We often use the word “apology” to refer to a request for forgiveness when we do or say something wrong. Christian apologetics makes use of the original meaning of the word to indicate a defense for doing or saying what is right.1 The apostle Peter assumed the role of an apologist in his first-century letters. These insights continue to be relevant for what we do and say in the twenty-first century.
When we follow Peter’s advice, our apology is, first, hopeful, and we are always “ready to give a defense [apologia]2 to everyone who asks . . . a reason for [our] hope” (1 Peter 3:15).3 Second, our apology is Christ-centered, since God “has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). Third, our apology is Bible-based because we are “born again . . . through the word of God” in the gospel (verses 23-25). In fact, gospel hope is the most important teaching in the Bible. Paul writes, “Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:16).
Fourth, our Bible-based apology indicates hope for a rebirth of the universe. Scoffers ask, “Where is the promise of [Christ’s] coming? For . . . all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:3, 4). Peter answers, “By the word of God the heavens were [created]; . . . by [the word] the world that then existed perished, being flooded with water. But the heavens and the earth which are now preserved by the same word, are reserved [by the word] for fire. . . . Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (verses 5-13).
Fifth, our apology has a present, practical, moral impact motivated by our hope for the future of the universe. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice” here and now.4 Peter asks, since we have hope for a new world of righteousness (1 Peter 3:11-13), “what manner of persons ought [we] to be in holy conduct and godliness?” (2 Peter 3:11). Similarly, Edgar Guest wrote, “I’d rather see a sermon preached than hear one any day; I’d rather one should walk with me than merely tell the way.”5
Our contemporary defense of what is right should copy the four characteristics of Peter’s fivefold apology: (1) hopeful, (2) Christ-centered, (3) universal, and (4) practical. All these elements are present in Adventism’s biblical teaching on God’s law, the seventh-day Sabbath, the heavenly sanctuary, and the state of the dead. Each of these, and others, can be shown to be a Bible landmark that fits under “the everlasting gospel” (Rev. 14:6-12).6
The biblical doctrine on the law is (1) hopeful and (2) Christ-centered. “The law is not of faith” (Gal. 3:12), but “the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (verse 24), so that we “eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith” (Gal. 5:5). Again, the law is (3) universal: “By the word of the Lord [which is His law—Isa. 1:10; 2:3; 5:24; 8:20] the heavens were made” (Ps. 33:6). Finally, the law is (4) practical, for “hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts” (Rom. 5:5); and “love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:10).
The Sabbath doctrine similarly possesses Peter’s necessary characteristics. It is (1) hopeful: “God rested on the seventh day from all His works” during the six-day creation (Heb. 4:4), anticipating our hope of “entering His rest” (Heb. 3:6; 4:1). It is thoroughly (2) Christ-centered—Christ is its Lord (Mark 2:28). It is certainly (3) universal, contemplating the entire creation in its embrace, “the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them” (Ex. 20:11). And it is unquestionably (4) practical, a rest, and a sign that the Lord sanctifies us (Eze. 20:12).
The biblical doctrine on the sanctuary is (1) hopeful, we hope for the time when “the tabernacle [sanctuary] of God” will be part of the human experience (Rev. 21:3); (2) Christ-centered: we have a High Priest “in the heavens, a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle” (Heb. 8:1, 2); (3) universal: “Heaven is My throne, and earth is my footstool. Where is the house [sanctuary] that you will build me? . . . For all these things My hand has made” (Isa. 66:1, 2); (4) practical: we “are the temple [or sanctuary] of God” (1 Cor. 3:16).
The biblical doctrine on death is (1) hopeful and (2) Christ-centered: Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live” (John 11:25). It is (3) universal: “The whole creation groans” (Rom. 8:22) and “will be delivered from the bondage of corruption” (verse 21). And it is (4) practical: In Christ we are “a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5:17).
Authentic apologetics involves biblical information and spiritual transformation. Since we have hope in Christ, we should show the relevance of biblical landmark doctrines in the way we live. Peter illustrates how to do this through three brief case studies (1 Peter 2:13–3:7) in which, as he says elsewhere, “we ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
Government. Since we have hope in Christ, we submit to every good ordinance of the king and his governors, “for this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men—as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice” (1 Peter 2:15, 16). While “we are to recognize human government as an ordinance of divine appointment . . . God’s Word must be recognized as above all human legislation.”7
Slavery. Since we have hope, servants are to be “submissive to . . . masters” in what is good (1 Peter 2:18). At the same time, we are to resist evil, even risking persecution, “for this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully” (verse 19). God punishes the sin and “high crime of slavery,” which is “in direct opposition to the teaching of Christ.”8 While the apostles did not overturn slavery arbitrarily or suddenly, since this would prevent the success of the gospel, they “taught principles which struck at the very foundation of slavery,” and “undermine the whole system.”9
Marriage. Since we have hope, wives are to be submissive to their husbands in what is good, so that they “may be won by the conduct of their wives” (1 Peter 3:1). “Husbands” should also “honor” their wives (verse 7). While sin led to the rule of men (Gen. 3:16), God created male and female in His image and gave them dominion over His creation (Gen. 1:27, 28). He also said, “I will make him a helper comparable to him” (Gen. 2:18). Therefore, wrote Ellen White to husbands: “Remember that your wife accepted you as her husband, not that you might rule over her, but that you might be her helper.”10
An effective apology or defense of what is right shows that landmark Bible teachings are hopeful, Christ-centered, universal, and practical. With Peter we submit to what is good and resist what is evil, even if we are persecuted. We resist the devil, “knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by [our] brotherhood” (1 Peter 5:9), and by Christ, the Master Apologist. He “suffered for us, leaving us an example, that [we] should follow His steps” (1 Peter 2:21).
In the words of Ellen White: “We cannot equal the pattern; but we shall not be approved of God if we do not copy it and,
according to the ability which God has given, resemble it.”11
Martin Hanna, systematic theologian, teaches at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Berrien Springs, Michigan.