All around the world preachers preach to people who generally agree with them. If they did not generally agree, they would not keep on attending and supporting such preaching.

It is my contention that if we are truly interested in truth, and the souls of men, we should be willing to come together and discuss our differences. We are to be “prepared to make a defense” for what we believe (1 Peter 3:15 ESV). Truth has nothing to fear by being examined. It has been said that the more truth is rubbed, the brighter it shines.

Logic accepts there to be certain laws of thought. (1) The Law of Excluded Middle States – “every precisely stated proposition is either true or false. There is no middle-ground between a proposition being true and being false.” (2) The Law of Contradiction States – “no proposition can be both true and false, in the same respect.” (3) The Law of Identity States – “if a proposition is true, then it is true.” It is not true for me and false for him.

Application: If “Man A” argues that we are bound to keep the Sabbath today, and “Man B” argue that we are not so bound – both cannot be correct. If “Man A” argues that the use of mechanical instruments of music is acceptable for worship today, and “Man B” deny such – both cannot be correct. If “Man A” argues baptism is not essential to man’s salvation today, and “Man B” affirm that it is essential – both cannot be correct. If “Man A” argues that there is but one permitted reason for divorce and remarriage, and “Man B” argues that there other permitted reasons – both cannot be correct.

Early Christians` Example/Word Study

The early Christians did not proclaim their beliefs just before the church. They preached in such public places as: (1) The temple – (Acts 3:11-ff; 14:1; 17:1-ff; 17:10-ff; 17:16-ff; 18:4; 18:19); (2) synagogues (Acts 9:20; 13:5; 13:14; 14:117:1-3; 17:10-12; 17:1718:4; 18:19; 19:8); (3) Marketplace (Acts 17:17); and (4) The Areopagus of Mar’s Hill (Acts 17:22-ff). They taught both publicly and from house to house (Acts 5:42; 20:20).

A study of the words used to describe what Paul did is helpful.

1.  He reasoned or disputed (Acts 17:2; 17:17; 18:4; 18:19; 19:9; 24:25).

The word is dialegomai, from dia (through) and lego (to speak). This word is defined to mean – (a) Vine’s: “‘to think different things with oneself, to ponder,’ then ‘to dispute with others.’” (b) B-A-G: “discuss, conduct a discussion.” (c) Thayer: “to think different things with oneself, mingle thought with thought . . . to converse, discourse with one, argue, discuss.” (d) Thomas Warren said – “Basic Meaning: to argue, discourse, debate, discuss, contend” (The Work of The Gospel Preacher, p. 3).

2.  He explained or opened (Acts 17:3).

The word is dianoigo, from dia (through) and oigo (to open). This word is defined to mean – (a) Vine’s: “to open up completely . . . metaphorically . . . of the mind.” (b) Thayer: “to open the sense of the scriptures, explain them . . . to open the mind of one, i.e. cause him to understand a thing.”

3.  He demonstrated or alleged (Acts 17:3).

The word is paratithemi, from para (beside) and tithemi (to put or place). The context refers to the placing of the life of Christ next to the message of the prophets (Acts 17:3 cf. Lk 24:25-27).

4.  He explained or expounded (Acts 28:23).

The word is ektithemi, from ek (out) and tithemi (to put or place). The context refers to bring out the meaning from “both the law of Moses and the prophets” (Acts 28:23).

5.  He persuaded (Acts 13:43; 18:4; 19:8; 28:23).

The word is peitho. This word is defined by Thayer to mean “(a.) to persuade, i.e. to induce one by words to believe . . . (b.) to make friends of, win one’s favor, gain one’s goodwill . . . (c.) to persuade unto i.e. move or induce one by persuasion to do something.”

6.  He disputed (Acts 9:29).

The word is suzeteo, from sun (with) and zeeleo (seek). This word means – (a) Vine’s: “lit. to seek or examine together.” (b) Thayer: “to seek or examine together.” (c) B-A-G: “discuss, debate, argue.” (d) Thomas Warren said – “to discuss, dispute, question, debate.”


Debating is not a game. It is not about personalities, or should not be. It is about examining the truth. Every precisely state proposition is either true or false. The hearer should operate under the Law of Rationality which says that man should weigh the evidence and draw only such conclusions as are warranted by the evidence (cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:21).

Shun Debates?

Debating is nowhere near as common as it once was. Joe Warlick (1866-1941) had 399 debates, 23 with the same man – Ben Bogard. Joe Blue (1875-1954) had at least 107 debates. Debating has become less common in our days for several reasons.

1.  Denominations do not like to be exposed. Brother Carl Heckel has written, “Many people are afraid of the truth. Debates tend to force confrontation with the word of God. Such confrontation demands change in conviction and/or behavior. To avoid this unpleasant encounter some have been prone to advance unwarranted criticism of debating itself” (Jerry Moffitt, Do Debates Do Any Good? Seventh Annual Shenandoah Lectures – Denominationalism versus the Bible, p. 564). Some religious groups, such as the Jehovah Witnesses, will no longer debate.

2.  Some brethren have become uncertain, and unconvinced about what they believe. One is not likely to be willing to defend a position publicly, if one is unsure about that position. Some have become out-right agnostics in regards to truth. They like Pilate say, “What is truth?”

3.  Some are confused over Romans 1:29 (KJV). “Debate” in this verse is negatively used.

Many words have more than one usage. The term “desire” or “lust” (epithumia) can be used of evil desires (Colossians 3:5) or of good desires (Philippians 1:23; 1 Thessalonians 2:17). It all depends on what is desired. The term “jealous” or “zealous” (zelos) can be used of evil jealousy (Galatians 5:20), or of good zeal (1 Corinthians 14:12; Titus 2:14). It all depends on for what one is burning. Even so, the term “debate” can be good (Proverbs 25:9a), or bad (Romans 1:29). If one is speaking of needless controversy, needless fussing, and fighting, then such is wrong. However, if one is speaking of reasoning together concerning the truth, such can be good.

“Argue” is another such word which has two meanings. The term “argue” can refer to “needless fussing and fighting”. However, in logic the term “argument” refers to “a number of propositions, some of which function as premises (that is they serve as evidence) and one (or more) function as the conclusion”. In other words, an argument is “a group of statements which are used to prove or support a conclusion”.

4.  Some are confused over what Paul was forbidding in 1 + 2 Timothy and Titus (1 Timothy 1:4; 4:7; 6:4; 2 Timothy 2:14; 2:23; 4:4; Titus 1:14; 3:9). Didn’t Paul say that foolish disputes were to be avoided?

Look closely at these passages. These passages involve the following words – (1) Fables or myths (1 Timothy 1:4; 4:7; 2 Timothy 4:4; Titus 1:14). (2) Genealogies (1 Timothy 1:4; Tit. 3:9). (3) Questions (1 Timothy 1:4; 6:4; 2 Timothy 2:23; Titus 3:9), and (4) Unprofitable words (1 Timothy 6:4; 2 Timothy 2:14; Titus 3:9). Bill Lockwood comments “The questions and ‘dispute of words’ of which the apostle speaks refers to Jewish efforts to press traditions surrounding the Law of Moses upon Christians. They were referred to as ‘myths’ because of the lack of historical character . . . the ‘striving’ which Paul forbade included the entanglement in untaught questions upon which the Bible was silent. They were ‘myths,’ ‘fables,’ ‘genealogies,’ traditions about people’s origins and were ‘quarrels’ specifically related to the law of Moses. . . . H. Wace, in Cook’s Commentary offers this notion. Philo, the Jew, who was teaching at Alexandria during the time of our Lord’s ministry, dividing the writings of Moses into historical and genealogical . . . found in the genealogies a whole system of psychology. The names with him represented the various conditions of the soul . . . something of this kind were probably the ‘endless genealogies’” (Hammer & Tongs, May-June 95, p. 6). Forbidden is striving over words of no profit (2 Timothy 2:14). However, let us remember that when it comes to God’s word “All scripture is given by the inspiration of God, and is profitable. . .” (2 Timothy 3:16).

5.  Some debaters have admittedly not always behaved in a christian manner. Alexander Campbell warned “the man that cannot govern his own spirit in the midst of opposition and contradiction is a poor christian indeed” (Jerry Moffitt, p. 565). I agree. Although, I would point out that things like – pressing a point, holding a debater to the proposition which he signed, showing inconsistencies in one’s position, etc. – are not mean-spirited, but necessary to make any progress in a discussion. Attacking the person is off-limits. Exposing a doctrine is not.

About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
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2 Responses to Debate

  1. mokus says:

    I agree that debating is a good thing. We should be clear in what we believe and also be prepared to offer a defense for our actions.

    I agree also that most people avoid debating because conversations can quickly become muddled and devolve into needless feuding. Rarely are conversations purely rational and objective—there are always an element of emotions and personal investment. With this being true, people avoid the cognitive dissonance of discourse that challenges the core of who they are.

    Others, I think, avoid debates because they sense an underlying sophistry. A good example is with instruments in worship. The arguments that say we must sing-only in corporate worship as Christians is notoriously riddled with bad logic and spurious presuppositions. Anyone wanting to learn about fallacies and how they work should spend some time studying the recent history of arguments against instruments.

    • Bryan Hodge says:

      I appreciate your thoughts. We should be clear about what we believe and why we believe it. Many are not (some may not be clear in their own minds). We should say what we mean and mean what we say. We should never be seeking a personal victory. We should be reason about the truth. We should listen carefully to each other.

      I agree that I have heard weak arguments in many debates, and on various subjects. The issue of instrumental music in worship to me is one of N.T. authority. I ask you to review my articles: “Acts of Worship-Participation and Praise in Song” parts one and two. You can find these on my blog. Let me know what you think.

      Best wishes, Bryan

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