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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Romans 1

Verse 1

Exordium and Thesis , Romans 1:1-17 .

The Exordium consists of three parts: the superscription, (Romans 1:1-7,) the direct address, (Romans 1:8-17,) closing with the introduction of the thesis.

1. Paul The superscription (Romans 1:1-7) is one magnificently rounded sentence, worthy the chief apostle addressing the imperial city. This too consists of three parts: the personal style of the writer, (Romans 1:1,) the surpassing nature of his topic, (Romans 1:2-5,) and the direction of his letter to the Roman Christians, (Romans 1:7.)

Paul Instead of signing the name at the end, as in modern times, the ancient mode was to place the name at the beginning of the letter. (For the name Paul see our note on Acts 13:9.)

Servant Δουλος , derived from δεω , to bind, so signifying a bondsman. (On the New Testament word for slave see note on Luke 7:2.) To be a doulos of a Divine Master is a high honour; but no Greek writer ever uses the phrase, andrapodon of God or Christ. Just so in English we may say servant of God, but never slave of God.

Called Literally, a called apostle. A noble self-assertion against those who pronounced him an uncalled apostle, and so no apostle at all. (On the word called see note on Matthew 22:14.) The distinction made in predestinarian theology between God’s common call and his “effectual call” upon sinners to repent, implies that God does not truly mean his common call to be effectual, and so imputes insincerity to God. The true distinction lies not in the intrinsic nature of God’s call itself, but in the different acceptance by man. There is truly a rejected calling and an obeyed calling, and those who obey God’s call become permanently the called. Paul was called, (see note Acts 9:9,) and being not disobedient to the heavenly vision his was an obeyed calling, and so his “effectual” and permanent calling.

Separated In this lofty self-assertion the apostle declares that he was not only called at mature age, but even set apart for his great calling, like Jeremiah, before his birth. “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5.) For, knowing of him, as God did of Abraham, (note Genesis 18:19,) how he would faithfully discharge his office, God individualized him even before his birth as a great instrument, in his day, for the performance of a great mission. It was none the less in his power, like Solomon or like Judas, to apostatize and become a castaway: nay, it required the highest power of will on his own part to avoid such a result.

Verse 2

2. Promised This Gospel is new and yet old. Old, as being really folded up in the Old Testament and concealed in its precious promises; new, as unfolded and unfurled in a fresh form and promulgation. The apostle here and in this whole epistle develops what he had maintained in all his arguments with the Jews in their synagogues in their various cities, and in his defences in their various arraignments, that new Christianity was but the real continuity of old Israelitism, and that modern Judaism was but its cast-off garments. (See note on Acts 26:1; Acts 6:13; Acts 7:2.)

Promised afore Even as early as the protevangelium or primal Gospel announcement. (Genesis 3:15.)

Verse 3

3. Concerning his Son Depending on Gospel the Gospel concerning his Son. The good news about the Messiah, for it should never be forgotten that, whereas Jesus is a name, Christ is a title. (See notes on Matthew 1:1, and John 4:25.)

Seed of David (See note on Matthew 1:1.)

Verse 4

4. Declared Outlined. The word is derived from ορος , a boundary line, and signifies bounded, as with a line. As a painter draws an exact outline of an object, so the form and nature of Jesus was as it were chalked or outlined as God’s Son.

With power Rather in power, referring to the wondrous display of power with which God declared his Son at the resurrection. (See note on Matthew 28:2-4.) He was prophetically outlined as Son of God by the prophets by divine knowledge; the outline was filled up by divine power.

Spirit of holiness This completes the antithesis embodied in the person of Christ, Son of man according to the flesh, Son of God according to the spirit of holiness. This last phrase does not designate the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, but that spirit whose attribute is holiness. (See note on Luke 1:35.)

By the resurrection from the dead Literally, from resurrection of dead, dead, or dead ones, being plural. (See note on Luke 20:35.) Resurrection of dead, or of dead ones, probably is a reference to the fact that the act of power that raised Jesus also raised a retinue of saints, as an earnest of the power by which the final resurrection of all through him would be accomplished. (See note on Matthew 27:53.) The preposition from is used to indicate that it was out from this manifold display of power that the demonstration came that he was, as the centurion confessed, what he claimed to be, the Son of God.

The antithesis of Christ’s nature (given with much beauty from the Greek by Dr. Forbes) may be thus presented in English:

The born | from seed of David | according to flesh.

The outlined | from resurrection of dead | according to spirit.

This is a striking representation of the human and the divine in the Godman.

Verse 5

5. Grace Gratuitous pardon and divine favour.

Apostleship A divine office for securing like grace to others.

Obedience to the faith Faith without the article and in the genitive; obedience of faith, that is, an obedience consisting of faith as its vital power.

All nations Christianity, as Paul uniformly maintains, is a universal religion, to be preached to all, that it may be received by all.

Verse 6

6. The called. (See note on Romans 1:1.)

Verse 7

7. To all The direction.

Saints One of the ordinary terms for Christians.

Grace May there be is understood. Grace is the method of our reconciliation with God; peace the result. St. Paul here introduces a higher address than the old term, Greeting.

Verse 8

8. First Before the main argument.

The whole world Wherever Christians exist. From this we learn, contrary to the supposition of some commentators, that a body of Christians now existed at Rome, and that from their metropolitan position the fact was well known throughout the wide spread Christian republic.

Verses 8-17

8-17. The direct address. Thus far in his superscription the apostle speaks of both himself and the Romans mainly in the third person singular and plural. He now addresses them in the second person plural directly, and treats of personal matters.

Verse 9

9. Without ceasing Regularly remembering the unseen Roman Church.

Verse 10

10. Request His prayers for them were twofold: for their spiritual prosperity, and for divine permission to visit them.

Prosperous journey He journeyed to Rome at last, but by what few would call a prosperous trip. (Acts 28:0.)

Verse 11

11. Some spiritual gift Tholuck denies that this means a supernatural or charismatic gift or endowment, but incorrectly. Had Paul alluded to Christian graces he would have hardly limited his language to one grace, but have desired every grace. Besides the word impart, and the fact that it required his personal presence, show that a charism bestowed by apostolic hands was the thing meant.

Established To establish or confirm was the purpose of spiritual gifts. (Mark 16:20; 1 Corinthians 14:22.)

Verse 12

12. That is Lest the reason last given might sound too patronizing, as if the apostle’s visit were a favour from his own side solely, he now explains by giving a reason of a mutual nature.

Verse 13

13. Purposed His whole journeyings have been westward, as if with a presentiment that his destination was the great Capital, (Acts 19:21.)

Let Hindered. Hence we see that the apostles were not inspired in all their plans, purposes, or opinions.

Fruit A fruitage of converts, which the apostle considered as the great harvest of his life.

Other Gentiles Though there were clearly Jews in the Roman Church, yet, as it was largely Gentile, and in the very center of Gentilism, he speaks as if they were a Gentile Church.

Verse 14

14. Debtor Christ had, by granting him grace and apostleship, brought him under an infinite indebtedness, which he was obliged to pay off to the world needing a like salvation.

Verse 16

16. Not ashamed Though it be the Gospel of the Jesus crucified as a Jewish malefactor, and though it be in the centre of proud and powerful Rome, with the whole Gentile world pouring contempt upon it, yet is he ready to stand up unshamed and hold forth the cross.

Power The Gospel is as it were a concrete power, yet power to a given result.

Every one Here is universality without limit.

That believeth And here is the limit. The salvation is intrinsically universal; the limitation is the rejection by those who might accept.

Jew first Perfectly uniform was the practice of Paul, as appears by the narratives in Acts, to offer the Gospel in every place first in the synagogues of the Jews. (See note on Acts 27:18.) The grand reason for this was that the mission of Israel was to be a nation of priests and preachers for the conversion of the world to Jesus Messiah, and so long as a remnant of hope remained that the Jews would be true to this offer, so long to them the first offer should be made. The word Jew, contracted from Judean, is derived from the name Judah, and from the name of a tribe became the name of the race. Greek here stands for Gentile, as the Jews had mostly to do with Greek-speaking Gentiles.

Verse 17

17. For From treating of the Romans, himself, and the Gospel, the apostle gracefully glides into the great thesis or topic of his epistle, namely, justification by faith in Christ revealed in the Gospel. Thus the closing point of the exordium is the starting point of the whole treatise.

Righteousness of God A phrase used in this epistle not to signify, as it usually does, the attribute of righteousness with which God is invested, but that righteousness with which God would invest man in order that man may come into likeness and unity with himself.

From faith to faith There are three meanings, to mention no more, given by commentators to this phrase:

1 . Like the phrase from glory to glory, in 2 Corinthians 3:18, it may describe the successive stages of growing faith. Yet, though approved by Tholuck, this meaning has no relevancy to the present train of thought, and does not connect well with the adjoining clauses. 2. Better is that suggested by Augustine: from the faith of those preaching to the faith of those hearing; or, in fuller terms, from the faith of a faithful Church and ministry to the faith of a listening world. This connects well with revealed, and lies in the train of thought with a forcible meaning. 3. Best of all is that of Bengel, which refers it to the righteousness of God, being revealed as both derived from faith and offered to faith. It is, as Bengel says, “by faith from bow to stern.” This blends well also with the second meaning. As faith is the source whence we obtain our righteousness, so we offer that righteousness to the faith of the world. Justification originating from faith is offered to faith.

Written (Habakkuk 2:4.) The words in the Old Testament promise a temporal deliverance and life from the invasion of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans to the man who trusted in Jehovah. This must not, however, be viewed as a scrap, quoted merely like a piece of poetry verbally pat to the occasion. The higher meaning developed by inspiration lies concealed in the lower by that same Spirit. Faith in God is man’s tie of unity to God under both dispensations. The man so united to God, according to the prophet’s promise, would live through the approaching judgment of God. The man so united by faith to God shall live even through the judgment trial by the Son of man. That is, true faith in God, planted in the soul, is the vital seed and principle of eternal life. Paul’s view of the passage was accepted by Jewish writers. Wetstein cites the following: “The Israelites shall in the future age (or world) sing a new song, according to Psalms 98:0. By whose merit will Israel sing the song? By the merit of Abraham, because he believed God. (Genesis 15:0.) This is the faith by which Israel will possess, of which the Scripture speaks, Habakkuk 2:0.” (On the Jewish belief of the salvation of all Jews, see page 350.)

If the Hebrew would permit, it would appear more suitable to Paul’s purpose to accept the rendering, The just by faith shall live. The text would then show that faith is the antecedent condition of being just. Yet, as it stands, it shows that faith is the condition of life, and so of that justification that is unto life. And so the apostle has borrowed from the prophet the motto, the proposition, the thesis of his epistle, THE JUST SHALL LIVE BY FAITH. Thenceforward to the close of the eleventh chapter extends his argument, wherein he shows the Ruin, the Remedy, the process by which the Remedy applies and operates, and the Defence of the whole.

Verse 18

18. Wrath Divine wrath is the intense divine opposition of good against bad, of right against wrong, of holiness against depravity. It exists most intensely in the most holy nature, and therefore most perfectly, and in truth infinitely, in the heart of God. It reveals itself in the form of penalty against those who embody the evil guiltily and responsibly in their own persons, such penalty being in the form of misery or destruction.

Revealed from heaven Commentators have indicated various ways in which the apostle could truly say that God’s wrath is revealed from heaven: by Scripture revelation, by the monitions of conscience, by the terrors and convulsions of the elements, by the judgment at the last day. We do not think the apostle had any one mode in view; but by a strong and almost poetic conception he describes what is true to the eye of an awakened conscience, the wrath of God disclosed like lightning from the sky upon the guilty head.

Ungodliness All apostasy from God first.

Unrighteousness All wickedness against man, second and consequent. Yet God appropriates both as sin against himself, and over both are lowering the revelations of his wrath.

Hold Impede, hold back, repress. Truth would destroy wickedness, and so wickedness fights against and forces back truth.

In unrighteousness Or by unrighteousness, the meaning would be much the same. The truth designated by the apostle is the truth of the divine nature (Romans 1:19; Romans 1:25; Romans 1:28) and of the death-worthiness of sin, (Romans 1:32.) It is these truths that human wickedness, to secure its own existence, opposes and represses, so that they lose all ascendency and known existence.

Verses 18-32



1. Condition of the heathen world, Romans 1:18 to Romans 2:16 .

The structure of human salvation must base its pillars deep in the profound of human ruin. Of that ruin, therefore, the apostle furnishes a just but gloomy picture.

1. He first portrays the heathen world, illustrating man’s fall by the extremes of depravity to which condemning history shows that human nature can go, (Romans 1:18-32.)

2. Leaving this deep depravity of the heathen masses, and approaching the Jews by covered advances, he next takes the case of the more moralized yet inconsistent heathen, whose rebukes of vice condemn themselves, (Romans 2:1-10.)

3 . He touches the case of heathen who may be considered as keeping the law, (Romans 2:11-16.)

4. Having approached by ascending steps, he may now, without cause of offence, treat the case of the Jew, and through much and earnest debate with the Jew, conceptually present, he attains the conclusion that all are under sin, (Romans 2:17 to Romans 3:20.) Such being the Ruin, there comes a demand for the Remedy.

Verses 18-32



1. Condition of the heathen world, Romans 1:18 to Romans 2:16 .

The structure of human salvation must base its pillars deep in the profound of human ruin. Of that ruin, therefore, the apostle furnishes a just but gloomy picture.

1. He first portrays the heathen world, illustrating man’s fall by the extremes of depravity to which condemning history shows that human nature can go, (Romans 1:18-32.)

2. Leaving this deep depravity of the heathen masses, and approaching the Jews by covered advances, he next takes the case of the more moralized yet inconsistent heathen, whose rebukes of vice condemn themselves, (Romans 2:1-10.)

3 . He touches the case of heathen who may be considered as keeping the law, (Romans 2:11-16.)

4. Having approached by ascending steps, he may now, without cause of offence, treat the case of the Jew, and through much and earnest debate with the Jew, conceptually present, he attains the conclusion that all are under sin, (Romans 2:17 to Romans 3:20.) Such being the Ruin, there comes a demand for the Remedy.

Verse 19

19. Known The fact that man by understanding or conscience can know God’s truth, though it elevates his nature in the scale of being, does not diminish but increases the amount of his guilt and actual self-depravation. The very great wrong is that so noble an intrinsic nature, in its created elements, is abased by self-prostitution. The depravity does not lie in the will exclusively, as Tholuck suggests; but in the disordered affections first, and the will’s obeying and then redoubling the depravity of the affections, and spreading it over the whole nature.

Known of God The knowable things of God include not his substance, nor the fulness and mystery of his infinity, but his power, rectitude, and divine requirements over man.

Manifest in them Not merely among them collectively, but within each one individually. This does not affirm the existence in man of what is sometimes uncouthly styled the “God-consciousness.” It does not even affirm that man intuitively knows God’s existence. What it does affirm is explained in the next verse.

Verse 20

20. Invisible things God’s attributes, unseen by bodily eyes, are revealed to the understanding by things that are made. That is, from evidences of design and power seen in natural constructions the reason of man is able and is bound to infer God. From the time of the creation of the world, including the primitive ages, until now, those standing evidences of God have left man without excuse for not recognising his eternal power and Godhead. The syllable head in Godhead is the same as hood in manhood, so that the word signifies divinity.

The plain meaning of the apostle is, that the argument from external design (so conclusively stated by Paley) is so clear that men are excuseless from not knowing nature’s God. This is more noteworthy, as some at the present day, even claiming to be Christian philosophers, slight the design evidence as of no value, and rest the whole proof of God’s existence upon an intuitive and direct perception of God himself. That there are intuitions by which God is recognised we need not deny; but holy Scripture largely bases the assurance of the Divine existence upon the proofs derived from “the things that are made.”

Verse 21

21. Glorified him not The intuitions by which God is known are largely the moral. Not to recognise or believe in God is not, like the ignoring a person in history or a fact in science, purely an intellectual defect, but also a moral. In his unfallen state man deeply and perfectly knew his God with a knowledge of holy love. And by that knowledge and love of the Holy One, man’s whole nature was regulated in harmony with itself and with God. By the fall that knowledge and love became primitively dim and feeble. Then man, historically not liking the holy God, nor glorifying him, nor feeling thankful, the regulator was lost, and so by apostasy from God man’s whole nature went into moral ruin, and all the depravities resulted described by the apostle in the present chapter.

Vain in their imaginations Rather, their reasonings. God being dim to their perceptions, their reasonings in regard to him became foolish and wicked.

Heart was darkened So that the twilight of pantheism first came on, and then the midnight of atheism or idolatry. In pantheism God became as a universal mist, losing his true personality and his moral attributes. Then the universal pantheistic mist was separated into parts, and the figures of finite nature-gods and goddesses emerged, and so idolatry arose.

Verse 22

22. Wise In discarding the primitive belief in God the first proud pretenders claimed credit for great worldly wisdom.

Fools As the idolatrous and depraving results showed. When the Psalmist said, The fool saith in his heart there is no God, we have the same profession of superiority over the poor pietists who worship the Creator, and the same fact of the being a fool.

And precisely as this proud destitution of the religious sentiment grows, either atheism or idol-worship is asserted. In our own day it is affirmed by some would-be philosophers that even a religion may exist in the mind of an atheist; and others claim that the being an atheist is no depreciation of a man’s moral worth. Doubtless a man can exist with a purpose of obeying the law of right who does not positively believe in the existence of God. Yet, as before said, the non-acknowledgment of God is not merely an intellectual defect, but a moral delinquency in itself. It renders prayer and communion with the Holy One impossible; it destroys all view of a divine moral government, all trust in the rule of an omnipotent reason, all firm hope of an immortality and retribution beyond the grave. The spiritual and religious sentiments and emotions are lost, and the moral sentiments and purposes fed and sustained by these become withered and dead. Theories of sensualism, animalism, and base development succeed, and though a few philosophers may act the part of sages, statesmen, or philanthropists, yet the masses will plunge into lawlessness and bestiality. Thus professing to be wise, even the philosophic few will be found to be false philanthropists and fools.

Verse 23

23. Changed What unspeakable fools these self-conceited wise ones were is here unfolded. The glory of the incorruptible God they transformed into the basest shapes of man, birds, quadrupeds, and reptiles.

Man In Athens the most exquisite art was applied in shaping statues of human form into representatives of gods.

Birds In Egypt the ibis.

Four-footed beasts Dogs, cats, wolves, oxen, and crocodiles.

Creeping things The serpent worship is one of the most marvellous and most widely diffused of idolatries. Wherever these apostates from God discerned or imagined the nature-power manifesting itself peculiarly, as in some animals, there they bestowed their strange and degrading worship. At first it was perhaps the nature power conceived to inhere in the animal which they worshipped, but, sooner or later, not only the animal, but even the lifeless image, was worshipped as the very god.

Verse 24

24. God also gave them up The Divine Spirit, which loves to draw to itself the willing and susceptible human spirit, being thus abandoned, substituted, rejected, and repelled with insult, withdraws Himself and leaves the apostate to himself.

To uncleanness The spiritual in the man, unrefreshed and uninvigorated by the Divine Spirit, becomes faint and inert, and the animal reigns alone in power.

Dishonour their own bodies The animal grows in lust and exerts its utmost power in sensuality, ascertaining by shameful experiment the full extent to which debasement in man can go.

Dishonour their own bodies By unnatural and beastly practices they not only subject their bodies to what all pure minds hold to be infamy, but by effeminacy and vile diseases, the result of their abuse, they contract a permanent debasement to their persons.

Verse 25

25. Changed The apostle again refers to the primal cause of their deep plunges in unnatural animalism, their apostasy from God. They first dishonoured their Maker and then debased themselves.

Truth of God… lie So the Hebrew writers called an idol preeminently a lie, as basely falsifying the glorious truth of the Divine nature.

The creature The created object, whether deified animal or inanimate substance shaped into an idol.

More than Rather than, instead of.

Blessed A doxology asserting the Divine over all created nature.

Verses 26-27

26, 27 . The apostle, holding the intensity of depravation in the sexual direction to be both the most signal instance of man’s depth of wickedness, and, as in a manner, both the accompaniment and cause of every other wickedness, recurs to and expatiates over it with a fascinated abhorrence.

Verse 29

29. Filled with all unrighteousness When the sensual vices prevail the cruel and bloody vices are sure to accompany. When the laws of modesty are triumphantly set at naught, and men and women, glorying in shame, invent extravagant modes of sensuality, every other law, human and divine, is broken with the same triumphant license. Hence the apostle, after having fully pictured the sexual demoralization, proceeds to represent the moral anarchy that succeeds, in a list, with little recognisable order, of the vices of a heathenized community.

Fornication Omitted by best authorities, it is amply included in the previous verses.

Debate Strife.

Whisperers Secret slanderers.

Verse 30

30. Backbiters Open slanderers.

Haters of God Railers against religion and the Divine Being.

Inventors of evil things Not only doers of wrong, but fertile in inventing new forms of wickedness.

Verse 31

31. Without understanding Without common sense, because without moral sense.

Without natural affection Some professed Christians have imagined that Christian love to our neighbour requires us not to love our own family more than any other persons. This would require us to be without natural affection. As we would not require another man to love his family as little as he loves every body else, so others cannot make such requirement of us.

Verse 32

32. Knowing the judgment of God There are two knowledges ascribed by the apostle to the heathen as ennobling man’s nature, yet aggravating his guilt. One is the knowledge of God’s existence, and the other the knowledge of a just retribution. The knowledge and the wicked conduct go hand in hand. Yet man awakes to this consciousness distinctly after the guilt is incurred, and after his becoming inextricably involved in the meshes of destruction. Without a divine aid there is no hope for a single individual.

Worthy of death The capital punishment under the divine government.

Have pleasure They not only deliberately follow every temptation to sin themselves, but they delight in seeing others committing equal sin. So that they love sin not only for the pleasure it yields, but also for the very sake of its being sin. Total depravity (if the phrase must be used) is not true in the sense that man is as bad a being as possibly can be, a total black; for a mortal race so bad would naturally destroy each other, and so could not long exist. But it does mean that man is totally destitute of that love to God which his Spirit only can inspire, and totally unable to attain salvation without that Spirit through the grace of Christ. Yet this does not deny to man’s nature a conscience, aesthetical faculties, nor a susceptibility to the impressions of truth and to the influences of the Divine Spirit. Indeed, man’s soul is adapted for these influences, so that there is a truth in saying that “man is a religious being,” and even a truth, to be carefully guarded, in Tertullian’s maxim that “The human soul is naturally Christian.” Man sins and rejects the Gospel and the Spirit against his own nature. Christianity is the true complement to humanity. And just because man possesses these qualities his apostasies become guilty. Without them he might be, like brutes, or like created immutable fiends, incapable of responsibility. A possibility of becoming good, in some part of the individual being, is requisite in order to an accountability for being bad.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Romans 1". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.