Johannine Apologetics -- By: Norman L. Geisler

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 136:544 (Oct 1979)
Article: Johannine Apologetics
Author: Norman L. Geisler


Johannine Apologetics

Norman L. Geisler

[Norman L. Geisler, Professor of Systematic Theology, Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas Texas.]

Johannine apologetics, like Johannine theology, does not differ substantially from Pauline or Petrine apologetics. This is what one would expect in view of the central unity of Scripture resulting from the inspiration by one and the same Spirit of God. In the Apostle John’s writings, however, there is a unique apologetic emphasis.

The Nature of Johannine Apologetics

John used several key words which carry much of his apologetic emphasis. The most important words are “sign” (σημεῖαν)1 and “witness” (μαρτυρία, μαρτυρέω).

Like the rest of the New Testament, the dominant apologetic model in John is legal rather than military. That is, the background motif is a courtroom where evidence is presented for the purpose of persuading the reader. The apologetic task is not performed on a battlefield where an enemy is to be fought and defeated. In this sense John’s apologetic motif fits well the locus classicus of 1 Peter 3:15, which urges the believer to present an ἀπολογία or defense such as one would give in court.

Apologetics Involves a Testimony or Witness

The most fundamental characteristic of apologetics in John is that it is a “testimony” or a “witness.” It is what a lawyer would provide in setting forth his case in court. John used four Greek words for “testimony,” each from the same root: μάρτυς, μάρτυρ, μαρτυρέω, and μαρτυρία. Μαρτυρία (“witness”) is the word used in the Jewish legal system: “that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed” (Matt 18:16, citing Deut 19:15). At Jesus’ trial before the high priest, the latter cried, “What further need do we have of witnesses?” (Matt 26:65).

In John’s Gospel, “witness” (or “testimony”) is used some thirty-three times as a verb (“bear witness”) and fourteen times as a noun (“a witness”). From the very first chapter it is clear that the testimony is about the Lord Jesus Christ. John the Baptist “came for a witness, that he might bear witness<...

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