Romans 1:16–32. Lesson 2 . Documenting the Indictment
Key Notes: Live by faith. The wrath of God. Nine examples of ignoring God in favor of idols. Sexuality.
There is little in Scripture that is more lucid and easy to grasp than this passage. There is controversy, especially about homosexuality, but otherwise little argument. The emphasis in this lesson is on organizing the argument and documenting it.
- God’s power is shown in the Gospel 1:16
- God’s righteousness is revealed for faith 1:17
- God’s wrath is revealed against ungodliness 1:18
- God’s glory is seen in nature 1:20
- Man’s corruption is the result of turning away from God 1:21
- God’s judgment is turning away from humans 1:24, 26, 28
1:16 “I am not ashamed of the Gospel” suggests that some people are ashamed. We must be careful to separate the Good News from the sometimes embarrassing behavior of its friends. It is the Gospel and Christ whom we must continue to lift up. Our opponents will try to distract us by pointing out our obvious faults.
1:16 It is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith. The power is shown in the testimonies of people, beginning with Peter at Pentecost and, later, Paul and multitudes more through two millennia. Several testimonies of famous people are included in the previous lesson, and all of those are from the effect of Paul’s letter to the Romans. The English poet, William Cowper (d.1800), to add one more, was converted on reading Romans 3:23–25.
1:17 “Through faith for faith” may be rephrased “through one person’s faith for another person’s faith” – in others words, by transmission of faith from one person to another.
“The just shall live by faith.” The one who lives is the one who has found righteousness through faith. The three key words are "lives", "righteousness" and "faith". Abraham is our primary example. He believed God’s promise that God would give him a son when that seemed physically impossible and righteousness was his reward. (Genesis 15:6). Faith and righteousness are the words emphasized.
This important passage is quoted three other places in Scripture. God gave this word first to Habakkuk (Hab. 2:4), who was struggling with the threat of a Babylonian invasion from which there was no escape. "Faith" and "live" are key words here. The righteous will (and did) survive the invasion and captivity. Daniel and his friends are examples.
Paul repeated the text in Gal. 3:11, and again faith is the key word that permits the sinner to become righteous and escape from the demands of the Law. Hebrews 10:38 gives us our final reading, where faith maintains its grip on God so that the believer does not shrink back.
1:18 The wrath of God is a painful doctrine. How can God be angry with the beings He created? Think of a father who raises three children who grow up to sneer at him, steal his money and burn down his house, intending to run over him with the car as they escape with the cash. Such children would force a roar of pain and rage from their father. God is patient as well as wrathful, but His Spirit will not always strive with humans. Genesis 6:2
1:19“That which may be known of God” is these days called "intelligent design". We can see evidence of marvelous engineering everywhere in biology. We see clock-precision in the movements of the planets and stars. Students of a theoretical beginning of creation called The Big Bang point to many mathematically precise phenomena necessary for life on this rarest of planets. A philosopher friend compared human genetics with shuffling a deck of cards and having each suit laid out in perfect order—again and again. Babies turn out perfectly 99% of the time.
1:20–23 “...although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God…and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles.” Analysis of various large religious groups gives us plenty of evidence to support Paul’s statements about fabricated religions.Here are several cases.
The Egyptians, for example, have perhaps the oldest religious records. They made various animal representations of their gods: falcon, ibis, cow, cat, dog, scorpion, crocodile, as well as sun and moon. One Pharaoh, Akhenaton, promoted monotheism through the sun god Ra, but the priests went back to their many gods as soon as he died.
The Hittites worshiped gods with metal human figures. They would wake the god in the morning, dress and feed him, entertain him with song, dance and poetry, take him out to a park or shrine, undress him and put him to bed at night.
The Canaanite high god was El, but he was overshadowed by Baal and Astarte, who were associated with the fertility of the land and a cult of sacred prostitution. The fertility cycle was a myth of the death of a male god who was resurrected every spring by his consort. Venus and Adonis, Tammuz (Ezekiel 8:14), Baal and Astarte (Ashteroth) (Judges 10:6), Persephone, and Osiris were popular gods and goddesses in the ancient world.
In Assyria / Babylon Anu was the high god, but he was largely ignored in favor of local deities, such as Bel and Marduk. Jeremiah 50:2
The Greeks had about 21 gods with Zeus at the head of the pantheon. However, he was promiscuous and deceitful like the other gods and eventually thoughtful people preferred to be atheists.
The Hindu pantheon has Brahma at the head, but there is perhaps one temple in all India in his honor compared to the many thousands of other gods. A new Hindu temple was recently dedicated to 20,000 gods and goddesses.
The Aztec pantheon was headed by a "supreme" and ineffable god named Tloque Nahuaque, but there was only one temple in his honor. The Aztecs preferred the gods of corn, sun, water and wind. One frequently pictured god is a feathered serpent. Archaeologists have discovered Aztec gods that appear demonic, violent and threatening.
The resistance to the idea of God is often expressed in modern scientific circles.
“If you wanted to produce carbon and oxygen in roughly equal quantities by stellar nucleosynthesis [in the Big Bang, a theory of the origin of the universe], these are the two levels you would have to fix, and your fixing would have to be just where these levels are actually found to be. Another put-up job? Following the above argument, I am inclined to think so. A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature.”
(Fred Hoyle, astrophysicist, quoted in “What We Can’t Not Know". J. Budziszewski. Spenser, 2003, p. 83.)
“Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of many of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a divine foot in the door.”
(R. Lewontin, Harvard population biologist in New York Review of Books quoted in “What We Can’t Not Know"; J. Budziszewski; Spenser, 2003; p. 62)
“I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear [of religion] myself; I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”
“My guess is that this cosmic authority problem is not a rare condition and that it is responsible for much of the scientism and reductionism of our time. One of the tendencies it supports is the ludicrous overuse of evolutionary biology to explain everything about life including everything about the human mind. Darwin enabled modern secular culture to heave a great collective sigh of relief by apparently providing a way to eliminate purpose, meaning and design as fundamental features of the world.”
(T. Nagel, philosopher, in his book “The Last Word”; Oxford,’96; p.130–31, quoted in J. Budziszewski op.cit.. pg. 63)
You don’t have to look much further for reasons why our civilization is going the way of the Roman Empire.
We do not worship other gods? But we name our space craft "Apollo" and our submarine "Neptune" and our lake "Devil’s" (originally named "Holy" or "Spirit Lake" by natives). “Men are from Mars [god of war] and women are from Venus [goddess of love].” Whose feet have not worn Nike [goddess of victory] shoes?
Paul’s indictment of homosexuality has been challenged on several grounds.
- Greek homosexuals were usually pedophiles, a practice we deplore because it exploits the innocent and weak. Unfortunately, we have pedophiles too, and they are organized (e.g. NAMBLA – North American Man/Boy Love Association).
- Homosexuals were born that way and nothing can be done about it. It is the way they are.
But then there would be no recruitment to their ranks.
Notably fourteen of fifteen Roman emperors were homosexual, plainly reflecting a lifestyle rather than a genetic tendency. The probability that any one of them would be homosexual is about 5%.
Further, even if we concede that some are biologically determined, we can say the same for alcoholics, bi-polars and schizophrenics and kleptomaniacs. We expect these people to abide by the rules of society or they must be restrained. It is immaterial that an alcoholic does his drinking in private. If a drunk driver is convicted three times, he goes to jail, genetic basis or no. If a homosexual infects twenty more men after he is diagnosed with AIDS, is that not also a capital crime?
- Paul is really talking about perverse acts of heterosexuals. Perhaps, but he does not speak exclusively about heterosexuals.
- Female homosexual activity (lesbian) is not harmful physically and is much less promiscuous. Perhaps, but Paul addresses women’s homosexual activities before men’s.
- Homosexuality is a valid alternative lifestyle. More than twenty new venereal diseases have been accounted to male homosexuals. We cannot ignore the evidence that a major plague, AIDS/HIV, was introduced by male homosexuals. Or that their average life-expectancy is reduced by ten—fifteen years.
The underlying temper of society is that there is something sacred about sexuality, a right that cannot be infringed. Why should HIV infection be treated differently from TB or poliomyelitis, or influenza by public health officials? If a young man comes into the hospital with alcoholic liver disease, there is much social pressure to get him to stop drinking. If he comes in with advanced gonorrhea, little or nothing will be said about changing his ways.
Abortion, homosexuality, divorce, pornography, and illicit sexual conduct among minors are at the center of our social problems. All these are paying homage to Venus.
God’s wrath is expressed, giving them up by turning away.
“My Spirit will not always strive with man.” (Genesis 6:3)
He eventually separates people from Himself. This separation is called “deadness” (Ephesians 2:1), and it is the natural human condition.
God will separate people from Himself a second time at the final judgment (Revelation 20:14). That is the second death.
Pray that God will not leave our country to its fate ~ Cry the Beloved Country.
May He discipline us in His mercy. Pray that the discipline comes from His hand and not from the hand of our enemies. (II Samuel 24:14).