Yes, it’s okay for Christians to be involved in debates. After all, we are told to defend the faith (1 Pet. 3:15), render all arguments against God useless (2 Cor. 10:5), and “…contend earnestly for the faith…” (Jude 3). In fact, Prov. 25:9, says, “Argue your case with your neighbor, and do not reveal the secret of another.” So, the Bible teaches us to defend the faith, render arguments against God useless, contend for the faith, and argue our cases with our neighbors. That is what debate is. So, yeah, it is okay for Christians to debate.
It’s worth noting that in Jude 3, the word ‘contend’ is ἐπαγωνίζομαι epagōnízomai. It means to “to exert intense effort on behalf of someth., contend.”1 So, debate is biblical, but it should not be contentious and vitriolic.
Romans 1:29, KJV
However, some say that debate is sinful. They quote the King James Bible to prove it.
Rom. 1:29 (KJV), “Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers.”
The Greek word for “debate” here n Rom. 1:29 is ἔρις éris. it occurs nine times in the New Testament. In the NASB, it is rendered as strife and quarrels. In the King James (1900 version), it is rendered as debate (Rom. 1:29; 2 Cor. 12:20), strife (Rom. 13:13; 1 Cor. 3:3; Gal. 5:20; Phil. 1:15; 1 Tim. 6:4), and contentions (1 Cor. 1:11; Titus 3:9). We have to ask. If debating is automatically sinful, then why do people do it in Scripture? This is because debate is not sinful. But strife is. This is why different Bible render ἔρις éris differently.
Debate – KJV 1900,
Contention – Douy Rheims
Quarrels – CSB, HCSB, ISV
Strife – ASV, ESV, LEB, NASB95, NIV84, NKJV, RSV,
Debate is warranted as long as it is not contentious and produces unnecessary anger. I say unnecessary because sometimes people get angry even though you present the truth in the most polite manner. But, the goal is to argue politely yet thoroughly. Please consider the following.
Col. 4:5-6, “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. 6 Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.”
2 Tim. 2:24–25, “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth.”
Debate, συζητέω suzētéō
Another Greek word is used for the English ‘debate.’ It is συζητέω suzētéō. it occurs ten times in the NASB and is rendered as debate ( Mark 1:27 ), argue (Mark 8:11; 9:14; 12:28; Acts 6:9; 9:29), and discuss (Mark 9:10, 16; Luke 22:23; 24:15). In the KJV (1900), it is rendered as dispute (Acts 6:9; 9:29), inquire (Luke 22:23), questioned (Mark 1:27; 8:11; 9:10, 14, 16), reason/ed/ing (Mark 12:28; Luke 24:15).
Paul argued with the Hellenistic Jews as he spoke boldly in the name of the Lord (Acts 9:28-29). It was this same Paul who wrote Romans 1:29 – which has been used to deny the idea of Christians being involved in debate. If Paul was saying not to debate, why was he doing that very thing in Acts 9 and 17:17, where he reasoned with the Gentiles about the true God?
So, contentious arguing is not good. But debating back and forth where it is rational, not full of strife, and is for the purpose of destroying arguments against the truth of God (2 Cor. 10:5) is good. After all, we are supposed to give an answer to everyone who would ask (1 Pet. 3:15).
Debate is not automatically sinful as long as it is not contentious and causes strife. We are told to contend for the faith (Jude 3) and argue our case (Prov. 25:9). Debate the truth. But use wisdom, patience, and kindness. Seek to present the truth politely and consistently. Let your speech be with grace (Col. 4:5-6) and gentleness (2 Tim. 2:24-25).
It is okay for Christians to be involved in debates (1 Pet. 3:15; 2 Cor. 10:5; Jude 3; Prov. 25:9)
Rom. 1:29 in the KJV lists uses the word ‘debate’ and says it is sinful. But, the word should be rendered as strife.
Paul argued with the Hellenistic Jews (Acts 9:28-29).
Scripture tells us to let our speech be with grace (Col. 4:5-6), be patient when wronged, correcting those with gentleness (2 Tim. 2:24-25)
1↑ Arndt, William, Frederick W. Danker, Walter Bauer, and F. Wilbur Gingrich. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.
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