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Make a ready defense with gentleness and reverence…
A look at Systematic Theology (D. Mar)

Author's Bias: Interpretation: conservative
Inclination: dispensational
Seminary: none

1. Study 1 Peter 3:15. What is the historical context of this letter?

The Apostle Peter wrote this letter in Rome, not yet a Roman prisoner, just before or early into the brutal Imperial persecution of Christians for a huge fire in Rome that they did not commit.

On the night of July 18 of 64 A.D., a fire started in the merchant area of Rome. The horrific fire, later known as the Burning of Rome, engulfed the city for six nights and seven days leaving only 30% of Rome unscathed. Thousands of homes and buildings were destroyed leaving thousands homeless. It is debated whether the Emperor Nero intentionally had the fires set to make room for his plans of palaces and monuments, however the public certainly thought so and anger mounted against him. To save his political life, Nero used a small unpopular Jewish religious sect, Christians, as the scapegoat and redirected the public's anger towards them.

The early Roman Christians were misunderstood. They were largely Jewish Christians who kept to themselves. Rumor had that they were cannibals because they drank someone's "blood" and ate "his body," and the public was suspicious of them. To appease public anger, Christians were fed to lions in the amphitheater, dipped in tar and burned as torches, tied to chariots and dragged through the streets of Rome until dead. In many other ways, including crucifixion, Christians were murdered, and it was during this time that the Apostles Peter and Paul met their end.

2. In studying the passage, 1 Peter 3:15, what did Peter mean by "sanctify" and "being ready to make a defense"?

This verse within context of the whole letter is in the section where Peter has moved from a specific exhortation of spousal relationship (vs. 1-7) to a general exhortation of all Believers (vs. 9-14): how Believers should act towards each other and how Believers should act towards their enemies.

In verse 15, Peter follows the conjunction "but" with "sanctify." The Greek word for sanctify is hagiasate which means to "set apart or to separate from others." Peter's use of hagiasate is in reference to acknowledging and dedicating our Savior Jesus as the Lord of our life. In context of the previous verses, the recognition of God's sovereignty removes the fears and concerns of enemies who threaten. What a statement from the man who once responded as the world would to adversity: offensively (ie John 18:10) or denial (Mark 14:66-71)!

Peter further encourages Believers to know why you believe. The Greek term apologian is in reference to the defense that a defendant would give before a judge and is the basis for the English word apologetics. In essence give an account of why you have faith or hope in Christ. Furthermore Peter states clearly that the defense is spoken with 1) gentleness and 2) reverence. The Greek word for gentleness is proutetas, which means "strength under control"; thus, it is not meekness with weakness. Reverence reflects the Greek term phobos or "fear". Other translations use respect; thus, Peter is making a distinction from being argumentative, flippant, or arrogant while defending your faith.

Practically what does it mean: "always being ready to make a defense to everyone? How much of your faith do you need to know? What are the bare essentials that you must know? One way to help you gain a broad understanding of your faith is to organize your thoughts on theology in a systematic manner.

There are various ways of systematically organizing one's theology. Systematic theology is a comprehensive study of God and His work, principally from biblical sources, in an organized and logical order:

Bibliology: the study of the Bible and how it came to be.

Theology Proper: the study of the essence, being, and trinity of God.

Christology: the study of Jesus Christ and His work.

Pneumatology: the study of the Person of the Holy Spirit.

Anthropology: the study of man.

Hamartiology: the study of sin and its nature.

Angelogy: the study of fallen and unfallen angels.

Soteriology: the study of God's plan and work of salvation.

Ecclesiology: the study of the Church.

Eschatology: the study of prophecy and the future of the end.

Not only is systematic theology useful for organizing your thoughts, but it can help you: 1) evaluate doctrine, 2) reconcile inconsistencies, 3) measure your progress in understanding your faith, and 4) explain and defend your faith (apologetics).

Throughout the history of Christianity, there have been many examples of a systematic presentation of theology. In its earliest forms when oral traditions were prevalent such as the Nicene Creed to founding doctrinal statements of various denominations born out of the Reformation (also known as confessions) when the printed Word was more widely available. Yet many of these important documents, while agreeing on major doctrinal issues, disagree at certain points attesting to the differences in interpretation of the biblical text. And scholars representing the differing perspectives can present persuasive evidence for their biblical interpretation.

Too often the differences are highlighted for the purposes of demanding a verdict for the "correct" interpretation; Church authorities will ask for conformity to their standard. Yet you are the one who is held accountable for your life with God. Denomination, academic training, or culture does not determine your interpretation and theology. Doctrinal differences are caused by your approach in biblical hermeneutics not interpretation; it is how you read the Bible! Your Bible study method determines your interpretation and ultimately your theology. How much do you take literally? How much do you take allegorically? Did you properly identify the literary genre? Are you consistent? Do you have any objective controls to your approach? Do you have a reasoned basis for your approach? Do you have a totally subjective approach?

To better understand your doctrinal / denominational perspective and evaluate your hermeneutic approach, various historical confessions and catechisms have been made available here to be viewed within the context of systematic theology. Most will have their scriptural proofs. There are differences. Where do you stand?

Douglas Mar's personal note: When I became a Christian, I did not know the differences between the major Christian denominations which resulted from the Reformation. Many Christians died during that time for their faith, which we have taken for granted. Some non-Christian groups will point to these denominational differences as proof that Christianity is wrong. However their superficial understanding does not take into account the hermeneutic approach that these denominations take. Moreover, the discussion does not consider that within each denomination, each has their orthodox, neo-orthodox, and liberal groups which themselves will have doctrinal differences within the denomination and again reflecting their respective hermeneutic approaches. Lastly, while most of the differences are in the worship (ie sacraments and ordinances), the denominations are all unanimous on the basic doctrine of Christianity:

1) The Bible is the only inspired and authoritative written revelation given to man by God.

2) There is only one sovereign God, and He is a triune being consisting of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, and God's Grace is the sole and sufficient cause of salvation.

3) Jesus Christ, of virgin birth, possessed both human and divine natures. He died to atone for man's sin, was resurrected in bodily form, and ascended to heaven. He is the sole and sufficient Savior for sinners.

4) Salvation is received by those who: a) acknowledge their sinful nature, b) believe that Jesus Christ died for their sins, and c) recognize Jesus to be their Lord and Savior. Faith is the sole and sufficient instrument through which God justifies the guilty.

5) Believers, through their love, are to share the good news of Christ's gift of life to the world and within the church body, serve and minister to other believers through the exercise of their spiritual gifts. Because all things are from Him, to Him, through Him, and for Him, God alone should receive the glory for His saving work.

Christianity has a very deep history which can be objectively checked. Were you ever misled or had doubts? You can start and be forgiven with this prayer, and have the confidence that Christianity is not a false belief.

Douglas Mar was born in Oakland, California and graduated from UC Berkeley. He practices optometry and dabbles in web design in Seattle, Washington.

"He who begins by loving Christianity better than the truth will proceed by loving his own sect or church better than Christianity and end in loving himself better than all."

Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)


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