1 Peter 3:15 Refers To Testimonies Not Apologetics!
Posted by Job on April 1, 2011
There are three Bible texts that are commonly, widely and purposefully misapplied to suit doctrinal and various other agendas.
Revelation 3:20, which reads “Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” is often applied to evangelism because it is convenient to contemporary Arminian/Wesleyan/free will salvation doctrines and practices. The truth is that this text is meant to be applied to a Christian that has backslidden or fallen into severe sin or error restoring a proper relationship or communion with Jesus Christ, and not the Lord and Creator of the universe begging and pleading an unregenerate sinner to accept Him. Even one who adheres to the free will soteriological system must acknowledge that Jesus Christ’s work was accomplished on the cross, and thus it is the Holy Spirit who draws, convicts and saves the sinner.
2 Corinthians 6:14, which reads “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?“, does not apply to marriage, but instead to Christian fellowship. The idea that this verse applies to marriage sets it at odds 1 Corinthians 7:10-16, which states that by being married to an unbeliever, the unbeliever and the children are sanctified (if only in an external sense after the “3a” definition of Strong’s concordance of hagiazō) and that God may use a believing spouse to save an unbelieving one. But how convenient is it to modern Christianity that we instead A) use the unbelief of a spouse as an excuse to obtain an un-Biblical divorce and B) that we choose to maintain fellowship with heretics, apostates etc. first in a local church setting by refusing to remove them from our church rolls, and then on a larger scale by allowing false teachers and churches to remain in our denominations and conventions, and on a larger scale still to various ecumenical and interfaith efforts (i.e. the Manhattan Declaration and many other efforts with Roman Catholics, Jews and increasingly Mormons). The popular meaning of this text is preferred precisely because the true meaning makes this saying “too hard” for so many in contemporary Christianity.
The third text is 1 Peter 3:15, which reads “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and [be] ready always to [give] an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear“, which is often used to support the field of Christian apologetics. Now my purpose is not to attack the legitimacy of apologetics itself, although I will say that beyond such things as debunking myths and lies about the Bible and its doctrines – i.e. attacks on the Jonah and the whale story based on pseudoscience as well as misconceptions held by other religions such as the Muslim belief that Christians worship three gods – I am increasingly skeptical of the utility and the motivations of many devoted to this field. Allow me to propose that were the main modern aim of apologetics, which is increasingly merely to show that a belief in some god (often a false one of deism or pluralism!) is rational and that Christians should be allowed to retain our privileged and influential place in western society based on it, be restricted to the presupposationalist method of Cornelius Van Til, which actually has the gall to take Psalm 14:1 and Psalm 53:1 seriously when they say “the fool has said in his heart ‘There is no Elohim!‘” then the number of “apologists” would decrease dramatically, for it would require bearing witness of the truth to the very powerful and privileged unbelievers that they are petitioning for tolerance and inclusion. Say what you want about the Creation Museum types, they know that the world – including a number of evangelicals who professed to be embarrassed by their spectacle – mocks and despises them, and they don’t care.
Still, the main issue is that if apologetics indeed is a legitimate Christian endeavor, its legitimacy should be established by using texts other than 1 Peter 3:15! Now the defender of apologetics would rejoin me by pointing out that the context in which 1 Peter 3:15 appears is dealing with Christian persecution, and that it was part of the attempts to lessen persecution at the hands of the Roman Empire that the church developed apologetics in the second century. While that is true, this field in its original form merely meant publicly answering lies that were being spread about Christian belief and practice, such as a common one of the time that during communion, Christians cooked and ate a newborn baby and then had an orgy. This activity quickly morphed into making Christianity appear more palatable to the ruling elites themselves so that Christians would be granted social and economic mobility in the Roman Empire, and such was a motivation of the infamous heretic Origen, who with his blasphemies earned much praise for his supposed intellectual prowess from the philosophers and intellectuals of his day.
Instead, to find the actual intent of this text, let us view the context.
And who [is] he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good? But and if ye suffer for righteousness’ sake, happy [are ye]: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and [be] ready always to [give] an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ. For [it is] better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing.
So this context has little to support using rationalist philosophic devices of the sort that the Holy Spirit speaking through Paul denounced in Colossians 2:8 designed to make belief in God every bit as rational – and therefore just acceptable in mainstream society and elite institutions – as is atheism, feminism, Marxism, humanism but instead being able to stand in the day of extreme persecution even unto death by adhering to and giving your testimony. So, 1 Peter 3:15 is less C.S. Lewis (who incidentally was a religious pluralist just as is Rob Bell, and it is amazing and appalling by the great many who love and cherish the former while hypocritically excoriating the latter) and more Stephen of Acts!
When faced with persecution – whether facing certain death/torture/imprisonment or merely the mocking comments of acquaintances and coworkers – Christians must put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil (Ephesians 6:11). (Yes, I remain a supporter of the Bibleman children’s video series even if my interpretation and application of that text has narrowed somewhat.) This is not “if you see a watch lying on a beach, you will not conclude that the watch made itself, but that that this watch had a creator!” type dissembling. Instead, the Christian is to give his testimony in such cases. This testimony consists of two parts.
The first part is the evangelion, the kerygma, the gospel of Jesus Christ and Him crucified for our sins and raised from the dead for the purposes of granting eternal life to those who believe. Christians must know the gospel. Christians must understand the gospel. Christians must be willing and able to explain the full, true gospel to anyone under any circumstances, whether it is your friends and neighbors mocking and distorting your Christian beliefs and lifestyle during a social outing at the beach, a Harvard University dean grilling you about your commitment to multiculturalism and tolerance during your interview for a tenure-track faculty position, or a Muslim jihadist holding a scimitar to your neck threatening to rape you, pour gasoline over your body and set you afire, and then – to make absolutely sure that you are dead – chop your head off unless you convert to Islam.
The second part is what the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ has done in your life. How has becoming a Christian changed your life? In what ways has it transformed your character? What mighty works have you witnessed? What mighty works have you performed in Christ’s Name? What is the evidence of the power, the fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit, working in your life, and who other than you can bear witness of this evidence?
Make no mistake, it is by the power of our testimony in Jesus Christ that is personal, rooted in and given authority to by the Bible, and therefore shared by the universal church, that we overcome. We do not overcome by in philosophical exercises and games that due to their often flawed and limited nature (as they are the work of human speculation and not of God) are in many instances (more than the apologists will admit!) are not consistent, trustworthy or sound and also give a flawed, distorted or even inaccurate picture of the Person that is the Object and Author of the testimony.
2 Timothy 1:8 affirms this in telling us not to be ashamed of our testimony of Jesus Christ, and calls the power of the gospel the power of God. The apostle John stated that his reason for writing his gospel was to record and spread his testimony and to bear witness of its truth in verse 21:24. Further, Acts 14 describes how Paul and Barnabas withstood and overcame the persecutions and counter-missionary efforts of the Jews by “speaking boldly in the Lord, which gave testimony unto the word of his grace, and granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands.”
In the opening of the first epistle to the Corinthian church, the Holy Spirit speaking through Paul states that if the testimony of Jesus Christ is confirmed in the Christian, then this same Jesus Christ will on the last day confirm the Christian, and the Christian will be counted as blameless in judgment! A chief use of our testimony is in evangelism to win converts, as Paul told the Thessalonian church in verse 1:10 of his second epistle. It is only after the completion of testimony of the two witnesses of the apocalypse that the beast will be suffered to martyr them (Revelation 11:7). Revelation 12:11 says that in addition to the Blood of Jesus Christ, it is our testimony of Jesus Christ that overcomes Satan! Revelation also reveals that there is a tabernacle of testimony in heaven, and calls the testimony of Jesus Christ prophecy!
But principally, and this recalls Ephesians 6:11, it is made clear in Revelation 12:17 that Satan’s war is with those who keep the commandments of Jesus Christ and have His testimony! Having a testimony in the absence of obedience is not sufficient, for Jesus Christ told us in His parables that such makes you a goat that will be cast into outer darkness and not a sheep. Meanwhile, keeping the commandments of Jesus Christ in the absence of a testimony is not sufficient, for we are justified by faith in the One whom we are supposed to testify of, and not by works.
So, our testimony is a primary, chief spiritual warfare weapon! The famous “armor of God” passage of Ephesians 6 calls the word of God “the sword of the spirit” in verse 17, and many exegetes have noted that it is the only offensive weapon. Well, a legitimate testimony generated by the Holy Spirit and given utterance by one in whom the Holy Spirit indwells bears witness to the Word of God, which is Jesus Christ! In John 16, where Jesus Christ speaks of the persecution that His apostles and His church will endure for His sake, Jesus Christ states that the Holy Spirit will not speak of Himself, but instead will speak of what He hears? Well, Who does the Holy Spirit hear? Jesus Christ! Your testimony may not be the sword itself, but how can it be any less than either the handle that the cutting, two-edged blade is attached to, or the hand of the Christian that takes hold of the sword and wields it!
If this is the case, then why on earth would one adhere to an interpretation of 1 Peter 3:15 that causes us to take our only offensive weapon and hide it in its sheath? There can be only two reasons. The first is the lack of a testimony or an ability to articulate it. Such a person does not need to verse himself in suspect philosophical arguments. Instead, this is a person who is either unregenerate or immature in the faith and therefore urgently needs to attend to the former or the latter. That person doesn’t need to give some apology of Christianity but needs to hear and believe a testimony of a Christian so that he too can begin giving his own testimony!
The second reason why so many Christians are willing to abandon their offensive weapon is simply a desire to avoid giving offense, especially to the people whose approval we crave. Being lovers of this present world like Demas, we forsake the testimony of Jesus Christ with all its power, and instead resort to the arguments of men that have a form of godliness but denies the power thereof! We are supposed to turn away from these tactics and the thinking that motivates it!
These people know fully well that the gospel, the testimony, the message of the cross is foolishness to the world, an offense to those who do not believe. So, instead of using 1 Peter 3:15 to strengthen themselves in order to stand against the world and suffer abuse, shame and persecution because of this testimony, that text is twisted to avoid giving just such a testimony! 1 Peter 3:15 is misappropriated to justify giving the world something that it can accept because it is of the world – that being a human argument – in the place of bearing witness to something that the world hates and rejects because it is of the Holy Spirit that convicts the world of evil, which is a legitimate testimony! You can either give an apology and be embraced by pagans as a genius and hero like Origen, or give a testimony and be slain with rocks as was Stephen and also Antipas. If you love this present world, then you are an adulterer or adulteress who is an enemy with God (James 4:4) so as a result of your inner condition, perhaps an intellectual exercise will suit your aims of being loved by this present world. But if you love the world to come, then you will pick up the sword of the spirit and give your testimony!
Also: come let us reason together, Isaiah 1:18, does not refer to apologetics either. Instead, that text – and its context – is an exhortation to the children of Israel to return to their obedience of the Sinai covenant and its blessings, or else they will reap the covenant curses. It is a prophetic call to repentance by reminding Israel to “think about what you are doing and its consequences … you know of God and His ways and how He is both holy and merciful, so if you continue in your sins He will punish you because He is holy, and if you repent and fear YHWH then He will be merciful,withhold punishment and instead bless you!” Of course, while Israel is to use, rather than deny and suppress, their rational logic, the object of this logic is an appeal to what they already know about God based on God’s self-revelation to His covenant people. So rather than attempting to prove that God exists, this text is based on a presupposition of God’s existence, and is establishing the folly of knowingly disobeying the commands of the YHWH whose existence and attributes they already fully know of and do not deny!
Again, this is not a missive against apologetics itself. Instead, we should stop using texts that apply to testimonies and obedience and knowingly, willingly abusing those texts by using them in a way that they ought not to be. Yes, some examples of doing that do seem to appear in the Bible (most notably Jesus Christ’s creative appropriation of Psalm 82:6 in John 10:34) but lacking the inspiration and license of the Holy Spirit to write authoritative scripture, we should restrain ourselves from such things.
And it is particularly harmful if the motivation for this misapplication of Bible texts is a desire to avoid incurring the offense of the world with our testimonies by substituting something more acceptable to the world in its place. Jesus Christ said that if we are ashamed to testify concerning Him in this life, He will not speak on our behalf on judgment day (Mark 8:38)! If you have a testimony within you, the Bible is clear: you must share it, and share it boldly, meekly, fearlessly, humbly and often. But if you do not have a testimony within you, then that is a much greater problem. Address that deficiency immediately by: