3 For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?
4 God forbid: yea, let God be true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy sayings, and mightest overcome when thou art judged.
1901 ASV Translation:
3 For what if some were without faith? shall their want of faith make of none effect the faithfulness of God?
4 God forbid: yea, let God be found true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy words, And mightest prevail when thou comest into judgment.
There is one variation in the texts of the Textus Receptus and Nestle/Aland 26 regarding the word translated "overcome" or "prevail". The Textus Receptus has the Aorist Subjunctive form of the word "overcome" and the Nestle/Aland 26 has the Future Indicative of the same verb. The two forms sound alike, but the spelling is slightly different. Since the text is a quote from Psalm 51:4, we can tell that the Nestle/Aland 26 text is technically more accurate since the word in Hebrew is in the Future tense so that, if Paul was actually 'translating' into Greek, he would have chosen the Greek Future Indicative to reflect the Hebrew Future.
I. Paul is Addressing the Issue of Whether There Actually Was a Divinely Intended "Good" Built into National Israel's practice of Circumcision.
A. He claimed in 3:1-2 that there were both "abundant advantages" and "personal gain" issues in being a member of national Israel no matter how one looked at it.
B. But, then, he focused in on the Primary "advantage/gain" issue: the resident presence of the utterances of Yahweh. Clearly he believed that to live within the community that had truth in its midst was of significantly greater advantage/gain than to live in those communities of the world that had no words of Yahweh within them.
II. But, There is a Huge Problem With 'The Presence of Yahweh's Utterances' Within the Community of Apostasy.
A. How much of an "advantage/gain" is having the words of Yahweh present when the theological and cultural milieu is apostate?
1. Did not Paul just spend all of 2:17-29 establishing the case for Israel as an apostate nation? Did not the crucifixion of Israel's "God manifest in the flesh" by that nation automatically establish its theological apostasy and cultural depravity? Did not the gross corruption of the words of God by the "nation" that resulted in the blasphemy of Yahweh by the nations demonstrate this fact?
2. So, what's the "advantage" of having the words of Yahweh in one's midst if the fact is apostasy and depraved rebellion?
B. This "problem" is anticipated by the apostle in 3:3-4.
III. Does Man's Rejection of "Faith in the Words" Make the Advantage/Gain of No Import?
A. The nature of the question.
1. It is admittedly "understated" by the apostle.
a. He raises the "problem" of the "unbelief of some" when the fact is that "most" did not believe.
1) What we as believers consider a huge response from the preaching of the Gospel in the early chapters of Acts (rapid growth to mega-church size in a matter of a few short years) is actually a huge disappointment when one considers that the nation consisted of millions of souls who had had the word of God in their midst for the length of their history and "only" a few thousands of those millions "believed".
2) Paul had an entrenched theology of a "remnant" in place that discounts the issue of "numbers" almost altogether.
b. Understated, or not, the issue is not how many "believed" as opposed to how many "disbelieved": the issue is the question of the "advantage of the Presence" in the face of "unbelief" by any.
1) What is the advantage of the words of Yahweh to an unbeliever?
2) There is none.
2. It is "all about" the "advantage" of having access to Truth in light of the response of "disbelief".
a. Paul asks whether "unbelief" nullifies the faithfulness of God.
1) What he is asking is whether God's promises fall to the ground just because people do not "believe" them.
2) The question arises because all men know that "promises" are only good to those to whom they have been given and in order for "those" to benefit, they must believe them. Disbelieved promises bring no "advantage"; indeed, they create a huge liability in the Day of Wrath.
3) Does this nullify the impact of "promise"?
b. Paul asks whether the unbelief of "some" (or even "most") can stifle the impact of promise.
B. The Answer.
1. Technically, the promises of Yahweh require "faith" to be effectual.
2. Thus, if noone believed, those promises would fail.
a. But Paul does not address that which has never been the case in all of human history. There have always been "some" believers.
1) Interestingly, he does not say, "If every man proves to be unbelieving...".
2) Instead, he addresses the "problem" of the difference between man's commitment to speaking Truth and God's commitment to the oracular establishment of Truth. Men are notorious for twisting data to suit their own agendas. This does not mean God is like that.
3) What is the "path" of his thought? How does he move from the "advantages" of possessing the oracles of God to man's lack of interest in being truthful?
a) First, he claims a great "gain" for those in national Israel because of the presence of the oracles of God.
b) Second, he raises the question of whether "unbelief" by "some" makes those "oracles" (identified as God's commitment to Truth) of no effect (i.e., of no "advantage/gain").
c) Third, with strong denial, he maintains his statement of "great gain" by reason of the Presence of Truth by oracle.
d) Fourth, he moves directly into the difference between man in his universal penchant for lying and God's truth-speaking that will be absolutely vindicated when all is said and done (He will be "justified" when the facts are all in as a "Truth-Speaker"). What is the connection between "unbelief" and man's penchant for lying? It seems to be this...
i. Paul has claimed that "Jewishness" has proven to be a huge failure...so great that the nations blaspheme the God of Israel because Israel's behavior is so hypocritical.
ii. But then he turns right around and says that this failure does not mean that Israel did not have a great advantage over all other nations because Israel possessed the oracles of the True God.
iii. This creates an apparent "contradiction": how can there be such a great advantage if the fact is that Israel is a huge failure?
iv. Paul's resolution to the "contradiction" is that, though every man proves to be a failure, God will ultimately prove to be a total success (every "oracle" will prove to be absolutely true). The reason? Because God's words will play out in history so that history and oracle are in absolute harmony. In other words, human failure does not signal divine failure. [Note: the quote of Psalm 51 puts this issue front and center because that Psalm is a manifest declaration of the "failure" of David as a truth-speaker. David, the man after God's heart, proved to be a cause of blasphemy by the observers of his "theology". But, Psalm 51 is an evidence of the "benefit" of the oracles of God because the psalm exists because of the beneficial impact of the oracle of Nathan to the sinful king.]
v. Thus, Paul's "thought-path" is that even though the "benefit" of having the oracles of God is temporarily "partial" (every man is a failure even if he has the words of God), the fact of the repentance-production by those oracles in the face of the universal failure of men means that the oracles are a great advantage. For Paul, David's example is the proof that though the oracles are sometimes denied by men they are not a waste of effort.
b. The promises of God are not dependent upon man: the whole point of promise is that the One making the promises is responsible for fulfilling them.
3. But, it is never the case that the promises do not include an effectual creation of faith in "some" (in Paul's theology, "the remnant").
4. Thus, the fact of faith in "some" means the promises stand.
C. The implications....
1. Even if every man proves to be a liar, there is still a huge advantage to having the words of God available: those words make redemption possible for liars.
2. Even if every man proves to be a liar, God will be shown to be faithful: this is an enormous encouragement to liars to repent. The advantage of having the Presence present is, therefore, huge: it makes redemption and, thus, the fulfillment of the promises both possible and actual.