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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
Romans 1

 

 

Other Authors
Verse 1-2

Romans 1:1-2. Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ — Though once a bitter persecutor; called to be an apostle — And made an apostle by that calling. The Greek, κλητος αποστολος, is literally, a called apostle, or an apostle called, namely, expressly, as the other apostles were. When God calls he makes what he calls. The name apostle was sometimes given to different orders of men, Romans 16:7, but in its highest sense it was appropriated to the twelve, whom Christ appointed to be with him, Mark 3:14, and whom, after his resurrection, he sent forth to preach the gospel. As the Judaizing teachers disputed his claim to the apostolical office, it is with great propriety that he asserts it in the very entrance of an epistle wherein their principles are entirely overthrown. And various other proper and important thoughts are suggested in this short introduction: particularly the prophecies concerning the gospel; the descent of Jesus from David; the great doctrines of his Godhead and resurrection; the sending the gospel to the Gentiles; the privileges of Christians; and the obedience and holiness to which they were obliged, in virtue of their profession. Separated unto the gospel of God — Namely, to preach and propagate it. Separated by God, not only from the generality of other men, from other Jews, from other disciples, but even from other Christian teachers, to be a peculiar instrument of God in spreading the gospel. It is said, Acts 13:2, Separate me Barnabas and Saul, for the work whereunto I have called them. But, this being nothing but a separation of Paul from the teachers at Antioch, to go and preach to the Gentiles, the higher separation, mentioned Galatians 1:15, is here intended. The gospel is here said to be God’s, because it is good news from God, than which a greater commendation of it cannot be conceived. Which he had promised afore — Of old time, frequently and solemnly: and the promise and accomplishment confirm each other. The promise in the Scriptures, that the gospel should be preached to the Gentiles, is taken notice of by the apostle, to convince the unbelieving Jews that in preaching to the Gentiles he did not contradict, but fulfil the ancient revelations.


Verses 3-6

Romans 1:3-6. Concerning his Son Jesus Christ — The gospel is good news from God, concerning the coming of his Son to save the world. The Son of God, therefore, is the subject of the gospel, as well as its author: who was made — Gr. του γενομενου, who was, or, who was born, as the word also properly signifies; of the seed of David according to the flesh — That is, with regard to his human nature. Both the natures of our Lord are here mentioned; but the human is mentioned first, because the divine was not manifested in its full evidence till after his resurrection. And declared — Gr. του ορισθεντος, determinately marked out; the word signifies, to fix the boundaries of a thing, and consequently to make it appear what it is; to be the Son of God — In a peculiar sense, in a sense in which no creature, man or angel, is or can be his Son; see Hebrews 1:2-12; according to the Spirit of holiness — His holy, spiritual, divine nature. “The phrase, κατα πνευμα αγιωσυνης, according to the Spirit of holiness,” says Mr. Locke, “is here manifestly opposed to κατα σαρκα, according to the flesh, in the foregoing verse,” and so must mean his divine nature; “unless this be so understood, the antithesis is lost.” With power — Powerful evidence, or in the most convincing manner; by the resurrection from the dead — That is, by his own resurrection, not by his raising others. Jesus being put to death as a blasphemer, for calling himself the Christ, the Son of the blessed, God would not have raised him from the dead, if he had been an impostor; especially as he had often foretold his own resurrection, and appealed to it as a proof of his being the Son of God, John 2:19. His resurrection, therefore, was a public testimony, borne by God himself, to the truth of our Lord’s pretensions, which put the matter beyond all doubt. By whom we — I and the other apostles; have received grace — Enlightening, pardoning, and sanctifying grace; and apostleship — The apostolical commission to preach grace, and salvation by grace, to Jews and Gentiles. Some, by grace and apostleship, understand the grace, or favour of apostleship. But that rendering is not literal; and it is certain that Paul did receive grace to enlighten his mind, pardon his sins, and subdue his heart to the obedience of Christ, and fit him for the ministry of the gospel, before he received the apostolical commission, whenever we suppose that commission to have been dated. For obedience to the faith among all nations — That is, that all nations may embrace the faith of Christ; for his name — For his sake, out of regard to him, or on account of his being the Son of God. For name may here signify the character of Christ, as the Son of God, and Saviour of the world. This name Paul was appointed to bear, or publish, before the Gentiles and kings, and the children of Israel, Acts 9:15; and it is on account of this name or character, that all men are bound to obey him. Among whom — The nations brought to the obedience of faith; are ye — Romans; also — But the apostle gives them no pre-eminence above others; the called of Jesus Christ — Invited by him into the fellowship of his gospel, and a participation of all its invaluable blessings.


Verse 7

Romans 1:7. To all that be in Rome — To all the Christians residing at Rome. Most of these were heathen by birth, Romans 1:13, though the Jews mixed among them. They were scattered up and down in that large city, and not yet reduced into the form of a church. Beloved of God — And from his free love, not from any merit of yours; called to be saints — Or saints called, as κγητοις ανιοις may be rendered; that is, called by his word and Spirit to believe in him, and now, through faith, made saints, or holy persons. By this honourable appellation the Christians are distinguished from the idolatrous inhabitants of the city, and from the unbelieving Jews. Grace be to you — The peculiar favour of God, and the influences and fruits of his Spirit; and peace — Namely, with him, in your own consciences, and tranquillity of mind, arising from the regulation of your affections, from trusting in him, and casting your care upon him; from resignation to his will, and possessing your souls in patience under all the trials and troubles which you may be called to pass through. See Romans 5:1; Isaiah 26:3; Philippians 4:6. In this sense, it seems, the word peace is used in the apostolic benedictions. It may, however, also include all manner of blessings, temporal, spiritual, and eternal. From God our Father — The original source of all our blessings, who is now become our reconciled Father, having adopted us into his family, and regenerated us by his grace; and the Lord Jesus Christ — The one Mediator between God and man, through whose sacrifice and intercession we receive all the blessings of providence and grace. It is one and the same peace, and one and the same grace, which we receive from the Father and from the Son: and our trust must be placed, for grace and peace, on God, as he is the Father of Christ; and on Christ, as he reconciles us and presents us to the Father. “Because most of the Roman brethren were unacquainted with Paul, he judged it necessary, in the inscription of his letter, to assure them that he was an apostle, called by Jesus Christ himself, and that he was separated to preach the gospel to the Gentiles, in fulfilment of the promises which God had made by the prophets in the Scriptures, that the gospel should be preached to them. These circumstances he mentions, to remove the prejudices of the believing as well as of the unbelieving Jews, who, he knew, were displeased with him for preaching the gospel to the Gentiles. Withal, because the church of Rome had not been planted by any apostle, he instructed them in some particulars concerning the nature and character of Christ, which it was of great importance for them to know.” — Macknight.


Verse 8

Romans 1:8. I thank — In the very entrance of this one epistle are the traces of all spiritual affections, but of thankfulness above all, with the expression of which almost all Paul’s epistles begin; my God — This word expresses faith, hope, love, and consequently all true religion; through Jesus Christ The gifts of God all pass through Christ to us; and all our petitions and thanksgivings pass through Christ to God: for you all, that your faith is spoken of — By this term faith, the apostle expresses either the whole of Christianity, as Colossians 1:3, &c, or some branch of it, as Galatians 5:22. And in the beginning of his epistles he generally subjoins to the apostolic benediction a solemn thanksgiving for the faith, or for the faith, love, patience, and other graces of the brethren to whom he wrote, to make them sensible of their happy state, and to lead them to a right improvement of the advantages which they enjoyed as Christians. Throughout the whole world — The faith of these Romans, being faith in the Lord Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah expected by the Jews, and in the living and true God through him, included, of course, their turning from every species of idolatry; an event which could not fail to be spoken of with wonder through the whole empire, as there were multitudes of strangers continually coming to Rome from the provinces, who, on their return home, would report what they had seen. This event would be especially made the subject of conversation in the churches everywhere, through all parts of the empire, it being matter of joy to them all that the religion of Christ was professed in the imperial city, more especially as it was a most happy presage of the general spread of their holy religion; the conversion of the Romans encouraging the inhabitants of other cities to forsake the established idolatry, and turn to God. And, indeed, the wisdom and goodness of God established faith in the chief cities, in Jerusalem and in Rome particularly, that from thence it might be diffused to all nations. Add to this, that Rome being the metropolis of the world, the conversion of so many of its inhabitants brought no small credit to the evidences of the gospel.


Verses 9-12

Romans 1:9-12. For God is my witness — In saying I am thankful for your conversion, I might be well supposed to speak the truth, such an event being perfectly agreeable to the continual tenor of my petitions to God; whom I serve — Not only as a Christian, but as an apostle; with my spirit — With my understanding and conscience, will and affections, yea, with all the faculties of my soul, as well as with all the members of my body. Or, as the expression may be rendered, in my spirit, exercising faith in him, love to him, humility before him, resignation to his will, and zeal for his glory; in the gospel of his Son — To promote the success of which is the whole business of my life; that without ceasing I make mention of you in my prayers — In my solemn addresses to God; making request δεομενος, entreating; if by any means, now at length — This accumulation of particles declares the strength of his desire; that I may impart to you — Face to face, by laying on of my hands, preaching the gospel, prayer, private conversation; some spiritual gift — With such gifts the Corinthians, who had enjoyed the presence of St. Paul, abounded, 1 Corinthians 1:7; 1 Corinthians 12:1, &c.; Romans 14:1. So did the Galatians likewise, Galatians 3:5. And indeed all those churches which had the presence of any of the apostles, had peculiar advantages in this kind from the laying on of their hands, Acts 19:6; Acts 8:17, &c.; 2 Timothy 1:6. But, as yet, the Christians at Rome were greatly inferior to them in this respect; for which reason the apostle, in the 12th chapter, where he has occasion to mention gifts, says little, if any thing, of any extraordinary spiritual gifts possessed by any of them. He therefore desires to impart some to them, that they might be established in their Christian faith, and fortified against all temptations, either to renounce or dishonour it. For by these gifts the testimony of Christ was confirmed to the members of the churches. That Peter had no more been at Rome than Paul, at the time when this epistle was written, appears from the general tenor thereof, and from this place in particular. For otherwise, the gifts which Paul wishes to impart to the believers at Rome, would have been imparted already by Peter. That is, that I may be comforted together with you — As I have great reason to believe we shall be; by the mutual faith both of you — Whose faith will be strengthened and confirmed by these gifts; and me — Whose faith will be encouraged and increased when I see believers established, and unbelievers converted by these gifts. As often as the apostles communicated spiritual gifts to their disciples, it was a new proof to themselves of God’s presence with them, and an additional confirmation of their mission from God in the eyes of others, both of which, no doubt, gave them great joy. In this passage, we see the apostle not only associates the Romans with, but even prefers them before, himself. How different is this style of the apostle from that of the modern court of Rome!


Verses 13-15

Romans 1:13-15. Now, brethren — Lest ye should be surprised that I, who am the apostle of the Gentiles, and who have expressed such a desire to see you, have never yet preached in Rome; I would not have you ignorant — I wish to inform you; that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you — See the margin. But was let (prevented) hitherto — Either by the greater necessities of others, as Romans 15:22, or by the Spirit, Acts 16:7, or by Satan raising opposition and persecution, or otherwise hindering, 1 Thessalonians 2:2; 1 Thessalonians 2:18. That I might have some fruit — Of my ministerial labours; by the conversion of some, and the confirmation and edification of others; even as — I have already had from the many churches I have planted and watered, among other Gentiles, Romans 15:18-19. I am debtor both to the Greeks, &c. — Being the apostle of the Gentiles, I am bound to preach both to the Greeks, however intelligent, and to the barbarians, however ignorant. Under the name Greeks, the Romans are comprehended, because they were now become a learned and polished people. For the meaning of the name barbarian, see the note on Acts 28:2, and 1 Corinthians 14:11; both to the wise and the unwise — For there were unwise even among the Greeks, and wise even among the barbarians; and Paul considered himself as a debtor to them all; that is, under an indispensable obligation, by his divine mission, to preach the gospel to them; bound in duty and gratitude to do his utmost to promote the conversion and salvation of men of every nation and rank, of every genius and character. So, as much as in me is — According to the ability which God gives me, and the opportunities with which he is pleased to favour me; I am ready, and desirous, to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also — Though it be the capital of the world, a place of so much politeness and grandeur, and a place likewise where it might seem peculiarly dangerous to oppose those popular superstitions to which the empire is supposed to owe its greatness and felicity: yet still, at all events, I am willing to come and publish this divine message among you; though it should be at the expense of my reputation, my liberty, or life.


Verse 16

Romans 1:16. For — In whatever contempt that sacred dispensation, and they who publish it, may be held on account of the circumstances and death of its Author, the character of its ministers, and the nature and tendency of its doctrines; I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ — But rather glory in it. To the world, indeed, it appeared folly and weakness, 1 Corinthians 1:18; 1 Corinthians 1:23. Therefore, in the judgment of the world, he ought to have been ashamed of it; especially at Rome, the head and theatre of the world. But Paul was not ashamed of it, knowing it to be the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth — The great and gloriously powerful means of saving all who accept salvation in God’s own way, namely, the way of faith in Jesus, as the Son of God and Saviour of the world, and in the declarations and promises of God made through him: faith preceded by repentance toward God, accompanied by love to God and all mankind, and productive of all inward and outward holiness. To the Jew first — Who is far from being above the need of it, and to whom, by the special command of the Lord, it is to be first proposed and preached, wherever its ambassadors come; yet it is not to be limited to the Jew, but proclaimed also to the Greek — And the Roman, and Gentiles of every nation under heaven, who are all, with equal freedom, invited to partake of its important benefits. There is a noble frankness, as well as a comprehensive sense, in these words of the apostle; by which, on the one hand, he shows the Jews their absolute need of the gospel, and, on the other, tells the politest and greatest nation of the world, both that their salvation depended on receiving it, and that the first offers of it were in every place to be made to the despised Jews. As the apostle comprises the sum of the gospel in this epistle; so he does the sum of the epistle in this and the following verses. With regard to the names, Jews and Greeks, it maybe proper to observe here, that “after Alexander’s generals had established their empire in Egypt and Asia, the inhabitants of these countries were considered as Greeks, because they generally spake the Greek language; and, as the Jews were little acquainted with the other idolatrous nations, they naturally called all the heathens Greeks. Hence in their language, Jews and Greeks comprehended all mankind.” — Macknight.


Verse 17

Romans 1:17. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed — This expression sometimes means God’s essential, eternal righteousness, including both his holiness and justice, especially the latter, of which, together with his mercy, the word is explained, Romans 3:26; where we read, To declare his righteousness: that he might be just and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus; this his essential righteousness being eminently shown in condemning sin, and in justifying the penitent, believing sinner. But frequently the expression means that righteousness by which a man, through the grace of God, is accounted and constituted righteous, or is pardoned and renewed, namely, the righteousness of faith, of which the apostle speaks, Philippians 3:9, terming it the righteousness which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness of God (Gr. εκ θεου, from God) by faith: namely, acquittance from guilt, remission of sins, or justification through faith in Christ; or, as he expresses himself, Romans 4:5-8, faith imputed for righteousness, namely, through Christ’s obedience unto death, who was delivered for our offences, and raised for our justification. See this matter more fully explained in the notes on Romans 3:20-25; Romans 9:30-31; and Romans 10:3-9. The meaning of the apostle, in the verse now under consideration, would be more manifest if his words were more literally translated, which they are by Doddridge and Macknight, thus: For in it (namely, the gospel) the righteousness of God by faith is revealed to our faith, or, in order to faith. “This translation,” says the latter of these divines, “which results from construing the words properly, affords a clear sense of a passage which, in the common translation, is absolutely unintelligible. Besides, it is shown to be the right translation by other passages of Scripture, in which the expression, δικαιοσυνη εκ πιστεως, righteousness by faith, is found, Romans 3:22; Romans 9:30; Romans 10:6; Philippians 3:9. Righteousness by faith is called the righteousness of God, 1st, Because God hath enjoined faith as the righteousness which he will count to sinners, [through the mediation of his Son,] and hath declared that he will accept and reward it as righteousness. 2d, Because it stands in opposition to the righteousness of men: which consists in sinless obedience to the law of God. For if men gave that obedience, it would be their own righteousness, and they might claim reward as a debt.” We may observe, further, the righteousness of faith is termed the righteousness of God, because God appointed and prepared it, reveals and gives, approves and crowns it. It is said to be revealed, because, whereas it was but obscurely intimated to the Jews, in the covenant with Abraham, and in the types of the Mosaic law; it is now clearly manifested in the gospel to all mankind. The expression, in our translation, from faith to faith, is interpreted by some of a gradual series of still clearer and clearer discoveries; but the translation of the clause given above, namely, the righteousness of God by faith is revealed in order to faith, seems evidently to express better the apostle’s meaning. As it is written — St. Paul had just laid down three propositions: 1st, Righteousness is by faith, Romans 1:17; Romans 2 d, Salvation is by righteousness, Romans 1:16; Romans 3 d, Both to the Jews and to the Gentiles, Romans 1:16. Now all these are confirmed by that single sentence, The just shall live by faith: which was primarily spoken of those who preserved their lives, when the Chaldeans besieged Jerusalem, by believing the declarations of God, and acting according to them. Here it means, he shall obtain the favour of God, and continue therein, by believing. The words, however, may with propriety be rendered, The just by faith, that is, they who by faith are just, or righteous, (as δικαιοι signifies,) shall live. “This translation is agreeable both to the order of the words in the original, and the apostle’s design; which is to show that the doctrine of the gospel, concerning a righteousness by faith, is attested even by the prophets. Besides, it represents Habakkuk’s meaning more truly than the common translation. For in the passage from which the quotation is made, Habakkuk describes the different dispositions of the Jews about the time they were threatened by the Chaldeans. Some of their souls were lifted up; they presumptuously trusted in their own wisdom and power, and, contrary to God’s command, refused to submit to the Chaldeans, and were destroyed. But the just, or righteous, by faith, who believed God and obeyed his command, lived. However, as the reward of faith is not confined to the present life, persons who are just or good, by believing and obeying God, shall certainly live eternally.” — Macknight.


Verse 18

Romans 1:18. For, &c. — There is no other way of obtaining righteousness, life, and salvation. Having laid down this proposition, the apostle now enters upon the proof it. His first argument is, the law, whether of nature or of supernatural revelation, condemns all men as having violated it, and as being under sin. No one, therefore, is justified by the works of the law. This is treated of to Romans 3:20. And hence he infers, therefore, justification is by faith. The wrath of God is revealed — Here and in the preceding verse mention is made of a two-fold revelation, of wrath and of righteousness: the former, little known to nature, is revealed by the law; the latter, wholly unknown to nature, by the gospel. The wrath of God, due to the sins of men, is also revealed by frequent and signal interpositions of divine providence; in all parts of the Sacred Oracles; by God’s inspired messengers, whether under the Jewish or Christian dispensations; and by the consciences of sinners, clearly teaching that God will severely punish all sin, whether committed against God or man; from heaven — This speaks the majesty of Him whose wrath is revealed, his all-seeing eye, his strict and impartial justice, and the extent of his wrath: whatever is under heaven, is under the effects of his wrath, believers in Christ excepted; against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men — He speaks chiefly of the heathen; and the term ungodliness seems especially to refer to their atheism, polytheism, and idolatry, comprehending, however, every kind and degree of impiety and profaneness; and unrighteousness includes their other miscarriages and vices, their offences against truth, justice, mercy, charity toward one another, with their various acts of intemperance and lewdness. According to which sense of the words, they are distinctly treated of by the apostle in the following verses. Who hold the truth in unrighteousness — Which word here includes ungodliness also; that is, who, in some measure at least, know the truth, but do not obey it, acting in opposition to their knowledge, and the conviction of their own consciences. Or, as the word κατεχοντων properly signifies, who detain, or imprison, as it were, the truth in unrighteousness. He thus expresses himself, because the truth made known, in some degree, struggles against men’s wickedness, reproves them for it, dissuades them from it, and warns them of punishment impending over it. All mankind, even the heathen, have been and are acquainted with many truths concerning moral duties, due to God, their fellow-creatures, and themselves. But, not hearkening to the voice of these truths, but resisting their influence, and disregarding their warnings, they have been and still are more or less involved in guilt, and exposed to condemnation and wrath. Dr. Macknight, who translates this clause, who confine the truth by unrighteousness, thinks the apostle speaks chiefly with a reference to the philosophers, legislators, and magistrates among the Greeks and Romans, who concealed the truth concerning God from the vulgar, by their unrighteous institutions. “The meaning,” says he, “is, that the knowledge of the one true God, the Maker and Governor of the universe, which the persons here spoken of had attained by contemplating the works of creation, they did not discover to the rest of mankind; but confined it in their own breasts as in a prison, by the most flagrant unrighteousness. For they presented, as objects of worship, beings which are not by their nature God; nay, beings of the most immoral characters; and by so doing, as well as by the infamous rites with which they appointed these false gods to be worshipped, they led mankind into the grossest errors, concerning the nature and attributes of the proper object of their worship. This corrupt form of religion, though extremely acceptable to the common people, was not contrived and established by them. In all countries they were grossly ignorant of God, and of the worship which he required. — They therefore could not be charged with the crime of concealing the truth concerning God. The persons guilty of that crime were the legislators, who first formed mankind into cities and states, and who, as the apostle observes, Romans 1:21, though they knew God, did not glorify him as God, by making him the object of the people’s worship, but unrighteously established polytheism and idolatry as the public religion. Of the same crime the magistrates and philosophers were likewise guilty, who, in after times, by their precepts and examples, upheld the established religion. Of this number were Pythagoras, Socrates, and Plato, whom, therefore, we may suppose the apostle had here in his eye. For although these men had attained [in some degree] the knowledge of the true God, none of them worshipped him publicly, neither did they declare him to the people, that they might worship him. Plato himself held that the knowledge of the one God was not to be divulged. See Euseb., Præpar. Evang., lib. 10. cap. 9. And in his Timæus, he says expressly, ‘It is neither easy to find the Parent of the universe, nor safe to discover him to the vulgar, when found.’ The same conduct was observed by Seneca, as Augustine hath proved from his writings, De Civit. Dei., lib. 6. cap. 10. The same Augustine, in his book, De Vera Relig., cap. 5, blames the philosophers in general, because they practised the most abominable idolatries with the vulgar, although, in their schools, they delivered doctrines concerning the nature of the gods, inconsistent with the established worship.”


Verse 19-20

Romans 1:19-20. Because that which may be known of God — Those great principles which are indispensably necessary to be known, such as his existence, his unity, his power, his wisdom, his goodness, and his righteous government of the world; is manifest in, or rather among, them — As ευ αυτοις should be here rendered: for God hath showed it to them — By the light which lightens every man that cometh into the world, John 1:9. The apostle’s assertion is confirmed by the writings of the Greek and Latin philosophers still remaining. See note on Romans 1:21. For the invisible things of him — His spiritual nature and infinite perfections, called his invisible things, partly in opposition to the heathen deities, who being all corporeal, their being and properties were things invisible; and partly because they cannot be seen, except in their effects, by men’s bodily eyes; from the creation of the world — From the visible creation, from the heavens and the earth, from the sea and dry land, from plants and animals, from men’s own bodies, fearfully and wonderfully made, and especially from their intelligent, free, and immortal minds. Or the meaning may be, Since, or, from the time of the creation of the world; for the apostle does not use the preposition εκ, by, but απο, from, or, ever since, the creation. Thus Dr. Whitby understands the expression, observing, “It seems not to signify the means by which they came to the knowledge of God, for these are afterward expressed, but rather to import, that from the beginning of the world the heathen had the means of knowing the true God from the works of creation; so απ αρχης κοσμου is, from the beginning of the world, Matthew 24:21; and απο καταβολης κοσμου from the foundation of the world, Matthew 13:35.” Are clearly seen — By the eye of the mind, being understood — They are seen by them, and them only, who use their understanding. The present tense, καθοραται, are clearly seen, denotes the continued manifestation of the being and perfections of God, by the works of creation from the beginning; agreeably to Psalms 19:1, The heavens declare the glory of God. By the things that are made — “In this mundane system, every thing is so formed, that to the pious among the vulgar, God himself appears to be the author of all the operations of nature. But they who have obtained a partial knowledge of what is called natural philosophy, have, from the discovery of some second causes, been led to fancy, that the whole system may be accounted for without the intervention of a Deity. This is what the apostle calls, Romans 1:21, becoming vain in their imaginations, or rather, foolish in their reasonings. Those, however, who have made the greatest advances in true philosophy know, that second causes, properly speaking, are no causes, because they have no efficiency in themselves, but are set in motion by God. And thus the most perfect philosophy always ends where the natural sense of mankind begins.” Even his eternal power and Godhead — “The true God, being eternal, is thereby distinguished from the fictitious gods of the heathens, who all had a beginning; the most ancient of them being represented as coming out of chaos, and their birth being sung by the heathen poets. Of the particular attributes of God, the apostle mentions only his power, because the effects of the divine power are what first strike the senses of men, and lead them most directly to the acknowledgment of a Deity. The word θειοτης, Godhead, denotes every thing comprehended in the idea of God, namely, his unity, incorporeity, immutability, knowledge, wisdom, justice, &c.; all which, together with God’s eternal power, the apostle affirms every intelligent person may understand, by the things which are made.” Macknight. So that they are without excuse — And would be destitute of every just or plausible apology for themselves, if he should enter into judgment with them.


Verses 21-23

Romans 1:21-23. “Because that when they knew God — The writings of Plato, Xenophon, Plutarch, Cicero, and other philosophers, which still remain, together with the quotations made by Just. Martyr and Clem. Alexandrinus from those which are lost, prove that the learned heathen, though ignorant of the way of salvation, were not entirely unacquainted with the unity and spirituality of God, and had pretty just notions of his perfections, of the creation and government of the world, and of the duties which men owe to God and to one another. Their sin, therefore, in worshipping idols, and in concealing the true God from the vulgar, did not proceed so much from ignorance as from corruption of heart.” They glorified him not as God — Did not esteem him, pay homage to him, or worship and serve him in a manner worthy of him, and consistent with those apprehensions they had, or might have had, of him; neither were thankful — Grateful for his benefits. As the true God was not the object of the popular religion, no public thanksgivings were offered to him in any heathen country; and with respect to the private conduct of individuals, though there are still extant hymns in honour of the heathen gods, written by Orpheus, Homer, Pindar, and Horace, who were themselves philosophers as well as poets, we have never heard of any psalm or hymn composed by any heathen poet or philosopher in honour of the true God. It is observable, that thankfulness to God for his mercies, is here represented as a principal branch of religion, and undoubtedly no principle can be nobler, nor can any have a greater or more extensive influence. But became vain in their imaginations — Absurd, stupid, and ridiculous in their reasonings, concerning God’s nature and worship; entangling themselves with a thousand unprofitable subtleties, which only tended to alienate their minds more and more from every truly religious sentiment and disposition. And their foolish, ασυνετος, their undiscerning, unintelligent, imprudent heart was darkened — Instead of being enlightened by these sophistries, it was more and more involved in ignorance and error, and rendered impenetrable to the simplicity of the most important truths. What a terrible instance have we of this in the writings of Lucretius! What vain reasonings, yet how dark a heart, amid pompous professions of wisdom! Professing themselves to be wise — Greek, φασκοντες ειναι σοφοι, saying that they were wise; “cum se dicerent, aut se dici sinerent sapientes:” when they called, or suffered themselves to be called, wise men. — Grotius. It evidently refers to their assuming the philosophic character, and to the pride they took in the title of wise men, or lovers of wisdom. They became fools — Degrading, in the lowest and most infamous manner, the reason which they so arrogantly pretended to improve, and almost to engross. Thus the apostle finely ridicules that ostentation of wisdom which the Greek philosophers made, by taking to themselves the name of wise men. And his irony was the more pungent, in that it was put into a writing addressed to the Romans, who were great admirers of the Greeks. And changed, &c. — As if he had said, As their folly and wickedness were evident in a variety of other vices, in which these heathen philosophers joined with the vulgar, so particularly in the early and almost universal prevalence of idolatry among them; for they changed the glory — The unutterable glory, of the incorruptible and immortal God — (the word αφθαρτος means both) all the majestic splendours, in which he shines forth through earth and heaven, into an image, made by their own hands, like to corruptible and mortal man — Which, how elegantly soever it might be formed, was an abominable and insufferable degradation of the infinitely perfect and eternal Godhead, had their folly proceeded no further. But, not content with this, they set up as emblems of Deity and objects of worship, brute creatures and their images: birds, four-footed beasts, and creeping things — Even such vile reptiles as beetles, and various kinds of serpents, which creep on the dust. The learned Egyptians in particular, as is well known, worshipped dogs, snakes, nay, and even vegetables. We may observe here, 1st, That the word corruptible, applied to man, signifies not only his being liable to dissolution, but to moral pollution; and the term incorruptible, applied to God, signifies that he is not liable to either. 2d, “The great evil of the heathen idolatry consisted in their setting up the images of men and beasts in their temples as representations of the Deity, by which the vulgar were led to believe that God was of the same form, nature, and qualities with the animals represented by these images. And the persons who thus changed the glory of God were not the common people among the Greeks, but the legislators, magistrates, priests, and philosophers; for they were the persons who framed the public religion in all the heathen countries; who established it by their laws, and recommended it by their example.” — Macknight.


Verse 24-25

Romans 1:24-25. Wherefore God gave them up — As a punishment of this most unreasonable and scandalous idolatry, God withdrew his restraining grace from them as he did from the antediluvians, Genesis 6:3; the consequence of which was, that their lusts excited them to commit every sort of uncleanness. The truth is, a contempt of religion is the source of all wickedness. And ungodliness and uncleanness particularly are frequently united, 1 Thessalonians 4:5, as are the knowledge of God and purity. Observe, reader, one punishment of sin is from the very nature of it, as Romans 1:27; another, as here, is from vindictive justice. Who changed the truth of God — Those true conceptions which they had of him by nature; into a lie — False opinions of him, and the worship of idols. And they represented his true essence, his incorruptible and immortal nature, by images of men and brute creatures, which are fitly called a lie, as being most false representations of the Deity, who does not resemble them in any respect whatever. Hence idols are called lying vanities, Psalms 31:6. And every image of an idol is termed a teacher of lies, Habakkuk 2:18. And worshipped and served the creature — And not only God’s creatures, but their own creatures, the images which their own hands had made. The former expression, εσεβασθησαν, signifies inward veneration, reverence, esteem, and such like qualities felt in the mind. The latter word, εγατρευσαν, denotes the paying outward worship and service to beings thought to be gods. The heathen gave both to their idols, reverencing and respecting them inwardly, and performing various acts of outward worship to them, in token thereof. More than the Creator, who is blessed for ever — Who is eternally glorious, and to whom alone all honour and praise everlastingly belong. Amen — It is an undoubted truth, and to him let it be ascribed accordingly.


Verse 26-27

Romans 1:26-27. For this cause — To punish them for their inexcusable neglect, or contempt rather, of the ever-blessed God; and for all their idolatries and impieties; God gave them up unto vile affections — Abandoned them to the most infamous passions, to which the heathen Romans were enslaved to the last degree, and none more than the emperors themselves. For even their women — From whom the strictest modesty might reasonably be expected; did change the natural use of their bodies into that which is against nature — Prostituting and abusing them in the most abominable manner. Likewise also the men burned in their lust one toward another — “How just the apostle’s reflections are, and how pertinently he has placed this most abominable abuse of human nature at the head of the vices into which the heathen world were fallen, will be seen, if we observe that Cicero, the greatest philosopher in Rome, a little before the gospel was preached, in his book concerning the nature of the gods, (where may be found a thousand idle sentiments upon that subject,) introduces, without any mark of disapprobation, Cotta, a man of the first rank and genius, freely and familiarly owning, to other Romans of the same quality, this worse than beastly vice, as practised by himself; and quoting the authority of ancient philosophers in vindication of it. See lib. 1. sec. 28. Nay, and do we not even find the most elegant and correct, both of the Greek and Latin poets, avowing this vice, and even celebrating the objects of their abominable affection? Indeed, it is well known that this most detestable vice was long and generally practised, by all sorts of men, philosophers and others. Whence we may conclude that the apostle has done justice to the Gentile world in the other instances of their corruption.” — Dodd. Receiving in themselves that recompense of their error — Their idolatry; which was meet — Being punished with that unnatural lust, which was as horrible a dishonour to their bodies as their idolatry was to God, and with various bodily infirmities, disorders, and sufferings consequent on such abominable practices, rendering their lives most miserable on earth, and bringing them to an untimely grave, and an eternal hell. The reader will observe, “the apostle is not speaking simply of the Greeks committing the uncleanness which he mentions, but of their lawgivers authorizing these vices by their public institutions of religion, by their avowed doctrine, and by their own practice. With respect to fornication, the heathen actually made it a part of the worship of their deities. At Corinth, for example, as Strabo informs us, lib. 8. p. 581, there was a temple of Venus, where more than a thousand courtesans (the gift of pious persons of both sexes) prostituted themselves in honour of the goddess; and that thus the city was crowded, and became wealthy. In the court of the temple of Venus, at Cnidus, there were tents placed under the trees for the same lewd purposes. Lucian., Dial. Amores. With respect to sodomy, it is not so commonly known that it was practised by the heathen as a part of their religious worship; yet, in the history which is given of Josiah’s endeavours to destroy idolatry, there is direct evidence of it, 2 Kings 23:7. That the Greek philosophers of the greatest reputation were guilty not only of fornication, but even of sodomy, is affirmed by ancient authors of good reputation. With the latter crime, Tertullian and Nazianzen have charged Socrates himself, in passages of their writings quoted by Estius. The same charge Athenæus, a heathen writer, hath brought against him, Deipnosophist, lib. 13.; not to speak of Lucian, who, in many passages of his writings, hath directly accused him of that vice. When, therefore, the statesmen, the philosophers, and the priests, notwithstanding they enjoyed the light of nature, improved by science, thus avowedly addicted themselves to the most abominable uncleannesses; nay, when the gods whom they worshipped were supposed by them to be guilty of the same enormities; when their temples were brothels, their pictures invitations to sin, their sacred groves places of prostitution, and their sacrifices a horrid mixture of superstition and cruelty; there was certainly the greatest need of the gospel revelation, to make mankind sensible of their brutality, and to bring them to a more holy practice. That some, professing Christianity, are guilty of the crimes of which we have been speaking, is true. But it is equally true, that their religion does not, like the religion of the heathen, encourage them in their crimes; but deters them, by denouncing, in the most direct terms, the heaviest wrath of God against all who are guilty of them. Besides, the gospel, by its divine light, hath led the nations to correct their civil laws; so that in every Christian country these enormities are prohibited, and when discovered are punished with the greatest severity. The gospel, therefore, hath made us far more knowing, and, I may add, more virtuous, than the most enlightened and most polished of the heathen nations were formerly.” — Macknight.


Verses 28-31

Romans 1:28-31. And as they did not like ουκ εδοκιμασαν, they did not approve, to retain God in their knowledge — Or rather, as εχειν εν επιγνωσει more properly signifies, to retain him with acknowledgment. For it is proved above that they were not wholly without the knowledge of God in the world: but they did not acknowledge him as they ought; did not use or improve the knowledge they had of him to the purposes for which it had been vouch-safed. Or, as Dr. Macknight interprets it, They “did not approve of holding God as the object of the people’s acknowledgment and worship, but approved of the worship of false gods and of images, as more proper for the vulgar; and on that account substituted idolatry in place of the pure, spiritual worship of the one true God, and established it by law.” Therefore God gave them over to a reprobate mind αδοκιμον νουν, an undiscerning, or injudicious mind; a mind not perceiving or approving what is good, either in principle or practice; a mind void of all proper knowledge and relish of what is excellent, treated of Romans 1:32. Men of this stamp are said, Ephesians 4:19, to be απηλγηκοτες, without feeling. To do things not convenient — Even the vilest abominations, treated of Romans 1:29-31. Being filled with all unrighteousness — Or injustice. This stands in the first place, unmercifulness in the last. Fornication includes here every species of uncleanness; wickedness πονηρια, a word which implies a disposition to injure others by craft. Hence the devil is called ο πονηρος, the wicked one, by way of eminence; covetousness πλεονεξια, an inordinate desire to have more than God sees proper for us, which, the apostle says, is idolatry, Colossians 3:5; maliciousnessκακια, a disposition to injure others from ill-will to them, or which delights in hurting another, even without any advantage to one’s self; full of envy — Grieving at another’s welfare, or rejoicing at his hurt; debate —

εριδος, strife, contention, quarrelling; deceit — Or guile, fraud; malignityκακοηθειας, a bad disposition, or evil habit; a disposition, according to Aristotle, to take every thing in the worst sense; but, according to Estius, the word denotes asperity of manners, rudeness; whisperers

Such as secretly defame others; backbiters καταλαλους, revilers, such as openly speak against others in their absence; haters of God — Especially considered as holy and just, as a lawgiver and judge; persons under the power of that carnal mind which is enmity against him; enemies in their minds, says the apostle, by wicked works; deniers of his providence, or accusers of his justice in their adversities; despiteful υβριστας, violent, or overbearing in their behaviour to each other; or persons who commit injuries with violence, or who oppress others by force; proud — Persons who value themselves above their just worth; or who are elated on account of their fortune, or station, or office, or endowments, natural or acquired; boasters αλαζονας, persons who assume to themselves the reputation of qualities which they do not possess; inventors of evil things — Of new pleasures, new ways of gain, new arts of hurting, particularly in war; disobedient to parents — Either natural or political, not willingly subject to lawful authority; a sin here ranked with the greatest crimes. Without understanding — Who act like men void of reason; covenant-breakers — False to their promises, oaths, and engagements. It is well known, the Romans, as a nation, from the very beginning of their commonwealth, never made any scruple of vacating altogether the most solemn engagement, if they did not like it, though made by their supreme magistrate, in the name of the whole people. They only gave up the general who had made it, and then supposed themselves to be at full liberty! Without natural affection — The custom of exposing their own new-born children to perish by cold, hunger, or wild beasts, which so generally prevailed in the heathen world, particularly among the Greeks and Romans, was an amazing instance of this; as is also that of killing their aged and helpless parents, now common among the American heathen. Implacable — Persons who, being once offended, will never be reconciled. The original word ασπονδους, from σπονδη, a libation, “is used to signify irreconcilable, because, when the heathen made their solemn covenants, by which they bound themselves to lay aside their enmities, they ratified them by a sacrifice, on which they poured a libation, after drinking a part of it themselves.” Unmerciful — Unfeeling, unforgiving, or pursuing their schemes of cruelty and revenge, whenever they got any new opportunity of doing it.


Verse 32

Romans 1:32. Who, knowing the judgment δικαιωμα, the righteousness, or righteous judgment, or appointment; of God — And because God’s law is founded in righteousness, and is the rule thereof to us, the word is often used in Scripture to denote an ordinance, statute, or particular law, Numbers 27:11; Numbers 31:21; and in the plural, the appointments, or institutions of God moral, or ceremonial, Luke 1:6; Romans 2:26; Hebrews 9:1; even those which were purely ceremonial, Hebrews 9:10. Here the word signifies the law of God written on men’s hearts, called by philosophers the law of nature, and by civilians, the law of nations. For the Greeks could know no other law of God, being destitute of revelation; that they which commit such things are worthy of death — God hath written on the hearts of men not only his law, but the sanction of his law. For the fear of punishment is inseparable from the consciousness of guilt. Further, that the heathen knew that the persons guilty of the crimes mentioned here by the apostle merited death, is evident from the laws which they enacted for punishing such persons with death. Not only do the same — Allow themselves in the practice of these sins; but have pleasure in them that do them — Approve, encourage, and patronise them in others, and even take pleasure in their committing them. This is the highest degree of wickedness. A man may be hurried by his passions to do the thing he generally hates. But he that has pleasure in those that do evil, loves wickedness for wickedness’ sake; and thereby he encourages them in sin, and heaps the guilt of others upon his own head. In this stricture, Dr. Macknight thinks “the apostle glances at the Greek legislators, priests, and philosophers, who, by their institutions, example, and presence, encouraged the people in the practice of many of the debaucheries here mentioned, especially in the celebration of the festivals of their gods.”

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Romans 1:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/romans-1.html. 1857.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, September 15th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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