1. Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle. In keeping with the ancient way of starting a letter, the apostle begins by stating his name and office. It was his office that gave him the right to address the believers at Rome, and elsewhere, with that authoritative tone which pervades all his letters. Speaking as Christ’s messenger, he spoke as Christ spoke, as one who had authority, and not as an ordinary teacher.
The apostle’s original name was Saul, and he was first called Paul in Acts 13:9. Since this change of name is mentioned in the paragraph about the conversion of Sergius Paulus, the proconsul of Cyprus, some have supposed that Paul took his name to compliment this distinguished convert. This supposition does not seem to be in accord with Paul’s character and is, on other grounds, less probable than either of the following two suggestions.
First, it was not unusual for a Jew to change his name as a result of some remarkable event, as in the case of Abraham and Jacob (Genesis 17:5, and 32:28), or when appointed to a new position (Genesis 41:45; Daniel 1:6-7). Thus a new name is sometimes equivalent to a new appointment (Revelation 2:17). So it may be that the apostle received the name Paul when he was called to the office of apostle. This supposition is supported by the argument that he received his name soon after he started to exercise his apostleship in public; also by the fact that Simon was called Cephas when he was called to be an apostle (John 1:42), and James and John were called Boanerges (Mark 3:17). Hence Theophylact says that Saul was called Paul in order that, even in this matter, he should not fall behind the most important of the apostles.
Second, it was very common for Jews who had frequent dealings with the heathen to have two names, one Jewish and the other Greek or Roman. Sometimes these names were quite different from each other, like Hillel and Pollio, and sometimes they were closely related, like Silas and Silvanus. It is most likely that this was the case with the apostle. He was called Saul among the Jews, and Paul among the Gentiles; and as he was the apostle to the Gentiles the latter name became his common designation. As this change was, however, made or announced at a decisive moment in the apostle’s life (see Acts 13:9), the two explanations may be joined together. “The only supposition,” says Dr. J. A. Alexander in his comment on Acts 13:9, “which is free from all these difficulties, and affords a satisfactory solution of the facts in question, is that this was the time fixed by divine authority for Paul’s manifestation as the apostle of the Gentiles, and that this manifestation was made more conspicuous by its coincidence with his triumph over a representative of unbelieving and apostate Judaism, and the conversion of an official representative of Rome, whose name was identical with his own apostolic title.”
In calling himself a servant (bondsman) of Christ Jesus, he may have intended either to declare himself the dependent and worshiper of Christ, as all Christians are slaves of Christ (Ephesians 6:6), or to express his official relationship to the church as Christ’s minister. The latter is the more probable explanation since in the Old Testament the term “servant of the Lord” is a common official designation of anyone who is in God’s service (Joshua 1:1 and 24:19; Jeremiah 29:19; Isaiah 42:1). Moreover, in the New Testament we find the same use of the word, not only in the beginning of several of the letters (Philippians 1:1, “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus”; James 1:1, “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ”; 2 Peter 1:1, “Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ”), but also, in some instances, the word “servant” is interchangeable with the word “minister” (see Colossians 1:7; 4:7, 12). It is, therefore, a general official designation of which, in the present case, apostle is the specific explanation.
It has also been correctly pointed out that as the expression servant of Christ implies implicit obedience and subjection, it assumes the Redeemer’s divine authority. So we find the apostle denying that he was the servant of men and rejecting all human authority concerning matters of faith and duty, and yet affirming absolute subjection of conscience and reason to the authority of Jesus Christ.
1. Called to be an apostle. Paul was not only a servant of Christ, but by divine appointment an apostle. This idea is included in the word called, which also means “chosen, appointed”; and the calling, or vocation, of believers to grace and salvation, as well as of the apostles to their office, is uniformly ascribed to God or Christ (see Galatians 1:1; 1 Corinthians 1:1; Titus 1:1; Galatians 1:15). As the personal call of Christ was one of the essential qualifications of an apostle, Paul asserts in the use of the word called that he was neither self-appointed nor chosen by men to that sacred office.
The word “apostle” occurs in its original sense of “messenger” sever al times in the New Testament (see John 13:16; Philippians 2:25 and 4:18). In 2 Corinthians 8:23, Paul, speaking of the brethren who were with him, calls them “representatives of the churches”; the translators of the King James Version are correct in rendering this phrase, “messengers of the churches.”
As a strict official designation, the word “apostle” is confined to those men selected and commissioned by Christ himself to deliver in his name the message of salvation. It appears from Luke 6:13 that the Saviour himself gave them this title: “When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles.” If it is asked why this name was chosen, it is perhaps enough to say that it was especially appropriate. It is given to those who were sent by Christ to perform a particular service, who were therefore correctly called “messengers.” It is not necessary to resort for an explanation of the term to the fact that the Hebrew word for “messenger” was applied sometimes to the teachers and ministers of the synagogue and sometimes to plenipotentiaries sent by the Sanhedrin to execute some ecclesiastical commission.
The apostles, then, were Christ’s direct messengers, appointed to bear testimony to what they had seen and heard. “And you also must testify,” said Christ, speaking to the twelve, “for you have been with me from the beginning” (John 15:27). This was their special office; hence when Judas fell, Peter said, “It is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us. ... For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection” (Acts 1:21-22). To be an apostle, therefore, it was necessary to have seen Christ after his resurrection (1 Corinthians 9:1) and to have had knowledge about his life and teachings from Christ himself. Without this no man could be a witness; he would only report what he had heard from others and could bear no independent testimony to what he himself had seen and heard. Christ, therefore, says to his disciples after his resurrection, “You will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8), and the apostles accordingly constantly presented themselves in this way (Acts 2:32; 3:15; 13:31). “We are witnesses,” said Peter, speaking of himself and his fellow-apostles, “of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem” (Acts 10:39).
When Paul was called to be an apostle, the Saviour said to him, “I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you” (Acts 26:16). Therefore we find that whenever Paul was called upon to defend his apostleship, he strenuously asserted that he was not appointed by man, but by Jesus Christ, and that his doctrines were neither received from man, nor was he taught them, but they came “by revelation from Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:12).
Since the testimony which the apostles were to bear related to all that Jesus had taught them, it was through preaching the Gospel that they discharged their duty as witnesses. Hence Paul says, “Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (1 Corinthians 1:17). To the elders of Ephesus Paul said, “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me — the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace” (Acts 20:24).
To give authority to this testimony the apostles were inspired, and as religious teachers were infallible (John 14:26 and 16:13). To confirm their mission, they had the power of working miracles (Matthew 10:8). They could communicate this power to others through the laying on of their hands (Acts 9:15, 17, 18; 19:6). This is what is meant by giving the Holy Spirit, for the apostles never claimed the power of communicating the sanctifying influence of the Spirit. Nor was the power to give the Spirit limited only to the apostles, for we read that Ananias, a disciple, was sent to Paul that Paul might receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:17).
The apostles seem also to have had the gift of “distinguishing between spirits” (1 Corinthians 12:10) and of forgiving sins (John 20:23). They ordained presbyters over the congregations which came together through their ministry (Acts 14:23) and exercised general jurisdiction over the churches (1 Corinthians 5:3-5; 2 Corinthians 10:6, 8, 11; 1 Timothy 1:20).
The apostles, therefore, were the direct messengers of Jesus Christ, sent to declare his Gospel, endued with the Holy Spirit, rendering them infallible as teachers and investing them with miraculous powers, and clothed with special prerogatives in the organization and government of the church.
It is in explanation of his apostolic office, and in the further assertion of his divine commission, that Paul adds, set apart for the gospel of God. The Greek word for “to set apart” means “to select from among others.” It is used in this sense in Leviticus 20:24 and 26: “I am the Lord your God, who has set you apart from the nations.” It has the same sense in Galatians 1:15: “God, who set me apart from birth”; that is, who singled me out, or chose me. It is obvious, therefore, that the apostle here refers to his appointment by God to his office. In Acts 13:2 it is said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul,” where a separation not to the ministry, much less to the apostleship, but to a special mission is referred to. Paul’s designation to this office was neither of man, nor by man (Galatians 1:1). The words for the gospel express the purpose to which Paul was devoted when separated in this way from the mass of his brethren; it was to preach the Gospel. The divine origin of the Gospel is asserted in calling it the gospel of God. It is the joyful announcement which God makes to men of the pardon of sin, of restoration to his favor, of the renovation of their nature, of the resurrection of the body, and of eternal life.
2. He promised beforehand. This refers to the Gospel which Paul was sent to preach. It was the same system of grace and truth which from the beginning had been predicted and partially unfolded in the Old Testament. The reason why the apostle refers to that fact here was probably that one of the strongest proofs of the divine origin of the Gospel is found in the prophesies of the Old Testament. The advent, the character, the work, the kingdom of the Messiah are predicted there. Therefore it was from the Scriptures that the apostles reasoned in order to convince the people that Jesus is the Christ. They constantly refer to this connection between the two dispensations to substantiate their teachings. (See 3:21; 4:3; 9:27, 33; 10:11, 20 and compare Luke 24:44; John 12:16; Acts 10:43.)
Through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures. In Scripture the word prophets is applied to anyone who spoke by inspiration as the ambassador of God and the interpreter of his will. Here prophets includes all the Old Testament writers, whether prophets in the strict sense of the term or teachers or historians. Meyer insists that the line of the prophets begins with Samuel, according to Acts 3:24 (“all the prophets from Samuel on”), and therefore that the earlier writers of the Old Testament are not included here. But Moses was a prophet, and what is expressed here by the words his prophets is explained by the phrase “the Law and the Prophets” in 3:21.
By the Holy Scriptures, of course, we must understand those writings which the Jews regarded as holy because they dealt with holy things and because they were given by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
3. Regarding his Son. These words should either be linked with the gospel or with he promised. The sense in either case is much the same. As most commentators and editors regard the second verse as a parenthesis, they of course adopt the former construction; but as there is no necessity for assuming any parenthesis, the natural grammatical connection is with he promised: the personal object of the ancient promises is the Son of God.
It is well known that in Scripture the designations given to our Lord are sometimes applied to him as a historical person, God and man, and sometimes exclusively to one or the other of the two natures, the divine and human, which enter into the constitution of the God-Man. Thus the term Son designates the Logos in all those passages in which he is spoken of as the Creator of all things; at other times it designates the incarnate Logos, as when it is said, “the Son sets you free” (John 8:36). Sometimes the same term is used in the same passage, referring first to the incarnate Word, and then to the Word as the second person of the Trinity. Thus in Hebrews 1:2 it is said, “he has spoken to us by his Son” (the historical person, Jesus Christ), “through whom” (the eternal Word) “he made the universe.”
So here regarding his Son means the Son of God as clothed in our nature, the Word made flesh; but in the next clause, declared ... to be the Son of God (verse 4), the word Son designates the divine nature of Christ. In all cases, however, it is a designation implying participation in the divine nature. Christ is called the Son of God because he is consubstantial with the Father and therefore equal to him in power and glory. The term expresses the relation of the second to the first person in the Trinity, as it exists from eternity. It is therefore, as applied to Christ, not a term of office, nor an expression of any relation assumed in time. He was and is the Eternal Son.
This is proved from John 1:1-14, where the term “Son” is interchanged with “Word.” It was the Son, therefore, who in the beginning was with God, who was God, who created all things, in whom was life, who is the light of men, who is by the side of the Father. In John 5:17- 31, Christ calls himself the Son of God in a sense which made him equal to the Father, having the same power, the same authority, and a right to the same honor. In John 10:29-42, Christ declares God to be his Father. His meaning here is that he is making himself God, one with the Father; and he vindicates his claim to this participation in the divine nature by appealing to his works.
In Colossians 1:13-17, he is said as Son to be the image of the invisible God, the exact copy and the revealer of the divine nature, the Creator of all things that are in heaven and in earth, visible and invisible.
In Hebrews 1:4-6, the title “Son” is adduced as proof that he is superior to the angels and entitled to their worship. He is therefore called God’s own Son (8:32; compare the words “calling God his own Father” in John 5:18, “his own Son” in 8:3, “his one and only Son” in John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9). Hence giving, sending, not sparing this Son is said to be the highest conceivable evidence of the love of God (John 3:16; Romans 8:32; 1 John 4:9). The historical sense of the terms “Word,” “image,” “Son,” “firstborn,” as understood in the Scriptures and from their use in the apostolic age, shows that they must, in their application to Christ, be understood to refer to his divine nature.
Who as to his human nature was a descendant of David. As the Greek word translated descendant, derived from the verb “to have children,” signifies “to begin to be, to come into existence,” it is often used in reference to descent or birth (“born of a woman,” Galatians 4:4; “You are her daughters,” 1 Peter 3:6). The Old Testament predicted and the New Testament affirmed that the Messiah would come from the family of David (Isaiah 11:1; Jeremiah 23:5; Matthew 22:45; John 7:42; Acts 13:23).
The limitation of as to his human nature (Greek, sarx; translated “flesh” in the kjv) obviously implies the superhuman character of Jesus Christ. Were he a mere man, it would have been enough to say that he was a descendant of David, but as he is more than a man, it was necessary to limit his descent from David to his human nature.
It is obvious, both from the scriptural use of the word and from the nature of the case, that the word sarx here means “human nature” (see John 1:14; 9:5; 1 Timothy 3:16; 1 John 4:2-3). It is not the flesh or the body, as opposed to the soul, but human nature as opposed to divine nature that is intended. Neither does the Greek word sarx here mean the purely material element with its organic life, the body and soul, to the exclusion of the spirit or rational principle, as the Apollinarians teach. But sarx refers to the entire humanity of Christ. This is the sense of the word in all the parallel passages where the incarnation is the subject: “The Word became flesh” (John 1:14); or, “He appeared in a body” (1 Timothy 3:16). These are explained by saying, “being found in appearance as a man” (Philippians 2:8). The word therefore includes everything which constitutes the nature a child derives from its parents.
4. Declared with power to be the Son of God. The word declared means, 1. To limit, or, when referring to ideas, to define. 2. To decree (Luke 22:22; Acts 2:23; Hebrews 4:7). 3. To appoint or constitute (Acts 10:42; 17:31). A few commentators give this last meaning to the word in this passage. The apostle would then be saying that Christ was appointed, or constituted, the Son of God by or after his resurrection. But this is inconsistent with Paul’s teaching elsewhere that Christ was the Son of God before the foundation of the world (Colossians 1:15). As is shown above, Son of God is not a title of office but of nature, and therefore Christ cannot be said to have been constituted the Son of God. This interpretation also would create great difficulties in the latter part of the verse. Hence even those commentators who insist most strenuously on adhering to the direct meaning of words are forced by the demands of the context to understand the Greek word as a declaration, or in reference to human knowledge. That is, when Christ is said to be constituted the Son of God, we are not to understand that he became or was made Son, but was, in the view of men, thus decreed.
With power. Theophylact and Theodoret understand these words to refer to the miracles which Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, performed to confirm his claim to be the Son of God. The former of these commentators takes the words through the Spirit, with power, by his resurrection to denote three distinct proofs of the Sonship of Christ. He was proved by his miraculous power, by the Holy Spirit either as given to him, or as by him given to his people (the latter is Theophylact’s view), and by his resurrection to be the Son of God. But the change of the prepositions, and especially the antithetical structure of the sentence, by which through the Spirit is obviously opposed to his human nature, are decisive objections to this interpretation.
Other commentators try to link with power to Son and say “Son in power,” meaning “powerful Son.” But a more common and natural construction is to link with power . . . Son to declared, meaning “powerfully, effectually proved to be the Son of God.” He was declared emphatically to be the Son of God.
Through the Spirit of holiness. As has just been pointed out, these words are in antithesis to as to his human nature. In his human nature he was the Son of David; in the Spirit he was the Son of God. As sarx means his human nature, Spirit can hardly mean anything else than the higher or divine nature of Christ. The word Spirit may be seen in this sense in 1 Timothy 3:16, “vindicated by the Spirit.” He was shown to be just; his claims were all sustained by the manifestations of his divine nature, that is, of his divine power and authority: “who through the eternal Spirit” offered himself to God (Hebrews 9:14). First Peter 3:18 is a more doubtful passage.
The genitive of holiness is a qualification of Spirit, the Spirit of holiness, the Spirit whose characteristic is holiness. This expression seems to be used here to prevent ambiguity, as the Holy Spirit is appropriated as the designation of the third person of the Trinity. As the word “holy” often means “august,” so “holiness” expresses that attribute of a person which renders him worthy of reverence; the Spirit of holiness is therefore the Spirit to be most venerated, the divine nature, or Godhead, which dwelt in Jesus Christ. This is the Logos, who in the beginning was with God, and was God, and who became flesh and dwelt among us.
It is clear that Spirit does not mean here the spiritual state of exaltation of Christ. First, the word is never used in this way elsewhere; and, second, it is inconsistent with the antithesis to human nature.
Those who understand the phrase Spirit of holiness to refer to the Holy Spirit either suppose that the apostle refers to the evidence given by the Spirit to the Sonship of Christ (Calvin’s view), or think he is appealing to the testimony of the Spirit as given in the Scriptures: “Christ was declared to be the Son of God according to the Spirit.” To both these views, however, the same objection remains, that the antithesis is destroyed.
By his resurrection from the dead. Erasmus, Luther, and others translate this “after the resurrection from the dead”: it was not until Christ had risen that the evidence of his Sonship was complete, or its full import known even to the apostles. But it suits the context better, and is more in line with the Scriptures, to consider the resurrection itself as the evidence of his Sonship. It was by the resurrection that he was proved to be the Son of God. God, says the apostle, “has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31). The apostle Peter also says that “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3; compare 1 Peter 3:21; Acts 13:35 and 26:23; 1 Corinthians 15:20). In these and many other passages the resurrection of Christ is represented as the great conclusive evidence of the truth of all that Christ taught, and of the validity of all his claims.
If it be asked how the resurrection of Christ is a proof that he is the Son of God, the answer is, first, that he rose by his own power. He had power to lay down his life, and he had power to take it again (John 10:18). This is not inconsistent with the fact taught in so many other passages, that he was raised by the power of the Father, because what the Father does, the Son likewise does. Creation, and all other external works, are impartially ascribed to the Father, Son, and Spirit. In the second place, as Christ had openly declared himself to be the Son of God, his rising from the dead was God’s seal to the truth of that declaration. Had Christ continued under the power of death, it would have meant that God had disallowed Christ’s claim to be his Son; but since God raised Christ from the dead, he publicly acknowledged him, saying, “You are my Son; this day I have declared you as such.” “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless,” says the apostle, “and so is your faith. . . . But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:14, 20).
Jesus Christ our Lord. These words are in apposition with his Son in the third verse: his Son . . . Jesus Christ our Lord. All the names of Christ are precious to his people. He is called Jesus, “Saviour,” because he saves his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). The name Christ — that is, Messiah, Anointed — connects him with all the predictions and promises of the Old Testament. He is the anointed prophet, priest, and king, to whom all believing eyes had so long been directed, and on whom all hopes centered.
He is our Lord. This word is often used as a mere term of respect, equivalent to “Sir.” But as it is used by the Septuagint as the translation of the Hebrew word adonai, in the sense of supreme Lord and possessor, so in the New Testament it is applied in the same sense to Christ. He is our supreme Lord and possessor. We belong to him, and his authority over us is absolute, reaching to the heart and conscience as well as to our behavior. To him every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. He, then, who in this exalted sense is our Lord is, in his human nature, the Son of David, and, in his divine nature, the Son of God.
5. Through him and for his name's sake, we received grace and apostleship. As it was most important that Paul’s authority as an apostle should be acknowledged in the church, he repeats here the assertion that he received his office directly from Jesus Christ, whose exalted character as the Son of God and our supreme Lord he had just declared. Though di ou properly means through whom, by whose instrumentality, the preposition must here be taken in a more general sense as indicating the source: from whom (compare Galatians 1:1 “by . . . God the Father”; 11:36; 1 Corinthians 1:9).
For his name's sake — that is, for the sake of his name or glory. These words most naturally go with the whole verse and express the final end of the apostleship: the honor of Christ. Paul had received his office and labored to make the nations obedient to the Gospel, in order to promote the knowledge and glory of Christ.
Grace and apostleship may either be taken together and translated the “favor of the apostleship,” or each word may be taken separately. Then grace refers to the kindness of God demonstrated to the apostle in his conversion and vocation. “Through whom we received grace, favor in general, and especially apostleship.”
To the obedience that comes from faith. These words express the goal of the apostleship; faith is either the genitive of apposition, “obedience which consists in faith”; or it is the genitive of the source, “obedience which flows from faith”; or it is the genitive of the object, “obedience to faith” — that is, to the Gospel. In favor of the last interpretation, reference may be made to 2 Corinthians 10:5, “obedient to Christ”; 1 Peter 1:22, “obeying the truth.” See Galatians 1:23, Acts 6:7, and Jude 3 for examples of the use of “faith” in this objective sense. The subjective sense, however, of the word “faith” in the New Testament is so predominant that it is best to retain it in this passage.
The obedience of faith is obedience which consists in faith, or of which faith is the controlling principle. The purpose of the apostleship was to bring all nations so to believe in Christ the Son of God that they should be entirely devoted to his service. The sense is the same if faith be taken objectively, understood, however, not of the Gospel, but of the inward principle of faith to which the nations were to be obedient.
From among all the Gentiles. The apostles were not diocesans restricted in jurisdiction to a particular territory. Their commission was general. It was to all nations. If these words are linked to we received, they clearly express the extent of the apostle’s mission: “We have received a mission among all the Gentiles.” If, as is much more natural, because of their position they are connected with the words which immediately precede, they express the same idea indirectly. Paul’s office was to promote obedience to the faith among all the Gentiles.
6. And you also are among those . . . The apostle thus justifies his addressing the church at Rome in his official character. If the commission which he had received extended to all nations, he was not transcending its limits in writing as an apostle to any church, even churches not founded by him, nor enjoying his personal ministry.
Called to belong to Jesus Christ. This may mean, “Those whom Christ has called.” But since the calling, or vocation, of believers in the New Testament is generally referred to God, the meaning probably is, “The called who belong to Christ.” In the New Testament letters the word “called” is never applied to one who is merely invited by the external call of the Gospel. “The called” means the effectually called, those who are so called by God as to be made obedient to the call. Hence “the called” are contrasted with those who receive and disregard the outward call. Christ, though an offense to the Jews and Greeks, is declared to be “to the called” the wisdom and power of God (1 Corinthians 1:24). Hence, too, “called” and “chosen” are almost synonymous. See 8:28 and compare 9:11 and 1 Corinthians 1:26-27. Accordingly we find “the called” used as a familiar designation of believers, as in Revelation 17:14: “with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.” (See Jude 1 and compare 8:30 and 9:24; 1 Corinthians 1:9 and 7:17; Galatians 1:15; Ephesians 4:1; Colossians 3:15; 1 Thessalonians 2:12 and 5:24; 2 Timothy 1:9.) In these and in many other passages, the verb “call” expresses the inward efficacious call of the Holy Spirit.
Theophylact remarks that the word called is applied to Christians, since they are drawn by grace and do not come of themselves. God, as it were, anticipates them. The same remark may be made of most of the other terms by which believers are designated. They all more or less distinctly bring into view the idea of the agency of God in making them to differ from others. They are called “God’s chosen” (8:33; Colossians 3:12; 1 Timothy 1:1), or more fully “chosen according to the foreknowledge of God” (1 Peter 1:2); “sanctified,” which includes the idea of separation (1 Corinthians 1:2); “predestined according to the plan of him [God]” (Ephesians 1:11); “saved” (1 Corinthians 1:18; 2 Corinthians 2:15); “appointed for eternal life” (Acts 13:48).
7. To all in Rome. These words are, in a sense, connected with the first verse, Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus . . . to all in Rome.
Loved by God. This is the great distinction and blessedness of believers — they are the beloved of God. They are not called this simply because, as was the case with the ancient Israelites, they are selected from the rest of the world and made the recipients of special external favors, but because they are the objects of that great love with which he loved those who were dead in sins, but who are now made alive with Christ (Ephesians 2:4-5). They are God’s chosen, “holy and dearly loved” (Colossians 3:12); they are “brothers loved by the Lord” (2 Thessalonians 2:13).
Called to be saints. The word called stands in the same relation to saints that called does to apostle in verse 1: called to be an apostle . . . called to be saints. It is one of those special designations for God’s true people and expresses both their vocation and that to which they are called — that is, holiness. The Greek word for holy (hagios), following the meaning of the Old Testament Hebrew word for “holy,” signifies “clean,” “morally pure,” “consecrated,” and especially as applied to God, “holy,” “worthy of reverence.” The people of Israel, their land, their temple, etc., were called holy because they were separated and devoted to God. The term saints (literally, hagioi, “holy ones”) applied to the people of God under the new dispensation includes this idea. They are saints because they are a community separated from the world and consecrated to God. But in keeping with the nature of the Christian dispensation, this separation is not merely external; believers are assumed to be really separated from sin — that is, clean and pure.
Again, as the impurity of sin is, according to Scripture, twofold — its pollution, and its guilt or just liability to punishment — so the three Greek words translated “prune,” “cleanse,” and “sanctify” all mean “to cleanse” and are used both to express the cleansing from guilt by expiation and from pollution by the Holy Spirit. Sometimes the one and sometimes the other, and often both of these ideas are expressed by these words. For the use of “prune,” see John 15:2 and Hebrews 10:2. For the use of “cleanse,” see Acts 15:9; Ephesians 5:26; Titus 2:14; Hebrews 9:14, 22; 1 John 1:7. For the use of “sanctify,” see John 17:19; Acts 26:18; 1 Timothy 4:5; Hebrews 2:11 and 10:10, 14, 29. Hence Christians are called “saints” (from the same root as the third verb, “sanctify”), not only as those who are consecrated to God, but also as those who are cleansed both by expiation and by the renewing of the Holy Spirit.
The sense of verses 1 and 7 is, “Paul, an apostle — to the saints in Rome.” Then follows the greeting, Grace and peace to you. That the words grace and peace are in the nominative, and the introduction of to you, shows that a new sentence begins here.
Grace and peace to you. Here grace is kindness, and especially undeserved kindness, and therefore it is often used to express the unmerited goodness of God in the salvation of sinners. Very frequently it is used for the effect of kindness — that is, for a gift or favor. Anything, therefore, bestowed on the undeserving may be called “grace.” In this sense Paul calls his apostleship “grace” (12:3; Ephesians 3:2, 8); and all the blessings conferred on sinners through Jesus Christ are graces, or gifts. It is in this sense that repentance, faith, love, and hope are graces. The influence of the Holy Spirit in the heart in connection with the gift of the Son, the greatest of God’s free gifts to us, is, with special appropriateness, called charis or grace. Such is the meaning of “grace” in 1 Corinthians 15:10; 2 Corinthians 8:1; Romans 12:6; Galatians 1:15 and many other passages. In verse 7, it is to be taken in the comprehensive sense in which it is used in the apostolic blessing, for the favor and love of God and Christ.
The word peace, which is so often linked with “grace” in greetings, is used in the broad sense of the Hebrew word shalom, which means “well- being,” “prosperity,” and “every kind of good.” Grace and peace therefore include everything that we can desire or need, the favor of God, and all the blessings that favor secures.
From God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. This linking of the Father and Christ as equally the object of prayer, and the source of spiritual blessings, is a conclusive proof that Paul regarded Christ as truly God. God is called our Father, not merely as the author of our existence and the source of every blessing, but especially as reconciled to us through Jesus Christ. The term expresses the special rela tionship he has with his sons, who have the spirit of adoption and are the heirs or recipients of the heavenly inheritance. Jesus Christ is our Lord, our supreme Ruler, under whose care and protection we are placed and through whose ministration all good is actually given.
8. From this verse to the end of verse 17, we have the general introduction to the letter. It has the usual characteristics of the introductory parts of the apostle’s letters. It is commendatory; it breathes the spirit of love towards his brethren, and of gratitude and devotion towards God; and it introduces the reader in the most natural and appropriate manner to the great doctrines which he intends to put forward.
First, I thank my God. The word first implies a list, which, however, is not given. Compare 1 Corinthians 11:18 and other places where the apostle begins a construction which he does not continue.
My God. That is, the God to whom I belong, whom I serve, and who, as my God, is my Father, Friend, and source of all good. “I will be their God, and they will be my people” (Hebrews 8:10) is the most comprehensive of all promises. Through Jesus Christ. These words are not to be connected with the immediately preceding words, “My God through Jesus Christ,” but with I thank: “I thank God, through Jesus Christ.” This expression implies the mediation of Christ, through whom alone we have access to the Father, and for whose sake alone both our prayers and our praises are accepted. See 7:25. Also, Ephesians 5:20, “Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”; Colossians 3:17, “Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him”; and Hebrews 13:15, “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise.” All this is in accordance with Christ’s command in John 14:13; compare John 16:24: “Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive.”
Such, then, is the clear teaching of the Bible. In all our approaches to God in prayer or praise, we must come in the name of Christ — that is, in him, referring to him as the ground of our acceptance. So there is no need for any of the various forced interpretations of the words in the text which have been given by those who are unwilling to admit the idea of such mediation by Christ.
The special ground of the apostle’s thankfulness is expressed in the following clause: because your faith is being reported all over the world. Their faith was such that it aroused people’s attention. Paul recognized that he had reason to be grateful to God not only because the Roman Christians believed, but because everyone was talking about their faith. God therefore is the giver of faith.
9. God .. . is my witness. Paul appeals to his constant remembering of them in his prayers to confirm his declaration of gratitude for their conversion and for the eminence of their faith. This reverent appeal to God as the searcher of hearts is not uncommon in the apostle’s writings
(see 2 Corinthians 1:23; Galatians 1:20; Philippians 1:8). It is an act of worship, a devout recognition of God’s omnipresence and omniscience.
Whom I serve. In the New Testament the word “serve” is always used of religious service, either given to God or to creatures: “They . . . worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator” (1:25). This service may consist either in worship or in the performance of external duties of a religious nature. The service about which Paul speaks here is described in the following clause: with my whole heart. This is in direct contrast to an insincere and merely external service.
In preaching the gospel of his Son. That is, it was a service rendered in preaching the Gospel. The priests served when they performed the duties of their office, and Paul served when he performed the duties of an apostle. The gospel of his Son may mean either the Gospel concerning his Son, or which God’s Son himself taught. The former, perhaps, is more in keeping with the use of this phrase and similar phrases such as “gospel of the kingdom,” “gospel of the grace of God,” etc.
How constantly I remember you. It is plain, from the occurrence of the words I pray in the next verse and from the use of this expression in other places (see Philippians 1:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:3), that Paul here refers to his remembering the Roman Christians in his prayers, and not to his thinking about them or talking about them.
10. In my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God's will . . . These words express the apostle’s submission to the will of God as he made his request. Now at last. It is as though Paul had long and eagerly looked forward to what he might possibly now see happen: By God's will the way may be opened for me to come to you. The Greek word translated here may be opened for me (kjv: “I might have a prosperous journey”) means “to lead in the right way,” “to prosper one’s journey” (see Genesis 24:48), and figuratively, “prospered” (1 Corinthians 16:2, kjv; 3 John 2). In the passive voice it means to be prospered, to be successful, to be favored. In the present case, as Paul had neither begun his journey nor planned to do so in the immediate future (see 15:25-29), his prayer was not that his journey might be prosperous, but that he might be permitted to undertake it. He prayed that his circumstances should be so favorably ordered that he might be able to carry out his long-cherished purpose of visiting Rome. Knowing, however, that all things are ordered by God, and feeling that his own wishes should be subordinated to the divine will, he adds, by God's will, which is equivalent to, “If it be the will of God”: “Praying continually, that, if it be God’s will, I may be prospered to come to you.”
11. The reason the apostle was anxious to visit the Christians in Rome is stated in this verse. He wanted to see them not merely for his own pleasure, but that he might confer some spiritual gift on them, which would help to strengthen their faith: I long to see you so that I may impart to you [share with you] some spiritual gift. The words spiritual gift do not mean a gift relating to the soul as opposed to the body, but one derived from the Spirit. The gifts which originate from the Holy Spirit include not only those miraculous gifts which are so frequently mentioned in the letter to the Corinthians and the ordinary gifts of teaching, exhortation, and prophesying (1 Corinthians 12), but also those graces which are the fruits of the Spirit.
The extraordinary gifts were communicated by the laying on of the apostles’ hands (Acts 8:17 and 19:6) and therefore abounded in churches founded by the apostles (1 Corinthians 1:7; Galatians 3:5). As the church at Rome was not one of this number, it has been suggested that Paul desired to confer on the Roman Christians some of those miraculous powers which in other places accompanied and confirmed the Gospel. The following verses, however, are in favor of giving the phrase here a wider meaning. Any increase of knowledge, of grace, or of power, was a spiritual gift in the sense intended here.
To make you strong. This includes not only increased confidence in their belief of the Gospel, but increased strength in their religious feelings and in their resolve and power to be obedient. Compare 1 Thessalonians 3:2: “We sent Timothy ... to strengthen and encourage you in your faith”; and 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17: “May our Lord Jesus Christ . . . encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word”; and the apostle’s prayer that the Ephesians might be strengthened in their inner being (Ephesians 3:16).
12. That is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith. This is obviously intended to explain or correct what preceded. Paul had desired to see the Christians in Rome in order that he might do them good, but this was not his whole purpose; he himself hoped to benefit. In the grammatical construction here, the verb be mutually encouraged may depend on to make you strong in verse 11. The sense would then be, “that you may be strengthened, that I may be comforted.” Alternatively, the verbs may be coordinate with each other. Then both would depend on the that I may impart of verse 11: “That I may impart some spiritual gift to you, in order that you may be strengthened — that is, that I may be comforted together with you.” This seems the most natural construction, and yet since Paul expected to be refreshed by their faith and not by his giving them spiritual gifts, the sense seems to require that be mutually encouraged should depend on the first words of verse 11: “I desire to see you, that I may impart some spiritual gift to you — that is, that I may be comforted. . . .”
The Greek word for “encourage” is used in such a variety of ways in the New Testament that it is not easy to determine the precise meaning that should be given to it here. It means literally “to call near,” “to invite” (Acts 28:20: “I have asked”), “to call upon,” and more generally “to address,” either for instruction, admonition, exhortation, confirmation, or consolation. The translators of the King James Version, and the majority of commentators, choose the last mentioned sense and translate it here “that I may be comforted.” This is probably too narrow. The word expresses all that excitement and strengthening of faith and pious feeling, as well as consolation, which flows from the communion of saints. This appears from the context, and especially from the words, mutually . . . by each other's faith. The faith of the Romans would not only comfort but strengthen the apostle; and his faith could not fail to produce a similar effect on them.
13. I do not want you to be unaware, brothers. The apostle often adopts this expression when he wants to assure his readers about something or particularly call their attention to it. That I planned many times to come to you. In 15:23 Paul states that he had cherished this purpose for many years. But have been prevented from doing so until now. Our version renders the Greek word kai (“and”) adversatively as but. This is unnecessary, especially as kai often introduces a parenthesis, and this clause is a parenthesis since the following words in order that must depend on the I planned from the preceding clause.
In chapter 15 the apostle says that having no more places to visit in the countries around Greece, he was ready to visit Rome. It is probable that the hindering which he refers to here was the incessant calls for apostolic labor, which left him no time. Since, however, his travels seem to be providentially guided (Acts 16:6-7, 9), it may be that the Spirit who had forbidden him to preach in Asia had up to then forbidden him to visit Rome.
In order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles. The Greek words translated have a harvest mean “to have profit or advantage.” (See 6:21-22.) The profit, however, which Paul desired was the fruit of his ministry, the conversion or edification of those to whom he preached.
14. I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks (“Barbarians” in the kjv), both to the wise and the foolish. That is, “I am under obligation to preach to all classes of men.” Paul’s commission was a general one, confined to no one nation and to no particular class. Greeks and Barbarians means “all nations”; the wise and the foolish means “all classes.” The Greek word for “Barbarians” means foreigners, those of another language (1 Corinthians 14:11). Greeks and Barbarians, therefore, is equivalent to Greeks and non-Greeks, all nations. As the Greeks, however, excelled other nations in civilization, the word came to signify “uncouth,” “uncultivated,” though even later writers often used it in its original sense and not as a term of reproach. The apostle distinguishes men first by nationality, Greeks and non-Greeks, and second by culture, wise and unwise. The Romans, whose city was called “an epitome of the world,” belonged exclusively neither to the one class nor to the other. Some were wise and some unwise, some Greeks and some barbarians.
15. That is why. That is, since I am bound to all men, Greeks and barbarians, I am ready to preach to you who are at Rome. The words I am so eager admit of different interpretations. It may be translated “as much as is in me” (or, “as far as I am concerned”) or “there is a readiness” — that is, “I am ready.” This makes good sense and is specially suited to the context, as it emphasizes Paul’s dependence and submission. He did not direct his own steps. As far as he was concerned, he was willing to preach in Rome; but whether he should do so or not rested not with him, but with God. A second translation is, “What is in me is ready.” A third is, “My readiness or desire is . . .” (Compare Ephesians 1:15, “your faith”; Acts 17:28, “your own poets”; Acts 18:15, “your own law.”)
To preach the gospel. The verb to preach is usually followed by some word or phrase expressing the subject of the message — the kingdom of God, the Gospel, the Word of God, Christ. In writing to Christians, who knew what the good news was, the apostles often, as in the present case, used the word absolutely so that the word by itself means to preach the Gospel, etc. (See 15:20; Acts 14:7; Galatians 4:13.)
16. I am not ashamed of the gospel. This is the reason Paul was ready to preach even at Rome. To the wise of this world the Gospel was foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:23), and yet Paul was not ashamed of it, but was ready among the wise and foolish to preach Christ and him crucified. He gives his reason in the following clause: because it is the power of God for the salvation ... By power of God, some understand “great power,” in accordance with an assumed Hebrew idiom. Thus “mountains of God” means great mountains, “wind of God” great wind, “zeal of God” great zeal, etc. But the existence of such an idiom in the Hebrew is very doubtful, and its application to this passage is unnatural and unnecessary. Others make of God a mere qualifying genitive, “power of God” meaning “divinely powerful.” The Gospel is then declared to be that through which God exercises his power. Most commonly, of God is taken as the genitive of the Author, and power of God is made to mean power derived from God.
Two things, then, are asserted of the Gospel: first that it is powerful, and second that it is from God. (Compare 1 Corinthians 1:18 and 24.) The main idea, however, is that expressed by Beza: the Gospel is that in which God works, which he renders efficacious — for salvation. That is, it is efficacious to save.
The nature of the salvation intended here is to be learned from the nature of the Gospel. It is deliverance from sin and its punishment, and admission into eternal life and blessedness. This is what no method of human devising, no efforts of human wisdom or human power could effect for any human being. The Gospel effects it for everyone who believes. Emphasis must be laid on both parts of this clause. The Gospel is thus efficacious to everyone, without distinction between Jew and Gentile, Greek or non-Greek, wise or foolish; and it is efficacious to everyone who believes, not to everyone who is circumcised or baptized or who obeys the law, but to everyone who believes — that is, who receives and has faith in Jesus Christ as he is offered in the Gospel.
We have here the two great doctrines set forth in this letter. First, salvation is through faith; and second, it is universally applicable, to the Greek as well as to the Jew. The faith which the apostle speaks of here includes a firm conviction of the truth, and a reliance or trust on the object of faith. Sometimes the one, sometimes the other of these ideas is expressed by the word “faith,” and very often both are united. The meaning of the term is not to be determined so much by philosophical analysis as by its use in Scripture. For the question is not what is the abstract nature of the act of believing, philosophically considered, but what act or state of mind is expressed by the Greek words for “to believe” or “to have faith” in the various constructions in which they occur.
It is rare indeed that the state of mind expressed by any word is so simple that it cannot be broken up into various elements. The exercise expressed by the word “love,” for example, includes the perception of agreeable qualities in its object, a judgment of the mind as to their nature, a delight in them, and a desire for their enjoyment. And these differ specifically in their nature, according to the nature of the thing loved. The word “love” is not applied to any one of these elements of the complex affection, but to the state of mind as a whole. So also with the word “faith.” The exercise which it expresses includes a perception of its object and its qualities; that is, it includes knowledge. It also includes an assent of the mind to the truth of the thing believed, and very often a reliance or trust in the object of faith. Assent is therefore only one of the elements of saving faith; that is, it is only one of the constituents of that state of mind which in a great number of cases in the Bible is expressed by the word. As the principal interest for Christians is not a philosophical definition of a word, but a knowledge of the sense in which it is used in the Word of God, we must turn back to the word as it is used in the Scriptures to determine what that faith is which is connected with salvation.
There is no doubt that “to believe” is often used to express mere assent. It means “to receive as true,” to be persuaded of the truth of any thing. Hence “faith” is persuasion or conviction of the truth. When “believe” has this simple meaning, it is commonly followed by the accusative case (“it” in 1 Corinthians 11:18 or “this” in John 11:26); or by the dative (Mark 16:13; John 5:46); or by “that” (noti) (Mark 11:23; Romans 10:9). Yet in these cases the word often expresses confidence or trust, as well as assent; “to believe in God” is in many instances to confide in God, as in Acts 27:25: “I have faith in God that it will happen.”
When “to believe” is followed by “upon” (epi) with an accusative, as in 4:5 (“his faith is credited as righteousness”), or by “on” with a dative, as in 9:33 (“the one who trusts in him”) and 1 Timothy 1:16 (“those who would believe on him”), it commonly means “to trust,” “to believe on,” “to confide in.” It has the same sense when followed by “into” (eis), as in John 14:1, John 16:9, Romans 10:14, Galatians 2:16, and often elsewhere. The construction with “in” (en) is less common; see, however, Mark 1:15, and compare Galatians 5:10 and 2 Thessalonians 3:4.
The noun “faith” in various constructions also signifies reliance or trust; it is thus when followed by “into” (eis) as in Acts 20:21, 24:24, and 26:18; by “upon” (epi) with the accusative, as in Hebrews 6:1; by “towards,” “to” (pros), as in 1 Thessalonians 1:8; by “in” (en), as in 2 Timothy 3:15; or by the genitive, as in 3:22 and 26, and Galatians 2:16 and 3:22. That faith, therefore, which is linked with salvation includes knowledge — that is, a perception of the truth and its qualities; assent, or the persuasion of the truth of the object of faith; and trust or reliance. The exercise, or state of mind, expressed by the word “faith,” as used in the Scriptures, is not mere assent or mere trust; it is the intelligent perception, reception, and reliance on the truth as revealed in the Gospel.
First for the Jew, then for the Gentile (literally, “Greek” and so rendered in the kjv). To render first here as “especially” would make the apostle teach that the Gospel was specially adapted to the Jews or specially designed for them. But he frequently asserts that this is not the case (3:9, 22, 29; 10:12). First, therefore, must refer to time: “To the Jew in the first instance, and then to the Gentile.” Salvation, as our Saviour said to the woman of Samaria, is from the Jews. From them the Messiah came, to them the Gospel was first preached, and through them it was preached to the Gentiles. The apostle often, as in the present instance, says “Jews and Greeks” for Jews and Gentiles, because the Greeks were the Gentiles with whom, at that period, the Jews were most familiar.
17. The reason the Gospel has the efficacy ascribed to it in the preceding verse is not because of its pure morality, or because it reveals and confirms a future state of retribution, but because it reveals a righteousness from God. As this is one of those expressions which convey ideas unique to the Gospel, its meaning is to be learned not merely from the meaning of the words, but from parallel passages and from the explanations given in the Gospel itself of the whole subject to which it relates.
That righteousness cannot be understood here to refer to a divine attribute, such as uprightness, justice, goodness, or truthfulness, is obvious, because it is a righteousness that is by faith — that is, it is attained by faith, about which the apostle speaks. Besides, it is said elsewhere to be apart from law (3:21), to be a gift (5:17), not to be our own (10:3), and to be from God (Philippians 3:9). These and similar expressions are inconsistent with the assumption that the apostle is speaking about a divine attribute. The righteousness of God, therefore, must mean either the righteousness of which God is the author or which he approves. Luther, Calvin, and many others prefer the latter. Beza, Reiche, De Wette, Rueckert, and others prefer the former. These ideas are not incompatible. This righteousness is at once a “righteousness that comes from God” (Philippians 3:9) and “righteousness in God’s sight” (2:13 and 3:20; Galatians 3:11). The Gospel reveals a righteousness which God gives and which he approves.
This interpretation is confirmed by all that the Scriptures teach about the way in which we are justified before God. The Bible represents God as a moral governor or judge. Man is placed under a law which he must live by and which is the standard against which he is to be judged. This law may be revealed in different ways, but it is always substantially the same, having the same precepts, the same sanction, and the same promises. Those who comply with the demands of this law are “righteous” (dikaioi); those who break the law are “unrighteous”; to pronounce someone righteous is “to justify” (dikaioun); the righteousness itself, or the integrity which the law demands, is “justification” (dikaiosune). Those who are righteous, or who have the righteousness which the law requires, or who are justified have a title to the favor of God.
Now, nothing is more clearly taught in the Scriptures than that no one in himself is righteous in the sight of God (see 3:20, 23). It is no less clearly taught that no one can make himself righteous; that is, he cannot attain the righteousness which the law demands and which is necessary for his acceptance with God. The reason for this is that the law demands perfect obedience, which no one has given or can give. It is therefore clear that by the works of the law no one can be justified before God (3:20; Galatians 2:16). Righteousness is not by the law (Galatians 3:21) or through the law (Galatians 2:21) or by observing the law (Galatians 2:16). Men are not justified by their own righteousness (10:3). And yet righteousness is absolutely necessary for our justification and salvation. The Gospel reveals such a righteousness — a righteousness which is “without the law”; which is not of works; which is “by faith”; a righteousness which is not our own (Philippians 3:9); which is the gift of God (5:17); which is “from God”; which is imputed without observing the law. Christ is our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30); we are righteous before God in him (2 Corinthians 5:21).
From this contrast between a righteousness which is our own (which is of works) and that which is not our own (which is of God, from God, the gift of God), it is plain that the righteousness from God which the apostle speaks of here is that righteousness by which we are made righteous before God; it is a righteousness which he gives and which he approves. This is the interpretation which is given substantially by all the modern commentators of note, such as Tholuck, Reiche, Fritzsche, Rueckert, Koellner, De Wette, etc., however much they may differ as to other points. De Wette says, “All interpretations which overlook the idea of imputation, as is done in the explanations given by the Roman Catholics, and also in Grotius, are false.”
The nature of this righteousness is the one great theme of this letter, and of the whole Gospel. This, therefore, is not the place to enter fully into the examination of this, as it will present itself at every step as we progress. It is sufficient here to specify the three general views of the nature of that righteousness by which men are justified before God.
The first may be called the Pelagian view. According to this view the apostle teaches that righteousness cannot be attained by obedience to the ritual law of the Jews, but consists in works which are morally good.
The second view is the Roman Catholic view. This teaches that the works which are meant to be excluded from our justification are legal works, works done without grace and before regeneration, but the righteousness which makes us just before God is inherent righteousness, or spiritual excellence which is obtained by the aid of divine grace.
The third view is the normal teaching of Protestant churches. This states that the righteousness by which we are justified is not due to anything done by us, but something done for us and imputed to us. It is the work of Christ, what he did and suffered to satisfy the demands of the law. Hence both external or ceremonial works are excluded as the ground of justification, and also the works of righteousness. This includes every kind of deed, no matter how excellent it is.
So this righteousness is not our own. It is nothing that we have either done ourselves or that belongs to us. Thus Christ is said to be our righteousness and we are said to be justified by his blood, his death, his obedience. We are righteous in him and are justified by him or in his name, or for his sake. Therefore God’s righteousness, which the Gospel reveals, and by which we are constituted righteous, is the perfect righteousness of Christ which completely meets and answers all the demands of that law to which everyone is subject and which everyone has broken.
This righteousness is referred to in this verse as by faith. It is obvious that the words by faith are not to be linked with revealed. They must be linked either directly or indirectly with righteousness. It is either “righteousness by faith is revealed,” or “righteousness is revealed, being of faith” — that is, which is by faith. This is not some state of excellence which grows from the seed of faith or consists of faith, as this would be inconsistent with all those arguments which show that this righteousness is not subjective.
The meaning of the words to faith (kjv) (eis pistis) in the phrase is very uncertain. The words must be explained in a way that is consistent with their connection with righteousness. It is a righteousness which is of faith to faith. It is wrong to say that our justification depends on our first believing the Old Testament and then the New, which is the interpretation given by Theodoret; nor does it fit this connection to make this phrase express progression from a weak or imperfect faith to a more per fect faith. This, however, is a popular interpretation. The sense is, however, perfectly clear and good if the phrase is explained to mean faith alone. As “death unto death” and “life unto life” are intensive, so “faith unto faith” may mean “entirely of faith.” Our justification is by faith alone; works form no part of that righteousness in which we can stand before God’s tribunal.
Most of the modern commentators regard to (eis) in the words to faith as indicating the terminus. Righteousness is from faith and unto faith: it comes to faith. This makes faith here virtually equivalent to “belief”; in 3:22, the righteousness of God is said to be “to (eis) all who believe.” Righteousness then is by faith and unto faith; that is, it is granted unto or bestowed upon believers.
The apostle’s teaching that the righteousness which leads to life is to be obtained by faith, he confirms with a reference to Habakkuk 2:4, where it says, “He that is righteous by faith, shall live”; or, “The righteous shall live by faith.” The connection of by faith with the righteous certainly suits the apostle’s aim, which is to show that righteousness is by faith. But in either construction the sense is substantially the same. Salvation is by faith. In the Hebrew too, either construction is permissible, as the words are, “The righteous in his faith shall live.” However, the Masoretic text [which adds vowels to the originally vowel-less Hebrew text — Ed.] links, as Paul does, the first two words together. Will live — will attain that life which Christ gives, which is spiritual, blessed, and everlasting (compare 5:17; 8:13). This passage is quoted to confirm the apostle’s own teaching and is especially pertinent since it shows that under the old dispensation, as well as under the new, God’s favor was to be secured by faith.
18. [For — kjv] the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven. The apostle’s purpose is to prove the teaching of the preceding verse: righteousness is by faith. To do this it was necessary to show that men in themselves are exposed to condemnation or are destitute of any righteousness which can satisfy God’s demands. Paul’s argument is: God is just; God is determined to punish sin; and as all are sinners, all are exposed to punishment. Hence in the Greek this verse is connected to the preceding verse by the word for. Men must be justified by faith, for the wrath of God is revealed, etc.
The wrath of God is his punitive justice, his determination to punish sin. When we talk of anger with reference to God, we do not, of course, mean human anger. God’s anger is completely different from that pas sion which is called anger or wrath among men and which is always mixed more or less with malignity in the human heart. Man’s anger leads to the infliction of evil on its object. When applied to God, in keeping with a principle to be found throughout the Scriptures, the word refers to the calm and underlying purpose of the divine mind, which ensures that there is a connection between sin and misery. This connection operates with the general uniformity of any other law in God’s physical or moral order.
Is being revealed. Here revealed means “to uncover,” “to bring to light,” and hence “to make known,” whether by direct communication or in some other way. A thing is said to be revealed when it becomes known from what it does. Thus the thoughts of the heart, the arm of the Lord, and the wrath of God are said to be “revealed.” It is not necessary therefore to infer from the use of this word that the apostle meant to intimate that the purpose of God to punish sin was made known by any special revelation. That purpose is revealed in various ways: by the actual punishment of sin, by the inherent tendency of moral evil to produce misery, and by the voice of conscience.
Nor do the words from heaven imply any extraordinary method of communication. They are added because God dwells in heaven, from where all manifestations of his character and purposes are said to come. However, the complete expression does imply that this revelation is clear and certain. Men know the righteous judgment of God. They know that those who commit sin are worthy of death. As this is a fundamental truth, existing in every person’s consciousness, it is rightly assumed and made the basis of the apostle’s argument.
God’s anger is being revealed against all the godlessness and wickedness of men; that is, against all impiety towards God and injustice towards men. This distinction is kept up in the next part of the chapter, in which the apostle proves first the impiety and then the gross immorality of those who do not acknowledge God.
Who suppress the truth by their wickedness. The word truth is used in the Scriptures in a more comprehensive sense than our word “truth.” It often means what is right as well as what is true, and is therefore often used in antithesis to “unrighteousness,” as in 2:8 (and see Galatians 3:1, kjv and 5:7). It is used especially of moral and religious truth (see John 3:21 and 8:32; 2 Corinthians 4:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:12). It is therefore equivalent to true religion — that is, what is true and right in reference to God and duty.
As the Greek word translated suppress (“hold,” kjv) sometimes means “to have” in the sense of possessing, as in 1 Corinthians 7:30, this clause may be rendered, “Who have the truth, together with unrighteousness”; that is, although they possess the truth, they are unrighteous. The sentiment is then the same as in verse 21, where the heathen are said to know God, and yet act wickedly. But as the Greek word also means
“to detain,” “to repress or hinder” (2 Thessalonians 2:6-7), the passage may be translated, “Who hinder or oppose the truth.” The great majority of commentators are in favor of this latter interpretation. The words by their wickedness may either express the means of this opposition and be rendered “through wickedness,” or they may be taken adverbially: “Who unjustly, or wickedly, oppose the truth.” The former is to be preferred.
19. In this verse and the following verses Paul shows that this opposition, because it cannot be excused on the plea of ignorance, is therefore wicked. The wicked are guilty of opposing the truth, since the knowledge of God is revealed among them. This explanation is supported by the link between this verse and the preceding clause. It may, however, refer to the general sentiment of verse 18. God will punish the impiety and unrighteousness of men because he has made himself known to them. The former interpretation is preferred as it is more in keeping with the apostle’s argument and more consistent with the context, as he goes on to prove that the impiety of the heathen is inexcusable.
Since what may be known about God is plain to them (kjv “Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them”). This is not in line with the meaning of known, which in the Bible always means what “is known,” not what “may be known.” Besides, the English translation seems to imply too much. The apostle does not mean to say that everything that may be known concerning God was revealed to the heathen, but simply that the knowledge they had about him made their impiety inexcusable. We find this Greek word gnosis used in the sense of “known” in Acts 1:19, 2:14, 15:18, Genesis 2:9, and often elsewhere. The knowledge of God does not mean simply a knowledge that there is a God, but, as appears from what follows, a knowledge of his nature and attributes, his eternal power and Godhead (verse 20), and his justice (verse 32). Is plain to them may be translated either “is shown among them” or “is shown in them.” If the former translation is adopted, it is not to be understood as declaring that certain men, the Pythagoreans, Platonists, and Stoics, as Grotius says, had this knowledge, but that it was a common revelation, accessible, shown to everyone. To them, however, here more correctly means “in their minds.” The apostle is not speaking about a mere external revelation. He is referring to the evidence of God’s being and perfections which every man has in his own nature and through which he is able to understand the manifestations of God in his deeds.
God has made it plain to them — that is, the knowledge of himself. This knowledge is a revelation; it is the manifestation of God in his deeds and in our nature. God therefore has never left himself without a witness. His existence and perfections have always been seen so that his rational creatures are bound to acknowledge and worship him as the true and only God.
20. This verse is a confirmation and amplification of the preceding verse, in that it demonstrates that God does reveal himself to men. It shows how this revelation is made, and it draws the inference that because of this revelation, men cannot be excused for their godlessness. The argument is that God has revealed the knowledge of himself to men, for the hidden things about him (that is, his eternal power and Godhead) are, since the creation, clearly seen, being understood by his deeds. Therefore these men are without excuse.
God's invisible qualities. Theodoret says “invisible things” (kjv) refers to creation, providence, and the divine judgments. Theophylact understands them to refer to God’s goodness, wisdom, power, and majesty. Modern commentators are divided. The great majority prefer the latter explanation, which obviously fits the context better, because God’s deeds are later on in the verse referred to as things made, and because the invisible things are shown by his deeds and are explained by the terms power and divine nature. That clause, his eternal power and divine nature, is in apposition with and an explanation of God's invisible qualities. The word “even” (kjv) followed by “and” serve, as Tholuck remarks, to separate invisible qualities into the two ideas power and divine nature rather than to annex a distinct idea, as though the meaning were, “and also his power and Godhead.” The power of God is more immediately shown in his deeds; but not his power alone, but his divine excellence in general, which is expressed by the words divine nature.
This divine revelation has been made since the creation of the world, not by the creation, for creation here is the act of creation, and not the thing created. The means through which the revelation is made is given at once in the following words: what has been made, which would otherwise be redundant. In this connection, what has been made refers to the things made by God rather than the things done by him. The apostle says, “the invisible qualities have been clearly seen,” because they are perceived by the mind, being understood by means of what has been made.
So that men are without excuse. According to Griesbach, Knapp, and others, these words depend on the last clause of verse 19. If so, the interpretation of Beza and the older Calvinists would be the most natural. God has revealed the knowledge of himself to men, in order that they might be without excuse. But this, to say the least, is unnecessary. The connection with have been clearly seen is perfectly natural: “God’s perfections, being understood through his deeds, are seen, so that men are without excuse.” Paul does not teach here that it is God’s plan, in revealing himself to men, to make their opposition inexcusable, but rather that since this revelation has been made, they have in fact no excuse for their ignorance and neglect of God. Though God’s revelation in his deeds is sufficient to give men no excuse, it does not follow that it is enough to lead men, blinded by sin, to a saving knowledge of himself. In the same way that Paul says of the law that it was weak through the flesh — that is, insufficient because of our corruption, so it may be said about the light of nature that although sufficient in itself as a revelation, it is not sufficient, in view of the indisposition and inattention of men to divine things.
21. This verse most naturally and obviously links up with the last clause of the preceding verse: “Men are without excuse, since, although they knew God, they worshiped him not as God.” Moreover, this connection is in line with the apostle’s style, as he often establishes a proposition, which is itself an inference, with a new argument. Thus, in the present instance in verses 19-20 he proved that the heathen had a knowledge of God which gave them no excuse, and then the fact that they were without excuse is proved by showing that they did not act in accordance with the truth. Rueckert, however, who is followed by Tholuck, thinks that the apostle’s aim is to show that the heathen wickedly oppose the truth, as is stated in verse 18, and that this is demonstrated in two ways: first, the heathen had knowledge of the truth (verses 19-20); and second, they did not act by it (verses 21-23). Rueckert therefore assumes that the link is rather with the last clause of verse 18. In this view, something is implied here which is not expressed, and for although logically refers to this omitted thought: “The heathen are without excuse, and wickedly oppose the truth, since, although they knew God, they glorified him not as God.” This meaning is clear enough, but it is a forced and unnatural interpretation.
The apostle, having shown in verse 19 that the knowledge of God was revealed to men, now has no hesitation in saying that the heathen knew God. This does not merely mean that they had the opportunity of knowing him, but that in the constitution of their own nature, and in the works of creation, they actually possessed an intelligible revelation of the divine existence and perfections. Indeed this revelation was so generally neglected that men did not know what it taught. Still they had the knowledge, in the same sense that those who have the Bible are said to have the knowledge of the will of God, however much they may neglect and disregard it. In both cases knowledge is presented and a revelation made, and in both cases ignorance has no excuse. As one can find no excuse for the impiety of the heathen on the grounds of unavoidable ignorance, their idolatry was the fruit of depravity.
The apostle therefore says that although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him. To “glorify” is to ascribe honor to anyone, to praise, and also to honor, to make glorious, or to cause someone else to honor anyone. Men are said to glorify God either when they ascribe glory to him, or when they act in ways that lead others to honor him. In the present case, the former idea is expressed by the word. They did not reverence and worship God as their God, nei ther did they acknowledge the blessings which they received daily at his hands.
Instead of giving God the homage and gratitude which are due to him, their thinking became futile. According to its constant scriptural use, the word for “futile” [translated “vain” in the kjv — Ed.] means both foolish and wicked. A futile way of life is a corrupt way of life (1 Peter 1:18), and futility is wickedness (see Ephesians 4:17). These words are all frequently used in the Bible in reference to idolatry, as idols are often called “worthless” (e.g., Acts 14:15). The word translated thinking (zuzu) usually has, in the New Testament, the implication of evil: evil thoughts or machinations. The thoughts of the heathen concerning God were perverted and corrupt thoughts. The whole clause therefore means that the heathen, in refusing to recognize the true God, entertained foolish and wicked thoughts about the Divine Being; that is, they sank into the folly and sin of idolatry.
Their foolish hearts were darkened: they lost the light of divine knowledge; foolish hearts are hearts destitute of discernment — that is, insight into the nature of divine things. The consequence of this lack of divine knowledge was darkness. The word “heart” stands for the whole soul. Hence men are said to understand with the heart (Matthew 13:15) and to believe with the heart (10:10); the heart is said to be enlightened with knowledge (2 Corinthians 4:6), and the eyes of the heart are said to be opened (Ephesians 1:18). The word “mind” is used with the same latitude, not only for the intellect, but also for the seat of the affections, as in Ephesians 2:3, where we read of the desires of the mind [see kjv, which gives a literal rendering of the Greek — Ed.]. It is not merely intellectual darkness or ignorance which the apostle describes in this verse, but the whole moral state. Throughout the Scriptures we find the idea of foolishness and sin, of wisdom and piety, intimately connected. In the language of the Bible, a fool is an impious man; the wise are the pious, those who fear God; foolishness is sin; understanding is religion. The folly and darkness about which the apostle speaks here are therefore expressive of a lack of divine knowledge, which is both the effect and cause of moral depravity.
22. Claimed to be wise; “claimed” in the sense of pretending to be. The more they boasted of their wisdom, the more conspicuous became their folly. They became fools. What greater folly can there be than to worship beasts rather than God? The apostle refers to this in the next verse.
23. Exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man. Their amazing folly consisted in the fact that as rational beings, they worshiped the creature in preference to the Creator. The sense of the Greek word exchanged is not that they changed one thing into another, but that they exchanged one thing for another. The glory is a collective term for all the divine perfections. They exchanged the substance for the image, the substantial or real divine glories for images made to look like mortal man. The contrast is not merely between God and man, or between the incorruptible, imperishable, eternal God and frail man, but between this incorruptible God and the image of a man. It was not only, however, in the worship of the images of men that the degradation of the heathen was shown, for they paid religious homage to birds, beasts, and reptiles. In such idolatry the idol or animal was, for most people, the ultimate object of worship. Some professed to view the visible image as a mere symbol of the real object of their adoration, while others believed that the gods in some way filled these idols and operated through them; and yet others thought that the universal principle of being was worshiped under these outward appearances. The Scriptures take no account of these distinctions. All who bowed down to sticks and stones are denounced as worshiping gods which had been made with their own hands. Idolatry includes not merely the worship of false gods, but the worship of the true God through images. The universal prevalence of idolatry among the heathen, despite the revelation which God had made of himself in his deeds, is the evidence which Paul adduces to prove that they are ungodly and consequently exposed to that wrath which is revealed against all ungodliness. In the following verses, to the end of the chapter, he shows that they are unrighteous and that the consequence of their departure from God makes them sink into the most degraded vices.
24. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity. The most natural construction of this passage is to connect to sexual impurity with gave over: “God gave them over to sexual impurity.” We have the same construction in verses 26 and 28, and frequently elsewhere. To link gave over with in (ein) the sinful desires, as Beza and others do, does give a good meaning: “He gave them up to their desires of sexual impurity” — that is, so that they became unclean. But this is opposed to its constant usage in the New Testament, since “gave up” never occurs with the Greek en. If the former construction is adopted, in their desires may be translated as it is in our version: it is through their “sinful desires”; or, better, “in their sinful desires,” “in” expressing their condition or circumstances; through the lusts (kjv) — that is, being in them, immersed in them.
For the degrading. This phrase may depend on the preceding noun: “the sexual impurity of degrading.” But as this grammatical construction (an infinitive with the genitive article) in Greek is so frequently used to express design, or simple sequence, it is better to make it depend on the whole preceding clause — literally, “he gave them up to uncleanness, to dishonor”; that is, either in order that they might dishonor, or so that they dishonored. Dishonor (kjv) (niv, “degrading”) may be taken either as “so that they dishonored their bodies,” or as passive, “so that their bodies were dishonored.” The former fits the context better. With one another is either equivalent to “reciprocally,” they dishonored one another as to their bodies; or “in themselves,” dishonoring their bodies in themselves.
This abandoning of themselves to the dominion of sin is represented as a punitive infliction. They forsook God; therefore he gave them up to sexual impurity. This has been explained as a simple permission on God’s part. But this removes no real difficulty. If God permits those who forsake him to sink into vice, he does so knowingly and intentionally. The language of the apostle, as well as the analogy of Scripture, demands more than this. It is at least a judicial abandonment. It is as a punishment for their apostasy that God gives men up to the power of sin. He withdraws the restraints of his providence and grace and gives the wicked over to the dominion of sin. God is presented in the Bible as the absolute moral and physical ruler of the world. He governs all things according to the counsel of his own will and the nature of his creatures. What happens as a consequence does not come about by chance, but is designed; and the order of events is under his control. “It is beyond question,” says Tholuck, “that, according to the teaching of the Old and New Testaments, sin is the punishment of sin.” So the rabbis teach, “The reward of a good deed is a good deed, and of an evil deed, an evil deed.”
All experience also teaches us this. We see that sin follows sin as an avenger. De Wette truly says, “This is no mere Jewish doctrine, but it is universally true from the absolute standpoint of religion.” God is not a mere idle spectator of the order of events; he is at once the moral governor and efficient controller of all things. “Man is not ‘a virtue-machine,’” says Meyer, “when God rewards virtue with virtue; neither is he ‘a sin- machine,’ when God punishes sin with sin.” Men are as free to sin as they are to obey. What in one passage and from one point of view is correctly presented as the work of God, in another passage and from another point of view is no less correctly presented as the work of man. What is here said to be God’s work is declared in Ephesians 4:19 to be the sinner’s own work.
25. They exchanged (“who changed” in the Greek). The pronoun has a causal sense: “being such as those who” — that is, “because they exchanged the truth of God for a lie.” The construction is the same as in verse 23: “they exchanged for,” not “they changed into.” The truth of God. Either a paraphrase for “the true God” or “the truth concerning God” — that is, right conceptions of God.
For a lie. Either a false god or falsehood — that is, false views of God. The former is the better explanation. The glory of God is God himself as glorious, and the truth of God, in this connection, is God himself as true — that is, the true God. In the Old Testament, as in Jeremiah 13:25 and 16:19, the gods of the heathen are referred to as lies. Anything which is not what it pretends to be, or what it is supposed to be, is in the Scriptures called a lie. The proof of this apostasy is that they worshiped and served. These words are often synonymous, both being used to express inward reverence and outward worship, although the former expresses the feeling and the latter the outward service. Created things; not the creation, but any particular created thing. This noun belongs, in a sense, to both the preceding verbs, although the first by itself would require the accusative. Rather than the Creator; literally “beyond,” in the sense of “more than,” or in the sense of “passing by,” “neglecting.” The latter fits best.
Who is forever praised. Amen; who, notwithstanding the neglect of the heathen, is the ever-blessed God. This is the natural tribute of reverence toward the God whom men dishonored by their idolatry. The Greek word translated praised (“blessed” in kjv) does not mean “worthy of praise,” but “who is in fact the object of praise to all holy beings.” Strictly speaking Amen is a Hebrew adjective, signifying “true” or “faithful.” At the beginning of a sentence it is often used adverbially: “truly,” “assuredly”; at the end of a sentence it is used to express assent: “it is true,” “so let it be.” Paul says Amen to the declaration that God is forever praised.
26. Because of this. That is, because they worshiped the creature rather than the Creator, God gave them up to corrupt feelings. Shameful lusts means passions which are degrading and when indulged in cover men with ignominy. This verse is therefore an amplification of the idea expressed in verse 24. The reason Paul refers in the first instance to the sins of sexual impurity to illustrate and prove the degradation of the heathen was probably that those sins are always closely connected with idolatry, forming at times even a part of the worship given to the false gods; also, that when they turn away from God and spiritual things, men naturally sink into the sensual; and that these sins are especially degrading; and that they were the most notorious, prevalent, and openly acknowledged of all the crimes of the heathen world. This corruption of morals was confined to no one class or sex. The description given by secular writers of the moral corruption of the pre-Christian ages is in every way as revolting as that presented by the apostle. Wetstein and Grotius furnish us with abundant proof of this. Paul first refers to the degradation of women among the heathen, because they are always the last to be affected by the decay of moral behavior, and their corruption is therefore proof that all virtue is lost.
27. The apostle, for the third time, repeats the idea that the moral degradation of the heathen was a punishment for their apostasy from God. Received, he says, in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. It is obvious from the whole context that perversion here refers to the sin of forsaking the true God. It is no less obvious that the reward or punishment for this apostasy was the moral degradation which Paul had just described.
The heathen themselves did not fail to see the close connection between impiety and vice. Those people, therefore, who would like to merge religion into morality, or who suppose that morality can be sustained without religion, are more ignorant than the heathen. They not only shut their eyes to all the teachings both of philosophy and of history, but set themselves against the wrath of God, who has revealed his purpose to abandon to the most degrading lust those who forsake him.
28. Here Paul repeats the idea, already expressed in verses 24 and 26, that God abandons those who abandon him. Furthermore. The cases are parallel: as they deserted God, so God abandoned them (compare John 17:2). They did not think it worthwhile. The verb means “to try or put to the test, to examine, to approve, to regard as worthy” (1 Corinthians 16:3; 1 Thessalonians 2:4) and, when followed by an infinitive, as here, to think it worthwhile. The heathen did not think it worth the trouble to retain the knowledge of God. They considered religion to be useless and supposed they could live without God. The phrase to retain the knowledge is stronger than simply “to know.” The text means “to retain in accurate or practical knowledge.” It was the practical recognition of the only true God, whose eternal power and Godhead are revealed in his works, that men were constantly unwilling to make.
God gave them over to a depraved mind. Beza, Bengel, and others interpret depraved here as “incapable of judgment or discernment.” But this is not in keeping with its scriptural use or its etymology. To do what ought not to be done — that is, to do things which are unsuited to the nature and duties of man. The following verses contain a long and painful catalog. To do is the exegetical infinitive; that is, “so that they did.” It expresses the consequence of the dereliction just spoken of, and the natural fruit of a reprobate mind.
29-31. They have become filled. The Greek construction links this either with the them of the preceding verse: “he gave them up, filled with all unrighteousness”; or it depends on the preceding infinitive to do: “so that they, filled with all unrighteousness, should commit ...” It is not connected with gave them over to imply that God gave them up after they were thus corrupt, but is linked with to do to express the consequence of God’s abandoning them to do the things which are not right. The crimes here mentioned were commonplace. The heathen were full of them. They not only abounded, but in many cases were excused and even justified. Although the picture drawn here is dark, it is not as dark as that presented by the most distinguished Greek and Latin authors about their own countrymen. Commentators have collected a fearful array of passages from the ancient writers, which more than support the account given by the apostle. What Paul says about the ancient heathen world is true in all its essential features of men in all generations. Wherever men have existed, there have they shown themselves to be sinners, ungodly and unrighteous, and therefore justly exposed to the wrath of God.
Fornication [this appears in the kjv but is omitted by many ancient manuscripts and by the niv — Ed.] is the first and most prominent of the vices which preoccupied the heathen. Evil (Greek, porneia; kjv, “wickedness”) is the disposition to inflict evil; greed (kjv, “covetousness”), rapacity, is the desire to have more than is our due; depravity (kjv, “maliciousness”) is malignity, it is malice in practice; envy and murder are linked together either because they sound similar or because the former leads on to the latter; strife and deceit are closely related evils. The primary meaning of deceit is a bait, food exposed to trap an animal; then it came to mean the disposition to deceive, or an act of deception; malice is malevolence, the disposition to make the worst of everything; gossips (kjv, “whisperers”) means secret slanderers; slanderers (kjv, “backbiters”) are people who speak against others.
God-haters are either hateful in God’s sight, or hating God; its general use in the New Testament favors the passive tense, but the context here indicates the active meaning. All wicked men, and not any one particular class, are the objects of divine displeasure. To meet this difficulty, Meyer proposes to make this word a mere qualification of the preceding, “God- abhorred detractors.” This, however, is out of keeping with the whole passage. The great majority of commentators adopt the active sense.
Then follow three designations which express the different forms of pride: the insolent, the arrogant, the boastful. We read, they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents. That disobedience to parents is included in this fearful list shows how the sacred writers regarded this sin.
In verse 31 all the Greek words begin with the prefix a — indicating absence or lack. Senseless means “without insight into moral or religious things” — that is, so blinded and besotted that evil is thought of as good and good as evil; faithless — that is, perfidious; heartless refers to those in whom the natural affection for parents or children is suppressed; implacable, kjv (ruthless, niv), omitted in some ancient manuscripts, means “without pity.”
32. Although they know God's righteous decree. That is, “although they well know . . .” The heathen whose deeds have just been described are declared to be men who know God's righteous decree. Here God's righteous decree is God’s declaration about what is right and just. The significance of this declaration is contained in the clause, that those who do such things deserve death. Death here, as is frequently the case, means punishment, in the general meaning of that word. It expresses the penalty of the law and includes all evil inflicted for the satisfaction of justice. Paul therefore teaches that the heathen knew they deserved punishment for their crimes, or in other words, that they were justly exposed to God’s wrath, which was revealed against all human ungodliness and unrighteousness. In verse 15 of the following chapter Paul explains the source of this knowledge. It was a knowledge written in their hearts, as part of their nature, and it was implied in their being moral agents. As Paul had already shown that the godlessness of the heathen had no excuse, since they knew about the true God, so here he shows that their immorality had no excuse, since they did not sin in ignorance of the nature or consequences of their sin.
This passage also shows that God’s judicial giving up of mankind does not destroy man’s freedom of choice or his responsibility. Men give themselves over to do evil, and yet know that they deserve death for what they do. The stream which carries them away is not outside but within them. It is their own corrupt nature. It is themselves. Even though they know the bad consequences of the crimes listed above, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. This is the lowest point of degradation. To sin, even in the heat of passion, is evil; but to delight in the sins of others shows that men are set in their purpose and have a fixed preference: wickedness. Such is the apostle’s argument in order to prove that the heathen are all sinful, that they are justly charged with ungodliness and unrighteousness and are consequently exposed to God’s wrath.