The Danger of Word Studies

The Danger of Word StudiesIn my Exposition I class the other day we looked at 1 Peter 3:15 which reads in part: “…always being 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;” (1 Peter 3:15b)

We’ve all heard this passage used as one of the main reasons why we do apologetics.

There are a plethera of examples:

“…Peter tells believers they should be ready to give a defense or answer for their faith in 1 Peter 3:15.” (1)

1 Peter 3:15 is an, An Apologetic for Apologetics” (2)

“…there is a definite biblical foundation for apologetics. Such famous verses as Jude 3, 1 Peter 3:15, and Colossians 4:6 stand as mandates for a consistent reasonable defense of the faith.” (3)

Even Richard D. Patterson in his review of the Holman Christian Standard Bible Apologetics Study Bible said, “Unparalleled among existing study Bibles, the Apologetic Study Bible provides a wealth of accurate and dependable information for its readers in developing a consistent world view. Believers may with confidence be equipped to follow the Apostle Peter’s charge to “be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you . . . with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15-16).” (4)

Why? Well, that’s because the Greek word “ἀπολογία” (apologia) is used. Sound like any English word you know? That’s right, it’s where we get our English word “apologetics” from. Makes sense right?

So what is apologetics? Well, let’s see what Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary says:


apol•o•get•ics -tiks n pl but sing or pl in constr
ca. 1733
1 : systematic argumentative discourse in defense (as of a doctrine)
2 : a branch of theology devoted to the defense of the divine origin and authority of Christianity

Inc Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary., Includes Index., Eleventh ed. (Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2003).

That sounds about right – and 1 Peter 3:15 tells us we need to be ready to give our defense to those who think Christianity is a farce!

Or does it…?

Actually, if we look at the context of the verse we see that Peter is addressing those who might be suffering persecution for their faith in Christ, “But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled,” (1 Peter 3:14)

THEN comes verse 15: “but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being 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;” (1 Peter 3:15)

So what is this “defense?” Is it a defense of God? Of Christianity? No, it is a defense of “the hope that is in you.” You see, no one likes people to hate them or persecute them. And so, what Peter is saying is that when his readers suffer and they are not downcast, but rather display great hope, people are going to ask them, “What’s the deal? We are going to kill you, and yet you still have hope? You still find joy? Why?!?”

It is then that Peter urges his readers to give a “defense” for why they have hope in the midst of a “hopeless” situation.

So, 1 Peter 3:15 is not really talking about modern Apologetics, even though it uses the Greek term we get our English term from – sometimes word studies don’t lead us in the right direction, but rather cause us to ignore the context in which that term was used.

So is Apologetics unbiblical? Far from it. We get the precedent for Apologetics from Jude. But 1 Peter really has nothing to do with our modern concept of Apologetics, so we should not abuse it.


(1) Rob Phillips, “An Introduction to Christian Apologetics « Once Delivered,”

(2) Donald , “Apologetics « Manna For The Soul,”

(3) Travis Satterfield, “Apologetics vs. Polemics vs. Both « An Invitation to the Deep End,”

(4) “Holman Christian Standard Bible Apologetics Study Bible, Hardcover – –,”




  1. A good title for a blog! And the post on apologetics is good too. Stand To Reason is my favorite place for apologetics resources, and CARM ministries.


  2. Hi. I’m the author of the post that is the third endnote.
    You said, ‘…Peter urges his readers to give a “defense” for why they have hope in the midst of a “hopless” situation.’
    OK, so how exactly is this not a basis for apologetics? I understand that Peter is not talking about a sytematic process of defending the Christian belief system. But, then again, neither was Jude, right?
    At the end of the day, he is, as you’ve said, talking about giving an answer when people ask why we have hope.
    Just because there is not a direct reference to the discipline of apologetics, does that mean that the verse has nothing to do with apologetics?
    The essential premise on which we base apologetics is giving an asnwer to any and all who ask. If that’s not the case then how do you define apologetics?


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