In our world, skepticism abounds. Conspiracy theories flourish. Doubters disbelieve explanations they are told. Truth is questioned and lies are embraced. Things that are too far-fetched to be true are accepted as true. If it sounds “truthy” then it must be true. Truth is subjective rather than objective — “true for me” is more important than “true.”
How will one determine the truth? Or does anyone even want the truth anymore? If someone does want to know the truth, there are many ways to validate it:
- Is the explanation consistent with all the known facts? Do the facts cohere to the explanation?
- Is there correspondence between the statement and the reality (e.g., if the claim is that the Hood County Courthouse is in Granbury, TX, does that courthouse actually exist in Granbury, TX)?
- Is the statement intuitive — without being exhaustively examined, do the known facts seem to be right in relation to other realities such that it “feels right?”
- Does it pass the test of time — is it shown to be true over a long period of time in a variety of places and circumstances?
These and many other means are used to attempt to validate the truthfulness of a proposition (and some tests of truthfulness are obviously more valid than others).
But even more specifically than testing truth in general, how will one determine the truth about the gospel and God? How can one affirm and prove the truthfulness of statements related to God? Living in a “prove it to me” culture, how will we affirm that statements in Scripture are true?
Throughout Romans, Paul anticipates objections from those who might disagree with his theological assertions, particularly with his assertions about man’s sinfulness (Rom. 1:18–3:20) and God’s means of salvation (3:21–5:21). He not only expects that some will object to what he says, but he answers the expected protests.
For instance, in Romans 4:2 Paul makes a strong statement that Abraham, the father of the Jewish people, was not justified by works. This was contrary to much teaching about Abraham in Paul’s day. So how did Abraham validate his assertion? With a simple statement: “what does the Scripture say?” (4:3). When Paul wanted to prove to the objectors that his theology about the gospel was true, he appealed to one method of attestation: Scripture. His appeal and defense is Scripture and Scripture alone.
Notice the significance of what Paul says and infers by the simple question, “what does Scripture say?”
He is affirming the inspiration of Scripture. Notice that he appeals to “the Scripture.” That is, he is appealing to a unified body of work that is accepted as an inspired (“God-breathed,” not “inspirational”) collection. This isn’t just a set of books with a few randomly true ideas, but it is given through the revelation of God (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pt. 1:20-21) and is thus all true. And remember that the Scriptures that Paul had when he wrote this were the Old Testament Scriptures. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament are likewise inspired and given by God to man. He has spoken with equal accuracy and truthfulness in both.
He is affirming the voice of Scripture. When Paul asks what the Scripture says, he is supposing that what the Scripture says has authority to speak definitively on the given topic. Paul is not drawing a distinction between what God says and what the Scripture says as if verbal God-speech is more authoritative than written God-speech. There is equal authority between the terms “God speaks” and “Scripture speaks.”
He is affirming the current authority of Scripture. Paul says, “what does (present tense) the Scripture say?” not “what did (past tense) the Scripture say?” Though Moses wrote almost 1500 years prior to Paul, the apostle viewed his words as having present authority and significance. The words of God through Moses were not just true in the days of Moses, but they are true in every age and in every place. God’s Word can be presently heard even through words spoken multi-millennia ago.
He is affirming the authority of Scripture. When Paul asked his question in Romans 4:3 it is with the supposition that once Scripture has weighed in on the topic, that it definitively answers the question and all must submit to its authority. It is as compelling as a “final court of appeal.” There is no other authority higher than the authority of Scripture. When Scripture speaks, it compels the obedience of the hearer.
Our day is not so different than the days of Moses and Paul in that man has always rebelled against the authority of God and attempted to preempt God’s standards with his own. So Gene Veith wrote a decade ago, “People today want to feel moral. But they do not want objective, transcendent absolutes — such as the Ten Commandments — whose authority comes from God.”
But we do have an objective standard, which is a great comfort for the believer. And that standard is not hidden, but is divinely revealed. And it is revealed in God’s Word.
How will we prove the truthfulness or deceitfulness of a statement or belief? It’s quite simple, really. What does the Scripture say?