“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” Romans 1:20-21

It’s important as we study Romans that we don’t miss God’s purpose when He inspired Paul to write it. God is revealing Himself to those He created in His “image” and “likeness” (Genesis 1:26-27).

So far we have seen that –

  • The “gospel of God” which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerns “His Son Jesus Christ our Lord”
  • Jesus Christ was declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, “by the resurrection from the dead”
  • Those who believe in Christ and are called saints are “beloved of God”
  • The Gospel of Christ is the “power of God to salvation for everyone who believes”
  • The righteousness of God is revealed “from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith”
  • The wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against “all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them”

When did God begin revealing Himself?

“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead.”

The word “invisible” (ἀόρατα) speaks of something that exists without being subject to being seen. The words “are clearly seen” (καθορᾶται) means to see something clearly and with perception. The “invisible” God can be seen clearly and understood (νοούμενα) “by the things that are made” (τοῖς ποιήμασιν). What can be known of God (His revelation of Himself) is both His “eternal power and Godhead” (ἀΐδιος αὐτοῦ δύναμις καὶ θειότης).

God intended for His creatures (human beings) to know Him. He “caused” for that to be so. God created humans to clearly see and understand His eternal power and Deity.

Some people ask why God is “hidden.” He is NOT hidden. He revealed Himself clearly by what He created. That includes “the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). What we see on earth, in the sky and in the distant heavens is a revelation of God’s eternal power and Godhead. Even though sin has tainted much of what we see (e.g. death, decay), God’s eternal power and Deity are still clear and understood by what we see.

In our last study we saw six of the most powerful words in the Bible – “so that they are without excuse.” As we saw “they” includes every human being who has ever lived on earth. All people are “without” excuse. Why?

“… because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

διοτι γνοντες τον θεον ουχ ως θεον εδοξασαν η ευχαριστησαν αλλ εματαιωθησαν εν τοις διαλογισμοις αυτων και εσκοτισθη η ασυνετος αυτων καρδια


Let’s spend a moment on the key word “knew.” The Greek word is γνοντες and means “come to know, learn, realize.” It is the idea of knowledge that comes through personal experience. Adam and Eve “knew” God personally. Cain and Abel “knew” God personally. They all had personal experiences with God. It is in the aorist tense, active voice, nominative case. The literal would be “having known.” Each of them had had past experiences with God. They “knew” Him.

The same is true with everyone who descended from Adam and Eve. According to Genesis 5, Adam lived 130 years and “begot” Seth. He lived 800 years after Seth was conceived. “So all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years; and he died.” That means Adam was a living testimony to the existence of God to many generations before he died. The descendants of Adam and Eve would “have known” God. That included the lineage of Cain and Seth. Everyone.

Paul wrote that they were all without excuse “because.” This is important. There is a reason why every person who has ever lived is “without excuse.”

because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful”

Wow! Let that sink in for a moment.

Even though they “knew” God. They “knew” God! God was not a fantasy to them. He wasn’t a dream. He wasn’t a myth or legend. He wasn’t a fairytale. He was “real” to them! They “knew” Him! And how did they respond to that knowledge of God? “… they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful …”

ουχ ως θεον εδοξασαν η ευχαριστησαν


They did not “glorify” Him as God. The word “glorify” in the Greek is εδοξασαν and means “glorify, honor, bestow glory on.” The verb is aorist tense, indicative mood, active voice. It is something that the subject (“they”) did in the past. It was a self-determined action. They chose not to glorify God.

What does it mean to “glorify” God? The word εδοξασαν comes from dóksa which comes from dokeō – “exercising personal opinion which determines value.” They did not VALUE God!

How can you not value God? He is the Creator! The people named in the early chapters of Genesis “knew” God but did not value Him? The Greek word corresponds to the Hebrew word כָּבוֹד (kabowd) which means “to be heavy”. Think about the “weight,” the “value” God has. He is Supreme, Sovereign, and Perfect. He is the Necessary Being and all else is dependent (contingent) on Him.


The word “thankful” is ηὐχαρίστησαν. It is also aorist tense, indicative mood, active voice. Humanity chose not to be thankful to God for what He had done for them.

What happened when the human race, who knew God, did not glorify Him as God and were not thankful?

“… but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.”

ἀλλ' ἐματαιώθησαν ἐν τοῖς διαλογισμοῖς αὐτῶν καὶ ἐσκοτίσθη ἡ ἀσύνετος αὐτῶν καρδία

Futile, Foolish and Darkened

The word “futile” is a translation of the Greek word ἐματαιώθησαν. It comes from the word μάταιο, which means “vain, unproductive, godless.” The idea of ἐματαιώθησαν is to become vain or foolish, perverted.  The verb is aorist tense, indicative mood, and passive voice. It is something that happened in the past “to” the subject rather than “by” the subject. Something caused the “thoughts” of people to become “futile.” The Greek word is διαλογισμοῖς and means “calculation, reasoning, thought, movement of thought, deliberation, plotting.” It comes from διαλογίζομα (reason, debate, consider).

The words “foolish hearts” are ἀσύνετος αὐτῶν καρδία (foolish of them heart). ἀσύνετος (foolish) means “unintelligent, unwise, undiscerning.” As for καρδία (heart), ancient Greeks viewed the heart as being the center of their character that contained their inner self – their will and intention. Because people did not glorify God as God and were unthankful, they became unproductive in their thinking and unwise in their character. That is not an attractive picture of people.

The word for “darkened” is ἐσκοτίσθη. It comes from  σκότος, which was used for physical and moral darkness. The verb is aorist tense, indicative mood, and passive voice. Like the word “futile,” it is something that happened in the past “to” the subject rather than “by” the subject. Something “darkened” the hearts of people.

So, what acted on the human race to become “futile in their thoughts” and “darkened” in their hearts? Romans 1:18 is the thematic statement –

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.”


Ungodliness and unrighteousness is what acted on the minds and hearts of people. Why do people “hold the truth in unrighteousness”? Because of the action of sin in their lives. It is because of the action and results of sin that humanity has been and continues to be lost in moral darkness. It is because of the action and results of sin that people treat people inhumanely.

This truth is not hard to support from historical evidence. We begin with the biblical view of history –

“Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Genesis 6:5

The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, They have done abominable works, There is none who does good. The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men, To see if there are any who understand, who seek God. They have all turned aside, They have together become corrupt; There is none who does good, No, not one.” Psalm 14

Surely every man walks about like a shadow; Surely they busy themselves in vain; He heaps up riches, And does not know who will gather them.” Psalm 39:6

Remember how short my time is; For what futility have You created all the children of men?” Psalm 89:7

The Lord knows the thoughts of man, That they are futile.” Psalm 94:11

The wicked will see it and be grieved; He will gnash his teeth and melt away; The desire of the wicked shall perish.” Psalm 112:10

Do not put your trust in princes, Nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help. His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; In that very day his plans perish.” Psalm 146:3-4

When a wicked man dies, his expectation will perish, And the hope of the unjust perishes.” Proverbs 11:7

We have heard of the pride of Moab— He is very proud— Of his haughtiness and his pride and his wrath; But his lies shall not be so. Therefore Moab shall wail for Moab; Everyone shall wail.” Isaiah 16:6-7

“The voice said, ‘Cry out!’ And he said, ‘What shall I cry?’ ‘All flesh is grass, And all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, Because the breath of the Lord blows upon it; Surely the people are grass.” Isaiah 40:6-7

Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘The broad walls of Babylon shall be utterly broken, And her high gates shall be burned with fire; The people will labor in vain, And the nations, because of the fire; And they shall be weary.” Jeremiah 51:58

For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their own craftiness” and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” 1 Corinthians 3:19-20

This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.” Ephesians 4:17-29

[One of the primary historical areas of human futility and foolishness is the worship of idols. Paul will address that in the next part of our study in Romans.]

To find futility and foolishness of humanity from the annals of human history will not take long because they are found at every turn of the page. I spent years studying the history of multiple ancient civilizations in preparation for writing A History of Man’s Quest for Immortality (Fifth Estate, 2007). What I found across the world’s history was stark evidence of man’s inhumanity to man. Jealousy and covetousness led to theft, slavery, strife, deceit, violence, physical and emotional domination, and murder. And for what? Nothing of any lasting value. As Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes –

“Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. What profit has a man from all his labor In which he toils under the sun? One generation passes away, and another generation comes; But the earth abides forever.” Ecclesiastes 1:2

We will continue to look at the results of sin acting on the human mind and heart in the next part of our study of Romans.

“Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”