Early Christianity_Reading an Apostolic Letter_Acts 15

Acts 19:8 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God.

In some ways, many might think that the word “persuasion” seems like a sneaky or devious kind of word. Some might think of the salesperson that sells cars, who comes across as pushy or those using deceptive language in a contract that someone wants us to sign. Maybe the word “persuasion” hits us as if it is simply manipulation. It is used in a similar vein by the apostle Paul when he writes of Christians in Galatia, “You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you.” (Gal. 5:7-8) The Greek word used here peismone has the sense of ‘persuasion, i.e., communication intended to induce belief or action.’[1] Paul also told the Colossians, “I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument.” (Col 2:4) The Greek word use here pithanologia has the sense of ‘persuasive speech, namely, using language effectively to please or persuade.’[2] When persuasion is used in this way, it does have somewhat of a negative connotation, as it hinges on crafty arguments built on false details. However, the sense of the two words is very similar.

THE CHRISTIAN APOLOGIST

Nevertheless, we have the apostle Paul using the art of persuasion or convincing with a different implication. In his second letter to Timothy Paul writes, “You, however, continue in the things you have learned and were persuaded to believe, knowing from whom you have learned them.” (2 Tim. 3:14, UASV) The NASB renders the verse this way, “Continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of.” (The ESV, HCSB and LEB render it similarly.) The Greek word here Pistoo[3] has the sense of ‘being convinced, or being persuaded or sure of the truthfulness or validity of something.’[4] When Paul was speaking of what Timothy had been persuaded or convinced to believe, it was used in a different connotation from the above Greek words, while still having the same sense as the other two Greek words. In the above verses to the Galatians and Colossians, it was a manipulation of the truth that was being used to persuade, while here Timothy’s mother and his grandmother were persuading or convincing Timothy to believe based on the truth itself.– 2 Timothy 1:5.

When Paul was under house arrest in Rome, he effectively witnessed to many. The account reads, “When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers; and he expounded to them, testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning till evening.” The Greek word peitho has the sense persuading, causing someone to adopt a certain position, belief, or course of action.’[5] Was the apostle Paul manipulating the truth to deceive those to whom he was witnessing? No, he was persuading them to believe about Jesus Christ based on truth. Therefore, the art of persuasion can be used for good or for bad. Christians use persuasion to help others adopt a certain position, belief about the Father and the Son, and the Word of God. As teachers, evangelists, proclaimers we can use sound logical reasoning, as we explain, persuade and convince, convicting others of Bible truth. (2 Tim. 2:15) Clearly, one of the most skilled persuaders in the history of Christianity was the apostle Paul. Demetrius, the “silversmith in Ephesus who incited a riot directed against Paul because he feared that the apostle’s preaching would threaten the sale of silver shrines of Diana, the patron goddess of Ephesus.”  He said of Paul, “And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods.”–Acts 19:26

Using Persuasion in Our Evangelism

Jesus commanded all Christians, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Christianity has been sending missionaries for centuries and it has been very productive in that Christian congregations are now found throughout the entire world. The last forty years or so, many missionaries have come to believe that evangelism is needed to enter a new era of all Christians effective evangelizing in their own communities.

CONVERSATION EVANGELISM

A Part-Time or Full-Time Evangelist is one who sees this as their calling and chooses to be very involved as an evangelist in their local church and community. They may work part-time to supplement their work as an evangelist. They may be married with children, but they realize their gift is in the field of evangelism. If it were the wife, the husband would work toward supporting her work as an evangelist and vice-versa. If it were a single person, he or she would supplement their work by being employed part-time, but also the church would help as well. This person is well trained in every aspect of bringing one to Christ. Congregation Evangelists should be very involved in evangelizing their communities and helping the church members play their role at the basic levels of evangelism. There is nothing to say that one church could not have many within, who have the calling of an evangelist, which would and should be cultivated. What are some tools that can use in our effort to persuade others of the truth of God’s Word?

Listening Carefully will enable us to understand fully what the unbeliever knows about any subject that we may be discussing with him. For example, if he says that he does not believe in the Bible, it may seem natural to launch into a solid explanation as to why he should believe in the Bible. However, we need to know specifically what it is that has him rejecting the Bible. Is it because he thinks it is just a man’s book or does he feel it is full of contradictions and errors, or that it is an ancient book and not practical for today. Therefore, we need to listen carefully to the why of a stated position and not just assume we know what he means.–Proverbs 18:13.

Asking Questions goes right along with listening. Questions can be used to reiterate, making sure we understand what they meant. Questions can be used to get them to explain exactly what they meant by a statement or a position. Questions can be used to lead a person to the right answer. We might ask the above person that does not believe in the Bible, “have you always felt that way and what is it that contributed to your not believing in the Bible?” After they give us the specifics of why we can use questions to dig deeper or lead. Suppose they said, ‘it is because the Bible is full of contradictions and errors.’ We can ask, “Have you ever considered what the difference between errors and contradictions and Bible difficulties is? “Have you ever studied the subject of errors or contradictions within the Scriptures?” After those questions, we might ask, “Do you have a couple examples of those errors and contradictions?” There are literally thousands of Bible difficulties between Genesis 1:1 and Revelation 22:21, which the Bible critic labels as errors and contradictions. Everyone uses common ones as their examples, if we recognize one and know that there is a reasonable explanation, we might offer a brief explanation of what a Bible difficulty is. Then we can demonstrate how that helps us better understand these are not errors and contradictions at all, as we also give him a reasonable explanation of his supposed error or contradiction. Then, we can ask, “would you agree with this explanation?” When we use questions and listen, we are involving the unbeliever to join us in a respectful conversation, giving them a chance to be heard, as opposed to him just hearing us go on and on about a subject.

THE EVANGELISM HANDBOOK

Using Sound Reasoning will help us reach the heart and mind of our listeners. For example, the above listener said he did not believe in the Bible and we asked why, got the specifics that he was hung up on perceived errors and contradictions, and gave him reasonable and logical answers that they were actually Bible difficulties, followed by a reasonable and logical explanation of his specific error or contradiction. Thus, we close out with the following, “The authors of Bible claim that what they wrote was inspired of God and they were moved along by Holy Spirit as they penned God’s Words. (2 Tim 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:20-21) Those inspired authors tell us of an opportunity at eternal life, if we trust in the Son of God. (John 3:16) Would you not agree that while this is not evidence that it is, in fact, the Word of God and those things are true, but that it would be sensible nonetheless to investigate it objectively and find out if such claims are true or not?

The person above, who claimed he did not believe in the Bible, gave his reason, saying it is full of errors and contradictions. In our listening and asking questions, he gave us an example, when he says, “If God hardened the Pharaoh’s heart, what exactly makes Pharaoh responsible for the decisions he makes?” When we look at the verse below, it does seem to say what our listener has claimed. How can God harden the heart of Pharaoh, so that he says no to all requests from Moses and Aaron and then punish him and his people for his saying no?

Exodus 4:21 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

21 Jehovah said to Moses, “When you go and return to Egypt see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders which I have put in your hand; but I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go.

Exodus 4:21 Revised Standard Version (RSV)

21 And the Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles which I have put in your power; but I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.

Answer: This is actually a prophecy. God knew that what he was about to do would contribute to a stubborn and obstinate Pharaoh, who was going to be unwilling to change or give up the Israelites so they could go off to worship their God. Therefore, this is not stating what God is going to do; it is prophesying that Pharaoh’s heart will harden because of the actions of God. The fact is, Pharaoh allowed his own heart to harden because he was determined not to agree with Moses’ wishes or accept Jehovah’s request to let the people go. Moses tells us in Exodus 7:13 that “Pharaoh’s heart was hardened,[6] and he would not listen to them, as Jehovah had said.” Again, at 8:15, we read, “But when Pharaoh saw that there was a relief, he hardened[7] his heart and would not listen to them, as Jehovah had said.”

Dealing With the Emotional Beliefs of Others

Everyone has deeply held beliefs that if jabbed emotions may flare. We may be in a conversation with a devout Catholic, who believes that it is proper to address prayers to Mary as intercessor. Even if we were to show Scriptures and respectfully reason with him, he may come back sternly, “I still believe it proper to address prayers to Mary as intercessor.” Whether we are witnessing to a Catholic, an atheist, and agnostic, a Muslim, a Hindus, a Buddhist, A Jehovah’s Witness, a Mormon and so on, emotions are involved. In some cases, like the Witnesses, it is against their beliefs to be witnessed to, but they can witness to others. If you are aware of their teachings, their background and begin to question these things, even in a respectful manner, they will abandon the conversation quickly.

YOUR GUIDE FOR DEFENDING THE BIBLE_Third Edition

Many view their beliefs as absolute truths, even relativism,[8] which claim there is no such thing as absolute truth. When relativist’s state there is no such thing as absolute truth, this is self-defeating within itself, as they are defeating the very absolute truth claim that they are trying to make, i.e., “all truth is relative.” If there is no absolute truth; then, their belief that there are no absolutes cannot be true.[9] However, they would argue their belief vigorously as though it were absolutely true, even get emotional over it. Our beliefs are our worldview. A worldview is “the sum total of answers that a person gives to the most important questions in life.” (Dr. Ronald Nash) Dr. Nash goes on to say, “Many people remain blissfully unaware that they have a worldview, even though the sudden change in their life and thought resulted from their exchanging their old worldview for their new one.”[10] If we are going to overturn any false reasoning within one’s worldview, say that of an atheist, it will take more than simple logic or even Scriptures that would demonstrate their view is erroneous.

We will have to be empathetic and have compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, as we use the art of persuasion. (Rom. 12:15; Col. 3:12) We as a teacher, an evangelist, a proclaimer of God’s Word, never water down the truth. Moreover, we have strong convictions in what we hold to be true, i.e., our biblical or Christian worldview. For example, Paul stated it this way, “I am convinced that …” and “I know and am convinced …” (Rom. 8:38; 14:14, NASB) Even though we know we possess absolute truth, this does not mean we are free to be dogmatic or self-righteous about it, which can come across in our tone. Moreover, we would never use sarcasm or talk down to another when we are sharing our biblical truths, even if this is the way we are being treated in the conversation. We would never want to cause offense or even insult our listener.–Proverbs 12:18.

The apostle Peter tells us that we are to “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 Pet. 3:15, NASB) We will reach far deeper into their mind and heart if we respect their beliefs acknowledging that they have a right to possess them, even though we do not agree with them. This will require humility on our part, for which Paul makes the point that we should “do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Phil 2:3-4, ESV) Jesus in one of his parables said, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14, ESV) Yes, if we are to persuade others, it will come through our humility, as we truly appreciate God for his helping us to see the truth, and our greatest desire it to share that same truth with others.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:4-5) “Paul was certain that he was on a course to demolish the strongholds or fortifications of arguments and every pretension that anyone set up against the knowledge of God. As Paul traveled the world proclaiming the gospel of Christ, he encountered pretentious disbelief supported by clever arguments and powerful personalities. But through the “weakness” of preaching Christ, Paul went about taking captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (Pratt Jr 2000, p. 417) We as Christians seek to use the Word of God, logic,[11] reason,[12] in our art of persuasion to “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion.” We must remember that God has shown us much patience in our early walk, as we have come to know him. We are overjoyed that we have the Word of God, this powerful tool (Heb. 4:12), which will enable us to overturn false reasoning, reaching hearts and minds with the art of persuasion.

Exercise

Someone just said to you, “I don’t believe the Bible, as it is full of errors and contradictions.” How would you persuade him that this is not the case?

Review Questions

  • What does it mean to persuade?
  • How can we use persuasion in our evangelism?

How can we deal with the emotional beliefs others?

[1] Bible sense Lexicon by Logos Bible Software

[2] IBID

[3] The Greek word epistothes in the New Testament is identified as a New Testament hapax legomenon, a word of which there is only one recorded use.

[4] Bible sense Lexicon by Logos Bible Software

[5] IBID

[6] Lit strong

[7] Lit made heavy

[8] Relativism is the belief that concepts such as right and wrong, goodness and badness, or truth and falsehood are not absolute but change from culture to culture and situation to situation.

[9] “To claim that all moral truths are relative is self-defeating. A statement is self-defeating when what is being affirmed fails to meet its own requirements. An example is the statement, “I can’t speak a word in English,” to which one might respond, “You just did.” The moral relativists’ claim commits the same error, since the statement ‘All truth is relative’ is itself an absolute claim for truth. It is impossible to consistently hold the claims of moral relativism because it denies what it tries to affirm in its very statements.”–Hindson, Ed (2008-05-01). The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics (p. 354). Harvest House Publishers.

[10] Zondervan (2010-06-19). Life’s Ultimate Questions: An Introduction to Philosophy (p. 32). Zondervan.

[11] What is logic? And why in the world would anyone want to study it? Isn’t it just a bunch of incomprehensible and arbitrary rules that no one really follows anyway? What good does it do? To most people, logic is an unknown language about an unknown realm, where everything is turned upside down and no one with an IQ below 300 is allowed. You can see it in the panic on their faces when you just mention the word-LOGIC!

Despite all the bad press, logic is not so tough. In fact, it is one of the simplest things to use because you use it all the time, though you may not realize it. We don’t mean that you put all of your thoughts into logical form and do a formal analysis of each thought. But when you are at the supermarket and one brand of sugar is 3 cents per ounce but another is 39 cents per pound, it doesn’t take long for you to pull out your calculator and settle the issue. Why do you do that? Because you recognize that, those ounces and pounds have to be put in the same category to be compared. That’s logic. You use logic to do most everything. When you decide to take your shower after you work out instead of before, you don’t necessarily go through all the formal steps it takes to reach that conclusion validly, but your decision rests on logic nonetheless. Logic really means putting your thoughts in order.–Ronald M. Brooks; Norman L. Geisler. Come, Let Us Reason: An Introduction to Logical Thinking (p. 11)

[12] “God is rational, and the principles of good reason do flow from his very nature. Consequently, learning the rules of clear and correct reasoning is more than an academic exercise. For the Christian, it is also a means of spiritual service.”–IBID p. 7