Apologetics that uses condescension / insult

What advice do you give to the atheist who alleges that he is constantly insulted by Trinitarian apologists, who justify themselves by appeal to Ezekiel 23:20 (using vulgar language while being filled with the Holy Spirit ), John 8:44 (Jesus insults the Pharisees), Acts 23:3 (Paul insults the High Priest), and 1st Corinthians 11:1 (we must imitate Paul as he imitates Christ)?

These apologists say that the NT admonitions to be nice (1st Peter 3:15) apply only when the unbeliever in question is humble and seeking truth, and that these NT authors expected their originally intended readers to recognize that the requirement of being polite does not apply to the case of the determined skeptic who continually rejects the gospel. In other words, so they claim, America’s churches would be in much better shape if they persistently confronted skepticism in the same spirit of angry riposte that characterized the honor/shame contests of the ancient Jews.

What should the atheist do after confirming that Trinitarian inerrantists, who all agree on the doctrines that are “essential to salvation”, nevertheless disagree with each other on how to answer this?

Should the atheist conclude that the biblical data are too convoluted to permit drawing a reasonably certain answer?

Or should the atheist conclude that the reason equally sincere equally knowledgeable Christians disagree on such a thing is because by preventing an easy answer, God in his mysterious ways wants the atheist to keep searching for this answer?

Welcome to the forum, Barry. Thanks for posting. As an aside, how did you find the forum? It is interesting to know how you got here, and the path that led you this way.
Regarding your opening question, I think you will find few here who would defend that sort of apologetic approach, as I think most are interested in relationship, and the general thought is it is both respectful and enlightening to understand the position of those we are engaging with and not giving unsolicited opinions. So, my advice to those who feel insulted by others, is to disengage from the discussion. We really cannot change another’s behaviour, but we can control ours. I do not read a lot of apologists, but would be interested in some examples of the behavior you describe, if you could give a link or two.

  • Something or things seem to me to be missing in your story.
    • Did the atheist go into a trinitarian church or forum or home to express hi/her skepticism in one or more Christian beliefs which he or she carries around on a card in a wallet? Was the atheist invited or not?
    • Or did the trinitarians enter an atheist clubhouse, forum, or home and challenge the atheist(s)’ skepticism?
  • Last June 28th, I traveled to Louisville to visit a couple of nephews. a niece, and a niece-in-law in a nephew’s home into which I had been invited. I am and long have been a believer in Jesus; this fact was known to everyone present. I was also the only Christian present. The others were all ex-Christians and hold different degrees of atheist and agnostic opinions.
  • While there, one nephew’s male, ex-Christian partner expressed his skepticism about ghosts and the resurrection. Unruffled, I doubted, verbally and publicly, that he was unprepared to argue the matter and that sitting at the same table in my nephew and niece-in-law’s house didn’t seem to me to be the right time or place to argue the matter.
  • My nephew’s partner pursued the irreconcilable difference between him and me, restating the same argument three separate times, as if I hadn’t heard him the first time.
  • I raised my voice and pronounced him mean and obtuse.
  • That’s the kind of stuff your story is missing.

I won’t name names, but in would be interested in how you would refute the alleged biblical justifications for riposte. For example, do you say that because Paul was specially filled with the Spirit and today’s Christians are not, Paul’s condescension toward his critics should not be imitated by today’s Christians?

Then the question to you is whether you think the bible would support a Christian apologist of today to, when dealing with counter-apologist (i.e., those who promote skepticism of the gospel just as much as apologists promote belief in it), imitate the vulgarity of the prophets and the insulting speech of Jesus and Paul.

For example, do you think 1st Peter 3:15 governs the conduct of a Christian allows for Q&A after his gospel-promoting lecture, and ends up dealing with a professional counter-apologist?

My take on this issue is that Jesus, the Apostles, and the Prophets do not insult people for the sake of insulting them. When they speak in such a way they appear to function in the role of covenant/divine lawyer, bringing changes against those who oppose the Kingdom. This, I would argue, is a function that is unique to their position.

Additionally, I would argue from a hermeneutical perspective that commands > examples. What I mean by that is that what we are commanded to do holds greater weight than examples that we might seek to imitate. For example, Paul says in 2 Tim 2:24-26 (NIV 2011):

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

Gentleness is a key theme here and one that covers several commands concerning our interactions with those in and outside the family of God:

Let your gentleness be evident to all. (Phil 4:5)

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. (Col 3:12)

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Prov 15:1)

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Eph 4:29)

But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. (Col 3:8)

If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. (James 1:26)

I’d argue that such ‘apologists’ would do well to reflect on the role of gentleness in these commands. I’d argue that those who are gentle with those who disagree with them ultimately trust the Spirit to open their opponent’s eyes to the beauty of God and the gospel - not the force of personality. More simply, I would argue that at the heart of these apologists’ actions is not simply bad hermeneutics, but, ironically, a lack of faith.


@Terry_Sampson makes a good point about situation/context. It makes a difference in the biblical settings as well.

I’m baffled that anyone thinks that a seeker, skeptic, unbeliever or anyone could be driven in to the Kingdom by arrogance and insults. The apologists are deluded. And they misjudge themselves. Any advice I might have would be directed at them. I might invite the atheist out for a beer, pizza and a conversation about books or art.


Grow thicker skin? I mean, some people are just jerks. I am immediately reminded of JP Holding and Tektonics online.

On many issues absolutely. The Bible is a book of wisdom that is meant to be wrestled with in faith. It disagrees and corrects itself at times. It’s not a magic 8 ball or moral rule book. These Christians sound like they live in theological echo chambers and are disconnected from reality. Inerrancy will do that.

According to the Gospel of Luke (2:52), even Jesus had to grow in wisdom. Why not atheists or His followers? And I suspect God isn’t as interested in correct doctrine as we are. I’d say he is more interested in how we treat others and how many people we have helped. A God who prioritizes correct head knowledge over actions through faith is not one worthy of worship. Fortunately, the God we serve does the latter.

There won’t be a theology test when we get to the pearly gates. But there might be a line of people we didn’t help. And I suspect anyone causing people to be stumbled will be judged by God.


Condescension and insult are too subjective and a matter of perception for this to be any kind of reasonable guide. Frankly it is just another way for people to drag the discussion off topic with personal attacks accusing people of such things.

Staying on topic and not making personal comments (i.e. about other participants) at all is a better guide for keeping discussions civil and productive. A more gray area would be making comments about people who are not participants – though it is likely these types of comments should be avoided also if possible (especially if it is conceivable that they could be unknown participants).

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Condescension and insult are too subjective and a matter of perception for this to be any kind of reasonable guide.

I disagree. Paul condemns so-called brothers who are “revilers” (1st Cor. 5:11), and yet it must be a combination of objective definitions and subjective perceptions by which we judge another’s comment to be “reviling” a third party.

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I think there are atheists, and then there are atheists. What I mean by that is that some you can have an honest discussion with, and some you cannot. Jesus and Paul were both apologists and addressed honest questions, but Jesus told the disciples to knock the dust off their feet and to walk away from towns that did not accept their message. He himself walked away from Sadducees, one kind of atheist, but he dined with ‘tax collectors and sinners’, another kind of atheist. (The latter part of Acts 13 is kind of interesting in this respect, not about Jesus, but Paul.)

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The culture of discussion has changed a lot. Two thousand years ago it was ‘ordinary’ to use strong, even aggressive language targeted towards the beliefs or behavior of the opponent. If we read texts that are a few hundred years old (for example, 1500-1700 AD), the language used against the opponents could be very aggressive and insulting.

In current cultures, insulting language is out of date, it does not bring good fruit. If the purpose is anything else than condemn the beliefs of the opponent and warn others, it is wise to select another style.


Well I feel like there are separate issues at play.

Insulting someone directly by mocking them or being mean is very different from being assertive and firm and using language they don’t like.

Take the first verses you shared. It’s typically understood in my opinion to be about the nation of Israelites by Jewish members. Even now days, if you belong to a community it opens up for a different criticism and language that can be used that those outside of it cannot. Many people take words that were used oppressively about something they identify with from race to sexuality and they will use it as a sort of satirical term of endearment towards one another or as a term that they are simply wanting to take power back up.

Or it can be language that others find graphic. I cuss a lot. I don’t cuss here really. But in person, I cuss a lot. Always have. From when I was a kid to now and I’ll be cussing up until the day I die. If we have language in the restored world, I’ll cuss there too. I don’t find words like that offensive. Neither do most other liberals. While there are outliers, it’s normally centered on particular political cultures. Such as , many others raised in the south we raised that we should always use sir or mam when talking to someone in a position of power or much older. I still do that. In the army, that verbal reflex led many sergeants telling me they earned their rank and made me do a lot of push ups for it. Many were raised not to cuss. My family did not care. We could watch South Park as teens and so on. What we would get in trouble for us cussing someone out. I don’t need the Bible really as a source of permission to use a word. What’s “offensive” to one is perfectly normal to another.

To quote Morticia, “ what is normal to the spider is chaos for the fly.”

But I do agree that we can use the Bible to showcase that perhaps god is not a nit picky about words as we are. But just because I’m perfectly ok with cussing and that includes in my prayers in church and when I tell my fiancée “I blah-ing love you” I don’t feel ok saying many things. Such as I have no problem making very dark jokes I don’t feel ok making racist ones. I don’t think it’s appropriate to approach a random woman and compliment her certain gestures or focus on her body. If someone does not like cussing, or gory hyperbolic metaphors, I try to not do it.

So take the verses again you posted. I think it’s perfectly fine to use it metaphorically and channel your inner Ricky Gervais when talking about something. But it’s not ok to go up to random chicks and ask them if they want to see yours. That would be grossly inappropriate and creepy.

Do I think it’s ok to use “ you’re acting like a child of the devil when taking to someone who wants to lock up kids in cages or threaten to ban consenting adults by bringing up how they the supreme court may be considering it? Yeah I think it’s ok to point out they are acting more like the devil than God.

Now we are also told to be loving. But loving does not always mean being passive and letting everything go. But there is a big difference between a bully and someone being more blunt with a particular person or concept.


I use such words. But I do so rarely.

Do I think they should be prohibited in public venues?



Because that is what gives these words their power when you do use them. LOL. If they are used all the time, they become meaningless and bland.

Indeed! Everybody makes up their own rules about such things. And the rules can be pretty nutty!

I was brought up with the mantra

Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.

I then moved to a different part of the country where arguments were settled with fists not words. I am not particularly big and strong but my words hurt more than their fists.

On a similar note there is the story of a group of tourists watching two Chinese men arguing. As the language got more heated one watcher commented
“They will start fighting soon”
The guide said
“No. The one who hits out first is proving that he has run out of arguments”

.Insults and condescension are no better than fists or violence and can be just as damaging. A Christian who uses them is showing disrespect and betraying his/her faith.

Using scripture as justification is abusing scripture. Claiming Paul or Jesus guilty is a judgement I would claim to be unwise.


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  • I’ve never met a professional counter-apologist and wouldn’t waste his/her time or mine crossing swords with one if I did. There’s nothing to be gained from any exchange of irreconcilable differences.
  • And I have yet to meet an atheist who civilly, seriously, and gently asked me to share “the reason for the hope in me.”
  • I have, however, met one atheist hell-bent on “yanking my tail”/“jerking my chain”/“pressing my buttons”/“testing my boundaries”. I didn’t hit him or curse him out, but I did quickly and briefly make my disappointment in his comments publicly clear in a manner that left everybody at the table temporarily uncomfortable and silent. He and I were both invited guests in my nephew and niece-in-law’s home. [That doesn’t happen often in person because normally I’m the most pleasant, tolerant, and humorous person, you’d ever hope to meet.]
  • On-line, I don’t go into specifically “atheist forums” hunting atheists.
  • I did, however, participate in a popular, very diverse forum, which I have since left, not because of atheists, but because Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses bring out the worst in me.
  • Now, my on-line activity outside of family and friends is this forum, with mixed results. Here, in Biologos, I get along–as a rule with the very few atheists far better than with a small number of self-styled Christians. I am unchurched, advanced in years, and less patient with them, than I am with civil interesting atheists. The moderators here ride herd on public conversations rather quickly and effectively.
  • And that’s about all I have to say on that.
  • You specifically asked:if I:
  • Thankfully, I am long past the days of “defending God, Jesus, Paul, or the Bible”, but challenge my theological beliefs and opinions or harass me at your own risk, moderators or not. One of the nice things about this forum is the ability to put a person on a private “Ignore” list. Mine is pretty long and appears to be unlimited. The only thing I’d like to see added to it is a notification to the person that you’re ignoring telling them that you’re ignoring them.
  • Given the nature of an on-line forum, Bible verses don’t always fit, and seem to me to be cobbled together by folks to fit each person’s wishful thinking and style. Beyond that, I have nothing to add, absent a very specific and clear actual situation.
  • Forums are like “bumper car courts”. Playing on a court is risky business, so it seems to me that buckling your seat belt and wearing a safety helmet is advisable.
  • As a rule, I don’t try to convert atheists to theism, much less to Christianity. Militant anti-theists tend to be obnoxious and persistent IMO, quickly outliving their entertainment value. Wanna be one here, and you’ll probably find yourself on my “Ignore” list.

Im an example of one who calls a spade a spade…political correctness is for whimps😄

Seriously though, genuine love to all and i really mean that.

I think that most people here genuinely want to engage in conversation about life…i believe that is a demonstration of caring despite the need for a thick skin.

some diametrically opposed opinions are found here and that is a good thing because we are all seeking and sharing a wide variety of views and it provides the opportunity to develop an ecclectic world view.

I value this forum because it challenges me every day and entices me to study rather than listen to wives tails.


I think being forthright and honest is different than being condescending or insulting. Paul at Athens first looked at the culture of the city before speaking on Mars Hill, and his motivation was out of love to share the gospel, not to win an argument. Of course, he had limited success there, but that happens.


Calling a spade a spade is not the same thing as being an arrogant jerk and attempting to humiliate someone in order to win an argument.
The gospel is never about “winning,” certainly not “winning” in human terms. Defending the gospel is not a debate team, point-driven “sport” that makes us feel real accomplished for grinding some fool atheist into the ground.
I have friends who happen to be atheists who don’t want to talk about my faith, their faith or anyone else’s. What right do I have to try to force them to listen to me as if I am some kind of authority?! The Holy Spirit will use some other means than my clever, witty, or rude argumentation.

Treating people with respect, civility and even friendship is not “political correctness” (whatever that is), but being a decent human being.

Then again, I don’t do “fight club” discussion environments. There is nothing there that would call me to. And I am amazed that anyone else would. People who want to have thoughtful conversations are not “entering the ring.” Nobody is listening “in the ring.” It’s performative, exercise, work out or work up the aggression. That is not Christ-like.


But there’s nothing insulting in that passage, it’s a declaration of sexual prowess.

Jesus isn’t insulting them, He’s being blunt. He’s also not talking to atheists, so there’s no justification here for using strong language against atheists; He’s talking to people who were supposedly believers who were leading others astray.

This is again talking to religious leaders, so there’s no justification for insults against atheists. It’s also worth noting that Paul used language to respond to a physical attack.

So this one fails since none of the rest give any grounds for being insulting to others.

And just where is that in the text? It covers “anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you”; it doesn’t say “Those who ask nicely”. And the section concludes with:

“For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.”

Which should take the mind back a few verses:

“Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless.”

And insults do not bless.

If the atheist knows the scriptures well, he should answer that the Christian is not being a very good imitator of Christ, who said, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have?”
So Christians should always speak lovingly.