Monday, May 5, 2014


It's recently struck me that I've been using this word incorrectly. Or, rather, that I've been attempting to use it correctly, but in a sense far broader than the one in common use. "Apologetics" has been defined in common use today as the defense of the Christian faith. But what that most often means is the defense of a set of theological opinions from those on all sides who disagree. Usually, the angry and aggressive defense of said. Apologetes are men fighting a war for what they believe. (And occasionally also women.)

The Westminster set defend this usage (though they will deny that there is anything of "opinion" about their dogma) by reference to a forensic definition of apologia. That apologia belongs to courtroom defense, the testimony of those who are being prosecuted. (Or is it persecuted?) And I won't deny that the Greek term does apply to that circumstance. That one does in fact render an apologon, or engage in apologēsis, in court—and under specific constraints because of the situation. But I will deny that the forensic case is in any way exhaustive of the lexeme invoked here. Though one apologizes in court, apology is not essentially forensic.

Fundamentally, apology is not so much defense as explanation. It is the giving of an account. That may be forensic, as when we give an account of what happened from our perspective on the event in question. It may be financial, as when we give an account of where the money entrusted to us has gone. But both of these uses assume something that may not be present in all cases. In the Greek, the opposite term to apologia in these senses is katēgoria: accusation. Be wary when you see someone defend themselves in the absence of an accusation! Self-justification often comes from self-accusation.