NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER ONE (Part XXVI)
Jewish theologian David Stern leaves no doubt where he stands on this subject: “Homosexuality was rife throughout the first-century Roman Empire, as it is today. This is why the Gay Liberation movement can gain a wide hearing as it seeks equality, acceptance, and approval of homosexuals and their behavior. It is why the Metropolitan Community Church, with tens of thousands of members in the United States, many of them openly active homosexuals, can refuse to condemn homosexual behavior as sin, yet seek acceptance as a Christian denomination. It is why outsiders condemn the Christian community when it rejects the MCC’s claim and refuses to recognize homosexuality as an ‘alternative lifestyle.’ The basic attitude of people who believe the Bible should be to love sinners while hating their sins. But believers must accept the Bible’s judgments on what is and what is not sin. Moreover, denouncing the sin is an aspect of loving the sinner; this is what enables him to repent, be forgiven, and change. All of this can be done compassionately and effectively; the real tragedy is that few Christian churches try to minister to homosexuals.”1
Verse 28a: In other words, since they have not considered God worth knowing, God allowed them to keep their worthless thinking.
This was another way for the apostle Paul to say that God is tolerant. Many parents have followed this same tactic. No matter how many times they’ve told their child not to touch this, or run with that, or jump off of this, sometimes, the only way they can teach them is by permitting them to suffer the consequences of disobedience. In God’s case, it’s not so much a matter of Him allowing them to get away with sin, but that He is teaching them how dangerous and harmful sin can be. One of the earliest OT writers commented: “How often do the lights go out on the wicked? How often do the consequences boomerang on them? How often does God allow them to feel the pain of His anger by making them blow around like straw in the wind like debris carried off by a storm?”2
It all starts when they take God out of the equation when they do not factor Him into every decision of their lives. It was Solomon who said: “Knowledge begins with fear and respect for the LORD, but stubborn fools hate wisdom and refuse to learn.”3 So, Solomon asks: “How long will you fools love being ignorant? How long will you make fun of wisdom? How long will you hate knowledge?”4 So Wisdom was asked how this could happen. She replied: “Fools will call for me, but I will not answer. They will look for me, but they will not find me. That’s because they hate knowledge. They refuse to fear and respect the Lord. They ignore my advice and refuse to be corrected. They fill their lives with what they want. They go their own way so they will get what they deserve.”5
But this was all done to teach them a lesson. God is waiting for them to come to their senses and ask: “Why didn’t I listen to my parents? Why didn’t I pay attention to my teachers? I didn’t want to be disciplined. I refused to be corrected. So now I have suffered through just about every kind of trouble anyone can have, and everyone knows it.”6 Unfortunately, wisdom is not for sale, it has to be gained through knowledge, and knowledge can only be acquired through study, and study can only be done through dedication and hard work.7
What perplexed Paul was the same thing that God noticed: “My people are foolish. They don’t really know me. They are stupid children. They don’t understand. They are so skilled at doing wrong, but they haven’t learned a thing about being good.”8 Jeremiah was told by God, people tell lies to cover up their lies.9 The apostle Peter believed that a lot of this came about because people conveniently ignored the past. It’s like, that can’t happen to me. But the truth is, says Peter, “These people don’t want to remember what happened long ago.”10 Of course, he was talking about the great flood that destroyed the earth’s population except for Noah and his family. So he warns them that they are not exempt from a similar judgment if they continue to ignore God and His Word. Peter goes on to say that instead of a flood, this time God will use fire.11
When Paul was writing about such circumstances to young Timothy, he likened this kind of blind rebellion to what happened down in Egypt when Moses was sent by God to free His people. Paul writes: “Just as Jannes and Jambres12 fought against Moses, these people fight against the truth. Their thinking has been confused. The faith they have and teach is worthless. But they will not succeed in what they are trying to do. Everyone will see how foolish they are. That is what happened to Jannes and Jambres.”13 As far as Paul was concerned, these people were speeding down a road known to have a sudden drop-off at the end. And despite the warning signs, they ignored them, thinking they were only put there to keep them away from enjoying the pleasures that lay hidden up ahead. Not only were they foolish, but they were fools for being so foolish.
The great early church preacher Chrysostom had this to say in one of his sermons on this text: “Paul shows that the heathens were responsible for their own sins, and he deprives them of any excuse. For he says that their evil deeds did not come from ignorance but from willful practice. This is why he did not say ‘because they did not know God,’ but rather ‘they did not see fit to acknowledge God.’ In other words, their sin was one of a perverted determination of obstinacy more than of a sudden delight, and it was not in the flesh (as some heretics say14) but in the mind, to whose wicked lust the sins belonged and from which the fount of evils flowed. For if the mind becomes undiscerning, everything else is dragged off course and overturned.”15
Martin Luther suggests that the reason God does not immediately punish people for their sins is that His grace outweighs His displeasure. As Luther sees this, God does so because His hidden divine judgment examines every situation for the circumstances involved. This may lead some to repentance while others continue on their way to destruction. Luther remarks: “At any rate, God stops every arrogant mouth in order that no one might prescribe to Him any rule according to which He should punish sin or reward virtue.”16 This is why Christians are taught to do the witnessing, and let God do the judging.
The great Reformer John Calvin analyses man’s bad choices: “Since they chose not to continue in the knowledge of God, which alone guides our minds to true wisdom, the Lord let them have a perverted mind, which can choose nothing that is right. And by saying, that they chose not to, it is the same as though he had said, that they pursued not after the knowledge of God with the attention they ought to have done, but, on the contrary, turned away their thoughts abjectly from God. He then intimates, that they, making a depraved choice, preferred their own vanities to the true God; and thus the error, by which they were deceived, was voluntary.”17 In other words, as far as Calvin was concerned, the excuse, “the devil made me do it,” is not acceptable or valid.
John Bengel sees Paul comparing the thesis of God “giving them over,” with the antithesis of “allowing them to retain.” In other words, these people wallowed shamelessly in their sins, had the knowledge that it was wrong, but chose not to benefit from their possession of such knowledge. Bengel says: “Such words have both an active and passive sense; so [the Greek word] ‘adokimos’ [is used].18 Here it means in an active sense: the mind which approves things [that] by no means [should] be approved; to this are given up [by] those who have disapproved what was [now] to be approved.”19 In other words, those who actively knew it was not approved by God, passively accepted it as being approved.
Adam Clarke proposes that not only did these pagan not have any true knowledge of God other than the rudimentary facts provided by creation, but goes on to say: “They did not search to retain God in their knowledge. They did not examine the evidence before them of His being and attributes; therefore God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to an unsearching or undiscerning mind. They did not reflect on the proofs they had of the Divine nature, and God abandoned them to the operations of a mind incapable of reflection. How men of such powers and learning, as many of the Greek and Roman philosophers and poets really were, could reason so nonconsecutively concerning things moral and Divine is truly astonishing. But here we see the hand of a just and avenging God; they abused their powers, and God deprived them of the right use of these powers.”20 Keep this in mind, although God let them have their corrupt practices so they could learn how bad it was for them, He still did not accept or approve of it.
John Stott points out a play on words in the Greek text which can best be paraphrased as follows: Since they did not see fit to retain any awareness of God, God decided not to retain any awareness of them.21 This is another way of saying, that God is no bully. His loving the world is by choice, so He wants loving Him to be by choice. Not only that but by being left to their own devices is a quick way for any person to come to the realization that they need God more than God needs them.
Douglas Moo adds another dimension to this understanding: “Whereas in the previous instances it was to immoral acts that God consigned people, in this case it is to a ‘worthless mind.’ People who have refused to acknowledge God end up with minds that are ‘disqualified’ from being able to understand and acknowledge the will of God. The result, of course, is that they do things that are ‘not proper.’ As in 1:21, Paul stresses that people who have turned from God are fundamentally unable to think and decide correctly about God and His will. This tragic incapacity is the explanation for the apparently inexplicable failure of people to comprehend, let alone practice, biblical ethical principles. Only the work of the Spirit in ‘renewing the mind’ (Rom. 12:2) can overcome this deep-seated blindness and perversity.”22
1 David H. Stern: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
2 Job 21:17
3 Proverbs 1:7
4 Ibid 1:22
5 Ibid. 1:28-31
6 See Proverbs 5:12-13
7 Ibid. 17:16
8 Jeremiah 4:22
9 Ibid. 9:6
10 2 Peter 3:5
11 Ibid. 3:10
12 See Jannes and Jambres, Jewish Encyclopedia for their origin in Jewish lore
13 2 Timothy 3:8-9
14 Here Chrysostom is referring to the Manicheans, who viewed the flesh as inherently evil.
15 Chrysostom: On Romans 5
16 Martin Luther: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., pp. 48-49
17 John Calvin: On Romans, loc. cit.
18 adokimos is the Greek word for ‘not approved,’ ‘not standing the test.’
19 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 219
20 Adam Clarke: On Romans, loc. cit.
21 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
22 Douglas Moo: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 118