Many atheists claim that Paul both declared he lied to advance the Gospel and maintained that the word of God should be supported, even if it is found to be false. For example, Paul concludes in Romans 3:4 that God must be true, even if all man are found to be liars. Is this just another way of saying: even if God lies we must consider his lie to be true? Must we contradict truth in order to support the word of God? Many claim that is exactly what Christians must believe, and if true, why should anyone believe us? Why should anyone even consider the logic I used to support God’s word in this series about God’s morality?
First of all, when considering the meaning of an excerpt from any literary work, one must read it in the context from which it was taken. Otherwise, we could place most any meaning we desire upon the words chosen. In the Scripture above (Romans 3:4), we need to consider its claim alongside Paul’s remark that it was of great value to be born a Jew. Namely, God spoke with Jews, and they were chosen to hand down the oracles of God to the world (Romans 3:2). Nevertheless, since some Jews didn’t believe God’s word or the word of the leaders and prophets he sent to them, does this mean that God cannot be trusted (Romans 3:3)? In other words, if the people of God showed they cannot be trusted, does it naturally follow that God cannot be trusted (Romans 3:3)? Paul then answers his own question.
Romans 3:4a CEV No, indeed! God tells the truth, even if everyone else (viz. the Jews who heard God’s word) is a liar (i.e. refused to believe God and acted dishonestly towards others). – [parenthesis mine]
Paul was contrasting a hypothetical circumstance with what actually occurred. In reality some Jews were not faithful, or behaved dishonestly. Does this mean that God, who was faithful to his people, was dishonest by association? No, and Paul made the hypothetical even more damning: even if no one acted honestly, still God is trustworthy. In fact, God’s integrity was never more bright or clear than when Jesus hung on the cross. He was faithful to us even when we behaved so ugly towards him.
Nevertheless, Paul asks: if our ugliness (our evil) causes the glorious integrity of God to shine so brightly, would it be wrong for God to judge us? After all, doesn’t our evil behavior make God’s righteousness look so much more inviting (Romans 3:5)? At this point Paul admits that this is a foolish argument or at least an argument from a humanists worldview. The point is: if this was good logic, how could God judge the world with any integrity (Romans 3:5-6)? Continuing in what he calls a foolish argument or a humanist’s worldview, Paul puts forth an argument: “If through my lie the truth of God abounded to his glory, why am I also still being judged a sinner” (Romans 3:7). Why not, rather: “Let us do evil that good may come!” (Romans 3:8)?
In other words, God is righteous and the Judge of the world (Romans 3:5), and he has labeled all of us sinners (Roman 3:10). However, why does he judge me a sinner if my lies (my dishonesty toward my fellow man) have made the truth of God more conspicuously clear and worthy to be embraced by all (Romans 3:7)? If that is true, a better argument would be: “Let’s do evil that goodness my become more clear and worthy to be embraced!”
Paul is not speaking, as some claim, that he preached lies to advance the Gospel. Rather he is speaking as a Jew, some of whom had rejected the word of God and behaved dishonestly (unrighteously) in the world. He is showing in Romans 3 that God has a right to judge their sins. The faithlessness of some Jews has neither rendered God unrighteous by association (Romans 3:3), nor has God been rendered impotent as our Judge, simply because their sinfulness has made God’s righteousness (Christ crucified, cf. Romans 3:22) appear even more glorious to the world. That Paul is speaking in Romans 3:7 about the behavior of the Jews who were unfaithful (including Paul’s behavior before he submitted to Christ), is evident in his summation in Romans 3:9. That is, **we** are not better than **they** — we have already shown that both Jews and gentiles are under sin. We are still judged sinners, even though our sins (lies) cause God’s righteousness (truth) to appear glorious (cf. Romans 3:7).