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.

Exposition of Romans 1:18-20, They know — Oh yes! — they know!

At some point in our lives every one of us has played dumb. We claimed that we did not know that Mom said to be home by five o’clock because our sister did not tell us. So, why was Mom giving us that doubting look at half-past-five?

The truth was that our sister had told us when to be home, but Mom could not quite be certain of that, so at times we got away with playing dumb. The astonishing thing is that some people grow up and try that same scam on God. They imagine the existence of some large group of people who do not know about God, and think surely God would not judge those who do not know him. We used to call it the heathen-in-Africa problem and imagined some stone-age scene.

Flash alert: there is no such group! As we will see, there are plenty who need to hear how to join God’s kingdom, but all humanity knows there is a powerful God who should be sought and found.

(ESV) Romans 1:18-20

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

Like a brilliant diamond on black velvet, the good news that God’s righteousness comes through faith in Jesus Christ (1:16-17) contrasts with the sin-darkened state of all humanity outside of Christ. And we must recall that all Christians were once outside of Christ with all the rest of humanity. So, the somber account from verse 18 to the end of the chapter illuminates part of our personal history and shows the fatal trajectory our lives might have taken except for the grace of God.

Some have considered Paul’s assessment of humanity’s sinfulness (1:18-31) too negative. C.E.B. Cranfield points out that the assessment is not actually Paul’s:

It is not Paul’s judgment of his contemporaries that we have here, but the gospel’s judgment of men, that is of all men. . . . The section depicts man as he appears in the light of the cross of Christ. It is not a depiction of specially bad men only, but the innermost truth of all of us, as we are in ourselves.[1]

But human sinfulness is not the only unwelcome disclosure from heaven. Those who wish to impose their own views on the biblical text totally reject the idea of God’s wrath (1:18), though it takes real conceptual gymnastics to explain it away in light of all the biblical evidence.[2] Evangelical scholars generally consider denial of God’s wrath to be a key part of liberal theology, which embraces anti-supernaturalism and a humanistic viewpoint that are essentially useless for understanding the Bible. If you are looking for a blind guide on the biblical trail, a liberal theologian is your man!

Cranfield comments on the parallel revelations of righteousness (in 1:17) and wrath (in 1:18) by saying: “The two revelations referred to in these two verses are then really two aspects of the same process. The preaching of Christ crucified, risen, ascended and coming again, is at the same time both the offer to men of a status of righteousness before God and the revelation of God’s wrath against their sin.”[3] God’s holy wrath against sin is exactly why Jesus had to die for our sins.

Against what is God’s wrath directed? By answering “all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (1:18), Paul uses two words that are very close in meaning; Douglas Moo approvingly cites Cranfield’s opinion that the first word asebeia characterizes sin as an attack on the majesty of God and the second word adikia speaks of sin as a violation of God’s just order.[4] Imagine sinful humanity shaking its fist at God and rejecting both his rulership and his way of life.

How was this rejection of God’s truth expressed? Romans 1:18 says, by their unrighteousness [they] suppress the truth; by living as rebels against the rule of God, humanity suppresses God’s truth. One of the worst effects of extreme postmodernism is that it denies the possibility of absolute truth, makes everything a matter of opinion and declares everyone’s opinion to be worthy. Extreme postmodern says: “You claim God has spoken truth; well, that’s just your opinion. And if God did speak, that’s only his opinion. I have my own opinion!”

Someone might say that those who suppress God’s truth should be excused because they are victims of ignorance, but Paul stops that argument in a hurry by saying, “What can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them” (1:19). The gospel contains this chilling truth: every single member of humanity knows enough to be responsible before God, because he has made sure they each know enough. No one will be able to stand before God and say that they did not know there was a God to whom they were responsible. All people are on notice!

In saying “what can be known about God is plain to them” (1:19), Paul uses the Greek adjective phaneros, which means, “being evident so as to be readily known, visible, clear, plainly to be seen, open, plain, evident, known.”[5] The word phaneros occurs in Acts 4:16 when it was common knowledge in Jerusalem that Peter and John had healed the man who had been lame from birth (Acts 3:110). In Mark 6:14, the word is used of Herod’s knowledge that Jesus disciples had worked many miracles; everyone knew. We are not talking here about experts knowing something; all know there is a God.

If someone asks how God made this disclosure, Paul provides the answer in Romans 1:20. The creation itself — perhaps also the things that God has done in history — testifies to his eternal power and divine nature (1:20), even though those aspects of God are otherwise invisible. Moo says, “These properties of God that cannot be seen . . . are seen . . . — an example of the literary device called oxymoron, in which rhetorical effect is achieved by asserting something that is apparently contradictory.”[6]

We will take a closer look at what God has made plain to humanity. His eternal power (1:20) created the deeply-designed world, including humanity, and that power operated before the world existed. More than that, humanity also knew his “divine nature” (1:20), using the Greek noun theoites, which means “divinity, divine nature, divineness.”[7] So, all humanity knows there is a God and he has eternal power. James Dunn rightly says, “That this is no longer a widely-acceptable worldview should not, of course, influence our exegesis of Paul.”[8] The suppression of truth is stronger than ever! But we proclaim the gospel anyway.

God had a purpose in humanitys knowing his eternal power and divinity, and that purpose is declared clearly in Acts 17, when Paul spoke to the philosophers of Athens about God:

From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries. His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him — though he is not far from any one of us. (Acts 17:26-27, NLT).

If some members of humanity have not sought after God, after he enabled them to do so, they are without excuse (1:20).

Common-knowledge about God

Be clear that plenty of people still need to learn more about Jesus and how to be justified before God. But you may be equally certain that every person knows that there is a God who is powerful that they should seek and find. They may suppress that knowledge in various ways because they do not want to seek God, but God has already reached out to them in a way they have comprehended.

1. If we start with the understanding that non-Christians are suppressing the truth, how should this affect our approach in helping them reach out for Christ? Perhaps they are weary of fighting God or think they have burned that bridge. Why might they keep suppressing the truth even over a long period of time?

2. How might the Scripture we studied today affect the way we pray for those outside of Christ? What preparation might we make for offering information and support to those who desperately need to know about Christ?

The things we have studied today have serious implications about God’s fairness and about the moral vulnerability of all people before God. He is patiently waiting for the rebels to put aside their suppression of the truth and to seek his mercy through Jesus Christ.

Copyright 2012 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) 104.

[2] Ernst Ksemann, Romans, Trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980) 37, provides a typical example of a theologian who rejects God’s wrath.

[3] Cranfield, Romans, 110.

[4] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 102, footnote 50, citing Cranfield, Romans, 112.

[5] BDAG-3, phaneros, clear, q.v.

[6] Moo, Romans, 104-105.

[7] BDAG-3, theoites, divineness, q.v.

[8] James D.G. Dunn, Romans 1-8, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word Books, 1988) 58.

Exposition of Romans 1:17, The righteous-by-faith will live

The Bible reveals some awesome scenes, but none more remarkable than the circumstances of the final judgment. On that day there will be no cell phones, no career, no sporting events, no meals to fix, no homework to do, no war to wage, and no decisions to make. Instead, the Apostle John tells us, Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them (Rev. 20:11).

The only thing that remains is the one on the throne and all of humankind from all the ages standing before him. The Judge is ready to make his final decisions.

On that awesome day only one thing will matter: do you have the righteousness of God or not?

(NET) Romans 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.

In the estimation of most scholars, Romans 1:16-17 contains the theme of Romans.[1] However, within these two verses the focus may shine on different points. I agree with Douglas Moos view that the gospel is the only theme broad enough to embrace the diversity of the entire letter (page 29), but notable scholars believe that justification by faith is the theme of the letter. The second view certainly looks attractive in chapters 1-4, where faith occurs 25 times and the justify-righteousness family of words occurs 23 times. But Romans has sixteen chapters, not four.

But, there is no necessity to pick a horse in the thematic race by eliminating one of the prospects. Instead, we will find Pauls meaning verse by verse. For those of you who assembled models at some point in your life, we will follow the same approach in unlocking the meaning of this profound verse.

“the righteousness of God”

The first phrase — “the righteousness of God” — presents issues typical of Romans. That little word “of” can mean so many things! Of course, the difficulty actually goes back to the underlying Greek text. The Greek text has the phrase dikaiosune [righteousness] . . . theou [of God], where the final word is in the genitive case. Since the genitive is a descriptive or limiting case as to kind[2], we are roughly speaking here about a God-kind-of-righteousness. If that sounds weird, think how it contrasts with a man-kind-of-righteousness such as that practiced by the Pharisaic Jews, who were zealous about keeping the law and their Pharisaic vows.

How exactly does God relate to this righteousness? And what does this righteousness have to do with us? Moo gets to the point: “For Paul, as in the OT, righteousness of God is a relational concept. . . . We can define it as the act by which God brings people into right relationship with himself.”[3] The beauty of this definition is that it combines the saving action of God with the resulting status we have in his sight. Through faith in Jesus Christ, we are acquitted before God by his saving action. In other words, through faith in Jesus Christ, we receive the righteousness of God.

“is revealed in the gospel”

The gospel unveils something that humankind had never imagined —the way for people to attain a God-wrought salvation. The verb (“is revealed”) is present tense — suggesting that the revelation is ongoing. The verb is expressed in passive voice — suggesting that God is the one doing the revealing. C.E.B. Cranfield says, “The choice of the verb [is revealed] underlines the fact that, though the gospel is proclaimed by human lips, the revelation of [the righteousness of God] in the proclamation is Gods doing.”[4]

“from faith to faith”

This phrase has been discussed for centuries, but Moo once again sends us on the right path: “The combination is rhetorical and is intended to emphasize that faith and nothing but faith can put us into right relationship with God.”[5]

“The righteous by faith will live”

The easiest way to understand this clause is to translate it with hyphens: “The righteous-by-faith will live.” We will consider several translations of Romans 1:17 below:

NLT: This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, It is through faith that a righteous person has life.

NET: 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.

ESV: For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, The righteous shall live by faith.

Here is the problem: in Greek word order, the final clause says, “the righteous by faith will live.” The key question is whether the italicized phrase modifies the righteous or alternatively modifies will live. Moo correctly prefers the former choice: “Of greatest significance is the way Paul in Rom. 1-8 consistently links faith with righteousness (cf. the summary in 5:1) and shows how life is the product of that righteousness (cf. 5:18 and 8:10). These connections favor the translation the one who is righteous by faith will live.”[6]

If you study the English versions carefully, you will see that NET and NLT agree with Moo that by faith modifies the righteous, while ESV prefers the idea that by faith modifies will live.

Romans 1:17 provides an excellent illustration of how translation approaches differ. Because Romans 1:17 contains some rare and idiomatic phrases, it offers the opportunity for a more interpretive translation like the NLT to shine, and NLT does shine here. NET is somewhat more conservative than NLT in its approach; notice that NET leaves the final Greek verb as a verb when it translates it as “will live,” but NLT makes the Greek verb into a noun “has life.” Similarly, note the interpretive Good News (NLT) in comparison to the more cautious gospel (NET) or the grammatically correct it (ESV). ESV strives to be scrupulously neutral, sometimes succeeding, whereas NLT risks misinterpretation to produce clarity, and NET is somewhere in between.

But all of these translations share a single purpose: to help us accept and enjoy the righteousness of God that comes through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ!

The issue on the last day

There have been many who initially set out to find a righteousness of their own but then got lost in the endless maze of diversionary human experiences.

1. Since God and all humankind are the only entities present at the final judgment, how important is your car, your education or your luncheon at the club? What do you want for your children on that day?

2. Preparation for the final judgment is so simple. John 3:16 says, For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. (NET). How have you personally prepared for the final day?

Of course, this world offers the opportunity to make the wrong decision too. In 1995, Timothy McVeigh bombed the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City killing 168 people. His final statement before execution consisted of the poem “Invictus” (Latin for “Unconquered”) by a British poet. The last stanza says:

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Timothy McVeigh now knows that he was mistaken about that. What about you?

Copyright 2012 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials developed for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 64.

[2] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996) 76-77.

[3] Moo, Romans, 74.

[4] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 92.

[5] Moo, Romans, 76.

[6] Moo, Romans, 78.