apologetics is to be done with gentleness & reverence, a true burden for the lost, not merely a desire to win arguments. In verse 18 Paul is ridiculed by the stoic philosophers for his vain babbling, and others criticized him for preaching Jesus and the resurrection, so Paul has the same methodology at Athens as he wrote to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 1:18-21; Paul proclaimed the Lord of Glory, Christ, he was unashamed to do so. As Paul begins his sermon to the Athenians in verse 23 he mentions the Athenians’ object of worship and their altar to an unknown God, both of which have their basis in the Old Testament, Paul has not abandoned a biblical framework in order to engage on common ground with the Athenian philosophers. Paul also contrasts the ignorance of the Athenian philosophers with the truth of the Gospel which he proclaims to them in verse 23, Bahnsen commenting on this verse explains this antithesis in Paul’s methodology,
“Paul started with an emphasis upon his hearers’ ignorance and from there went on to declare with authority the truth of God. Their ignorance was made to stand over against his unique authority and ability to expound the truth. Paul set forth Christianity as alone reasonable and true, and his ultimate starting point was the authority of Christ’s revelation. It was not uncommon for Paul to stress that the Gentiles were ignorant, knowing not God. (e.g., 1 Cor. 1:20; Gal. 4:8; Eph. 4:18; 1 Thess. 4:5; 2 Thess. 1:8). In diametric contrast to them was the believer who possessed a knowledge of God (e.g., Gal. 4:9; Eph. 4:20). This antithesis was fundamental to Paul’s thought, and it was clearly elaborated at Athens”.
Verse 24 where Paul declares that the Lord of heaven and earth made the world and all that is in it, he is again grounding his statements in the Old Testament even though his audience is not Jewish due to his authority being God’s Word for both his proclamation of the Gospel and his apologetic. Verse 25 continues the progression of his argument; God is self-sufficient and sovereign, not dependent on man (Psalm 50:7-15 is alluded to by Paul). In verse 27 it is important that we understand what Paul means by the statement, “that they would seek God,” because this conditional clause (if…then statement) in the Greek denotes only a remote possibility, so Paul is not suggesting that fallen man can reason to God. Verse 28 is crucial in understanding how Paul is using extra biblical sources in his sermon, this verse has the causal conjunction, for (γάρ), in the first clause, connecting it to the previous verse, expanding upon the fact that God is not far from man, so man cannot presume to be innocent by ignorance (Romans 1:18-21). Paul quotes from 2 Greek philosophers, Epimenides the Cretan, “for in Him we live and move and exist,” and his other quote is from Aratus, “as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children,” both demonstrate that he is showing that they must borrow from the Christian worldview to make sense of their beliefs, and he proceeds in verse 29 to show how their worldview is insufficient and contradictory by worshipping idols and the creation rather than the Creator of all things. Paul was not seeking common ground by quoting from Greek philosophers because if he was, then he just demolished the common ground in the following verses, rather Paul understands that the statements by the Greek philosophers can be true such as man’s dependence upon God and that we are sons of God, but only in terms of a Christian worldview can these concepts be adequately accounted for. It is upon this basis that Paul proceeds to call his audience to repentance, having shown the futility of their worldview and their inconsistency, “why would you worship idols and altars rather than the God who created all things?”
“Paul did not utilize pagan ideas in his Areopagus address. He used pagan expressions to demonstrate that ungodly thinkers have not eradicated all idea, albeit suppressed and distorted, of the living and true God”.
“Men are engulfed by God’s clear revelation; try as they may, the truth which they possess in their heart of hearts cannot be escaped, and inadvertently it comes to expression. They do not explicitly understand it properly; yet these expressions are a witness to their inward conviction and culpability. Consequently Paul could take advantage of pagan quotations, not as an agreed upon ground for erecting the message of the gospel, but as a basis for calling unbelievers to repentance for their flight from God”.
In verse 31 Paul unashamedly declares that all men will stand before God on judgment day, and that Christ will administer the judgment, the one whom the Greeks mocked for being raised from the dead. Paul’s argument for the resurrection is not consistent with either the classical or evidential approach since he didn’t give evidence to persuade the Greeks, who deny the resurrection in their worldview; rather he declared the truth of Christ’s resurrection based on the authority of Scripture. As we have examined the plethora of allusions to the LXX (Ancient Greek translation of OT, also called the Septuagint) of Isaiah demonstrate that Paul consistently applied the same methodology laid out in Romans 1:18-21 in his Areopagus address, he did not use a separate set of presuppositions to find common ground with Greeks versus when he was preaching to Jews, with both the authority of God’s Word and the contrast between Yahweh and the false Gods (Isaiah 40-45) was in the forefront for Paul and his methodology to apologetics.
2. General Principles for Apologetics
An essential tenet of a biblical apologetic is the importance of sola scriptura in apologetics is that theology must always take precedence over philosophy, a skilled apologist is a skilled theologian, one who knows the Bible thoroughly. The apologist who places philosophy at the forefront and theology as secondary may claim victory when discussing the Kalam Cosmological Argument with an atheist or agnostic, but will be completely unprepared to respond to a Jehovah’s witness who may know the Bible better (even though he has incorrect theological conclusions) than the philosophically trained apologist who is deficient in his understanding of the word of God. A related aspect of the sufficiency of Scripture in Apologetics is the crucial relationship between general revelation (nature) and special revelation (Scripture). We must stand on the sufficiency of Scripture, special revelation, which clearly explains the Gospel, in contrast to general revelation i.e. nature, which is only sufficient to condemn us, but not to provide saving knowledge of the Gospel. The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith recognized Scripture alone as providing saving knowledge of the Gospel in contrast to general revelation,
1689 LBC chapter 1 Paragraph 1: “1. The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible1 rule of all saving Knowledge, Faith, and Obedience; Although the2 light of Nature, and the works of Creation and Providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom and power of God, as to leave men unexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and His will, which is necessary unto Salvation.3 Therefore it pleased the Lord at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal himself, and to declare that His will unto his Church; and afterward for the better preserving, and propagating of the Truth, and for the more sure Establishment and Comfort of the Church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan, and of the World, to commit the same wholly unto4 writing; which maketh the Holy Scriptures to be most necessary, those former ways of Gods revealing his will unto his people being now ceased”.
Also in Chapter 20 of the 1689 LBC, specifically addressing the Gospel, this point is reiterated concerning the necessity of special revelation, Scripture, for saving knowledge of the Gospel:
1689 LBC Chapter 20 Paragraph 2: “2. This Promise of Christ, and Salvation by him, is revealed only by3 the Word of God; neither do the Works of Creation, or Providence, with the light of Nature,4 make discovery of Christ, or of Grace by him; so much as in a general, or obscure way; much less that men destitute of the Revelation of him by the Promise, or Gospel;5 should be enabled thereby, to attain saving Faith, or Repentance.
The second major tenet for a biblical apologetic is the necessity of understanding presuppositions and how evidence is interpreted. Evidence doesn’t determine whether someone’s argument is valid because all evidences are interpreted by our presuppositions, our necessary starting point or assumptions, which for Christians means that we begin with the fact that the one and only Triune God has revealed Himself infallibly in Scripture (Psalm 96:5, Isaiah 40:18-26), whereas the naturalist typically affirms only that which can be understood by observation via our senses and reason is valid. Debating with someone over evolution for example depends on the presuppositions of each side since a naturalist will based on their presuppositions not allow for any supernatural explanation regardless of any evidence presented for it. Bahnsen summarizes the necessity of understanding this crucial element of apologetics,
“The unavoidable fact is – regarding of how intensely some apologists lament or decry it – that nobody is a disinterested observer, seeing and interpreting facts without a set of assumptions and pre-established rules. All men have presuppositional commitments prior to theory examination of various hypotheses [i.e. presuppositions = the filter through which we see the facts or a lense/glasses through which we observe them]. In the nature of the case, apologetics requires that we argue with the unbeliever in terms of each other’s most basic assumptions. We must challenge each other’s final standards. This means that we must contest the grounds on which our opponent stands, showing that only within the context of the Christian worldview could he know anything at all”.
Summarizing how we can implement Paul’s method in Acts 17 can be conveniently explained by the Acronym MUCH, which Gene Cook Jr. came up with to explain this apologetic methodology succinctly. M stands for Morality; in the Christian worldview we have a standard for absolute morality because God’s law reflects his perfect righteousness and because God is immutable, we know that God’s standards for morality are not going to change. In contrast all unbelieving worldviews that say something is immoral, or an atheist arguing that the Old Testament is immoral has to borrow from the Christian worldview because they have no standard for absolute morality within their own worldview. By demonstrating the folly of their worldview we point sinners to the law of God and present the Gospel to them.
Worldview Questions for Morality:
- Is there an objective standard of morality, where does it come from?
- How do you get morality from evolution, does morality evolve?
U stands for uniformity of nature, which is just the concept for the fact that God is Sovereign and sustains his creation, so that observable patterns in nature are not random actions, but the outworking of God’s decrees. This means that there is not a competition of the Bible vs. Science because without the Sovereign God of Scripture there is no basis for science since science presupposes stability, so that experiments can be repeated. Rather than arguing about different facts for and against evolution with an atheist we should ask them how they account for the stability/uniformity in nature in their worldview, and then point them to the Sovereign God of scripture and that God not only created all things, but also gave man a moral law to obey, to transition to the law and Gospel.
Worldview Questions for Uniformity of Nature:
- How do you know the laws of science will be the same tomorrow?
- On what Basis can you assume that you will be able to repeat the same scientific experiments tomorrow and get the same results?
- How do you know the sun will rise tomorrow?
C stands for abstract concepts such as logic, laws of mathematics, and science, which are absolute and do not change because they reflect God’s omniscience and immutability, all absolute standards are based on some attribute of God + God’s immutability, God is not subject to these laws as some external entity, rather they reflect his perfect attributes.
Worldview Questions for Abstract Concepts:
- What is the basis for logic and reasoning in your worldview?
- Does absolute truth exist?
- Are the laws of mathematics absolute and universal (apply everywhere), or could 2+2 = 5 instead of 4 somewhere else?
- How do you get logic from evolution, does logic evolve also?
H, Human Dignity, based on the fact that we are created in God’s image and therefore have inherent value separating man from the rest of creation (in contrast to evolution). This category of MUCH also presupposes objective morality because if there is no objective morality, then there is no ethical basis for treating man with human dignity because man was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27, 9:6).
Worldview questions for Human Dignity:
- If we are here as a result of evolution, where does human dignity come from?
- If you believe that the world was created as a result of the Big Bang, why do you go to marriages and funerals which assume human dignity, when we are nothing more than space dust in your worldview?
- How do you get human dignity without absolute morality in your worldview?
 Arndt, William, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 117
 Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen, Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith (TX: Covenant Media Foundation, 1996),227
“For the word of the cross is afoolishness to bthose who 1are perishing, but to us who 2are being saved it is cthe power of God. For it is written, “aI will destroy the wisdom of the wise,And the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.” aWhere is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of bthis age? Has not God cmade foolish the wisdom of dthe world? For since in the wisdom of God athe world through its wisdom did not come to know God, bGod was well-pleased through the cfoolishness of the 1message preached to dsave those who believe.” (1 Corinthians 1:18-21, NASB)
 Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen, Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith (TX: Covenant Media Foundation, 1996), 219; from the Appendix, The Encounter of Jerusalem with Athens, A Biblical Exposition of Acts 17
 εἰ ἄρα γε ψηλαφήσειαν αὐτὸν καὶ εὕροιεν. The use of εἰ with two optative verbs forms a (double) fourth class condition (always incomplete in the NT), which is normally used to express something that has only a remote possibility of happening in the future. The use of ἄρα and γε further emphasizes the sense of uncertainty (cf. 8:22). Fitzmyer (1998, 609) renders this clause: “perhaps even grope for him, and eventually find him.” Martin M. Culy and Mikeal C. Parsons, Acts: A Handbook on the Greek Text, Baylor Handbook on the Greek New Testament (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2003), 339
 Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen, Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith (TX: Covenant Media Foundation, 1996),, 224
 Ibid, 225
1 2 Tim. 3:15, 16, 17. Isa. 8:20; Luk. 16:29, 31; Eph. 2:20.
2 Rom. 1:19, 20, 21 etc. ch. 2:14, 15; Psal. 19:1, 2, 3.
3 Heb. 1:1.
4 Pro. 22:19, 20, 21; Rom. 15:4; 2 Pet. 1:19, 20.
 W. J. McGlothlin, Baptist Confessions of Faith (Philadelphia; Boston; Chicago; St. Louis; Toronto: American Baptist Publication Society, 1911), 227–228.
3 Rom. 1:17.
4 Ro. 10:14, 15, 17.
5 Pro. 29:18; Isa. 25:7, with ch. 60:2, 3.
 W. J. McGlothlin, Baptist Confessions of Faith (Philadelphia; Boston; Chicago; St. Louis; Toronto: American Baptist Publication Society, 1911), 257.
 Article by James White on the Trail of the False Gods, Isaiah 40-45: vintage.aomin.org/isaiah4045.html
 Greg L. Bahnsen, Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended, 14
 Hebrews 1:2-3, “in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,” (NASB)