The Use of Invective in Apologetics

by Sandy Simpson, 10/16/18


This article is about the use of invective while attempting to do apologetics or teaching discernment.  Invective is defined as a noun: insulting, abusive, or highly critical language ie. "he let out a stream of invective".  I admit to using invective at times in the past.  My goal is to stop that practice and focus on the facts, not attack an individual’s ability to comprehend. 


In the case of Christians, the first thing to consider when doing apologetics is our mandate to reconcile people to Christ, no matter who they are.


2 Cor. 5:18-21 Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.


We must always be cognizant of our duty to not just “demolish arguments” for the sake of demolishing them but to do so with the hope and prayers that the person teaching falsely will repent and return to Christ. 


2 Corinthians 10:5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (NIV)


We do need to demolish arguments but while taking every thought captive to “make it obedient to Christ”. I believe that we must pray for repentance and a return to orthodoxy for the heretic realizing full well, both from the Scriptures and from personal experience, that many false teachers are so invested in their false teaching that there is no way they will turn back.  But true believers will continue to pray for them in any case.


We are to argue for the truth on the basis of (1) compliance or non-compliance to the core doctrines of Faith (2) “prophecies” that are clearly not from God because they don’t conform to the Biblical model and/or do not come true and (3) occult practices that God has warned believers not to engage in, and other important matters that degrade the meaning of Scripture.  Now I realize full well there are “polemics” and there are “apologetics”.  We can have neighborly polemical disagreements over subjects such as modes of baptism, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, eschatology, in particular, assigning a certain time for the return of Christ, etc.  But when it comes to the core doctrines of the Faith, such as the triune nature of God, Jesus the God-man for all eternity, salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, the inerrancy and authoritativeness of the written Word in all matters of Faith and practice, and that the Lord will return bodily to earth to rule and judge, we must object to those who corrupt, either purposefully or ignorantly, the core doctrines of the Faith.  That is why demolishing arguments of heretics is so crucial.


However, there is a way to push false teachers away from ever repenting and that is with the use of “invective” in our arguments.  Now I believe fully in naming the names of heretics, false apostles and false prophets as was done throughout the Bible.  If they will not turn we have to warn others away from them.  That is the Biblical model. 


Romans 16:17 Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. (KJV)


We can also attribute certain descriptive attributes to them, such as “dogs” (Matt. 7:6, Phil 3:2), “vipers” (Matt. 3:7), “swine” (Matt. 7:6), “leaven” (Matt. 16:6), “hypocrites” (Matt. 24:13), “heretics” (Titus 3:10), etc.  What I am calling “invective” (and you must understand this is my interpretation of that term in this context, not from the Bible directly) are terms like “idiot” (IQ 0-25), “imbecile (IQ 26-50)”, and “moron” (IQ 51-70).  Terms that have a clinical definition applying to individuals who were born with a disability or mental handicap should not be used in pejorative ways.  With no apparent IQ reference, other terms such as “retard”, “stupid”, “feeble-minded”, and “fool” need to be used sparingly, if at all. The Bible does caution us from this practice in a first-century idiom that still has application today.


Matthew 5:22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.


This is a good way to test whether or not you are complying with the above. I am not writing these as legalistic mandates, but rather wise suggestions.  We are to avoid anger which often leads to malice if entertained (Eph. 4:31).  We are to forgive those who sin against us and that means even those who teach things against the core doctrines (Eph. 4:32).  We obviously cannot forgive their sins against God and His Word, but simply forgive how they have sinned against us so we will have a reconciliatory attitude toward them.  Instead we should find a way to reconcile them if possible, and in any case, keep praying for them. 


By the same token, at that point what we should NOT do is keep fellowshipping with them and we should warn others away from them as well. 


We should not consider anyone “good-for-nothing”.  We are not their final judge and do not know what God might have planned for them, and certainly, we cannot know for sure if they will repent and possibly be used mightily by the Lord in the future.  Most serious of all we must not call them names like “fool” even though Jesus called the Pharisees “fools” in Matt. 23:17, which He had the right to do since He is God, and men are called “fools” as Paul looks back in history at those who turned away from God and started a false religion of astrology and polytheism at Babel.  Those are the proper usage of the word “fools”. 


Not everyone is blessed with a sharp mind capable of understanding and expressing high thoughts.  But “fools” can be brought to wisdom if they can listen and learn from the written Word.


Psalm 19:7 The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.

Psalm 116:6 The Lord preserves the simple; I was brought low, and He saved me.

Psalm 119:130 The unfolding of Your words gives light; It gives understanding to the simple.


We should be careful lest “professing to be wise, (we) became fools,” (Rom. 1:22).  We should rather choose to “unfold” the Word to those who are in error in the hope that they will turn from their wicked ways. 


False teaching and false prophecy are “wicked”.


Psalm 7:14 Behold, he travails with wickedness, And he conceives mischief and brings forth falsehood.

Psalm 41:6 And when he comes to see me, he speaks falsehood; His heart gathers wickedness to itself; When he goes outside, he tells it.

2 Thessalonians 2:10 and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.

2 Thessalonians 2:12 in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.


So since false teachers will be judged, meaning they will end up in hell, we should have enough compassion to try to bring them in, not trample on them.


2 Timothy 2:19 Nevertheless, the firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness.”


In order for false teachers to abstain from wickedness, they need to be brought to the realization that what they have been teaching is wicked and they are damned if they do not repent and turn away from those ideas.  We who teach the Truth must also abstain from the wickedness of needless invective.  We can only pray that we will not be judged for pushing people away.


Ezekiel 13:22 Because you disheartened the righteous with falsehood when I did not cause him grief but have encouraged the wicked not to turn from his wicked way and preserve his life,  therefore, you women will no longer see false visions or practice divination, and I will deliver My people out of your hand. Thus you will know that I am the Lord.”


Our goal should always be to turn the sinner from the error(s) of his way.


James 5:20 let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.


We must do our part in obedience to the commands of Christ but leave the outcome up to the Lord.  No one can force another person to repent.  All we can do is present the Gospel and the Truth and pray for them.  The Holy Spirit will convict them but it is up to the individual how they respond to the knowledge shared with them and the conviction of the Holy Spirit in their conscience.