Dispute & Persuade: New Testament Christianity Founded in Debate
The Churches of Christ were founded in debate. The great debater of the faith was the apostle Paul, God’s chosen vessel in declaring His name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. Paul “disputed” in the Lord’s name with the Grecians in Jerusalem, and with the Jews in the synagogue of Athens, as well as daily in the marketplace there, (Acts 9:29, 17:17.) In Ephesus, Paul’s mission was clear; “[he] spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God,” (Acts 19:8,9.)
The word “dispute,” DIALEGOMAI in the Greek, means “to discuss, argue, exhort, dispute, or reason,” and is the source for our word “dialectic.” This was the evangelistic approach employed by Paul. The idea of debate, based upon the Biblical “dispute” is not to be confused (as the archaic KJV appears to do in Romans 1:29 and 2 Corinthians 12:20) with the Greek word ERIS, which should be translated “strife.” While strife is condemned, the New Testament evangelist is admonished to “reprove, rebuke, and exhort,” (2 Timothy 4:2.) Certainly, both Peter and Paul advocated dialectic battle, called APOLOGIA, in 1 Peter 3:15, where Peter admonished to “be ready always to give an answer….” and in Philippians 1:17, where Paul declared, “I am set for the defense of the gospel.”
That the word “dispute” should be used in Acts 19:8 with “persuade” is very significant, because the word “persuade” PEITHO in Greek, means “to convince by argument.” The word PERSUADE is the same Biblical word that is also translated as FAITH, BELIEVE, and OBEY!! Vines Expository defines PEITHO as “bringing a change of mind by the influence of reason or moral considerations.” It is used of salvation, (Acts 17:4) as well as steadfastness (2 Timothy 1:12.) This is the language of God, according to the prophet Isaiah (1:18) who declared, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord…”
The New Testament days were days of persuasion, when the Word of God was central to all teaching and preaching, and was the criteria of spiritual discrimination. How noble were the Bereans of Acts 17:11 who “searched the scriptures daily” to see “whether those things were so.” Jude (verse 3) writes, “Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.”
The necessity of disputing, persuading, and contending is clearly seen from the scripture. The Churches of Christ were founded in debate, from the days of the New Testament. The fruits of debate are still being realized today, where Berean-like people are still investigating the truth today.
by John Doughty