Salutation, 1-7

1:1 From Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God. 1:2 This gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, 1:3 concerning his Son who was a descendant of David with reference to the flesh, 1:4 who was appointed the Son-of-God-in-power according to the Holy Spirit by the resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord

Although following a fairly conventional format, this introduction is the most elaborate in all of Paul’s extant letters. He spends 6 verses introducing himself before he mentions his recipients.

A servant of Christ Jesus – ‘servant’ is probably too weak. The Gk. doulos was almost always used of a true slave. Paul is very clear of about his subservience to his master. And yet, in the OT ‘the servant of the Lord’ was applied to such outstanding figures as Moses, Jos 14:7 and David, 18:1.

Called to be an apostle – ‘What was special about those who were chosen for the office of apostle? First, they were chosen personally by Jesus Christ. (Jn 6:70) This applies to Paul, too. (Gal 1:1) Second, they had to be eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry, especially of his resurrection. (Ac 1:21-22) Paul stresses that he qualifies in this respect: “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” (1 Co 9:1; see 15:8). Third, they were endowed with the Holy Spirit. (Jn 14:26; 15:26; 16:12-15; 20:22) Paul was conscious of his own special guidance by the Spirit. (1 Cor 2:7-13; 7:40) Fourth, the apostles were given teaching and ruling authority over the whole church. (Jn 20:23; Acts 2:42; 6:6; Eph 2:20; 3:5; 2 Pet 3:2) The Apostle Paul shared this authority. (1 Thess 2:6; 1 Tim 2:7) Finally, apostles were given special miraculous powers as signs of their authority. (Mt 10:1; Acts 2:43; 5:12; 8:18) The same was true of Paul. (Rom 15:19; 2 Co 12:12) While Paul shared the basic apostolic qualifications with the twelve, in some ways his apostleship was unique. As far as we know, he was not an eyewitness of Jesus’ entire ministry, from his baptism by John to his ascension, (Ac 1:21-22) though he saw the risen Christ: “Last of all he appeared to me also.” (1 Co 15:8) Because of the unusual circumstances of his call, he refers to himself as “abnormally born” into the office of apostle. (1 Co 15:8) Also, Paul’s ministry was unique in that he was specifically appointed to be the apostle to the Gentiles. (see Rom 1:5 comment below) In no case, however, were Paul’s office and apostleship inferior to that of the twelve. (2 Co 11:5; 12:11) As an apostle of Christ Jesus, he spoke with the full authority of Jesus himself. We need to keep this in mind as we read the book of Romans. It is part of “the apostles’ teaching;” (Ac 2:42) it is Scripture; (2 Pe 3:16) it is “the word of God”.’ (1 Th 2:13) (College Press)

Set apart – Paul is probably thinking of his Damascus Road experience, when God called him to preach Christ to both Jews and Gentiles, Acts 9:15-16.  His point is that ‘the author of his call is God.  There was to be no suspicion that he was appropriating this honour from personal presumption’ (Calvin).

‘It should be noted here that not all are fit for the ministry of the word.  This requires a special call.  Those who think that they are most suitable should be careful not to assume the office without a call’ (Calvin).

The gospel – ‘If, then, we are to identify a single theme for the letter, it must be ‘the gospel’. The word is prominent in the introduction (Rom 1:1-2,9,15) and conclusion (Rom 15:16,19) of the letter, and has pride of place in what is usually identified as the statement of the letter’s theme: ‘I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes’ (Rom 1:16).’ (Moo, NBC)

The gospel

  1. predicted, Rom 1:2
  2. glorious, Rom 1:3
  3. universal, Rom 1:5
  4. captivating, Rom 1:9
  5. powerful, Rom 1:16
  6. discriminating, Rom 1:18

(Pickering, 1,000 Subjects, adapted)

Indeed, what Paul says about the gospel in the first and last paragraphs of this letter form an impressive inclusio. Both tell of the gospel as (a) the fulfilment of prophecy; (b) focused on Jesus Christ; (c) now proclaimed; (d) to be obeyed.

‘When Paul refers to the gospel, he is not referring to a system of salvation, though of course the gospel implies and contains this, nor even to the good news that there now is a way of salvation open to all, but rather to the proclamation that the crucified Jesus of Nazareth has been raised from the dead and thereby demonstrated to be both Israel’s Messiah and the world’s true Lord. The gospel is not you can be saved, and here’s how; the gospel, for Paul, is Jesus Christ is Lord.’ (N.T. Wright, New Perspectives on Paul)

‘Since the word gospel was in public use to designate the message that Caesar was the Lord of the whole world, Paul’s message could not escape being confrontative: Jesus, not Caesar, is Lord, and at his name, not that of the Emperor, every knee shall bow. This aspect lies at the heart of what I have called the fresh perspective on Paul, the discovery of a subversive political dimension not as an add-on to Paul’s theology but as part of the inner meaning of gospel, righteousness, and so on.’ (N.T. Wright, ibid.)

Paul has already, in v1, mentioned the gospel and his own apostolic ministry. He will now expand on each of these in turn, vv2-4; 5f.

His prophets – Paul is thinking more of the entire witness of the OT than about the individual writing prophets.

‘The antiquity of [the gospel]: it was “promised before” (verse 2).  It was no novel upstart doctrine, but of ancient standing in the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament, which did all unanimously point at the gospel, the morning beams that ushered in the sun of righteousness – this not by word of mouth only, but in the Scriptures.’ (MHC)

Many interpreters think that Paul is quoting an early Christian hymn or creed in v3b, 4. If so, he is building a bridge between what is already known and accepted by his readers, and what he wants to say to them.

Some (e.g. Harper’s Bible Commentary) think that Paul has combined here two early contrasting Christian traditions concerning Jesus, one stressing his humanity (‘a descendant of David’), and the other his divinity (‘the Son of God’).  But this is merely conjectural, and it is at least as likely that Paul is quoting from a single ‘tradition’ that affirmed both strands (cf. Jn 1:14).

We have some of the ‘raw materials’ here for the doctrine of the ‘two natures’ of Christ.  Calvin: ‘Paul…clearly distinguishes between Christ’s human and divine nature.’

His Son – ‘If statistics were our guide, it would appear that Son of God (15 occurrences) was much less important for Paul than Lord, which appears at least ten times more frequently in his writings. Nevertheless, as M. Hengel (The Son of God, 1976, ch. 3) has shown, Paul uses this title for Jesus when he is summing up the content of his gospel, (Rom 1:3-4,9; Gal 1:15f) and tends to reserve it for important statements. He uses it when the question of the relationship between God and Jesus is particularly in his mind, and, as we saw earlier, took up the traditional statements which spoke of God sending his pre-existent Son into the world and giving him up to die for us. He brings out especially the fact that it is through the work of the Son that we can be adopted as God’s sons.’ (Rom 8:29; Gal 4:4-6)

Human nature – ‘sarx’, flesh.  If Paul asserts that Christ was, according to the flesh, the Son of David, does this undermine the testimony of Matthew and Luke to the virgin birth?  No.  For one thing, it is quite possible that Mary herself belonged to the house of David.  Moreover, we know that Joseph had adopted Jesus as his own son, and therefore conferred on him all the legal rights of Davidic lineage.  Furthermore, Paul here (as in Gal 4:4) uses the verb ginesthai (‘to beome’) rather than gennasthai (‘to be born’), which may reflect Paul’s awareness of the unusual nature of Jesus’ birth.  (See Macleod, The Person of Christ, p30)

A descendant of David – ‘This phrase in itself indicates not only Jesus’ Jewishness and humanity, but also focuses on the pedigree warranting his title Messiah/Christ. This surely implies some stress on his royalty.’ (DPL)

Declared…to be the Son of God – ‘Observe how studiously the language changes here. He “was made says the apostle of the seed of David, according to the flesh;” (Rom 1:3) but he was not made, he was only “declared or proved to be the Son of God.” So Jn 1:1,14 “In the beginning was the Word…and the Word was made flesh;” and Isa 9:6 “Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given.” Thus the Sonship of Christ is in no proper sense a born relationship to the Father, as some, otherwise sound divines, conceive of it. By his birth in the flesh, that Sonship, which was essential and uncreated, merely effloresced into palpable manifestation. (See on Lk 1:35; Acts 13:32,33).’ (JFB)

Declared with power –  Moo suggests that ‘declared’ should be ‘appointed’. The meaning would be something like, ‘who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed to be the powerful Son of God. It is not that Jesus had not always be the Son of God. But, ‘Jesus’ resurrection, concluding and validating the messianic work of redemption, gave him new power to dispense salvation to all those who would believe in him.’

This divine power, says Calvin, ‘was made evident in his resurrection, just as Paul elsewhere, after declaring that the weakness of the flesh had been made manifest n Christ’s death, extols the power of the Spirit in his resurrection (2 Cor 13:4).’

Wright argues: ‘It is important to stress here, as I have done elsewhere, that though the resurrection thus unveils what was there before, it does not confer or create a new status or identity for Jesus. The key word horisthentos, with its root meaning to do with ‘marking a boundary’, and hence ‘defining’ or ‘determining’, has to do with the public clarification, validation or vindication of a previously made claim, not with a claim or status newly introduced. That is quite clear for three reasons. First, in the passages we studied earlier it is the death of God’s son that reveals God’s love in Romans 5 and 8, and for that to make any sense Jesus must obviously have been ‘God’s son’ when he was crucified. Second, in Romans 1:3–4 itself, the messianic status of ‘son of David’ already, according to Psalm 2 and 2 Samuel 7, implied that this person was ‘son of God’, so that the logical order of verses 3 and 4 has the force of a Davidic messianic claim to divine sonship being then validated in the resurrection. Third, and also in this passage, the whole double clause is introduced by the phrase ‘the gospel of God … concerning his son’: in other words, the ‘son’ is the subject of the whole sequence. If there is anything new about Jesus’ post-resurrection sonship in this verse, it is simply that his sonship, possessed all along, is now ‘in power’.’ (Paul and the Faithfulness of God, p. 700)

‘The most celebrated event in the New Testament is the resurrection of Christ. The resurrection enjoys this place of honour because it verified Christ’s victory over sin and death. (Rom 1:4) Certainly no event since the world began has been so fully proved by the concurrent testimonies of so many people. Therefore, if we entertain a view of history that excludes the resurrection of Christ, we do more than repudiate Biblical history. We repudiate the very possibility of history, for other past events have less evidence in their favour.’ (E.J. Carnell, The Case For Orthodox Theology, 90)

1:5 Through him we have received grace and our apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles on behalf of his name. 1:6 You also are among them, called to belong to Jesus Christ. 1:7 To all those loved by God in Rome, called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Through him and for his name’s sake – This actually comes at the end of a Greek sentence and so belongs, as something of a climax, with the preceding.

God’s name and glory

‘If…God desires every knee to bow to Jesus and every tongue to confess him [Phil 2:9ff], so should we. We should be ‘jealous’ (as Scripture sometimes puts it) for the honour of his name—troubled when it remains unknown, hurt when it is ignored, indignant when it is blasphemed, and all the time anxious and determined that it shall be given the honour and glory which are due to it. The highest of all missionary motives is neither obedience to the Great Commission (important as that is), nor love for sinners who are alienated and perishing (strong as that incentive is, especially when we contemplate the wrath of God, verse 18), but rather zeal—burning and passionate zeal—for the glory of Jesus Christ.

‘Some evangelism, to be sure, is no better than a thinly disguised form of imperialism, whenever our real ambition is for the honour of our nation, church, organization, or ourselves. Only one imperialism is Christian, however, and that is concern for His Imperial Majesty Jesus Christ, and for the glory of his empire or kingdom. The earliest Christians, John tells us, went out ‘for the sake of the Name’. He does not even specify to which name he is referring. But we know. And Paul tells us. It is the incomparable name of Jesus. Before this supreme goal of the Christian mission, all unworthy motives wither and die.’ (Stott)

We received grace and apostleship – There may be a hint here that Paul regards his Damascus Road experience as both a conversion (by grace) and a vocation (to apostleship).  Some in the ‘New Perspective’ tradition follow Stendahl in (over)emphasising the latter.

Kruse, however, thinks that Paul is using a hendiadys here – using the two words to convey a single concept: ‘the grace of apostleship’.  See Eph 4:7,10.  Origen: ‘For he [the Father] gives grace to his apostles, by which those who are struggling may say: I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I but the grace of God which is with me.… It was only through the grace which had been given to the apostles that the gentiles, who were strangers from the covenant of God and from the life of Israel, could believe in the gospel.’

The obedience of faith – So the lit. meaning of the phrase.  Paul will refer again to ‘the obedience of faith’ at the end of his letter, Rom 16:26 (lit.), thus forming a possible ‘inclusio‘ (or pair of bookending statements) that mark the beginning and end of his main argument.

'The obedience of faith'

Romans 1:5 ‘Through him we have received grace and our apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles on behalf of his name.’

What is meant by ‘the obedience of faith’?  Here are the main interpretative options:-

(a) ‘Faith’ may mean ‘the faith’, or the body of apostolic teaching.  Compare Acts 6:7 – ‘obedient to the faith’.  But the definite article is absent in the original, and the context in Romans (which emphases ‘faith’) is against this interpretation.

(b) The expression may mean, ‘the obedience that consists of faith’.  Cf. Rom 6:17; 10:16; 15:18–20; 16:25–26; 2 Thess. 1:8.  Calvin: ‘Faith is properly that by which we obey the gospel’.  It might be countered that although there is a close connection between obedience and faith in the NT, they are not regarded as synonymous.  Kruse favours this interpretation, drawing attention to the immediate context, where in which Paul has just mentioned the grace that has been given to him to preach the gospel, and to similar expression in Rom 16:25-27, where the context indicates that Paul has belief in the gospel in mind.  Kruse also points out the Paul seems to use ‘faith’ and ‘obedience’ almost synonymously in Rom 1:8/Rom 16:19.

(c) It may mean, as the NIV translates, ‘the obedience that comes from faith’.  Cf. Rom 6:16; Eph. 6:1, 5; Phil. 2:12; Col. 3:20, 22; 2 Thess. 3:14; Heb 11:8.  Bruce: ‘the obedience that is based on faith in Christ. The ‘faith’ here is not the gospel or the body of doctrine presented for belief, but the belief itself.’  Stott says, ‘the proper response to the gospel is faith, indeed faith alone. Yet a true and living faith in Jesus Christ both includes within itself an element of submission (cf. Rom 10:3), especially because its object is ‘Jesus Christ our Lord’ (4) or ‘the Lord Jesus Christ’ (7), and leads inevitably into a lifetime of obedience. That is why the response Paul looked for was a total, unreserved commitment to Jesus Christ, which he called ‘the obedience of faith’.’  Murray, Cranfield, and Morris also incline to this interpretation.

Although inclining towards (b), Kruse says that we should not, in any case, separate faith as obedience from faith that expresses itself in obedience.  Indeed, a number of interpreters (Kruse cites Garlington, Schreiner and Dunn) think that we should take a ‘both/and’ approach.  Schreiner: ‘It is unlikely…that “the obedience of faith” should be confined to a single act of obedience that occurred when the gospel was first believed. Nor should faith and obedience be sundered as if Christians could have the former without the latter.… The belief first exercised upon conversion is validated as one continues to believe and obey (11:20–22)’

Morris says, ‘Whichever way we take the expression, obedience is not an option (cf. 1 John 3:23–24). It is binding on all Christians.’

Moo prefers to understand the two terms, ‘obedience’ and ‘faith’ as mutually interpreting.  ‘Faith, if genuine, always has obedience as its outcome; obedience, if it is to please God, must always be accompanied by faith.’

Similarly, Edwards says: ‘There is no separation in Paul’s mind between faith and obedience, between believing and doing. “Only he who believes is obedient,” said Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “and only he who is obedient believes” (Cost of Discipleship, p. 69). The Book of James is particularly aware of the problem of saying one thing and doing another (James 2:14–26). Jesus himself taught that a tree is known by the fruit it bears (Mt 7:15–20; see also 21:28–32). His call to “Follow me” demands an act which embodies a belief.’

‘Paul probably uses this unusual formulation as a deliberate counter to the Jewish “works of the law.” What marks God’s people is no longer deeds done in obedience to the law, but an obedience that stems from, accompanies, and displays faith.’ (Moo)

‘Since the gospel is the heraldic proclamation of Jesus as Lord, it is not first and foremost a suggestion that one might like to enjoy a new religious experience. Nor is it even the take-it-or-leave-it offer of a way to salvation. It is a royal summons to submission, to obedience, to allegiance; and the form that this submission and obedient allegiance takes is of course faith. That is what Paul means by the obedience of faith.’ (N.T. Wright, New Perspectives on Paul)

Ian Hamilton agrees that this phrase is probably telling us ‘that faith in Jesus Christ initiates a believer into a life of obedience to Jesus Christ. Where there is no heart obedience to Christ, there can be no saving faith in Christ…Faith is not mere notional assent to biblical propositions. Faith, what the Bible means by faith, takes you into Christ, brings you into living personal union and communion with Christ.’  Jesus is presented in Scripture not only as a priest who makes atonement for our sin and now intercedes for us at God’s right hand; he is also presented as a prophet who stands before us as God’s final and authoritative word, and as a king who rules over us.

Hamilton also stresses that true Christian obedience is an obedience of faith: ‘The Christian’s obedience of Christ is to be a believing obedience. All we do we are to do in faith. This is what distinguishes evangelical obedience from legal obedience. Legal obedience is fuelled by a desire to earn merit with God. It is born of fear not love. It is duteous without being truly dutiful. In contrast, evangelical obedience is fuelled by love and thankfulness. It is prompted by a desire to please the Saviour. It sees obedience to God’s commandments not as a duteous chore, but as a true delight (Psa. 119:24, 35, 47, 70, 97; John 14:15). Love truly does make obedience sweet.’

Having just stated that ‘we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles’, v5, Paul now refers to the Christians in Rome as belonging within this orbit, and therefore within the orbit of his ministry. Paul is asserting his right to address a group of Christians he has never met before.

Loved by God and called to be saints – ‘Both descriptions reflect OT language about Israel. Paul, as an important part of his agenda in this letter, is implying that the Roman Christians, Gentiles though most of them may be, have inherited the privileges and promises granted to the OT people of God.’ (Moo)

God our Father and…the Lord Jesus Christ – ‘”Nothing speaks more decisively for the divinity of Christ than these juxtapositions of Christ with the eternal God, which run through the whole language of Scripture, and the derivation of purely divine influences from him also. The name of no man can be placed by the side of the Almighty. He only, in whom the Word of the Father who is himself God became flesh, may be named beside him; for men are commanded to honor him even as they honor the Father” (Jn 5:23) Olshausen.’ (JFB)

Called – All the senses found in the Old Testament appear again in the New Testament. The meaning “invite/summon” is encountered principally in the parables of the great banquet (Lk 14:16-25) and the marriage feast. (Mt 22:2-10) Calling in the sense of naming has special importance in the infancy narratives. (Mt 1:21 Lk 1:60 2:21) Calling on the name of the Lord is found in a quotation from Joel in both Acts 2:21 and Rom 10:13. The choosing of the apostles can be expressed in terms of calling. (Mk 1:20) Finally, Christ’s people are those whom he has called and who are rightly called by his name. (Rom 8:28 Gal 1:6 1 Thess 2:12 1 Pet 1:15)

We are called to be before we are called to do. ‘The point to make from Scripture about our calling or our vocation is that when God calls us he is not calling us primarily to do something but to be something. Our calling, according to Scripture, concerns much more our character and what kind of person we are than simply what our job is.’ (John Stott)

Grace and peace – ‘Although ‘grace’ and ‘peace’ are common monosyllables, they are pregnant with theological substance. In fact, they summarise Paul’s gospel of salvation. The nature of salvation is peace, or reconciliation – peace with God, peace with men, peace within. The source of salvation is grace, God’s free favour, irrespective of any human merit or works, his loving-kindness to the undeserving. And this grace and peace flow from the Father and the Son together.’ (Stott, Authentic Christianity, 183)

Paul’s Desire to Visit Rome, 8-15

1:8 First of all, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the whole world. 1:9 For God, whom I serve in my spirit by preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness that I continually remember you 1:10 and I always ask in my prayers, if perhaps now at last I may succeed in visiting you according to the will of God. 1:11 For I long to see you, so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you, 1:12 that is, that we may be mutually comforted by one another’s faith, both yours and mine. 1:13 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that I often intended to come to you (and was prevented until now), so that I may have some fruit even among you, just as I already have among the rest of the Gentiles. 1:14 I am a debtor both to the Greeks and to the barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. 1:15 Thus I am eager also to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome.

First – is never followed by ‘second’ and ‘third’. Perhaps Paul is thinking of priority rather than sequence.

God, whom I serve with my whole heart – lit. ‘in my spirit’.

How constantly I remember you – ‘so for the Ephesians; (Eph 1:15,15) so for the Philippians; (Php 1:3,4) so for the Colossians; (Col 1:3,4) so for the Thessalonians. (1 Thess 1:2,3) What catholic love, what all-absorbing spirituality, what impassioned devotion to the glory of Christ among men!’ (JFB)

Some spiritual gift – There are two possible meanings. (a) specifically, Paul wishes to confer some spiritual gift such as any of those mentioned in 1 Cor 12. Objectors to this view assert that such gifts are not imparted by ministers (not even by apostles) but by God, Rom 12:6; Eph 4:11; 1 Cor 12:11. But such objections seem not to take account of the fact that miraculous gifts were conferred through the instrumentality of the laying on of apostolic hands. As far as we know, no apostle had yet visited Rome, and Paul may have felt that the church there had the same need as the Samaritan believers prior to the visit of Peter and John. (Ac 8:14-19) (b) More generally, Paul wishes to confer on the Roman church the benefit that would accrue from his preaching, teaching, and other ministries. He wanted to share the gospel in all its power and fullness (v15; cf. v9). In either case, there is ‘an intentional indefiniteness’ (Cranfield) about this statement, because at this stage Paul could not tell exactly what their need would be.

‘Christian fellowship, as indeed all real fellowship, is a mutual benefit; and as it is not possible for the most eminent saints and servants of Christ to impart any refreshment and profit to the meanest of their brethren without experiencing a rich return into their bosoms, so just in proportion to their humility and love will they feel their need of it and rejoice in it.’ (JFB)

Mutual encouragement – ‘The fellowship that Paul desires is to be a two-way traffic. Paul, great apostle though he is, is humble and realistic enough to acknowledge that he needs fellowship for his own encouragement, and to say outright that when he goes to minister to his fellow-Christians he does so in the hope, not merely that he will do them good, but that they will do him good. Some Christians of long standing are too proud to take help in spiritual things from their younger brethren; some ministers will not let themselves be helped by members of their congregations; but not so Paul.’ (J.I Packer, God’s Words, 196)

‘The strength of Paul’s assertions about his desire to visit the church suggests that some of the Roman Christians may have felt slighted that the great ‘apostle to the Gentiles’ had not yet come to the capital of the Gentile world. Paul assures them that his absence has not been from lack of desire but from lack of opportunity: he has been prevented from visiting them (13), the hindrance probably being his obligations to the churches in the eastern Mediterranean (cf. Rom 15:19-23).’ (NBC)

Greeks and non-Greeks – ‘Hellen’ and ‘barbaros‘ (barbarians). Educated Greeks used this latter term to mock those who could not speak the Greek language well. By these terms, Paul is referring to the entire Gentile community, as in v13.

We might ask whether we are as eager to preach the gospel to those who have not heard is as Paul was. Of course, those to whom he was writing were already believers, and yet he still wants to preach the gospel to them. This implies that the gospel has a place not only in converting people, but in discipling them too. “The Gospel” includes ‘not simply an initial preaching mission but the full sequence of activities resulting in settled churches.’ (Paul Blowers)

‘Successful evangelism includes follow-up. Discipling those who have “come forward” to receive the gospel is not an optional add-on, but a necessary component of the initial preaching of the gospel itself.’ (Moo)

The Power of the Gospel, 16-17

1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 1:17 For the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel from faith to faith, just as it is written, “The righteous by faith will live.”

Rom 1:16-20 contains a series of statements introduced by six occurrences of “for” in which each supports the statement which has just preceded it.

I am not ashamed – Possibly some at Rome were thinking that Paul was ashamed of the Gospel Why had he never visited Rome, they were asking. Was he afraid of persecution, or opposition? Did he lack real commitment to the Gospel? ‘This language implies that it required some courage to bring to “the mistress of the world” what “to the Jews was a stumbling-block and to the Greeks foolishness.” (1 Cor 1:23) But its inherent glory, as God’s life-giving message to a dying world, so filled his soul, that, like his blessed Master, he “despised the shame.”‘ (JFB)

The dire consequences of being ashamed: (Mk 8:38) “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

This not being ashamed of the gospel led Paul to be singleminded in his ministry and preaching: (1 Cor 2:2) For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

If we are not ashamed of our Lord, then we will also be not ashamed of the things and the people of the Lord: (2 Tim 1:8) So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. (2 Tim 1:16) May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains.

This being not ashamed leads us to triumph in adversity: (2 Tim 1:12) That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day. (1 Pet 4:16) However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.

The fact is, that now as then many are ashamed of the Gospel. It is generally despised. Many will read their horoscopes, but few their Bibles. Many believe in luck, but few in God. It was just so in Paul’s day. He knew from personal experience that the pagans branded the Gospel as atheism, and the Jews viewed it as subversive of the law of God. ‘Christ crucified,’ he found, was ‘a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.’ 1 Cor 2:14, ‘The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.’ The Gospel challenges our cherished independence, it undermines our self-reliance, it strips us of all ground of boasting. Not surprising, then, that it arouses the enmity of the carnal mind.

Still sadder is the fact that many of the so-called friends of the Gospel are actually ashamed of it. Gospel truth is denied, diluted, and distorted by many professing Christians. But let us not think ourselves exempt: we who hold the truth of the Gospel in our heads so often deny it in practice. We may be spiritual giants at church and among Christian friends, and spiritual dwarves at home and at work.

When Paul says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel,” he means, “I glory in it.” He could have gloried in many human advantages and abilities. ‘But far be it from to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.’

It is the power of God for…salvation – The gospel is the power of God (Isa 53:1) who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? (Jer 23:29) “Is not my word like fire,” declares the LORD, “and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces? (Rom 15:19) by the power of signs and miracles, through the power of the Spirit. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. (1 Cor 1:18) For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Cor 2:4) my message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power. (1 Thess 1:5) because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. (Heb 4:12) For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (1 Thess 2:13) And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.

‘The God of creation who rescued his people from their slavery in Egypt has once again exercised his power for the salvation of humanity from its bondage to sin and the cosmic powers (see Principalities and Powers). The essence of Paul’s gospel consists of this message of salvation. The gospel is thus “the power (?) of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16; cf. also 1 Cor 1:18). God acted through Christ to release people from the bondage of death, sin, flesh and the Law (Rom 5:12-8:39) and to blunt the influence of the realm of Satan against the church. (Col 2:15) Because of the life-transforming capability of the gospel resulting in the reconciliation of people to God, the apostle devoted his life to the propagation of this powerful message. Paul speaks of the Holy Spirit as the dynamic presence of God dwelling within believers. The Spirit works to transform people into conformity to God’s standards of holiness. The Spirit thus enables believers to rid themselves of evil thoughts and deeds. (Rom 8:13) Believers need divine strength to resist the supernaturally powerful influence of the principle of sin (1 Cor 15:56) and the ongoing enticement of the inner evil impulse, which Paul calls the “flesh”.’ (Rom 8:13) (DPL)

N.T. Wright insists that ‘the Gospel’ is not an account of how we get saved, but, rather, the message ‘that Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead’ (“New Perspectives on Paul,” in Justification in Perspective, p. 261).  But this is to set up a false dichotomy.  It is clear from this verse that the gospel is saving power and therefore that ‘being saved’ is part of the gospel.

‘In technical language it includes not only kerygma (the proclamation of Christ and His work) but also didache (the application of that work in and to the life of the believer and the community).’ (Sinclair Ferguson, Tabletalk Magazine, Feb 2010)

The gospel is good news (Lk 2:10) But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.

(1 Cor 9:12) we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.

The gospel is our weapon in a supernatural, spiritual battle (2 Cor 4:4) The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Cor 10:4-5) The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. (5) we demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

Belief in the gospel issues in obedience to (2 Cor 9:13) Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.

Acceptance of the truth involves rejection of what is false (Gal 1:7) which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.

The preaching of the gospel involves a faithful declaration of what we are saved from. (Lk 3:16-18) John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. (17) his winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (18) And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them. (Rom 1:18) The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness,

(Col 1:6) All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth.

‘The Gospel is power in the hand of God, as opposed to our natural impotence and utter inability to obtain salvation by anything we can do, Rom 5:6; and also in opposition to the law, which cannot save, being “weak through the flesh,” Rom 8:3.’ (Robert Haldane)

“”The power of God” is power that belongs to God and therefore the power characterised by those qualities that are specifically divine. In order to express the thought we should have to say the omnipotence of God, and consequently, the meaning is no less than this that the gospel is the omnipotence of God operative unto salvation.’ (John Murray)

‘We must not discount the emphasis that the gospel is unto salvation to very one that believes. This is directly germane to the character of the gospel and to the meaning of faith. There is no discrimination arising from race or culture and there is no obstacle arising from the degradations of sin.

‘The gospel as the power of God unto salvation is meaningless apart from sin, condemnation, misery, and death. This is why Paul proceeds forthwith to demonstrate that the whole world is guilty before God and lies under his wrath and curse (Rom 1:18-3:20). We might think that the apostle would have drawn the curtain of concealment over the squalor of iniquity and degradation depicted in 1:18-22. For indeed it is a shame to speak of these religious and ethical monstrosities…Only a God-righteousness can measure up to the desperateness of our need and make the gospel the power of God unto salvation.’ John Murray

Because the Gk word for ‘power’ is ‘dunamis’, preachers have sometimes announced that according to this verse the gospel is the ‘dynamite’ of God unto salvation.  But this is exegetically naive.  It is ‘the root fallacy compounded by anachronism’.  Not only was Paul not thinking of dynamite when he penned this verse (dynamite was not invented until the mid-nineteenth century), but also the connection is misleading, in that the gospel is not power in its explosive, destructive, sense, but in its life-giving, resurrecting sense (it is the power of God ‘unto salvation’, and is connected with Christ’s resurrection, Eph 1:18-20).  (See Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, p34)

Everyone who believes – ‘Emphasis must be laid on both the members of this clause. The gospel is thus efficacious to every one, without distinction between Jew and gentile, Greek or barbarian, wise or unwise; and it is efficacious to every one that believes, not to every one who is circumcised, or baptized, or who obeys the law, but to every one who believes, that is, who receives and confides in Jesus Christ as he is offered in the gospel. We have here the two great doctrines set forth in this epistle. First, salvation is by faith; and secondly, it is universally applicable, to the Greek as well as to the Jew.’ (Hodge)

According to Tom Wright,

‘Here we have the roots of a fully Christian theology of scriptural authority: planted firmly in the soil of the missionary community, confronting the powers of the world with the news of the kingdom of God, refreshed and invigorated by the Spirit, growing particularly through the preaching and teaching of the apostles, and bearing fruit in the transformation of human lives as the start of God’s project to put the whole cosmos to rights.’ (Scripture and the Authority of God)

D.A. Carson responds, however, by saying,

‘But these are not the “roots of a fully Christian theology of scriptural authority.” Rather, they are the powerful outworking of that authority in the lives of the early Christians…Suppose missionaries lived and preached Scripture in some cultural setting or other where there was little or no “bearing fruit in the transformation of human lives as the start of God’s project to put the whole cosmos to rights,” where “confronting the powers of the world” resulted in martyrdom after martyrdom but no transformation. Would the authority of Scripture be in any way diminished simply because no one but the missionaries themselves were responding positively to it?’ (Collected Writings on Scripture)

Moo urges that we cannot fully explain this passion for the gospel ‘without assuming that Paul believed human beings who did not respond to the gospel face a bleak and extremely distressing fate.’  (Morgan, Christopher W.. Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment (Kindle Locations 2266-2268). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.)  See also Rom 9:3; 10:1,9f; 2 Cor 11:22-29.

A righteousness from God – ‘In Romans, Paul introduces the gospel as disclosing ‘the righteousness of God’ (Rom 1:17). This phrase proves to have a double reference: 1. to the righteous man’s status, which God through Christ freely confers upon believing sinners (‘the gift of righteousness’, Rom 5:17; cf. Rom 3:21-22:9:30; 10:3-10; 2 Cor 5:21; Php 3:9); 2. to the way in which the gospel reveals God as doing what is right – not only judging transgressors as they deserve (Rom 2:5; 3:5-6) but also keeping his promise to send salvation to Israel, (Rom 3:4-5) and justifying sinners in such a way that his own judicial claims upon them are met. (Rom 3:25-26) ‘The righteousness of God’ is thus a predominantly forensic concept, denoting God’s gracious work of bestowing upon guilty sinners a justified justification, acquitting them in the court of heaven without prejudice to his justice as their Judge.’ (J.I Packer, in NBD)

‘Wherever there is faith, there the omnipotence of God is operative unto salvation. This is a law with no exceptions.’ (John Murray)

By faith from first to last – lit. ‘from faith unto faith.’ ‘There is much difference of opinion as to the precise intent of this formula. It has been interpreted as referring to the advance from one degree of faith to another (Calvin) or as equivalent to “by faith alone” (Hodge) or as implying that the righteousness of God is by faith from beginning to end (Dodd).’ (Murray) This last view is clearly the one adopted by the NIV translators.

The experience of Martin Luther. On November 3, 1515, Dr. Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk and professor of sacred theology at the University of Wittenberg, Saxony, began a series of lectures on Romans. His keen eye for the text was evidenced by his teaching methods, which were significantly different from the scholasticism of the late Middle Ages. He prepared for his students special copies of the biblical text: it had broad spacing (for interlinear notes) and very wide margins. The students learned above all else that exposition must be tied to the text.

It was while he was teaching on Romans that Luther came to understand justification by faith. From him was lifted a life-long burden of sin and the pain of separation from a terrifying and holy God. These are his own words: “I greatly longed to understand Paul’s Epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, ‘the justice of God,’ because I took it to mean that justice whereby God is just and deals justly in punishing the unjust. My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage him. Therefore I did not love a just and angry God, but rather hated and murmured against him. Yet I clung to the dear Paul and had a great yearning to know what he meant. Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that ‘the just shall live by his faith.’ I then grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before the ‘justice of God’ had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love. This passage of Paul became to me a gate to heaven.”

The historical impact of Luther’s conversion cannot be overestimated. His understanding of justification became the basis for his first quarrels with the Roman Catholic church over indulgences. These quarrels escalated to nothing less than the full recovery of the Gospel in Europe – what we now call the Protestant Reformation.

The righteous shall live by faith – Many scholars think that Paul’s translation of Hab 2:4 should read, ‘the one who through faith is righteous shall live’.  This is supported by Paul’s emphasis on salvation by faith both here in Romans and also in Galatians (written some years earlier, and in which he had already quoted Hab 2:4 as part of his argument in favour of justification by faith (Gal 3:11).  Paul’s current concern, then, ‘is not how righteous people live, but how sinful people become righteous’ (Stott).

Stott quotes Nygren as stating that ‘in Romans 1–4 ‘faith’ occurs at least twenty-five times and ‘life’ only twice, whereas in Romans 5–8 ‘life’ occurs twenty-five times and ‘faith’ only twice. These statistics establish, he concludes, ‘that the theme for chapters 1–4 is “he who through faith is righteous” and for chapters 5–8 “he shall live”‘.

But is this interpretation consistent with the original meaning in Hab 2:4?  Stott think that it is.  Whether we translate, ‘the righteous shall live by faith’, or ‘the one who through faith is righteous shall live’, God’s people are characterised by righteousness, faith, and life.  ‘The only question is whether the righteous by faith will live, or the righteous will live by faith. Are not both true? Righteousness and life are both by faith. Those who are righteous by faith also live by faith. Having begun in faith, they continue in the same path. This also fits in with the expression ‘from faith to faith’, which stresses that the Christian life is by faith from beginning to end. So I think F. F. Bruce was correct to write: “The terms of Habakkuk’s oracle are sufficiently general to make room for Paul’s application of them—an application which, far from doing violence to the prophet’s intention, expresses the abiding validity of his message.”‘

‘In this quotation the prophet contrasts the Chaldean invader, whose boastful self-sufficiency shows that he is not upright in heart, with the “right”]eous” man who shall live (or be saved) by this fatih in the promise of God’s deliverance.  Thus the faith of the man whom God approves and accounts as righteous (cf Gen 15:6 cited in Gal 3:6) is the opposite of the spirit of pride, which disregards God and invokes his judgment.  And it is because salvation always consists in the reliance upon God’s righteous intervention in history that it is not an artifice of exegesis for the apostle to find the basis for the ensuing argument in this text.’ (Geoffrey B. Wilson)

These words from Habakkuk 2:4b have already been quoted by Paul in Galatians 3:11 to prove that it is not by the law that people are justified before God. They appear again, together with part of their context, in Hebrews 10:38 to encourage the readers of that Epistle to press on and not lose heart. Hebrew ‘ĕmûnâ, translated ‘faith’ in Habakkuk 2:4 (lxx pistis), means ‘steadfastness’ or ‘fidelity’; in the Habakkuk passage this steadfastness or fidelity is based on a firm belief in God and his word, and it is this firm belief that Paul understands by the term.

Habakkuk, crying out to God against the oppression under which his people groaned (late in the seventh century bc), received the divine assurance that wickedness would not triumph indefinitely, that righteousness would ultimately be vindicated, and the earth would ‘be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea’ (Hab. 2:14). This vision might be slow in being realized, but it would certainly be fulfilled. Meanwhile, the righteous would endure to the end, directing their lives by a loyalty to God inspired by faith in his promise.

In the Qumran commentary on Habakkuk this oracle is applied to ‘all the doers of the law in the house of Judah, whom God will save from the place of judgment because of their toil and their fidelity to the Teacher of Righteousness’. In the Talmud (TB Makkoth 24a) the same oracle is quoted alongside Amos 5:4, ‘Seek me and live’, as an example of how the whole law may be summed up in one sentence. ‘Perhaps “seek” (in Amos 5:4) means “seek the whole Torah”?’ asked Rabbi Nachman ben Isaac. ‘No’, was the reply of Rabbi Shimlai; ‘Habakkuk came after him and reduced it to one sentence, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by his faith”.’

When Paul takes up Habakkuk’s words and sees in them the foundation truth of the gospel, he gives them the sense, ‘it is he who is righteous (justified) through faith that will live.’ The terms of Habakkuk’s oracle are sufficiently general to make room for Paul’s application of them—an application which, far from doing violence to the prophet’s intention, expresses the abiding validity of his message. (F.F. Bruce, TNTC)

The Condemnation of the Unrighteous, 18-32

1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness, 1:19 because what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.

‘Paul pictures each person as his or her ‘own Adam’, repeating the same basic sin committed by our original human parents. Vs 20–23 describe the basic decision made by Gentiles and vs 24–32 God’s reaction to that decision.’ (NBC)

We can follow Paul’s logic like this:-

‘I am am not ashamed of the gospel.’
‘Why not?’
‘Because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.’
‘How come?’
‘Because in the gospel God reveals his way of making sinners right with him.’
‘But why is this necessary?’
‘Because the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.’
‘What is this truth that people have suppressed?’
‘They have suppressed the truth about God’s power and divine nature.’
‘How does this suppression of the truth manifest itself?’
‘They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and animals.’
‘How has God punished this?’
‘He gave them over to shameful lusts, to a depraved mind, and to all kinds of wickedness.’

The wrath of God is being revealed… – Paul’s object is to prove the teaching of the previous verse, namely, that salvation is by faith alone. In order to do this, he shows that we have no righteousness of our own, but, on the contrary, we are exposed to divine wrath and punishment. We must be justified by faith, because the wrath of God is being revealed…

God's wrath: personal or impersonal?

C.H. Dodd contended that Paul speaks of ‘the wrath’ ‘in a curiously impersonal way’, Rom 2:5; 9:22; Eph 2:3.  More recently, Derek Flood (Healing the Gospel) has argued similarly.  Flood says that although Paul takes up the OT idea of the wrath of God, he can at the same time be seen to be moving away from it as being too much focused on a ‘problem’ with God (sin makes him angry) rather than with ourselves.

‘Because of this, I believe it is more helpful today to think of wrath in terms of the impersonal consequence of sin, rather than in terms of God’s anger. Doing so stresses that what we are dealing with is the inevitable consequence for an action. It follows from sin like falling is the consequence of jumping off a cliff.’

Flood appeals to the present passage:-

‘In Romans 1:18-32, the longest discourse on wrath in the New Testament, Paul retains the language of “wrath” from the Old Testament, but now speaks of us being given over to sinful desires (1:24), shameful lusts (1:26), and a depraved mind (1:28). In this way, Paul says, people “received in themselves the due penalty for their error” (1:27). That is, Paul describes how God’s wrath consists in leaving us to the consequence of our actions, rather than in God actively punishing us. The “punishment” is for God to step away and let us do what we want.’

We think that Flood oversimplifies the issue when he contrasts an emotional concept of God’s wrath (‘evoking a picture of self-focussed immaturity’) with this impersonal concept.

We agree that, at least in the present age, divine wrath is revealed in large measure by giving people over to the consequences of their actions, as the present passage teaches.  We agree with Stott that ‘When we hear of God’s wrath, we usually think of “thunderbolts from heaven, and earthly cataclysms and flaming majesty,” instead of which his anger goes “quietly and invisibly” to work in handing sinners over to themselves, v24, 26, 28. As John Ziesler writes, it “operates not by God’s intervention but precisely by his not intervening, by letting men and women go their own way.”‘

‘The history of the world is the judgement of the world.’ (Friedrich Schiller)

We also urge that God’s wrath does not suffer from the defects to which our own anger is so prone.  It is, in fact, far removed from the fitful anger to which we ourselves are prone, and which is always contains a greater or lesser element of malignity. Yet as human anger leads to the infliction of evil on its object, so does divine wrath. God has a calm and undeviating purpose to secure the connection between sin and misery, and this law has the same degree of consistency and inevitability as any other divine law in the physical or moral realm.

We think that the NT concept of divine wrath is clearly personal, Rom 1:18-22; 2:5-6; 3:5-6; 9:22. Cf. this last ref with 1 Tim 2:4, showing that both wrath and love are personal. And note the following OT refs: Am 3:6; Eze 7:8-9; Isa 63:6; Ho 5:14.

If wrath were impersonal, there could be no hope of divine mercy and forgiveness. Wrath would then be inexorable, and there would be no hope of escape from its consequences. But anger is an attribute of a living, personal God, who enters into personal relationships with us. It is this that makes propitiation, reconciliation and forgiveness possible, cf. Isa 12:1.

God’s wrath is being revealed. Like the arm of the Lord, and the thoughts of the heart, it is revealed by its effects. By the actual punishment of sin, by the general tendency of sin to produce misery, by the voice of conscience, the connection between sin and divine judgement is being made known. This revelation proceeds ‘from heaven’ – the seat of divine justice and moral government. The revelation is clear and certain: men know that their sin is worthy of death.

Comparing this verse (which speaks of present wrath) with Rom 2:5 (which warns of a future ‘day of God’s wrath’), Moo observes that ‘as we find in Paul an inaugurated eschatology of life—believers enjoy life now as the first stage of life eternal—so we find an inaugurated eschatology of death—human beings suffer condemnation and wrath now as the first stage of eternal death…This “inaugurated eschatology” of judgment is an important consideration in appreciating Paul’s teaching about hell. The judgment of hell is not, for Paul, the imposition of a new state of affairs but the continuation and intensification of a situation that already exists. People do not come to the Day of Judgment in a neutral state.’  (Morgan, Christopher W. Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment. Zondervan. Kindle Edition.)

‘But not only is God’s wrath revealed. God’s righteousness is also revealed, namely in the gospel (Rom 1:17; 3:21). The way in which Paul parallels wrath and righteousness by using the same verb (apokalyptetai, “is revealed”) to denote their revelation suggests a relationship between the two: If those who receive the righteousness of God through faith in Christ are saved from the wrath of God, it must be because Christ has appeased that wrath through his death for them (Morris, 167–70).’ (Gundry-Volf, DPL)

How is God’s wrath revealed?

1. It will be revealed ‘in the future, at the end, in the judgment of the last day. There is such a thing as ‘the coming wrath’, and Paul calls Judgment Day ‘the day of God’s wrath’.

2. It is revealed in the present, ‘through the public administration of justice, to which Paul will come later in his letter (13:4).’  But Paul’s purpose in the present chapter is to explain that,

3. It is being revealed from heaven now…(v18), and [Paul] goes on to explain it by his terrible threefold refrain God gave them over (v24, 26, 28)…As John Ziesler writes, it ‘operates not by God’s intervention but precisely by his not intervening, by letting men and women go their own way’. God abandons stubborn sinners to their wilful self-centredness, and the resulting process of moral and spiritual degeneration is to be understood as a judicial act of God. This is the revelation of God’s wrath from heaven (v18).

(Quoting from Stott)

How God’s wrath is executed

‘The passage has many similarities to the literature of Hellenistic Judaism, especially Wisdom of Solomon 11–15. In keeping with that tradition, there is a kind of ironic appropriateness to the reversals that follow upon human behavior “in order that they might learn that a person is punished by those very things by which one sins” (Wisd. of Sol. 11:16): failure to perceive God’s power and deity with the “mind” brings a darkening of the mind (Rom. 1:20–21); those who claim to be wise turn out to be fools (v. 22); disregard for the creator obliterates the distinction between creator and creature and produces confusion about what befits nature and what violates it (vv. 25–26).’ (Harper’s Bible Commentary)

Godlessness – ‘Most people suppose that when Paul explains what is wrong with the human race, he focuses on “sin.” This is wrong. What he says about “sin” in Romans 1–2 is secondary to what he says about idolatry. The primary human failure is a failure of worship. In Romans 1:18–25, “ungodliness” precedes “injustice”: those who worship that which is not God will inevitably produce distortions in the world. The point of “injustice” is not just that it means “wrong behavior” (for which the perpetrator would be culpable), but that it means introducing powerful rogue elements into God’s world. Like a foolish businessman who appoints to the board friends without the company’s best interests at heart, we have handed over control to forces that will destroy us and thwart our original purpose.’ (Wright, The Day the Revolution Began)

Godlessness and wickedness sums up sin in its Godward and manward directions.

Truth covers not only right belief, but also right behaviour. It therefore stands for true religion.

Since sin is so wicked, and its consequences so dire, we should not seek to excuse ourselves, or palliate its enormity, but endeavour to escape its penalty.

The seriousness of sin is made the whole foundation of the Apostle’s doctrine of justification; without a deep sense of unrighteousness the atonement is meaningless.

Extent of sin in Rom 1

  1. The will, v18, ‘…who suppress the truth by their wickedness.’
  2. The mind, v21, ‘…their thinking became futile…’
  3. The heart, v21, ‘…their foolish hearts were darkened.’
  4. The emotions, v24, ‘God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts…’
  5. The conscience, v32, ‘Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.’

Having just announced the gospel in vv16f, Paul begins his exposition of it with a thorough treatment of the sinfulness and universality of sin. This is the starting-point of the evangelical faith. ‘Evangelical religion begins with a sense of sin. We will never produce evangelicals if we eliminate this emphasis. Evangelicalism is not, first and foremost, belief in an inerrant Bible. It begins with a certain kind of self-understanding: the knowledge of our own guilt, our own depravity, our own alienation from God. That is the best, in fact, the only hermeneutic. The only key to the scriptures is a sense of sin. The only proper standpoint from which to view Christ is as a lost sinner. The only proper perspective on the cross is that of the convicted sinner. Christ came to seek and to save that which was lost; and what a splendid job the Lord made of it! Christ is the total answer. Christ puts us right with God, all our sins forgiven, our reputations vindicated, our names enrolled in the family-register of God. We have exactly the same relationship to God as Jesus Christ. He is begotten, we are adopted, and in its way that is a mighty difference. But there is no difference in our rights: an adopted son has the same rights as a natural son. We have fellowship with Christ in his whole standing before God. God in Christ has put us absolutely right. He has dealt with all the guilt of our sin.’ (McLeod, A Faith to Live By)

‘The missionary imperative could not be made more plain than it is in Rom 1:18-32. We deceive ourselves if we hold out false hope for the unevangelized based on their non-hearing of the gospel. Listen to Moo:

Every person is “without excuse” because every person-whether a first-century pagan or a twentieth-century materialist-has been given a knowledge of God and has spurned that knowledge in favor of idolatry, in all its varied manifestations. All therefore stand under the awful reality of the wrath of God, and all are in desperate need of the justifying power of the gospel of Christ. We will never come to grips with the importance of the gospel, or be motivated as we should be to proclaim it, until this sad truth has been made part and parcel of our world view.’ (College Press)

‘Scripture assumes, and experience confirms, that human beings are naturally inclined to some form of religion, yet they fail to worship their Creator, whose general revelation of himself makes him universally known. Both theoretical atheism and moral monotheism are natural to no one: atheism is always a reaction against a pre-existing belief in God or gods, and moral monotheism has only ever appeared in the wake of special revelation. Scripture explains this state of affairs by telling us that sinful egoism and aversion to our Creator’s claims drive humankind into idolatry, which means transferring worship and homage to some power or object other than God the Creator. (Isa 44:9-20 Rom 1:21-23 Col 3:5) In this way, apostate humans “suppress the truth” and have “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.” (Rom 1:18,23) They smother and quench, as far as they can, the awareness that general revelation gives them of the transcendent Creator-Judge, and attach their ineradicable sense of deity to unworthy objects. This in turn leads to drastic moral decline, with consequent misery, as a first manifestation of God’s wrath against human apostasy.’ (Rom 1:18,24-32) (Packer, Concise Theology)

‘God’s world is not a shield hiding the Creator’s power and majesty. From the natural order it is evident that a mighty and majestic Creator is there. Paul says this in Rom 1:19-21, and in Acts 17:28 he calls a Greek poet as witness that humans are divinely created. Paul also affirms that the goodness of this Creator becomes evident from kindly providences (Ac 14:17; cf. Rom 2:4), and that some at least of the demands of his holy law are known to every human conscience, (Rom 2:14-15) along with the uncomfortable certainty of eventual retributive judgment. (Rom 1:32) These evident certainties constitute the content of general revelation.’ (Packer, Concise Theology)

‘There is within the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, an awareness of divinity. This we take to be beyond controversy. To prevent anyone from taking refuge in the pretense of ignorance, God himself has implanted in all men a certain understanding of his divine majesty…Since, therefore, men one and all perceive that there is a God and that he is their Maker, they are condemned by their own testimony because the have failed to honour him and to consecrate their lives to his will…There is…no nation so barbarous, no people so savage, that they have not a deep-seated conviction that there is a God.’ (Calvin, Institutes, 1:III1.)

General Revelation

‘God’s self-revelation through “what has been made” has four main characteristics.

It is “general” because made to everybody everywhere, as opposed to “special” because made to particular people in particular places, through Christ and the biblical authors.

It is “natural” because made through the natural order, as opposed to “supernatural,” involving the incarnation of the Son and the inspiration of the Scriptures.

It is “continuous” because since the creation of the world it has gone on “day after day…night after night,” (Ps 19:2) as opposed to “final” and finished in Christ and in Scripture.

It is “creational,” revealing God’s glory through creation, as opposed to “salvific,” revealing God’s grace in Christ.’ (Stott)

God’s power, skill and goodness

Stott cites two examples of the perception of God’s power, skill and goodness in the universe:-

After the satellite detection of the birthpangs of the universe was announced to the American Physical Society in April 1992, an anonymous Guardian contributor wrote: ‘It is difficult to know what the appropriate reaction to such mind-expanding discoveries should be, except to get down on one’s knees in total humility and give thanks to God or Big Bang or both, for cunningly contriving to allow this infinitesimal part of the universe called Earth to be bestowed with something called Air.’

At the opposite end of the size scale, a consultant surgeon wrote to me a few years ago: ‘I am filled with the same awe and humility when I contemplate something of what goes on in a single cell as when I contemplate the sky on a clear night. The coordination of the complex activities of the cell in a common purpose hits the scientific part of me as the best evidence for an Ultimate Purpose.’ Anthropologists have also found a worldwide moral sense in human beings so that, although conscience is of course to some extent conditioned by culture, it still testifies to everybody everywhere both that there is a difference between right and wrong, and that evil deserves to be punished (32).

1:20 For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made. So people are without excuse. 1:21 For although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or give him thanks, but they became futile in their thoughts and their senseless hearts were darkened. 1:22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 1:23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for an image resembling mortal human beings or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.

Here is a distinct echo of Psa 19:1-4.

‘His invisible qualities have been clearly seen’; or (b) God’s invisible qualities are apparent in what he has created’.

Lit., ‘being understood are perceived’.  ‘Both the verbs … describe how, on contemplating God’s works, man can grasp enough of His nature to prevent him from the error of identifying any of the created things with the Creator, enabling him to keep his conception of the Deity free from idolatry.’ (B. Gartner, cited by F.F. Bruce)

‘Conscience alone has witnessed sufficiently to the moral law, so that every man is “without excuse”.’ (Walter Chantry)

‘Clearly seen’ tells us that this knowledge is derived from perception, rather than proof.

Without excuse – ‘Paul is telling us that God has so made the universe that we are responsible people. This means all people, not only those who have the Bible to guide them. God intends that they will be guilty if they reject the light given them and fall into sin. The sinner may plead that he is ignorant. He does not know God. But Paul’s first point is that his ignorance is culpable. God has given a revelation in nature but people have closed their eyes to it. How then could they possibly see? But it is their own fault that they do not. They are without excuse.’ (Morris)

‘In Greek law an accusation was lodged against a person, who then attempted to vindicate himself with a reply, an answer, a defense. If a person had no defense against the accusation, he was called anapologetos, “without excuse,” a term Paul uses in Rom 1:20 2:1.’ (ISBE, art. ‘Apologetics‘)

They knew God – to be understood in a limited extent. Their knowledge was not sufficient to bring them salvation, but was sufficient to leave them without excuse.

Nor gave thanks to him – ‘If we are to receive such great blessings as these, then how thankful and grateful should we be! There is no greater mark of sin and self-centeredness than the refusal to give thanks. Paul marks it as the source of intellectual darkness and futility. (Rom 1:21-23) Ingratitude is the crown of the unregenerate man and what a perverse thing to place on one’s head! And as Jean Daille observed, “Thankless men are like swine feeding on acorns, which, though they fall upon their heads, never make them look up to the tree from which they come.”‘ (Douglas Wilson)

‘”Striving to be wise, they make fools of themselves” (Rom. 1:22). Paul had said before that “they became futile in their thinking” (Rom. 1:21). In order, however, that no one might excuse their guilt, he adds that they are justly blinded. For not content with sobriety but claiming for themselves more than is right, they wantonly bring darkness upon themselves – in fact they become fools in their empty and perverse haughtiness.’ John Calvin

‘His repetition of the word “exchanged” is significant for two reasons.  In the first place, it confirms that religion has not evolved upwards, but has devolved downwards, beginning with belief in the one true God and degenerating into idolatry.  Secondly, it underlines the fact that man is constitutionally religious, and that the human human spirit abhors a vacuum.  Sin has not destroyed man’s religious capacities or desires, it has simply diverted them to the worship of man-made idols and ideas.’ (Blanchard, Does God Believe in Atheists?, p489)

This passage has stimulated much debate about the possibility of natural theology.  If this term is understood to mean that human beings can come to a saving knowledge of God through creation alone, then the answer must be ‘No’.  Paul’s reasoning is that (a) the natural world does provide evidence of God’s existence, and also of some of his divine characteristics; but that (b) people turn a blind eye to this evidence, or, at least, fail to turn it to saving effect, and are therefore without excuse before God.’

This is not to deny that people may have some vague longing after, or even knowledge of, God (see the following verse: ‘they knew God’).  But the consistent teaching of Scripture is that this all too readily turns the individual towards idolatry.  On the other hand, missionaries sometimes find that people who have known nothing about the gospel have Christ proclaimed to them, and respond: ‘This is what we have been longing for!’  But this is a long way from the notion of ‘anonymous Christians’.

Edwards: ‘Paul is…saying that all persons have experienced God … and could have experienced more. Creation bears God’s fingerprints, and through it humanity has experienced something of God’s wisdom, power, and generosity. The idea here echoes Paul’s Areopagus speech (Acts 17:27–28) that God is not far from his creatures.’

Again: ‘The guilt of humanity, then, is due not to want of truth, but to the suppression of the truth (v. 18). If guilt were due to ignorance it would be an intellectual problem, but in reality it is a problem of the will, which is sin. The fundamental problem of humanity was not, as the Greeks thought, a problem of reason, but a problem of the will (v. 27).’

Hendriksen quotes The Belgic Confession, Article II, commenting on this verse.  It speaks about ‘the creation, preservation, and government of the universe; which is before our eyes as a most elegant book, wherein all creatures, great and small, are as so many characters leading us to see clearly the invisible things of God, even his everlasting power and divinity, as the apostle says, ‘All these things are sufficient to convince men and to leave them without excuse.’

All have God’s image stamped on them

‘As all men stand in a near relation to God, so they have still so much of his image stamped upon them as may oblige and excite us to love them; in some this image is more eminent and conspicuous, and we can discern the lovely tracts of wisdom and goodness; and though in others it is miserably sullied and defaced, yet it is not altogether erased, some lineaments at least do still remain.’

(Henry Scougal)

The theological basis for mission

‘This text provides one of the most important theological bases for the missionary enterprise: the lost state of all those who have never had the chance of responding to the gospel of God’s grace. For this text makes clear that there can be no salvation apart from response to the gospel of Christ. Those who have never heard that gospel are therefore bound in their sin and without hope. To be sure, God is sovereign in the communication of his grace as well as in its application, and he may at times choose to bring to people a knowledge of the gospel in ways quite unforeseen and even unknowable to us. But the Scriptures make plain that God has chosen to make known the good news of Jesus Christ through the witness of his own people (Mt. 28:16–20; Rom. 10:14–15). This was one of the main reasons why Paul and other early Christian missionaries were so passionately committed to the spread of the gospel.’ (NBC)

1:24 Therefore God gave them over in the desires of their hearts to impurity, to dishonor their bodies among themselves. 1:25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creation rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

God gave them over in the desires of their hearts to impurity – Dunn quotes Käsemann: ‘Moral perversion is the result of God’s wrath, not the reason for it.’

Achtemeier brings out the unexpected and unsettling nature of Paul’s teaching here:

‘The most frightening thing about this passage is the way Paul describes God’s punishment for the sin of idolatry. It is frightening simply because, had Paul not told us they were signs of wrath, we could easily have mistaken them for signs of grace! When God visits his wrath in the way described in this passage, there is no divine cataclysm, no fire from on high sent to consume sinful society. Rather, the wrath which God visits on sinful humanity consists in simply letting humanity have its own way. The punishment of sin is therefore simply—sin! God, says Paul, delivers sinful humanity over to its own desires. In a move that our contemporary world shows is perhaps the most terrifying thing God could do, God punishes sin by letting us have control over our own destinies. God’s wrath therefore does not mean some divine restraint imposed as punishment on humanity. Rather, that wrath gives us a free hand to do whatever our desires incline us to do. The way God in his wrath delivers humanity over to the just punishment of sin is to become permissive. He withdraws the gracious power of his absolute lordship and allows other lordships to prevail.’

The same writer adds:

‘Freedom for us to do what we want is the punishment of our rebellion against God. A celebration of life freed from the constraints of the Word of God is therefore a celebration of the visitation of God’s wrath upon humankind.’

Loader insists the Paul regards the underlying desires, and not just the outward behaviour, as sinful:

‘It is not just that they now had strong homosexual passions which they acted on but that they had homosexual attraction at all. This, he argues ran contrary to how God made people to be, namely to be attracted to the opposite sex, not to the same sex.’

They exchanged the truth of God – or, ‘They exchanged the true God’ – for a lie – that is, for an idol.  Idols are often referred to as falsehoods and lies, Jer 13:25; Isa 28:15; Jer 10:14; Ps 40:4.

Served created things – The sun, moon, animals, and so on.  Neo-pagans worship the earth as divine, but this worshiping of created things rather than the Creator is condemned by Paul.

The sin of secularism

‘From the perspective of biblical Christian theology, secularism is guilty of having “exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Rom. 1:25). Having excluded the transcendent God as the absolute and the object of worship, the secularist inexorably makes the world of man and nature absolute and the object of worship.’ (D.W. Gill, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, art. ‘Secular Humanism’)

Worshiping false ideas about God is an ever-present danger

‘People want a God who is powerful and loving enough to meet their needs and get them out of trouble, but not one who is holy and just, demands obedience and punishes sin.  As the God revealed in Scripture does not meet their specification, they invent others to take his place.  As they push God out of the back door, they welcome self-made idols in at the front door, and nothing more cruelly demonstrates humankind’s fallen state than the way in which people “exchange the truth of God for a life” and seek to worship deities who are nothing more than figments of their own imagination.’ (Blanchard, Does God Believe in Atheists? 492)

Idolatry affects the physical realm as well as the spiritual realm

‘Idolatry is not something left in the spiritual realm. It makes itself felt in the physical realm as well, since both are created by God, are subject to his lordship, and hence are perverted when that lordship is denied.

‘It is clear for Paul that we as creatures have a responsibility to use creation properly, both in the way we live life as individuals and as we live it in relation to others. God is the one who ordered the created world, and any abuse of that created order is an insult to the one who ordered it. Such an insult, Paul makes clear, will not go unpunished.’


1:26 For this reason God gave them over to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged the natural sexual relations for unnatural ones, 1:27 and likewise the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed in their passions for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

Although what Paul will have to say about homosexual sin is forthright, we must not lose sight of the reason that he discusses it at all.  As Keener writes:

‘He uses the examples of idolatry and homosexual behavior because Jewish people recognized these as exclusively Gentile vices. This recognition plays into Paul’s strategy to expose all sin as deadly (1:28–32), hence all persons as sinners (3:23). Paul is not providing pastoral counsel here to believers struggling with homosexual temptation, and he is certainly not granting license to abuse those who practice homosexual behavior. (Nor would he grant license to denounce this vice while tolerating heterosexual behavior outside marriage, a condemnation that consumes considerably more space in his letters.)’

Hodge suggests a reason why female homosexual practice is mentioned first:

‘Paul first refers to the degradation of females among the heathen, because they are always the last to be affected in the decay of morals, and their corruption is therefore proof that all virtue is lost.’

Dunn, on the other hand, suggests that

‘female homosexual practice is mentioned before male, possibly because the more aggressive character of male sexuality, as indicated in v 27, makes for a better crescendo.’

Keener comments on the nature and prevalence of homoerotic activity in ancient Mediterranean culture:

‘There is still reason to believe that Greeks abandoned female babies more often than male babies, given the disparity in genders and consequent disparity in age at marriage. On average, Greek men seem to have married around age thirty, marrying young women twelve years their junior. This meant that young men in that society looked for other sexual outlets before marriage: slaves, prostitutes, and (more affordably) each other.’

Edwards points out the place of this section in Paul’s argument:

‘Paul does not condemn homosexuality primarily as a moral aberration (although he regarded it as such); had that been his concern he would have included it among the list of immoralities in verses 29–31. Rather, homosexuality illustrates the theological error he has been expounding since verse 18, namely, the exchanging of something authentic for something counterfeit.’

The same writer adds that homosexual behaviour provides a striking illustration of the nature of sin, understood as idolatry:

‘Paul cites homosexuality…not because it is a worse sin but because it exemplifies better than other sins the very nature of sin, which is the perversion of an original good, and hence idolatry.’

William Loader maintains that for Paul:

The desires to which he refers here, however, are not neutral, but are a manifestation of a state of perversion, according to Paul, because of their direction. Not just acting on them but having such wrongly directed desires in the first place is already something unacceptable, much as we might want him to have said otherwise. For they arise in his view from a perverted state of mind and are contrary to how we were made to be.’

(Two Views on Homosexuality, the Bible and the Church)

Longenecker comments on the strong language Paul uses in these verses:

‘These two verses are filled with a number of extremely unpleasant expressions in the description of homosexuality: πάθη ἀτιμίας (“disgraceful passions”), τὴν παρὰ φύσιν (“unnatural relations”), ἐξεκαύθησαν ἐν τῇ ὀρέξει αὐτῶν εἰς ἀλλήλους (“they were inflamed in their lust for one another”), τὴν ἀσχημοσύνην κατεργαζόμενοι (“committing indecent acts”), and τῆν ἀντιμισθίαν … τῆς πλάνης (“the penalty … of their [idolatrous] perversion”).’

Longenecker concludes from this that

‘Paul’s attitude toward homosexual behavior could hardly be more adversely expressed. For he condemns it totally—as did also all Jews and all Jewish Christians of his day.’

Barrett likewise stresses that Paul’s thinking is at this point the same as that of his fellow-Jews:

‘No feature of pagan society filled the Jew with greater loathing than the toleration, or rather admiration, of homosexual practices. Paul is entirely at one here with his compatriots; but his disgust is more than instinctive. In the obscene pleasures to which he refers is to be seen precisely that perversion of the created order which may be expected when men put the creation in place of the Creator. That idolatry has such consequences is to Paul a plain mark of God’s wrath.’

Achtemeier remarks that, in context, Paul’s teaching is that the adoption or advocacy of homosexual behaviour is a manifestation of God’s wrath, not of his grace:

‘For Paul, the kind of life he describes, (vv. 26–27) “women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, … men committing shameless acts with men,” cannot be understood as an alternate life-style, somehow also acceptable to God. It is, as Paul understands it, a sign of one of the forms God’s wrath takes when he allows us free reign to continue in our abuse of creation and in our abuse of one another as creatures. Such conduct may not be celebrated as another expression of God’s grace. It is clearly portrayed here as a sign of God’s wrath. When the created order is abused in idolatry, in denying the lordship of God, the consequences into which humanity is delivered are the consequences of wrath. On that there is no question for Paul.’

Longenecker suggests several reasons why Paul discusses homosexual behaviour first and in such strong terms:

  • Because it was so prevalent in the Greco-Roman world and so often justified as being normal;
  • Because homoeroticism is so explicitly denounced in the OT Scriptures and in other ancient Jewish writings;
  • Because ‘Paul viewed homosexuality as the most obvious result of humanity’s failure to respond appropriately to God’s revelation in creation.’

On this last point, Longenecker adds:

‘Though it was often asserted by those who practiced it that homosexuality was “natural”—even, as argued both then and today, a legitimate feature of divine creation—Paul viewed such a claim as in direct opposition to the moral order established by God in creation, where only in marriage do a man and a woman “become one flesh” (Gen 2:24).’

Loader remarks that in condemning behaviour that every Jew would condemn, he is in a sense trapping his readers.  But this does not mean he is not serious about his condemnation of homoerotic behaviour:

‘He begins with comments about same-sex relations, because he knows that in condemning these, he would find common ground with his audience with their strongly Jewish background. Any proud claims to superiority he might have evoked disappear when in Romans 2 he turns the judgment back on them. For they too must acknowledge that they have sinned and stand just as guilty before God’s judgment as non-Jews, even though their sins may be of a quite different nature. Thus all needed salvation, not just Gentiles, and it is available to all. In one sense Paul set a trap, but nothing indicates he did not intend what he said about same-sex relations to be taken seriously, let alone that he dismissed its validity along with circumcision and food laws.’

Their women exchanged the natural sexual relations for unnatural ones – It has been suggested that Paul is referring to sinful heterosexual practices by women.  Paul’s ‘likewise’ would then refer to women adopting practices (such as oral or anal penetration) that were associated with male homosexual behaviour.

But it is more likely (especially in context) that he is thinking of female homosexual practice.  So Loader and many others.

Loader notes that both here and in what follows Paul uses the terms ‘female’ and ‘male’, rather than ‘woman’ and ‘man’.  He thinks that in doing so Paul is ‘almost certainly’ alluding to the creation of’male’ and ‘female’ in Gen 1:27.

Robert Gagnon states:

‘Paul critiques not only male homosexual practice but also female homosexual practice. The latter did not conform to the male pederastic model, nor did it usually entail cultic associations. Apparently, then, Paul’s main problem with homosexual behavior did not have to do with pederastic or idolatrous dimensions.’

Inflamed in their passions for one anotherClearly this refers to male homosexual desire and the actions to which it leads, and Paul sees both as manifestation of sin. Here the focus is not pederasty or the exploitation of one by another, but mutual passion (“for one another”), what we would call consensual adult homosexual acts.’ (Loader)

Gagnon writes:

‘the fact that Paul indicts both partners in same-sex unions and speaks of mutual gratification indicates that he does not have in view forms where coercion is involved.’

However, there may be some doubt about whether ‘one another’ represents the kind of reciprocity that Gagnon and others assume.  In Rev 6:4, for example, people are said to ‘slay one another’, but this can hardly mean that ‘A’ slays ‘B’ and that ‘B’ also slays ‘A’.

Wright comments:

‘His point is not “there are some exceptionally wicked people out there who do these revolting things” but “the fact that such clear distortions of the creator’s male-plus-female intention occur in the world indicates that the human race as a whole is guilty of a character-twisting idolatry.”  He sees the practice of same-sex relationships as a sign that the human world in general is out of joint.’

Concluding his lengthy review of same gender relationships in the ancients and biblical writers, John Pike writes:

‘The evidence suggests that the ancients and biblical writers were aware of a wide variety of homoerotic contacts and relationships, including loving relationships. While alternative readings of the biblical texts have been suggested, the vast majority of scholars, including progressives and/or gay/lesbian scholars such as Dan O. Via, Louis Crompton, Diarmaid MacCulloch, William Schoedel, Walter Wink, Bernadette Brooten, Pim Pronk and Martti Nissinen, are agreed that the biblical texts condemn intercourse between two males in any context, regardless of any loving disposition or orientation, and, in the case of Romans 1, probably between two females as well. Progressives who take this view have responded in a variety of ways: for Brooten, Romans 1:26ff is not authoritative, MacCulloch believes that “in this, as in much else, the Bible is simply wrong”, Wink also questions whether the Bible is correct, while for Nissinen “Ultimately, it all turned out to be about loving one’s neighbour as oneself…”’

Edwards comments that Paul was writing as a Jew to a (mainly) Gentile audience:

‘Although Paul stood within Judaism, which strictly condemned homosexuality, he was writing to a primarily Gentile audience which held a vastly different attitude towards it. Studies of primitive and ancient societies reveal that fully two-thirds of them affirmed homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle (see Additional Notes on 1:26–27). The Greco-Roman world belonged to this number, sometimes viewing homosexuality and pederasty as a higher form of sexuality (see Plato’s Symposium).’

Edwards adds:

‘In his teaching on homosexuality Paul was swimming against the moral current of much of his audience. This undercuts the claim that his teaching on this subject simply reflected the beliefs of his time. Paul regarded homosexuality as a mirror of sin. It was for him a “wandering from the truth” (the literal meaning of planē, translated perversion, v. 27) of God’s intended purpose for human sexuality, a wandering which eventually would be assessed its due penalty.’

Dunn, also, contrasts the general acceptance of homosexual behaviour in Greek culture with the Jewish view of such behaviour as a perversion:

‘In the Greco-Roman world homosexuality was quite common and even highly regarded, as is evident from Plato’s Symposium and Plutarch’s Lycurgus. It was a feature of social life, indulged in not least by the Gods (e.g., Zeus’ attraction to Ganymede) and emperors (e.g., Nero’s seduction of free-born boys was soon to become notorious). The homosexual reputations of the women of Lesbos was well established long before Lucian made it the theme of his fifth Dialogue of the Courtesans (second century a.d.). But Jewish reaction to it as a perversion, a pagan abomination, is consistent throughout the OT (Lev 18:22; 20:13; 1 Kgs 14:24; 15:12; 22:46; 2 Kgs 23:7), with the sin of Sodom often recalled as a terrible warning (e.g., Gen 19:1–28; Deut 23:18; Isa 1:9–10; 3:9; Jer 23:14; Lam 4:6; Ezek 16:43–58). In the period of early Judaism, abhorrence of homosexuality is not just part of the reaction against Greek mores, since we find it also in those most influenced by Greek thought (Wisd Sol 14:26; Ep. Arist. 152; Philo, Philo 135–37; Spec. Leg. 3.37–42; Sib. Or. 3:184–86, 764; Ps. Phoc. 3, 190–92, 213–14; Josephus, Ap. 2.273–75.’

Keener makes the point (almost in passing) that the very great differences between Jewish and Greco-Roman attitudes and practices towards homoerotic behaviour must be attributed to different processes of socialisation.  This being so, important questions are raised about what, and how, children are taught about gender and sexuality.

Jewett (cited by Kruse) suggests that Paul’s teaching would have been of considerable encouragement to slaves who were being (or risked being) exploited sexually by their masters:

‘While the Jewish background of Paul’s heterosexual preference has been frequently cited as decisive by previous researchers, little attention has been given to the correlation between homosexuality and slavery. The right of masters to demand sexual services from slaves and freedmen is an important factor in grasping the impact of Paul’s rhetoric, because slavery was so prominent a feature of the social background of most of Paul’s audience in Rome.… I suggest that Paul’s rhetoric may provide entrée into the similarly unhappy experience of Christian slaves and former slaves who had experienced and resented sexual exploitation, both for themselves and for their children, in a culture marked by aggressive bisexuality.… For those members of the Roman congregation still subject to sexual exploitation by slave owners or former slave owners who are now functioning as patrons, the moral condemnation of same-sex and extra-marital relations of all kinds would confirm the damnation of their exploiters and thus raise the status of the exploited above that of helpless victims with no prospect of retribution.

Men committed shameless acts with men – 

The due penalty for their error – ‘To put it in terms of Newton’s third law of motion, every sin calls for an “equal and opposite” response.’ (Mounce)

But what is the ‘due penalty’ for their error?

1:28 And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what should not be done. 1:29 They are filled with every kind of unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, malice. They are rife with envy, murder, strife, deceit, hostility. They are gossips, 1:30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, contrivers of all sorts of evil, disobedient to parents, 1:31 senseless, covenant-breakers, heartless, ruthless.

‘In Rom. 1:28, the Gk. puns dokimazein ‘think it worthwhile’ with adokimos ‘depraved’, and may be rendered ‘since they did not see fit to retain God in their mind he handed them over to an unfit mind’, where ‘unfit’ (AV ‘reprobate’, AVmg. ‘a mind void of judgment’) means ‘unfit to pass judgment’, in the active or passive sense, because of wickedness, etc. (vv. 29-30).’ (NBD)

Referring back to Paul’s teaching on homosexual behaviour, Keener (IVP Bible Background Commentary) comments that

‘Paul did not choose this example of sin to be controversial with his readers; his Jewish and Roman Christian readers alike would have agreed with him that both idolatry and homosexual behavior are sinful. But this example is a setup for his critique of sins less often denounced (Rom 1:28–32).’

vv29-31 The force of this list of vices ‘derives from its cumulative impact in portraying an ordered world that has turned to moral chaos.’ (Harper’s Bible Commentary)

Achtemeier cautions:

‘Those who are quick to condemn the homosexual and lesbian practices described in verses 26–28 should be careful, lest in the form that that condemnation takes they themselves display the destructiveness of deceit, malignity, or gossip, all of which are equally signs of the rampant permissiveness which characterizes the wrath of God (vv. 29–31). The “evil … malice … strife” (v. 29) that characterize a racist attitude are therefore as surely a sign of a society under wrath as is homosexuality. The point of the passage is not to find reasons to feel superior in the condemnation of others. It is to repent of sin and to pray desperately for forgiveness for ourselves and our society.’

Our ‘permissiveness’ is a curse

J.I. Packer pinpints the root cause of our modern ‘permissiveness’:

‘Moral corruption and the misery it brings are part of God’s judgment on apostasy. “Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct,” says Paul, and continues with a sample catalog of horrors that reads like a summary of the news in this morning’s paper (Romans 1:28-31). Our much-vaunted “permissiveness” is actually a matter of divine curse, as was the idiotically cheerful lawlessness of Jeremiah’s day. What thoughtful person can look ahead without a shudder?’ (Growing in Christ)

Boastful – ‘Boasting in oneself is an expression of pride. Those who sin express arrogance by implying that they can successfully violate the laws of Almighty God. Paul describes the arrogant and boastful as “God-haters.” (Rom 1:30) Humility is defined as the absence of arrogance and boasting and is characterized by submission to God’s will. The absence of self-exaltation and the attitude of humility place one in a position of being blessed by God.’ (Isa 66:2) (EDBT)

Senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless – Or, as JBP puts it, ‘without brains, honour, love or pity.’

The sin of homophobia

As Edwards comments:

‘Homophobia (fear or hatred of homosexuals) is itself a sin as bad as the sin it condemns, combining both arrogance and malice listed in 1:29–31.’

Compare with the following, which I find confused and misleading:

‘Contemporary readers who are heterosexual and conclude from this passage that they are justified in judging or condemning persons who are homosexual will find themselves condemned in turn by Paul’s sharp statement in 2:1: “Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.” If, in Paul’s mind, same-sex relations are a symptom of rebellion against God, so is self-righteousness. To use this passage to justify the exclusion of persons who are homosexual would be the grossest distortion of Romans and its claims about God’s radical and universal grace.’ (Beverley Roberts Gaventa, Women’s Bible Commentary)

1:32 Although they fully know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but also approve of those who practice them.