Exposition of Romans 1:26-28, Having an unreliable mind is devastating

Few thoughts are more terrifying to older Americans than the threat of Alzheimer’s disease. The fear of memory loss, confusion, and other cognitive losses are sobering to say the least.

But there is a threat to mental function that is far worse and affects people of all ages: deliberate suppression of the truth about God results in a mind that is incapable of making reliable moral choices.

(ESV) Romans 1:26-28

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. 28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.

We discussed the Greek verb paradidomi (“hand over” BDAG-3 lexicon) in Rom. 1:24, and that same verb occurs in 1:26 and 1:28 as well; the ESV has “gave them up” in all three verses. Since we know that an authors repetition of a word is generally significant, this threefold repetition plays a strong role in the interpretation of this entire section. Since they recognize the importance of the verb’s repetition, all major English translations (NIV, ESV, NLT, NET, HCSB) maintain the parallelism in their translations of paradidomi.

C.E.B. Cranfield points out that paradidomi is also used in 8:32 for God giving up his Son to death for our sake, and he uses this fact to balance the argument of Romans 1:24-28:

It ought to put us on our guard against too readily assuming that God gave these men up forever. It seems more consistent with what is said elsewhere in the epistle (e.g. in chapter 11) to understand the meaning to be that God allowed them to go their own way in order that they might at last learn from their consequent wretchedness to hate the futility of a life turned away from the truth of God.[1]

Although many have tried to avoid the plain meaning of Romans 1:26-27, Douglas Moo puts the obvious conclusion like this: “It is clear that Paul depicts homosexual activity as a violation of God’s created order, another indication of the departure from true knowledge and worship of God.”[2] Actually, Paul spoke in a context similar to the twenty-first century. Cranfield notes the fact that both Greek and Roman societies were indulgent of homosexuality, and it was common in the Semitic world (including Israel) as well.[3] But Paul did not deviate from Old Testament norms.

Another parallel to the twenty-first century is stated by Osborne: “The issue is one of biblical authority. Even when the command runs counter to the current cultural norm, the true Christian must obey God’s command rather than the demands of political correctness.”[4]

The phrase “did not see fit” in 1:28 is a reasonable choice but it leaves out too much. In Romans 1:28, the Greek verb dokimazomeans “to draw a conclusion about worth on the basis of testing, prove, approve.”[5]James Dunn explains: “The implication then is of a deliberate act of disqualification. It was not simply a case of humans being distracted by something else and losing sight of God; they gave God their consideration, and concluded that God was unnecessary to their living.”[6]

The immediate punishment fits the crime; the minds that tested God and found him not worthy of their commitment became incapable of rendering trustworthy moral decisions. Instead they approved what ought not to be done (1:28b).

One choice affects all choices

You must take steps to counter the flood of messages the world uses to assail a mind committed to Christ. After all, each of us commonly encounters those who have become morally insensitive or even evil by their suppression of the truth about God.

1. After homosexual marriage received the approval of the Supreme Court, Christians can become discouraged and adopt a gloomy outlook about the future. How does it help to realize that Paul's entire ministry and the explosive spread of Christianity took place in a morally corrupt world?

2. In light of the fact that those who have not trusted Christ have minds which do not function reliably in moral decisions, how does that affect your patience with them and your approach in reaching them for Christ?

In time Paul will introduce the solution to the unreliable mind: the renewing of the mind by the Holy Spirit following personal faith in Jesus Christ (12:2). Only God’s grace can overcome this disability within the human mind. The grace of God is one of the greatest themes of Romans.

Copyright 2017 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials developed for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 121.

[2] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 115.

[3] Cranfield, Romans, 127.

[4] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 54.

[5] BDAG-3, dokimazo, approve (as worthwhile), q.v.

[6] James D.G. Dunn, Romans 1-8, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word Books, 1988) 66.