By: Dr. Jerry Bergman
The feedback from my previous columns includes, “I would hope that every church teaches morals.”
True, but this is not the only important ingredient of church survival: Another critical factor is apologetics.
Apologetics is literally a study of the defense of the Christian faith. The Greek word apologia means “defense.”
In every generation, people face the challenges, questions, and concerns about the gospel message of the Christian faith.
This challenge must be met if the church is to survive. Numerous surveys by both secular and Christian research organizations find the major reason young person’s abandon Christianity is that they do not believe, or have major doubts, about the truth of the Bible, thus Christianity.
My church upbringing effectively dealt with this by including apologetics as a major part of our Bible study.
One important fact to keep in mind that the Bible is history, and much of it can be corroborated by secular history books.
Most of these are not used as studies in place of the Bible but as references to give historical background and support to Scripture.
Critical sources include Flavius Josephus, a first-century Romano-Jewish historian who defected to the Romans’ side and was granted Roman citizenship.
He became an advisor and friend of Vespasian’s son, Titus, and a professional Roman historian.
His writings are the chief source, next to the Bible, for the history of ancient Israel. They provide a significant independent, extra-Biblical account of Pontius Pilate, Herod the Great, John the Baptist, and the world of Jesus of Nazareth.
Another important source is Archbishop James Ussher’s 1,300 page The Annals of the World. Ussher (1581-1656), a meticulous researcher and compiler, correlated the events in Genesis with secular human history.
He supported his work with over 12,000 footnotes from secular sources. Many of the references available when Ussher was working on his book in the 1600s are now lost to history.
He began writing The Annals when he was 13, and spent the rest of his life researching for his tour de force.
Another important book is The Book of Jubilees written in Hebrew in the middle of the second century B.C., first translated into Greek, then into Latin.
It addresses the history of the Creation and of Israel up to Exodus 12:50.
The goal of the book was to answer, and also to explain, questions left unanswered in Genesis.
It also was written to respond to attacks on the veracity of the Bible by both pagan Greeks and skeptical Jews.
At the time it was written, Greek philosophy was thriving and challenged Jewish beliefs, especially the book of Genesis.
It also covers salient details about the beginning of the human race, the source of Jewish laws going back to the ancient beginning, and how demons, Satan, and angels fit into Creation.
It is considered canonical by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and Ethiopian Jews. Although not considered part of the canon by most Christian churches, it strongly supports the Bible and adds useful background information to the Biblical narrative.
Also important are 1 and 2 Maccabees, early Jewish writings detailing the history of the Jews in the first century B.C.
These books are part of the canon of the Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Coptic, and Russian Orthodox churches, but are not recognized as canon by Protestants and Jews.
Nonetheless, they are found in many Protestant Bibles and are an important source to provide background to Bible events.
The books outline the history of the Jewish leaders called the Maccabees.
The first book portrays the effort by the Jews to regain their cultural and religious independence from the Roman emperor Antiochus IV Epiphanes after his desecration of the Jewish temple.
Highly recommended for study are books including The Case for Christ, The Case for Faith, and others by Lee Strobel.
The classics, Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell and The Bible as History by Werner Keller and Joachim Rohork are also very important.
Also very important for more in-depth study are the Ante-Nicene Fathers, a set of ten volumes consisting of the writings of the early church fathers until 325 AD.
Lastly, at least for reference, are the writings of many early historians who wrote at the time of Christ.
The most respected include Herodotus, who is called “The Father of History,” and also Thucydides, Xenophon, Polybius, and most importantly, Tacitus.
As 1 Peter 3:15 admonishes, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”
Dr. Jerry Bergman has taught biology, genetics, chemistry, biochemistry, anthropology, geology, and microbiology for over 40 years at several colleges and universities including Bowling Green State University, Medical College of Ohio where he was a research associate in experimental pathology, and The University of Toledo. He is a graduate of the Medical College of Ohio, Wayne State University in Detroit, the University of Toledo, and Bowling Green State University. He has over 1,800 publications in 12 languages and 60 books and monographs. His books and textbooks that include chapters that he authored are in over 1,500 college libraries in 27 countries.