Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentRomans 1
Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God.
All letters and other written communications, in New Testament times, were written upon parchments and conveyed to their recipients in rolled-up form; and that ancient style of letter required, as a practical consideration, that the signature of the writer be at the beginning. Otherwise, it would have been necessary to unroll the entire scroll to find the name of the sender. Therefore, Paul followed the custom of the times in placing his name along with the salutation in the beginning of the epistle.
Up until the time of his conversion, Paul was known as Saul of Tarsus. SAUL, the first name under which this great man appears in the New Testament, means DEMANDED, and ranks among the great names in Jewish history, that being the name of their first king. PAUL, on the other hand, means LITTLE, and could have signified Paul's smallness of stature; however, the name is Gentile, being the name of the apostle's first distinguished convert, Sergius Paulus, proconsul of Cyprus, and Hodge suggested the possibility that the new Gentile name of the apostle derived from that conversion. F1
It was common among the Jews to mark some outstanding event in a person's life with a change of his name, as in the case of Abraham (Genesis 17:5), Jacob (Genesis 32:38), and Peter (John 1:42); and thus it appears that even in such a detail as this, Paul was "not a whit behind the chiefest apostles" (2 Corinthians 11:5). The first use of the name PAUL for this apostle is recorded in Acts 13:9 upon the occasion of the proconsul's conversion; but, significantly, it appears to be a name that was already his, and is mentioned before the conversion took place. Despite this, the dramatic switch from one name to another certainly took place on that occasion; and if, indeed, the name PAUL was adopted at that time out of regard to so distinguished a convert, this great apostle reminds one of Hercules, who, in the first great labor of strangling the Nemean lion, took the lion's skin and wore it ever afterwards, Paul forever afterwards wearing the name of the proconsul of Cyprus. Both names were appropriate for the great ambassador to the Gentiles, and it is altogether possible that his parents gave him both names, providentially, and that his great mission to the Gentiles naturally resulted in the shift of emphasis to his Gentile name.
Servant of Jesus Christ ...
The Greek word [doulos], from which the English translation "servant" is taken, actually means BONDSLAVE and is a very strong word indicating a number or very important things. It means that, as Christ's slave, Paul was entitled to hearing and obedience on the part of all people, it being an ancient axiom that the honor and dignity of the owner were inherent in his slave, mistreatment of the slave being legally construed as mistreatment of the owner. Thus at the very outset, Paul announced the premise upon which he was entitled to be heard even in Rome. The use of the term BONDSLAVE also means that in conscience, doctrine, and conduct, Paul's life was utterly in subjection to Christ. In the third place, due to the frequent use of this word in conjunction with APOSTLE, it implies an official capacity in the person so designated. Therefore, Paul was not claiming by use of this word, merely that he was living the Christian life, but that as a bondslave of Christ he had a message from God that all people are obligated to heed. That such was his intent derives from the fact that he immediately connected the office of a bondslave with that of an apostle.
Called to be an apostle ...
The words "to be" are usually printed in italics to show that they were not in the Greek and were merely supplied by the translators; and in this instance they would have been better left out. As Whiteside expressed it: "Paul was not telling what he was called to be, but what he was!" F2 Although the title of apostle has been somewhat loosely applied, the meaning is rather strict. As Hodge noted:
As a strict official designation, the
word "apostle" is confined to those
men selected and commissioned by
Christ himself to deliver in his name
the message of salvation. F3
In this context, it should be noted that Christ himself is the one who selected the apostles and conferred upon them that name. "And of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles" (Luke 6:13). It is precisely in that strictest meaning of the title that Paul's salutation and identification of himself as an apostle should be understood. He was a "called" apostle, not by men, but by Christ himself; and he invariably laid claim to the full authority of the office.
The apostles of Jesus Christ constituted the most interesting group of men ever to live upon earth. They were men of humble origin, men that the world would hesitate to call learned or wise when measured by ordinary standards, men who were never honored by any university with a degree, or elected to any learned society of intellectuals, men who never wrote any books, as the term is usually understood, who were never elected to any pubic office, who never became wealthy, and who, with the possible exception of Paul, would never have been remembered by posterity, had it not been for their association with Jesus Christ. Their relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ, however, projected them into the spotlight and focal center of all subsequent history. For nearly two thousand years already, children have learned with eagerness the names of the Twelve Apostles, and gray-headed men and women have gone down to the grave repeating the blessed words these men delivered to the human race. It must be conceded that the apostles of Christ have exerted and continue to exert a greater influence upon humanity than that which may be attributed to any other human source.
Who were permitted to serve as apostles? (1) Only those whom Jesus chose for this office were ever, in any real sense, apostles, this being a necessary deduction from Acts 1:24, "Thou, Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, show of these two the one whom thou hast chosen." In that remarkable event, the apostles themselves had been able to narrow the choice for Judas' successor to the two men alone who fulfilled the other qualifications for the apostleship; (2) having been companions of the Master from the time of John's baptism until Christ's ascension (Acts 1:22); and (3) having been witnesses of the resurrection of Christ, that is, having seen him alive after his death and burial (Acts 1:22). Paul's apostleship was different only in this, that he had not been a personal companion of Jesus during the Lord's ministry, as were the others; but, by special appearances to Paul, the Lord commissioned him as a true "witness" of the resurrection (Acts 26:16), that commission as an apostle being by Christ himself and not by men (Galatians 1:1).
What were their powers? They were infallible teachers of God's word, being inspired in the highest sense of that word, their infallibility being attested by the signs and miracles that accompanied their preaching (Mark 16:20). Peter raised the dead to life again (Acts 9:41); Paul suffered no hurt from the vicious bite of a deadly viper (Acts 28:5); and many other signs and miracles were wrought by them and all the apostles. They could convey the gift of the Holy Spirit, through the laying on of their hands; and one must agree with Charles Hodge that it was:
The power of working miracles in
confirmation of their mission ... (It
was) this power they could communicate
to others by the laying on of their
It was never claimed by any of the apostles that any perpetual office could thus be transferred; and the notion of any line of succession to such an office as the apostleship is illogical and opposed to the scriptures.
Who were their successors? Only one of the apostles ever had a successor, namely, Judas Iscariot, whose successor, Matthias, was chosen by the Lord to take the office from which Judas "by transgression, fell" (Acts 1:25; 1:25 ), the significance of this arising out of the circumstance that the death of two of the apostles is recorded in the New Testament, whereas only one of them required a successor, it being nowhere recorded that any successor was chosen for James (Acts 12:2). The difference in there having been chosen a successor for Judas, but none for James, may be explained only by the fact that the scriptures attribute the removal of Judas from his office to his transgression, and not to his death, which leads to the conclusion that death never removed, and indeed cannot remove, an apostle from his office. It is this tremendous truth that underlies the promise of Jesus to the Twelve that, "In the times of the regeneration when the Son of man shall sit on the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Matthew 19:28). This promise of the Master established the principle that death could not remove an apostle, nor interfere with the discharge of their apostolic duties, their reign being co-extensive with that of Christ himself. As to HOW the apostles are reigning today, it appears that their word, the inspired message which they delivered, and which is still preserved and binding upon the Christians of all ages, that their word is the means of. their continual authority, or reign, over the church. That the apostolic office was unique and limited, absolutely, to the Twelve plus Paul, is further corroborated by the apostle John's vision of the foundations of the Eternal City, upon which are inscribed "the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb" (Revelation 21:14), Therefore, how impossible it is to believe the claims of any so-called successors to apostolic dignity and authority of the Twelve, whether in this age or any other!
Separated unto the gospel of God ...
This reference to separation corresponds to the setting apart of the prophets of the Old Testament for their divine mission, as mentioned in Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:5), and strongly suggests the parity of honor and authority which the apostles of the New Testament enjoyed, along with the mighty prophets of the Old Testament. This oneness of dignity, embracing both prophets and apostles, was mentioned by Peter, thus: "Ye should remember the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and the commandment of the Lord and Saviour through your apostles" (2 Peter 3:2). There is, of course, a certain sense in which all Christians are separated, or sanctified; but far more is intended here. On Paul's part, there was a total, absolute, and unvarying dedication to the work of preaching Christ to all people.
Which he promised afore through his prophets in the holy Scriptures.
This verse seals the identity of the Christian religion with that divine institution set forth prophetically and typically in the Old Testament. The redemptive gospel Paul preached was the very same system proclaimed and partially unfolded in the Old Testament. The identity and character of the Messiah, the nature of his kingdom, and the ultimate replacement of the old covenant with a new (Jeremiah 31:31-35) - all of these things, and many others, are contained in the Old Testament. By so bold a claim, Paul at once established the principle that any believer of the Old Testament should likewise be a believer of the New Testament; for they surely answer, each to the other, as type and antitype, prophecy and fulfillment.
Through his prophets ...
Here is a distinction one meets constantly in the Bible, that the words therein contained are not the words of the prophets, but the word of God delivered "through his prophets" (as here), and "through the apostles" (2 Peter 3:2). (See Matthew 1:22; 2:5; 2:15; 2:17; 3:3; 4:14, and throughout the ). Paul's summary of the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:3,4) stresses this same point through the recurrence of the phrase, "according to the scriptures." Bruce's definition of the gospel is:
(It is) his joyful proclamation of the
victory and exaltation of his Son, and
the consequent amnesty and liberation
which we may enjoy through faith in
Concerning his Son, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh.
Having already announced the origin of the gospel in God himself (Romans 1:1), Paul immediately introduced God's Son as the central fact of the good news, the gospel having but one center and that in Christ, Christ alone is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, the embodiment of all Jewish hopes, the willing sacrifice, the sin-bearer, and the atonement. He, and he alone, is the architect of the crucifixion, the deliverer of God's redeeming word; indeed, he is that Word which was in the beginning with God, and which was God (John 1:1). Christ is the Hope of Israel, the Light of the Gentiles, the Lily of the Valley, the Bright and Morning Star, the Fairest of Ten Thousand, Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace!
Of the seed of David ...
The dual nature of Christ, both his divinity and humanity, are affirmed by Paul in this passage. As for the body that Jesus took when he decided to enter our earth life, it was descended through David, as attested by the genealogies of both Matthew and Luke, the very first verse of the New Testament hailing him as "the Son of David." However, it was only the humanity of Jesus that descended through David. In his totality, Christ descended from no man but was co-existent with the Father. Hebrews 2:14-16 plainly declares that Christ "take hold of" the seed of Abraham, thus affirming that he had an existence before assuming a human body.
Who was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead; even Jesus Christ our Lord.
This verse is the antithesis of the preceding verse, that dealing with the human nature of Christ, and this with his heavenly nature.
Declared to be the Son of God with power ...
The key words in this passage are "with power." It is not affirmed that Christ was declared the Son of God, merely, but that he was declared so with power. As Greathouse expressed it:
Paul does not say that Jesus was
appointed Son of God but that he was
appointed Son of God with power.
Nygren brings all these ideas into
focus: "To be sure, from the
beginning, he was the Son of God, but
in weakness and lowliness. The divine
glory which formerly was hidden was
manifest after the resurrection. From
that hour, he is the Son of God in a
new sense: he is the Son of God in
According to the spirit of holiness ...
By capitalizing "Spirit of holiness," the RSV identifies the Spirit mentioned here as the Holy Spirit; and, although Paul nowhere else uses this designation of the Holy Spirit, there seems to be no good reason for denying that he did so here. Certainly, it was by the power of the Holy Spirit that the gospel was proclaimed, including the good news of the resurrection, which is an essential part of it.
By the resurrection from the dead ...
should be translated "by the resurrection of the dead," the change to "from" having been made by the translators for the purpose of giving a more accurate presentation of what they considered to be the meaning, most of them thinking that the resurrection of Christ was referred to; but the alternative translation in the English Revised Version (1885) margin is undoubtedly correct. This difficult passage was translated "after the resurrection from the dead" by Luther, Erasmus, and others. F7 Barrett translates it "after his resurrection from the dead." F8 Greathouse, however, protested such translations, writing:
Literally the phrase means
"resurrection of those who are dead."
Paul says actually that Christ was
designated the Son of God with power
"by a resurrection of dead ones."
Nygren understands Paul to mean:
"Through Christ the resurrection age
has burst upon us." F9
Whosoever believes that Christ is the Son of God has passed from death unto life (John 5:24), and thus the expression "resurrection of the dead" is the reference to the power of the gospel to awaken into new life them that were formerly dead in trespasses and sins. Thin does not exclude the resurrection of Christ, but goes beyond it to make the world-shaking power of the gospel to be included also as part of the declarative power demonstrating and advertising Christ as Son of God with power.
Any further pursuit of the meaning of this difficult phrase would only multiply supporting reasons for various positions of scholars; and we shall, accordingly, construe the place as ambiguous, perhaps designed that way by the Holy Spirit, and content ourselves with a few certainties: (1) Christ was Son of God long before his resurrection, and was so confessed by the apostles. (2) Any declaration of Christ, and appointment of him to be the Son of God with power, by means of any such thing as the resurrection, would of necessity apply to some more powerful phase of his Sonship, rather than marking the absolute initiation of it. (3) The resurrection here mentioned, whatever was intended, is indeed one of the centers of the Christian faith. The resurrection of Christ, particularly, is the cornerstone and foundation of the Christian religion. It is the resurrection of Christ that gives credibility to the Gospels, explains the virgin birth, thrills the heart with the conviction that Jesus Christ is indeed God come in the flesh; and, without the hope of the resurrection, Paul himself declared that, "We are of all men most pitiable" (1 Corinthians 15:19). With the sure and certain hope of the resurrection, as set forth in the New Testament, the Christian is endowed with sufficient strength to meet all of life's challenges. It is surely true, as Paul said in another place, that "Christ brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (2 Timothy 1:10).
Even Jesus Christ our Lord ...
There can be no doubt that Paul accepted Christ as far more than a mere human being. This salutation, had there been nothing else, would make that certain. Paul presents himself as the bondslave of Jesus Christ in the very first line of the epistle, and it is impossible to think of Paul's subjection to any person of mere mortal dignity. Here, Jesus Christ is adored as Lord.
Through whom we received grace and apostleship, unto obedience of faith among all the nations, for his name's sake.
The use of "we" may be viewed either as the editorial plural applied to Paul, or as an inclusion with himself of all the other apostles, all of them having been shareholders in the apostolic commission and beneficiaries of the grace of God.
Obedience of faith ...
This is the first mention of faith in the Roman letter, and its being mentioned along with obedience is extremely significant. Paul was about to write the most important document on the subject of faith that the world would ever have, in which, of necessity, there would be written some of those things which even an apostle would consider "hard to be understood" (2 Peter 3:16); therefore, it was a matter of gracious discernment upon his part that, in the very beginning of the letter, he made it clear that, throughout Romans, "faith" should be read "obedient faith." Evidence is totally lacking that Paul ever considered "faith only" as efficacious in the procurement of salvation; because, as noted here, the apostolic commission was designed to produce the obedience of faith, and not merely faith alone. These same words, conjoined by apostolic authority, stand at the beginning of Romans and at the end, where they are mentioned in the final doxology (Romans 16:26), thus forming the archway through which one enters the portal and by which one departs this magnificent cathedral of sacred literature.
Among all the nations ...
anticipates what Paul was about to say of the forthcoming visit to Rome; because, much as he personally wished to visit there, a much higher priority belonged to his heavenly commission to "all the nations," which, to be sure, included Rome also; but the gospel was already known there. For such reasons as these, therefore, he had refrained from gratifying his personal desire to visit the great capital until it could be fitted into the larger strategy of preaching the gospel wherever it had not previously been proclaimed. The word "nations" here means "Gentiles," and it is so translated by Locke and many others. "For his name's sake" applies to the entire apostolic commission, with special emphasis upon the purpose of it, namely, to glorify and honor the Lord Jesus Christ. This is evident from the literal meaning of the phrase, which, according to Barrett, is "on behalf of his name." F10
Among whom are ye also, called to be Jesus Christ's.
A glimpse of what seems to have been in Paul's mind when he wrote that line may be seen in Sanday's paraphrase, as follows:
Among these Gentile churches to which
I am especially commissioned, you
Romans too are called to the same
obedience of faith, and therefore I
have the more right to address
The "called" are not merely those who hear the gracious gospel invitation, but are a company made up of the ones who obey. In a certain sense, all are called, in the sense that the gospel is for all mankind; and yet, in the Pauline usage of the word, it is applied to those who have responded to the great invitation. Such a word as "called" emphasizes the divine initiative in redemption.
To all that are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
All that be in Rome ...
need not be restricted in meaning. As Macknight wrote:
This epistle being written to persuade
the unbelieving Jews and Gentiles to
embrace the gospel, as exhibiting the
only effectual method of salvation, it
was fitly addressed to the whole
inhabitants of Rome, to the heathens
as well as to the Jews and
Beloved of God ...
here has that great New Testament word for "love," [Greek: agape]. A supreme consciousness of such great love underlies every word of this great epistle; and, again and again, some reference to it surfaces in the main body of the letter. God's great love for man is the reason for the Cross itself, where Christ died for all, "while we were yet sinners" (Romans 5:8) and even "when we were enemies" (Romans 5:10). So great love is shed abroad in the hearts of Christians by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5), and nothing in the whole universe can ever separate Christians from God's great love (Romans 8:35-39). As Greathouse put it, "When Paul addresses the Christians as `God's beloved,' he uses the word in its deepest and most inclusive sense." F13
Called to be saints ...
Here we have the same gratuitous insertion of "to be" which was noted in verse 1; and, again, the meaning is more evident without the insertion. It is the invariable New Testament teaching that Christians are not merely called to be saints, but they are so. They are called "saints," "holy," and "holy ones." But, of course, the word "saint" has been so abused by the historical church as to have almost totally lost its true meaning. The restriction of the term as a title for dead Christians who have been canonized is a contradiction of the New Testament meaning of the word; but the perverted meaning is so widely received that one is tempted to agree with Lard who wrote that "The word `saint' should be wholly dropped from the sacred page. It is too vague and too much abused to be tolerated longer." F14
Another word with reference to "saints" is in order. There is no apostolic assertion of moral perfection in the apostolic application of the term to the Christians in Rome. They were thus designated out of respect to the ideals they had accepted and were striving to attain, rather than from any certainty that those sacred ideals had actually been achieved. Yet they were very properly addressed as "holy," because that was a means of inspiring them to greater purity and of keeping them in constant remembrance of their sacred duties as Christians. This divine acceptance of the Christian for what he is trying to become, rather than merely for what he is, appears as a dispensation of God's grace, and is frequently emphasized in Paul's letters. For example, it would be hard to imagine a church with more imperfections and outright sins than the church in Corinth; yet, even of them, Paul wrote, "I thank my God always concerning you"! (1 Corinthians 1:4). Moreover, they too, just like the Romans, were "called saints"! (1 Cor. 2).
Grace to you and peace ...
Scholars have noted that Paul's greeting combines the usual Greek salutation with the customary Hebrew greeting, thus forming a more noble greeting with the highest Christian implications, and yet retaining the best features of both the old ones. The usual Greek salutation, according to Greathouse, was [thairein] (greeting). He wrote thus:
Paul uses a similar word [Greek: charis] (grace), which means the free,
undeserved favor of God, and adds
[Greek: eirene] (peace), the inner
sense of serenity and well-being men
enjoy through God's grace. Since
"peace" ([Hebrew: shalom]) was the
common Jewish salutation. Paul's
"Grace ... and peace," the salutation
of all his letters, combines the Greek
and Hebrew forms of greeting. F15
This verse ends the longest salutation in the Pauline writings. The salutation proper, without the embellishing clauses, reads: "Paul, to all that are in Rome: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." The remainder of these first seven verses is actually a series of statements concerning: (1) himself; (2) the gospel; (3) God's Son; (4) his apostolic commission; and (5) the Christian community in Rome. These five precisely logical clusters of statements touch upon many of the profoundest themes in Christianity. Attention is here directed to the technical, ingenious manner in which Paul arranged these five groups of statements, which is proof of the forethought that went into their composition.
I. Of himself
A. That he is a bondslave of Christ
B. A called apostle
C. Separated unto the gospel of God
II. Concerning the gospel (mentioned in "C" above)
A. It originated with God
B. Was foretold by Old Testament prophecy
C. And concerns the Son of God
III. Regarding the Son of God (mentioned in "C" above)
A. He descended from David according to the flesh
B. Proclaimed Son of God with power
C. Through the resurrection of the dead
IV. Paul's relationship to the risen Lord (mentioned in "C" above)
A. Received grace and apostleship from Christ
B. Commissioned by Christ to preach obedience of
faith to all nations
C. Such evangelism to be for Christ's name's sake
V. Concerning the church in Rome (just such a congregation
as could have been expected from the activity
mentioned in "C" above)
A. They are beloved of God
B. Called saints
C. They are the recipients of Paul's "grace and peace"
That this remarkable paragraph is capable of being so analyzed and outlined is an amazing proof of the planning and thought which preceded its production.
First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is proclaimed throughout the whole world.
First, I thank my God ...
There is no use to look for "second" and "third" in this epistle for no such outline ever entered Paul's mind. His "first" in this place simply means, "The first thing I want to say is ..." "Thanks to God" is always a good first, no matter what is intended; and, besides, Paul usually began his letters to the churches with thanksgiving to God upon their behalf. In this case, his thanksgiving was no doubt amplified and intensified by the circumstances of the Roman community of believers being so favorably located in the very heart of the great Roman capital, where communications with all the world of that day were centered, where the crossroads of the earth met, and where travelers from all the provinces were going and coming every day. As a result of their strategic location, the Roman Christians had a wide stage upon which to enact their deeds of faith; and Paul's appreciation of this may be deduced from the fact that most of his own great labors were directed to establishing the faith of Christ in great world-centers like Corinth, Ephesus, and Antioch.
My God ...
Paul's use of the possessive pronoun here was not unusual, the same construction appearing in 1 Corinthians 1:4; 2 Corinthians 12:21; Philippians 1:3; 4:19; and Philemon 1:4. Old Testament precedent is "The Lord is my shepherd". And yet none of the apostles ever wrote, "My Father," an expression which our Saviour evidently reserved for himself alone, since he taught the disciples to pray, "Our Father, etc."
Through Jesus Christ ...
honors the mediatorial office of Jesus Christ; and as Hodge suggested:
There is no need of the various forced
interpretations of the words in the
text, which have been given by those
who are unwilling to admit the idea of
such mediation on the part of
Upon the great doctrine of the mediatorial office of the Lord Jesus Christ, the New Testament leaves no grounds for misunderstanding.
CHRIST, THE ONE MEDIATOR
John Wesley's statement that "The gifts of God all pass through Christ to us, and all our petitions and thanksgivings pass through Christ to God," F17 constitutes a concise summary of New Testament teaching on Christ's mediation. The Lord said:
And whatsoever ye shall ask in my
name, that will I do, that the Father
may be glorified in the Son. If ye
shall ask anything in my name, that
will I do (John 14:13,14). If ye
shall ask anything of the Father, he
will give it you in my name (John
Other New Testament instructions to the same effect are as follows:
Give thanks always for all things in
the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to
God, even the Father (Ephesians 5:20). And
whatsover ye do, in word or deed, do
all in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father
through him (Colossians 3:17). Through him
then let us offer up a sacrifice of
praise to God continually (Hebrews 13:15).
Paul himself always carefully followed this rule (Romans 7:25); and the fact appears that language could hardly be more comprehensive and emphatic in the description of exactly what communications were commanded to be addressed to the Father "through" Christ. "Anything ... whatsoever ... all things ... whatsoever ye do in word or deed" - thus the most comprehensive terminology is marshaled against any exceptions whatsoever.
And, are there mediators other than Jesus Christ? No. Paul said,
There is one God, one mediator also
between God and man, himself man,
Christ Jesus, who gave himself a
ransom for all; the testimony to be
borne in its own times (1 Timothy 2:5).
Thus, there are exactly as many mediators as there are Gods, namely, only one. All superstitions to the effect that prayers may be offered to God through various so-called saints, or even through the blessed Mother of Jesus, are flatly contradicted by New Testament teaching. Likewise, prayers which are offered ambiguously, "In thy name," or "In his name," etc., or in no name at all except that of the petitioner, are sinful in the light of these solemn teachings of the word of God. Even the use of such a formula as "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost," is not in keeping with the commandments of the apostles, nor did any of them ever use such words in a prayer. True, people were commanded to baptize into that sacred triple name; but no man can show any other example of those holy names thus being subjoined to any other command or petition in the entire Bible. In the verse before us, Paul was scrupulous to express his thanks to God "through Jesus Christ"; and there can hardly be any doubt that his doing so was in keeping with the revealed will of God. As Hodge summarized it,
Such then is the clear teaching of the
Bible, that in all our approaches to
God in prayer and praise, we must come
in the name of Christ, that is, in
him, referring to him as the ground of
our acceptance. F18
For you all ...
is the plural of "you"; and the only possible plural of that pronoun capable of including everyone. "You both," "you two," etc., are also grammatical plurals of that pronoun. Thus, the expression "you all" is not a colloquialism but stands in the best tradition of classical English.
Proclaimed throughout the world ...
It was natural that the faith of Christians so favorably located in Rome should be widely known, but also implicit in the fact of their extensive reputation is their evangelical behavior. Their faith was not something which they held privately and selfishly, but a passionate conviction of which they spoke to everyone who would hear and which they preached as universally as possible. The use here of such a phrase as "throughout the world" is understood by some writers as hyperbole; and, although the use of that figure of speech is certainly found in the New Testament, as, for example, in Matthew 3:5, that is not necessarily the explanation here. It could be that Paul here employed the prophetic tense (in which future events are spoken of in the present tense), and the view that Paul did so speak here is grounded in the amazing truth that, nearly twenty centuries after his writing, it is literally true that the Christians of Rome have been spoken of, and are continually being spoken of in every village and hamlet of the earth, everywhere the Bible is read! In view of the facts, then, it seems rather arbitrary to limit Paul's meaning as, "Best understood as `throughout the Christian Church and wherever people knew of their faith.' F19 The similar passage, "The gospel which is come unto you; even as it is in all the world, bearing fruit and increasing" (Colossians 1:5,6), may also be interpreted in the same way.
Verses 9, 10
For God is my witness, whom I serve in my spirit in the gospel of his Son, how unceasingly I make mention of you, always in my prayers making request, if by any means now at length I may be prospered by the will of God to come unto you.
The words "For God is my witness" are actually the highest form of that type of oath defined by Funk and Wagnalls Standard Dictionary as "a reverent appeal to God in corroboration of what one says." Paul used that device frequently, as in 2 Cor. 1:23; Gal. 1:20; and Philp. 1:8. His special need for emphasizing his truthfulness here derived from the great length of time during which he had been speaking of and promising a visit to Rome; therefore, to protect himself against the possible insinuations of his enemies regarding that oft-promised, but yet non-existent visit to Rome, Paul affirmed, in the most emphatic manner possible, both the sincerity of his intentions and his determination yet to make the visit, provided only that it was God's will. Some have seen in Paul's repeated use of this sacred type of oath ample permission for Christians to take the judicial type of oath when giving testimony before a court of law; but, for those whose consciences will not allow even that, out of deference to the Saviour's command, "Swear not at all," it is far better to use the alternate form permitted in United States courts, in which the witness is permitted to "affirm" rather than "swear." It will be noted that Paul does not "swear," either here or elsewhere in his writings.
Whom I serve in my spirit in the gospel of his Son ...
What people do with their bodies may be observed and reported by their fellows, but what one does in one's own spirit is known certainly only to God; and that accounts for Paul's appeal to God as a witness of his inner sincerity and devotion to the gospel of Christ. Paul's almost vehement language here showed how deeply he felt the frustrations of being unable to go to Rome, and how diligent he was to counteract the deprecatory remarks that some might have made about it. There he stood in Corinth, not too far away from Rome, really; and to make it appear still worse, Paul was about to leave Corinth, not in the direction of Rome, but in the opposite direction toward Jerusalem, and all this in spite of many promises and expressed intentions of visiting Rome. His wide travels, covering so much of the great empire, were hard to reconcile with any true desire to go to the capital; and there were doubtless some of Paul's enemies who were willing to suggest that he was ashamed to preach there. It was Paul's concern for things like that which led him to write so forcibly, calling God to witness, making mention of ceaseless prayers, and assuring the Roman Christians of his sincerity and determination, even at that time, to make the visit, God willing.
Always in my prayers ...
The great apostle won many by his preaching, but it is possible that he won even more through his prayers. To the Roman Christians he sent assurance, as to all the churches, that he remembered them before the Throne, not in some perfunctory or occasional manner, but unceasingly and always.
Making request ...
that he might be permitted personally to visit them, is a prayer which he had been offering for many years. And why had such prayers remained unanswered? See under Rom. 1:13, below.
The will of God ...
How significant are these words! It is under the sovereign will of the Father that all things are controlled, for it is in that will that they even exist. Paul made it clear that he was praying for it to be God's will that the projected Roman visit might actually take place. The Lord himself prayed, "Not as I will, but as thou wilt" (Matthew 26:39); and the prayers of all Christians should always be offered upon that same condition. Paul, at last, was privileged to make his journey to Rome; but the circumstances of it must have been utterly different from what Paul had hoped. He finally arrived in the city of Rome as a prisoner, subject to the fickle will of Nero, humiliated by a guard and a chain, and with no pulpit but a Roman barracks. How inscrutable is the will of God! Of mortal men, only they who can bow the head and say, "The Lord willing," shall ever know the real meaning of service to God.
Verses 11, 12
For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may, be established; that is, that I with you may be comforted in you, each of us by the other's faith, both yours and mine.
Here is revealed the reason why Paul wanted to go to Rome, namely, that he might establish the church there. In a sense, it had already been established there for many years, at least to the extent of its having been able to exist; but Paul saw the advantages that would accrue to the world-wide church by the building up, encouragement, and perhaps better organization of Christians in Rome. Significantly, the church there had no elders and deacons, else they would presumably have been mentioned in the salutation, as in Philp. 1:1. The particular spiritual gift Paul had in mind was not mentioned, and it is pointless to speculate; but one sure conclusion that seems justified from this verse is that no apostle had ever been in Rome at the time this letter was sent; otherwise, the intended spiritual gift would already have been conveyed.
Rom. 1:12 was written from considerations of tact. Paul, not wishing to appear as high and mighty above the band of believers in Rome, did not speak merely of his conferring some benefit upon them, but also of the mutual benefit in which he himself would also share. The use of the words "that is" indicates that Paul, after writing the preceding words, sought to soften their impact by mention of the blessing he himself would receive from them. The delicacy, understanding, and humility of this great Christian apostle stand out conspicuously in this warm, personal passage.
And I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you (and was hindered hitherto), that I might have some fruit in you also, even as in the rest of the Gentiles.
This verse shows that Paul had planned to go to Rome and that he had been hindered from doing so. It is immaterial whether the hindering came from Satan or from the Holy Spirit, because the Spirit could have overruled any Satanic hindrance; and, therefore, either the hindrance itself, or its being allowed, must be attributed to the Holy Spirit. Satan indeed was the hinderer on some occasions, as in 1 Thess. 2:18, and, upon other occasions, the Holy Spirit was the hinderer, as in Acts 16:6. Whiteside made a very significant deduction from the circumstances revealed in this verse:
This shows that he was not guided by
inspiration in forming his plans, for
the Holy Spirit would not have guided
him into forming plans and then have
allowed him to be hindered in carrying
out his plans. Paul did sometimes
form his own plans or purposes which
the Holy Spirit did not allow him to
carry out. F20
From this it is clear that the guidance of the Holy Spirit in Christian lives does not extend so far as helping them to devise ALL their plans. There is nothing in such a deduction to deny that the Spirit might help in forming SOME plans; but there is revealed no way of knowing, for sure, which plans may or may not be attributed to the guidance of the Holy Spirit; hence, the necessity, always, for people to pray, even as Christ did, "Not my will, but thine be done."
Paul's reasons for thinking he should go to Rome sprang out of his desire, as stated here, to have some fruit among them. Just how long he had wanted to make this journey is not known, but it was surely for "many years" (Romans 15:23).
I am debtor both to the Greeks and to Barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish.
In this verse appears that dual classification of all people which was so fashionable in the world of that era. The Hebrews classified all people as Jews and Gentiles; the Romans classified the whole world as Romans and pagans; the Greeks included everyone as Greeks or Barbarians. There were other dual classifications such as wise and foolish, male and female, freemen and slaves, etc. Actually in usage, such classifications really mean "us and everybody else"! Paul's evident meaning is simply that he felt indebted to all people. Nothing that any man had done had laid this burden of debt upon Paul's heart; but it was what Christ had done for Paul which had made him debtor to all people of all races and nations. Christ had died for Paul, appeared to him, commissioned him as an apostle, saved his soul from sin, and made him an heir of everlasting life. Such a mighty weight of blessing had produced Paul's feeling of indebtedness, and where is the Christian who does not feel a similar debt, a debt of such weight and nature that the uttermost limits of one's ability, resources, and time may be taxed without fully discharging it? This immense and overwhelming debt may, in the last analysis, be relaxed only by the grace of God, as in a court of last resort; because, when Christians have done everything possible for them to do, such payments on their part can never fully discharge such a debt as this.
So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you also that are in Rome.
Students of the Greek language are amazed to find that a single word in that language is translated "preach the gospel"; but Macknight's explanation fully justifies it:
The original word was first used by
the LXX to signify the publishing of
any good news: and, having inserted it
in their translation of Isaiah 60:6;
61:1, where Messiah's preaching good
tidings to the poor is foretold
(Luke 4:21), the apostles justly
appropriated it to the preaching of
the gospel, as the best news mankind
could hear. F21
This verse also supports the conclusion that Romans was addressed to all the inhabitants in Rome, and not merely to believers alone, but to Barbarians, foolish, and, in short, all people. The tremendous motivation of Paul's life appears in the twin declarations, "I am debtor" (Romans 1:14) and "I am ready" (Romans 1:15).
With this solid shot, Paul dispelled any notion that he had been holding back from a trip to Rome due to any considerations like being ashamed to preach there. Having already affirmed the credentials of his apostolic calling, he waived all privileges of rank and all the honors of such an office and presented himself in this verse to the total population of that great city, not merely as the great ambassador, which he surely was, but also as a human brother, a fellow-Christian who had long loved them, prayed for them, and longed to visit them. Choosing exactly the right words, Paul in this perfect introduction presented himself as one who actually considered himself in debt to the whole community, indeed to all people, and as a brother in Christ who was eager to preach to them. How tender and beautiful are the sentiments expressed upon this sacred page! As Beet put it,
Our spirits bowed before one who stood
so high in the service of so great a
Master. But now the Ambassador of
Christ comes to us like one of
ourselves. Across the waters which
roll between him and us, we hear a
brother's voice, and see a brother's
For I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
With reference to any possible slander to the effect that he was ashamed to preach in the sophisticated capital of the empire, Paul challenged and refuted it with the smashing declaration here. A lesser man than Paul might indeed have quailed before the arrogant sophistication of Rome, but Paul was a man absolutely beyond the reach of snobbish intimidation. Brunner analyzed the situation thus:
What Rome meant then is almost beyond
our comprehension. We must imagine as
one all of the capital cities of our
own day, from New York and London to
Tokyo. He, the itinerant Jewish
preacher, is to conquer Rome for
Christ. By what means? By the
message of a Galilean who was executed
as a criminal! In face of the wisdom
and might of Rome, to set up "the
foolishness of the Cross," this
glorification of the powerless one!
But the apostle's thought barely
touches upon what might have been so
natural, namely, the failing of his
courage when confronted by this
contrast. There are no inferiority
complexes here and no false humility,
but an unbroken consciousness of
power. "I am not ashamed; for it is
the power of God." The gospel is not
only an epoch-making power for
salvation; its effect reaches into
eternity, just as itself derives from
Paul's mention of not being ashamed of the gospel is appropriate, because in the city of Rome were all the trappings of human glory, pride, selfishness, power, and cruelty, also every extravagance of intemperance, vice, and idolatry. Raw, naked force was enthroned there. Those fierce Romans had controlled the world for centuries; and, in their lustful exploitation of power, they had shamelessly held all human honor and virtue expendable. Ruthless, unprincipled, power-politics sat naked and unmasked upon the throne of the Caesars; and, if there had been a place on earth where the gentle teachings of the Son of God were despised, the great harlot on the Tiber was that city. Jesus had warned his disciples that God himself would be ashamed of any who were ashamed of Jesus and his word (Mark 8.:38); and in this epistolary war-cry, Paul hurled the challenge of his faith in Christ like a steel gauntlet into the face of proud and arrogant Rome. How could he do it? The answer is in the next clause.
It is the power of God unto salvation ...
Ah, yes. Here is the power to save people from sin, from the inevitable fate of the wicked, and from eternal death. This gospel is power unlimited, eternal, and irresistible within the framework of God's eternal purpose, and fully sufficient to achieve all that God intended. This tremendous power is primarily the power to save from sin and death, being fully efficacious unto redemption, the nature of which is revealed in the terms of the gospel itself. It is salvation from the wrath of God and eternal death of the soul, a salvation of such a nature that only God could provide it or make it available to people. No human scheme or device could ever be effectual for such a purpose as salvation from sin and death and the endowment of mortals with the glory of eternal life.
The gospel ...
And, pray tell, what is the gospel? In a word, the gospel is the good news of salvation from the wrath of God due to man's sin, a salvation made possible through the death of Christ, and therefore pertaining (as Paul himself summarized it) to the death of Christ according to the scriptures, his burial, and his resurrection on the third day, according to the scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3,4). By extension, this gospel of Christ is the sum total of divine revelation in the sacred scriptures, that is, the Bible, and is composed of: (1) facts to be believed; (2) commandments to be obeyed; and (3) promises to be accepted. It is a gospel which must be received as the word of God (Acts 17:11), a gospel which must be believed (as stated in this verse); and it is a gospel that must be obeyed (2 Thessalonians 1:8). These plainly documented characteristics of the gospel should be kept in mind at all times, especially in the study of Romans; because advocates of human error have been very diligent to make Paul's letter to the Romans a charter of salvation by "faith only." If the gospel means that people may be saved by faith only, why did Paul write the Thessalonians that the Lord Jesus would execute vengeance upon them that "obey not the gospel"?
Lard named the three things that must be overcome in salvation as,
The world, the flesh, and Satan.
These powers must be overcome in
salvation; nothing short of God's
power can do this; but the gospel does
it, hence the propriety of calling it
God's power for salvation. It is his
power because it proceeds from him; it
is for salvation, because it is
ordained to effect it. F24
The salvation under consideration, which is promised in the gospel, is no mere alleviation of social unrest, nor any such thing as the psychological easement of human tensions, nor an infusion of tranquillity for troubled minds. Such results indeed may come as collateral and tangential benefits, but the gospel is designed for something utterly beyond things like that. It is to save people from everlasting destruction from the presence of God and the glory of his power (2 Thessalonians 1:9). Men should therefore reject a commentator's mild compliment of Romans, which held that it is:
A relevant message, for it describes
with great accuracy the deep tensions
and anxieties of life and holds forth
the promise of peace. F25
The gospel is not a message of peace for the disobedient, but a message doom, and has the dual character, mentioned by Paul himself, of being either "unto life" or "unto death," as it may be received or rejected (2 Corinthians 2:14-16).
The power of God ...
The word "the" is inserted by the translators but does not add anything to the meaning. Whatever power is needed to convert sinful people, all of that power is available in the gospel; and there is no need for any special illumination of the heart, nor for any fiat on the part of the Holy Spirit, nor for any special act of God to strike the sinner down and convert him. The gospel itself is that illumination that can save him, the fiat of the Holy Spirit making salvation available to him, and the special act of God calling him to be saved. Let the gospel be preached; and, as Jesus himself said, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved" (Mark 16:16).
To every one that believeth ...
is a synecdoche, that is, one of a group of related things being mentioned in place of and standing for all of them, and was absolutely not intended to announce faith as the sole condition of eternal life, in the manner declared by Lenski:
"Believing" excludes everything except
the confidence wrought in the soul by
the divine power of the gospel and by
this alone. F26
This expositor is absolutely certain that nothing Paul ever wrote was intended to exclude obedience as a precondition of salvation; and, although perfect obedience must surely be reckoned beyond the power of human achievement, the sincere intent to obey and some semblance of compliance with God's commandments appears to be absolutely required by such statements as those of 2 Thess. 1:8,9, etc. Upon what grounds do scholars like Lenski, and others, declare that "believeth," as used here, "excludes" everything else? If that is what Paul meant, could he not have said so? Was Paul ignorant of such words as "alone" and "only" which come so readily to the lips and pens of scholars today, but which he pointedly omitted using; or, on the other hand, is it that people are guilty of importing their own theories into Paul's words? And, if it be inquired what are the group of related things represented by "believeth" in this passage, let it be answered that repentance (Luke 13:3-5), the new birth (John 3:5), holiness (Hebrews 12:14), and obedience (Hebrews 5:9; 2 Thessalonians 1:8) are all, according to the scriptures, absolutely required of all who hope to be saved. When the Pauline theology, as "discovered" by some commentators, is thought to offer salvation without the new birth, without holiness, without repentance, and without obedience, somebody has simply got to be mistaken.
To the Jew first, and also to the Greek ...
means "to the whole world." The preference for the Jew, in that he should receive the message first, was just and derived from the Jew's position among the chosen people. Throughout Paul's apostleship, he was diligent to observe that priority; and only after the Jew rejected the message did he turn to the Gentiles. Even upon his final arrival in the city of Rome, Paul observed the same order of procedure.
For therein is revealed a righteousness of God from faith to faith: as it is written, But the righteous shall five by faith.
First, the expression "a righteousness of God" should be read "the righteousness of God," as in KJV and RSV. One may only conjecture as to why the English Revised Version (1885) translators gave such a rendition, especially in view of the fact that they rendered the parallel expression a moment later, in verse 18, as "the wrath of God." Barmby noted that "`A wrath of God' has no intelligent meaning," F27 and the same is true of "a righteousness of God." As Barmby noted, the two expressions simply mean "God's righteousness" and "God's wrath."
Regarding the broader question of "the righteousness of God," if this refers to the righteousness imputed by God to human beings (forensic righteousness), or the eternal righteousness of God's character (intrinsic righteousnesS), the evidence indicates that the latter is meant, not only here, but throughout Romans. We shall not go into the exhaustive dissertations of scholars on this place. The writer finds himself in strong agreement with Barmby; and, therefore, Barmby's critical exegesis is summarized in that commentator's own words. Convincing as Barmby's analysis is, however, the overriding consideration in accepting the "righteousness" of this verse as a reference to God's intrinsic righteousness, rather than to man's forensic, or imputed righteousness, is found in Romans itself (Romans 3:25,26), where God's righteousness in "passing over the sins done aforetime" is the real key to the meaning of "righteousness" throughout the epistle, plainly referring to an attribute of God, and not to any imputed righteousness of people; and even in the places where the latter is spoken of, the great consideration in the background is always God's intrinsic righteousness. A paraphrase of Barmby's summary on this question is:
It is usual to interpret this as
meaning man's imputed or forensic
righteousness; but if Paul meant that,
why did he not use the words he used
in Philippians 3:9, where he WAS
speaking of that? The phrase suggests
the sense in which the words are
continually used in the Old Testament.
The quotation from Habakkuk does not
refute this meaning. The Old
Testament usage of the term
"righteousness" in Psa. 18:2
undoubtedly means "God's
righteousness"; and the constant use
of the phrase in a known sense in the
Orr would naturally lead us to think
that when Paul used it, he would have
used it in the same sense. It is
maintained in this commentary (with
all due deference to the distinguished
ancients and moderns who have held
otherwise) that not only in this
opening passage, but throughout the
epistle, this phrase means God's own
eternal righteousness, and that even
in passages where a righteousness that
is of faith is spoken of as
communicated to man, the essential
idea beyond is still that of God's own
righteousness including believers in
From faith to faith ...
Hodge declared this to mean "by faith alone"; F29 or "entirely by faith"; F30 Dodd, as quoted by Murray, rendered it, "by faith from beginning to end"; F31 and the New English Bible has "a way that starts with faith and ends with faith." F32 The student who strives for accuracy in understanding God's word will at once be impressed with the truth that such paraphrases as those just cited can in no sense be honored as TRANSLATIONS of what the Holy Spirit wrote through Paul. Upon a disputed passage like this, the greatest degree of accuracy, according to Bruce, is the version used in this commentary, that is, the English Revised Version (1885). He said:
The Bible text used throughout, except
where otherwise indicated, is the
English Revised Version of 1881. This
remains, in spite of many more recent
translations (including the New
English Bible of 1961) the most
helpful English version of the New
Testament for purposes of accurate
Paul, therefore, wrote none of the phrases mentioned above, but "from faith to faith," and any paraphrase of the meaning would have to be something that does not violate that text. The Phillips New Testament has such a paraphrase, thus: "a process begun and continued by their faith. Certainly, the notion that Paul meant "faith alone" by this expression should be rejected out of hand, especially in view of the fact that the expression "faith alone" occurs never in Paul's writings, and only once in the New Testament, where James declared that people are "not justified by faith alone" (James 2:24).
"As it is written, But the righteous shall live by faith ..." is a quotation from Hab. 2:4 and is understood as Old Testament support of the principle of salvation by faith, it being the great end of the Christian religion to produce faith in all people, inasmuch as it may be possible. Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6); and the statement here that the just shall live by faith is emphasis upon the fact of man's utter inability to live without it.
The two verses just considered are the theme of Bhe book of Romans, namely, God's Eternal Righteousness as Revealed in the Gospel. Immediately upon announcement of this theme, Paul launched into the section vindicating God's righteousness in accounting all people sinners and fully deserving God's wrath.
For the wrath oJ God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hinder the truth in unrighteousness.
The wrath of God was upon Jew and Gentile alike, but the Gentiles are that portion of humanity directly under consideration, beginning here and through Rom. 2:16. The displeasure of God against the Gentiles resulted not from caprice, or happenstance, but from their unrighteousness and ungodliness, these two words standing for their irreverence and impiety toward God and for their faithless and immoral conduct toward their fellow human creatures. Whiteside noted that,
Ungodliness is worse than
unrighteousness, though not generally
so regarded. Our first and primary
duty is to God. If we revere God as we
should, we will respect his word, his
church, and his worship. Those who
blaspheme the name of God, or speak
lightly of any of his commands, are
ungodly. Through passion, or some
weakness, a person might do wrong to
his fellow man, and then be filled
with great penitence toward God for
the wrong he had done. Such a one
still retained his reverence for God.
David did that. He did unrighteous
things, but his reverence for God was
unfailing and always brought him to
repentance. The ungodly are not so;
they do not take God into account in
anything that they do. F34
The wrath of God ...
is a phrase that describes the antagonism between the Creator and all sin and unrighteousness. As Barmby stated it,
"The wrath of God" is an expression
with which we are familiar in the
Bible, being one of those in which
human emotions are attributed to God
in accommodation to the exigencies of
human thought. It denotes his
essential holiness, his antagonism to
sin, to which punishment is due. F35
answers to the same word in the preceding verse, thus making the "righteousness of God" and the "wrath of God" antithetical, and both of them to be attributes of the Father. That wrath of God which is here said to be revealed should not be stripped of its emotional overtones when contemplated by sinful people; for it is obvious that the wrath of God is a personal thing. "It is God's holy revulsion against that which is the contradiction of holiness." F36 This wrath is living, active, dynamic, and constantly operational against all evil. God has a score to settle with sin; and some Day he will settle it. Not one little sin will ever be able to crawl by the eyes of the eternal God without being either: (1) forgiven through the blood of Jesus Christ, or (2) punished with everlasting destruction from God's presence.
Hinder the truth in unrighteousness ...
This is a reference to the fact that the pre-Christian Gentile world had the truth and that they suppressed it and denied it through their sins and wickedness. This is a most interesting verse, for it immediately raises the question of just to what extent those ancient Gentiles had "the truth." Certainly, they did not know the truth to the extent that it has now been revealed in Christ; and yet a little investigation will show that they had far more than sufficient truth to make their shameful conduct absolutely unjustifiable. Paul, in later verses, here speaks of the obvious truth to be gleaned from the observation of nature and the inner promptings of conscience; but those pre-Christian Gentiles also possessed other very pertinent and significant truth concerning God and his will, as the very next verse will indicate.
Because that which is known of God is manifest in them, for God manifested it to them.
The argument of this verse is simply that those wicked Gentiles were sinners against the light, not being, in any absolute sense, ignorant of God. To be sure, they were not as privileged as the Jews, nor did they possess the type of revelation afterwards to be revealed in Christ; but they knew God. The Father himself had seen to that, for it is categorically stated here that God had "manifested it to them." The true meaning might actually be much stronger than this version indicates. Whiteside noted that:
The pronoun "it" is not in the Greek;
and it would be more in harmony with
Paul's argument to translate the last
clause, "For God manifested himself to
The information thus revealed in this verse is of the first magnitude of importance, because there are still people in the world who imagine that they have reason to be critical of God for his neglect of the pagan nations prior to the Christian era. From this verse, it is certainly known that the Gentile nations were not devoid of light and that there was a manifestation of himself on God's park to those very nations. It should be kept in mind that Paul is here speaking of "the righteousness of God" in his dealings, not merely with the Jews, but with all mankind. We shall give this significant theme a little further attention.
GOD'S REVELATION TO THE GENTILE NATIONS
In the person of Adam and his descendants for over a thousand years, all the world knew the Lord, received commands as to how he should have been worshiped, and through the patriarchs were in direct communication with the Almighty. "Lamech, Noah's father, was born before Adam died." F38 This means that no generation of history had any better knowledge of God than those generations from Adam to the deluge. Once again, in the family of Noah, the human race descended in a new beginning from a single source; and again the entire world knew the one true God; and, once more, through patriarchal communication with God, there was every opportunity for the Gentiles to have known the heavenly Father. From Noah to Abraham, the pure knowledge of God was kept alive in the world, and the true worship was carried forward by such faithful priests as Melchizedek.
The Jewish nation never existed prior to Abraham; and, therefore, until the times of that illustrious patriarch, all people of every description shared and shared alike in the available knowledge of God. Prior to Abraham, monotheism was known and honored, as attested by the ministry of Melchizedek, Priest of God Most High, and King of Salem, who received tithes from the progenitor of the Hebrew race, as recorded in Gen. 14:18-20; and which event shows that the knowledge of the one true God was widely prevalent in the pre-Abrahamic world. By the times of Abraham, idolatry was again rampant and increasing, but vestiges of the original monotheism remained, and possibly upon a rather extensive scale.
In the gathering darkness of that long night of idolatry which was about to descend upon the Gentile world, God called Abraham and initiated the device of a chosen people, who would be the custodians of the promise of a Messiah, who would keep alive the true teachings of God, and who were designed to recognize, at last, the Messiah, when he should appear, and present him to the entire world. This was a service laid upon Abraham, not merely for benefit of the Jews, but looking to the salvation of all people. God said, upon the occasion of the call of Abraham, that "In thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed" (Genesis 12:3). God even deigned to give his reasons for the choice of Abraham, that being the ABILITY of that patriarch to command his children after him, an ability which was conspicuously lacking in the Gentiles, and is lacking yet! (Genesis 18:19). All people, Jews and Gentiles alike, should thank God for the ability of Abraham, without whose abilities the title deeds of redemption might have been lost.
Following the call of Abraham, the Jewish nation itself became a continual witness to the entire Gentile world of the one true God and his truth. A mere catalogue of examples how that witness blazed in the long pre-Christian darkness is astonishing.
First, through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and their families, many of the greatest men in the world, many cities, and vast populations of the Gentiles knew the one true god: (1) Abraham testified of "the most high God" to the king of Sodom (Genesis 14:22), and a similar testimony was available for the entire group of eleven kings mentioned in Gen. 14. (2) All the posterity of Abraham through Hagar and Keturah had knowledge of God, these being none other than the whole Arabic nation. (3) Through Lot, Abraham's nephew, the whole nations of the Moabites and the Ammonites knew God. (4) Through the judgment against Sodom and Gomorrah and the disaster to Lot's wife, the overthrow of those cities was demonstrated as a moral judgment of God upon wickedness. (5) The salvation of Lot and his daughters, coupled with the prior prophecy of the doom of the cities of the plain, were facts known throughout the East. (6) Because of Abraham's wife, Sarah, "God came to Abimelech (King of Gerar) in a dream by night" (Genesis 20:3). (7) Through Jacob, all of Israel; and through Esau, all of the Edomites had knowledge of the true God. (8) Through Jacob's son, Joseph, all of the Egyptians, from the throne downward, knew the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Nor did such glowing witness disappear with the fading of the patriarchal names into history. A great leader of the Jews, Moses, appeared; and through him, God visited the entire Egyptian nation with a whole series of the most astounding miracles of pre-Christian history, the one invariable element in all of those miracles being the circulation of knowledge of the one true God. All of the plagues were directed squarely against the popular idol gods of the Egyptians. God even gave through Moses a personal message to Pharaoh, as follows:
And in very deed, for this cause have
I raised thee up, for to show in thee
my power; and that my name might be
declared throughout all the earth
Let it be remembered that Pharaoh was the most powerful monarch of antiquity, and it will be clear that God in no sense neglected to provide the Gentiles with all the light they needed, and with far more than they were willing to receive. That God's method of causing his name to be declared throughout all the earth was successful is proved by the events centering around the name of Rahab the harlot of Jericho, who, some forty years after the Exodus, said:
I know that the Lord hath given you
the land ... for we have heard how the
Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea
for you when you came out of Egypt.
... For the Lord your God, he is God
in heaven above, and in earth beneath
The first of the Old Testament prophets was Jonah who carried the message of the one God to Nineveh, the largest city of those times, whose king, nobles, and all of the people repented and turned to God, the fact of which is attested by none other than Christ (Matthew 12:41). Therefore, at the time of Nineveh's conversion, concurrent with the contemporary apostasy in Israel, the knowledge of God, at that particular time, probably centered in Nineveh, the great Gentile city, and not in Jerusalem.
Then, there is the testimony to the Gentiles by means of the captivities, first of Israel, later of Judah. Everywhere the Jews went, they took the knowledge of God with them; and there were doubtless many of the Gentiles who learned the truth through this means. Thus, Nebuchadnezzar learned the truth from the Hebrews in the fiery furnace; thus the Medes and Persians learned it from Daniel, when, in God's providence, he became the third ruler in the kingdom (Daniel 5:29). It is extremely significant that a great ruler, Cyrus, commissioned the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem after the captivity, out of respect to his knowledge of God and the words of his prophets (2 Chronicles 36:22,23).
Throughout the days of the Judges, in an earlier era, there were repeated demonstrations of the power and righteousness of God who not only punished the sins of the heathen world, but those of his own people as well. Throughout the whole period of the theocracy, every nation was given many powerful examples of God's power and righteousness, practically all of the wondrous deeds recorded in the book of Judges having to do with the preeminence of Jehovah and his superiority over the pagan deities, as, for example, in the destruction of Dagon's temple by Samson (Judges 16:29), and in the case of the destruction of Baal by Gideon (Judges 6:28).
The years of the monarchy continued the witness, the knowledge of God being so widespread in that era that the kings of the earth either came in person or sent their envoys repeatedly to Israel, and to the prophets, as for example, in the case of Naaman and his lord, the king of Assyria (2 Kings 5:5), and that of the king of Syria (2 Kings 6:13), and in the instance of the queen of Sheba (Matthew 12:42).
It was the near-universal knowledge of the true Jehovah which made it possible for the great Gentile philosophers and writers to mention the Lord in their writings. As Macknight said:
The writings of Plato, Xenophon,
Cicero, and other philosophers, which
still remain, together with the
quotations made by Justin Martyr and
Clement of Alexandria from those which
are lost, prove that the learned
heathens, though ignorant of the way
of salvation, were acquainted with the
unity and spirituality of God, and had
just notions of his perfection, of the
creation and government of the world,
and of the duties which men owe to God
and to one another. F39
In addition to that great wealth of revealed knowledge which existed throughout the Gentile world, there was always, of course, everywhere, such witnesses of the glory and power of God as provided by natural creation and the moral law within human beings themselves. Paul mentioned the latter type of witness in his address at Lystra,
Ye should turn from these vain things
unto the living God, who made the
heaven and the earth and the sea, and
all that in them is: who in the
generations gone by suffered all the
nations to walk in their own ways.
And yet he left not himself without
witness, in that he did good, and gave
you from heaven rains and fruitful
seasons, filling your hearts with food
and gladness (Acts 14:15-17).
The good earth itself is thus named as a witness of God's existence and his goodness toward people. The order and symmetry of the universe, the marvelous balance in nature, the incredible complexity and efficiency of the natural world, and the heavens which declare the glory of God, are all witness of the glory of God; and yet it must be noted that none of these things tell men anything of God's love, or of the way of life.
The pre-Christian Gentiles also had access to the moral government which is built into man in the form of a conscience, a device so marvelous and amazing that Denny said:
There is that within man that so
catches the meaning of all that is
without, as to issue in an instinctive
knowledge of God. F40
It was that same phenomenon that challenged and awed Emmanuel Kant, who wrote:
Two things fill me with awe: the
starry heavens, and the sense of moral
responsibility in man. F41
This somewhat extended review of the question of just what revelations the Gentiles had received has been given for the reason that they are not generally known, and from the further fact that a knowledge of these things is essential to the vindication of God's righteousness in all of his dealings with the pre-Christian world. In view of the facts, as revealed in the sacred scriptures, Paul was fully justified in writing to the citizens of ancient Rome that God had indeed manifested himself to the Gentiles.
For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity; that they may be without excuse.
The invisible things of him ...
is a reference to God's everlasting power and divinity; and Paul's argument is that invisible things may be "seen" by the mind. The things that are made, namely, all created objects, are the things which enable the mind to comprehend what no natural eye can see, that is, the power and divinity of God. This becomes, therefore, an impressive reference to the teleological demonstration of God's existence. The very fact of something's having been made is certain proof of there having been a maker. It has grown fashionable in some quarters to ridicule the teleological argument for the existence of God, but the inspired authors did not hesitate to use it. "For every house is builded by someone; but he that built all things is God" (Hebrews 3:4), is an example of it; and Paul's appeal to this argument in this context indicated his utmost confidence in it. The passing centuries have confirmed its logical appeal. One of the great scientific minds of the current century, Dr. Andrew Conway Ivy, wrote:
I have never found a person who when
urged could not give a reason why he
or she believed in God. The reason has
always been to the effect that
`Someone had to make the world and the
laws that run it," or "There cannot be
a machine without a maker." That
basic truth is understood by every
normal child and adult. F42
Dr. Ivy developed his thoughts along this line at length and concluded that faith in God could never be destroyed from the earth as long as children are being born into it; for, he continued:
The basic principles of
unsophisticated and rational thought
and belief will always rise again with
the birth of every child. ... So
compelling is the natural law of the
relation of cause and effect that the
developing mind of the three to
five-year-old child realizes that
there must be a Creator. F43
That they may be without excuse ...
There is no doubt that Paul held the wicked ancient Gentiles to be inexcusable on any grounds whatsoever, and particularly he refuted in this passage any possible allegation that they might have been excused on grounds of ignorance. The thrust of these words suggests that there might have been in Rome, when Paul wrote, some of the same type of apologists for gross sinners who, in every age, like to blame economic conditions, or politics, or society, for any crime, no matter how revolting, but never blame the perpetrator.
Because that, knowing God, they glorified him not as God, neither gave thanks; but became vain in their reasonings, and their senseless heart was darkened.
Those Gentiles were not ignorant of God, nor was their information limited to that incomplete knowledge that came from the observance of natural phenomena and the existence of a conscience within man's moral constitution. The commentators are mistaken in so limiting the sources of Gentile light. As explained under Rom. 1:18-20, above, God had manifested himself to the Gentiles repeatedly through many centuries; and their knowledge was more than sufficient to make their conduct inexcusable, and to justify the appalling retribution visited upon them through God's darkening of their senseless hearts.
This verse must be looked upon as the coffin and grave of any theory that the human race progressively worked its way upward in religion. The Bible teaches that paganism was not original, but was itself an apostasy from a more noble condition that preceded it. Meyer, as quoted by Murray, explains it thus:
Heathenism is not the primeval
religion, from which man might
gradually have risen to the knowledge
of the true God, but is, on the
contrary, the result of a falling away
from the known original revelation of
the true God in his works. F44
It is a frightening and sober thought that all of the carnal debaucheries and gross vulgar conduct revealed a little later in this chapter, as marking the wickedness of those ancient Gentiles, should have begun with so mild and apparently innocuous a thing as neglect of worship and failure to :give thanks to God. What a powerful warning this speaks to countless Christians of the present generation who regard neglect of giving thanks as a very casual and minor omission of duty. All people should take this to heart; because forsaking worship or neglecting the giving of thanks might be compared to the pebble cast loose from the top of a mountain that becomes a roaring avalanche to crush a city or a civilization beneath it.
The refusal or neglect of worship and the thanksgiving properly due to Almighty God led at once to a flurry of "reasonings"; but human reason, cut off from the source of all true light, led quickly to innumerable vanities. R. C. Bell described such persons as those ancient Gentiles as people
Who close their two eyes (worship and
praise) for seeing and knowing God,
and turn their backs on the light to
walk in their own shadow. F45
An expressive change of voice is noted in the last clause, where the active voice records the negative action of the Gentiles in refusing to glorify God or give thanks, but the passive voice was used to describe what happened afterwards. "Their senseless .hearts were darkened." The soul which turns away from the knowledge of God is active in the turning away, but passive in the resultant descent into vanity and darkness, such a defector from the light becoming, in time, sub-human; because that part of his brain with which he should honor and glorify God becomes atrophied, hardened, insensible. This accounts for the otherwise incredible blindness which is the chief characteristic of many so-called intellectuals who have turned away from faith in Christ. Having closed the eyes of their minds with which they might have seen the invisible things of God, such persons eventually find themselves in a state of total disability in the perception of spiritual realities. How profoundly sad is the state of persons like that, with the highest academic degrees, perhaps, and occupying positions of trust and honor, it may be, and possibly considered by their contemporaries as the wisest and ablest of people, but from whose minds the light has gone out, and the knowledge of God has faded. Those, despite their worldly excellence, are the living dead!
Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.
Ah yes, how wise man fancies himself; and, if one hesitates to believe it, let him look in the dictionary and behold that man is listed as "Homo sapiens," which means "the wise one;" but such a designation in the book which he wrote himself is not altogether conclusive; and, whether he can bear to hear it or not, man would be just as appropriately named if called "Homo ignoramus"! This is true because, apart from what God has revealed to him, he has no certain knowledge of who he is, whence he comes, whither he goes, or whether any cosmic worth of any kind whatever is to be found in him. Without the knowledge of God, man is but "a disease of the agglutinated dust." On the other hand, endowed with the knowledge of God, man may recognize himself as a son of the Highest, an object of God's love, a beneficiary of the blood of Christ, and an heir of everlasting glory. Despite all this, man is forever preoccupied with delusions of grandeur. Look at the letters he has written after his name: A.B., Ph.D., M.D., D.D., M.C, M.P., K.B.C., F.R.S.A., etc., and also at the titles in front of it: Honorable, Chairman, President, Manager, Director, etc. Here is no intention of disparaging the marvelous attainments of human intellect; because, in those areas where man's intellect was created to function, it must surely be hailed as the highest of all created things; but there is another sector, higher than man, and beyond him altogether; and it is within that higher theater of concern that man, apart from God, is a "fool." It is from that more exalted arena of truth, into which human intellect is incapable of intruding - it is from thence must come the answer of such a question as "What is correct human behavior?" Those tempted to believe that human intellect might answer that one should read Jer. 1:23. And there are many other questions that unaided intellect cannot solve, such as: Who am I? Whence came I? What is my destiny? What happens after death? Why is there evil in the world? How can my guilt be removed? What must I do to be saved from the wrath of God? Man might pretend that he is not concerned with the answers to such questions; but the smoking altars, bloody sacrifices, temple towers, and cathedral spires, along with religious observances of five thousand years, as well as the universal instincts of the entire race of mankind, emphatically declare that man is interested, that he does care, and that the kind of answer accepted becomes the principal motivation of every life on earth.
They became fools ...
Sanday translated this "They were made fools," thus again employing the passive voice. He wrote:
It is not merely that they expose
their real folly, but that folly
itself is judicially inflicted by God
as a punishment of the first step of
declension from him. F46
The passive voice, in both this and the preceding verse, emphasizes an old truth that man is free only to choose his master. When a soul turns away from God, there is afterwards no meaningful initiative left to the soul; the great option having been already exercised, the unbeliever is left free to choose only among secondaries, all of which are evil. Demonstrations of this truth are continually visible in Christians who turn away from the gospel, only to become fanatical devotees of some ridiculous cult.
And changed the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of birds, and four-looted beasts, and creeping things.
As Barmby observed:
Scripture ever presents the human race
as having fallen and become degraded,
and not as having risen gradually to
any intelligent conceptions of God at
The obfuscation of man's intellect was inflicted upon men punitively by God as a divine judgment against their failure to glorify and give thanks to God, and the execution of that penalty propelled them ever farther into Satan's service. The idol worship that quickly followed was doubtless instigated by Satan, his diabolical design being, apparently, as follows: (1) Satan had won a smashing victory over man in Eden, and by falsely representing God in the image of a man, Satan could fraudulently advertise the debacle in Eden as a victory over God also. (2) After Satan's victory over Adam and Eve, God promised that the seed of woman would bruise Satan's head (Genesis 3:15), and that the serpent should go on his belly henceforth forever. How striking, therefore, is the direction taken by human idolatry. As Quimby expressed it,
They got God down on two legs, then
down on all-fours, and then down on
his belly! F48
The frustration, anger, and retaliation of the evil one are certainly evident in the idolatry described by Paul. If God would send the serpent to travel on his belly, then Satan, who had assumed the form of a serpent, would put God on his!
As to which Gentiles were guilty of particular idolatries mentioned here, it is quite evident that the images made like men describe the anthropomorphic gods of the Greek and Roman mythologies, whereas the images of the lower creations of birds, beasts and creeping things were characteristic of the false deities of the Egyptians. A full list of all creatures which have received idolatrous worship cannot be given here; but even a brief summary is instructive. Cattle were worshiped nearly everywhere, as, for example, sacred cows in India until this day. Others were lions, dogs, cats, weasels, and otters. Birds that were worshiped are sparrowhawks, hoopoes, storks, and sheldrakes. Sheep, the hippopotamus, the crocodile, and the eel were also worshiped in certain places, but not in others.
The sacred serpent Thermapis which
served as head-gear for Isis had holes
in all the temples where it was fed
veal fat. Among the sacred beasts,
the first place was given to the
divine bulls, of which the Egyptians
worshiped four. F49
Regarding the mystery of just how intelligent beings could worship such creatures and their images as gods, Sanday observed that:
The images in Greece and the beasts in
Egypt were by some of the people
regarded only as SYMBOLS of deity. F50
This, of course, is precisely the same device by which the advocates of the use of images in Christian worship today attempt to justify their consecration of sacred images. How well such a device worked, or rather, how disastrously it did not work, is revealed in the ensuing verses, where the precipitous descent of that entire ancient world into the most shameful wickedness is graphically described. It should also be remembered that the degradation of the Medieval church followed the introduction of idols into Christian worship. Charles Hodge commented upon the specious distinction between worshiping a beast or an image, as such, contrasted with worshiping such things as symbols of higher reality, thus:
In such idolatry, the idol, or animal,
was, with regard to the majority, the
ultimate object of worship. Some
professed to regard the visible images
a mere symbol of the real object of
their adoration; while others believed
that the gods in some way filled those
idols, and operated through them; and
others, again, that the universal
principle of being was reverenced
under these manifestations. The
scriptures take no account of these
Positive proof that the scriptures indeed do not take account of such distinctions is found by a comparison of Revelation 19:10 with 22:8-10. In those separate incidents, an angel of God first forbade John to worship the angel, and in the second instance forbade him to worship "before the angel" in such an attitude as even to suggest that worship was being given to an angel. From this comes the valid deduction that worshiping "before an image" is one and the same thing as worshiping an image.
How vain is the thought that any of God's creatures, and least of all any such thing as an image of any of them, could enter into or contribute anything toward God's worship. God cannot be represented by art or man's device. An idol is blind, dumb, inert, immobile, helpless, unfeeling, without sense or sensitivity, and subject to decay - how can such a THING be conceived of as a permissible symbol, either of the glorious God or the exalted Saviour? Awesome indeed are the consequences of idolatry; and Paul next proceeded to write what those consequences are.
Verses 24, 25
Wherefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts unto uncleanness, that their bodies should be dishonored among themselves: for that they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
There was nothing passive in God's giving up those ancient people, and the clause will bear the translation, "God handed them over," F52 a statement that occurs three times in the remaining verses of this chapter (Romans 1:24,26,28). These dreadful words, thrice repeated with increasing intensity, are a kind of litany of the doomed, showing how dreadful is the fate of them that are given up of God, that is, handed over to the consequences of their rebellion.
Paul had already mentioned the various idolatries of those ancient rebels against God's authority, idolatries which were marked by all kinds of promiscuous relations between the sexes, all such excesses forming a standard part of the worship of ancient idols, of which things the Lord says it is a "shame" to speak (Ephesians 5:12), hence no catalogue of them is entered here. In a word, idolatrous worship consistently produced in people the kind of conduct that might be expected of beasts; but a far lower form of degradation is the subject of these verses, "the uncleanness" here mentioned being a reference to such conduct as no beast was ever guilty of. Homosexuality is included in this but does not exhaust the meaning. Unmentionable perversions, masochism, sadism, and other degenerate practices were among the types of behavior to which God handed over the pre-Christian world. And why did God so do? The answer is in Rom. 1:25; it was because "They changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshiped and served the creature, rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen."
God gave them up ...
means more than the mere removal of the restraining hand of providence from the lives of wrongdoers, for there is included a conscious requirement of God that the sinner thus judged shall be compelled to continue upon the shameful path he has chosen, just as in the case of Judas who received the sentence from Christ, "What thou doest, do quickly" (John 13:7), in which case Satan had already entered Judas' heart, and he had been given up by Christ to commit the treacherous deed already committed in his heart. Another example of the same thing is the case of Balaam who, when he would have turned back from a wrong course, was commanded of God, "Go with the men" (Numbers 22:22). Once people have consciously put God out of mind and allowed Satan to have dominion in their thoughts, they have at that point entered the downward road, and God himself will see to it that they go all the way to the end of the road they have deliberately chosen, or, to borrow an old proverb, lie in the beds they have made. This is not to say, however, that God causes people to do wrong; far from it. Lenski pointed out the difference thus:
This is more than permission to fall
into uncleanness, and it is less than
causing this fall. God's action is
judicial. At first, God always
restrains by moral persuasion, by
legal and other hindrances; but when
God is completely cast off, when the
measure of ungodliness overflows, his
punitive justice hands the sinners
over completely to their sins in order
to let the sins run to excess and
destroy the sinners. F53
Thus, from God's treatment of the ancient Gentile world, it might properly be inferred that when the present world has reached a certain degree of rebellion against God, he will loose Satan upon humanity for the same purpose, which could indeed be why such an event as the "loosing of Satan" should be included in the divine plan (Revelation 20:3,7).
We cannot leave this passage without repeating the emphasis upon the truth that the reprobacy of the pre-Christian world was essentially an apostasy, wherein the people exchanged the truth of God for a lie. Refusing to honor the Father, they found themselves upon a downward escalator, moving them inexorably to lower and lower levels of depravity. The pagan idolatry and reprobacy into which those people plunged were not primitive or primeval, but exactly the opposite, being the terminal condition resulting from their rejection of the one true and Almighty God; and a major deduction from this that appears inevitable is that man did not rise by his own bootstraps through depravity and idolatry to a conviction of monotheism; but that, on the other hand, he descended from the privilege of prior knowledge of God to the foolishness and immorality of paganism. The so-called "savage" is therefore not primitive or original, as to his moral condition, but is the natural descendant of the people who dishonored God and turned away from following him, despite the fact that they knew him.
As people contemplate the wretched condition of the ancient Gentiles that came about by their apostasy, they should find the incentive to examine themselves continually, and to draw ever nearer and nearer to God. If a disaster similar to that which overwhelmed ancient Gentiles is to be averted from the posterity of present enlightened populations of the earth, men must employ themselves wholeheartedly in the service of God, striving constantly to know the Truth, and beholding in it, as in a mirror, themselves as they appear in the eyes of God. Only by the most faithful adherence to God's truth in Christ, as revealed in the Bible, can it ever be possible to avoid a repetition of the historic moral catastrophe which debauched the pre-Christian era.
Verses 26, 27
For this cause God gave them up unto vile passions: for their women changed the natural use into that which is against nature: and likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another, men with men working unseemliness, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was due.
For this cause God gave them up unto vile passions ...
These words affirm the judicial nature of the penalty enforced upon ancient apostate nations which overstepped the hidden boundary between God's mercy and his wrath and were "given up." This is the second time in this section that the fact of God's judicial sentence has been mentioned, and here the emphasis is upon the cause of it, "for this cause" stressing the overflowing nature of their sins. See under preceding verse.
In these verses, and preceding, sexual deviation is brought to attention, not merely as sin, which it is, but also as punishment for sin, Rom. 1:26 dealing with the female deviate, and Rom. 1:27 with the male. How is sin the punishment of sin? In the light of these verses, the debaucheries of the depraved are in themselves a punishment well-suited to the crime of turning away from God. The horrible lusts mentioned here, burning with ever greater and greater intensity, descending constantly to lower and lower levels of uncleanness, and, at last, leaving the sinner consumed by an insatiable lust, cause this terminal condition to be one of utter pitiableness and misery. This is what is meant by the statement that such persons receive "in themselves" the reward justly due their conduct.
And even as they refused to have God in their knowledge, God gave them up unto a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not fitting.
Thus, the third time in half a dozen verses, it is written that "God gave them up," and, in each instance, reference is made to the principle of retribution. God's giving people up was not capricious, but founded upon the righteous premise that such conduct deserved the adverse judgment it received. There is also observed here the concept of punishment fitting the crime, or "retribution in kind"; for it is not said merely that God gave them up, but that "even as" they had refused to have God in their knowledge, God delivered them over to a reprobate mind, making their reprobacy correspond to the reprobate act of forsaking the knowledge of God. The same thought is expressed in Rom. 1:27 where the judgment was mentioned as one that "was due."
WHEN GOD GIVES UP ON PEOPLE
In the paragraph above, Paul affirmed that for just reasons God gave up on some people; but that was hardly a new concept. The psalmist noted that,
My people hearkened not to my voice;
and Israel would none of me. So I let
them go after the stubbornness of
their heart, that they might walk in
their own counsels (Psalms 81:11,12).
The martyr Stephen likewise said,
But God turned and gave them up to
serve the host of heaven (Acts 7:42).
The extent of man's ruin that inevitably follows when God gives him up involves the total moral, intellectual, and physical nature of man. The dwarf peoples in some parts of earth show that man's physical body suffers the penalty of sin, some sins, in particular, being cited in scripture as sins against "the body" (1 Corinthians 6:18). The affections of people are corrupted (Romans 1:26), and they reach a state of loving darkness rather than the light (John 3:20). The intellect is darkened, and people become vain, or foolish, in their imaginations (Romans 1:21). Also, there is finally an adverse, punitive change effected in people, that being the action that God himself takes against the incorrigibly wicked. For example,
Because they received not the love of
the truth that they might be saved;
and for this cause, God shall send
them strong delusion, that they should
believe a lie: that they all might be
damned who believed not the truth but
had pleasure in unrighteousness
(2 Thessalonians 2:8-12KJV).
Thus, the ruin that ensues when God gives man up is fourfold: physical, moral, intellectual, and physical.
The specific sins revealed in scripture as causing God to give man up are: (1) sinning against the light (Romans 1:21); (2) refusing to give God thanks (Romans 1:21); (3) vain imaginations (Romans 1:21-22); and (4) worshiping and serving the creature rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25); but perhaps these specifics are but facets of a greater sin encompassing all these things, namely, that of the deification of humanity. It is the invariable and instinctive thrust of hearts filled with Satan, that they would slay God and take his place, thus partaking of the primeval sin of Eve who believed the Satanic lie that "Ye shall be as gods knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:5).
In these times, people are still deifying humanity in a thousand ways, traveling old forbidden roads to ruin, as witnessed by the widespread neglect of religion and the worship of God, and the increasing secularization of the total life of the people. Wherever people exalt self, wherever people's words are preferred and heeded, rather than God's word, wherever images that are "like" people are bowed down to and consecrated, and wherever may be accepted the foolish notion that the solution of man's problems lies within man - there the creature is worshiped and served more than the Creator. The step-by-step progression of the spiritual condition of them that turn away from God is outlined in the three short paragraphs in this part of Paul's letter, each of them beginning with the statement that God gave them up.
What happens to the worship of God under conditions prevailing after God has given man up? (1) There is the conscious neglect of God's worship, coupled with ingratitude and failure to give God thanks for all his mercies. As a consequence of this, the mind itself is darkened (Romans 1:21). (2) Next, idolatry ensues with the worship of things more and more abased, first, images of people, then worship of birds, beasts, and finally creeping things - all of this accompanied by sensuality. (3) God gives them up to the sensuality they have preferred, with the resultant immorality. (4) God gives them up even further to the progressive erosion of the very principle of morality, leading to perversion and depravity of both sexes. (5) Finally, God gives them up to complete and irreversible reprobacy of mind, leading to conditions in people that deserve the sentence of death to be executed upon them (Romans 1:28-32).
All of the horrors of Gentile paganism began with neglect of the worship of God and the omission of thanksgiving due to the Father, and this surely suggests that such sins are not merely "faults," but are radical and determinative. Thus, there can be nothing more important for humanity than a willing acceptance of divine light and the constant love and pursuit of it, coupled with diligent worship, prayer, and thanksgiving, which things will polarize the soul with reference to its Maker, and perpetuate the knowledge of God upon the earth. Failure to observe such an important duty will cut all the roots which nourish the flowers of every truth and virtue.
Being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness, full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, hateful to God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant-breakers, without natural affection, unmerciful: who, knowing the ordinance of God, that they that practice such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but also consent with them that practice them.
There are several such lists of sins in Paul's writings, 2 Tim. 3:1-8 and Gal. 5:19-21 being two others. In one of these, Paul attributes such conduct to the "corrupted in mind," and in the other to those practicing the "works of the flesh"; therefore, the same type of sinner is in view in all these. The lists are by no means identical, although touching in a number of places. The effort of scholars to organize or classify these lists has been rewarded with little or no success. This writer agrees with Fritsche who recommended that the student:
Not spend his time and ingenuity in
arranging into distinct classes words
whose meanings, and vices whose
characteristics, differ only by a
shade from each other. F54
Griffith Thomas presented as one acceptable classification of these 21 words the following fourfold division of them:
The first four comprehend general
descriptions of evil, but with special
reference to property; (2) then come
eight words which speak of a disregard
of proper relationships; (3) these in
turn are followed by three words
descriptive of general depravity of
character; and (4) last of all, there
are six words expressive of
unprincipled worthlessness of
However, after making the above classification, Thomas added:
In any case, the list refers to sins
of inward disposition and outward act,
to sins of thought, word, and deed, to
wrong against self, and against
neighbor, as well as against God.
Regarding the last verse of this portion, it was Godet's opinion that "DEATH here denotes death as only God can inflict it"; F56 but it is not clear why some believe capital punishment, as inflicted by man, is excluded. The outrageous nature of the evil deeds Paul mentioned is underscored by the fact that certain people not only practiced such things but encouraged and applauded that type of conduct. John Murray probably had the correct view in the following:
The death referred to cannot be
reasonably restricted to temporal
death. The Greeks themselves taught a
doctrine of retribution for the wicked
after death, and the apostle must have
taken this into account in the
statement of that which he credited
the nations with knowing.
Furthermore, he is here defining that
in which the ordinance of God
consists, and he cannot, in terms of
his own teaching elsewhere, confine it
to the judgment of temporal death.
Knowledge of God's penal judgment as
it issues in the torments of the life
to come is recognized, therefore, by
the apostle, as belonging to those
with whom he is now concerned. F57
Tellingly, this final verse of Romans 1 makes it clear that a certain minimal knowledge of God remains in the most depraved. The wicked persons who were Paul's subject here were surely at the bottom of the moral totem pole; but Paul here credits them with the inward recognition that God's righteous ordinance against their sins was just, or "righteous." This shows that the most outrageously wicked are aware of the moral contradiction in their deeds and that they inwardly acknowledge them to be deserving of death; and it is a fair conclusion that such people can have only contempt for a society that tries to explain all criminality as "sickness," and excuses the basest of human criminality on the basis that the perpetrator needed "help." Reference is here made to that man who walked into the Houston, Texas, police station, confessed the cold-blooded murder of twin brothers enrolled at Rice University, at the same time commending himself to the tolerance and forgiveness of society upon the premise that he was a man who needed help! F58
Sin is not sickness, at least in the ordinary meaning of either word. The type of sin under view here, by the apostle, is an arrogant and murderous rebellion against God and all righteousness, perpetrated by a bold and vicious enemy of all truth and goodness, who is properly judged only when such a one is recognized as a malignant parasite upon the body of mankind, amply deserving capital punishment in the present life and the suffering of eternal death in the life to come - only with this provision, that if, in the prospect of his deserved earthly punishment, the criminal truly seeks forgiveness in Christ through repentance and obedient faith, the latter and greater of the two penalties might, through God's grace and mercy, be averted. And precisely here is one of the benefits of capital punishment, that the shock of it, as the grim prospect of it is realized by the sinner, may lead to his repentance where all other measures failed.
The whole paragraph of wicked deeds should be understood as characteristic of the type of character Paul had in mind, that is, in a composite sense, the hardened sinner deserving death, being understood as manifesting all these evil qualities, and not merely some of them. The life-cycle of such a man is here presented in its aggregate, beginning with disobedience of parents in his childhood, running the full gamut of evil, and producing at last a man hated by God himself! To be sure, no chronological or other order was observed in this depiction of the death-deserving sinner, the glowing words seeming to tumble over each other in swift succession, like hot boulders out of a volcano.
WHY PEOPLE DO NOT BELIEVE
There is in the world today a vicious and unreasoning disbelief in the word of God, not merely a disbelief of specific doctrines such as the virgin birth or the resurrection, but a rejection of all truth, a kind of unbelief in capital letters, which infidelity is widely subscribed to and advocated, and which categorically refuses to believe in the supernatural, or in the reality of a personal God. Why is this? It is devoutly believed that the answer lies in Rom. 1:21, where Paul declared that "Their senseless heart was darkened." An investigation of this subject reveals the essential bias of the unbeliever and startling evidence to the effect that such a one suffers from the punitive blindness inflicted by the Creator. A wealth of material on this subject is found in the scriptures; and it is to those sacred passages that one must go to understand the mystery of unbelief; for, as might have been suspected, the darkened intellect itself would never have fashioned any kind of knife with which to explore surgically the perversity of the fallen intellect. Such a surgical tool is found only in the Bible itself.
"Knowing God, they glorified him not as God, neither gave thanks; but became vain in their reasonings, and their senseless heart was darkened" (Romans 1:21). The plain meaning of this is that in such cases, the mind itself is reduced in capacity, and that truths plainly discernible to the righteous are to the wicked man invisible, not because they cannot be seen, but because he is incapable of seeing them. The agency of Satan has primacy in causing such a condition, but the victim himself must lend his own will to the rejection of God before the punitive hardening takes place; and, without such voluntary acceptance of Satan's influence as a precondition, the mind cannot be hardened.
Paul wrote the Corinthians that "The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not dawn upon them" (2 Corinthians 4:4). How did Satan get such a power? It came when people forfeited it to the evil one by willfully turning away from God's teachings, thus making themselves God's enemy. Once in the driver's seat, firmly in control of the unbeliever's mind, Satan exerts a fantastic power to prevent his ever having faith in the Son of God. And is such a thing happening today? Men had better believe it! As Charles Hodge expressed it,
The blindness abides in all humanity
apart from those who believe and are
regenerated, whose minds have been
renewed by the Spirit of God. F59
Satan's blinding of the minds of people is analogous to the influence of any created being over another and is thus perfectly consistent with the free agency and responsibility of the individual. Also, in the revelation here that Satan blinds certain ones, there is the key to how God hardens the rebellious; he permits Satan to have his way with them.
"No longer walk as the Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their heart" (Ephesians 4:17,18). Paul's teaching also shows that the blinded mind, the hardened heart, the crippled intellect, can be recovered; because in the next chapter of Ephesians Paul wrote to them, "Ye were once in darkness, but are now light in the Lord" (Ephesians 5:8). Paul spelled it out in detail, just how such a wonder came about. He wrote:
And you did he make alive, when ye
were dead through your trespasses and
sins, wherein ye once walked,
according to the course of this world,
according to the prince of the powers
of the air, of the spirit that now
worketh in the sons of disobedience;
among whom ye also all once lived in
the lusts of your flesh, doing the
desires of the flesh and of the mind,
and were by nature children of wrath,
even as the rest; but God, being rich
in mercy, for his great love wherewith
he loved us, even when we were dead
through our trespasses, made us alive
together in Christ (Ephesians 2:1-5).
This shows that the person willing to do so, through submission to Christ, can overthrow the evil one, reject his domination, and enthrone the Christ upon his lawful place in the heart.
Thus, the fault is in man's will. As long as they will to walk in darkness, there is no power that can recover them. The will has the power to overrule the intellect; and this is the key that explains unbelief as it occurs among learned and intelligent men. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in "Fears in Solitude," gave poetic expression to the same thought:
Forth from his dark and lonely hiding
place, (Portentous sight!) the owlet
Atheism, Sailing on obscene wings
athwart the noon, Drops his
blue-fringed lids, and holds them
close, And hooting at the glorious sun
in Heaven, Cries out, "Where is
Christ himself made unbelief to be, not an act of intelligence, but a choice of evil in the heart:
And this is the judgment that light
has come into the world, and men loved
the darkness rather than the light,
for their works were evil (John 3:19).
The word "for" in the last clause has the meaning of "because" as in KJV. Thus, Christ himself is authority for the conclusion that no man ever thought his way into unbelief, whereas there have been millions who sinned their way into infidelity.
J. M. Gillis commented that:
Only in Atheism does the spring rise
higher than the source, the effect
exist without the cause, life come
from a stone, blood from a turnip, a
silk from a sow's ear, or a Beethoven
Symphony or a Bach Fugue from a kitten
walking across the keys. F61
Footnotes for Romans 1
1: Charles Hodge, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1968), p. 14.
2: R. L. Whiteside, Commentary on Romans (Fort Worth, Texas: The Mannery Company, 1945), p. 7.
3: Charles Hodge, op, cit., p. 15.
4: Charles Hodge, op. cit., p. 16.
5: F. F. Bruce, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1963), p. 7.
6: William M. Greathouse, Commentary on Romans (Kansas City, Missouri: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1968), p. 31.
7: Charles Hodge, op. cit., p. 20.
8: C. K. Barrett, op. cit., p. 20.
9: Wm. M. Greathouse, op. cit., p. 31.
10: Barrett, op. cit., p. 21.
11: W. Sanday, in Ellicott's Commentary on the Whole Bible (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1959), vol. vii, p. 203.
12: James Macknight, Apostolical Epistles (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1960), p. 56.
13: Greathouse, op. cit., p. 34.
14: Moses E. Lard, Commentary on Paul's Letter to Romans (Cincinnati, Ohio: Christian Board of Publication, 1914), p. 33.
15: Wm. M. Greathouse, op. cit., p. 35.
16: Charles Hodge, op. cit., p. 24.
17: John Wesley, Explanatory Notes on the New Testament (London: The Epworth Press, 1950), p. 517.
18: Charles Hodge, op. cit., p. 24.
19: William M. Greathouse, op. cit., p. 36.
20: R. L. Whiteside, op. cit., p. 14.
21: James Macknight, op. cit., p. 57.
22: J. A. Beet, St. Paul's Epistles to the Romans, p. 47.
23: Emil Brunner, op. cit., p. 15.
24: Moses E. Lard, op. cit., p. 38.
25: Richard A. Batey, op. cit., p. 23.
26: R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Augsburg Publishing House, 1963), p. 76.
27: J. Barmby, The Pulpit Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1963), Vol. 18 (iii), p. viii.
28: J. Barmby, op. cit., pp. x, xi.
29: Charles Hodge, op. cit., p. 32.
31: John Murray, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1968), Vol. 1, p. 31.
32: New English Bible.
33: F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Ephesians (Westwood, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1961), p. 7.
34: R. L. Whiteside, op. cit., p. 34.
35: J. Barmby, The Pulpit Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1963), Vol. 18, iii, p. 9.
36: R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 35.
37: R. L. Whiteside, op. cit., p. 36.
38: R. C. Bell, Studies in Romans (Austin, Texas: Firm Foundation Publishing House, 1957), p. 12.
39: James Macknight, op. cit., p. 58.
40: As quoted by Griffith Thomas, op. cit., p. 68.
41: From Bartlett's Quotations (Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1939), p. 542.
42: Dr. Andrew Conway Ivy, in The Evidence of God in an Expanding Universe (New York: G. P. Putnam and Sons, 1958), p. 229.
43: Ibid., p. 231.
44: John Murray, op. cit., p. 41.
45: R. C. Bell, op. cit., p. 12.
46: W. Sanday, op. cit., p. 207.
47: J. Barmby, op. cit., p. 12.
48: Chester Warren Quimby, The Great Redemption (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1950), pp. 45-46.
49: W. Sanday, op. cit., p. 207.
51: Charles Hodge, op. cit., p. 39.
52: C. K. Barrett, op. cit., p. 38.
53: R. C. H. Lenski, op. cit., p. 108.
54: Griffith Thomas, op. cit., p. 53.
55: Ibid., p. 74.
56: F. Godet, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1970), p. 58.
57: John Murray, op. cit., p. 51.
58: The Houston Chronicle, front page, December 2, 1971. top save<59> Charles Hodge, An Exposition of the Second Epistle to the saveCorinthians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1950), p. 86.
60: Frank S. Mead, The Encyclopedia of Religious Quotations (Westwood, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1965), p. 11.
61: Frank S. Mead, op. cit., p. 11.