Is 1 Peter 3:15 Accurately Used as an Apologetic Text?

Often at BellatorChristi.com, I receive comments to which I try to respond as quickly as possible. This past weekend was no exception. For most comments, the responses I attempt to leave suffice for the question or comment presented. However, this weekend a commenter left a response that baffled me to my core. He challenged apologists in using 1 Peter 3:15 as a call to do apologetics. At face value, it has always appeared to me that 1 Peter 3:15 was an apologetic text. For heaven’s sake, if Norman Geisler, Gary Habermas, William Lane Craig, and other heavy hitters in the apologetics world used this text in support for the use of Christian apologetics, one would assume that the text holds some merit. Nevertheless, I have learned never to assume anything. Thus, I pose this question on today’s blog; are apologists using 1 Peter 3:15 contextually accurate as a call to do Christian apologetics?

While I was somewhat anxious scrutinizing the use of the text—does anyone really want to say that the entire apologetics world is wrong—my anxieties were quickly dispelled when reading the text of 1 Peter 3:15 in its appropriate context. I found quite speedily that the text has been used appropriately much to the chagrin of my opposing critic. Why? When one determines the meaning of a text in relation to the context of the passage, one needs to look at the text in relation to the message of the book it is in; the surrounding chapters, and the context of the statement itself. Before beginning the process, let’s first see what the text in question states. Peter writes, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” (1 Peter 3:15-16).[1]

Context of the book argues for an apologetic understanding of 1 Peter 3:15.

What is the message of 1 Peter as it pertains to 1 Peter 3:15? The apostle Simon Peter writes this letter to the provinces in Asia Minor (1 Peter 1:1-2) during the 60s.[2] For the Christians in the area, the 60s were a time of great hostility. Not only did Jewish groups ostracize the early believers, the Roman imperial government was in the process of turning up the heat on them as they were thought to be “‘atheists’ (for rejecting the gods), ‘cannibals’ (for eating Jesus’ ‘body’ and drinking his ‘blood’) and incestuous (for statements like ‘I love you, brother’ or ‘I love you, sister’).”[3] Obviously, any casual student of the Bible, much more a serious one, will know that these accusations were ungrounded and rooted in a false understanding of the Christian faith. Thus, the ancient Christian would need to hold a good apologetic in order to defend his or her faith against the false indictments posed against them in popular society, both eccelesiastically (Jewish opposition in the synagogue) and governmentally (Roman opposition in the courts). Therefore, 1 Peter 3:15 holds an apologetic thrust when held against the context of the book. But what about 1 Peter chapter 3? Is it apologetic-oriented?

Context of the surrounding chapters argue for an apologetic understanding of 1 Peter 3:15.

The first section of 1 Peter 3 continues the thought begun in 1 Peter 2:11. Peter instructs the churches to live godly lives in the pagan society in which they live. Peter notes that they are to “as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11). Living in the pagan culture as they were, the Christians were going to have more temptations than they would had they lived in Jerusalem or Capernaum. Peter argues that their very lifestyles were to be an apologetic argument for the faith. Peter notes that the believers were to “live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12). 1 Peter 3:8 shifts the focus, as will be examined in the next section. In 1 Peter 4, Peter again picks up the topic of living for God and the reality that the Christian would most likely suffer for their faith (1 Peter 4:12-19).

Context of the pericope argues for an apologetic understanding of 1 Peter 3:15.

1 Peter 3:8 shifts the focus from living well in the face of pagan opposition (1 Peter 2:11-3:7) to suffering well in the midst of persecution; a topic picked up again in chapter 4. It is in this pericope that the text in question is found. Peter instructs the believers that in Asia Minor that they can anticipate threats. However, the believers were not to be frightened (1 Peter 3:14). Why were they not to fear? They should not fear because they had truth on their side. Peter redirects the believer’s focus to the reason that they were believers in the first place—the truth of Christ. It is here that 1 Peter 3:15-16 is given. The believers could face opposition and give a well-reasoned and rational defense for their faith because of the truthfulness of the faith. However, the believers were to provide the reason (Gk “apologia,” also translated “defense” [ESV]) for their faith but with the previously instructed good behavior and gentleness. Barker and Kohlenberger note that “Christian hope is so real and distinctive that non-Christians are puzzled about it and ask for a ‘reason’ (Gk 3364). The type of questioning could be either official interrogations by the governmental authorities (cf. Ac 25:16; 26:2; 2 Ti 4:16) or informal questioning.”[4] The believers were to have orthodoxy (“right belief”) an orthopraxy (“right conduct”) as part of their apologetic argumentation.

Conclusion

From the three points observed (the context of the book, the surrounding chapters, and the text itself), one can safely say that apologists are correct in using 1 Peter 3:15 as a proof-text for the use of apologetics. Modern Christians find themselves in a similar situation as the recipients of Peter’s first letter in Asia Minor. For our brothers and sisters in places of great persecution, 1 Peter speaks to them to continue to stand strong despite the woes they face. The rewards will be greater in heaven for those who have suffered martyrdom than for those of us who do not have to live with the threat of physical harm. However, for Western Christians, 1 Peter has a lot to say, as well. Western Christians find that pressures against them for holding their Christian faith are increasing at an alarming rate. A society which once adhered to the principles of the Judeo-Christian worldview is quickly crumbling into an abysmal moral chaos. Like the believers of old, modern Christians must stand firm, honoring Christ as Lord, being quickly ready to provide a defense (an apologetic) for the hope that one holds. 1 Peter 3:15 strongly advocates the use of Christian apologetics. Modern Christians would do well to listen to Simon Peter’s appeal.

© October 24, 2016. Brian Chilton.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture in this article comes from the New International Version (Grand Rapids: Biblica, 2011).

[2] I am a traditionalist in the sense that I hold to the early church’s understanding of who wrote the New Testament texts. I accept that John the apostle wrote the Fourth Gospel and the letters attributed to him. I, in turn, accept that Simon Peter wrote the letters that bear his name.

[3] John H. Walton and Craig S. Keener, NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 2177-2178.

[4] Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger, III., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, New Testament, abridged ed (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 1053.

5 Tips for Reading Proverbs

At graduation, I had a chance to personally meet many of the wonderful professors at Liberty University that have impacted my life greatly over the course of these past three years. One particular professor caught my attention. He is Dr. Kevin King. King is a fascinating individual. He is a former police officer, who still looks as if he could physically pick up a house. During one of his courses, he had a classic phrase that he often used. “Stinky thinking leads to a smelly life.” When I met him, I told him what a blessing he was and how I have used that phrase many times. He jokingly said, “I can’t remember who I stole that from, but it is so true.” I agreed.

Proverbs help us avoid “stinky thinking.” The Proverbs point us in the direction of right thinking and right living. But, let’s be honest. Sometimes the Book of Proverbs is difficult to understand. Perhaps the problem with the Proverbs is that the reader often misunderstands the writing genre.  In this article I hope to provide you a working definition of a proverb, in addition to 5 tips that have personally helped me to better understand the Proverbs.

The Book of Proverbs is a “marvelous collection of wise sayings and instructions for living a useful and effective life.”[1] Thus, the Book of Proverbs is a book of wisdom. It is meant to impart wisdom to its readers to better their lives. Before we can properly understand the book, we must understand the nature of a proverb. What is a proverb anyhow?

What is a Proverb?

Proverbs are defined and characterized by “short, pithy statements; but the speculative wisdom, such as Ecclesiastes or Job, uses lengthy monologues and dialogues to probe the meaning of life, the problem of good and evil, and the relationship between God and people.”[2] Proverbs can provide an “object lesson based on or using some comparison or analogy.”[3] Duane Garrett notes,

“The most common form of Old Testament wisdom is the proverb. It may be defined as an ethical axiom, that is, a short, artistically constructed ethical observation or teaching. An observational proverb is a saying that describes human behavior without an explicit moral evaluation. A didactic proverb describes human behavior with a clear ethical-didactic purpose, that is, it includes an explicit moral evaluation.”[4]

Thus, a proverb is a means of communicating wisdom through life principles through short, effective means. Or, it is a “colloquial means of getting a point across.”[5] This makes one wonder, “how do we understand the Proverbs?” I have listed 5 tips to help the reader better understand the Book of Proverbs.

5 Tips for Understanding Proverbs

  1. Try to focus on general themes. While many of the proverbs appear random, they are gathered under one general focus. The proverbs are, however, scattered into different sections. For this reason, I have decided to use Max Anders’ topical format in his commentary on Proverbs in the Holman Old Testament Commentary rather than the strict, and more confusing, chapter-by-chapter format found in many other studies.
  2. Don’t overcomplicate the saying. The pithy nature of the proverbs is intended to bring about one generalized truth. Try to focus on the general truth presented.
  3. Understand that the proverbs are general rules and guidelines and do not address the exceptions. The Book of Proverbs lists general principles and truths according to the way life generally operates 95% of the time. Job, Ecclesiastes, and even some of the psalms describe life in the other 5%. Both Job and Ecclesiastes perfectly complements the generalized wisdom found in Proverbs.
  4. As we must always do in Scripture, we must understand the proverbs according to the culture of the time. Max Anders denotes that “There are some proverbs that cannot be understood unless we understand the culturally obsolete thing they are talking about.”[6]
  5. The proverbs are general statements of truth rather than divine promises. The Book of Proverbs notes, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6, ESV).[7] Yet, we probably all know of a set of parents who brought up their children in the ways of God only to see one or more of their children stray from the path. Is the proverb wrong? No, because the proverb is not a divine promise, but rather a general statement of fact. More times than not, children who are brought up right will remember their parents wisdom and will not depart from the ways of God.

Conclusion

Wisdom is critical for godly living. It is critical in order to make proper decisions and to live godly, moral lives. When the reader understands some basic hermeneutical information about the operation of a proverb, then the Book of Proverbs is unlocked for the reader. Godly wisdom which has spanned several millennia is then available to the reader. One must understand that God is the source of wisdom. Through God’s word and practical understanding, God offers wisdom to the one who seeks it. Such wisdom is especially found in the marvelous Book of Proverbs.

Copyright, May 30, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Note: Excerpts from this article were taken from the author’s Bible Study on Proverbs titled: “Proverbs: Pithy Life Lessons.”

Notes

[1] Kenneth L. Barker and John R. Kohlenberger, III, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Old Testament, abridged ed (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 938.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 940.

[4] Duane A. Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, vol. 14, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993), 29-30.

[5] John H. Walton, et. al., The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2000), 561.

[6] Max Anders, Proverbs, Holman Old Testament Commentary, vol. 13 (Nashville: B&H, 2005), 3.

[7] Scripture marked ESV comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

The Dangerous Idea of Protestant Christianity: Temptations That Lead One to Misinterpret Scripture

Recently, I read a book by Alister McGrath titled Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution—A History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First. McGrath’s thesis was that Protestantism is based upon “The dangerous new idea, firmly embodied at the heart of the Protestant revolution, was that all Christians have the right to interpret the Bible for themselves” (McGrath 2007, 2). Referring to this “dangerous idea,” McGrath writes,

“But how was the Bible to be interpreted—for example, on the contentious issue of homosexuality, a major cause of friction within Anglicanism at the moment? Despite the best efforts of the Conference, reflecting multiple tensions between religious liberals and conservatives, modern and post-modern worldviews, and the very different cultural context of the West and emerging world” (McGrath 2007, 1).

It appears that McGrath is spot-on with his assessment. In 2011, the Presbyterian USA approved a controversial change in their Book of Order. Their website states,

“A majority of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s 173 presbyteries have ratified an amendment to the church’s constitution that removes a provision flatly prohibiting the ordination of sexually active unmarried Presbyterians as church officers.

The 87th vote in favor of the measure ― dubbed Amendment 10-A after it was approved by the PC(USA)’s 219thGeneral Assembly last summer ― was cast today (May 10) by the Presbytery of Twin Cities Area.

The unofficial tally now stands at 87-62, with 24 presbyteries still to vote. The change takes effect July 10 ― one year from the adjournment of the 219th Assembly.

The action replaces the current G-6.0106b in The Book of Order with new language. That provision, which was placed in the constitution following the 1996 Assembly, requires of church officers “fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness.”

As a result of the vote, ordaining bodies ― local church sessions for elders and deacons and presbyteries for ministers ― will have more flexibility in determining individual candidates’ fitness for ordained office in the denomination” (Marter 2011, www.pcusa.org).

Even more recently the Presbyterian USA (PCUSA), the largest Presbyterian denominations in America took the issue a step farther. David Roach of Baptist Press reports,

“The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) became one of the largest Christian denominations in America to endorse gay marriage when its General Assembly voted in Detroit yesterday (June 19) to allow pastors to conduct same-sex weddings and approved a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between “two people” rather than “a man and a woman.”
The authorization for pastors to perform gay weddings takes effect immediately and applies only to ministers in the 19 states where the practice is legal. The measure passed by a vote of 317 (61 percent) to 238 (39 percent) and was classified as an “Authoritative Interpretation” of the PCUSA constitution.
A commissioner at a meeting of the General Assembly’s Civil Union and Marriage Issues Committee raised a point of order regarding the Authoritative Interpretation, noting that it appeared to contradict the constitution it purported to interpret, the conservative Presbyterian Lay Committee (PLC) reported on its website. Currently the PCUSA constitution states, “Marriage is a civil contract between a woman and a man” as well as a “covenant” between “a man and a women” for Christians. The point of order, in parliamentary rules, was “not well taken.”
Also in the Civil Union and Marriage Issues Committee meeting, a motion to read Scripture for 20 minutes before starting discussion of same-sex marriage was defeated 39-22, the PLC reported”
(Roach 2014, http://www.bpnews.net).

Protestantism is a wonderful, glorious gift. The gift is that all individuals have the opportunity to read and interpret the Word of God. The Word of God is meant to be read by all and translated so that all can understand its meaning. However, there are also dangers to biblical interpretation when it is abused. As mentioned in the article Biblical Exegesis vs. Eisegesis: Practicing Good Hermeneutics here on pastorbrianchilton.wordpress.com, exegesis is the practice of allowing the Bible to speak for itself. Eisegesis is the practice of making the Bible state what one desires it to say. Is it not ironic that the Bible was not allowed to be read before a vote was taken in this year’s PCUSA assembly? The following are some of the common temptations that seek to thwart one into the dangerous practice of biblical eisegesis:

bible_interpretation

Societal Temptation

When society dictates something that is contrary to the Bible’s teachings, it is tempting for one to give in to the pressure. Such was the case with the Roman persecution of Christians. It would have been easy for a Christian to accept emperor worship and avoid the wrath of the Empire. Crucifixions, hangings, beheadings, and being food for wild animals have never been appealing to anyone of right mind. However, Christians stood firm. For instance, take Stephen in the book of Acts: he could have given in to the pressure placed upon him by his persecutors. Instead, Stephen said,

 “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! Was there ever a prophet that your ancestors did not persecute? They even killed those who predicted the coming of the Righteous One. And now you have betrayed and murdered him—you who have received the law that was given through angels but have not obeyed it” (Acts 7:51-53, NIV).

The Christian must ask oneself, “Who am I trying to please by my interpretation of Scripture…people or God?”

 biblical-interpretation-cloud

Sinful Temptation

If one is engaged in a particular sin, it is easy to justify it by using eisegetical practices instead of exegetical practices. Consider the slave-owners of American colonial times. McGrath states that the slave-owners use of the Bible to promote slavery “represent a fascinating illustration and condemnation of how the Bible may be used to support a notion by reading the text within a rigid interpretive framework that forces predetermined conclusions on the text” (McGrath 2007, 324). In other words, the ends justify the means. The interpreters were going to force the Bible to say what they wanted it to say. Is this a healthy way of biblical interpretation?

Amaziah was at least honest in the fact that he did not want to hear a word of warning from the actual prophet Amos. In fact, he told Amos, “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of his kingdom” (Amos 7:12-13, NIV). Amos’ response will be given later. But suffice it to say, it is important that one is willing to actually hear the voice of God instead of hearing what one desires to hear.

 

Familial Temptation

If one has a family member that is engaging in a sinful practice, one may be tempted to justify that member’s actions. In the book of Acts, there is a story about two dishonest individuals named Ananias and Sapphira. They lied to God and to the congregation about the money they gave. Ananias, the husband died, for his lie. The wife, Sapphira, went along with her husband’s lie and suffered the same fate (see Acts 5). In other words, let the truth be the truth. For this is part of what Jesus meant when he said, “If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine” (Matthew 10:37, NLT). Whose love do you cherish the most? If we are honest, God is the one who is responsible for our existence…and our eternity.

 

Ecclesiastical Temptation

Often, one will use the Scripture to justify one’s church’s or denomination’s position on a certain issue. It is often humorous to read and/or hear of the theological gymnastics that hyper-Calvinists use when reading John 3:16 and 2 Peter 3:9 and that hyper-Arminians use when reading Romans 9 and Jeremiah 1. While one should support one’s church and denomination, it may be that one finds him/herself standing in opposition to the decisions of one’s denomination. For instance, I am a Southern Baptist. However, this writer would disagree with some decisions made during the SBC conferences. Nonetheless, having a disagreement is one thing. But when one’s denomination practices or endorses practices that do not coincide with the clear teachings of Scripture, then more serious matters are at hand. One then must ask whether it is worth staying with such a group. The question must be asked: who does one serve…God or one’s church and/or denomination?

Conclusion

The main point is that Protestantism brings with it an intense responsibility. Peter Parker was told in the Spiderman comics that “With great power, comes great responsibility.” This is true of biblical interpretation. There is a great responsibility that every interpreter holds. There will always be points of difference within one’s interpretation, but one needs to ensure themselves that they allow the Holy Spirit to speak to them through the Scriptures instead of forcing one’s views onto the pages of Scripture. Amos’ conflict with Amaziah was mentioned earlier. After Amaziah asked Amos replied, “I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore fig trees. But the Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel'” (Amos 7:14-15, NIV). Will we read and hear the Word of the Lord or will we fall into the temptation of forcing our views onto the pages of Scripture? Will we be found to be more like Amos or Amaziah in our biblical interpretations?

 

Bibliography

Roach, David. “PCUSA endorses gay marriage.” Baptist Press. (June 20, 2014). http://www.bpnews.net/42832/pcusa-endorses-gay-marriage. (accessed June 23, 2014).

Marter, Jerry van. “PC(USA) relaxes constitutional prohibition of gay and lesbian ordination: change reaffirms historical practice of ordaining bodies determining fitness for office.” PCUSA.org. (May 11, 2011). http://www.pcusa.org/news/2011/5/11/pcusa-relaxes-constitutional-prohibition-gay-and-l/ (accessed June 23, 2014).

McGrath, Alister. Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution—A History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First. New York: HarperOne, 2007.

Scripture noted as NIV comes from the New International Version. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

Scripture noted as NLT comes from the New Living Translation. Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2007.

 

© Pastor Brian Chilton. 2014.