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Bible Commentaries
Romans 1

Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary for Schools and CollegesCambridge Greek Testament Commentary

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Verses 1-99

the epistle to the romans


The oldest form is the briefest, To (the) Romans. So in the “Subscription” to the Epistle, q. v.

Ch. 1:1 7 . Greeting

1 . Paul ] On the name, see Introduction , i. § 2.

a servant ] Strictly, a bondservant . So Philippians 1:1 ; Titus 1:1 ; James 1:1 ; 2 Peter 1:1 ; Jude 1:0 . For exposition of the word see 6:18, 19, with 1 Corinthians 6:19 , 1 Corinthians 6:20 ; Titus 2:14 (where “ a peculiar people” means “a people of possession”). The Christian is his Lord’s bondsman (1) as purchased, (2) as self-surrendered. St Paul thus describes himself before the mention of his special, apostolic, branch of bondservice. This Epistle is the earliest in which St Paul uses the word in the exordium.

of Jesus Christ ] Cp. 14:18; 1 Corinthians 7:22 ; Ephesians 6:6 , &c. To St Paul the Divine Son, as truly as the Father, is his absolute Master and Possessor. The sacred Name and Title (Jesus, Christ,) occur together in the Gospels five times, in the Acts often, in the Epistles perpetually. It is most important to remember that Christ is merely the Greek version of the Hebrew Messiah (Anointed). As used in Scripture, it thus constantly refers back to O. T. prophecy, and to the truth (uttered by Messiah Himself, John 4:22 ,) that “salvation is of the Jews .”

called ] At his conversion. Cp. 1 Corinthians 1:1 . For the terms of the call see Acts 26:17 , Acts 26:18 . This call is distinct from the call to be a Christian , on which see vv. 6, 7; 8:28; 1 Corinthians 1:24 .

an apostle ] Lit. an envoy, missionary ; in Gospels and Acts, always in the special sense of an immediate Delegate from the Saviour. In 16:7, the sense is, perhaps, more extended 1 1 But see note there. ; so, too, Philippians 2:25 (where E. V. “messenger”). St Paul needed often to insist on the fact and rights of his apostleship. 1 Corinthians 9:1 , 1 Corinthians 9:2 ; 2 Corinthians 12:12 ; Galatians 1:1 .

separated ] For the special work of an Apostle. This was (1) in God’s sure purpose (Galatians 1:15 , Galatians 1:16 ; cp. Jeremiah 1:5 ); (2) at his conversion (Acts 9:15 ); (3) at Antioch (Acts 13:2 ; “ separate me, &c.”).

the gospel of God ] The Message of Good sent from God and revealing Him. So 15:16; 2 Corinthians 11:7 ; 1 Thessalonians 2:2 , &c. In a special sense it is the Gospel of Christ , in whom alone is the true revelation of God (Matthew 11:27 ; John 17:3 ).

2 . which he had promised afore ] This verse is not properly a parenthesis. See on verse 3. The Promise of the great Deliverer, running through the O. T., is one of the most wonderful of the phenomena of history. It was such that, beyond all question, it had brought the hope of Israel to an intense pitch just before, and at, the time of the birth and life of Jesus of Nazareth. See Bp E. H. Browne’s Messiah Foretold and Expected , pp. 1 21.

by his prophets ] i.e., probably, by the Scripture-writers generally. In the O. T., history and prophecy are closely interwoven. In Hebrews 1:1 , God’s message to “the fathers,” though “in divers manners,” is all sent “through the prophets.” The words here are nearly repeated, 16:26, where the O. T. Scriptures are regarded as the great instrument, in apostolic hands, for spreading the Gospel.

in the holy scriptures ] Holy, because divinely planned and guided throughout. So 2 Timothy 3:14 , 2 Timothy 3:15 . The article is wanting in the Gr. (as it is in 16:26, “prophetic writings”), and the translation might thus be “ in holy writings ” But the article is often omitted where the thing or class spoken of is unmistakable; and the word rendered “scripture” is so completely appropriated in N. T. to the contents of the definite inspired writings, that we must translate “ the holy Scriptures.”

3 . concerning his Son , &c.] The connexion is with the close of ver. 2: the “promise through the prophets” was “concerning the Son of God.” In the Gr., the order of words in this verse and the next is peculiar and emphatic: concerning His Son, who was made [lit. who came to be, who became] of the seed of David according to the flesh; who was marked out as the Son of God, in power, according to the Spirit of holiness, in consequence of the resurrection of the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord .

of the seed of David ] The N. T. begins with this assertion (Matthew 1:1 ), and almost closes with it (Revelation 22:16 ). In 2 Timothy 2:8 , St Paul, at the close of his ministry, again recites it as a foundation-truth.

according to the flesh ] Flesh-wards , i.e. “on the side of His manhood.” This is said in contrast to the next words, “declared to be the Son of God .” Cp. 9:5 for an important parallel, where the full significance of the title “Son of God” appears. For another use of the phrase “according to the flesh,” see 4:1.

4 . declared ] Better, defined, marked out by sure signs . Same word as Hebrews 4:7 (“He limiteth a certain day”). His Resurrection shewed Him to be none other than the Son. The same Greek word is used in e.g. Acts 10:42 , Acts 10:17 :31; and rendered there “ordained;” perhaps rightly so. But obviously its meaning will slightly vary as connected with the Sonship or with the Judgeship of Christ.

the Son of God ] Cp. Acts 13:32 , Acts 13:33 , for a close parallel; one of the many between St Paul’s Discourses and Epistles. The Sonship of the Redeemer, the truth proclaimed at His baptism (Matthew 3:17 ), is enforced and illustrated through the N. T. In this Epistle see especially cch. 5:10, 8:3, 29, 32.

with power ] Lit. in power . Cp. 1 Corinthians 15:43 . Power attended and characterized His Resurrection, both as cause and as effect. The practical reference here is to the fulness of the proof of the fact . The true Resurrection was not such as that imagined by e.g. Schleiermacher; the creeping forth of a half-slain Man from his grave. It was miracle and triumph.

according to the Spirit of holiness ] This phrase presents two questions: (1) what is “the Spirit of Holiness”? (2) what is meant by “according to”? We take them in order. A. “The Spirit of Holiness” must mean either the Holy Paraclete, or the sacred Human Spirit of Christ, or His Deity regarded as (what it is, John 4:24 ,) Spirit. The reference here seems to be to the Paraclete; for (1) in this Epistle He is very frequently referred to, in a way which makes an initial reference here highly probable; (2) the expression “Holy Spirit” is so closely akin to “Spirit of Holiness” that any reference of the words other than that to the Paraclete would need special evidence; and such evidence can hardly be found in St Paul. (See 1 Timothy 3:16 ; Hebrews 9:14 ; for the nearest approaches to it in N. T.) B. The words “according to” may refer to the Paraclete, either (1) as the Agent in the Incarnation (Luke 1:35 ), or (2) as concerned in the Resurrection (see 8:11 for a very partial parallel), or (3) as the Inspirer of the Prophets. Of these possibilities (1) is most unlikely, for the Sonship of Christ here in question is plainly the Eternal Sonship (see 9:5), not that of the Incarnation; (2) accords better with Scripture usage; but (3) far more so, in view of the frequent mention of the Holy Spirit as the Inspirer. See Acts 20:23 ; 1 Timothy 4:1 ; Hebrews 3:7 , Hebrews 3:9 :8, Hebrews 3:10 :15, (and cp. 1 Peter 1:11 ); for places where “the Spirit” is evidently the Holy Spirit as the Author of Prophecy. The present passage will thus mean: “He was declared to be the Son of God, with power, (even as the Holy Ghost foretold,) in consequence of the resurrection.”

by the resurrection ] Lit. out of, from; i.e. in consequence, as a result, of . The same construction and meaning occur e.g. 2 Corinthians 13:4 , where lit. “He was crucified out of weakness; He liveth out of the power of God; we shall live out of , &c.” The grand result of the resurrection here stated is that His prophesied character and dignity were, by the resurrection, made unmistakably clear.

5 . by whom ] Lit. through whom . Ultimately from the Father, but through the Son.

we have received ] Better, perhaps, we received; (but see below on ver. 19.) “ We ” includes, possibly, all the Apostles, as certainly in 1 Corinthians 15:1 , 1 Corinthians 15:11 , &c. (where note the change from plural to singular in vv. 1, 2, 3). Certainly it does not refer to any nominal associate in the writing of the Epistle , for none such appears. But most probably the author here uses the plural for the singular, as frequently in the course of the Epistle (see e.g. cch. 3 and 4).

grace and apostleship ] (1) all merciful qualifications for his office; (2) the definite commission.

for obedience to the faith ] Better, to the obedience of faith; to produce the obedience connected with believing. Justifying faith is itself an act of obedience (see 10:3, “have not submitted themselves,” and 1 Peter 1:2 ), and it results in a life of obedience. The Gr. in 16:26, rendered “for the obedience of faith,” is identical.

among all nations ] Literally so in its intention; and even in St Paul’s own experience, a great number of “nations” had now contributed converts. Cp. the strong expressions Colossians 1:6 , Colossians 1:23 ; and see 15:19.

for his name ] Practically = for His sake . The “ Name ,” in general Scripture usage, is the Person, as revealed and known . See Exodus 34:5-7 ; Matthew 28:19 .

6 . the called of Jesus Christ ] Jesus Christ’s called ones; called, and as such belonging to Him. The “call” here referred to, as almost always in the Epistles, is the effectual call of Divine grace; more than the external message. In the Gospels “call” and “choice” are almost contrasted; e.g. Matthew 22:14 . In the Epp. they are (not indeed identical but) united. See 8:28, 11:29; 1 Corinthians 1:24 ; Jude 1:0 ; Revelation 17:14 .

7 . to all that be in Rome, beloved of God ] Better perhaps without comma: to all God’s beloved ones who are in Rome . The Gr. admits either construction.

called to be saints ] Lit. called saints; i.e., practically, “converted, so as to be saints.” The idea is not of a “call” which may or may not result in sanctification. They were “saints” as being “called.” The same phrase occurs 1 Corinthians 1:2 . See on ver. 6 above.

grace to you and peace ] So in the first words of 1 Cor., 2 Cor., Gal., Eph., Phil., Col., 1 Thess., 2 Thess., Philem. In the Pastoral Epp. the remarkable addition “ mercy ” appears. In these salutations, “ Grace ” is all the free and loving favour of God in its efficacy on the saints; “ Peace ” is specially, perhaps, the complacency of reconciliation with which He regards them, but so as to imply also the results of this their repose in His favour, and consequent serenity of heart, life, and intercourse. See for various illustrations of the word, 2:10, 5:1; Philippians 4:7 ; Colossians 3:15 .

from God our Father, and , &c.] To St Paul the Father and the Saviour are equally the Givers of eternal blessing, as they are equally the Possessors of the soul. See on ver. 1.

8 17. The good report of the Roman Church. Paul desires to visit them, and to preach the gospel of faith to them

8 . First, I thank my God ] First, before any other message. Such messages of thanksgiving are characteristic of St Paul. See 1 Corinthians 1:4 ; Ephesians 1:16 ; Philippians 1:3 ; Colossians 1:3 ; 1 Thessalonians 1:2 , 1 Thessalonians 1:2 :13; 2 Thessalonians 1:3 , 2 Thessalonians 1:2 :13; Philemon 1:4 . “ My God:” again characteristic. 1 Corinthians 1:4 ; 2 Corinthians 12:21 ; Philippians 1:3 , Philippians 1:4 :19; Philemon 1:4 . Cp. Acts 27:23 , and Galatians 2:20 , for the spirit of the words.

through Jesus Christ ] As the Mediator. See 8:34. The idea includes both His merit as opening the path of prayer, and His present agency in commending the suppliants.

your faith ] The strength and simplicity of your reliance on your Lord, and allegiance to Him. See, for full illustration, 1 Thessalonians 1:8-10 .

is spoken of ] Lit. is being proclaimed , as a thing of public interest and notoriety. The reference doubtless is only to the intercourse between Christian Churches; for, as yet, the conduct of the Roman disciples would hardly attract the notice of the heathen public. A few years later, St Paul’s Roman residence, and then the Neronian persecution, altered the case in this respect. See 1 Thessalonians 1:0 , just quoted, for a beautiful illustration both of the fact of such Christian communication and its power.

throughout the whole world ] See Colossians 1:6 for same words. The phrase would be perfectly intelligible as meaning “through the Roman empire.” In Acts 11:28 , Acts 17:6 , Acts 19:27 , Acts 24:5 , the same phrase and sense appear, but with a different word in the Gr.

9 . For God is my witness ] A characteristic appeal. Cp. 2 Corinthians 1:23 , 2 Corinthians 1:11 :31, 2 Corinthians 1:12 :19; Galatians 1:20 ; Philippians 1:8 ; 1 Thessalonians 2:5 , 1 Thessalonians 2:10 . This is traceable in part, perhaps, to the incessant calumnies against his sincerity and veracity which grieved St Paul’s heart.

whom I serve ] The word here rendered “serve” has special reference to religious worship , whether paid by priests or by people. But it naturally implies also active obedience to the God so worshipped, and its classical usage points entirely this way.

with my spirit ] Lit. in my spirit . Much has been said on the risk of confounding “ in ” and the instrumental “ with ,” in such cases; and this risk must never be slighted. But in Heb. both ideas have the same sign, and the Hebraistic tinge of N. T. Greek makes it highly likely that in many instances there will be no practical distinction of “in” and “with.” We may well explain the present phrase, “I serve Him with my spirit as the instrument.” The spirit was used in every various way in the Master’s work.

in the gospel of his Son ] Here obviously, on the other hand, “ in ” bears its proper meaning. The Gospel was the field of energy and effort; in it , in expounding and spreading its message, St Paul spent his spiritual powers. “ Of His Son: ” see for the same idea in fuller terms, 2 Corinthians 4:4 , where lit. “The Gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” The Eternal Son is Himself “the Gospel.” The Gospel is His, because He is not only the great Teacher but the essential Doctrine.

without ceasing ] As a continual and diligent habit. The same word occurs 1 Thessalonians 5:17 , in the same sense.

always in my prayers ] Lit. always, upon my prayers; i.e., “on every occasion of prayer.” “ My prayers;” no doubt specially “my private prayers.” The Apostle did indeed “labour fervently in prayer” for his beloved converts and brethren, in his hours of direct intercourse with God. From ch. 16 we gather how individual and detailed his remembrance at such times would be.

10 . making request ] Connect this with the previous verse, and read without ceasing I make mention of you, always in my prayers making request, if by any means , &c. The special “request made known to God” was that the Apostle might, after long delays, be allowed to visit the Roman Christians. Cp. Acts 19:21 , where the phrase “I must see Rome” probably indicates a Divine purpose revealed.

might have a prosperous journey ] Perhaps more briefly, might be prospered, might have the way smoothed . Little did he foresee how this was at last to be. See 15:23, 24, 32; and cp. Acts 27:24 .

by the will of God ] Lit. in the will of God . See on ver. 9. If the construction is to be pressed, the implied thought is that the visit to Rome would be within the limits of God’s will; guided by its lines. The Gr. of Hebrews 10:10 presents the only close parallel in N. T.

11 . that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift ] Some “ charisma .” The exact reference is not quite certain. It has been explained of miraculous gifts, which (on this view) St Paul desired to impart, by imposition of hands, to the Roman saints. And certainly it appears that these “gifts” were as a rule conveyed only by immediate apostolic ministry (and therefore only to Christians of the first age). See Acts 8:14-17 , Acts 19:6 . But the word charisma (“gift of grace,”) is used with the widest reference. See e.g. 6:23, where it is Salvation itself. And from 12:6 it appears that at least the “gift” of prophecy, or inspired preaching, was then possessed by Roman saints; (though to be sure no other miraculous gift is there named, and even this may have been received from Apostles elsewhere; as it was e.g. by Aquila, 16:3). The sequel of this passage (esp. vv. 12, 16,) points rather to the “gift” of holy intercourse, and above all to that of instruction. St Paul desires to “preach the Gospel” to the Roman believers; i.e. to do what in fact he does in this Epistle, “expound to them the way of Christ more perfectly,” “to the end they might be established ,” by maturer and ampler knowledge of the eternal Truth.

12 . that is, that I may be comforted together , &c.] We have here St Paul’s fine tact , to use a word “soiled by ignoble use,” because sometimes associated with insincerity. The tact of the Apostle is only an exquisite combination of sympathy and judgment; he speaks the true word, in the right place, and from the heart. It would be shallow criticism indeed which would see here only an ingenious religious compliment . To the sincere Christian teacher nothing is more real than the reflex aid he receives among Christian learners 1 1 See Introduction , i. § 33, note. .

with you ] Better, in you; among you; “that I may share consolation among you.”

by the mutual faith ] Lit. the faith which is in one another ; a pregnant phrase; q. d., “the faith which dwells in each, and which each manifests to the other.”

13 . Now I would not have you ignorant ] A characteristic phrase. See 11:25; 1 Corinthians 10:1 , 1 Corinthians 10:12 :1; 2 Corinthians 1:8 ; 1 Thessalonians 4:13 .

I purposed to come unto you ] Within limits , evidently, St Paul’s plans were no more inspired than those of modern missionaries; his most deliberate intentions were liable to correction by his Master. The correction came often in the form, not of silent providence, but of miraculous intimation. See Acts 16:6 , Acts 16:7 , and cp. 2 Corinthians 1:15-17 .

but was let hitherto ] Lit. and was let (hindered) . Practically, though not in grammatical form, this clause is a parenthesis. For the nature of the hindrance, see 15:22, 23.

that I might have some fruit ] Some results of my ministry. The “results” here contemplated would be not so much conversions as the deeper instruction of the converted.

other Gentiles ] Properly, the other Gentiles . This clause proves that the large majority of the Roman Christians were converts from paganism. The drift of the whole Epistle says the same.

14 . I am debtor ] i.e. “I owe it to them to impart to them the Gospel.” See 1 Corinthians 9:16 , 1 Corinthians 9:17 ; where St Paul speaks as a “dispenser” or “steward” of the Gospel, who is absolutely bound (“it is laid on me”) to give the “portion of food in due season” to those whom he can reach.

the Greeks, and to the Barbarians ] A familiar division of mankind. Barbarus originally meant “a speaker of an unintelligible tongue;” then, in Greek, the speaker of a language not Greek . Thus the Romans were as much barbari as the Scythians; and indeed in the older Latin writers we find the word used by themselves, with reference to their own language, as a sort of synonym for “non-Greek.” But when Rome more and more added culture to power the word was practically restricted to nations other than Greek and Latin , and so probably here. The word “Greeks” ( Hellenes ), in such contrasts as this, had come, by St Paul’s time, to include Romans. Every educated Roman was trained in Greek speech and literature. Some of the “Roman” Christians were no doubt true Hellenes, and, as a body, evidently, they understood Greek. See Introd . ii. § 2.

the wise, and to the unwise ] Practically, the cultured and the uneducated . He contemplates literary hearers on one side, and on the other rude tribes, and peasantry and workmen, and women and children. The word rendered “ unwise ” is a strong one; elsewhere (e.g. Luke 24:25 ; Galatians 3:1 ; Titus 3:3 ;) rendered “fools,” “foolish,” or the like. Here the Apostle probably uses it as from the point of view of the “wise:” “those whom the philosopher would think to be mind-less.”

15 . as much as in me is , &c.] Lit. that which relates to me is ready , &c.; “ my side is ready.” Perhaps the point of this periphrasis for “I” is the hope of an equal willingness on the side of the Romans to hear the message.

to you that are at Rome also ] This was the climax of his apostolic courage. It was no light matter to St Paul, keenly sensitive as he was, to face the metropolitan world of life and power. See Acts 28:15 , where we can trace previous anxiety in the words “ he took courage .”

16 . For I am not ashamed ] The “ for ” links this verse to the last thought. At Rome, if anywhere, he might be “ashamed” (Mark 8:38 ) of the message of a crucified Saviour; a message, too, which pronounced “the whole world guilty before God.” But he was not ashamed of his message, and so was ready to “see Rome.”

the gospel of Christ ] Omit the words “of Christ,” on evidence of MSS., &c.

the power of God ] So 1 Corinthians 1:18 , where “the message of the cross ” is spoken of. See too ibid. 23, 24: “we preach Christ crucified … Christ the power of God , and the wisdom of God.” Cp. 1 Corinthians 2:5 . The doctrine of the true Messiah brought to bear God’s energy, to the result of “salvation.”

salvation ] This word is here probably used in its largest meaning, including the whole process of mercy from the time of belief onwards; deliverance from doom, sin, and death. Its very frequent reference in N. T. is to the resurrection-glory (see 13:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:8 , 1 Thessalonians 5:9 ; 2 Timothy 2:10 ; Hebrews 1:14 , Hebrews 1:9 :28; 1 Peter 1:5 ), but it is also used of the present results of grace (2 Corinthians 6:2 ) as (much more often) its cognate verb, to save . See Matthew 1:21 ; Romans 8:24 ; Ephesians 2:5 , Ephesians 2:8 ; 2 Timothy 1:9 ; Titus 3:5 . The Greek verb and noun include the ideas of rescue from peril , and (more rarely) healing , according to their connexion. But their prevailing reference (in religion) is to rescue rather than to amelioration .

to every one that believeth ] Here is given out the “theme” of the Epistle, or more properly of the first chapters; viz., Faith, a trustful acceptance of the Divine Saviour; Faith as the only way of rescue for the human soul from doom and sin; absolute and alone, because of the supreme and absolute glory of the Person, and so of the Work, accepted by “the believer.” See Appendix C.

to the Jew first ] More strictly, both Jew, first, and Greek . So it was historically. But the reference is also to the special relationship of the Jew to the Messianic hope. The Deliverer was of the seed not of Adam only but of David; and the Deliverance therefore had a peculiar and endearing claim on the acceptance of the Jew. The reasoning of the Epistle quite excludes the thought that a Gentile, once believing, was in the least less welcome or less secure than a believing Jew; but this fact leaves room for such a “priority” as that indicated.

17 . the righteousness of God ] A phrase occurring elsewhere seven times in this Epistle (3:5, 21, 22, 25, 26, 10:3 twice), once in the Gospels (Matthew 6:33 ), once in 2 Cor. (5:21), once in St James (1:20), and once in 2 Pet. (1:1). As regards Pauline usage, it is plain that Romans 3:0 is the locus criticus for its leading meaning, which meaning we may expect to find here. 3:26 appears to supply the key to this meaning: the “righteousness of God” is something which is reached, or received, “through faith in Jesus Christ;” and it is “declared” in such a way as to shew Him “just, yet justifying .” On the whole it is most consistent with most passages to explain it of the “righteousness imputed by God” to the believer. (See esp. cch. 3 and 4 for explanations of imputation .) It is “ God’s righteousness,” as being provided by Him and availing with Him. (“Die Gerechtigkeit die vor Gott gilt ,” “the righteousness which avails with God ,” is Luther’s paraphrase.)

It is objected that the word rendered “righteousness” denotes a real moral state . But this is only partially true. It quite as much tends to denote what makes a man clear in the eye of the law, satisfactory to justice; and just such is the effect, according to this Epistle, of the Work of Christ accepted by faith. With proper caution we may thus say that “righteousness,” in this and similar phrases, is often a practical equivalent for “Justification.” In Matthew 6:33 the reference at least may be as above; in 2 Corinthians 5:21 we have another but cognate reference, viz. to the aspect of the justified before God; in 2 Peter 1:1 and James 1:20 , the meaning seems to be quite different, though equally proper to the Greek words, viz. “the will of the righteous God.” For variations in this Epistle see notes on successive passages.

revealed from faith to faith ] Q. d. “is unfolded, and displays faith, and only faith, as its secret, at each disclosure.” (1) The initial step, the entrance to justification, is faith: (2) The life of the justified is maintained by faith: faith is the starting-point and the course. “ Is revealed: ” a present tense in the Gr.: is revealing . The idea is of a perpetually recurring process: “to each fresh discoverer it is revealed.” So of the opposite “revelation,” 1:18.

as it is written ] The formula of quotation, sanctioned by the Saviour Himself in His own all-significant use of Scripture at the Temptation. “It is written; it is written again.” (Matthew 4:4 , Matthew 4:7 , Matthew 4:10 .)

This is the first direct quotation in this Epistle. In the 16 chapters the O. T. is directly quoted about 60 distinct times. See Introd . iv.

The original is in Habakkuk 2:4 , and is lit. rendered, “And [the] just man, by his faith shall he live.” The context there defines the meaning of faith to be trust, confidence in another , as opposed to self-confidence. Such humility of trust marks the “just” man, the man right in God’s sight; and thereby he stands possessed of “life,” i.e., peace and security before God. This brief but profound sentence is here taken by the Apostle as the text of his great statement of Justification. So again in Galatians 3:11 . “ By faith: ” lit. out of faith; i.e. in consequence of it, after it, as the condition on which “life” is given.

18 23 . The necessity for the Gospel: Divine wrath; human (especially heathen) sin

18 . For the wrath of God , &c.] The “for” marks the connexion as follows: “The Gospel is the secret of salvation , of justification before the eternal Judge; and as such it is a thing of supreme importance; for the Judge has proclaimed the doom of human sin. The question is not of mere theory, but of life or death.”

the wrath of God ] A phrase frequent in the N. T. All attempts to explain it away involve violence to the sense of Scripture: it would be as legitimate, in point of language, to explain away the Divine Love. Strong and even vehement accessory language is sometimes used with the word wrath : see 2:8; Revelation 16:19 , Revelation 19:15 . On the subject generally, see especially John 3:36 ; Ephesians 2:3 ; Revelation 6:16 .

It must, of course, always be remembered that the “wrath of God” is the wrath of a Judge. In its inmost secret it is the very opposite of an arbitrary outburst , being the eternal repulsion of evil by good.

is revealed ] A present tense in the Gr. See on ver. 17. This “revelation” is a standing one, for all places and all times, and ever repeated to individual consciences.

from heaven ] A pregnant phrase. The wrath is “revealed” as about to be inflicted from heaven; by Him “who sitteth in heaven,” and who “shall descend from heaven” in “the day of wrath and righteous judgment.”

against ] Or, upon; i.e. “to descend upon.”

ungodliness and unrighteousness ] Sin, in its aspect as offence (1) against God, (2) against man; the awful opposite to the Two Great Commandments. “ Unrighteousness ,” however, is obviously a wider word than “ ungodliness ,” including the idea of injustice to God as well as to man; spiritual rebellion.

of men ] i.e. mankind; not a class, but the race. This is plain from the sequel, though the Gr. leaves it possible (grammatically) to render “of those men who hold, &c.”

who hold ] Lit. who hold down . The verb has several shades of meaning, and frequently = “to hold fast.” So e.g. 1 Corinthians 11:2 ; (E. V., “keep;”) 1 Thessalonians 5:21 . But the context here decides for the meaning “hold down, hold back, suppress.” The verb occurs once again in this Epistle, 7:6: “wherein we were held ,” i.e. “held down as captives.” Here the phrase is pregnant: “who suppress the truth, living in unrighteousness the while.” “The Truth” (of the awful Majesty of God) is, as it were, buried under sinful acts, though still alive , still needing to be “held down,” if sin is to rule.

19 . that which may be known of God ] Lit. that which is known; i.e. ideally known; that which, under any circumstances, man has known. The E. V. is thus practically right.

The word “knowable” has of late years become fashionable in philosophic language; and some writers have boldly taught that God is “The Unknown and Unknowable.” This direct contradiction of the Lord and the Apostles seems to be largely due to a confusion of real knowledge with perfect knowledge. Meanwhile Scripture itself teaches that in an inner sense God is “unknowable,” until revealed. (Matthew 11:25-27 .)

The “ because ” points to the “holding down” just before: q. d., “they hold down the truth; and it needs holding down, as a living thing, if it is to be kept out of the way; because it is, as a fact, known to them.”

in them ] Or, amongst them . The Gr. bears either meaning; and on the whole the context favours the latter.

for God hath shewed it ] Lit. for God did manifest it . The verb is in the aorist, and thus seems to point to a complete past; perhaps to the ideal time of creation, when the “eternal power and Godhead” were manifested. It must be observed in general, however, that in the Greek of the N. T. the aorist sometimes practically covers the ground of the perfect. The point of this verse thus may be that “God hath [in abiding effect] manifested, &c.”

20 . from the creation of the world ] i.e. “since the world was created.” The Gr. scarcely allows the interpretation “from the framework, or constitution, of the world.” He means that ever since there was a universe to observe, and man to observe it, the being and will of a Divine Artificer have been discernible.

are clearly seen ] The Gr. verb hardly gives the emphatic “ clearly ,” though it distinctly states that they “are under observation,” “in view.”

eternal ] The Gr. word here ( aïdios ) is only found besides in N. T. in Jude 1:6 . By derivation and usage it is connected with the Greek equivalent for “ ever ” or “ always .” The point of the word here is that creation condemns the guilty vagaries of Idolatry by witnessing to a God everlastingly One and the Same.

Godhead ] Lit. Divinity; character or capacity worthy of God.

so that they are without excuse ] Better perhaps, (comparing similar constructions in this Epistle) so that they may , or might, be without excuse; to remove all cause of inevitable ignorance, and to throw the whole blame of declension from primeval truth on the perverted Will.

21 . because that, when they knew God ] i.e. as primevally revealed, and then constantly witnessed to by the visible Creation as Eternal and Omnipotent. “ To know God ” is a phrase capable of many degrees of meaning, from the rational certainty of a Supreme Personal Maker and Lord up to that holy intimacy of divinely-given communion with the Father and the Son, to which the words of John 17:3 refer. In this passage all that is necessary to understand is the certainty (however learnt) of the existence of a Personal Omnipotent Creator.

they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful ] The verbs throughout this passage are aorists. The process of declension from the truth is not dwelt upon, so much as the fact that it did take place, at whatever rate. There was a time when man, although knowledge of God had been given him, ceased to praise Him and to thank Him for His “great glory” and His rich gifts; turning the praise and thanks towards idol-objects instead. We must note that these first marks of decline (failure to praise and to thank Him), indicate a subtle and lasting secret of idolatry. Man, conscious of guilt before the Eternal, shrinks from direct worship. In mistaken reverence, it may be, he turns away to “the Creature,” to address his praises there. But the result is inevitable; the God unworshipped rapidly becomes unknown.

but became vain in their imaginations ] “ Vain ,” here, as often in Scripture, is “ wrong ,” morally as well as mentally. “ Imaginations ” is rather thinkings : the Gr. is a word often rendered “thoughts,” (as e.g. Matthew 15:19 .) In Philippians 2:14 it is rendered “disputings;” in 1 Timothy 2:8 , “doubting.” The verb is used in e.g. Luke 12:17 , for the balancing of thing against thing in the mind. Both verb and noun, when the context gives them an unfavourable reference, indicate a habit of captious and hesitating thought such as would ignore plain testimony and attend to abstract difficulties by preference. Thus here, man, growing unused to adoration of his God, fell to independent thinking, (in however rude a form,) and “ in ” this, occupied in this, “ became vain ,” went astray altogether.

their foolish heart ] “ Foolish ,” more strictly unintelligent ; failing to see connexions and consequences. Same word as Matthew 15:16 . The “ heart ” may here mean merely the intellect, as perhaps in Mark 2:6 , Mark 2:8 . It is almost always difficult, however, to trace in Scripture (as indeed so often in constant experience) the border between reason and conscience. “Heart” certainly includes both in the majority of N. T. passages.

22 . Professing themselves to be wise , &c.] A severe but just description of speculation, primitive or modern, which ignores Revelation where Revelation has spoken. St Paul does not mean that in such speculations no intellectual power was exerted; surpassing power often was, and is, displayed in them. But the premisses of the reasoners, and their moral attitude, in view of the real state of the case, were fatally wrong. In the very act of “professing to be” competently “wise” they proved themselves “fools,” and further proved it by palpable acts, as follows.

23 . into an image made like to ] Lit. in the resemblance of the likeness of; i.e. “ so as to appear in a form like man, bird, beast, snake, and insect.” Deity, and its prerogatives, were so degraded as to be (in the idolater’s act) transferred to idols. The illustrations of the Apostle’s words from ancient and modern heathenism are too abundant to need special mention.

24 32 . The same subject: heathen sin judicially aggravated

24 . Wherefore God also gave them up ] The inevitable connexion of idolatry with debased morality is stated here. Nothing but the knowledge of the Holy One, Eternal and Almighty, can ever really teach and enforce human purity; even though conscience (up to its light) always takes the part of purity. Manifold experience shews that mere social civilization and mental culture can never really banish even the grossest lusts. Nothing but the knowledge of God as He is can reveal to man both his fall and his greatness, his sin and his sacred duty.

God also gave them up ] So Psalms 81:11 , Psalms 81:12 ; Acts 7:42 . On the other hand man “gives himself over;” Ephesians 4:19 . Experience as well as Revelation says that the most terrible, and just, penalty of sin is the hardening of the sinning heart. It is a “law;” though in using that word we must here specially remember that, as with physical so with moral laws, “their ultimate reason is God.” The “law” of judicial hardening is His personal will, and takes place along with His personal displeasure.

through the lusts ] Lit. in the lusts: a pregnant phrase; q. d. “He gave them up to live in vile desires.”

to dishonour ] The dignity and sanctity of the body is a main and peculiar truth of Revelation.

between themselves ] Another reading gives “ among them; ” but the evidence is not decisive, and general reasons support the E. V.

25 . who changed ] The Greek relative pronoun implies that this was the cause of the special turn taken by the judicial hardening: seeing they had changed , &c.

the truth of God ] i.e. that which is true of Him alone, and revealed by Him; Omnipotence and Deity. Cp. ver. 18.

into a lie ] Lit. in falsehood; they degraded it so that it was lost in falsehood; falsehood took its place. This “falsehood” is, of course, the grand error Idolatry.

more than the Creator ] Lit. Him that created [ it ]. The idolater reverenced and did ritual service to his idol “ more ,” or “ rather ” than to the Creator, whether he wholly ignored the Eternal, or recognized Him as a shadow or mystery in the background only.

who is blessed ] Benedictus here, not Beatus . The glorious epithet indicates the Creature’s right attitude toward the Creator; that of adoring praise and love. (The same phrase occurs 9:5; an important doctrinal parallel.)

26 . For this cause ] Resuming ver. 24.

vile affections ] Lit. passions of disgrace; stamped with essential degradation. (Far different is the Greek, where (in E. V.) the same word “vile” appears, in Philippians 3:21 : “the body of humiliation .”) On this and the next verse we must not comment in detail. The hideous vices here plainly named, one of them in particular, frightfully deface some of the very fairest pages of ancient literature. The tremendous condemnations of Scripture have made the like display almost impossible in modern writings; but the human heart is the same. (Jeremiah 17:9 .)

It is noteworthy (as an act of tenderness, perhaps,) that the sin of ver. 26 is touched more rapidly than that of ver. 27. It is also remarkable that in the Greek we have not “ women ” and “ men ,” but “ females ” and “ males .” Bengel’s remark on this passage is excellent: “Often, in exposing sin, we must call a spade a spade ( scapha debet scapha dici ). They often insist on an excessive delicacy who themselves are void of modesty.” These words apply to many passages of Scripture besides this.

28 . And even as , &c.] In this and the following verses the developements of sin are followed into less monstrous but more pervading and not less guilty forms.

as they did not like ] did not approve . The Gr. is akin to the Gr. of “reprobate” just below. Knowledge of God met with no approbation , and He gave them over to reprobation .

to retain God in their knowledge ] Lit. to have God in real (or full) knowledge . There was an antecedent knowledge of God; partly by the universe, partly by the constitution of their nature, partly by primeval revelation.

a reprobate mind ] Lit. a mind, or state of thought, rejected after test . The Gr. word, from this literal meaning, comes habitually to mean “refuse, outcast, abandoned .”

convenient ] i.e. becoming . So Philemon 1:8 , where the Greek word is nearly the same. The euphemism here is most forcible.

29 . fornication ] This word is to be omitted.

maliciousness ] Same word as 1 Peter 2:1 , (where E. V. “malice,”) 16. The Gr. is a wider word than these English words; evil in its largest sense, but specially, moral evil.

full of envy ] Lit. brimful ; a word as strong as possible.

malignity ] Our “ ill-nature ” exactly.

30 . backbiters ] Rather, evil speakers , without the special notion of speaking in the absence of the person attacked.

haters of God ] The Gr., by formation and classical usage, should rather mean hateful to God ; men whose character is peculiarly abhorrent to Him. Similar words or phrases were familiar at Athens to denote defiant evil; and this would well suit the two words here following.

disobedient to parents ] A symptom of deep moral and social disorder. Parental authority stands in the Decalogue among the great foundations of virtue and duty; and our Lord Himself is significantly said (Luke 2:51 ) to have been “subject” to Joseph and Mary.

31 . without understanding, covenant-breakers ] The Gr. words are almost identical in form and sound. On “ without understanding ” see note on ver. 21, where “foolish” represents the same Greek word; an epithet full of deep meaning.

implacable ] Lit. truce-less ; an adjective used in the classics for inevitable death and internecine war . The word is perhaps to be omitted here; but evidence is far from decisive.

32 . who knowing ] The Gr. relative is same word as ver. 25, where see note. Thus what is here stated of the world of sinners is, as it were, the condition for the special vices just enumerated: men are such because they resist conscience.

knowing ] The Gr. is strong, well knowing . The witness of conscience is here intended, enforced by traditions of primeval truth and by the majesty of creation.

the judgment of God ] Rather, His ordinance , His statute of retribution. It is not necessary to understand that they explicitly know that the statute is “ordained of God.” God, as a definite Object of thought, may be to them as if He were not; but a voice not their own bears witness to the eternal difference of right and wrong, however broken that witness may be. They are aware, however imperfectly, of a “statute” whereby impurity and cruelty are evil and condemnable.

death ] The extreme penalty of the Divine “judgment.” It is in fact “the death that cannot die;” whether the transgressor estimates it so or not.

have pleasure in ] Rather, feel with them and abet them . This is certainly a greater depth of transgression even than personal, and thus perhaps solitary, wrong-doing. It indicates complete victory over conscience, and complete callousness to the moral ruin of others. On the whole of this terrible passage, see as a Scripture parallel Titus 3:3 . On that verse Adolphe Monod ( Adieux 1) remarks: “For a long while I found it impossible to admit this declaration; even now” (on his death-bed) “I cannot understand it in its fulness. But I have come, by God’s grace very slowly indeed to see this doctrine more clearly, and sure I am that, when this veil of flesh shall fall, I shall find in it the perfectly faithful likeness of my natural heart.”

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Romans 1". "Cambridge Greek Testament for Schools and Colleges". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cgt/romans-1.html. 1896.
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