I will begin by defining apologetics and discussing two apologetic methods. Then, the researcher will introduce several other opinions concerning apologetics and apologetic methods to help support the definition. First, Geisler will give insight into two common methods of apologetics. Second, VanTil’s presuppositional apologetic method will be summarized. Third, Lars Dahle will show that Acts 17:16-34 is a model for an apologetic method that modern apologists should follow. Finally, Alister McGrath gives an insightful look at just how many methods an apologist should have in his arsenal.

I will then analyze Peter’s apologetic method from Acts 2:14-47. Paul’s address to the Greek pagans at Mars Hill will be compared to Peter’s to see how Paul’s content differs from Peter’s and why. In this postmodern age, it is important to know how to communicate the gospel of our Lord and defend it against all attacks.

Apologetics Defined

The word from which apologetics comes is the Greek word ἀπολογία, “verbal defense, speech in defense.”[1] It describes a speech defending faith in Christ seven times in the New Testament. In 1 Corinthians 9:3, Paul uses ἀπολογία to tell the Corinthians how he defends his apostleship. The apostle Peter uses ἀπολογία in 1 Peter 3:15 to say to his readers to always be “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.” This passage in 1 Peter sets the standard of willingness and humility when defending the faith. Απολογία is a compound word from ἀπό, “of, from, out of;” and λόγος, “a word, saying, discourse.” In a Christian context, the word λόγος has a significant meaning. Άπολογία is to give the word, λόγος, from, άπο, the λόγος, the eternal Word of God.

Some might say that apologetics only refers to a speech defending the faith in Christ. However, apologetics is also used to defend or explain any branch of systematic theology. Furthermore, it is primarily considered a speech to an unbeliever that effectively supports a more precise biblical worldview. It is intended to show that faith in Christ is perfectly reasonable and that rejecting Christ is unreasonable. One such example is Acts 19:1-7 when Paul found some disciples of John who had not yet received the Holy Spirit.

There are several apologetic methods in use today. However, due to limited space, I will only discuss two. The first of the two, and by far the more popular, is classical apologetics, which appears to be the preferred method by many scholars, including Norman Geisler, who says that “classical apologetics stresses arguments for the existence of God…as well as the historical evidence supporting the truth of Christianity.”[2] In the first of two steps, the classical apologist establishes the existence of God. In the second step, the classical apologist shows historical evidence of fulfilled prophecy and miracles that show that God is not remote but fully involved with and in control of His creation.

The second apologetic method, presuppositional apologetics, is somewhat controversial. Geisler calls it “revelational apologetics.”[3] Most modern scholars credit Cornelius Van Til with developing presuppositional apologetics in the 1950s. Van Til identified the problem with classical apologetics as the unregenerate mind being at enmity with God. There was no common ground between the apologist and the unbeliever who was willfully ignorant of God. Van Til recommends showing the unbeliever that any worldview other than Christianity is false, thus solving the common ground difficulty.

Concerning apologetics, Van Til says, “We must defend Christian-theism as a unit.”[4] In Van Til’s mind, the apologist must first be a good theologian. Furthermore, Van Til gives six branches of systematic theology where the apologist must excel. They are 1) the doctrine of God. 2) The doctrine of man. 3) the doctrine of Christ. 4) the doctrine of the church. 5) the doctrine of salvation. And 6) the doctrine of last things.[5] Propositional apologetics presents a message of faith and hope in Christ from these six areas. I would add to this list the doctrine of harmartiology, the study of sin. Without these, the witness for Christ is essentially unprepared for personal evangelism.

Theologian and apologist Lars Dahle believes that Paul’s apologetic method in Acts 17:16-34 inspired Dahle to write his doctrinal thesis on it, showing that Paul’s method is a model for modern apologists to follow. It is well understood that knowing one’s audience is a critical component of apologetics. Dahle says, “Contemporary apologists need to be aware of and understand influential present-day alternative worldview.”[6] In particular, the post-modern worldview because it rejects absolute truth.

Noted theologian and apologist Alister McGrath[7] believes that all of the apologetic speeches in the book of Acts represent specific models to specific groups. McGrath also believes that the modern apologist should be prepared to meet any challenge to the Christian faith. He presents Peter’s speech in Acts 2 as a model for speaking to Jews. McGrath uses Acts 17 as a model to present the gospel to the Greek pagans. Finally, McGrath argues that Paul’s speeches in Acts 24-27 are to the pragmatic Roman. McGrath says that “apologetics is an integral part of that program of evangelism.”[8] The key to doing both well is through solid theology.

Peter’s Apologetic Method

Luke records Peter’s first defense of the gospel and its result in Acts 2:14-47. The location is probably somewhere in the temple’s vicinity. The audience is entirely Jewish because it occurred on the day of Pentecost. There were thousands of Jews from all over the known world who witnessed what happened to the apostles. The coming of the Holy Spirit, immersing the apostles who had gathered “together in one place” (Acts 2:1), led to Peter’s gospel presentation. Some of the Jews were truly curious, and others outright mocked the apostles.

After calling for the attention of his audience, Peter’s first appeal to them is from the Hebrew Scriptures, specifically Joel 2:28-32. Peter could use this approach because there was common ground between the apostles and the witnesses to the Holy Spirit’s coming. The common ground is that both parties had at least a historical understanding of Jewish history and God’s promises from the Scriptures. The Joel passage that Peter quoted deals with two primary promises to the Jews. First is the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, and second, a surviving remnant of Jewish believers.

Peter then summarizes the life and death of Jesus Christ. Peter’s language shows that his audience had first-hand knowledge of the events concerning Christ, of which Peter had spoken. Peter then declares that God raised Jesus from the dead because “it was impossible for Him [Jesus] to be held in its [death’s] power” (Acts 2:24). To prove that the Messiah was to die and be resurrected, Peter appeals to Psalm 16:8-11. This Psalm deals with two issues. First, the preservation of life for one who takes refuge in God while one is living. Second, a Holy Person will die, and His body will not decay. The point of Peter’s reference is that David’s body was buried and decayed. The physical body of Jesus was resurrected before it had time to decay.

Peter then reminds them of God’s promise to David that One of David’s descendants would sit on David’s throne, 2 Samuel 7:12. Thus, Peter is giving evidence to his hearers that by the proof of resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ is the person that will assume the throne of David. When Peter explained that the people of Israel were guilty of having their promised Messiah crucified, those who heard Peter’s message “were pierced to the heart,” meaning they were convicted. They were also concerned about their future if there was a remedy for their sin. Peter explained that they needed to repent of unbelief “for the forgiveness of sins,” and afterward, they would “receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Peter goes on to say that the promise of the Holy Spirit “is for you and your children…” (Acts 2:39).

Looking at Peter’s second sermon in Acts 3, a pattern emerges with these facts from the previous paragraph in mind. First, there is a miracle that draws a Jewish crowd. Second, God is glorified as being the source of the miracle. Third, there is an appeal to Jewish history and God’s promises to Israel. Finally, there is the preaching of the Messiah’s life, death, and resurrection, which was predicted by the prophets of the Old Testament. It is clear from the text that many people believed and were baptized, but many also rejected the gospel message. The same pattern is followed in Acts 3 as in Acts 2.

In Acts 10 to Cornelius, Peter seems to be following the same pattern except for appealing to the promises to Israel. In Acts 10:37, 38, Peter says, “you yourselves know” and “you know” when speaking of the events that occurred in the life of Jesus. In 10:43, Peter appeals to what was written in the prophets concerning the Messiah. There was evidently some common ground between Peter and Cornelius. Cornelius had some knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures and current events during the life of Christ. The only other people to give an apologetic message defending their faith in Christ in the book of Acts are Philip (Acts 8:25-40), Steven (Acts 7), and Saul/Paul.

Paul’s Apologetic Method

Paul used a consistent model on his missionary journeys. He would first go to the synagogue, if there was one, and preach the gospel to them. Paul followed the same common ground style of message that Peter had used. However, Paul deviated from the pattern depending on his audience. In Acts 14:14-17 at Lystra and Acts 17:16-34. Greg Bahnsen says that Paul “pursued a pattern of argument which was completely congruous with his other relevant New Testament teachings.”[9]  Paul understood the concept of knowing his audience.

Athens may not have been on Paul’s itinerary for the second mission trip, but it must have been on God’s. Paul and his party had been trying to enter Asia Minor, but the Spirit prevented them. While on the way, Paul meets Timothy in Lystra, whom Paul takes on the journey. This second journey added to the agenda sharing the results of the Jerusalem council (Acts 15) to the churches. When the party came to Troas, Paul was given a vision telling him to go to Macedonia.

By the time Paul arrived in Athens, the glory of that city had somewhat faded. Athens has a long history of thinkers dating back to about 400 B.C. that still provoke thought in the postmodern age. Coupled with the numerous gods of Greek Mythology, Paul likely saw Athens as the very pit of hell with all Greek gods’ statuary.  Nevertheless, there was a synagogue of the Jews in Athens where Paul would begin his preaching. Word of Paul’s message as he spoke to people in Athens spilled into the marketplace. It is more like a marketplace of ideas or thoughts than a marketplace of food items, though food may have been available.

Among the people hearing Paul speak were the Epicureans and the Stoics. There was a division among them regarding the content of Paul’s message. While some thought Paul was just a babbler, others were interested in what Paul had to say. Scholars seem to disagree about whether Paul was invited to speak as a guest or if he was giving some official statement to see if charges should be brought against him.

Paul humbly began his speech by noting their religious tolerance. Paul tells them that he had seen their statue dedicated “to an unknown god.” Paul used this altar as a point of contact with his listeners. Based on the presupposition that the Greeks did not know the God of Israel by their admission on the altar, Paul preached the God of Israel as the God they did not know. Paul presents God as Creator and “Lord of heaven and earth,” who “does not dwell in temples made with hands,” Acts 17:24. Paul tells them that God does not need anything from them in service or goods. It is they who are dependent upon God for “life and breath and all things” (Acts 17:25).

Furthermore, Paul tells them that God populated the world through one man and that God “determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation,” Acts 17:26. These statements present God as fully sovereign over the affairs of men. Paul goes on to say that God had “overlooked the times of ignorance,” Acts 17:30. While God was dealing with Israel through the Law, God had overlooked the ignorance of the non-Israelite people of the world. Paul told the Gentiles that the time had come to put away ignorance and repent because God would soon judge the world for rebellion against Him.

Paul appealed to their innate sense of morality linked to the image of God in man. The awareness that man does not measure up to a Holy God and is hopeless without a redeemer. Notice that Paul never said anything about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Nor did Paul mention the promises to Israel for a land, a nation, or a King. While the gospel message is absent in concrete form, it is present but presented so that the ignorant can understand its simplicity. Paul did not condemn them with Law. Instead, he preached a hope they had possibly never heard before. However, that message of hope was accompanied by a stern warning. The one point with Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 and Paul’s in Acts 17 is that the precipice of the meeting hinged on the resurrection of a dead man. That precipice is a call to action.

Another notable point of Paul’s method is the grace with which he spoke. Paul certainly saw his fair share of antagonism—maybe more than anyone. Yet, his resolve never swayed. Paul was never bothered by the people who walked away and rejected the gospel. He never chased them down or harassed them into some semblance of submissive belief. Instead, Paul’s focus was always on those who believed. He taught them and organized them into a local church everywhere he went.

Rolland McCune wrote an entry for the Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal in 2001 titled “The New Evangelicalism And Apologetics.” In that article, McCune wrote, “It will be seen that the leaders of the new evangelicalism in fifty years have abandoned the sense of an absolute and infallible religious authority.”[10] It is disturbing that McCune was talking about the authority of God’s Word and how right he is so far. It has been only 20 years since the article was published, and it appears fewer churches hold to the authority of God’s Word than ever before.


It has been shown that the definition, as illustrated by both Peter and Paul’s speeches, is that apologetics is a speech that defends Christianity as the only true and defensible worldview. Even though there are several apologetic methods, it has become clear that being able to present the gospel in plain language clearly is as critical as knowing the audience to whom it is presented. A modern apologist should be well versed in defending the gospel message to Jews, pagans who don’t know God, and pragmatically to Romans, (Gentiles) who are somewhat aware of what Scripture teaches.[11] Whether one uses classical apologetics or presuppositional apologetics is a moot argument if the theology behind the argument is not solid. Both Peter and Paul depended on a literal understanding of the Old Testament Scriptures in their arguments, which is the basis of their theology. Due to declining reliance on Scripture as the authoritative base to defend Christianity, apologetics has suffered. The good apologist is first and foremost a solid theologian. One can never defend what one does not understand.


Bahnsen, Greg L, and Robert R Booth. Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith. Nacogdoches, Tex.: Covenant Media Foundation, 2000.

Dahle, Lars Olof Martin. “Acts 17:16-34 : An Apologetic Model Then and Now?” Phd, The Open University, 2001. Accessed July 7, 2021. http://oro.open.ac.uk/58173/.

Geisler, Norman L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Baker reference library. Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 1999.

McCune, Rolland D. “The New Evangelicalism And Apologetics.” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 6, no. 1 (2001).

McGrath, Alister E. “Evangelical Apologetics.” Bibliotheca Sacra 155, no. 617 (1998).

Thayer, Joseph Henry, Christian Gottlob Wilke, and Joseph Henry Thayer. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Being Grimm’s Wilke’s Clavis Novi Testamenti. Massachusetts: Hendrickson Pub., 1962.

Van Til, Cornelius, and K. Scott Oliphint. The Defense of the Faith. 4th ed. Phillipsburg, N.J: P & R Pub, 2008.

  1. Joseph Henry Thayer, Christian Gottlob Wilke, and Joseph Henry Thayer, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Being Grimm’s Wilke’s Clavis Novi Testamenti (Massachusetts: Hendrickson Pub., 1962)., page 627
  2. Norman L. Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker reference library (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 1999).page 41
  3. Ibid page 44. Italics in original
  4. Cornelius Van Til and K. Scott Oliphint, The Defense of the Faith, 4th ed. (Phillipsburg, N.J: P & R Pub, 2008). page 28.
  5. Ibid page 29
  6. Lars Olof Martin Dahle, “Acts 17:16-34 : An Apologetic Model Then and Now?” (phd, The Open University, 2001), accessed July 7, 2021, http://oro.open.ac.uk/58173/. page 253
  7. Alister E. McGrath, “Evangelical Apologetics,” Bibliotheca Sacra 155, no. 617 (1998).
  8. Alister E. McGrath, “Evangelical Apologetics,” Bibliotheca Sacra 155, no. 617 (1998)., page 3
  9. Greg L Bahnsen and Robert R Booth, Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith (Nacogdoches, Tex.: Covenant Media Foundation, 2000). page 254
  10. Rolland D. McCune, “The New Evangelicalism And Apologetics,” Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal 6, no. 1 (2001)., page 1
  11. Although I did not discuss this method due to its length, it involves refuting accusations and then presenting the truth in a practical way.

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