God Is Moral Part Four
In Romans 1 the apostle Paul addressed the ultimate cause of the breakdown of morality and order in Gentile society in ancient times: the rebellion of human beings against the sovereign God who created the universe.
Paul indicated that God responded to this rebellion with wrathful judgment (v. 18). The apostle emphasized that judgment by using the same Greek verb three times. In verses 24 and 26 it is translated “gave them up”; in verse 28, “gave them over.” The Greek verb means, “he abandoned them” and is used “of a God who punishes evil-doers.”1
Abandonment to a Debased Mind
In conjunction with this third use (v. 28), Paul used a term related to testing. He thereby signified that, for a while, these rebels tested the knowledge concerning God, which they had received by observing His created universe (cf. vv. 19–21a).2 The purpose of the test was to determine how they would respond to that knowledge. They responded by concluding that it was not fitting or suitable to have God in their knowledge system or world-life view (v. 28; cf. v. 21b). To delete God from their knowledge, these rebels willfully suppressed the revelation of God’s existence and power that is displayed through the universe He created (vv. 18–20). Furthermore, they claimed they were wise to do so (v. 22).
Because of their conclusion and willful suppression, God abandoned these rebels to “a debased mind” (v. 28; cf. v. 21). The word translated “debased” means “not standing the test” and, therefore, “unqualified, worthless, base.”3 This implies that God’s test of this type of mind demonstrates that such a mind disqualifies a person from inheriting the Kingdom of God. (See 1 Corinthians 6:9–10.)
In verse 21 Paul described this same divine judgment as follows: “Because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” The word translated “became futile” indicates “their thoughts became directed to worthless things.”4 The word translated “foolish” means “senseless…implying also a lack of high moral quality.”5 Darkness refers to “ignorance in moral and religious matters.”6
Hans Conzelmann observed that the foolish heart of verse 21 “is practically synonymous with” the debased mind of verse 28.7 He pointed out that in the Bible,
The organ of understanding is the heart, R. 1:21; cf. Col. 2:2. Understanding and conduct are an indissoluble unity. To be without understanding is not just a partial deficiency which might be overcome; it is total darkening, and as such the work of God, who can darken.8
Thus, darkening of the heart “is a punishment for the perversion of the knowledge of God.”9
Paul indicated the purpose or result of this punishment. Since these rebels had concluded it was not fitting to have God in their knowledge, God abandoned them to a debased mind or foolish heart “to do those things which are not fitting” (v. 28). Heinrich Schlier stated that, by “not fitting,” Paul meant the following:
That which is offensive to man even according to the popular moral sense of the Gentiles, i.e., what even natural human judgment regards as vicious and wrong. In accordance with the decision which they have made against the Creator, God finally abandons them to a blunted sensibility. Religious indifference is followed by moral. Perverted by a wrong basic attitude, the Gentile is possessed by destructive passions and overthrown by all kinds of vices. He thus loses all vestiges of the humanity which even the healthy pagan respects.10
Those passions and vices include perverted lifestyles, actions, and attitudes that are destructive to individual human beings and society.
Abandonment to Uncleanness
In conjunction with his first use of the verb that means “abandoned,” Paul indicated that these rebels perverted the concept of the eternal, immortal God who cannot perish. They did so by devising images in the form of human beings or animals that are mortal and perish (v. 23). Because of this perversion, God abandoned them to “uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves” (v. 24).
The basic meanings of the word translated “uncleanness” are “impurity” and “dirt.” In the moral realm it refers to “immorality, viciousness especially of sexual sins,” and is used of “unnatural vices.”11 Friedrich Hauck claimed that in the New Testament, the word refers to “moral impurity which excludes man from fellowship with God,” and that Paul used it as “a general description of the absolute alienation from God in which heathenism finds itself.”12
Friedrich Buchsel signified that “the essential point” in the word translated “lusts” is as follows: “It is desire as impulse, as a motion of the will. It is, in fact, lust, since the thought of satisfaction gives pleasure and that of non-satisfaction pain….it is anxious self-satisfaction.”13
As a result of God’s judgment, these rebels “degraded” or “shamefully” treated their bodies among themselves.14
Abandonment to Vile Passions
In conjunction with his second use of the verb that means “abandoned,” Paul indicated that these rebels “exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (v. 25). The expression “the truth of God” refers to “the ‘revealed reality’ of God.”15 These rebels exchanged the reality of God’s existence, which is revealed through the visible universe He created, for the lie that He does not exist. This exchange prompted them to worship and serve, with sacrifices and rituals,16 what God created (the sun, moon, stars, planets, Earth, Satan, angels, man, animals) instead of creation’s Creator.
Because of this exchange, God abandoned these rebels to “vile passions” (v. 26). The words Paul used mean “disgraceful passions,” and the word for “passions” refers especially to “passions of a sexual nature.”17
Wilhelm Michaelis stated that Paul’s words refer to the “scandalous vices of homosexuality” and are the “depiction of sexual perversion.”18 Friedrich Buchsel wrote, “The terrible perversion of the natural in the sexual field is a just punishment for the sinful perversion of facts in the religious.”19
In verse 26 Paul described lesbianism, the female form of homosexuality: “For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature.” The word translated “use” refers to “relations, function, especially of sexual intercourse.”20 Women exchanged the natural function of their sexuality (relations with a male) for what is contrary to nature (relations with a woman).
In verse 27 Paul described the male form of homosexuality. The male rebels abandoned the natural sexual relationship with women and “burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.” The word translated “burned” indicates that they were “inflamed” with sexual desire for other males.21 The word translated “error” refers to a “wandering from the path of truth.”22 The word translated “due” refers to what “is necessary.”23 Paul was indicating that the bodily abuse they received from their homosexual relationships was the necessary, divine penalty for their having willfully exchanged God’s revealed truth for the lie.
Romans 1 is not the only passage where Paul referred to homosexuality. In 1 Corinthians 6:9 he included homosexuals and sodomites in a list of the “unrighteous” who will not inherit the Kingdom of God. The word translated “homosexuals” means “soft, effeminate, especially of catamites, men and boys who allow themselves to be misused homosexually.”24 The word translated “sodomites” refers to “a male homosexual.”25 Paul used that same word again in 1 Timothy 1:10.
Concerning the teaching in Romans 1, Herbert Preisker wrote,
In R. 1:27 the unnatural sexual aberration of men is regarded as a punishment for the fact that they do not pay God the honour which is His due. Where men worship idols instead of God the destruction of human society is the consequence (1:28ff.). So, too, is the misuse of the beautiful body which is elsewhere extolled. This is the divinely willed recompense for turning aside from the true knowledge and worship of God.26
An Awesome Implication
The fact that the abandonment of human beings to a debased mind, uncleanness, and vile passions is a form of divine judgment has an awesome implication. It implies that a society or nation that is increasingly characterized by the breakdown of morality is under a form of God’s judgment because it willfully rejected divinely revealed truth. The moral breakdown is that judgment. The history of societies and nations demonstrates a consistent pattern: willful, persistent ridicule; suppression; and rejection of the truth revealed to mankind by the God who created the universe reap moral perversion and degeneration.
No doubt God instigates the abandonment judgment by removing certain aspects of the Holy Spirit’s ministry of restraining evil in the world. (See Genesis 6:3; 2 Thessalonians 2:6–8.)
The next article will examine some of the tragic consequences of sexual immorality.
- William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, eds./trans., “paradidomi,” A Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 4th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), 620.
- Archibald Thomas Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1931), 4:331.
- Arndt and Gingrich, “adokimos,” 18.
- Ibid., “mataioo,” 496.
- Ibid., “asunetos,” 118.
- Ibid., “skotia,” 764.
- Hans Conzelmann, “suniemi,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Gerhard Friedrich, ed./trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971), 8:895.
- Ibid., “skotos,” 442.
- Heinrich Schlier, “katheko,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Gerhard Kittel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 3:440.
- Arndt and Gingrich, “akatharsia,” 28.
- Friedrich Hauck, “akatharsia,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Gerhard Kittel, 3:428.
- Friedrich Buchsel, “epithumia,” Ibid., 171.
- Arndt and Gingrich, “atimadzo,” 119.
- Rudolf Bultmann, “aletheia,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Gerhard Kittel, 1964, 1:243.
- Hermann Strathmann, “latrueo,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Gerhard Kittel, 1967, 4:60–63.
- Arndt and Gingrich, “pathos,” 608.
- Wilhelm Michaelis, “pathos,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Gerhard Freidrich, 1967, 5:928.
- Friedrich Buchsel, “metallasso,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Gerhard Kittel, 1:259.
- Arndt and Gingrich, “chrasis,” 894.
- Ibid., “ekkaio,” 240.
- Ibid., “planes,” 671.
- Ibid., “dei,” 171.
- Ibid., “malakos,” 489.
- Ibid., “arsenokoites,” 109.
- Herbert Preisker, “misthos,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Gerhard Kittel, 4:702.