The Sins of the Greeks
Suppressing the knowledge of God (Romans 1:18-23)
Having stated that the gospel reveals God’s righteousness in bringing righteousness to man, Paul proceeds to prove that it was necessary for God to do this because man is unable to save himself. The gospel also reveals the wrath of God against the ungodly and the unrighteous. But Paul needs to prove that God’s wrath is just because men are accountable to God, that they are responsible for their actions. “Ungodliness” translates the word asebeia, which literally means without religious awe, fear, or honor. “Unrighteousness” translates the word adikia, which means going against what is right, wrongdoing, wickedness, or injustice (cf. Romans 9:14).
The ungodly and the unrighteous are guilty of suppressing the truth. In particular the knowledge of God is within everyone, including the wicked, because God has shown Himself to all (Acts 14:17; Psalms 19:1-6). Paul is not arguing that people should have known everything about God, but there is plenty of things about God which is both knowable and available to men. Ever since the world was created, men could see the character of God in the things He created, even such things as God’s eternal power and divinity. For example, consider the size of the universe, the complexity of life, the well-crafted design that we barely understand, and we realize that neither random chance nor uninvolved force could have created our world (Psalms 90:2; Isaiah 40:26; Acts 17:29). The evidence is so clear and so pervasive that no one has any excuse for not recognizing God.
Since they really did know God, despite any protest on their part that they could not have known, God is just is holding them responsible for not acknowledging Him as God or being thankful for what He has done in their lives. Instead, they turned to useless ideas and foolishness (Jeremiah 16:19; Ephesians 4:17-18). They claimed to be wise, but instead they became fools by making gods in the likeness of animals or even men (Isaiah 44:9-20; Jeremiah 10:3-8, 14).
Literary Style: “For”
In rhetoric, when a person makes a statement, it can be followed by one or more pieces of evidence supporting the statement. These supporting statements will typically begin with “For.” It indicates that a reason is about to be given for the previous statement.
When reading letters, such as Romans, where complex arguments are being made, it is useful to note the “for”s and mark which statement prior is being explained.
1. Is God seeking vengeance against the sins of men?
2. Compare to Ephesians 4:31 and Colossians 3:8. Is wrath always wrong? When does it become wrong?
3. How has God revealed His wrath from heaven?
4. What are some things we can observe that tell us something about God’s character?
First consequence: sexual impurity (Romans 1:24-25)
Because the Greeks insisted on being foolish, worshiping as gods what cannot be God, God let them go. God does not prevent people from sinning who insist on it (Psalms 81:12; II Thessalonians 2:11-12). Thus, God let them go into moral impurity. From the description it was chiefly sexual impurity (Ephesians 4:18-19; 5:3-7). Impure behavior led to strongly desiring what was unlawful to have (I Peter 4:3), and eventually led to dishonorable use of their bodies (I Corinthians 6:18). Their desire for sin led to a natural consequence – the loss of honor (Psalms 69:27).
The departure into sin was not God’s doing or God’s fault. It was the people who exchanged the true God for a lie (notice the echo of wording from Romans 1:23) (I John 5:20; Isaiah 44:20; Jeremiah 10:14; 13:25; Psalms 40:4; I Thessalonians 1:9).
1. Do man-made religions provide restraint on men’s moral actions?
2. What is a common or typical feature of idolatry?
3. What is the purpose of adding the doxology, “who is blessed forever. Amen” after mentioning the Creator? (See also Romans 9:5; II Corinthians 11:31).
Second consequence: homosexuality (Romans 1:26-27)
Because they preferred lies, they moved from typical lusts to more vile forms. This is the normal progression of sin. One generation sins, but the next finds those sins accepted in society. It is no longer shocking to the population at large, so they move into more corrupt forms of sin (Jude 10). Paul had charged that their sexual sins had resulted in dishonor, now as they pushed further into sin, God gave them over to dishonorable or shameful passions.
The word “lusts” (epithumia), used in Romans 1:24, refers more to the physical lusts that arise from following man’s instincts. "This lust is characterized by a longing for what is forbidden, a deep burning, a covetous desire, and sometimes can be irregular or even violent" [Dr. Gary M. Gulan, Lust: A Desire For Fulfillment]. “Passions” (pathos), used in Romans 1:26, refers to more emotionally based lusts. "It is characterized by a very strong desire, often develops as a sudden arousal" [Dr. Gary M. Gulan, Lust: A Desire For Fulfillment]. Yet another word for lust is used in Romans 1:27, orexis refers to a very strong desire or lust. It is an over extending, a reaching after, a stretching for, an indulgence in, a devotion to something that is typically sinful. "It is characterized by an ignoring of limits, a disregarding of any restraints, and an excitement of the mind that quickly raises the intensity of the pursuit" [Dr. Gary M. Gulan, Lust: A Desire For Fulfillment] (Proverbs 9:17).
“Use” comes from the Greek word chresis, which started out having a general meaning of “use.” But in Aristole and Polybius' usage "chresis is 'intimacy' or 'acquaintance;' and Isocrates (Fourth Century B.C.) where literally hai oikoi chresis, "the use of houses," means practically sexual 'intercourse' with women" [The Complete Biblical Library Greek - English Dictionary].
This is among the clearest passages describing homosexuality (Leviticus 18:22; I Corinthians 6:9-10). Both women having sex with women and men with men are condemned as unnatural acts (Jude 7).
Because of their shameful or indecent behavior, they received the consequence of such behavior in themselves. This almost universally agreed to be reference to sexually transmitted diseases.
1. Some argue that Romans 1:26-27 is only talking to people who used to be heterosexual, but turned against their nature to homosexuality. By this they claim this passage does not apply to those who were always (or “naturally”) homosexuals. What would be your response?
2. Some argue that Romans 1:26-27 only applies to homosexual activities that took place as part of idolatry or witchcraft.In particular the claim is that this only applies to former Christians who returned to paganism. What would be your response?
3. Some argue that Romans 1:26-27 is only talking about sexual orgies and not a “committed relationship.” Thus, the argument is that only abusive sexual practices are being condemned. What would be your response?
Third consequence: societal decay (Romans 1:28-32)
It was man who did not want to think about God. As Paul pointed out, the evidence of God strongly existed, so the refusal to retain God in their knowledge is entirely their own fault.
There is a play on words in Romans 1:28. “Like” translates the Greek word dokimazo, which means “approve of.” “Debase” or “reprobate” translates the opposite word, adokimos, which means rejected or disapproved of. Thus because they did not approve of having their minds on God, God gave them over to a mind disapproved of by God.
What follows is a description of a society fully given over to evil and in decay:
• Unrighteousness - injustice, moral wrong
• Fornication - sexual acts between people not married to each other (not in all older manuscripts)
• Wickedness - acts of wickedness conducted in malice
• Covetousness - greed
Paul goes on to say the people are stuffed full of:
• Envy - ill-will
• Strife - contention
• Deceit - fraud
• Evil-mindedness or malice - Literally “bad character” in the Greek. Someone who puts an evil spin on the actions or words of others.
• Whispers - Someone who quietly spreads slander by hints or innuendos behind another’s back.
• Backbiters - To openly talk against or slander
• God haters
• Insolent - One who offers insults. One who verbally abuse or treats others unkindly.
• Proud - Thinking you are above others. Think more about what you have than you deserve
• Boasters - Braggart. Bragging about what you don’t have.
• Inventors of ways to do evil
• Disobedient to parents
• Without understanding - foolish, unintelligent
• Untrustworthy - breakers of covenants or contracts
• Unloving - hard-heated toward kinsmen
• Unforgiving - One who will not accept settlement of a quarrel (Not found in all manuscripts)
• Unmerciful - without compassion
Just as they really could know God, they also know of God’s just condemnation of their acts. They understood that people who did these things deserve death. However, they not only continued to do these things but also support others who practice them.