Passing over the very large number of occurrences of this word in the common sense of ‘reply’ (ἀποκρίνομαι, ἀπόκρισις), there are one or two interesting usages to note before we come to the most theologically significant use of the term. Thus in Tit 2:9 slaves are enjoined not to ‘answer again’ (AV; RV ‘gainsay,’ ἀντιλέγω); in Gal 4:25 ‘this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and answereth to (i.e. ‘corresponds with,’ συστοιχέω) the Jerusalem that now is’; in Ro 11:4 St. Paul, discussing the despair of Elijah, asks ‘What saith the answer (χρηματισμός, ‘Divine oracle’) of God unto him?’
The passages with which we are most concerned, however, ate those which speak of the Christian answer or ‘defence’ (so usually in RV) against critics from within or without the Church (ἀπολογέομαι, ἀπολογία). In the life of St. Paul we have, e.g., his ‘answer’ or apologia before Felix (Ac 24:10ff.), before Festus (25:8ff.), and before Agrippa (26:1ff.). The charges brought against him were that he had incited the people to sedition (24:5, 25:8), that he had profaned the Temple (24:8), and that he was a ringleader of the Sect of the Nazarenes (24:5). His defence was skilfully directed in each case to the rebutting of the charges, to the conciliation of his judges, and to the demand that as a Roman citizen he should be tried before Cæsar.
Before Agrippa and Festus he defended himself so successfully that they agreed that, if he had not appealed to Cæsar, he might have been set at liberty, but having made the appeal he could no longer withdraw. In 2 Ti 4:16 St. Paul is represented as complaining that at his ‘first answer’ (before Cæsar) no man took his part, but that ‘all men forsook him’ (cf. 1:15). With these instances may be compared the remarkable ‘answer’ of St. Stephen before the Sanhedrin (Ac 7).
Of probably even greater interest than these defences before civil tribunals are St. Paul’s answers to those who denied his Apostleship, the Judaizers who followed him from place to place and attempted to undermine his teaching and influence among his converts in his absence—a fact to which we largely owe the letters to the Galatians and the Corinthians, or at least the most characteristic and polemical portions of them. The same or other enemies charged him with inconsistency (1 Co 10:2–11 etc.), and brought other charges against him (11:7, 8, 9, 1 Co 9:2), such as the charge of being mean in appearance (10:7–10), of being rude of speech (11:6), of being a visionary (12:7), and of other things not mentioned, which evidently inspired certain obscure references throughout these chapters. St. Paul’s apologia meets these charges with a vehement assertion of his innocence, of his full Apostleship, of his competency to utter forth the gospel from fullness of knowledge (11:6), and of his abundant sufferings and self-denial for the sake of his converts.
The large space given to these apologiæ and personal rejoinders is remote from our modern habit of mind, but it should be borne in mind that every educated man in these days was expected by the Greeks to be ready to take free part in polemics of this kind, and to defend himself vigorously against attack. In 1 P 3:15 we have the well-known injunction to be ‘ready always to give answer to every man that asketh you a reason concerning the hope that is in you,’ whether before a judge or in informal conversation—which should probably be interpreted in this sense. In v. 21 of the same chapter ‘the answer (AV) of a good conscience towards God’ is a difficult phrase, and the commentaries should be consulted. ἐπερώτημα can hardly mean ‘answer,’ and the RV translates ‘interrogation’ (see a long note in Huther in Meyer’s Com. pp. 192–197). C. Bigg (ICC, in loc.) interprets it of the baptismal question or demand.
The Epistle to the Hebrews has been called ‘the first Christian apology,’ in the sense of a definite and reasoned defence of the Christian faith and position. It had its forerunners in the speeches of St. Paul already referred to, and its successors in the long line of Ante-Nicene ‘apologies,’ of which those of Justin Martyr and Tertullian are two outstanding examples.
Literature.—Comm. on the passages cited; E. F. Scott, The Apologetic of the New Testament, 1907; H. M. Gwatkin, Early Church History, 1909, ch. xi., and similar works; W. M. Ramsay, The Church in the Roman Empire, 1893. St. Paul the Traveller and Roman Citizen, 1895; T. R, Glover, The Conflict of Religions in the Early Roman Empire, 1909.
AV Authorized Version.
RV Revised Version.
ICC International Critical Commentary.