Friday, February 18, 2011

Commentary on Scripture: Romans 1-2:1

Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God... to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 1:1-7 ~~ Paul's customary greeting is extended by subjunctive clauses and prepositional connectors, to include content on prophet ("the gospel... promised beforehand"), Christology ("concerning His Son, who was born a descendant of David, according to the flesh"), spiritual gifts ("through whom we have received grace and apostleship"), and salvation ("to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles").

Romans 1:s5 ~~ Paul received from Christ the efficacious grace and his apostolic authority to evangelize, to promote the words of the Lord.

Romans 1:8 ~~ The faith of the Roman church is already renown, even before the apostolic visit of Paul.

Romans 1:11-12 ~~ Paul desires to come "to "impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established." The next verse seems to indicate that the spiritual gift in question is the mutual encouragement of a shared faith.

Roman 1:16 ~~ There is no shame in the Gospel even among the Gentiles, though the Gospel is in time and in privilege "for the Jew first and also to the Greek."

Romans 1:18 ~~ This verse introduces the extended section on judgment that continues to Romans 1:32.  Paul's rhetorical strategy should become apparent at that point, but for now he is content to rail against the moral depravity of the pagans surrounding the church at Rome.

Romans 1:18-20 ~~ The wrath of God falls on the wicked because of the general revelation ("because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them"). This verse corresponds to the broad thesis, picked up in Romans 2, that divine judgment is in fact applied on a gradient, depending on one's knowledge and exposure to God (cf. Romans 2:12).

Romans 1:19 ~~ The pagan is punished for suppressing and disregarding the voice of conscience (cf. v. 21).

Romans 1:20 ~~ "His invisible attributes, His eternal power, and divine nature, have been clearly seen" from the tapestry of Creation.  This is the doctrine of general revelation: that, by the mere fact that we are created and can perceive other created beings, we bear witness to some limited knowledge of God.  In fact, Paul makes the case here that our knowledge from general revelation is far broader than is commonly understood, for from Creation we are able to discern some of the attributes, power, and even the ineffable nature, of God.

Romans 1:21 ~~ This limited knowledge of God among the pagans did not lead them to honor or give thanks to Him, but rather to "become futile in their speculations."  Blessed are the wounds of the Lion of Judah.  He certainly know how to put us theology buffs in our place.  The purpose of theology is to elucidate the nature of God, but this must always be subordinated to our absolute purpose as created beings to worship God: we should seek to know Him more, so that we might honor and love Him more.

Romans 1:23-25 ~~ The pagans worshiped physical idols and allowed the corruptible created order to overshadow the glory of the incorruptible Creator.  Therefore, God allowed their sin to corrupt and defile their physical bodies.  The punishment always suits the crime.

Romans 1:26-27 ~~ Interestingly, the "degrading passions" (which pretty unequivocally reference homosexual behavior) are treated here as a judgment for other sins, not as sins in themselves.  While these acts are described as "degrading," "unnatural," and "indecent," the focus of this passage is on the prior sins for which this conduct is suitable as a "due penalty."  The greater sin, the prior sin, is idolatry and the pagan focus on physical things.

Romans 1: 28-31 ~~ Just as God turned over idolaters to "degrading passions" of the body, so He "gave them over to a depraved mind."  What follows is a list of vices associated with this depravity of spirit, with an evil and rebellious intent.

Romans 1:32 ~~ Here is the key quote setting up the listeners for the rhetorical turn in the next verse.  These evildoers know the Law written on their hearts: from their own conscience and from general revelation.  They also know the just punishment for such sins is death.  Yet they "practice such things... but also give hearty approval to those who practice them" -- they abide in evil and encourage others in evil as well.

Romans 2:1 ~~ One of my favorite verses in the Bible from a rhetorical perspective.  Having established the utter depravity of the pagan unbelievers in Rome, Paul swiftly turns the tables on his listeners: "Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgments, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things."

Every reading of Romans 1 -- every proof-text of the list of sins or the errors of pagan idolatry or the depravity of homosexuality -- simply must be balanced in light of Romans 2:1, because that is their purpose.  The preceding verses are meant to make the believer indulge in his own self-righteousness, so that Paul can utterly eviscerate that pride and smug self-satisfaction in a single rhetorical leap. It is a brilliant performance, and an absolutely inspired reminder of the Biblical principle: judge not lest you be judged.  We'll see a major application of this principle to the doctrine of justification and salvation in the next chapter.

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