Romans 1:18-32

New International Version

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

This passage in Paul’s letter to the Romans is pivotal, serving as the foundation for his theological argument regarding human sinfulness and the necessity of God’s righteousness. The passage focuses on the significance of acknowledging God’s revelation, honoring Him as the Creator, and guarding against moral decay resulting from suppressing the truth.

The Wrath of God Revealed

In verse 18, Paul introduces a central theme of this passage: “the wrath of God.” He states that this wrath is “revealed from heaven.” The wrath of God is not a concealed or inactive attribute but is actively manifested in response to human sinfulness.1 The phrase “from heaven” signifies its divine origin and authority.

The objects of God’s wrath are identified as “ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” This encompasses both a lack of reverence for God (ungodliness) and moral wrongdoing (unrighteousness). Human rebellion against God leads to the suppression of truth. This suppression is not merely ignorance but a willful distortion and rejection of the truth.2 The theologian Leon Morris also underscores the deliberate nature of this suppression, highlighting its significance in understanding human accountability.3

Natural Revelation

In verses 19 and 20, Paul discusses the concept of natural revelation. He asserts that what can be known about God is evident to humanity because “God has shown it to them.” This knowledge is not hidden or inaccessible but is plain and observable. This revelation is available to all human beings through creation itself, making them accountable for their response to it.4 William Barclay similarly emphasized the clarity of this revelation, stating that it is “there for all to see”.5

Paul specifies that God’s “invisible attributes” are made known through creation, particularly His “eternal power and divine nature.” The created order serves as evidence of God’s existence, His omnipotence, and His divine character. Robert Mounce highlighted that this revelation has been accessible “ever since the creation of the world,” emphasizing its timeless and universal nature.6

Paul concludes this section by asserting that those who reject this natural revelation are “without excuse.” The Greek term “anapologētous” suggests that they lack a valid defense for their unbelief. This passage addresses the question of the salvation of those who have not heard the gospel, highlighting the responsibility of all humanity to respond to the revelation in creation.7 Barclay echoes this sentiment, emphasizing that no one can plead ignorance in the face of such clear evidence.8

Suppressing the Truth

In verse 21, Paul elaborates on the consequences of humanity’s rejection of natural revelation. He begins by stating that “although they knew God,” they failed to honor Him as God or express gratitude toward Him. This marks the turning point in their rebellion against God. This knowledge of God is not merely intellectual but implies a relationship and recognition of His existence.9

The failure to honor and give thanks to God leads to a downward spiral in human thinking. Paul describes this descent as becoming “futile in their thinking” and having “foolish hearts…darkened.” This spiritual decline affects the intellect, emotions, and moral sense of humanity, resulting in spiritual blindness.10 Morris further elaborates on the consequences of this rejection, highlighting the interconnectedness of knowledge, acknowledgment, and worship.11

Claiming Wisdom, Becoming Fools

In verse 22, Paul highlights the irony of humanity’s rebellion. Those who claimed to be wise in their rejection of God’s revelation ultimately became fools. This foolishness is not a lack of intellectual capacity but a moral and spiritual foolishness that stems from rejecting God’s truth.12 Leon Morris expands on this concept, emphasizing that the rejection of God leads to a “twisted outlook” and a “perverse reasoning”.13

Idolatry and Debasement

In verse 23, Paul identifies a key consequence of humanity’s rejection of God: idolatry. Instead of worshiping the one true God, they exchanged His glory for the worship of created beings and images. Mounce points out that this exchange reflects a fundamental shift in allegiance from the Creator to the created.14 The degrading nature of this idolatry, highlighting the downward progression from worshiping human-like figures to animals and creeping things.15

God’s Response to Idolatry

Verse 24 introduces God’s response to idolatry and the rejection of His truth. Paul states that “God gave them up” to the desires of their hearts, specifically to “impurity.” This divine response is not an outpouring of wrath but a removal of restraint, allowing humanity to experience the consequences of their rebellion.16 Robert Mounce echoes this understanding, emphasizing that God’s wrath is not an arbitrary punishment but the natural outcome of sin.17 Sin carries its own penalty, and God’s giving up is a withdrawal of His restraining influence.18

The Lie and the Truth

In verse 25, Paul emphasizes the exchange of the truth of God for a lie. Those who rejected God’s revelation ended up worshiping and serving created things rather than the Creator. Idolatry is fundamentally a lie, as it involves worshiping something that is not God.19

Homosexuality and Consequences

Verses 26 and 27 address the issue of homosexuality. Paul describes it as a consequence of humanity’s rejection of God. He notes that women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones, and likewise, men abandoned natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another. Paul’s language is clear in condemning homosexual behavior as contrary to God’s created order.20 Barclay adds historical context, noting that while Greco-Roman society tolerated homosexuality, it was regarded as an abomination in Jewish culture.21

Debased Mind and Unrighteousness

In verse 28, Paul continues to describe the consequences of humanity’s rejection of God. Because they did not acknowledge God, He gave them up to a debased mind. This debased mind is characterized by moral and intellectual distortion, leading to actions that should not be done. Mounce emphasizes that a reprobate mind has lost its moral discernment.22

The Catalog of Sin

Verses 29-31 present a comprehensive catalog of various sins resulting from humanity’s moral degradation. This list includes unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice, envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness, gossip, slander, hatred of God, insolence, haughtiness, boasting, invention of evil, disobedience to parents, foolishness, faithlessness, heartlessness, and ruthlessness. It illustrates the depth and extent of human sinfulness, covering sins against God and fellow humans.23

Knowledge of God’s Decree

In verse 32, Paul concludes by highlighting the knowledge of God’s righteous decree among those who engage in sinful behaviors. They are aware that those who practice such things deserve judgment and death. Despite this knowledge, they not only continue in their sinful actions but also give approval to others who do the same.

Notes

  1. John R. W. Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 76–79. ↩︎
  2. Robert H. Mounce, Romans, vol. 27, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1995), 76–86. ↩︎
  3. Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1988), 74–90. ↩︎
  4. Stott, The Message of Romans, 76–79. ↩︎
  5. William Barclay, The Letter to the Romans, 3rd ed. fully rev. & updated., The New Daily Study Bible (Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 28–38. ↩︎
  6. Mounce, Romans, 76–86. ↩︎
  7. Stott, The Message of Romans, 76–79. ↩︎
  8. Barclay, The Letter to the Romans, 28–38. ↩︎
  9. Mounce, Romans, 76–86. ↩︎
  10. Stott, The Message of Romans, 76–79. ↩︎
  11. Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, 74–90. ↩︎
  12. Stott, The Message of Romans, 76–79. ↩︎
  13. Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, 74–90. ↩︎
  14. Mounce, Romans, 76–86. ↩︎
  15. Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, 74–90. ↩︎
  16. Stott, The Message of Romans, 76–79. ↩︎
  17. Mounce, Romans, 76–86. ↩︎
  18. Morris, The Epistle to the Romans, 74–90. ↩︎
  19. Stott, The Message of Romans, 76–79. ↩︎
  20. Mounce, Romans, 76–86. ↩︎
  21. Barclay, The Letter to the Romans, 28–38. ↩︎
  22. Mounce, Romans, 76–86. ↩︎
  23. Stott, The Message of Romans, 76–79. ↩︎