Romans 1:2 Prophets and the will to believe

Rom 1:2
2(Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,)

The gospel of God, which is what was promised  in verse 1, refers to more than the theological definition of the gospel that we use. There is no concise summary in the Old Testament like 1 Cor 15:1-8

1Cor 15:1-8
1Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;
2By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.
3For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
4And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:
5And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve:
6After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.
7After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles.
8And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.

The gospel in the Old Testament includes all that could be said about Jesus and His life and mission of salvation.

In verse 2, Paul identifies a great reason we can have confidence in the reality of God: the fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament. It rests upon the much maligned reason, “Because God said so in His Word.” This is condemned simplistically as circular reasoning:

How do you know there is a god?
The Bible says so.
How do you know the Bible is true?
Because God wrote the Bible.
How do you know that God exists?
Because the Bible says so.
How do you know the Bible is true…

Empiricists beg for evidence for the existence of God that they can scientifically verify. They want to be able to see, touch, measure, fold, spindle, mutilate — repeat. If empiricism was the only method of proof then virtually all of history would be “unprovable.” The argument that the Bible is true because God says so in the Bible becomes more complex instantly by introducing the testimony of the prophecies.

Another form of argument, the legal argument, is necessary when looking at history. The legal argument takes testimony into consideration. How reliable are the witnesses? The prophets of old came from different political, regional, social, and vocational backgrounds. They also came from different time periods. It was impossible for them to conspire together. The Bible is not just one book that testifies to itself using circular reasoning. It is a collection, a library, of books that contain the corroborating testimony of the prophets to the reality of God. The prophets knew that they were prophesying, as in the example of David concerning the crucifixion of Christ in Psalm 22:

Ps 22:29-31
29All they that be fat upon earth shall eat and worship: all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him: and none can keep alive his own soul.
30A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation.
31They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this.

But the fulfillment was something that remained a mystery to them:

1Pet 1:7-12
7That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:
8Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory:
9Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.
10Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you:
11Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.
12Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into.

Their disparate relationship makes them all the more persuasive as witnesses. Adding to the persuasion of their witness is the preservation of their testimony. God kept the Jews as so that there would be a written and verifiable record for us to examine:

Rom 3:1-2
1What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision?
2Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.

There is a legendary story concerning an agitated Frederick the Great who, in frustration, demanded from his cabinet that somebody provide him with proof of the existence of God. There was a momentary silence before one of his counselors spoke up: “Have you considered the Jew, your Majesty?” he asked.
Hal Lindsay

The likelihood of the survival and continuance of Israel with all of the persecution laid against it is too fantastic (statistically significant). This is especially significant when compared to how people groups, nations, and whole civilizations rise and fall and even become obliterated in recorded history. God’s superintending hand maintaining the Jews gives more weight to the importance of the prophecies.

The debate proceeds as a negative argument. If:

  • There are a limited number of possible solutions
  • One of the solutions must be true
  • All but one solution is proven false

Then the remaining solution is true — with or without other proof.

Regarding the accuracies of the prophecies of old: they are either accidentally true or given by intelligence. Such accuracy is not possible statistically, therefore they must be given by intelligence.

It is at this point that faith comes in. Faith does not have to be blind. At some point, evidence rises to a level where we are willing to accept it as sufficient. William James in The Will to Believe dealt with the epistemological lawfulness of willfully accepting something as true: the more consequential the decision the less evidence is needed.

Next, let us call the decision between two hypotheses an option. Options may be of several kinds. They may be 1, living or dead; 2, forced or avoidable; 3, momentous or trivial; and for our purposes we may call an option a genuine option when it is of the forced, living, and momentous kind…Our passional nature not only lawfully may, but must, decide an option between propositions, whenever it is a genuine option that cannot by its nature be decided on intellectual grounds; for to say, under such circumstances, “Do not decide, but leave the question open” is itself a passional decision, — just like deciding yes or no, — and is attended with the same risk of losing the truth.
The Will to Believe

Romans 1:2 refers to how the prophets prophetic statements regarding Christ and the gospel were God’s promises to us. They are the means by which we may have confidence in trusting the gospel. Our need is certainly momentous, forced, and living — we will all stand before God and be held accountable for our choices. If one were to wait for some absolute, incontrovertible, undeniable, presentation then they might never be satisfied. However, the fact that the prophecies cannot be accidental and must have been authored by a far greater being than us certainly does rise to more than the level of sufficiency to willingly believe.

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