NEW TESTAMENT CONTEXTUAL COMMENTARY
Dr. Robert R. Seyda
EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS
CHAPTER ONE (Part XXVIII)
The early church Bishop of Laodicea touches on the subject of misleading others into doing wrong: “Here again we see the innocence of God and the guilt of man and the justice of the judgment which is given. For men do these things, being fully aware that they are worthy of punishment by God the judge. For it is clear that they are not unaware of this when they judge others and hand those who do such things over to execution. For when evil men have knowledge of the good and make use of it as if they are not susceptible to pleasures, they bear witness that God’s creation is good.… But those who lead men into wrong, as well as those who follow what is wrong, are both evils.”1 Then, the early church Bishop of Caesarea gives his view: “Perverted human tradition is the source of great evil for us, in that some sins are denounced while others are viewed with indifference. Crimes like homicide and adultery are the object of a violent but insincere indignation, while others, like anger, reviling, drunkenness or avarice, are not even considered deserving of a simple admonition.”2
Also, Severian, a contemporary preacher of Chrysostom’s, spoke about this: “When Paul talks about the ‘judgment of God’ he means the rightful recompense God gives to everyone according to what they deserve. For men know by their natural reasoning that transgressors will be punished by God, but instead of ceasing from their wicked ways they are actually pleased with those who do such things!… Therefore, God will judge those who do such things as [being] absolutely and without question worthy of death.”3 Then, Chrysostom has this to say: “For what reason does anyone have to say that he does not know what he should do? Even if he does not know, he is still to blame, because he has turned away from the God who teaches him. But Paul has shown by many arguments that he does know and transgresses willingly. But is such a person drawn by passion? Why in that case does he cooperate with it and even praise it? For they not only do such things themselves, says Paul, but they ‘approve those who practice them.’ Paul thus puts the more serious sin first, in order to get it out of the way (for the one who praises the sin of others is far worse than the one who sins himself).”4
Three more early church scholars give us their opinions. Augustine writes about their consenting to evil deeds: “Whatever they had done they did without coercion. For when they give their consent to evil deeds, they approve even of things which they did not do themselves.”5 And Pelagius notes that worldliness was at the root of this evil. He says: “Even people who did not agree with these doings … nevertheless seem to have accepted them, because they agreed to idolatry, which is the source and cause of them all.”6 Then the Bishop of Arles shares his suspicions: “Those who do not admonish adulterers make us suspect that the reason for this failure of reproof is that they commit similar sins themselves.”7
John Calvin summarizes this chapter by saying: “The person who feels ashamed still qualifies for rescue; but when such disrespect is contracted through a sinful habit, that vices, and not virtues, please us, and are approved, there is no more any hope of reformation. Such, then, is the interpretation I give; for I see that the Apostle meant here to condemn something more grievous and more wicked than the very doing of vices: what that is I know not, except we refer to that which is the summit of all wickedness, — that is, when wretched men, having cast away all shame, undertake the support of vices in opposition to the righteousness of God.”8
John Bengel states that the hallmark of God’s royalty is that He approves virtues, hates vices and that He justly and deservedly visits the wicked with death to show that He is not unjust. God is, therefore, justified in punishing the guilty with death. Bengel says that even among the Gentiles the punishment by death of those who do evil was considered a royal decree. Bengel goes on to say: “He who perpetrates evil is led away by his own desire, and not without condemnation of himself, and even others. And, while approving the law, he who takes pleasure, or approves, with heart and words, has, as the fruit of wickedness, wickedness itself. He feeds upon it, heaps his own guilt with that of others, and inflames others to sin. He is a worse man, who ruins both himself and others, than he who ruins only himself. This is indeed a reprobate mind.”9
So often today, the Gospel it preached to the unconverted as though they are victims of sin. Paul sees it just the opposite. God has given mankind every reason to have the chains of sin broken so they can be free from their bondage to that which is wicked, evil, and ungodly. But many have elected to remain slaves to sin. Some have even chosen to make gods of their own invention and claim that they are in fact serving God thereby. For instance, a popular musician dies a miserable death while addicted to drugs and an immoral lifestyle, yet they are immortalized and venerated as having blessed everyone with their music. It is considered, therefore, that by appreciating their talent and music, we are honoring God for having given them to the world. Such convoluted thinking has so permeated society today that it is considered fashionable.
Charles Hodge concludes his commentary of chapter one with this: “As he had before shown that the impiety of the heathen was without excuse, inasmuch as they had a knowledge of the true God, so here Paul shows that their immorality was inexcusable, since their sins were not committed in ignorance of their nature or penalty. This passage also shows that the judicial abandonment of God does not destroy the free agency or responsibility of men. They are given up to work iniquity, and yet know that they deserve death for what they do. The stream which carries them away is not without, but within. It is their own corrupt nature. It is themselves. Notwithstanding this knowledge of the penalty of the crimes above enumerated, they not only commit them but approve of those who do (or practice) them. This is the lowest point of degradation. To sin, even in the heat of passion, is evil; but to delight in the sins of others, shows that men are of set purpose and fixed preference, wicked. Such is the apostle’s argument to prove that heathens are all under sin, that they are justly chargeable with ungodliness and unrighteousness, and consequently exposed to the wrath of God.”10
Through this, we can see that Paul lived during very wicked times in Rome and throughout the Greek-dominated world. It was a time of great temptation to those who had been delivered from their pagan ways, yet were still surrounded by multitudes who continued such immoral vices and practices. Oddly enough, some two-thousand years later Christians are faced with the same degradation of society and the rise of the occult once again. But just as the community of believers was victorious before, they will be triumphant again as long as those who know the truth remain true to their convictions.
Adam Clarke gives his summation of what Paul has written so far: “The preceding chapter gives us one of the finest views of the Gospel of Christ, to be met with anywhere. It is God‘s method of saving a lost world, in a way which that world could never have imagined: there is nothing human in it; it is all truly and gloriously Divine; essentially necessary to the salvation of man, and fully adequate to the purposes of its institution. Though it is an extension of the old covenant, yet it is almost wholly dissimilar; being as different from that as the person is from the picture which represents it, and as the substance is from the shadow projected by it. It is a scheme as worthy of God as it is necessary for man; hence there are no exclusion clauses in it – it is for the Jew and for the Greek; for the wise and for the unwise; for all the nations of the universe, and for all the individuals of those nations. He blasphemes God who holds a contrary [view].”11
Albert Barnes offers this note: “The charges which the apostle makes here were evidently those who were well-known. He does not even appeal to their writings, as he does on some other occasions, for proof; compare Titus 1:12. So well known were they, that there was no need of proof. A writer would not advance charges in this manner unless he was confident that they were well-founded, and could not be denied. They are abundantly sustained by the pagan writers themselves. This we have in part seen In addition we may adduce the testimony of two Roman writers respecting the state of things at Rome in the time of the apostle. Livy says of the age of Augustus, in some respects the brightest period of the Roman history, ‘Rome has increased by her virtues until now when we can neither bear our vices nor their remedy.’12 [In the] Preface to his History. Seneca, one of the purest moralists of Rome, who died in 65 AD, says of his own time, ‘All is full of criminality and vice; indeed much more of these is committed than can be remedied by force. A monstrous contest of abandoned wickedness is carried on. The lust of sin increases daily, and shame is daily more and more extinguished. Discarding respect for all that is good and sacred, lust rushes on wherever it will. Vice no longer hides itself. It stalks forth before all eyes. So public has abandoned wickedness become, and so openly does it flame up in the minds of all, that innocence is no longer seldom, but has wholly ceased to exist.’”13
John Stott adds these thoughts: “We have come to the end of Paul’s portrayal of depraved Gentile society. Its essence lies in the antithesis between what people know and what they do. God’s wrath is specifically directed against those who deliberately suppress truth for the sake of evil. ‘Dark as the picture here drawn is,’ wrote Charles Hodge, ‘it is not so dark as that presented by the most distinguished Greek and Latin authors, of their own countrymen.’ Paul was not exaggerating.”14
Jewish theologian David Stern agrees with Bengel’s assessment by saying: “The downward slide gathers speed. With the necessary changes, the above description applies to all kinds of sins. Verses 29–31 are the Bible’s most comprehensive list of the evils people invent for themselves, and v. 32 shows the state of man in deepest depravity, in which not only do they keep doing these things, but they applaud others who do the same, thus forming a godless society opposing everything God wants from His beloved creation, humanity. Even so, in each one, a voice of conscience still protests that it is God’s righteous decree that people who do such things deserve to die, as has been the case from the days of Adam and Eve (Genesis 2:17) until now.”15
1 Apollinaris of Laodicea: Pauline Commentary, op. cit., loc. cit.
2 Basil: On the Judgment of God
3 Severian: Pauline Commentary, loc. cit.
4 Chrysostom: Homilies on Romans 5
5 Augustine: On Romans 7-8
6 Pelagius: On Romans, loc. cit.
7 Caesarius of Arles: Sermon 42.2
8 John Calvin: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
9 John Bengel: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit., p. 220
10 Charles Hodge: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
11 Adam Clarke: On Romans, loc. cit.
12 Titus Livius (born 59/64 BC) was a great Roman historian and wrote the History of Rome
13 Albert Barnes: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
14 John Stott: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.
15 David H. Stern: On Romans, op. cit., loc. cit.