Here's my response to this week's challenge:
Let me start by reading the passage in question:
1 Corinthian’s 2:4&5: Paul says, “My message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men but the spirit and power of God.”
The challenge here is, given what Paul said, why should we use apologetics? Aren’t apologetics persuasive words of wisdom?
We need to look at other clear passages in scripture that indicate that we should use words to persuade. 1 Peter 3:15 talks about giving reason for the hope that we have. We’re supposed to give reasons for what we believe and why we believe it. In Acts 17:3&4, you see Paul going and reasoning, and the text says he gave evidence. In verse 4, it says that people were persuaded.
At first glance it might seem like there’s a contradiction. Paul says not to use persuasive words of wisdom, and then he uses persuasive words of wisdom. And it actually works. So, what’s going on here? We have to go back to 1 Corinthians to understand that passage better.
First, we need some background. If you know anything about the Corinthian church, you know that Corinth was an urban city, very metropolitan, like L.A. or New York with lots of stuff going on. You would have your celebrities, politicians, philosophers and orators. That’s the context of the Corinthian church.
We also have to look at the context of this passage. Let’s start in 1 Corinthians. In 1:17, Paul says, “For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel. Not in cleverness of speech so that the cross would not be made void.” Verse 18, “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those that are perishing, but to those that are being served, it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.’”
Then, Paul asks these questions in verse 20: “Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has God not made foolish the wisdom of the world?” In verse 27 it says, “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”
That’s in chapter 1, and so we see this background where Paul is drawing a contrast between the wisdom of the world and the cleverness of speech that the world employs. Then, that takes us up to 1 Corinthians 2. In verse 1, Paul says, “I didn’t come with superiority of speech or of wisdom.” Verse 3: “I was with you in weakness and fear.” Verse 4: “My message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but demonstration of the Spirit of power.”
So, the contrast isn’t just any persuasive words, it’s the contrast between the way the world communicates. You look at the first century. You look at Corinth. You see the Greek and Roman influences. You look at the idea of orators who used very flowery speech to persuade an audience and rhetoricians who focused on presentation that was persuasive rather than content. That’s the contrast Paul is making. He didn’t come and wow everyone with his flowery words or presentation skills.
In verse 6, Paul does use words, “Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature. A wisdom, however, not of this age nor of rulers of this age who are passing away, but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery.”
Again, here’s the contrast: The wisdom and speech of the world vs. the wisdom of God and His truth. Think about it. If Paul is instructing us not to use argumentation, reasoning, and persuasive words, how is he doing that? How is he trying to persuade us? He’s trying to persuade us with words, right? That would be problematic because he would be contradicting the very thing that he’s doing here.
When you look at the context of the passage, it’s not talking about using apologetics, argumentation, or reasoning. He’s contrasting the way the world talks and communicates, and the cleverness of speech, the oration and rhetoric, and saying we’re not here to wow people with that, but we have content. We have truth. And that truth, of course, is not just the content, that truth is embodied in Christ. There is the demonstration in the Spirit and of power.
This passage does not teach that apologetics is out of bounds. When we look at the context and the whole council of Scripture, we realize, yes, we are to use apologetics. We are to work hard to persuade and give a reason for the hope. And yet, that’s not on our own power or ability, but always should be Spirit-filled.