The term sola scriptura is one of the five “solas” referenced in the Protestant Reformation. “Sola” is a Latin term that means “alone” so the movement was focusing on five things that alone stand for Christian doctrine.
Martin Luther emphasized this idea of Scripture alone being our authority when he led the Reformation. Standing firm on that principle he said, “Unless therefore I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture, or by the clearest reasoning, —my conscience is and will remain bound by the Word of God, I cannot and I will not retract.” His intent was to remove extra-Biblical and un-Biblical ideas of man from the doctrine of Christianity which is exactly what God called him, and calls us, to do. We are not to add to scripture or the Christian doctrine any ideas from man. However, some people have now taken this concept one step further and stretched it out of bounds from what it really means. They use it to say that nothing aside from Scripture should be used in our faith. Or rather, that the Bible stands alone and needs no proof or external validation. It is erroneously used to say that providing a defense of the Bible is unnecessary because Scripture stands alone. However, even Martin Luther included the “clearest reasoning” in his defense of sola scriptura.
While I agree that man’s ideas should not be added to the Scripture, I don’t think it means that God’s ideas shouldn’t be added to Scripture. Sola scriptura is to remove man-made tradition and ideals from the Christian doctrine and faith, but it doesn’t mean to forego everything that is outside of Scripture. As I heard a wise man once say, “Everything in the Bible is true, but not everything that is true is in the Bible.” Yes, the Bible is complete and true but God’s truth permeates even outside of the Scriptures. God’s truth is revealed in the world around us, through nature, which is the whole point Paul makes in Romans 1:20: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.” God’s truth is so evident in the world that we are without excuse for not knowing Him. Therefore, there are truths about God that exist outside of Scripture. For example, the DNA double-stranded helix is a truth in the world that shows the amazing mind, intelligence, and design of our Creator, yet it is not specifically detailed in the Bible. God’s attribute of being our Designer can be found in studying DNA, a truth of God outside of Scripture.
Therefore, many people who cannot start with the foundation of the scripture as truth need to start with the foundation of the truth of God as evidenced in the world around us. That is where the revelation of God begins for many. Many former atheists only began to consider looking at scripture because they found the evidence of God’s existence so compelling in the physical world around them. This is why it is so important to be able to show God in all things – because He is present in all aspects of this world. After all, He is the one who made it. So God will be evident in chemistry, biology, geology, and cosmology. We should be willing to look for Him and His glorious majesty in those places too. I mean we even have a book in the Bible dedicated to the praise of God based on the glories of Himself revealed in the Heavens and on the earth. We see it in verses like Psalm 19:1 “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.”
God also granted us the ability to reason, as Martin Luther mentioned in his quote. God imparts in us the ability to understand His word and His truth. We cannot neglect that aspect to our understanding of the Scripture in the first place. When we read Scripture, it is the logic that God gives to us that enables us to understand it. In fact, Scripture tells us that apart from God we can’t understand the things of the Spirit and the things of His Word.
We also need an understanding of how the world works in order to understand the Scripture. It is that knowledge that tells us when miracles have occurred. It’s because we know dead people do not walk out of tombs, water cannot chemically morph into wine, and lame people do not get up and leap around that tells us that God was at work. And because we understand how mathematics works, we know five loaves and two fish do not feed thousands of people. It is that knowledge of reality around us that confirms those things were from God.
It is also how we can understand many of the parables of Jesus. For His parable about the soils, we must understand something about how seeds respond to different soil conditions for it to make sense. Likewise, we must know what new wine does to old wineskins, how fig trees grow, and how leaven works. And He brings out the working knowledge of certain professions, like farming, winedressing, sewing, fishing, business, lending, and shepherding. He makes analogies to those professions so that the truths within them will speak to the hearts of those who do those things. Because they understand how those professions work in the world, they can understand what Jesus is revealing to them about the heart of man. He spoke into the common understanding of things so that people could understand spiritual truths.
He not only relates stories about their professions but about their relationships. Jesus taps into our own basic understanding of how people operate so that He can bring into the light those things we like to hide in the dark. He shows us our pride, our bitterness, our unforgiving spirit, by relating stories that are familiar to us because we see ourselves in them. We know how we relate to others so we can identify with a particular character from the parable of the Good Samaritan. We can see ourselves somewhere in the story about the Prodigal Son. He calls to our attention where our priorities are in the account of the wise and foolish virgins and whether we are faithfully working for God in the parable of the talents. Jesus describes the human heart in ways that no psychology textbook even comes close.
But even further, the real irony in the misconception that we don’t have to defend or prove the Bible is that the early church founders found it necessary to defend the Bible. So why do we think we don’t have to? Think about the time when the New Testament was written. All of the New Testament gospel accounts were written between AD 50 and 75, some even say as early as AD 40. However Peter preached his first sermon at Pentecost only 50 days after Jesus had resurrected – that would be AD 33 at the latest. There were no Gospel accounts or Pauline epistles to reference. So what did Peter use? Evidence. He called to their mind the evidence of the things they had witnessed. Those people standing in the portico of the temple had not only witnessed those events but had participated in them. He says, “Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know.” So first Peter points out that it was the works done by God through Jesus that they saw firsthand that confirmed Jesus as the Son of God. Because they knew those were not natural things, they could believe they were from God. He didn’t point them to a verse out of the book of Ephesians, he pointed them to their own knowledge of how the world works and contrasted that with the works that Jesus performed.
And Peter continues, “Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it…This Jesus God has raised up, of which we are all witnesses.” Again, Peter is appealing to the evidence of the things they have done and witnessed. He appeals to their actions, their memories, their deeds. He is using the evidence of the things that have happened to prove the fulfillment of the Old Testament scriptures.
Look at other references like this throughout the New Testament. Peter says in 2 Peter 1:16 “For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” Peter is giving the solid evidence for what he’s saying as an eyewitness. John says in his epistle 1 John 1:3 “That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” He is appealing to the senses with which he experienced Jesus – by sight, sound, and touch, physical evidence of the life of God lived here on earth. He says the same in his gospel in John 19:35 “And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe.” He is giving his testimony as the evidence to confirm for others that this is true. He is defending his words, what would become known as Scripture, as truth because he was an eyewitness. Luke does the same when he penned his gospel by telling us in Luke 1:1–3 “With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus.” He wanted to find the evidence of the accounts of Jesus and use those evidences to form his gospel account. These things were written AS the early church was being formed. The early church did not form BECAUSE of the New Testament. The early church was formed because of the proof of what was documented in the New Testament. So the foundation of Christianity is not the collection of writings that make up the Bible. The foundation of Christianity is the existence of God found in the world all around us and the historical event of Him coming down to live as man in Jesus Christ and the death and resurrection of Him. It is the validity of the historical events and reality of the life of Jesus that give Christianity its firm foundation. If you were to take all of the Scriptures away, you would not lose Christianity because it is not on that where we have our faith. It is on the existence of God and the reality of what He did for us.
Therefore, for us far removed in time and space from these accounts, there is nothing wrong with wanting to understand the validity of those accounts. It is especially critical that we do as a way to impart that important evidence on to those who do not believe the scriptures are inspired by God. Yes, there comes a point where as a believer we can trust the Scriptures alone because they were given by God. But many people don’t have that as their starting point. But if we show them the validity of the Scriptures and that it documents the evidence of the historical life, death, and resurrection of Christ, then maybe they’ll be willing to actually read it.
So we don’t bring man’s ideas, man’s values, or man’s tradition to Scripture (sola scriptura) but we do bring the truth of God’s world to the truth of God’s Word to understand the truth of man’s heart.
While at the Southern Authors Expo event a few weekends ago in Huntsville, I met some pretty amazing people. One gentleman, Robert, had already read my book and was such an encouragement to me and my ministry. We began talking about the role of apologetics in witnessing and evangelism, and I wanted to take a moment to share his story. He was kind enough to write this up for me and was willing to let me post it here. I hope that you find some encouragement from this too!
Evidential apologetics brought me closer to conversion from my atheism. Leibniz’s Contingency argument (God is the best explanation for why there is something rather than nothing), the Moral Argument (God is the best explanation for the existence of objective moral values and duties), The Argument from Suffering and Evil (Christianity is the best explanation for why evil and suffering exist), the objective meaningless and purposelessness of life without God, and the fact that Someone had given me a life that has been truly amazing – that I had received blessings beyond Midas – were all evidential arguments or considerations in favor of God that I found compelling, even just in the intuitive sense.
When my wife and I began homeschooling our children, I found myself surrounded by a different type of Christian than I thought existed: ones who stepped out in faith, made tremendous sacrifices for their children’s education, and took on the culture, which was highly resistant to homeschooling at that time. (Though not as much so as when it was illegal to homeschool in the US.) I remember exactly where I was when I practically shouted “I never knew such people existed – it’s like the Underground!” I am convinced that God used the obedient joy of homeschoolers, in a major way, to bring me to my point of conversion.
Because of the role of evidential apologetics in my conversion and in just being open to the Bible, I believe that the Defend the Faith Ministry of Cathryn Buse is absolutely critical to our churches. We have so many children raised in the Church who are leaving the reasonable faith of Christianity for a mindless, absurdist, blind faith atheism that it is essential to have these kinds of proofs taught in our churches. Everything in the Bible is true, but not everything that is true is in the Bible. All truth is God’s Truth.
In Robert's story it's great to see the love of Christ shown through believers and the intellectual evidence for God's existence both work to bring Robert to his own relationship with Jesus. It is the perfect example of the truth and love that should come forth from Christians. We show Christ's love but we also tell the truth about who He is and what He's done for us. That love is what opened Robert's heart to Christianity but it was the apologetics that opened his mind to believe. Robert is now heavily involved in the pro-life ministry in Huntsville. He has made an impact on many people - including the life of a beautiful little 3-month old baby girl. Robert put his faith in action by witnessing to that baby girl's mother and counseling her to not have an abortion. It's truly amazing to see God's work through changed lives.
I recently came across some fascinating quotes from the two most well-known philosophers, Plato and Aristotle. What I found so interesting about them is that modern philosophers claim they don’t need god. But the two most influential philsophers would beg to defer. While I don’t know for sure if they were Christians or not, they certainly were not atheists and concluded quite solidly that a god does exist.
Plato reasoned that there were two things that “lead men to believe in the gods”: the argument based on the soul and the argument from “the order of the motion of the stars, and of all things under the dominion of the mind which ordered the universe.” Plato used both of those arguments to refute the notion of atheism and concluded that there must be a “best soul” who is the “maker and father of all…who ordered the primordial chaos into the rational cosmos we observe today.” Plato established two of the most commonly used arguments for the existence of God – that man has a soul and the universe has design. It was obvious to him that in light of those two things a god must exist.1
Aristotle reached a similar conclusion. Look at his thoughts on the subject:
“When thus they would suddenly gain sight of the earth, seas, and the sky; when they should come to know the grandeur of the clouds and the might of the winds; when they should behold the sun and should learn its grandeur and beauty as well as its power to cause the day by shedding light over the sky; and again, when the night had darkened the lands and they should behold the whole of the sky spangled and adorned with stars; and when they should see the changing lights of the moon as it waxes and wanes, and the risings and settings of all the celestial bodies, their courses fixed and changeless throughout all eternity-when they should behold all these things, most certainly they would have judged both that there exist gods and that all these marvelous works are the handiwork of the gods.”2
The grandeur of the heavens and the movements of the celestial bodies led Aristotle to conclude there must be a First Unmoved Mover, which is God; a living, intelligent, eternal, and most good being, who is the source of order in the cosmos. From the earliest of times even men who are without a Biblical revelation, have concluded on the basis of the universe alone that a Divine Being must exist. If that sounds familiar to you, let’s revisit the words from Paul in Romans 1:18-20.
“For God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth, since what can be known about God is evident among them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse.”
Some may say that so little was known about science at the time of Paul, Plato, and Aristotle so those men just did not know any better. They didn’t have a scientific explanation for most things so they just relied on God to explain it. We know so much more now about how the world works, and we have a scientific explanation for nearly everything. Surely this information age has shown that there doesn’t have to be a god, right? But in reality, that kind of statement is incredibly naïve about what science has actually revealed to us. And honestly, it’s highly ironic that the same people accusing Paul of not being scientifically informed will rely solely on a theory proposed during the Civil War era to explain all of life’s origins. Darwin’s theory of evolution was first published in 1859, around the same time that patients were having amputations without anesthesia, people were dying from gangrene, and bloodletting was still the recommended cure for illnesses.
With all the knowledge we’ve gained in science since then, particularly in biology, we should stop and see what it reveals. The double-stranded helix of DNA was first discovered in 1953. Since then we know that in a simplified explanation of DNA replication there are at least five components (helicase, single stranded binding proteins, DNA polymerase, primase, and ligase) necessary in order to replicate the first piece of DNA. Without any one of those, DNA replication could not take place. Yet DNA replication is the most essential mechanism to the existence of life. If DNA could not replicate, cells could not replicate, and no further organisms could be created. But it is an amazingly complex mechanism that must run with absolute precision. In fact, it is considered to be irreducibly complex. You cannot remove one of its components and have it still function in its intended fashion.3
We find the same thing with protein synthesis. The formation of proteins in the cell requires the integrated activities of nearly 100 different proteins, all carrying out different, very specific steps in the assembly of a new protein molecule. If any one of these did not exist, proteins could not be generated and therefore life could not be sustained. In other words, you have to have proteins in order to make proteins. We often jokingly ask, “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” but it would be better to ask, “Which came first, the protein or the protein?” Where did we get the first protein?4
So how could anything have ever reproduced, “evolved” even, without all of those enzymes and proteins already present for DNA replication? How could the “first cell” have ever survived without there already being hundreds of proteins to create other proteins? The answer is it could not have. Those mechanisms had to be in existence since the very beginning in order to sustain any life at all. There are thousands of other examples in biology of a level of complexity that Paul, Plato, Aristotle, and even Darwin could not have imagined. It is a level of complexity that only further proves that something intelligent beyond our wildest imaginations designed it that way and created it for us. The philosophers of old with minimal scientific knowledge could see the vast expanse of this universe and the amazing creation on this earth and knew they were “without excuse.” And now we have such a wealth of knowledge about the cosmos, the cell, and subatomic particles which all declare the wonders of this same God. The evidence all around us is so compelling for God’s existence that we, even more so than our predecessors, stand without excuse for rejecting that a God exists. What it tells us is that no one fails to become a Christian because of lack of arguments; people fail to become a Christian because they love darkness rather than light.
1 Plato, The Laws Book XII
2 Aristotle, On Philosophy
3 Cathryn Buse, Teaching Others to Defend Christianity, (Denver, CO: Cross Link Publishing, 2016), 41-44.
4 Cathryn Buse, Teaching Others to Defend Christianity, (Denver, CO: Cross Link Publishing, 2016), 32.