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Surely it would be wrong to quarrel angrily, motivated by pride, saying mean and hateful things to hurt one another. But suppose two people disagree, so each one sincerely strives to convince the other person and to defend his own position as being true. Is it wrong to discuss religion in this case?
1 Peter 3:15 says we should "be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear." The word here translated "answer" is translated "defense" in other translations (NKJV, NASB). The idea refers to persuading others by presenting evidence, much as is done in a courtroom. Now suppose you and I disagree about religious truth. If you are convinced you are right, this passage commands you to give me the reasons for your conviction, and I am commanded to give you the reasons for my position. The result will be a religious discussion or a debate!
Did Jesus or His apostles ever participate in such discussions? In Mark 12:28 we are told that Jesus was "reasoning" with the Jews. In Acts 6:9 and Acts 9:29 the Bible says that Stephen and also Paul "disputed" with those with whom they disagreed. Other translations say they were "debating" (NIV, NASB). The context shows that Jesus and His disciples would make a point, then those with whom they disagreed would make a point, etc. The life of Jesus and the history of the early church are filled with examples of such discussions, and many people learned the truth as a result.
So let us take care to avoid selfish or hateful attitudes. But let us not neglect to "earnestly contend for the faith" - Jude 3.
(c) Copyright David E. Pratte, 1/30/2006
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Scripture quotations are generally from the New King James Version (NKJV), copyright 1982, 1988 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. used by permission. All rights reserved.