Question: What are the best scriptures to witness to an atheist friend?
Answer: That is a difficult question, and here’s why. Since an atheist is a person who has dismissed the person of God, why would he care about the writings of God—a being whom he believes does not exist? To him, the Bible would be, at minimum, inconsequential, and at maximum, annoying. Therefore, from an atheists’ perspective, there can be no good, better or best scriptures, because scriptural quotations would have no logical bite. However, anyone—even the skeptic—may be bitten by God’s word at any moment. So, let us continue in faith.
There are, broadly speaking, two types of atheists. First, there are those who understand that atheism is a philosophical position, and they are prepared to support their views under the constraints of logical discussion. Second, there are nominal atheists. They take-on the name, but they have no idea about what being a congruent atheist actually entails. Primarily, these people do not want any person (and certainly no God) telling them what to do, and they loosely believe that calling themselves atheists will allow them the maximum in behavioral freedom…much of which we call sin. As you can see, atheists are just like Christians; some are knowledgeable and some are clueless. But for the purposes of this question, let us assume that your atheist is a nice person who is knowledgeable about his beliefs.
Even though atheists do not like the Bible, we can never abandon it as our source for truth. The Bible is replete with internal testimony as to its veracity and usefulness, and as believers, we enjoy it when the Bible talks about itself. But herein lays the Catch-22. We who understand the Bible don’t need it for salvation, whereas those who aren’t saved do need it…but they don’t get it…or they won’t get it. An honest skeptic is within his rights to reject what the Bible says about itself as using circular reasoning or being self-serving—I mean, how could he not? But skeptics get saved all the time. How does this happen?
“But Jesus looked at them and said, 'With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.'” (Matthew 19:26, ESV).
Who knows but that the Holy Spirit might find a crack in the armor of pride, and with his word, pierce the heart! But this is not a function of a particular passage, because no verse is better than any other verse. This is a function of prayer. So pray for this atheist, and get others to do so, too. He either listens to the Holy Spirit or he does not. That is not up to you.
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him…” (John 6:44, ESV)
Here are a few more problems about using verses that are applicable to an atheist. Not only does he feel that they are irrelevant to him, but they are insulting if applied.
“The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.' They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good.” (Psalm 14:1, ESV)
We know God’s word to be true, and we know that the above verse is exactly applicable to the atheist. But just because it is true, and just because it is applicable, does not mean you should use it. Any thinking man would understand that you just called him a fool—and witnessing is adversarial enough without smacking someone right out of the gate! (Please note, however, that if the Holy Spirit is telling you to do something…do that…no matter what I say.) In like manner, although we understand that knowing about and repenting of sin is a core (and perhaps necessarily the first) part of salvation, laying out Romans 3:23, albeit softened by the notion that we are all in the same boat, might have a similar effect.
“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23, ESV)
Am I saying, don’t go for the gold? No! Go for it! I’m just saying that you asked me about the best verses for an atheist and there are none. They are all the best…or they are none the best. God saves. We do not. That being said, I will list some verses that could be important for an atheist who might be holding back by only one or two objections.
We live in a world of non-truth—so much so that truth can be refreshing. Perhaps challenge him with the simple statement that God’s word is truth itself.
“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17, ESV)
Additionally, God’s word is different from anything else. It is uniquely inspired, that is breathed out by God, and given a chance, it will change your life.
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” (2 Timothy 3:16, ESV)
God’s word is not just ideas. It is a spiritual gymnasium, full of every imaginable piece of equipment. It is a place to work out.
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
(Hebrews 4:12, ESV)
“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.” (Psalm 19:7–9, ESV)
Perhaps a wrong picture of God has soured your atheist friend. It is good to know that he who authored God’s word is one who cannot lie.
“Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began” (Titus 1:1–2, ESV)
Here’s another thought. An atheist might respond to the person of Jesus Christ. You see, Jesus is not an idea. He is person—the most written about person of all time—and that is the witness from culture, not only from the Bible.
“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” (2 Peter 1:16, ESV)
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17–20, ESV)
Finally, God’s word is interactive. We who are born-again enjoy the indwelling Holy Spirit. He interacts with us and the written page—but one must step inside the family to experience this fully.
“When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:13–14, ESV)
Although this is the end of my answer to your question, you shall find below a link to some extra-biblical arguments for the existence of God. Since these do not require the Bible, there are no Catch-22’s for the atheist. No, they are not God’s word, but they might begin a dialogue. Enjoy. Thank you for your question.