Awhile back, I got into a conversation with someone on Twitter about apologetics. This person, who had a seminary education and was involved in ministry, was pushing back on a tweet I wrote about the importance of apologetics. One of the things that she said was that we should emulate Jesus, and what he did was tell stories. Telling stories was what we should be doing, not apologetics.
There are a couple of things that I could say about this. The first is that our New Testament is bigger than just the Gospels. I might ask how much of Paul’s letters is just telling stories? Another thing I would do is point her to the Gospel of John. John is not all that interested in Jesus’ parables and he records more teaching than stories.
But what I want to do here is to ask if Jesus ever did apologetics. First I must define apologetics. Some people, such as Karl Barth, define apologetics very narrowly as arguing from natural theology. I see apologetics as being much broader than that. I understand apologetics as simply giving a reason for why you believe what you believe. That reason can come in many forms.
One passage in which I see Jesus doing apologetics is:
The same day some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came up to Him and questioned Him: “Teacher, Moses said, if a man dies, having no children, his brother is to marry his wife and raise up offspring for his brother. Now there were seven brothers among us. The first got married and died. Having no offspring, he left his wife to his brother. The same happened to the second also, and the third, and so to all seven. Then last of all the woman died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will she be of the seven? For they all had married her.”
Jesus answered them, “You are deceived, because you don’t know the Scriptures or the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like angels in heaven. Now concerning the resurrection of the dead, haven’t you read what was spoken to you by God: I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”
And when the crowds heard this, they were astonished at His teaching. (Matthew 22:23-33)
In this passage, Jesus is defending belief in the resurrection. He does that here, not with stories, but with Scripture and logic. That is apologetics.
Another passage is this:
On the Sabbath He was going through the grainfields, and His disciples began to make their way picking some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to Him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”
He said to them, “Have you never read what David and those who were with him did when he was in need and hungry— how he entered the house of God in the time of Abiathar the high priest and ate the sacred bread—which is not lawful for anyone to eat except the priests—and also gave some to his companions?” Then He told them, “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. Therefore, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:23-28)
In this passage, Jesus defends the activity of his disciples on the Sabbath, not with a parable, but by looking to an Old Testament example. That is apologetics.
I’m not trying to minimize Jesus’ use of stories and parables. They are an important part of his teaching. But to say that because he sometimes taught in parables that we should stick to just stories is not reasonable. Jesus was not afraid of using apologetics when the occasion called for it, and neither should we.