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Bible Commentaries

McGarvey's Commentaries on Selected Books

Romans 1

Verse 1

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God,

Verse 2

which he promised afore through his prophets in the holy scriptures,

Verse 3

concerning his Son, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh,

Verse 4

who was declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead; even Jesus Christ our Lord

Verse 5

through whom we received grace and apostleship, unto obedience of faith among all the nations, for his name’s sake;

Verse 6

among whom are ye also, called to be Jesus Christ’s:

Verse 7

to all that are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. [The apostle opens his Epistle with one of his characteristic sentences: long and intricate, yet wonderful in its condensation and comprehensiveness, his style of expression being, as Tholuck says, "most aptly compared to a throng of waves, where, in ever loftier swell, one billow presses close upon the other." The opening here may be compared with that at Galatians 1:1-5 . Taken without its qualifying clauses, the sentence runs thus: "Paul to all that are at Rome: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." (Comp. Acts 23:26) This sentence the apostle enlarges by three series of statements which lead up to each other, and the items of which also introduce each other, thus forming a closely connected chain of thought. First, by statements about himself, which assert that he, Paul, is an apostle, separated from worldly occupations, and sent out to preach the gospel (Galatians 1:1; Acts 9:15; Acts 22:14-15); second, by statements about the gospel, viz.: that it had its source of origin in God, that it was no innovation, being promised long beforehand through the prophets in the Holy Scriptures (comp. Acts 26:22; see Micah 4:2; Isaiah 40:9; Isaiah 52:7; Nahum 1:15); that it concerned God’s Son; third, by statements about God’s Son, viz.: that according to the flesh (i. e., as to his human or fleshly nature) he was born (in the weakness of a child), and thus came into being as a descendant of David (which was required by prophecy-- Psalms 89:36; Psalms 132:11-12; Jeremiah 23:5); that according to the spirit of purity or holiness (i. e., as to his spiritual or divine nature, which, though a Sonship, was birthless, and hence did not come into being, but existed from the beginning) he was pointed out, declared or demonstrated to be the Son of God with power; which power manifested itself by triumphing over death in his resurrection (Psalms 7:2; Psalms 16:10; comp. 2 Timothy 2:8; Acts 13:23; Acts 13:30); and that the Son of God is Jesus Christ our Lord. Thus Paul’s thought completes its circle, and comes back again to himself and his apostleship, and introduces the second series of statements, which are about himself and his apostleship in this gospel of the Son of God: First, that through this Jesus Christ our Lord he had received grace (i. e., forgiveness, reconciliation, salvation, and all the other blessings which the gospel bestows), and the apostleship of which he has spoken; and that the aim of that apostleship, or the purpose for which he was sent, is (1) to produce among all nations, i. e., the Gentiles, that obedience to the will of God which results from faith, or belief, in Jesus Christ, and (2) to glorify or exalt the name of Jesus Christ by promoting this obedience, etc. (Acts 9:15); (the majesty, dignity and authority of the apostleship are emphasized by the Lordship of him who gave it, by the world-wide scope of it and the glorious purpose of it); second, that his apostleship embraced those to whom he wrote, since they were also Gentiles, who had been called into this faith which made them Christ’s. And here the second series leads to the third, and Paul now addresses the Roman Christians, to whom he writes, and states that they are: (1) the object of God’s love, and (2) called to that obedience of faith which separates from sin and makes holy. Thus, step by step, Paul explains as to what gospel he is an apostle, as to whom his gospel relates, from whom he received his apostleship, for what purpose he had received it, what right it gave him to indite this letter, and to whom the letter was addressed. So much for the paragraph as a whole. Looking over its items, we may remark that: the term "servant" employed by Paul applied to all Christians generally (1 Corinthians 7:22; Ephesians 6:6); but the apostles loved to appropriate it, as expressing their entire devotion to Christ and his people, and lack of all official pride (James 1:1; 2 Peter 1:1; Judges 1:1; Revelation 1:1). The phrase "spirit of holiness" is equivalent to Holy Spirit. It serves to show that Jesus had the same divine nature as the Holy Spirit, yet does not confuse the two personalities, so as to lose our Lord’s identity. The resurrection of our Lord differed from all other resurrections in several important respects, each of which aided to reveal his divinity: (1) The prophets announced it beforehand (Psalms 16:10-11). (2) He himself announced it beforehand (Matthew 16:21). (3) The power which raised him was not external to him, but within him (John 2:19; John 10:17-18). (4) It was a representative and all-inclusive resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:22). (5) It was not a temporary restoration, like the cases of Lazarus and others who returned once more to the grave, but an eternal triumph over death (Romans 6:9; Revelation 1:18). (6) It was the firstfruits of a like immortality for all those who, being part of the mystical body of Christ, shall be raised with him at the last day (1 Corinthians 15:23-26). Lard, in his comments on this paragraph, calls attention to the fact that faith and belief are absolutely synonymous, for the two words in our English Bible are represented by one single substantive in the Greek text, viz.: pistis, which is derived from the verb pisteuoo, which is uniformly translated "believe." An endless amount of theological discussion and mystical preaching would have been avoided if our translators had not given us two words where one would have sufficed. Having in his opening address shown that he had an official right to write to the church at Rome, the apostle next reveals to them that he has an additional right to do so because of his interest in them and affection for them, which is manifested by his thanksgivings, prayers, etc.]

Verse 8

First [i. e., before I proceed to other matters, I wish you to know that], I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is proclaimed throughout the whole world. [Through the mediation of Christ (comp. Hebrews 13:15; 1 Peter 2:5; Colossians 3:17; Ephesians 5:20) Paul offers thanks on account of the Christians at Rome, because their faith had so openly and notoriously changed their lives from sin to righteousness that, wherever the apostle went, he found the churches in the whole Roman world, which then embraced western Asia, northern Africa and almost the whole of Europe, took notice of it. The apostle realized the incalculable good which would result from the proper enthronement of Christ in so important a center as Rome, and in view of its future effects on the world, its present influence over the church, its tendency to lighten and facilitate his own labors, and many like blessings and benefits, Paul thanks God that his enthronement had taken place in the loyal heart of those whom he addresses. He refers to the knowledge of believers, for the church was comparatively unknown to unbelievers, even in the city itself-- Acts 28:22]

Verse 9

For God is my witness, whom I serve in my spirit in the gospel of his Son, how unceasingly I make mention of you, always in my prayers

Verse 10

making request, if by any means now at length I may be prospered by the will of God to come unto you. [Since he could call no other witness as to the substance or contents of his secret prayers, he reverently appeals to God to verify his words, that he had continually remembered the Romans in his petitions, and had requested that, having been so long denied it, the privilege of visiting the church at Rome might now at last be granted to him. Paul’s appeals to God to verify his words are quite common (2 Corinthians 1:23; 2 Corinthians 11:31; Galatians 1:20; etc.). He describes God as one whom he serves not only outwardly but inwardly, publishing the gospel of his Son with hearty zeal, devotion and joy. He had traveled widely and constantly; his failure, therefore, to visit Rome might look like indifference, and his impending departure from Corinth, not toward Rome, which was now comparatively near, but in the opposite direction, might suggest that he was ashamed to appear or preach in the imperial city. The apostle replies to all this by simply stating, and asking God to verify the statement, that God had not yet prospered him in his plans or efforts to go to Rome.]

Verse 11

For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established;

Verse 12

that is, that I with you may be comforted in you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine. [Paul here sets forth the reason why he so earnestly desired to visit the church at Rome; it was because he wished to enjoy the blessedness both of giving and receiving. Spiritual gifts are those wrought by the Holy Spirit, and of these Paul had two kinds to bestow: 1, extraordinary or miraculous, and 2, ordinary, or those pertaining to the Christian graces. No doubt he had the bestowal of both of these gifts in mind, for no apostle had yet visited the church to bestow the former, and, from the list of gifts recorded at Romans 12:6-8; it appears that that of prophecy was the only miraculous one they possessed; and the context, especially verse 12, indicates that the latter, or ordinary gifts, were also in his thoughts. Because their faiths were essentially the same, Paul here acknowledges the ability of all disciples, even the humblest, to comfort, i. e., to encourage and help him by a strengthening of his faith; because their steadfastness would react on him. Gifts, whether of a miraculous nature, or merely graces, tended to establish or strengthen the church.]

Verse 13

And I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you (and was hindered hitherto), that I might have some fruit in you also, even as in the rest of the Gentiles. [He had desired to visit Rome that he might glorify Christ by making many converts in Rome (John 15:8; John 15:16), just as he had in other Gentile cities. "That," says Meyer, "by which Paul had been hitherto hindered, may be seen at Romans 15:22; consequently it was neither the devil (1 Thessalonians 2:18), nor the Holy Spirit (Acts 16:6). Grotius aptly observes: "The great needs of the localities in which Christ was unknown constrained him." But the word at Romans 15:22; and also at 1 Thessalonians 2:18; is egkoptoo, and the word here, and at Acts 16:6; is kooluoo, which, primarily, means to forbid, and implies the exercise of a superior will. The whole context here indicates that the divine will restrained Paul from going to Rome, and this in no way conflicts with the statement that the needs of the mission fields hindered him. God’s will forbade, and the needs co-operated to restrain; just as in the instance in Acts, the Holy Spirit forbade to go any way save toward Europe, and the visionary cry from Europe drew onward. Two causes may conspire to produce one effect. Paul’s entire will was subject to the will of Christ. As a free man he formed his plans and purposes, but he always altered them to suit the divine pleasure.]

Verse 14

I am debtor both to Greeks and to Barbarians [foreigners, those who did not speak the Greek language], both to the wise and to the foolish.

Verse 15

So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you also that are in Rome. [Paul’s knowledge of the good news, and his apostleship as to it, laid upon him the sacred obligation to tell it to all who had not heard it (1 Corinthians 9:16-19). His commission as apostle to the Gentiles sent him to both Greeks and Barbarians, the two classes into which the Gentiles were divided; and left him no right to discriminate between tile cultured and the ignorant. Moved by a desire to pay this debt, he was ready, so far as the direction of his affairs lay in his own power of choice, to preach to the Romans, who held no mean place among the Gentiles.]

Verse 16

For I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.

Verse 17

For therein is revealed a righteousness of God from faith unto faith: as it is written [Habakkuk 2:4], But the righteous shall live by faith. [This paragraph has been rightly called the "Theme" of the Epistle, for all from Romans 1:19 to Romans 11:36 is but an expansion of this section. Since, therefore, its meaning determines the gist of the entire Epistle, it is not to be wondered at that commentators and theologians have made it a royal battleground. Limitations of space forbid us to even give an outline of these controversies. We content ourselves with the following paraphrase, which, we think, makes plain the apostle’s meaning: I am ready to preach in your imperial city, for even there, where things of such magnitude transpire that all things else seem small by comparison, I should not be ashamed of the gospel. Among the Greeks, who prided themselves on their wisdom, my gospel was demonstrated to be the superior wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:30; 1 Corinthians 2:7); and so I would come among you Romans, who compare all things with your imperial power, and I would show that I had no reason to be ashamed, for I would declare or publish unto you that gospel which is the power of God in the all-important and incomparable work of saving men, all of whom are lost in sin, and any of whom can be saved when he believes this gospel, whether he be one of God’s chosen people, who have the first right to hear it, or a Gentile. It is God’s power unto salvation, for it brings sinful men a righteousness which emanates from God, and which he freely gives to believers, so that they are accounted righteous, and this righteousness, from first to last, is altogether bestowed upon faith, so that whatever righteousness a man has comes by faith, just as it was predicted in the Old Testament, for God there says: The man who is declared righteous lives by faith; i. e., if his righteousness redeems him from sin and death and so entitles him to live, it does so because it is a righteousness obtained by faith.]

Verse 18

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hinder the truth in unrighteousness ["For" is intended to introduce a direct proof as to the statement in Romans 1:17; thus: The righteousness of God of which the apostle has been speaking is revealed to a man by his faith; i. e., it is seen only by the believing, for all that others see revealed towards man’s unrighteousness is wrath. In other words, only God’s gospel reveals this righteousness, and it is addressed to and received by faith. God’s other revelations seen in nature reveal no pardoning, justifying grace; but show, in the visitations of terrible judgments, retributions, punitive corrections, deaths, etc., that God pours out the fruits of his displeasure on the wickedness of men, whether it be sin against himself (ungodliness), or sin against the laws and precepts which he has given (unrighteousness), either sin being a stifling of the truth which they knew about God, by willful indulgences in unrighteousness. The apostle is here speaking of the Gentiles; he discusses the case of the Jews separately later on. The precepts, truth, etc., to which he refers are, therefore, not those found in the Old Testament Scriptures, which were known to the Jews; but those which were traditionally handed down by and among the heathen from the patriarchal days. "All the light," as Poole says, "which was left in man since the fall"];

Verse 19

because that which is known of God is manifest in them; for God manifested it unto them.

Verse 20

For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity; that they may be without excuse [and God reveals his wrath against them, because that which is known of God, i. e., the general truths as to his nature and attributes, is manifested unto them; for God himself so manifested it, causing his invisible attributes, even his power, divinity, etc., to be constantly and clearly revealed in the providential working of nature from the hour of creation’s beginning, until now, that they may be without excuse for sin, and so justly punishable]:

Verse 21

because that, knowing God, they glorified him not as God, neither gave thanks; but became vain in their reasonings, and their senseless heart was darkened. [And they were without excuse, for when they knew God they did not worship him according to the knowledge which they had, nor did they praise him for his benefits; but they erred in their mind, thus making their whole inner man senseless and dark, not having the light of truth with which they started. The phrase, "vain in their reasonings," means that their corrupt lives corrupted their minds, for, as Tholuck observes, "religious and moral error is always the consequence of religious and moral perversity." As Calvin expresses it: "They quickly choked by their own depravity the seed of right knowledge before it grew to ripeness."]

Verse 22

Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,

Verse 23

and changed the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things. [Vaunting their wisdom, these wicked ones made fools of themselves, so that they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for the likeness of an image of mortal man, or even images of baser things, as birds, beasts and reptiles. The audacity of the attempt to reason God out of existence has invariably turned the brain of man (Psalms 53:1), and the excess of self-conceit and vanity developed by such an undertaking has uniformly resulted in pitiable folly. In the case of the ancients it led to idolatry. Reiche contended that idolatry preceded monotheism, and that the better was developed out of the worse; but history sustains Paul in presenting idolatry as a decline from a purer form of worship "For," says Meyer, "heathenism is not the primeval religion from which man might gradually have risen to the true knowledge of the wisdom of God, but is, on the contrary, the result of a falling away from the known original revelation of the true God in his works." Paul does not say that they exchanged the "form" of God for that of an idol, for God is sensuously perceived as glory, or shekinah, rather than as form. Hence, Moses asked to see, not the form, but the glory of God (Exodus 33:18-22). The Greeks and Romans preferred the human form as the model for their idols, but the Egyptians chose the baser, doubtless because, having been longer engaged in the practice of idolatry, their system was more fully developed in degradation. The ibis, the bull, the serpent and the crocodile of the Egyptians give us the complements of Paul’s catalogue. Schaff sees in the phrase "likeness of an image" a double meaning, and interprets it thus: "The expression refers both to the grosser and the more refined forms of idolatry; common people saw in the idols the gods themselves; the cultivated heathen regarded them as symbolical representations."]

Verse 24

Wherefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts unto uncleanness, that their bodies should be dishonored among themselves:

Verse 25

for that they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. [Wherefore, finding them living in lust, God ceased to restrain or protect them from evil (Genesis 6:3), and abandoned them to the uncleanness toward which their lust incited them, that they might dishonor their bodies among themselves to the limit of their lustfulness, as a punishment for dishonoring and abandoning him. He did this because they had exchanged the truth of God (which from the start they had hindered in unrighteousness, Romans 1:18), i. e., the truth respecting God and his law and worship, for the sham of idolatry and the false worship pertaining thereto, and because they had given to the creature that inward reverence and outward service which was due to the Creator, thus preferring the creature to the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. "’Blessed’ is not the word signifying happy, rendered blessed in Matthew 5:3-11; 1 Timothy 1:11; 1 Timothy 6:15; but the word signifying praised, adored, extolled; i. e., worthy to be praised, etc. In the New Testament this word is applied to none but to God only; though the cognate verb is used to express the good wishes and hearty prayers of one creature for another, as well as praise to God--comp. Hebrews 11:20-21; James 3:9 "--Plumer.]

Verse 26

For this cause God gave them up unto vile passions: for their women changed the natural use into that which is against nature:

Verse 27

and likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another, men with men working unseemliness, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was due. [In this horrible picture Paul shows in what way they dishonored themselves among themselves. The sin of sodomy was common among idolaters. The apostle tells us that this depth of depravity was a just punishment for their departure from God. Petronius, Suetonius, Martial, Seneca, Virgil, Juvenal, Lucian and other classic writers verify the statements of Paul. Some of their testimonies will be found in Macknight, Stuart and other larger commentaries.]

Verse 28

And even as they refused [did not deem it worthy of their mind] to have God in their knowledge, God gave them up unto a reprobate mind [i. e., minds rejected in turn by God as unworthy], to do those things which are not fitting [indecent, immoral];

Verse 29

being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness [inordinate desire to accumulate property regardless of the rights of others: a sin which is not condemned by the laws of any country on the globe, and which is the source of unrest in all nations], maliciousness [a readiness to commit crime without provocation, a chronic state of illwill and misanthropy]; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity; whisperers [talebearers, those who slander covertly, chiefly by insinuation-- Proverbs 16:28]

Verse 30

backbiters [outspoken slanderers], hateful to God [many contend that this should read "haters of God," since Paul is enumerating the vices of men, and not God’s attitude toward them. Others, following the reading in the text, see in these words what Meyer calls "a resting-point in the disgraceful catalogue"--a place where Paul pauses to reveal God’s moral indignation toward the crimes particularized. But Alford takes the words in a colloquial sense as describing the political informers of that period. "If," says he, "any crime was known more than another, as ’hated by the God,’ it was that of informers, abandoned persons who circumvented and ruined others by a system of malignant espionage and false information," though he does not confine the term wholly to that class], insolent, haughty, boastful [these three words describe the various phases of self-exultation, which, a sin in all ages, was at that time indulged in to the extent of blasphemy, for Cicero, Juvenal and Horace all claim that virtue is from man himself, and not from God], inventors of evil things [inventors of new methods of evading laws, schemers who discover new ways by which to unjustly accumulate property, discoverers of new forms of sensuous, lustful gratification, etc.], disobedient to parents,

Verse 31

without understanding [those who have so long seared their consciences as to be unable to determine between right and wrong even in plain cases. The loss of moral understanding is very apparent among habitual liars, whose minds have become so accustomed to falsehood that they are no longer able to discern the truth so as to accurately state it], covenant-breakers [those who fail to keep their promises and agreements], without natural affection [those having an abnormal lack of love towards parents, children, kindred, etc.], unmerciful:

Verse 32

who, knowing the ordinance of God, that they that practice such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but also consent with them that practise them. [All were not guilty of all these sins, but each was guilty of some of them. Though many of these evils still exist in Christian lands, they do so in spite of Christianity; but then they existed because of idolatry. Lard observes that the Gentiles, starting with the knowledge of God, descended to the foolishness of idolatry. At this point God abandoned them, and they then began their second descent, and continued till they reached the very base and bottom of moral degradation, as indicated in the details given above. The Gentiles had traditions and laws, founded on original revelations, declaring these things sinful; and, though they knew that death resulted from sin, yet they not only defied God and persisted in their sins, but even failed to condemn them in others; yea, they encouraged each other to commit them. Such, then, was the helpless, hopeless state of the Gentiles. When they were justly condemned to death for unrighteousness, God revealed in his gospel a righteousness unto life that they might be saved.]

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
First published online at The Restoration Movement Pages.
Bibliographical Information
McGarvey, J. W. "Commentary on Romans 1". "J. W. McGarvey's Original Commentary on Acts". Transylvania Printing and Publishing Co. Lexington, KY. 1872.