“And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.” Romans 1:28-32
I have often said that reading Romans 1:28-32 is like reading the daily newspaper, listening to the radio news or watching the evening newscast. I know saying that dates me since most people get their news online, on cable or satellite, or through social media 24-7 these days, but I still say it that way. There was a time when getting news was based on an appointment with the delivery time of a morning or afternoon newspaper or the top or bottom of the hour for radio news or 6pm for television news.
Newspapers, the “nightly” news and radio newscasts during the day were how we kept up with news decades ago. The delivery platforms for news have changed since the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s, but people have not. The attitudes and actions of people of the mid-20th century are the same as people in the early-21st century. In fact, people haven’t changed since the 1st century of Paul’s time or even the 21st century BC. People are, were and will continue to be exactly as Paul described them in Romans 1.
In our last study in Romans, we saw that people did not like to retain God in their knowledge, so God gave them over to a debased mind, “to do those things which are not fitting.” Here’s a look at the list again with the Greek words attached –
- μετήλλαξαν τὴν φυσικὴν χρῆσιν εἰς τὴν παρὰ φύσιν – “changed the natural use into that contrary to nature” (homosexuality)
- πεπληρωμένους πάσῃ ἀδικίᾳ – being filled with all unrighteousness
- πορνεια – fornication
- πονηρίᾳ – wickedness
- πλεονεξίᾳ – covetousness
- κακίᾳ, – malice
- μεστοὺς φθόνου – full of envy
- φόνου – murder
- ἔριδος – strife
- δόλου – deceit
- κακοηθείας – maliciousness
- ψιθυριστάς – gossips
- καταλάλους – slanderers
- θεοστυγεῖς – hateful to God
- ὑβριστάς – insolent
- ὑπερηφάνους – arrogant
- ἀλαζόνας – boastful
- ἐφευρετὰς κακῶν – inventors of evil things
- γονεῦσιν ἀπειθεῖς – to parents disobedient
- ἀσυνέτους – foolish
- ἀσυνθέτους – untrustworthy
- ἀστόργους – heartless
- ασπονδους – truce breaker
- ἀνελεήμονας – unmerciful
- συνευδοκοῦσιν τοῖς πράσσουσιν – are approving of those practicing them
It’s interesting to see that Paul started the list with sexual sins, both homosexuality and fornication. While homosexuality is changing the natural sexual use into what is contrary to nature, fornication (sexual immorality) is used for unlawful sexual intercourse (sexual relationship outside of heterosexual marriage) and the practice of idolatry. The word πορνεια (porneia) is used in several other places in Scripture, which is helpful to understanding the biblical view –
“But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits adultery.” Matthew 5:32
“For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.” Mathew 15:19
“And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.” Matthew 19:9
“For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders …” Mark 7:21
“You do the deeds of your father.’ Then they said to Him, ‘We were not born of fornication; we have one Father—God.” John 8:41
“… but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood.” Acts 15:20
“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles—that a man has his father’s wife!” 1 Corinthians 5:1
“Foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods, but God will destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.” 1 Corinthians 6:13
“Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband.” 1 Corinthians 7:2
“… lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and I shall mourn for many who have sinned before and have not repented of the uncleanness, fornication, and lewdness which they have practiced.” 2 Corinthians 12:21
“But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints …” Ephesians 5:3
“Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” Colossians 3:5
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality …” 1 Thessalonians 4:3
“And I gave her time to repent of her sexual immorality, and she did not repent.” Revelation 2:21
“And another angel followed, saying, ‘Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.” Revelation 14:8
“… with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication.” Revelation 17:2
“The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication.” Revelation 17:4
“For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich through the abundance of her luxury.” Revelation 18:3
“For true and righteous are His judgments, because He has judged the great harlot who corrupted the earth with her fornication; and He has avenged on her the blood of His servants shed by her.” Revelation 19:2
Some translations of Romans 1:29 leave out the words “fornication” or “sexual immorality” –
“They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity.” NIV
“They are filled with every kind of unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, malice.” NET
“Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy …” NLT
“They are filled with all unrighteousness, evil, greed, and wickedness. They are full of envy …” HCSB
“They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice.” ESV
The reason is that those and other translations use Greek manuscripts that do not include πορνεια (porneia). Here is Romans 1:29 from four Greek manuscripts –
“πεπληρωμενους παση αδικια πορνεια πονηρια πλεονεξια κακια μεστους φθονου φονου εριδος δολου κακοηθειας ψιθυριστας” 1550 Stephanus New Testament (TR1550)
“ πεπληρωμενους παση αδικια πορνεια πονηρια πλεονεξια κακια μεστους φθονου φονου εριδος δολου κακοηθειας ψιθυριστας” 1894 Scrivener New Testament (TR1894)
“πεπληρωμενους παση αδικια πονηρια πλεονεξια κακια μεστους φθονου φονου εριδος δολου κακοηθειας ψιθυριστας” 1881 Westcott-Hort New Testament (WHNU)
“πεπληρωμένους πάσῃ ἀδικίᾳ πονηρίᾳ πλεονεξίᾳ κακίᾳ, μεστοὺς φθόνου φόνου ἔριδος δόλου κακοηθείας, ψιθυριστάς SBL Greek New Testament (SBLGNT)
You’ll notice that the Stephanus and Scrivener texts include πορνεια, while the Westcott-Hort and SBL texts do not. That is why some English translations do not include the words “fornication” or “sexual immorality” with the Romans 1:29-32 list of sins.
All of the Greek texts have these words – πεπληρωμένους πάσῃ ἀδικίᾳ. ἀδικίᾳ (adikia) means “not justice” and is often translated as “unrighteousness.” Paul may have used it as an overarching statement in the sense of every vice contrary to justice and righteousness (Adam Clarke Commentary). What follows are specifics of that statement.
πονηρίᾳ is translated “wickedness” in the NKJV and other versions. Some translations use the word “evil” for poneria. The Greek words porneia and poneria sound almost the same, but they come from different roots.
porneía comes from pórnos (used for a male prostitute) which comes from pernaō. pernaō means “to sell off.” The English word “pornography” comes from porneía.
ponēría comes from pónos (“pain, laborious trouble)” which comes from pónos (pain). The idea is the pain that comes from bad or criminal behavior.
πλεονεξία (pleoneksía) comes from pleíōn (higher number or value) and éxō (have). It is the strong desire, lust, for more temporal things. An English understanding of “covetousness” is wrong desire for wealth or possessions – being greedy. It also carries the idea of coveting what other people have.
κακίᾳ (kakía) comes from kakopoiéō (a wicked disposition). The idea of having an inherent presence of evil even when not expressing it outwardly. Some English translations use the word “malice” or “maliciousness.” Others use “evil.”
Full of Envy
μεστοὺς φθόνου (mestos phthónos) means to be filled with envy and spite, “carrying a grudge, feeling of ill will.” The word phthónos is similar to the word phtheírō (corrupt, decay, break down). This envy comes from jealousy and includes the desire to raise oneself while lowering the person envied.
φόνου (phónos) is homicide that is both intentional and unjustified.
I want to pause here to think back to something we’ve read many times before, but this time read it with Paul’s list to this point in mind: all unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, malice, full of envy, murder.
“So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.’ Cain told Abel his brother. And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is Abel your brother?’ And he said, ‘I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?’ He said, ‘What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground. Now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. When you cultivate the ground, it will no longer yield its strength to you; you will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth.’ Cain said to the Lord, ‘My punishment is too great to bear! Behold, You have driven me this day from the face of the ground; and from Your face I will be hidden, and I will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.’ So the Lord said to him, ‘Therefore whoever kills Cain, vengeance will be taken on him sevenfold.’ And the Lord appointed a sign for Cain, so that no one finding him would slay him. Then Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden.” Genesis 4:3-16
Do you see the progression of “all unrighteousness” in Cain’s heart and mind? Cain became jealous, envious, covetous of his brother, Abel, and it grew into anger and a plot to murder.
God warned Cain, but Cain didn’t listen. God gave Cain over to a debased mind, to do what he wanted to do. God explained the choices Cain had before him – “do well” and “not do well.” God told Cain what would happen if he chose “not do well” – “sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you.” God gave Cain valuable insight to making the better choice – “you must master it.” God gave Cain every opportunity to do well, but Cain chose to “not do well” and murder his brother.
Paul began his list with sexual sin, then proceeded into the sins of the heart that led to the first violent crime on earth – brother murdered brother.
In the next part of our study of Romans 1:28-32, we will continue looking at the progression of “all unrighteousness” from those God gave over to a debased mind.
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”