Romans – The Gospel of God (Part 50)

For 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. 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. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.” Romans 1:18-23

Paul makes many powerful points in his opening remarks to the church in Rome. The current context is God’s wrath revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.

Why? “… who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”

Why? “… because what may be known of God is manifest in them.”

Why? “… for God has shown it to them.”

How?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? “… so that they 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.”

Knowledge?

Even though the descendants of the first human beings “knew God,” they did not “glorify Him as God, nor were thankful.” It’s important to note here that the type of knowledge (γινώσκω) people had of God was not a “saving” knowledge. It is clear in the context that people “knew” God but did not glorify Him as God. They “knew” God but were not thankful to Him. That is still true today.

Think about that statement for a moment. They “knew” God but “did not” glorify Him as God. They “knew” God but were “not thankful” to Him. Knowing something as grand and glorious as the Creator God and refusing to give Him the glory due Him and not being thankful to Him for all He has created and given will lead a person to a very bad place. Why? Because it takes an action of the mind and heart to refuse to glorify and be thankful. Paul said that what they did was “suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” The word “suppress” is  κατέχω and means “hold down, hold fast, bind, restrain.” It’s in the active voice, which means it is a choice that people make. Even they knew the “truth” (ἀλήθειαν), they chose to suppress it “in unrighteousness.”

Wise or Foolish?

That response to the knowledge of God they had within them led to their thoughts becoming “futile” and their foolish hearts “darkened.”  That is what we find with the first group of humans before the flood (Genesis 4-6) and the second group of humans after the flood (Genesis 7-11). Each group “knew” God,  but did not glorify Him as God, were not thankful to God, and suppressed the truth in unrighteousness.

That is certainly an apt description of what we find in our human world today. It is the effect of sin on the mind and heart of every human being. How far did that effect go? We see in Paul’s next words –

Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.” 

φασκοντες ειναι σοφοι εμωρανθησαν και ηλλαξαν την δοξαν του αφθαρτου θεου εν ομοιωματι εικονος φθαρτου ανθρωπου και πετεινων και τετραποδων και ερπετων

What a contrast – “professing to be wise, they became fools.” The word “professing” is a translation of the Greek word φάσκω and means “assert, affirm, profess.” The idea here is that people made their profession with confidence. Vincent comments that the verb is used of “unfounded assertion” (Marvin Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, Volume III, 1887).

They asserted that they were “wise.” The Greek word is σοφοὶ. Aristotle viewed sophia as mental excellence in its highest and fullest sense (Metaphysics). That was a common idea in Greek philosophy during the time Paul was writing to the Romans. However, God views human wisdom as foolishness thinking that leads to foolish behavior – “they became fools.”

The Hebrew word for “fool” is כְּסִיל (kesil) and comes from the word כָּסַל (kasal), which means “to be or become stupid.” Understanding how God viewed fools and foolishness in the Old Testament will help us understand how Paul used the terms in the New Testament. Here are a few examples of the use of kesil in the Old Testament. The first example clearly connects to Paul’s use of the word in Romans 1 –

Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.” Proverbs 26:12

O Lord, how great are Your works! Your thoughts are very deep. A senseless man does not know, Nor does a fool understand this.” Psalm 92:5-6

Understand, you senseless among the people; And you fools, when will you be wise? He who planted the ear, shall He not hear? He who formed the eye, shall He not see? He who instructs the nations, shall He not correct, He who teaches man knowledge? The Lord knows the thoughts of man, That they are futile.” Psalm 94:8-11

How long, you simple ones, will you love simplicity? For scorners delight in their scorning, And fools hate knowledge.” Proverbs 1:22

A wise son makes a glad father, But a foolish son is the grief of his mother.” Proverbs 10:1

To do evil is like sport to a fool, But a man of understanding has wisdom.” Proverbs 10:23

“The wisdom of the prudent is to understand his way, But the folly of fools is deceit. Fools mock at sin, But among the upright there is favor.” Proverbs 14:8-9

The lips of the wise disperse knowledge, But the heart of the fool does not do so.”Proverbs 15:7

The Greek word Paul used for “fool” is ἐμωράνθησαν – “they became fools.” The primary verb, μωραίνω (mórainó) means “to taint, make foolish, make useless.” It comes from the adjective μωρός (móros) – “stupid, foolish” – which is similar to the Hebrew word above. We get the English adjective “moronic” and the noun “moron” from the Greek word. It carried the idea of being dull of understanding, nonsensical, lacking a grip on reality.

Change God’s Glory?

Paul was saying that even though people “professed” themselves to be wise, they were in fact “foolish” – dull of understanding, lacking a grip on what was real. God was real, but people didn’t want to embrace real truth, so they became “fools.” What that caused them to do was unthinkable, but it happened and continues to happen to this day –

Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.” 

They “changed the glory of the incorruptible God …” That’s a truly remarkable statement. How can mere human beings “change” the glory of the invisible, almighty, incorruptible God? The word “change” in Greek is ἀλλάσσω (allassó) and means “alter, exchange, transform.” It’s in the active voice, which means people did the exchanging.

Note the definition – exchange. That’s the key to understanding what happened within the human race. People cannot “change” anything about God. Mortal, corruptible, time-limited human beings have no power to impact the immortal, incorruptible, eternal God in any way and they certainly can’t “change” anything about Him. However, they can “exchange” the glory they owe Him for something else and that’s what they did –

“… and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.” 

Instead of worshipping the Creator, people worshiped the creature. That seems unthinkable, but it’s true. It is a demonstration of how far the “fall” took the human race into the “sin nature.” As we study the most ancient civilizations we find people worshiping images made like corruptible men and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. I have written about that in more detail in A History of Man’s Quest for Immortality, so we’ll look at just a few examples here.

Ancient Images 

As you search through books and websites about ancient gods and goddesses it becomes clear that people loved to worship themselves. So many of the images were of men and women, sometimes with wings, sometimes holding snakes. Some of the images had the body of a human, but the head of an animal or bird. Some had the upper body of a human and the lower body of an animal, fish, bird, etc. Many of the images were in the form of birds, four-footed animals and creeping things. That is how human beings who had been created in God’s image and likeness chose to worship. They chose to worship the creature rather than the Creator.

Most of the ancient religions were polytheistic with scores, hundreds or even thousands of deities. Many had a hierarchy of gods that are referred to as the “pantheon” of gods. What do you see when you look at the “chief” gods of ancient religions?

  • men
  • women
  • human heads on animal bodies
  • animal heads on human bodies
  • bird heads on human bodies
  • human heads on bird bodies
  • human heads on fish bodies
  • human heads on dragon bodies
  • bull heads on human bodies
  • fish heads on human bodies
  • snake heads on dragon bodies
  • lion heads on dragon bodies
  • lioness heads on human bodies
  • baboon heads on human bodies
  • jackal heads on human bodies
  • demon heads (half man/half monster)
  • dogs
  • cats
  • bulls
  • cows
  • monkeys
  • baboons
  • dragons
  • fish
  • crocodiles
  • snakes

That’s what people “exchanged” for worship of the true God – “… and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.” 

How did the Almighty God respond to that action by His creatures? So far in our study we’ve seen several sets of powerful phrases  that describe in great detail how God views the spiritual lostness and need of humanity. In the next part of our study in Romans we will see one of the most explosive statements in all the Bible – one that continues to rock our world.

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

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