New European Commentary


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Deeper Commentary


1:1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle- Time and again Paul brings before us the fact he really is our example; thus he begins his Roman epistle with a description of himself as Paul... called to be an apostle, separated...", but soon goes on to point out that the Romans were "also the called of Jesus Christ" (Rom. 1:1,6).

Apostle literally means one who is sent, and is translated “he that is sent” in Jn. 13:16. It could be argued that all who have received the great preaching commission [which is all of us] have received in essence the same calling and apostleship which Paul did- and he therefore can hold himself up to us all as an example, seeing we have in principle received the same calling which he did. He uses the term “apostle” in Rom. 16:7 concerning brethren who were imprisoned with him who were clearly not amongst the apostles originally chosen by the Lord Jesus. He says in 1:5 that we have received apostleship because our Lord rose from the dead; because He rose, all in Him are sent to take that good news to others. And he uses the same word for ‘calling’ in :6, suggesting his calling and apostleship are to be ours.

Set apart for the Gospel of God- A reference to Acts 13:2 where Paul was separated to go on a missionary journey; although he felt he had been separated unto this from the womb (Gal. 1:15). God has likewise separated each of us unto certain callings, but only later in our lives is this made apparent to us.

Paul was called to be a preacher of the Gospel, and yet he speaks of his work as a preacher as if it were a Nazarite vow- which was a totally voluntary commitment. Consider not only the reference to him shaving his head because of his vow (Acts 18:18; 21:24 cp. Num. 6:9-18), but also the many descriptions of his preaching work in terms of Naziriteship: Separated unto the Gospel’s work (Rom. 1:1; Gal. 1:15; Acts 13:2); “I am not yet consecrated / perfected” (Phil. 3:12)- he’d not yet finished his ‘course’, i.e. his preaching commission. He speaks of it here as if it were a Nazarite vow not yet ended. Note the reference to his ‘consecration’ in Acts 20:24.  His undertaking not to drink wine lest he offend others (Rom. 14:21) is framed in the very words of Num. 6:3 LXX about the Nazarite.  Likewise his being ‘joined unto the Lord’ (1 Cor. 6:17; Rom. 14:6,8) is the language of Num. 6:6 about the Nazarite being separated unto the Lord. The reference to having power / authority on the head (1 Cor. 11:10) is definitely some reference back to the LXX of Num. 6:7 about the Nazarite. What are we to make of all this? The point is perhaps that commitment to active missionary work is indeed a voluntary matter, as was the Nazarite vow. And that even although Paul was called to this, yet he responded to it by voluntarily binding himself to ‘get the job done’. And the same is in essence true for us today in our various callings in the Lord’s service. 

1:2 W
hich He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy scriptures- Abraham was a prophet (Gen. 20:7) as was Sarah (Ps. 105:15). In line with Gal. 3:8, Paul may have the patriarchs in mind here.

1:3 C
oncerning His Son, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh- "Born" is literally 'made'. Gk. ginomai, to be made, come into being- a nail in the coffin for the idea of a personal pre-existence of Christ. The same Greek words translated 'Word' and 'made' in Jn. 1:14 occur together in 1 Cor. 15:54- where we read of the word [AV "saying"] of the Old Testament prophets being 'made' true by being fulfilled [AV "be brought to pass"]. The word of the promises was made flesh, it was fulfilled, in Jesus. The 'word was made flesh', in one sense, in that the Lord Jesus was "made... of the seed of David according to the flesh" (Rom. 1:3)- i.e. God's word of promise to David was fulfilled in the fleshly person of Jesus. The Greek words for "made" and "flesh" only occur together in these two places- as if Rom. 1:3 is interpreting Jn. 1:14 for us.

1:4 W
ho was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord- More strictly, “the resurrection of the dead”. “From” would require ek , which isn’t present. The Lord’s resurrection is in this sense ours, and ours is His. There is in this sense only one resurrection- that of the Lord.

1:5 T
hrough whom we received grace and apostleship- 'We' is usually used by Paul in Romans regarding him plus his readership, i.e. all of us. We are all sent ones, apostles- see on 1:1.

To obedience of faith among all the nations, for his name's sake- A reference to the great commission, which was enabled and necessitated by the Lord’s resurrection. John speaks of preachers going forth to preach for His Name’s sake (3 Jn. 7). We are not to merely inform them, but preach aiming towards a response- our apostleship, our being sent ones, is “for”, eis, elsewhere translated “to the intent that”. We should preach towards a response, expecting the ultimate obedience of at least some of our audience. In 6:16 Paul specifically associates obedience [s.w.] to the Gospel with baptism- this should be our initial aim and focus in witness. Peter likely does the same in 1 Pet. 1:2,22.

Paul makes a number of allusions to the great commission, in which he applies it to both himself and also to us all. The weak argument that it was ‘only for the disciples who heard it’ evaporates when it is accepted that Paul wasn’t one of the 12, and yet the commission applies to him. Rom. 1:5 RV is an example: “...through whom we have received grace and apostleship, for the obedience to the faith among all the nations, for his name’s sake”. These words are packed with allusion to the great commission. And Paul is not in the habit of using the ‘royal we’ to refer solely to himself. He clearly sees all his readers as sharing in just the same calling. The early preachers travelled around “for his name’s sake” (3 Jn. 7), even though they were not in the original band of disciples. Having alluded to the great commission, Paul goes on in this context to rejoice “that your faith is proclaimed throughout the whole world” (Rom. 1:7 RV). He saw their example of faith in practice as being the witness that fulfilled the great commission; and goes on to speak of his sense of debt to spread the word to literally all men, hence his interest in preaching at Rome (Rom. 1:14,15). And here we have our example; “as much as in me is”, we should each say, we are ready to spread the Gospel as far as lies in our power to do so.

Collective societies are all about submission and obedience to those above you in the hierarchy- yet repeatedly, Christians are exhorted to be obedient and submissive to the Lord Jesus and the new community in Him (Rom. 1:5; 6:16,17; 2:8 etc.). And even within the new community, Paul's own example showed that acceptance in the eyes of those who appear to be the pillars of the society of Christ is also of little ultimate value if they have fallen away from the understanding of grace (Gal. 2:9). To keep using the word "radical" doesn't do justice to the colossal change in worldview that was required on conversion to Christ. Reflecting on all this, it seems to me that the reason the Jewish people crucified their Messiah was above all because He so powerfully turned their whole worldviews upside down- and they just couldn't handle it, just as so many families today turn against the one who truly turns to Christ. 

Among whom are you also called to be Jesus Christ's- We are also called to be apostles- see on 1:1.

1:7 To all that are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ- “To all” means not just the leadership. Paul valued everyone, including the illiterate majority of the ecclesia to whom the letter would be read out loud, and upon whom the complexity and depth of much of his argument in this letter would likely have been lost.

1:8 First- the most important thing for Paul was that those he had expended spiritual effort for were strong in the faith. We sense the same in John’s letters of 2 and 3 John. Our focus should be on helping others reach the Kingdom.

I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is proclaimed throughout the whole worldThe fact we praise God and come directly to Him dia, through the Lord Jesus, does not mean that our words come to the Father through the Son as if He were a sieve or telephone line. We come direct to the Father dia, on account of, for the sake of, the work Christ achieved. The following are a few of many examples which give the flavour of dia: John was put in prison dia Herodias, for the sake of Herodias (Mt. 14:3); the Pharisees transgressed the commandment of God dia, on account of, through, their tradition (Mt. 15:3); the disciples couldn't heal dia, for the sake of, their unbelief (Mt. 17:20); the Angels of the "little ones" dia , for their sakes, behold the face of the Father (Mt. 18:10); because the Pharisees pretended to be pious they would dia, on this account, receive greater condemnation (Mt. 23:14); the faithful will be persecuted dia , for the sake of, Christ's name (Mt. 24:9); dia the elect's sake, on their account, the days will be shortened (Mt. 24:22). "I thank my God dia (through) Jesus Christ my Lord" (Rom. 1:8) doesn't therefore necessarily mean that Paul prays to God 'through' the Lord Jesus as some kind of connecting tunnel; he thanks God on account of, for the sake of Christ. The very same Greek construction occurs a few chapters later: "Who shall deliver me...? I thank God, through Jesus Christ" (Rom. 7:24,25). He thanks God that his deliverance is possible on account of the Lord Jesus.

For God is my witness, whom I serve in my spirit in the gospel of His Son- Frequently Paul uses the word "Gospel" as meaning 'the preaching of the Gospel'; the Gospel is in itself something which must be preached if we really have it (Rom. 1:1,9; 16:25; Phil. 1:5 (NIV),12; 2:22; 4:15; 1 Thess. 1:5; 3:2; 2 Thess. 2:14; 2 Tim. 1:8; 2:8). The fact we have been given the Gospel is in itself an imperative to preach it. “When I came to Troas for the Gospel of Christ” (2 Cor. 2:12 RV) has the ellipsis supplied in the AV: “to preach Christ’s Gospel” [although there is no Greek word in the original there matching ‘preach’] .

How unceasingly I make mention of you, always in my prayers- The idea of the Greek word is of remembrance. Paul was bringing others to remembrance before God. Paul is surely alluding to Is. 62:6,7: “On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have set watchmen; all the day and all the night they shall never be silent. You who put the LORD in remembrance, take no rest, and give him no rest until he establishes Jerusalem and makes it a praise in the earth”. Paul saw the Gentile believers in Rome as spiritual Jerusalem. It’s not that God forgets and needs reminding, but rather that by our prayers for others we as it were focus His special attention upon them. Paul several times states that he is day and night, continually in prayer for others. He likely had the Isaiah passage in mind; his brethren in Christ were now for him the Jerusalem upon whom his hopes were set, rather than upon the physical city as had been the case in Judaism.

There is a mutuality between God and His children in prayer. We ‘make mention’ of things to God (Rom. 1:9; Eph. 1:16; 1 Thess. 1:2; Philemon 4). The Greek word used has the idea of bringing to mind, or remembering things to God. And He in response ‘remembers’ prayer when He answers it (Lk. 1:54,72; Acts 10:31 s.w.). What we bring to our mind in prayer, we bring to His mind. Those who pray for Jerusalem “keep not silence”- and therefore they give God “no rest” (Is. 62:6,7). But the Hebrew word for “keep not silence” and for ‘give no rest’ is one and the same! There’s a clear play on words here. If we give ourselves no rest in prayer, then we give God no rest. His Spirit or mind becomes our spirit or mind, and vice versa. And hence the telling comments in Romans 8 about our spirit / mind being mediated to God in prayer through Jesus, in His role as ‘the Lord the Spirit’ (Rom. 8:26,27). Yet God Himself had stated that He will not rest nor hold His peace for Zion’s sake (Is. 62:1). Yet His doing this is conditional upon His prayerful people not allowing Him to rest due to their prayers.

“Unceasingly... always” is a double repetition to emphasize how constant was Paul’s prayer for others. In case it seemed he was exaggerating, he calls God as a witness. His prayerfulness- the hours spent on his knees and the amount of mental energy in daily life- was amazing, and inspirational.

1:10 Making request, if by any means now at length I may succeed by the will of God to come to you- Or, "A prosperous journey". Realize that prayer may be answered in totally unexpected ways. Paul prayed that he would have "a prosperous journey" in coming to see the Romans (Rom. 1:10). Little could he have realized, sitting in Corinth as he wrote, that the answer would involve many months of imprisonment in Jerusalem, a shipwreck that lead to an ecclesia in Malta… and so much other grief. But from God's viewpoint, the prayer was answered. See on Rom. 1:14.

Paul felt that his prayers could influence or at least engage with God’s will; he prayed that he might at some time [Gk.] be helped by God on the road [AV “have a prosperous journey”] to visit the Roman believer. He asks this not ‘If it be God’s will’ but he asks this might be so en or in the will of God. He didn’t see God’s will as something to be passively accepted but rather engaged with in prayer.

1:11 For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, to strengthen you- Paul so longed (the Greek is very intense, s.w. “lust”) to see the Romans so that he could give them some spiritual gift. Why was his physical presence so necessary in order to give this gift? Perhaps he refers to a literal laying on of hands which would’ve been necessary to impart the Spirit gifts? But that gift was so that they might be “established”, confirmed and set in their way. Was there, therefore, a gift of spiritual confirmation which could only be given by the literal physical presence of Paul? Or was the miraculous gift he intended to impart intended to be a part of establishing them as group?

1:12 That is: that I with you may be comforted in you- Some manuscripts add “However”. Paul didn’t want it to appear that he was viewing himself as superior to them in imparting a spiritual gift to them, so he goes on to speak of how spiritual strengthening is a mutual experience in which he also would benefit from them.

Each of us by the other's faith, both yours and mine- The mutual faith, which seems to suggest that their strength of faith would affect Paul’s faith and his faith would affect theirs. Hence the value of positive spiritual fellowship in Christ.

1:13 And I would not have you ignorant, brothers, that oftentimes I intended to come to you (but have so far been hindered), that I might have some fruit in you also, even as in the rest of the Gentiles- “Hindered” is s.w. ‘forbid’ in Acts 16:6, where he was forbidden to preach in Asia. It seems Paul often worked against situations where He was forbidden to go somewhere- he still preached in Asia, still went up to Jerusalem, and still insisted on going to Rome. See on Rom. 1:15.

1:14 I am debtor- Paul had a debt to preach to all men. But a debt implies he had been given something; and it was not from “all men”, but rather from Christ. Because the Lord gave us the riches of His self-sacrifice, we thereby are indebted to Him; and yet this debt has been transmuted into a debt to preach to all humanity. Reflection upon His cross should elicit in us too an upwelling of pure gratitude towards Him, a Christ-centeredness, an awkwardness as we realise that this Man loved us more than we love Him... and yet within our sense of debt to Him, of ineffable, unpayable debt, of real debt, a debt infinite and never to be forgotten, we will have the basis for personal response to Him as a person, to a knowing of Him and a loving of Him, and a serving of Him in response. If we feel and know this, we cannot but preach the cross of Christ.  In Rom. 1:14 Paul speaks of his “debt” to preach to both “Greeks and Barbarians” as the reason for his planned trip to Rome- for in that city there was the widest collection of “Greeks and Barbarians”. And yet he later speaks of our ‘debt’ [Gk.] to love one another (Rom. 13:8). The debt of love that we feel on reflecting upon our unpayable debt to the Father and Son is partly an unending ‘debt’ to loving share the Gospel of grace with others, to forgive the ‘debts’ of others’ sins against us. We have a debt to preach to the world; we are their debtors, and yet this isn't how we often see it (Rom. 1:14). Time and again we commit sins of omission here.

Both to Greeks and Barbarians- Paul felt a debt to preach to them, the total savages [from his perspective]. And so on the way to Rome, God arranged for him to be shipwrecked on Malta, and thus meet and convert such Barbarians- for the word occurs only four other times in the NT and two of them are in describing the people whom Paul met on Malta (Acts 28:2,4). See on Rom. 1:10.

Both to the wise and to the foolish- the Greek word is elsewhere always translated “fools” in the AV, and has the idea of stupidity, foolishness. Paul the intellectual felt a debt to preach to those who would have exasperated and irritated him in normal life.

So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome- Gk. 'As much as is in me'. A window into the totality of Paul’s desire to spread the Gospel and upbuild the believers. But the phrase could also indicate an obsession with going to Rome, as was noted by Agrippa (Acts 26:32). See on Rom. 1:13. The “you” in the context is the believers in Rome. Paul wanted to build them up in their faith on the basis of the preaching of the basic doctrines of the Gospel. Thus there is a special emphasis in this letter on the implications of basic doctrine, as explained in our introduction to the letter on Romans 1:1. 

The doctrines of the Gospel are power to all those who have already believed. Paul was going to Rome to visit the believers, and wanted to upbuild them by discussing the doctrines of the Gospel with them. 

For I am not ashamed of the gospel. For it is the power of God to salvation to everyone that believes- to the Jew first and also to the Greek- Paul knew that his salvation partly depended upon not being ashamed of Christ's words before men; hence his frequent self-examination concerning whether he was witnessing as he should. Thus when he declares that he is not ashamed of the Gospel, he is expressing his certainty of salvation; he is implying that therefore Christ will not be ashamed of him at the judgment (Rom. 1:16; 2 Tim. 1:8,12,16 = Mk. 8:38). When Paul warns Timothy not to be ashamed of the Gospel, he is therefore exhorting him by his own example (Rom. 1:16 s.w. 2 Tim. 1:8,12). Note the theme of not being ashamed in 2 Tim. 1:8,12,16.

Paul could say that "the preaching of the cross is (unto us which are saved) the power of God" (1 Cor. 1:18). Not 'it was when we were baptized'; the power of that basic Gospel lasts all our lives. To the Romans likewise: "I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ (i.e. I don't apologize for preaching the same old things): for it is the power of God unto salvation... for therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith (i.e. faith gets built up and up by that basic Gospel)" (Rom. 1:18). The Galatians needed to keep on 'obeying the Truth' as they had done at baptism (Gal. 3:1); conversion is an ever ongoing process (cp. Lk. 22:32). It is "the faith which is in Christ", the basic Gospel, which progressively opens up the Scriptures and enables them to make us wise unto salvation (2 Tim. 3:15).

1:17- see on Rom. 4:13.

For therein is revealed a righteousness of God- a kind of righteousness which is given from God, given by Him; and Paul will go on to explain that is “of God”, given from Him to us, by our faith in Him and in the simple fact that He has indeed given us this gift in Christ.

From faith to faith- Having spoken of how the faith of the Romans is spoken of throughout the “world”, Paul goes on to comment that the preaching of the Gospel reveals the righteousness of God “from faith to faith”, or “by faith unto faith” (Rom. 1:17 RV). The righteousness of God is surely revealed in human examples rather than in any amount of words. Could Paul not be meaning that the faith of one believer will induce faith in others, and in this sense the Gospel is a force that if properly believed ought to be spreading faith world-wide? This means that spreading our faith is part and parcel of believing the Gospel. Whatever, there is here clearly inculcated the idea of an upward spiral of spirituality- from faith unto [yet more] faith. Faith, like unbelief, is self-confirming.

As it is written: But the righteous shall live by faith- the quotation from Hab. 2:4 is in the context of human pride: “Behold, his soul is puffed up, it is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith”. Paul is interpreting this verse as talking about faith in righteousness being imputed to us, which leads to us being just or justified before God. The practical result of this is humility- for we realize through this process that we have absolutely nothing to be “puffed up” about. Our uprightness isn’t because of our own works but because of God’s righteousness being imputed to us by grace through faith.

For the anger of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men- it will be revealed from Heaven at the Lord’s return, and yet in a sense, judgment is now, God’s feelings about sin aren’t restrained or passive until judgment day, they are revealed even now.

Who hinder the truth in unrighteousness- Or, "hold". The point has been made that the Greek word for “hold” can mean ‘to hold down’ in the sense of repressing the Truth. But apart from the fact that Truth can ultimately never be held down, the word does carry the possible meaning of holding fast, possessing, retaining, and is translated like this in places. It could be that there were some in the Roman ecclesia who did indeed possess the Truth, but did so in unrighteousness- and thus God’s wrath was especially against such people. This would fit in with the impression we have from the other NT letters, including those of the Lord Jesus to the churches in Revelation, that there was serious, gross misbehaviour going on in the early churches- and Rome would be no exception. This group of people were those to whom God had shown the truth about Himself (1:19). The following verses go on to allude to Israel’s perversions in the wilderness- and they were a people who knew God rather than ignorant Gentiles. This group know God but don’t glorify Him (1:21).

If we insist on understanding ‘hold’ as meaning ‘hold down the [conscience of] the truth’ on account of their unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18 Gk.), we can connect this with the statement that when this group come to know God, they darken their foolish hearts (1:21). And so it was with the preaching of the Gospel in Acts. Those who heard it were pricked in their conscience: some responded by wanting to kill the preachers (Acts 5:33; 7:54); others followed their conscience and accepted baptism (Acts 2:37). We too have our hearts pricked by the Gospel- and we either effectively shut up the preaching, or respond.

Because that which is known of God is manifest in them; for God manifested it to them- “Known” is Gk. gnostos. This may be a strike at incipient Gnosticism; for Paul says that such knowledge, such gnosis, is showed to people by God. There are only some things which God makes known to us about Himself; we do not have the total truth about God, we see but parts of His ways and hear only a little portion of Him (Job 26:14). Our perception and definition of “the truth” needs to bear this in mind. Absolute truth claims aren’t simply ignorant, they lead to all manner of relationship breakdown, arrogance and deformation of spirituality both in ourselves and others.

For the invisible things of Him since the creation of the world are clearly seen- a paradox, seeing the invisible. Such vision is only by faith.  In the context, Paul is referring to those responsible to God. They are those who ‘see’ by faith, they are therefore inexcusable. One can have faith, even the faith that sees the invisible, and yet still ‘not get it’. See on Rom. 8:19.

Being perceived through the things that are made. The translation here is difficult. The invisible things of God are clearly seen in the things He makes- but the only other usage of the Greek word is in Eph. 2:10: “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus”. The idea could be that the things of God are made visible, the abstract things of His power, personality and Name are made concrete and tangible- in us His people. We are living witnesses to His power and Divinity.

ven His everlasting power and Divinity- that they may be without excuse- A legal term. The court of Divine judgment is sitting right now, and we who are His people are without excuse for our sin. Paul is building up slowly towards the crescendo of presenting us all as serious, inexcusable sinners, who can be saved by grace alone. 

1:21 For although they knew God- Only those who ‘know God’ have the potential to give Him glory and true thanks; but the problem is that some can know God and yet not go forward from that point to glorify God. Knowledge of God isn’t therefore an academic matter in itself; it leads on to gratitude towards Him and glory of Him.

They did not honour Him as God or give thanks to Him- To “honour” here is to praise. Fundamentally praise is mental appreciation of Yahweh's Name, seeing His characteristics expressed in all things around us, e.g. food, weather, situations in life etc. Knowledge of God (and this doesn't only refer to abstract doctrine, but to an awareness of how He works and expresses Himself in our lives) is therefore proportionate to the quality of our praise (Rom. 1:21).

But they became futile in their thinking- Or 'Imaginations', Gk. dialogismos. Their internal dialogues with themselves, the internal self, the mind at its deepest and most personal level, became vain- when the true knowledge of God should have made them so much more dynamic, purposeful and productive. The focus of the Bible is so often upon the ‘heart’, the most intimate and internal thought processes.

And their foolish hearts were darkened- The foolish heart of Israel was darkened / blinded, the Greek implies (Rom. 1:21). God gave them a mind which wanted to practice perversion (v.28), and therefore they received a recompense appropriate to the delusion which they had been given (v. 27 Gk.) . Note that their punishment was to be given and encouraged in perverted tendencies (diseases like AIDS are the result of upsetting nature's balance rather than the recompense spoken of in Romans 1). Christian men in the first century gave themselves over to sexual immorality (Eph. 4:19), and therefore God "gave them over to a reprobate mind" (Rom. 1:24,26,28). “Blind yourselves and be blind”, God angrily remonstrated with Israel; yet God had closed their eyes, confirming them in the decision for blindness which they had taken themselves (Is. 29:9,10 RVmg.). Later in Romans, Paul speaks of the Jews as the ones whose hearts were darkened (Rom. 11:10).

Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools- “Became” implies that this is all talking about the people of God, who once were wise, but became fools. S.w. Mt. 5:13 about the salt “which loses its taste”, lit. ‘becomes foolish’. However it is God who makes worldly wise people foolish (1 Cor. 1:20 s.w.), just as in v. 21 it is God who darkens eyes. There’s a downward spiral, in which God is active and the dynamic within it.

1:23- see on Rom. 5:12.

And exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God- Again a paradox is presented- the incorruptible, unchangeable God is changed by mere men. Perhaps the point is that the glory of God, the extent to and form in which He is glorified, is to some extent in our hands. We can in this sense deface His image by the distorted reflection of it which we give. Note how they turned the image of God into the image of man; whereas the Lord Jesus, as a man, became in the image of God (Phil. 2:7). The implication from Paul’s reasoning is that whatever we worship becomes God to us, and therefore we have re-cast God into that image. In a world of obsessions, we are to ‘worship’ God alone, and not reduce Him to the petty things which people waste their devotions upon.

For the likeness of an image of corruptible man
, and of birds, and fourfooted animals, and creeping things- The commands concerning Israel's behaviour after they had settled in the land form a large chunk of the Mosaic Law, and thus these were only relevant to the younger generation and the Levites who were to enter the land of promise (note how only those who were numbered and over 20 at the time of leaving Egypt were barred from the land; the Levites were not numbered). This younger generation were in sharp contrast to those aged over 20 at the Exodus. The extent of spiritual despair and apostasy amongst the condemned generation cannot be overstated. They neglected the circumcision of the children born to them then (Josh. 5:5,6), thus showing their rejection of the Abrahamic covenant. There is good reason to believe that Romans 1 is a description of Israel in the wilderness; notice the past tenses there. Rom. 1:23 charges them with changing "the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like... to four-footed beasts, and creeping things", clearly alluding to Ps. 106:20 concerning how Israel in the wilderness "Changed their glory into the similitude of an ox that eateth grass" by making the golden calf. The effective atheism of Rom.1 is matched by Ps. 106:21 "They forgat God their saviour". The long catalogue of Israel's wilderness sins in Ps. 106 is similar to that in Rom.1. "Full of envy" (Rom. 1:29) corresponds to them envying Moses (Ps. 106:16), "whisperers" (Rom. 1:29) to "murmurers" (Ps. 106:25), and "inventors of evil things" (Rom.1:30) to God being angered with "their inventions" of false gods (Ps. 106:29). Because of this "God gave them up" to continue in their sexual perversion and bitterness with each other even to the extent of murder (Rom. 1:27,29). A rabble of about 2 million people living in moral anarchy with little law and order, driven on in their lust by the knowledge that God had rejected them is surely a frightening thing to imagine. The emphasis on sexual sin in Rom.1 is paralleled by 1 Cor. 10 stressing the frequent failure of Israel in the wilderness in this regard. Against such an evil and God forsaking background that young generation rebelled, to become one of the most faithful groups of Israelites in their history. As such they set a glorious example to the youth of today in rebelling against a world that mocks any form of true spirituality.

1:24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to uncleanness, that their bodies should be dishonoured among themselves- “Gave them up” is s.w. Acts 7:42, where God turned from Israel because of their apostasy and “gave them up” to worship idols. Again, God works with His sinful people by propelling them in a downwards spiral. In this context He did this by giving them over to their own sexual lusts, which resulted in their dishonouring their own bodies. God can confirm people in their sexual lusting; and by implication, He can also hold people back. The perversions spoken of in v. 26 are all this come to its ultimate term- when people are made to feel that they were born to be perverted and abusive. Unbridled sexual lust leads to self-harm, a sin against self, in the sense that such behaviour is a dishonouring Gk.: shaming, despising of one’s own body. This suggests that the body naturally has honour- Paul is attacking the view that the body is evil and to be despised, that God is angry with human flesh as flesh. We take that glory and honour away from our bodies by sexual misbehaviour. Paul uses the Greek word for ‘dishonour’ only once more in Romans, in 2:23, where he says that sin is a dishonouring of God. To dishonour ourselves, our own body, is to dishonour God. For we are made in His image and likeness. Lack of self-respect, an incorrect understanding and perception of who we are, is what so often leads us to sin.


1:25 Because they exchanged the truth of God for a lie- These people once held God’s Truth, but exchanged it for a lie. The same word occurs in 1:26, where we read that women changed / exchanged “the natural use into that which is against nature”. Sexual sin is a lie. The argument that we can sexually sin and it’s all going to be OK, is one of the greatest lies. 

And worshiped and served the created rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen- The context of this verse, both before and after, speaks in a sexual context. The ‘created thing’ may refer to the human body- for worshipping the created thing is parallel with dishonouring the human body in v. 24. Praise and worship should be directed ultimately to God; sexual immorality seeks to break the connection between God and the human body, the awareness that the human being is made in the image of God. Treating people merely as bodies is to sever them in our minds from their connection to God. By perceiving their connection to God, we will never treat humans as merely bodies; nor will we perceive ourselves in that way either. The Creator is to be blessed by us for ever- and so we should start living like that now, rather than praising things He has created for what they are in themselves.

1:26 For this cause God gave them up to vile passions- “Vile” is s.w. ‘dishonour’, 1:24. The dishonouring of bodies by sexual perversion is a result of allowing ‘dishonourable’ lusts / thoughts to be worked out in practice; the performing of mental fantasy in the flesh. Paul teaches that God propels those who wish to give free reign to their fantasies- He gives them over to their own lusts. Paul is using the example of sexual perversion as part of a build up to a crescendo of demonstrating the depth of human depravity, and the subsequent depth of God’s grace. He demonstrates the seriousness of human sin by showing that God pushes people downwards in a downward spiral of lust, if this is what they themselves truly wish- and Paul cites sexual perversion as the parade example of this, whereby God so confirms sinners in their lusts that they even feel that what is truly “against nature” is in fact normal and natural.

Their women changed the natural use into that which is against nature- These things are "against nature" (1:26); it is therefore impossible that by 'nature' some people are born with perverted desires which they are free to indulge. "Nature" is used in Romans in the sense of "God's creative order". It would be inappropriate and even cruel of God to create men with insatiable desires for perversion and then tell them that these are in fact not natural, and He holds them guilty for having them. "Nature" (Gk. physis) was used in contemporary Greek in the context of the God-designed, natural intention for heterosexual relationships; Strong suggests it refers to “natural production (lineal descent)”. Physis is rendered "by birth" in Gal. 2:15 RSV. The sexual pervert is behaving "against nature", against the way in which he was born. Sexual perverts are behaving "against nature", against God's intended order at creation, and are thereby perverts of His way. The Greek para ("against") means just that. Thus Paul's accusers complain that he "persuades men to worship God contrary (para) to the law" (Acts 18:13); false teachers create divisions "contrary (para) to the doctrine which ye have learned" (Rom. 16:17). 

1:27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another- Paul speaks of how sinful behaviour ends up in people doing things ‘contrary to nature’; and yet he uses a similar phrase to describe how being ‘grafted in’ to the true hope of Israel, with all it implies in practice, is likewise “contrary to nature” (Rom. 1:26,27 cp. 11:24). We walk against the wind, go against the grain, one way or the other in this life. And, cynically speaking, it may as well be for the Lord’s cause than for the flesh. See on Mt. 3:11. The recompense refers not to AIDS but to God’s confirming of sexual perverts in their sin to the extent that they believe it is natural and somehow coded into their bodies.

Men with men working unseemliness and receiving in themselves that reward of their error which was due- “Error” is s.w. deception. The sin associated with sexual perversion is therefore the result of deception. Earlier Paul has said that God has given over such people to their own lusts, to the point they believe that their sin is natural; here he says that they have been deceived. The deception is also by God, just as He sends “strong delusion” s.w. “error” upon those who don’t love the Truth, so that they believe a lie (2 Thess. 2:11).

1:28- see on Rom. 1:21.

And even as- The context is the last clause of 1:27, that sexual perversion is itself an appropriate punishment for the sin of sexual perversion. Paul here repeats that point- that God gave them over to that kind of “reprobate mind”. That God ‘gave them’ this mindset is laboured three times (1:24,26,28).

They refused to have God in their knowledge, God gave them up to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not appropriate- The same Greek words only in Rom. 10:2, where Paul says that Israel do not hold or retain the knowledge of God. So here in 1:28 Paul seems to have his mind on Israel again, who didn’t any longer retain or hold God in their knowledge, and so their zeal became not according to knowledge (10:2). Of course the Jews would’ve insisted that they were mindful of God, they didn’t become atheists, far from it. But God wasn’t held in their knowledge, He wasn’t the defining reality in their thinking. Retain is the Greek word ‘echo’- our minds should be an echo of God’s.
Even in this life, those who will be rejected have “a reprobate mind” (Rom. 1:28)- they have the mind of the rejected, the unaccepted this is how the Greek word is used in every other occurrence in the NT. The mindset the rejected have in that awful day, is the mindset which they have now. This is how important our thinking is. Our thoughts, the thoughts of yesterday and today and tomorrow, will either accuse or excuse us in the last day, when God shall judge us according to our “secrets”, our inner thinking (Rom. 2:15,16).

The context of Rom. 1 is the power of the Gospel. Paul's discussion of sexual perversion is part of his demonstration that there is an antithesis to Gospel power; namely, the power of sin. He develops this theme later in chapters 7 and 8, where he shows that the compulsive, ever growing power of sin in the unbeliever or apostate is the antithesis of the power of the Spirit at work in the faithful believer. Chapters 1 and 2 introduce this theme, and Paul is citing sexual perversion as an example of the power of sin at work within men, as the antithesis to the power of the Gospel. He makes the same point in 1 Tim. 1:9-11. Paul argues that the desire for sexual perversion is God's punishment for men's sinful lusts. The point is being repeated at least three times, such is the emphasis:

What men did

What God did

Thought they were wise

Made them fools

"Became vain in their imaginations"

Darkened their foolish heart (1:21)

Had evil "lusts of their own hearts"

Through these lusts God gave them over to dishonouring their bodies between themselves

Changed God's truth (i.e. His word, Jn. 17:17) into a lie

Gave them vile affections which resulted in them committing perverted sexual acts

They refused to acknowledge the claims of God (Rom. 1:28 AVmg.)

God gave them a mind "void of judgment" between right and wrong (Rom. 1:28 AVmg.), so that they committed perverted sexual acts

Inappropriately lusted for each other

Gave them an appropriate punishment for their error, i.e. perverted sexual desire.

It is clear from all this that God does something to the minds of men who justify perverted sexual lust; He makes them lust even more, and they therefore commit perverted sexual acts, and He then makes them want even more of such gratification. This is a classic example of the downward spiral an apostate believer enters; God pushes such people into ever increasing confirmation in their evil way. The fact some sexual perverts feel convinced they were born like it is an example of God confirming these people in their desires. It must be noted that the text of Rom. 1 is largely concerned with attitudes of mind; people have wrong sexual lust in their minds, and God confirms this by giving them a perverted mindset. This shows that it is not enough to simply abstain from perverted sexual acts; the perverted sexual mindset is in itself sinful. "The lusts of their own hearts" is paralleled with "to dishonour their own bodies"; "vile affections" with sexual acts; "a reprobate mind" with doing those things which are abhorrent. For this reason alone it is impossible to accept the reasoning of Rom. 1 and also believe that some people are created by God constitutionally perverted, with these "vile affections" as part of their natural fabric. It has been pointed out by many commentators that Paul in Rom. 1 is alluding to passages in the Wisdom of Solomon; and those passages are saying that God confirms men in the unrighteous desires they have chosen to follow. God often punishes men by turning them over to their sin completely. For example: "In return for their foolish and wicked thoughts which led them astray to worship irrational animals... thou didst send upon them a multitude of irrational creatures, that they might learn that one is punished by the very things in which he sins... therefore those who lived unrighteously thou didst torment through their own abominations" (Wisdom 11:15,16; 12:23). Rom. 1:29-31 associates sexual perversion with a descending spiral of all sorts of other sins: envy, murder, inventors of evil things etc. This confirms that sexual perversion is part of a general picture of sinfulness which is in opposition to the system of righteousness developed by the Gospel.

1:29 Being filled- by God.

With all unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity- One can only be filled with murder if we understand murder here as an attitude of mind, in the sense of 1 Jn. 3:15- hating our brother is murder. The context is speaking of how God is doing things to the mind, the mental attitude, of sinners.

The extent of spiritual despair, despondency and apostasy amongst the condemned generation cannot be overstated. They neglected the circumcision of their children (Josh. 5:5,6), showing their rejection of the Abrahamic covenant with them. There is good reason to think that Rom. 1 is a description of Israel in the wilderness. Rom. 1:23 accuses them of changing “the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to... four-footed beasts, and creeping things", clearly alluding to Ps. 106:29 concerning how Israel in the wilderness "changed their glory (i.e. God) into the similitude of an ox that eateth grass" by making the golden calf. The effective atheism of Rom. 1 is matched by Ps. 106:21: "They forgat God their saviour". The long catalogue of Israel's wilderness sins in Ps. 106 is similar to that in Rom. 1. "Full of envy" (Rom. 1:29) corresponds to them envying Moses (Ps. 106:16), "whisperers" (Rom. 1:29) to "murmurers" (Ps. 106:25), "inventors of evil things" (Rom. 1:30) to God being angered with "their inventions" of false gods (Ps. 106:29). Because of this "God gave them up" to continue in their sexual perversion and bitterness with each other, even to the extent of murder (Rom. 1:27,29). They were a rabble of about 2 million people living in moral anarchy, driven on in their lust by the knowledge that God had rejected them. The children of that generation who later turned out faithful- indeed the generation that settled Canaan were perhaps the most faithful generation in Israel’s history- must have had to violently rebel against the attitude of the world and older generation around them.

1:30 W
hisperers, backbiters, hateful to God, insolent, proud, boastful, inventors of evil things- the mind is creative, inventive, and must be channelled positively rather than towards the invention or creation of sinful things. Note that the origin or creation of evil in the sense of sin is within the human being, not in some cosmic Satan figure.

Disobedient to parents- this may appear a lesser sin compared to those which surround it. But Paul several times does this- listing what some would consider an apparently minor sin within a list of what some would consider major sins- to demonstrate that the apparently minor sin is indeed that serious.

1:31 Without understanding- This translates the Greek asunetos; “covenant breakers” translates asunthetos. The alliteration between the words is common in the Bible, and suggests that the Bible was recorded in such a way that it could be easily memorized by the initial hearers- for the majority of believers over history have been illiterate.  

Covenant breakers- “Covenant breakers” and “without natural affection” may be understandable in a moral, sexual context. For in 1:27 Paul has written of sexual perversion as a leaving of the natural intent of the body. 

With natural affection, unmerciful- “Implacable”, Gk. ‘without accepting a libation’ suggests that unforgiveness, or being “unmerciful”, is as bad as all manner of major sexual sin listed in the same list. Yet so often those sins remain unforgiven by those who consider themselves more spiritual than those who fail in such areas; yet such unforgiveness is of the same category as the grossest moral failure. Gk. ‘without an offering’, i.e. unwilling to accept a sacrifice in order to grant peace. This is a clear allusion to what God does for us; indeed most of the terms in v.31 are the very opposite of what God does in the atonement. His reconciliation of us must be the basis for our lives and mental attitudes.

1:32 Who, knowing the ordinance of God- the relevance of this verse is to those who know God’s judgments, those who are responsible to Him. Those described in Rom. 1:32 know the judgment of God; they know it will come. But they have a mind “void of [an awareness of] judgment” (Rom. 1:28 AVmg.). We can know, know it all. But live with a mind and heart void of it. Tit. 1:16 AVmg. uses the same word to describe those who “profess that they know God” but are “void of judgment”. We can know Him, but have no real personal sense of judgment to come. These are sobering thoughts.

That they that practice- Gk. keep on practicing, in an ongoing way.

Such things a
re worthy of death- Some of the “things” listed in the preceding verses might appear to some to be minor sins. But they are “worthy of death” if we live in them. We need to think through that list in 1:29-31. Disobedience to parents, lacking “natural affection”, not being faithful to a covenant, implacable, not showing mercy- any one of those “things” if lived in as a way of life is “worthy of death”. Refusing to fellowship one’s brethren, refusing to forgive, ignoring elderly parents... is “worthy of death”. 

Not only do the same, but also give approval to them that practise them- “Give approval to” is Gk. ‘to assent to’, ‘to feel gratified with’. We can so easily ‘feel gratified with’ those who commit those sins through vicariously participating in them through watching and reading of them, and psychologically feeling gratified by the sin. Paul seems to be speaking here directly to the online entertainment generation... Paul may have written this with his memory upon how when Stephen had been stoned, he had stood there looking on and “consenting” with the murder, stone by stone- without throwing a single stone himself (s.w. twice, Acts 8:1; 22:20). 

Paul warned the Romans that those who “have pleasure” in (Gk. ‘to feel gratified with’) sinful people will be punished just as much as those who commit the sins (Rom. 1:32). But he uses the very word used for his own ‘consenting’ unto the death of Stephen; standing there in consent, although not throwing a stone (Acts 8:1; 22:20). He realized that only by grace had that major sin of his been forgiven; and in that spirit of humility and self-perception of himself, as a serious sinner saved by grace alone, did he appeal to his brethren to consider their ways.  ‘Feeling gratified with’ such sins as are in this list is what the entertainment industry is so full of. We can’t watch, read and listen to this kind of thing by choice without in some sense being vicariously involved in it- and this seems to be exactly what Paul has in mind when he warns that those who feel gratified in those sins shall share in their judgment. This is a sober warning, relevant, powerful and cutting to our generation far more than any other. For given the internet and media, we can so easily feel gratified in others’ sins. 

Paul reels off an awful list of sins in Romans 1, and builds up to a crescendo at the end of the passage. We're left waiting, with dropped jaws, for him to come out with some yet more awful sin. And Paul fulfils that expectation by listing the sin of having pleasure in those who commit sin (Rom. 1:32). Immediately we who are not grossly perverted and immoral are shaken from our seats. For in our generation like no other, one can secretly view sin, in movies, novels and on the internet, and vicariously get involved with it whilst not 'doing it' with our own bodies. This sin really is serious. It tops and caps and concludes the list of awful sins. And yet the whole section goes on to talk about the danger of condemning others for such sins (2:1). It could be that Paul is suggesting that by condemning others, eagerly exploring their sins in order to pass condemnation upon them, we are thereby gratifying ourselves through vicarious involvement in those very sins. In this case, the psychology presented would’ve been 2000 years ahead of its time.
Those described in Rom. 1:32 know the judgment of God; they know it will come. But they have a mind “void of [an awareness of] judgment” (Rom. 1:28 AVmg.). We can know, know it all. But live with a mind and heart void of it. Tit. 1:16 AVmg. uses the same word to describe those who “profess that they know God” but are “void of judgment”. We can know Him, but have no real personal sense of judgment to come. These are sobering thoughts.