The first part of a reading plan for Christian apologists is to read the Bible indepth, in context and often. That includes an understanding of the overarching truths of the Bible. The second part is to have at least a basic working knowledge of the original languages of the Bible (Hebrew, Aramaic, Koine Greek). Being able to study the Bible in that atmosphere of the ancient texts will help you address many of the issues of concern to non-Christians.
As we wrote in the last part of our series, Christian apologists today have a great advantage because of the excellent apologists who have gone before us and fought many of the same battles we are fighting today. There is much we can learn from them, especially Jesus Christ and His Apostles.
We move next to the Church Fathers, beginning with the Apostolic Fathers.
Some of the best known of the ancient apologists are known as the “Apostolic fathers.” They were men who were disciples of the apostles. They lived during the 1st and 2nd centuries AD and their apologetic ministries had a powerful influence on the early Christian Church. They included Clement of Rome, Ignatius of Antioch, and Polycarp of Symrna (some scholars include Papias of Hierapolis in the group). We’ll begin with Clement of Rome.
Clement of Rome
Clement of Rome was a 1st century Bishop of Rome who reportedly knew the apostles Peter and Paul. Some scholars believe he may have been the same Clement mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Philippians (Philippians 4:3). He wrote a lengthy letter to the Church in Corinth known as 1 Clement. The letter offers a unique look into the apologetics of Christianity at the end of the 1st century AD –
“The Church of God which sojourneth in Rome to the Church of God which sojourneth in Corinth, to them which are called and sanctified by the will of God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Grace to you and peace from Almighty God through Jesus Christ be multiplied. By reason of the sudden and repeated calamities and reverses which are befalling us, brethren, we consider that we have been somewhat tardy in giving heed to the matters of dispute that have arisen among you, dearly beloved, and to the detestable and unholy sedition, so alien and strange to the elect of God, which a few headstrong and self-willed persons have kindled to such a pitch of madness that your name, once revered and renowned and lovely in the sight of all men, hath been greatly reviled.” The First Epistle of Clement To The Corinthians, Prologue – 1:1, Translated by J.B. Lightfoot
Clement’s letter is believed to be the oldest Christian epistle (approx. 96 AD) outside of the New Testament. Clement called on Christians in Corinth to unity and harmony by referring to many Old Testament writings. He also referenced Peter and Paul –
“But, to pass from the examples of ancient days, let us come to those champions who lived nearest to our time. Let us set before us the noble examples which belong to our generation. By reason of jealousy and envy the greatest and most righteous pillars of the Church were persecuted, and contended even unto death. Let us set before our eyes the good Apostles. There was Peter who by reason of unrighteous jealousy endured not one but many labors, and thus having borne his testimony went to his appointed place of glory. By reason of jealousy and strife Paul by his example pointed out the prize of patient endurance. After that he had been seven times in bonds, had been driven into exile, had been stoned, had preached in the East and in the West, he won the noble renown which was the reward of his faith, having taught righteousness unto the whole world and having reached the farthest bounds of the West; and when he had borne his testimony before the rulers, so he departed from the world and went unto the holy place, having been found a notable pattern of patient endurance.” 1 Clement 5:1-6
In addition to dealing with the strong anti-Christian sentiment in society at the time, Clement dealt with a serious problem inside the Corinthian church – a revolt against church leadership by young people. Clement reminded them how Christ’s Apostles had appointed leaders in the local church –
“And our Apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife over the name of the bishop’s office. For this cause therefore, having received complete foreknowledge, they appointed the aforesaid persons, and afterwards they provided a continuance, that if these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed to their ministration. Those therefore who were appointed by them, or afterward by other men of repute with the consent of the whole Church, and have ministered unblamably to the flock of Christ in lowliness of mind, peacefully and with all modesty, and for long time have borne a good report with all these men we consider to be unjustly thrust out from their ministration. For it will be no light sin for us, if we thrust out those who have offered the gifts of the bishop’s office unblamably and holily. Blessed are those presbyters who have gone before, seeing that their departure was fruitful and ripe: for they have no fear lest any one should remove them from their appointed place. For we see that ye have displaced certain persons, though they were living honorably, from the ministration which had been respected by them blamelessly. Be ye contentious, brethren, and jealous about the things that pertain unto salvation. Ye have searched the scriptures, which are true, which were given through the Holy Ghost; and ye know that nothing unrighteous or counterfeit is written in them. Ye will not find that righteous persons have been thrust out by holy men.” 1 Clement 44:1 – 45:3
Clement also reminded the younger people in the Corinthian church of what Paul had written to them years before about the dangers of divisions in the church. He also warned them about how unbelievers would use those divisions to harm the Gospel message.
“Your division hath perverted many; it hath brought many to despair, many to doubting, and all of us to sorrow. And your sedition still continueth. Take up the epistle of the blessed Paul the Apostle. What wrote he first unto you in the beginning of the Gospel? Of a truth he charged you in the Spirit concerning himself and Cephas and Apollos, because that even then ye had made parties. Yet that making of parties brought less sin upon you; for ye were partisans of Apostles that were highly reputed, and of a man approved in their sight. But now mark ye, who they are that have perverted you and diminished the glory of your renowned love for the brotherhood. It is shameful, dearly beloved, yes, utterly shameful and unworthy of your conduct in Christ, that it should be reported that the very steadfast and ancient Church of the Corinthians, for the sake of one or two persons, maketh sedition against its presbyters. And this report hath reached not only us, but them also which differ from us, so that ye even heap blasphemies on the Name of the Lord by reason of your folly, and moreover create peril for yourselves. Let us therefore root this out quickly, and let us fall down before the Master and entreat Him with tears, that He may show Himself propitious and be reconciled unto us, and may restore us to the seemly and pure conduct which belongeth to our love of the brethren.” 1 Clement 46:9 – 48:1
Christian apologists can learn much about dealing with serious problems with logic and reasoning and a deep understanding of the Scriptures. Clement quoted heavily from the Old Testament in presenting his defense for unity in the Church and the supremacy of the Gospel of Christ.
Ignatius of Antioch
Ignatius of Antioch was a 1st century Bishop of Antioch who reportedly knew the apostles Peter and John. We will look at his apologetic ministry and writings in the next part of our series.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.