|<< Romans 1 >>|
Barnes' Notes on the Bible
Introduction to Romans
This Epistle has been, with great uniformity, attributed to the apostle Paul and received as a part of the sacred canon. In the church it has never been called into question as a genuine, inspired book, except by three of the ancient sects deemed heretical - the Ebionites, the Encratites, and Cerinthians. However, even they did not deny that it was written by the apostle Paul. They rejected it because they could not make its doctrines harmonize with their views of other parts of the Scriptures. Their rejecting it, therefore, does not militate against its genuineness. That is a question to be settled historically, like the genuineness of any other ancient writing. On this point the testimony of antiquity is uniform. The proof on this subject may be seen at length in Lardner's works. The internal evidence that this was written by Paul is stated in a most ingenious and masterly manner by Dr. Paley in his Horae Pauline.
It is agreed by all, that this Epistle was written in Greek. Though addressed to a people whose language was Latin, yet this Epistle to them, like those to other churches, was in Greek. On this point, there is also no debate. The reasons why this language was chosen were probably the following:
(1) The Epistle was designed doubtless to be read by other churches as well as the Roman congregation; compare Colossians 4:16. Yet the Greek language, being more generally known and spoken, was more adapted for this purpose than the Latin tongue.
(2) the Greek language was then understood at Rome and extensively spoken. It was a part of polite education to learn it. The Roman youth were taught it; and it was the fashion of the times to study it, even so much so as to make it a matter of complaint that the Latin was neglected for it by the Roman youth. Thus, Cicero (Pro Arch.) says, "The Greek language is spoken in almost all nations; the Latin is confined to our comparatively narrow borders." Tacitus (Orator 29) says, "An infant born now is committed to a Greek nurse." Juvenal (vi. 185) speaks of its being considered as an indispensable part of polite education, to be acquainted with the Greek.
(3) it is not impossible that the Jews at Rome, who constituted a separate colony, were better acquainted with the Greek than the Latin. They had a Greek translation (the Septuagint), but no Latin translation of the Scriptures (as yet), and it is very possible that they used the language in which they were accustomed to read their Scriptures and which was extensively spoken by their brethren throughout the world.
(4) the apostle was himself probably more familiar with the Greek than the Latin. He was a native of Cilicia, where the Greek was doubtless spoken, and he not infrequently quotes the Greek poets in his addresses and epistles Acts 21:37; Acts 17:28; Titus 1:12; 1 Corinthians 15:33.
This Epistle is placed first among Paul's epistles, not because it was the first written, but because of the length and importance of the Epistle itself, as well as the importance of the church in the imperial city. It has uniformly had this place in the sacred canon, though there is reason to believe that the Epistle to the Galatians, the first to the Corinthians, and perhaps the two letters to the Thessalonians were written before this.
Of the time when it was written, there can be little doubt. About the year 52 or 54 a.d. the Emperor Claudius banished all Jews from Rome. In Acts 18:2, we have an account of the first acquaintance of Paul with Aquila and Priscilla who had departed from Rome in consequence of that decree. This acquaintance was formed in Corinth; and we are told that Paul stayed with them and worked at the same occupation Acts 18:3. In Romans 16:3-4, Paul directs the church to greet Priscilla and Aquila, who had for his life laid down their own necks. This service which they rendered to Paul must have been therefore after the decree of Claudius; and of course the Epistle must have been written after the year 52 ad.
In Acts 18:19, we are told that Paul left Aquila and Priscilla at Ephesus. Paul made a journey through the neighboring regions, and then returned to Ephesus Acts 19:1. Paul remained at Ephesus at least two years Acts 19:8, Acts 19:9, Acts 19:10, and while here probably wrote the First Epistle to the Corinthians. In that Epistle 1 Corinthians 16:19 he sends the salutation of Priscilla and Aquila, who were, of course, still at Ephesus. The Epistle to the Romans, therefore, in which Paul sends his salutation to Aquila and Priscilla, as being then at Rome, could not be written until after they had left Ephesus and returned to Rome; that is, until three years at least after the decree of Claudius in 52 or 54 ad.
Still further, when Paul wrote this Epistle of Romans, he was about to depart for Jerusalem to convey a collection which had been made for the poor saints there, by the churches in Macedonia and Achaia; Romans 15:25-26. When he had done this, he intended to go to Rome; Romans 15:28. Now, by looking at the Acts of the Apostles, we can determine when this occurred. At this time, he sent Timothy and Erastus ahead of him into Macedonia, while he remained in Asia for a season Acts 19:22. After this Acts 20:1-2, Paul himself went into Macedonia, passed through Greece, and remained about three months there. In this journey it is almost certain that Paul went to Corinth, the capital of Achaia, at which time it is supposed that Romans was written. From this place he set out for Jerusalem where he was made a prisoner, and after remaining a prisoner for two years Acts 24:27, he was sent to Rome about 60 a.d. Allowing for the time of his traveling and his imprisonment, it must have been about three years from the time that he purposed to go to Jerusalem; that is, from the time that he finished Romans Rom 15:25-29 to the time when he actually reached Rome, and thus the Epistle to the Romans must have been written about 57 ad.
It is clear also, that the Epistle to the Romans was written from Corinth. In Romans 16:1, Phoebe, a member of the church at Cenchrea, is commended to the Roman Christians. She probably had charge of the letter, or she accompanied those who had it. Cenchrea was the port of the city of Corinth, about seven or eight miles from the city. In Romans 16:23, Gaius is spoken of as the host of Paul, or he of whose hospitality Paul partook, but Gaius was baptized by Paul at Corinth, and Corinth was manifestly his place of residence; 1 Corinthians 1:14. Erastus is also mentioned as the chamberlain of the city where the Epistle to the Romans was written; but this Erastus is mentioned as having his home at Corinth; 2 Timothy 4:20. From all this it is manifest that Romans was written at Corinth about the year 57 ad.
Concerning the state of the church at Rome at that time, it is not easy to form a precise opinion. From this Epistle it is evident that it was composed of Jews and Gentiles and that one purpose of writing to it was to reconcile their jarring opinions, particularly about the obligation of the Jewish law, the advantage of the Jew, and the way of justification. It is probable that the two parties in the church were endeavoring to defend each their special opinions, and that the apostle took this opportunity and mode to state to his converted countrymen the great doctrines of Christianity, and the relation of the Law of Moses to the Christian system. The Epistle itself is full proof that the church to whom it was addressed was composed of Jews and Gentiles. No small part of it is an argument expressly with the Jews; Romans 2; Romans 3; Romans 4; Romans 9; Romans 10; Romans 11. And no small part of the Epistle is also designed to state the true doctrine about the character of the Gentiles and the way in which they could be justified before God.
At this time, there was a large number of Jews at Rome. When Pompey the Great overran Judea, he sent a large number of Jewish prisoners to Rome to be sold as slaves, but it was not easy to control them. The Jews persevered resolutely and obstinately in adhering to the rites of their nation, in keeping the Sabbath, etc. So, the Romans eventually chose to give them their freedom and assigned them a place in the vicinity of the city across the Tiber River. Here a town was built, which was principally inhabited by Jews. Josephus mentions that 4,000 Jews were banished from Rome at one time to Sardinia, and that a still greater number were punished who were unwilling to become soldiers; Ant. book 18, chapter 3, section 5. Philo (Legat. a.d. Caium) says, that many of the Jews at Rome had obtained their freedom; for, says "he, being made captive in war, and brought into Italy, they were set at liberty by their masters, neither were they compelled to change the rites of their fathers;" see also Josephus, Antiq. book 17, chapter 2, section 1; Suetonius' Life of Tiberius, 36, and the notes at Acts 6:9. From that large number of Jews, together with those converted from the Gentiles, the church at Rome was collected, and it is easy to see that in that church there would be a great diversity of sentiment, and, no doubt, warm discussions about the authority of the Mosaic Law.
At what time, or by whom, the gospel was first preached at Rome has been a matter of controversy. The Roman Catholic Church has always maintained that it was founded by Peter, and they have thence drawn an argument for their high claims and infallibility. On this subject they make a confident appeal to some of the fathers. There is strong evidence to be derived from this Epistle itself, and from the Acts , that Paul did not regard Peter as having any such primacy and ascendency in the Roman church as are claimed for him by the Papists.
(1) in this whole Epistle, there is no mention of Peter at all! It is not suggested that he had been or was then in Rome. If he had been, and the church had been founded by him, it is incredible that Paul did not make mention of that fact. This is the more striking, as it was done in other cases where churches had been founded by other men; see 1 Corinthians 1:12-15. Peter (Cephas) is especially mentioned repeatedly by the apostle Paul in his other epistles 1 Corinthians 3:22; 1 Corinthians 9:5; 1 Corinthians 15:5; Galatians 2:9; Galatians 1:18; Galatians 2:7-8, Galatians 2:14. In these places Peter is mentioned in connection with the churches at Corinth and Galatia, yet never there as appealing to his authority, but in regard to the latter, expressly calling it into question. Now, it is incredible that if Peter had been then at Rome, and had founded the church there, and was regarded as invested with any unique authority over it, that Paul would never once have even suggested Peter's name!
(2) it is clear that Peter was not there when Paul wrote this Epistle. If he had been, he could not have failed to have sent him a salutation, amid the numbers that he saluted in Romans 16.
(3) in the Acts of the Apostles, there is no mention of Peter's having been at Rome, but the presumption from that history is almost conclusive that he had not been. In Acts 12:3-4, we have an account of his having been imprisoned by Herod Agrippa near the close of his reign (compare Acts 5:23). This occurred about the third or fourth year of the reign of Claudius, who began to reign 41 a.d. It is altogether improbable that he had been at Rome before this. Claudius had not reigned more than three years, and all the testimony that the church fathers give is that Peter came to Rome sometime during Claudius' reign.
(4) Peter was still in Jerusalem in the 9th or 10th year of the reign of Claudius; Acts 15:6, etc. Nor is there any mention made then of his having been at Rome.
(5) Paul went to Rome about 60 a.d. There is no mention made then of Peter's being with him or being there. If he had been, it could hardly have failed to have been recorded. This is especially remarkable when Paul's meeting with the brethren is expressly mentioned Acts 28:14-15, and when it is recorded that he met the Jews, and stayed with them, and spent no less than two years in Rome. If Peter had been there, such a fact could not fail to have been recorded or alluded to, either in the Book of Acts or in the Epistle to the Romans.
(6) the Epistles to the Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, to Philemon, and the Second Epistle to Timothy (Lardner, vi. 235) were written from Rome during the residence of Paul as a prisoner; and the Epistle to the Hebrews probably also while he was still in Italy. In none of these epistles is there any hint that Peter was then or had been at Rome; a fact that cannot be accounted for if Peter were truly regarded as the founder of that church, and especially if he were then in that city. Yet in those epistles there are the salutations of a number to those churches. In particular, Epaphras, Luke the beloved physician Colossians 4:12, Colossians 4:14, and the saints of the household of Caesar are mentioned Philippians 4:22. In 2 Timothy 4:11, Paul expressly affirms that only Luke was with him, a declaration utterly irreconcilable with the supposition that Peter was then in Rome.
(7) if Peter was ever in Rome, therefore, of which indeed there is no reason to doubt, he must have come there after Paul; at what time is unknown. That he was there cannot be doubted without calling into question the truth of all history.
When or by whom the gospel was preached first at Rome, it is not easy, perhaps not possible, to determine. In the account of the day of Pentecost Acts 2:10, we find, among others, that there were present strangers of Rome, and it is not improbable that they carried back the knowledge of Jesus Christ, and they became the founders of the Roman congregation. One design and effect of that miracle was doubtless to spread the knowledge of the Saviour among all nations; see the notes at Acts 2. In the list of persons who are mentioned in Romans 16 it is not improbable that some of those early converts are included; and that Paul thus intended to show honor to their early conversion and zeal in the cause of Christianity. Thus, Romans 16:7, he designates Andronicus and Junia, his kinsmen and fellow-prisoners who were distinguished among the apostles and who had been converted before Paul, that is, before 34 a.d., at least eight years before it was ever pretended that Peter was in Rome. Other persons are also mentioned as distinguished, and it is not improbable that they were the early founders of the church at Rome (Romans 16:12-13, etc.)
That the church at Rome was founded early is evident from the celebrity status which it had acquired. At the time when Paul wrote this Epistle (57 a.d.), their faith was spoken of throughout the world Romans 1:8. The character of the church at Rome cannot be clearly ascertained. Yet it is clear that it was not made up merely of the lower classes of the community. In Philippians 4:22, it appears that the gospel had made its way into the family of Caesar, and that a part of his household had been converted to the Christian faith. Some of the church fathers affirm that Nero himself in the beginning of his reign was favorably impressed with regard to Christianity, and it is possible that this might have been through the instrumentality of his family. But little on this subject can be known. While it is probable that the great mass of believers in all the early churches was of obscure and plebeian origin, it is also certain that some who were rich, and noble, and learned, became members of the church of Christ (see 1 Timothy 2:9; 1 Peter 3:3; 1 Timothy 6:20; Colossians 2:8; 1 Corinthians 1:26; Acts 17:34).
This Epistle has been usually deemed the most difficult of interpretation of any part of the New Testament; and no small part of the controversies in the Christian church have grown out of discussions about its meaning. Early in the history of the church, even before the death of the apostles, we learn from 2 Peter 3:16, that the writings of Paul were some of them regarded as being "hard to be understood"; and that "the unlearned and unstable wrested them to their own destruction." It is probable that Peter has reference here to the high and mysterious doctrines about justification and the sovereignty of God, and the doctrines of election and decrees. From the Epistle of James, it would seem probable also, that already the apostle Paul's doctrine of justification by faith had been perverted and abused. It seems to have been inferred that good works were unnecessary; and here was the beginning of the cheerless and withering system of Antinomianism - than which a more destructive or pestilential heresy never found its way into the Christian church. Several reasons might be assigned for the controversies which have grown out of this Epistle:
(1) The very structure of the argument, and the uniqueness of the apostle's manner of writing. Paul is rapid, mighty, profound, often involved, readily following a new thought, leaving the regular subject, and returning again after a considerable interval. Hence, his writings abound with parentheses and with complicated paragraphs.
(2) objections are often introduced, so that it requires close attention to determine their precise bearing. Though Paul employs no small part of the Epistle in answering objections, yet an objector is never once formally introduced or mentioned.
(3) many of Paul's expressions and phrases are liable to be misunderstood, and capable of perversion. Of this class are such expressions as "the righteousness of faith," "the righteousness of God," etc.
(4) the doctrines themselves are high and mysterious. They are those subjects upon which the most profound minds have been in all ages exercised in vain. On them there has been, and always will be a difference of opinion. Even with the most honest intentions that people ever have, they find it difficult or impossible to approach the investigation of them without the bias of early education or the prejudice of previous opinion. In this world, it is not given to human beings to fully understand these great doctrines. And it is not wonderful that the discussion of them has given rise to endless controversies: and that they who have:
Of Providence, foreknowledge, will, and fate;
Fixed fate, free will, foreknowledge absolute,
Have found no end, in wandering mazes lost.
(5) It cannot be denied that one reason why the epistles of Paul have been regarded as so difficult has been an unwillingness to admit the truth of the plain doctrines which he teaches. The heart is by nature opposed to them and comes to believe them with great reluctance. This feeling will account for no small part of the difficulties felt in regard to this Epistle. There is one great maxim in interpreting the Scriptures that can never be departed from. It is, that people can never understand them aright, until they are willing to allow them to speak out their fair and proper meaning. When people are determined not to find certain doctrines in the Bible, nothing is more natural than that they should find difficulties in it, and complain much of its great obscurity and mystery. Iadd,
(6) That one principal reason why so much difficulty has been felt here, has been an unwillingness to stop where the apostle does. People have desired to advance further, and penetrate the mysteries which the Spirit of inspiration has not disclosed. Where Paul states a simple fact, people often advance a theory. The fact may be clear and plain; their theory is obscure, involved, mysterious, or absurd. By degrees they learn to unite the fact and the theory. They regard their explanation as the only possible one; and, since the fact in question has the authority of divine revelation, so they insensibly come to regard their theory in the same light; and the one who calls into question their speculation about the cause, or the mode, is set down as heretical, and as denying the doctrine of the apostle. A melancholy instance of this we have in the account which the apostle gives Romans 5 about the effect of the sin of Adam. The simple fact is stated that that sin was followed by the sin and ruin of all his posterity.
Yet he offers no explanation of the fact. He leaves it as indubitable; and as not demanding an explanation in his argument - perhaps as not admitting it. This is the whole of his doctrine on that subject. Yet people have not been satisfied with that. They have sought for a theory to account for it. And many suppose that they have found it in the doctrine that the sin of Adam is imputed, or set over by an arbitrary arrangement to Beings otherwise innocent, and that they are held to be responsible for a deed committed by a man thousands of years before they were born. This is the theory; and people insensibly forget that it is mere theory, and they blend that and the fact which the apostle states together; and deem the denial of the one, heresy as much as the denial of the other, i. e., they make it as impious to call into question their philosophy, as to doubt the facts stated on the authority of the apostle Paul. If people desire to understand the epistles of Paul, and avoid difficulties, they should be willing to leave it where he does; and this single rule would have made useless several years and entire volumes of controversy.
Perhaps, on the whole, there is no book of the New Testament that demands more a humble, docile, and prayerful disposition in its interpretation than this Epistle. Its profound doctrines, its abstruse inquiries, and the opposition of many of those doctrines to the views of the unrenewed and unsubdued heart of man, make a spirit of docility and prayer especially necessary in its investigation. No one has ever understood the reasonings and views of the apostle Paul except under the influence of elevated piety. No one has ever found opposition to his doctrines recede, and difficulties vanish, who did not bring the mind in an humble frame to receive all that has been revealed; and that, in a spirit of humble prayer, did not purpose to lay aside all bias and open the heart to the full influence of the elevated truths which the apostle Paul inculcates. Where there is a willingness that God should reign and do all His pleasure, this Epistle to the Romans may, in its general character, be easily understood. Where this is something lacking, it will appear full of mystery and perplexity; the mind will be embarrassed, and the heart dissatisfied with its doctrines; and the unhumbled spirit will rise from its study only confused, irritated, perplexed, and dissatisfied.
1Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God,
Paul - The original name of the author of this Epistle was "Saul." Acts 7:58; Acts 7:1; Acts 8:1, etc. This was changed to Paul (see the note at Acts 13:9), and by this name he is generally known in the New Testament. The reason why he assumed this name is not certainly known. It was, however, in accordance with the custom of the times; see the note at Acts 13:9. The name Saul was Hebrew; the name Paul was Roman. In addressing a letter to the Romans, he would naturally make use of the name to which they were accustomed, and which would excite no prejudice among them. The ancient custom was to begin an epistle with the name of the writer, as Cicero to Varro, etc. We record the name at the end. It may be remarked, however, that the placing the name of the writer at the beginning of an epistle was always done, and is still, when the letter was one of authority, or when it conferred any special privileges. Thus, in the proclamation of Cyrus Ezra 1:2, "Thus saith Cyrus, king of Persia," etc.; see also Ezra 4:11; Ezra 7:12. "Artaxerxes, king of kings, unto Ezra the priest," etc. Daniel 4:1. The commencement of a letter by an apostle to a Christian church in this manner was especially proper as indicating authority.
A servant - This name was what the Lord Jesus himself directed His disciples to use, as their general appellation; Matthew 10:25; Matthew 20:27; Mark 10:44. And it was the customary name which they assumed; Galatians 1:10; Colossians 4:12; 2 Peter 1:1; Jde 1:1; Acts 4:29; Titus 1:1; James 1:1. The proper meaning of this word servant, δοῦλος doulos, is slave, one who is not free. It expresses the condition of one who has a master, or who is at the control of another. It is often, however, applied to courtiers, or the officers that serve under a king: because in an eastern monarchy the relation of an absolute king to his courtiers corresponded nearly to that of a master and a slave. Thus, the word is expressive of dignity and honor; and the servants of a king denote officers of a high rank and station. It is applied to the prophets as those who were honored by God, or especially entrusted by him with office; Deuteronomy 34:5; Joshua 1:2; Jeremiah 25:4. The name is also given to the Messiah, Isaiah 42:1, "Behold my servant in whom my soul delighteth," etc.; Isaiah 53:11, "shall my righteous servant justify many." The apostle uses it here evidently to denote his acknowledging Jesus Christ as his master; as indicating his dignity, as especially appointed by him to his great work; and as showing that in this Epistle he intended to assume no authority of his own, but simply to declare the will of his master, and theirs.
Called to be an apostle - This word called means here not merely to be invited, but has the sense of appointed. It indicates that he had not assumed the office himself, but that he was set apart to it by the authority of Christ himself. It was important for Paul to state this,
(1) Because the other apostles had been called or chosen to this work John 15:16, John 15:19; Matthew 10:1; Luke 6:13; and,
(2) Because Paul was not one of those originally appointed.
It was of consequence for him therefore, to affirm that he had not taken this high office to himself, but that he had been called to it by the authority of Jesus Christ. His appointment to this office he not infrequently takes occasion to vindicate; 1 Corinthians 9:1, etc.: Galatians 1:12-24; 2 Corinthians 12:12; 1 Timothy 2:7; 2 Timothy 1:11; Romans 11:13.
An apostle - One sent to execute a commission. It is applied because the apostles were sent out by Jesus Christ to preach his gospel, and to establish his church; Matthew 10:2 note; Luke 6:13 note.
Separated - The word translated "separated unto," ἀφορίζω aphorizō, means to designate, to mark out by fixed limits, to bound as a field, etc. It denotes those who are "separated," or called out from the common mass; Acts 19:9; 2 Corinthians 6:17. The meaning here does not materially differ from the expression, "called to be an apostle," except that perhaps this includes the notion of the purpose or designation of God to this work. Thus, Paul uses the same word respecting himself; Galatians 1:15, "God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace," that is, God designated me; marked me out; or designed that I should be an apostle from my infancy. In the same way Jeremiah was designated to be a prophet; Jeremiah 1:5.
Unto the gospel of God - Designated or designed by God that I should make it "my business" to preach the gospel. Set apart to this, as the special, great work of my life; as having no other object for which I should live. For the meaning of the word "gospel," see the note at Matthew 1:1. It is called the gospel of God because it is his appointment; it has been originated by him, and has his authority. The function of an apostle was to preach the gospel Paul regarded himself as separated to this work. It was not to live in splendor, wealth, and ease, but to devote himself to this great business of proclaiming good news, that God was reconciled to people in his Son. This is the sole business of all ministers of "religion."
2(Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,)
Which he had promised afore - Which gospel, or which doctrines, he had before announced.
By the prophets - The word "prophets" here is used to include those who wrote as well as those who spake. It included the teachers of the ancient Jews generally.
In the holy scriptures - In the writings of the Old Testament. They were called holy because they were inspired by the Holy Spirit, and were regarded as separated from all other writings, and worthy of all reverence. The apostle here declares that he was not about to advance anything new. His doctrines were in accordance with the acknowledged oracles of God. Though they might appear to be new, yet he regarded the gospel as entirely consistent with all that had been declared in the Jewish dispensation; and not only consistent, but as actually promised there. He affirms, therefore:
(1) That all this was promised, and no small part of the Epistle is employed to show this.
(2) that it was confirmed by the authority of holy and inspired men.
(3) that it depended on no vague and loose tradition, but was recorded, so that people might examine for themselves.
The reason why the apostle was so anxious to show that his doctrine coincided with the Old Testament was because the church at Rome was made up in part of Jews. He wished to show them, and the remainder of his countrymen, that the Christian religion was built on the foundation of their prophets, and their acknowledged writings. So doing, he would disarm their prejudice, and furnish a proof of the truth of religion. It was a constant position with the apostle that he advanced nothing but what was maintained by the best and holiest men of the nation. Acts 26:22-23, "saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come," etc. There was a further reason here for his appealing so much to the Old Testament. He had never been at Rome. He was therefore personally a stranger, and it was proper for him then especially to show his regard for the doctrines of the prophets. Hence, he appeals here so often to the Old Testament; and defends every point by the authority of the Bible. The particular passages of the Old Testament on which he relied will come before us in the course of the Epistle. See particularly Romans 3;4; 9; 10; 11. We may see here,
(1) The reverence which Paul showed for the Old Testament. He never undervalued it. He never regarded it as obsolete, or useless. He manifestly studied it; and never fell into the impious opinion that the Old Testament is of little value.
(2) if these things were promised - predicted in the Old Testament, then Christianity is true. Every passage which he adduces is therefore proof that it is from God.
3Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh;
Concerning his Son - This is connected with the first verse, with the word "gospel." The gospel of God concerning his Son. The design of the gospel was to make a communication relative to his Son Jesus Christ. This is the whole of it. There is no "good news" to man respecting salvation except what comes by Jesus Christ.
Which was made - The word translated "was made" means usually "to be," or "to become." It is used, however, in the sense of being born. Thus, Galatians 4:4, "God sent forth his Son made of a woman," born of a woman. John 8:58, "before Abraham was (born), I am." In this sense it seems to be used here, who was born, or descended from the seed of David.
Of the seed of David - Of the posterity or lineage of David. He was a descendant of David. David was perhaps the most illustrious of the kings of Israel. The promise to him was that there should not fail a man to sit on this throne; 1 Kings 2:4; 1 Kings 8:25; 1 Kings 9:5; 2 Chronicles 6:16. This ancient promise was understood as referring to the Messiah, and hence, in the New Testament he is called the descendant of David, and so much pains is taken to show that he was of his line; Luke 1:27; Matthew 9:27; Matthew 15:22; Matthew 12:23; Matthew 21:9, Matthew 21:15; Matthew 22:42, Matthew 22:45; John 7:42; 2 Timothy 2:8. As the Jews universally believed that the Messiah would be descended from David John 7:42, it was of great importance for the sacred writers to make it out clearly that Jesus of Nazareth was of that line and family. Hence, it happened, that though our Saviour was humble, and poor, and obscure, yet he had that on which no small part of the world have been accustomed so much to pride themselves, an illustrious ancestry. To a Jew there could be scarcely any honor so high as to be descended from the best of their kings; and it shows how little the Lord Jesus esteemed the honors of this world, that he could always evince his deep humility in circumstances where people are usually proud; and that when he spoke of the honors of this world, and told how little they were worth, he was not denouncing what was not within his reach.
According to the flesh - The word "flesh," σάρξ sarx, is used in the Scriptures in a great variety of significations.
(1) it denotes, as with us, the flesh literally of any living being; Luke 24:39, "A spirit hath not flesh and bones," etc.
(2) the animal system, the body, including flesh and bones, the visible part of man, in distinction from the invisible, or the soul; Acts 2:31, "Neither did his flesh (his body) "see corruption." 1 Corinthians 5:5; 1 Corinthians 15:39.
(3) the man, the whole animated system, body and soul; Romans 8:3, "In the likeness of sinful flesh. 1 Corinthians 15:50; Matthew 16:17; Luke 3:6.
(4) human nature. As a man. Thus, Acts 2:30, "God hath sworn with an oath that of the fruit of his loins according to the flesh, that is, in his human nature, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne." Romans 9:5, "whose are the fathers, and of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, God blessed forever." The same is its meaning here. He was a descendant of David in his human nature, or as a man. This implies, of course, that he had another nature besides his human, or that while he was a man he was also something else; that there was a nature in which he was not descended from David.
That this is its meaning will still further appear by the following observations.
(1) the apostle expressly makes a contrast between his condition according to the flesh, and that according to the spirit of holiness.
(2) the expression "according to the flesh" is applied to no other one in the New Testament but to Jesus Christ. Though the word "flesh" often occurs, and is often used to denote man, yet the special expression, "according to the flesh" occurs in no other connection.
In all the Scriptures it is never said of any prophet or apostle, any lawgiver or king, or any man in any capacity, that he came in the flesh, or that he was descended from certain ancestors according to the flesh. Nor is such an expression ever used any where else. If it were applied to a mere man, we should instantly ask in what other way could he come than in the flesh? Has he a higher nature? Is he an angel, or a seraph? The expression would be unmeaningful. And when, therefore, it is applied to Jesus Christ, it implies, if language has any meaning, that there was a sense in which Jesus was not descended from David. What that was, appears in the next verse.
4And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead:
And declared - In the margin, "determined." Τοῦ ὁρισθέντος Tou horisthentos. The ancient Syriac has, "And he was known to be the Son of God by might and by the Holy Spirit, who rose from the house of the dead." The Latin Vulgate, "Who was "predestinated" the Son of God," etc. The Arabic, "The Son of God destined by power special to the Holy Spirit," etc. The word translated "declared to be" means properly "to bound, to fix limits to," as to a field, to determine its proper limits or boundaries, to "define," etc. Acts 17:26, "and hath determined the bounds of their habitation." Hence, it means to determine, constitute; ordain, decree; i, e. to fix or designate the proper boundaries of a truth, or a doctrine; to distinguish its lines and marks from error; or to show, or declare a thing to be so by any action. Luke 22:22, "the Son of man goeth as it was determined, as it was fixed; purposed, defined, in the purpose of God, and declared in the prophets. Acts 2:23, "him being delivered by the determinate counsel, the definite. constituted will, or design, of God. Acts 11:29; Hebrews 4:7, "he limiteth a certain day," fixes it, defines it. In this sense it is clearly used in this place. The act of raising him from the dead designated him, or constituted him the Son of God. It was such an act as in the circumstances of the case showed that he was the Son of God in regard to a nature which was not "according to the flesh." The ordinary resurrection of a man, like that of Lazarus, would not show that he was the Son of God; but in the circumstances of Jesus Christ it did; for he had claimed to be so; he had taught it; and God now attested the truth of his teaching by raising him from the dead.
The Son of God - The word "son" is used in a great variety of senses, denoting literally a son, then a descendant, posterity near or remote, a disciple or ward, an adopted son, or one that imitates or resembles another; see the note at Matthew 1:1. The expression "sons of God," or "son of God," is used in an almost equal latitude of signification. It is:
(1) Applied to Adam, as being immediately created by God without an earthly father; Luke 3:38.
(2) it is applied to saints or Christians, as being adopted into his family, and sustaining to him the relation of children; John 1:12-13; 1 John 3:1-2, etc. This name is given to them because they resemble him in their moral character; Matthew 5:45.
(3) it is given to strong men as resembling God in strength; Genesis 6:2, "The sons of God saw the daughters of men," etc. Here these men of violence and strength are called sons of God, just as the high hills are called hills of God, the lofty trees of Lebanon are called cedars of God, etc.
(4) kings are sometimes called his sons, as resembling him in dominion and power, Psalm 82:6.
(5) the name is given to angels because they resemble God; because he is their Creator and Father, etc., Job 1:6; Job 2:1; Daniel 3:25.
But the name the "Son of God" is in the New Testament given by way of eminence to the Lord Jesus Christ. This was the common and favorite name by which the apostles designated him. The expression "Son of God" is applied to him no less than 27 times in the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles, and 15 times in the Epistles and the Revelation The expression my Son, and his Son, thy Son, etc. is applied to him in his special relation to God, times almost without number. The other most common appellation which is given to him is "Son of man." By this name he commonly designated himself. There can be no doubt that that was assumed to denote that he was a man, that he sustained a special relation to man, and that he chose to speak of himself as a man. The first, the most obvious, impression on the use of the name "Son of man" is that he was truly a man, and was used doubtless to guard against the impression that one who manifested so many other qualities, and did so many things like a celestial being, was not truly human being.
The phrase "Son of God" stands in contrast with the title "Son of man," and as the natural and obvious import of that is that he was a man, so the natural and obvious import of the title "Son of God" is that he was divine; or that he sustained relations to God designated by the name Son of God, corresponding to the relations which he sustained to man designated by the name Son of Man. The natural idea of the phrase, "Son of God," therefore is, that he sustained a relation to God in his nature which implied more than was human or angelic; which implied equality with God. Accordingly, this idea was naturally suggested to the Jews by his calling God his Father; John 5:18, "But said also that God was his Father, "making himself equal with God." This idea Jesus immediately proceeded to confirm; see the note at John 5:19-30. The same idea is also suggested in John 10:29-31, John 10:33, John 10:36, "Say ye of him whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest: "because I said I am the Son of God?" There is in these places the fullest proof that the title suggested naturally the idea of equality with God; or the idea of his sustaining a relation to God corresponding to the relation of equality to man suggested by the title Son of man.
This view is still further sustained in the first chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, Romans 1:1-2, "God hath spoken unto us by His Son." He is the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, Romans 1:3. He is higher than the angels, and they are required to worship him, Romans 1:4-6. He is called "God," and his throne is forever and ever, Romans 1:8. He is "the Creator of the heavens and the earth," and is immutably the same, Romans 1:10-12. Thus, the rank or title of the "Son of God" suggests the ideas and attributes of the Divinity. This idea is sustained throughout the New Testament. See John 14:9, "He that hath seen me hath seen the Father;" Romans 1:23, "That all men shall honor the Son even as they honor the Father;" Colossians 1:19, "It hath pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell;" Colossians 2:9, "For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily:" Philippians 2:2-11; Revelation 5:13-14; Revelation 2:23. It is not affirmed that this title was given to the second person of the Trinity before he became incarnate; or to suggest the idea of any derivation or extraction before he was made flesh. There is no instance in which the appellation is not conferred to express his relation after he assumed human flesh. Of any derivation from God, or emanation from him in eternity, the Scriptures are silent. The title is conferred on him, it is supposed, with reference to his condition in this world, as the Messiah. And it is conferred, it is believed, for the following reasons, or to denote the following things, namely.
(1) to designate his unique relation to God, as equal with him, John 1:14, John 1:18; Matthew 11:27; Luke 10:22; Luke 3:22; 2 Peter 1:17, or as sustaining a most intimate and close connection with him, such as neither man nor angels could do, an acquaintance with his nature Matthew 11:27, plans, and counsels, such as no being but one who was equal with God could possess. In this sense, I regard it as conferred on him in the passage under consideration.
(2) it designates him as the anointed king, or the Messiah. In this sense it accords with the use of the word in Psalm 82:6. See Matthew 16:16, "Thou art "the Christ, the Son of the living God." Matthew 26:63, "I adjure thee by the living God, that thou tell us whether "thou be the Christ, the Son of God." Mark 14:61; Luke 22:70; John 1:34; Acts 9:20, "he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God."
(3) it was conferred on him to denote his miraculous conception in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Luke 1:35, "the Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, therefore διό dio also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the "Son of God."
(It is readily admitted, that on the subject of the "eternal Sonship" very much has been said of an unintelligible kind. Terms applicable only to the relation as it exists among people have been freely applied to this mystery. But whatever may be thought of such language as "the eternal generation," "the eternal procession," and "the subordination" of the Son; the doctrine itself, which this mode of speaking was invented to illustrate, and has perhaps served to obscure, is in no way affected. The question is not, Have the friends of the doctrine at all times employed judicious illustration? but, What is the "Scripture evidence" on the point? If the eternal Sonship is to be discarded on such grounds, we fear the doctrine of the Trinity must share a similar fate. Yet, those who maintain the divinity of Christ, and notwithstanding deny the eternal Sonship, seem generally to found their objections on these incomprehensible illustrations, and from thence leap to the conclusion that the doctrine itself is false.
That the title Son of God, when applied to Jesus, denotes a natural and not merely an official Sonship, a real and not a figurative relation; in other words, that it takes origin from the divine nature, is the view which the Catholic Church has all along maintained on this subject: no explanation which falls short of divinity will exhaust the meaning of the title. Christ is indeed called the Son of God on account of his miraculous conception; "That holy thing," said the angel to the Virgin, "which shall be born of thee, shall be called the Son of the Highest." But the creation of Adam, by the immediate power of God, without father or mother, would constitute him the Son of God, in a sense equally or even more exalted than that in which the title is applied to Jesus, if the miraculous conception were allowed to exhaust its meaning. Nor will an appeal to the resurrection of Christ serve the purpose of those who deny the divine origin of the title, since that is assigned as the evidence only, and not the ground of it.
The Redeemer was not constituted, but declared or evidenced to be, "the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead." In the search for a solution short of divine Sonship, recourse is next had to the office of Christ as Mediator. Yet though the appellation in question be frequently given in connection with the official character of Jesus, a careful examination of some of these passages will lead to the conclusion, that "though the Son of God hold the office, yet the office does not furnish the reason or ground of the title." The name is given to distinguish Jesus from all others who have held office, and "in such a way as to convince us that the office is rendered "honorable" by the exalted personage discharging its duties, and not that the person merits the designation in virtue of the office." "When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman," etc. "God so loved the world that he gave his "only begotten Son," etc. Now the glory of the mission in the first of these passages, and the greatness of the gift in the second, is founded on the original dignity of the person sent and given. But if the person derive his title from the office only, there would seem to be comparatively little grandeur in the mission, and small favor in the gift. The passages quoted would more readily prove that God had bestowed favor on Jesus, by giving him an office from which he derived so much "personal dignity!"
The following are some of the passages in which the appellation "Son of God" is found connected with the office of Christ. "These are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, (an official term signifying "anointed Saviour"), the Son of God;" "He answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ (the official designation) is the Son of God;" "Whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" Now it is reasonable to suppose, that these declarations and confessions concerning the person of Christ, contain not only an acknowledgment of his official character, but also of his personal dignity. "Thou art Jesus the Christ," is the acknowledgment of his office, and "thou art the Son of God," is an acknowledgment of his natural dignity. The confession of the Ethiopian eunuch, and of Peter, would be incomplete on any other supposition. It should be borne in mind also, that the question of Christ to Peter was not, What office do ye suppose I hold? but, "Whom say ye that I am?" See Haldane on Romans 1:4.
If, then, the miraculous conception, the resurrection, and the office of Christ, do not all of them together exhaust the meaning of the appellation, we must seek for its origin higher still - we must ascend to the divine nature. We may indeed take one step more upward before we reach the divine nature, and suppose, with Professor Stuart and others, that the name denotes "the complex person of the Saviour," as God and man, or in one word, "Mediator." Comment on Heb. Exe. 2. But this is just the old resolution of it into official character, and is therefore liable to all the objections stated above. For while it is admitted by those who hold this view, that Christ is divine, it is distinctly implied, that the title Son of God would not have been his but for his office.
In the end therefore we must resolve the name into the divine nature. That it implies equality with God is clearly proved in this commentary. So the Jews understood it, and the Saviour tacitly admitted that their construction was right. And as there is no equality with God without divinity, the title clearly points to such a distinction in the Godhead as is implied in the relative terms, Father and Son. Indeed it is not easy to understand how the doctrine of the Trinity can be maintained apart from that of the eternal Sonship. If there be in the Godhead a distinction of persons, does not that distinction belong to the nature of the Godhead, independent of any official relations. Or will it be maintained, that the distinction of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, arises entirely from the scheme of redemption, and did not exist from eternity? We may find fault with Dr Owen, and others, who speak of a "hypostatical subordination of persons in the Godhead." Prof. Stuart, Com. Heb. Exe. 1. Yet, the distinction itself, through we cannot explain it, "must" be allowed to exist.
The remaining evidence of the eternal Sonship may be thus stated.
1. Christ is called God's "own Son," his "beloved," and "well beloved," and "only begotten Son.' So strong and special adjuncts seem intended to prevent any such idea as that of figurative Sonship. If these do not express the natural relationship, it is beyond the power of language to do it. Moreover, correct criticism binds us to adopt the natural and ordinary signification of words, unless in such cases as plainly refuse it,
2. In a passage already quoted, God is said "to have sent forth His Son to redeem us," etc. And there are many passages to the same effect, in which is revealed, not only the pre-existence of Christ, but the capacity in which he originally moved, and the rank which he held in heaven. "God sent forth his Son," implies that he held that title prior to his mission. This at least is the most obvious sense of the passage, and the sense which an ordinary reader would doubtless affix to it. The following objection, however, has been supposed fatal to this argument: "The name Son of God is indeed used, when speaking of him previous to his having assumed human nature, but so are the names of Jesus and the Christ, which yet we know properly to belong to him, only as united to humanity." It is readily allowed that the simple fact of the name being given prior to the incarnation proves nothing of itself. But the case is altered when this fact is viewed in connection with the difficulty or impossibility of resolving the Sonship into an official relation. No such difficulty exists in regard to the terms "Jesus" and "Christ," for they are plainly official names, signifying "anointed Saviour."
3Rom 1:3-4. If in this passage we understand the apostle to declare, that Christ was of the seed of David, according to his human nature, the rule of antithesis demands, that we understand him next to assert what he was according to his divine nature, namely, the Son of God.
The views given in this Note are those adopted by the most eminent orthodox divines. The language of the Westminster divines is well known; "The only Redeemer of the covenant of grace is the Lord Jesus Christ, who being the eternal Son of God, of one substance etc." "Larger Catechism." Mr. Scott "is decidedly of opinion, that Christ is called the only Son of God in respect of his divine nature." Commentary, Hebrews 1:3-4." The late Principal Hill, in his Theological System, having exposed what he deemed erroneous views on this subject, adds, "there is a more ancient and a more exalted title to this name (Son of God), which is inseparable from the nature" of Christ. "3rd edition, vol. i., page 363.)"
With power - ἐν δυνάμει en dunamei. By some this expression has been supposed to mean in power or authority, after his resurrection from the dead. It is said, that he was before a man of sorrows; now he was clothed with power and authority. But I have seen no instance in which the expression in power denotes office, or authority. It denotes physical energy and might, and this was bestowed on Jesus before his resurrection as well as after; Acts 10:38, "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit, and with power; Romans 15:19; 1 Corinthians 15:43. With such power Jesus will come to judgment: Matthew 24:30. If there is any passage in which the word "power" means authority, office, etc., it is Matthew 28:18, "All power in heaven and earth is given unto me." But this is not a power which was given unto him after his resurrection, or which he did not possess before. The same authority to commission his disciples he had exercised before this on the same ground, Matthew 10:7-8. I am inclined to believe, therefore, that the expression means "powerfully, efficiently;" he was with great power, or conclusiveness, shown to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead. Thus, the phrase "in power" is used to qualify a verb in Colossians 1:29, "Which worketh in me mightily," "Greek," in power, that is, operating in me effectually, or powerfully. The ancient versions seem to have understood it in the same way. "Syriac," "He was known to be the Son of God by power, and by the Holy Spirit." "AEthiopic," "Whom he declared to be the Son of God by his own power, and by his Holy Spirit," etc. "Arabic," "Designated the Son of God by power appropriate to the Holy Spirit."
According to the spirit of holiness - κατά πνεῦμα ἁγιωσύνης kata pneuma hagiōsunēs. This expression has been variously understood. We may arrive at its meaning by the following considerations.
(1) it is not the third person in the Trinity that is referred to here. The designation of that person is always in a different form. It is "the Holy Spirit," the Holy Ghost, πνεῦμα ἅγιον pneuma hagion, or τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον to pneuma to hagion; never "the spirit of holiness."
(2) it stands in contrast with the flesh; Romans 1:3, "According to the flesh, the seed of David: according to the spirit of holiness, the Son of God." As the former refers doubtless to his human nature, so this must refer to the nature designated by the title Son of God, that is, to his superior or divine nature.
(3) the expression is altogether unique to the Lord Jesus Christ. No where in the Scriptures, or in any other writings, is there an affirmation like this. What would be meant by it if affirmed of a mere man?
(4) it cannot mean that the Holy Spirit, the third person in the Trinity, showed that Jesus was the Son of God by raising him from the dead because that act is no where attributed to him. It is uniformly ascribed either to God, as God Acts 2:24, Acts 2:32; Acts 3:15, Acts 3:26; Acts 4:10; Acts 5:30; Acts 10:40; Acts 13:30, Acts 13:33-34; Acts 17:31; Romans 10:9; Ephesians 1:20, or to the Father Romans 6:4, or to Jesus himself John 10:18. In no instance is this act ascribed to the Holy Spirit.
(5) it indicates a state far more elevate than any human dignity, or honor In regard to his earthly descent, he was of a royal race; in regard to the Spirit of holiness, much more than that, he was the Son of God.
(6) the word "Spirit" is used often to designate God, the holy God, as distinguished from all the material forms of idol worship, John 4:24.
(7) the word "Spirit" is applied to the Messiah, in his more elevated or divine nature. 1 Corinthians 15:45, "the last Adam was made a quickening Spirit." 2 Corinthians 3:17, "now the Lord (Jesus) is that Spirit." Hebrews 9:14, Christ is said to have offered himself through the eternal Spirit. 1 Peter 3:18, he is said to have been "put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit." 1 Timothy 3:16, he is said to have been "justified in the Spirit." In most of these passages there is the same contrast noticed between his flesh, his human nature, and his other state, which occurs in Romans 1:3-4. In all these instances, the design is, doubtless, to speak of him as a man, and as something more than a man: he was one thing as a man; he was another thing in his other nature. In the one, he was of David; was put to death, etc. In the other, he was of God, he was manifested to be such, he was restored to the elevation which he had sustained before his incarnation and death, John 17:1-5; Philippians 2:2-11. The expression, "according to the Spirit of holiness," does not indeed of itself imply divinity. It denotes that holy and more exalted nature which he possessed as distinguished from the human. What that is, is to be learned from other declarations. "This expression implies simply that it was such as to make proper the appellation, the Son of God." Other places, as we have seen, show that that designation naturally implied divinity. And that this was the true idea couched under the expression, according to the Spirit of holiness, appears from those numerous texts of scripture which explicitly assert his divinity; see John 1:1, etc., and the note on that place.
By the resurrection from the dead - This has been also variously understood. Some have maintained that the word "by," ἐξ ex, denotes after. He was declared to be the Son of God in power after he rose from the dead; that is, he was solemnly invested with the dignity that became the Son of God after he had been so long in a state of voluntary humiliation. But to this view there are some insuperable objections.
(1) it is not the natural and usual meaning of the word "by."
(2) it is not the object of the apostle to state the time when the thing was done, or the order, but evidently to declare the fact, and the evidence of the fact. If such had been his design, he would have said that previous to his death he was shown to be of the seed of David, but afterward that he was invested with power.
(3) though it must be admitted that the preposition "by, ἐξ ex," sometimes means after (Matthew 19:20; Luke 8:27; xxiii. 8, etc.), yet its proper and usual meaning is to denote the efficient cause, or the agent, or origin of a thing, Matthew 1:3, Matthew 1:18; Matthew 21:25; John 3:5; Romans 5:16; Romans 11:36, "OF him are all things." 1 Corinthians 8:6, "one God, the Father, of whom are all things," etc. In this sense, I suppose it is used here; and that the apostle means to affirm that he was clearly or decisively shown to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead.
But here will it be asked, how did his resurrection show this? Was not Lazarus raised from the dead? And did not many saints rise also after Jesus? And were not the dead raised by the apostles; by Elijah, by the bones of Elisha, and by Christ himself? And did their being raised prove that they were the sons of God? I answer that the mere fact of the resurrection of the body proves nothing in itself about the character and rank of the being that is raised. But in the circumstances in which Jesus was placed it might show it conclusively. When Lazarus was raised, it was not in attestation of anything which he had taught or done. It was a mere display of the power and benevolence of Christ. But in regard to the resurrection of Jesus, let the following circumstances be taken into the account.
(1) he came as the Messiah.
(2) he uniformly taught that he was the Son of God.
(3) he maintained that God was his Father in such a sense as to imply equality with him, John 5:17-30; John 10:36.
(4) he claimed authority to abolish the laws of the Jews, to change their customs, and to be himself absolved from the observance of those laws, even as his Father was, John 5:1-17; Mark 2:28.
(5) when God raised him up therefore, it was not an ordinary event. It was "a public attestation, in the face of the universe, of the truth of his claims to be the Son of God." God would not sanction the doings and doctrines of an impostor. And when, therefore he raised up Jesus, he, by this act, showed the truth of his claims, that he was the Son of God.
Further, in the view of the apostles, the resurrection was intimately connected with the ascension and exaltation of Jesus. The one made the other certain. And it is not improbable that when they spoke of his resurrection, they meant to include, not merely that single act, but the entire series of doings of which that was the first, and which was the pledge of the elevation and majesty of the Son of God. Hence, when they had proved his resurrection, they assumed that all the others would follow. That involved and supposed all. And the series, of which that was the first, proved that he was the Son of God; see Acts 17:31, "He will judge the world in righteousness, by that man whom he hath ordained, whereof he hath given assurance to all people, "in that he hath raised him from the dead." The one involves the other; see Acts 1:6. Thus, Peter Acts 2:22-32 having proved that Jesus was raised up, adds, Acts 2:33, "therefore, being by the right hand exalted, he hath shed forth this," etc.; and Acts 2:36, "therefore, let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God hath made that same Jesus whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ."
This verse is a remarkable instance of the "apostle" Paul's manner of writing. Having mentioned a subject, his mind seems to catch fire; he presents it in new forms, and amplifies it, until he seems to forget for a time the subject on which he was writing. It is from this cause that his writings abound so with parentheses, and that there is so much difficulty in following and understanding him.
5By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name:
By whom - The apostle here returns to the subject of the salutation of the Romans, and states to them his authority to address them. That authority he had derived from the Lord Jesus, and not from man. On this fact, that he had received his apostolic commission, not from man, but by the direct authority of Jesus Christ, Paul not infrequently insisted. Galatians 1:12, "for I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by revelation of Jesus Christ;" 1 Corinthians 15:1-8; Ephesians 3:1-3.
We - The plural here is probably put for the singular; see Colossians 4:3; compare Ephesians 6:19-20. It was usual for those who were clothed with authority to express themselves in this manner. Perhaps here, however, he refers to the general nature of the apostolic office, as being derived from Jesus Christ, and designs to assure the Romans that "he" had received the apostolic commission as the others had. 'We," the apostles, have received the appointment from Jesus Christ. '
Grace and apostleship - Many suppose that this is a figure of speech, "hendiadys," by which one thing is expressed by two words, meaning the grace or favor of the apostolic office. Such a figure of speech is often used. But it may mean, as it does probably here, the two things, grace, or the favor of God to his own soul, as a personal matter; and the apostolic office as a distinct thing. He often, however, speaks of the office of the apostleship as a matter of special favor, Romans 15:15-16; Galatians 2:9; Ephesians 3:7-9.
For obedience to the faith - In order to produce, or promote obedience to the faith; that is, to induce them to render that obedience to God which faith produces. There are two things therefore implied.
(1) that the design of the gospel and of the apostleship is to induce men to obey God.
(2) that the tendency of faith is to produce obedience. There is no true faith which does not produce that. This is constantly affirmed in the New Testament, Romans 15:18; Romans 16:19; 2 Corinthians 7:15; James 2.
Among all nations - This was the original commission which Jesus gave to his apostles, Mark 16:15-16; Matthew 28:18-19. This was the special commission which Paul received when he was converted, Acts 9:15. It was important to show that the commission extended thus far, as he was now addressing a distant church which he had not seen.
For his name - This means probably "on his account," that is, on account of Christ, John 14:13-14; John 16:23-24. The design of the apostleship was to produce obedience to the gospel among all nations, that thus the name of Jesus might be honored. Their work was not one in which they were seeking to honor themselves, but it was solely for the honor and glory of Jesus Christ. For him they toiled, they encountered perils, they laid down their lives, because by so doing they might bring people to obey the gospel, and thus Jesus Christ might wear a brighter crown and be attended by a longer and more splendid train of worshippers in the kingdom of his glory.
6Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ:
Among whom - That is, among the Gentiles who had become obedient to the Christian faith in accordance with the design of the gospel, Romans 1:8. This proves that the church at Rome was made up partly at least, if not mainly, of Gentiles or pagans. This is fully proved in the xvith. chapter by the names of the persons whom Paul salutes.
The called of Jesus Christ - Those whom Jesus Christ has called to be his followers. The word "called" (see Romans 1:1) denotes not merely an external invitation to privilege, but it also denotes the "internal" or "effectual" call which secures conformity to the will of him who calls, and is thus synonymous with the name Christians, or believers. That true Christians are contemplated by this address, is clear from the whole scope of the Epistle; see particularly Romans 8; compare Philippians 3:14; Hebrews 3:1.
7To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.
To all that be in Rome - That is, to all who bear the Christian name. Perhaps he here included not only the church at Rome, but all who might have been there from abroad. Rome was a place of vast concourse for foreigners; and Paul probably addressed all who happened to be there.
Beloved of God - Whom God loves. This is the privilege of all Christians. And this proves that the persons whom Paul addressed were "not" those merely who had been invited to the external privileges of the gospel. The importance of this observation will appear in the progress of these notes.
Called to be saints - So called, or influenced by God who had called them, as to become saints. The word "saints," ἅγιοι hagioi, means those who are holy, or those who are devoted or consecrated to God. The radical idea of the word is what is separated from a common to a sacred use, and answers to the Hebrew word, קדושׁ qadowsh. It is applied to any thing that is set apart to the service of God, to the temple, to the sacrifices, to the utensils about the temple, to the garments, etc. of the priests, and to the priests themselves. It was applied to the Jews as a people separated from other nations, and devoted or consecrated to God, while other nations were devoted to the service of idols. It is also applied to Christians, as being a people devoted or set apart to the service of God. The radical idea then, as applied to Christians, is, that "they are separated from other men, and other objects and pursuits, and consecrated to the service of God." This is the special characteristic of the saints. And this characteristic the Roman Christians had shown. For the use of the word, as stated above, see the following passages of scripture; Luke 2:23; Exodus 13:2, Romans 11:16; Matthew 7:6; 1 Peter 1:16; Acts 9:13; 1 Peter 2:5; Acts 3:21, Ephesians 3:5; 1 Peter 2:9; Philippians 2:15; 1 John 3:1-2.
Grace - This word properly means "favor." It is very often used in the New Testament, and is employed in the sense of benignity or benevolence; felicity, or a prosperous state of affairs; the Christian religion, as the highest expression of the benevolence or favor of God; the happiness which Christianity confers on its friends in this and the future life; the apostolic office; charity, or alms; thanksgiving; joy, or pleasure; and the benefits produced on the Christian's heart and life by religion - the grace of meekness, patience, charity, etc., "Schleusner." In this place, and in similar places in the beginning of the apostolic epistles, it seems to be a word including all those blessings that are applicable to Christians in common; denoting an ardent wish that all the mercies and favors of God for time and eternity, blended under the general name grace, may be conferred on them. It is to be understood as connected with a word implying invocation. I pray, or I desire, that grace, etc. may be conferred on you. It is the customary form of salutation in nearly all the apostolic epistles; 1 Corinthians 1:3; 2 Corinthians 1:2; Galatians 1:3; Ephesians 1:2; Philippians 1:2; Colossians 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:2; Plm 1:3.
And peace - Peace is the state of freedom from war. As war conveys the idea of discord and numberless calamities and dangers, so peace is the opposite, and conveys the idea of concord, safety, and prosperity. Thus, to wish one peace was the same as to wish him all safety and prosperity. This form of salutation was common among the Hebrews. Gen 43:23, "peace to you! fear not;" Judges 6:23; Judges 19:20; Luke 24:36. But the word "peace" is also used in contrast with that state of agitation and conflict which a sinner has with his conscience. and with God. The sinner is like the troubled sea, which cannot rest, Isaiah 57:20. The Christian is at peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ, Romans 5:1. By this word, denoting reconciliation with God, the blessings of the Christian religion are often described in the scriptures, Romans 8:6; Romans 14:17; Romans 15:13; Galatians 5:22; Philippians 4:7. A prayer for peace, therefore, in the epistles, is not a mere formal salutation, but has a special reference to those "spiritual" blessings which result from reconciliation with God through the Lord Jesus Christ.
From God our Father - The Father of all Christians. He is the Father of all his creatures, as they are his offspring, Acts 17:28-29. He is especially the Father of all Christians, as they have been "begotten by him to a lively hope," have been adopted into his family, and are like him; Matthew 5:45; 1 Peter 1:3; 1 John 5:1; 1 John 3:1-2. The expression here is equivalent to a prayer that God the Father would bestow grace and peace on the Romans. It implies that these blessings proceed from God, and are to be expected from him.
And the Lord Jesus Christ - From him. The Lord Jesus Christ is especially regarded in the New Testament as the Source of peace, and the Procurer of it; see Luke 2:14; Luke 19:38, Luke 19:42; John 14:27; John 16:33; Acts 10:36; Romans 5:1; Ephesians 2:17. Each of these places will show with what propriety peace was invoked from the Lord Jesus. From thus connecting the Lord Jesus with the Father in this place, we may see,
(1) That the apostle regarded him as the source of grace and peace as really as he did the Father.
(2) he introduced them in the same connection, and with reference to the bestowment of the same blessings.
(3) if the mention of the Father in this connection implies a prayer to him, or an act of worship, the mention of the Lord Jesus implies the same thing, and was an act of homage to him.
(4) all this shows that his mind was familiarized to the idea that he was divine.
No man would introduce his name in such connections if he did not believe that he was equal with God; compare Philippians 2:2-11. It is from this incidental and unstudied manner of expression, that we have one of the most striking proofs of the manner in which the sacred writers regarded the Lord Jesus Christ.
These seven verses are one sentence. They are a striking instance of the manner of Paul. The subject is simply a salutation to the Roman church. But at the mention of some single words, the mind of Paul seems to catch fire, and go burn and blaze with signal intensity. He leaves the immediate subject before him, and advances some vast thought that awes us, and fixes us in contemplation, and involves us in difficulty about his meaning, and then returns to his subject. This is the characteristic of his great mind; and it is this, among other things, that makes it so difficult to interpret his writings.
8First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.
First - In the first place, not in point of importance, but before speaking of other things, or before proceeding to the main design of the Epistle.
I thank my God - The God, whom I worship and serve. The expression of thanks to God for his mercy to them was suited to conciliate their feelings, and to prepare them for the truths which he was about to communicate to them. It showed the deep interest which he had in their welfare; and the happiness it would give him to do them good. It is proper to give thanks to God for his mercies to others as well as to ourselves. We are members of one great family, and we should make it a subject of thanksgiving that he confers any blessings, and especially the blessing of salvation, on any mortals.
Through Jesus Christ - The duty of presenting our thanks to God "through" Christ is often enjoined in the New Testament, Ephesians 5:20; Hebrews 13:15; compare John 14:14. Christ is the mediator between God and human beings, or the medium by which we are to present our prayers and also our thanksgivings. We are not to approach God directly, but through a mediator at all times, depending on him to present our cause before the mercy-seat; to plead for us there; and to offer the desires of our souls to God. It is no less proper to present thanks in his name, or through him, than it is prayer. He has made the way to God accessible to us, whether it be by prayer or praise; and it is owing to "his" mercy and grace that "any" of our services are acceptable to God.
For you all - On account of you all, that is, of the entire Roman church. This is one evidence that that church then was remarkably pure. How few churches have there been of whom a similar commendation could be expressed.
That your faith - "Faith" is put here for the whole of religion, and means the same as your piety. Faith is one of the principal things of religion; one of its first requirements; and hence, it signifies religion itself. The readiness with which the Romans had embraced the gospel, the firmness with which they adhered to it, was so remarkable, that it was known and celebrated everywhere. The same thing is affirmed of them in Romans 16:19, "For your obedience is come abroad unto all men."
Is spoken of - Is celebrated, or known. They were in the capital of the Roman Empire; in a city remarkable for its wickedness; and in a city whose influence extended everywhere. It was natural, therefore, that their remarkable conversion to God should be celebrated everywhere. The religious or irreligious influence of a great city will be felt far and wide, and this is one reason why the apostles preached the gospel so much in such places.
Throughout the whole world - As we say, everywhere; or throughout the Roman Empire. The term "world" is often thus limited in the scriptures; and here it denotes those parts of the Roman Empire where the Christian church was established. All the churches would hear of the work of God in the capital, and would rejoice in it; compare Colossians 1:6, Colossians 1:23; John 12:19. It is not improper to commend Christians, and to remind them of their influence; and especially to call to their mind the great power which they may have on other churches and people. Nor is it improper that great displays of divine mercy should be celebrated everywhere, and excite in the churches praise to God.
9For God is my witness, whom I serve with my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers;
For God is my witness - The reason of this strong appeal to God is, to show to the Romans the deep interest which he felt in their welfare This interest was manifested in his prayers, and in his earnest desires to see them. A deep interest shown in this way was well suited to prepare them to receive what he had to say to them.
Whom I serve - See Romans 1:1; compare Acts 17:23. The expression denotes that he was devoted to God in this manner; that he obeyed him; and had given himself to do his will in making known his gospel.
With my spirit - Greek, ἐν en, in my spirit, that is, with my "heart." It is not an external service merely; it is internal, real, sincere. He was really and sincerely devoted to the service of God.
In the gospel of his Son - In making known the gospel, or as a minister of the gospel.
That without ceasing - ἀδιαλείπτως adialeiptōs. This word means constantly, always, without intermission. It was not only once, but repeatedly. It had been the burden of his prayers. The same thing he also mentions in regard to other churches, 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 1 Thessalonians 2:13.
I make mention - I call you to remembrance, and present your case before God. This evinced his remarkable interest in a church which he had never seen, and it shows that Paul was a man of prayer; praying not for his friends and kindred only, but for those whom he had never seen. If with the same intensity of prayer all Christians, and Christian ministers, would remember the churches, what a different aspect would the Christian church soon assume!
Always - This word should be connected with the following verse, "Always making request," etc.
10Making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you.
Making request - It was his earnest desire to see them, and he presented the subject before God.
If by any means - This shows the earnest desire which he had to see them, and implies that be had designed it, and had been hindered; see Romans 1:13.
Now at length - He had purposed it a long time, but had been hindered. He doubtless cherished this purpose for years. The expressions in the Greek imply an earnest wish that this long-cherished purpose might be accomplished before long.
A prosperous journey - A safe, pleasant journey. It is right to regard all success in traveling as depending on God, and to pray for success and safety from danger. Yet all such prayers are not answered according to the letter of the petition. The prayer of Paul that be might see the Romans was granted, but in a remarkable way. He was persecuted by the Jews, and arraigned before King Agrippa. He appealed to the Roman emperor, and was taken there in chains as a prisoner. Yet the journey might in this way have a more deep effect on the Romans, than if he had gone in any other way. In so mysterious a manner does God often hear the prayers of his people; and though their prayers are answered, yet it is in his own time and way; see the last chapters of the Acts .
By the will of God - If God shall grant it; if God will by his mercy grant me the great favor of my coming to you. This is a proper model of a prayer; and is in accordance with the direction of the Bible; see James 4:14-15.
11For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established;
For I long to see you - I earnestly desire to see you; compare Romans 15:23, Romans 15:32.
That I may impart - That I may "give," or communicate to you.
Some spiritual gift - Some have understood this as referring to "miraculous gifts," which it was supposed the apostles had the power of conferring on others. But this interpretation is forced and unnatural. There is no instance where this expression denotes the power of working miracles. Besides, the apostle in the next verse explains his meaning, "That I may be comforted together by the mutual faith," etc. From this it appears that he desired to be among them to exercise the office of the ministry, to establish them in the gospel and to confirm their hopes. He expected that the preaching of the gospel would be the means of confirming them in the faith; and he desired to be the means of doing it. It was a wish of benevolence, and accords with what he says respecting his intended visit in Romans 15:29, "And I am sure that when I come, I shall come in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ." To make known to them more fully the blessings of the gospel, and thus to impart spiritual gifts, was the design he had in view.
To the end ... - With the design, or purpose.
Ye may be established - That is, that they might be "confirmed" in the truths of the gospel. This was one design of the ministry, that Christians may be established, or strengthened, Ephesians 4:13. It is not to have dominion ever their faith, but to be "helpers of their joy," 2 Corinthians 1:24. Paul did not doubt that this part of his office might be fulfilled among the Romans, and he was desirous there also of making full proof of his ministry. His wish was to preach not simply where he must, but where he might. This is the nature of this work.
12That is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.
That I may be comforted ... - It was not merely to confirm them that Paul wished to come. He sought the communion of saints; he expected to be himself edified and strengthened; and to be comforted by seeing their strength of faith, and their rapid growth in grace. We may remark here,
(1) That one effect of religion is to produce the desire of the communion of saints. It is the nature of Christianity to seek the society of those who are the friends of Christ.
(2) nothing is better suited to produce growth in grace than such communion. Every Christian should have one or more Christian friends to whom he may unbosom himself. No small part of the difficulties which young Christians experience would vanish, if they should communicate their feelings and views to others. Feelings which they suppose no Christians ever had, which greatly distress them, they will find are common among those who are experienced in the Christian life.
(3) there is nothing better suited to excite the feelings, and confirm the hopes of Christian ministers, than the firm faith of young converts, of those just commencing the Christian life, 3 John 1:4.
(4) the apostle did not disdain to be taught by the humblest Christians. He expected to be strengthened himself by the faith of those just beginning the Christian life. "There is none so poor in the church of Christ, that he cannot make some addition of importance to our stores," Calvin.
13Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles.
That oftentimes I purposed - See Romans 1:10. How often he had purposed this we have no means of ascertaining. The fact, however, that he had done it, showed his strong desire to see them, and to witness the displays of the grace of God in the capital of the Roman world; compare Romans 15:23-24. One instance of his having purposed to go to Rome is recorded in Acts 19:21, "After these things were ended (namely, at Ephesus), Paul purposed in the spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia to go to Jerusalem; saying, After I have been there, I must also see Rome." This purpose expressed in this manner in the Epistle, and the Acts of the Apostles, has been shown by Dr. Paley (Horae Paulinae on Romans 1:13) to be one of those undesigned coincidences which strongly show that both books are genuine; compare Romans 15:23-24, with Acts 19:21. A forger of these books would not have thought of such a contrivance as to feign such a purpose to go to Rome at that time, and to have mentioned it in that manner. Such coincidences are among the best proofs that can be demanded, that the writers did not intend to impose on the world; see Paley.
But was let hitherto - The word "let" means to "hinder," or to "obstruct." In what way this was done we do not know, but it is probable that he refers to the various openings for the preaching of the gospel where he had been, and to the obstructions of various kinds from the enemies of the gospel to the fulfillment of his purposes.
That I might have some fruit among you - That I might be the means of the conversion of sinners and of the edification of the church in the capital of the Roman Empire. It was not curiosity to see the splendid capital of the world that prompted this desire; it was not the love of travel, and of roaming from clime to clime; it was the specific purpose of doing good to the souls of human beings. To "have fruit" means to obtain success in bringing men to the knowledge of Christ. Thus, the Saviour said John 15:16," I have chosen you, and ordained you that you should bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain."
14I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise.
I am debtor - This does not mean that they had conferred any favor on him, which bound him to make this return, but that he was under obligation to preach the gospel to all to whom it was possible. This obligation arose from the favor that God had shown him in appointing him to this work. He was specially chosen as a vessel to bear the gospel to the Gentiles Acts 9:15; Romans 11:13, and he did not feel that he had discharged the obligation until he had made the gospel known as far as possible among all the nations of the earth.
To the Greeks - This term properly denotes "those who dwelt in Greece." But as the Greeks were the most polished people of antiquity, the term came to be synonymous with the polished, the refined, the wise, as opposed to barbarians. In this place it doubtless means the same as "the wise," and includes the Romans also, as it cannot be supposed that Paul would designate the Romans as barbarians. Besides, the Romans claimed an origin from Greece, and Dionysius Halicarnassus (book i.) shows that the Italian and Roman people were of Greek descent.
Barbarians - All who were not included under the general name of Greeks. Thus, Ammonius says that "all who were not Greeks were barbarians." This term "barbarian," Βάρβαρος Barbaros, properly denotes one who speaks a foreign language, a foreigner, and the Greeks applied it to all who did not use their tongue; compare 1 Corinthians 14:11, "I shall be unto him that speaketh, a barbarian, etc. that is, I shall speak a language which he cannot understand. The word did not, therefore, of necessity denote any rusticity of manners, or any lack of refinement.
To the wise - To those who esteemed themselves to be wise, or who boasted of their wisdom. The term is synonymous with "the Greeks," who prided themselves much in their wisdom. 1 Corinthians 1:22, "the Greeks seek after wisdom;" compare 1 Corinthians 1:19; 1 Corinthians 3:18-19; 1 Corinthians 4:10; 2 Corinthians 11:19.
Unwise - Those who were regarded as the ignorant and unpolished part of mankind. The expression is equivalent to ours, 'to the learned and the unlearned.' It was an evidence of the proper spirit to be willing to preach the gospel to either. The gospel claims to have power to instruct all mankind, and they who are called to preach it, should be able to instruct those who esteem themselves to be wise, and who are endowed with science, learning, and talent; and they should be willing to labor to enlighten the most obscure, ignorant, and degraded portions of the race. This is the true spirit of the Christian ministry.
So, as much as in me is - As far as opportunity may be offered, and according to my ability.
I am ready ... - I am prepared to preach among you, and to show the power of the gospel, even in the splendid metropolis of the world. He was not deterred by any fear; nor was he indifferent to their welfare; but he was under the direction of God. and as far as he gave him opportunity, he was ready to make known to them the gospel, as he had done at Antioch, Ephesus, Athens, and Corinth.
This closes the introduction or preface to the Epistle. Having shown his deep interest in their welfare, he proceeds in the next verse to state to them the great doctrines of that gospel which he was desirous of proclaiming to them.
15So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also.
16For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
For I am not ashamed ... - The Jews had cast him off, and regarded him as an apostate; and by the wise among the Gentiles he had been persecuted, and despised, and driven from place to place, and regarded as the filth of the world, and the offscouring of all things 1 Corinthians 4:13, but still he was not ashamed of the gospel. He had so firm a conviction of its value and its truth; he had experienced so much of its consolations; and had seen so much of its efficacy; that he was so far from being ashamed of it that he gloried in it as the power of God unto salvation. People should be ashamed of crime and folly. They are ashamed of their own offences, and of the follies of their conduct, when they come to reflect on it. But they are not ashamed of what they feel to be right, and of what they know will contribute to their welfare, and to the benefit of their fellow-men. Such were the views of Paul about the gospel; and it is one of his favorite doctrines that they who believe on Christ shall not be ashamed, Romans 10:11; Romans 5:5; 2 Corinthians 7:14; 2 Timothy 1:12; Philippians 1:20; Romans 9:33; 2 Timothy 1:8; compare Mark 8:38; 1 Peter 4:16; 1 John 2:28.
Of the gospel - This word means the "good news," or the glad intelligence; see the note at Mark 1:1. It is so called because it contains the glad annunciation that sin may be pardoned, and the soul saved.
Of Christ - The good news respecting the Messiah; or which the Messiah has brought. The expression probably refers to the former, the good news which relates to the Messiah, to his character, advent, preaching, death, resurrection, and ascension. Though this was "to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness," yet he regarded it as the only hope of salvation, and was ready to preach it even in the rich and splendid capital of the world.
The power of God - This expression means that it is the way in which God exerts his power in the salvation of people. It is the efficacious or mighty plan, by which power goes forth to save, and by which all the obstacles of man's redemption are taken away. This expression implies,
(1) That it is God's plan, or his appointment. It is not the device of man.
(2) it is adapted to the end. It is suited to overcome the obstacles in the way. It is not merely the instrument by which God exerts his power, but it has an inherent adaptedness to the end, it is suited to accomplish salvation to man so that it may be denominated power.
(3) it is mighty, hence, it is called power, and the power of God. If is not a feeble and ineffectual instrumentality, but it is "mighty to the pulling down of strongholds," 2 Corinthians 10:4-5. It has shown its power as applicable to every degree of sin, to every combination of wickedness. It has gone against the sins of the world, and evinced its power to save sinners of all grades, and to overcome and subdue every mighty form of iniquity, compare Jeremiah 23:29, "Is not my word like as a fire? saith the Lord; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?" 1 Corinthians 1:18, "the preaching of the cross is to them that perish, foolishness, but unto us which are saved, it is the power of God."
Unto salvation - This word means complete deliverance from sin and death, and all the foes and dangers that beset man. It cannot imply anything less than eternal life. If a man should believe and then fall away, he could in no correct sense be said to be saved. And hence, when the apostle declares that it is the power of God unto salvation "to everyone that believeth," it implies that all who become believers "shall be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation" (see 1 Peter 1:5), and that none shall ever fall away and be lost. The apostle thus commences his discussion with one of the important doctrines of the Christian religion, the final preservation of the saints. He is not defending the gospel for any temporary object, or with any temporary hope. He looks through the system, and sees in it a plan for the complete and eternal recovery of all those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. When he says it is the power of God unto salvation, he means that it is the power of God for the attainment of salvation. This is the end, or the design of this exertion of power.
To everyone that believeth - Compare Mark 16:16-17. This expresses the condition, or the terms, on which salvation is conferred through the gospel. It is not indiscriminately to all people, whatever may be their character. It is only to those who confide or trust in it; and it is conferred on all who receive it in this manner. If this qualification is possessed, it bestows its blessings freely and fully. All people know what "faith" is. It is exercised when we confide in a parent, a friend, a benefactor. It is such a reception of a promise, a truth, or a threatening, as to suffer it to make its appropriate impression on the mind, and such as to lead us to act under its influence, or to act as we should on the supposition that it is true. Thus, a sinner credits the threatenings of God, and fears. This is faith. He credits his promises, and hopes. This is faith. He feels that he is lost, and relies on Jesus Christ for mercy. This is faith. And, in general, faith is such an impression on the mind made by truth as to lead us to feel and act as if it were true; to have the appropriate feelings, and views, and conduct under the commands, and promises, and threatenings of God; see the note at Mark 16:16.
To the Jew first - First in order of time, Not that the gospel was any more adapted to Jews than to others; but to them had been committed the oracles of God; the Messiah had come through them; they had had the Law, the temple, and the service of God, and it was natural that the gospel should be proclaimed to them before it was to the Gentiles. This was the order in which the gospel was actually preached to the world, first to the Jews, and then to the Gentiles. Compare Acts 2 and Acts 10; Matthew 10:6; Luke 24:49; Acts 13:46, "It was necessary that the Word of God should first have been spoken to you; but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles." Compare Matthew 21:43.
And also to the Greek - To all who were nor Jews, that is, to all the world. It was nor confined in its intention or efficacy to any class or nation of people. It was adapted to all, and was designed to be extended to all.
17For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.
For - This word implies that he is now about to give a "reason" for what he had just said, a reason why he was not ashamed of the gospel of Christ. That reason is stated in this verse. It embodies the substance of all that is contained in the Epistle. It is the doctrine which he seeks to establish; and there is not perhaps a more important passage in the Bible than this verse; or one more difficult to be understood.
Therein - In it, ἐν οὕτῳ en houtō, that is, in the gospel.
Is the righteousness of God - δικαιοσύνη Θεοῦ dikaiosunē Theou. There is not a more important expression to be found in the Epistle than this. It is capable of only the following interpretations.
(1) some have said that it means that the attribute of God which is denominated righteousness or justice, is here displayed. It has been supposed that this was the design of the gospel to make this known; or to evince his justice in his way of saving people. There is an important sense in which this is true Romans 3:26. But this does not seem to be the meaning in the passage before us. For,
(a) The leading design of the gospel is not to evince the justice of God, or the attribute of justice, but the love of God; see John 3:16; Ephesians 2:4; 2 Thessalonians 2:16; 1 John 4:8.
(b) The attribute of justice is not what is principally evinced in the gospel. It is rather mercy, "or mercy in a manner consistent with justice," or that does not interfere with justice.
(c) The passage, therefore, is not designed to teach simply that the righteousness of God, as an attribute, is brought forth in the gospel, or that the main idea is to reveal his justice.
(2) a second interpretation which has been affixed to it is, to make it the same as goodness, the benevolence of God is revealed, etc. But to this there are still stronger objections. For.
(a) It does not comport with the design of the apostle's argument.
(b) It is a departure from the established meaning of the word "justice," and the phrase "the righteousness of God."
(c) If this had been the design, it is remarkable that the usual words expressive of goodness or mercy had not been used. Another meaning, therefore, is to be sought as expressing the sense of the phrase.
(3) the phrase "righteousness of God" is equivalent to God's "plan of justifying people; his scheme of declaring them just in the sight of the Law; or of acquitting them from punishment, and admitting them to favor." In this sense it stands opposed to man's plan of justification, that is, by his own works: God's plan is by faith. The way in which that is done is revealed in the gospel. The object contemplated to be done is to treat people as if they were righteous. Man attempted to accomplish this by obedience to the Law. The plan of God was to arrive at it by faith. Here the two schemes differ; and the great design of this Epistle is to show that man cannot be justified on his own plan, to wit, by works; and that the plan of God is the only way, and a wise and glorious way of making man just in the eye of the Law. No small part of the perplexity usually attending this subject will be avoided if it is remembered that the discussion in this Epistle pertains to the question, "how can mortal man be just with God?" The apostle shows that it cannot be by works; and that it "can be" by faith. This latter is what he calls the "righteousness of God" which is revealed in the gospel.
To see that this is the meaning, it is needful only to look at the connection; and at the usual meaning of the words. The word to "justify," δικαιόω dikaioō, means properly "to be just, to be innocent, to be righteous." It then means to "declare," or treat as righteous; as when a man is charged with an offence. and is acquitted. If the crime alleged is not proved against him, he is declared by the Law to be innocent. It then means to "treat as if innocent, to regard as innocent;" that is, to pardon, to forgive, and consequently to treat as if the offence had not occurred. It does not mean that the man did not commit the offence; or that the Law might not have held him answerable for it; but that the offence is forgiven; and it is consistent to receive the offender into favor, and treat him as if he had not committed it. In what way this may be done rests with him who has the pardoning power. And in regard to the salvation of man, it rests solely with God. and must be done in that way only which he appoints and approves. The design of Paul in this Epistle is to show how this is done, or to show that it is done by faith. It may be remarked here that the expression before us does not imply any particular manner in which it is done; it does not touch the question whether it is by imputed righteousness or not; it does not say that it is on legal principles; it simply affirms "that the gospel contains God's plan of justifying people by faith."
The primary meaning of the word is, therefore, "to be innocent, pure, etc." and hence, the name means "righteousness" in general. For this use of the word, see Matthew 3:15; Matthew 5:6, Matthew 5:10, Matthew 5:20; Matthew 21:32; Luke 1:75; Acts 10:35; Acts 13:10; Romans 2:26; Romans 8:4, etc.
In the sense of pardoning sin, or of treating people as if they were innocent, on the condition of faith, it is used often, and especially in this Epistle; see Romans 3:24, Romans 3:26, Romans 3:28, Romans 3:30; Romans 4:5; Romans 5:1; Romans 8:30; Galatians 2:16; Galatians 3:8, Galatians 3:24; Romans 3:21-22, Romans 3:25; Romans 4:3, Romans 4:6,Romans 4:13; Romans 9:30, etc.
It is called "God's" righteousness, because it is God's plan, in distinction from all the plans set up by people. It was originated by him; it differs from all others; and it claims him as its author, and tends to his glory. It is called his righteousness, as it is the way by which he receives and treats people as righteous. The same plan was foretold in various places where the word "righteousness" is nearly synonymous with "salvation;" Isaiah 56:5 "My righteousness is near, my salvation is gone forth;" Isaiah 56:6, "My salvation shall be forever, and my righteousness shall not be abolished;" Isaiah 56:1, "My salvation is near to come, and my righteousness to be revealed;" Daniel 9:24, "To make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness."
(There is yet another sense lying on the very surface of the passage, and adopted by nearly all the evangelical expositors, according to which "the righteousness of God" is that righteousness, which Christ worked out in his active and passive obedience. This is a righteousness which God hath devised, procured, and accepted. It is therefore eminently His. It is imputed to believers, and on account of it they are held righteous in the sight of God. It is of the highest importance that the true meaning of this leading expression be preserved; for if it be explained away, the doctrine of imputed righteousness is materially affected, as will appear in a subsequent note.
That the phrase is to be understood of the righteousness which Christ has procured by his obedience and death, appears from the general sense of the original term δικαιοσύνη dikaiosunē. Mr. Haldane in a long and elaborate comment on Romans 3:21, has satisfactorily shown that it signifies "righteousness in the abstract, and also conformity to law," and that "Wherever it refers to the subject of man's salvation, and is not merely a personal attribute of Deity, it signifies that righteousness which, in conformity with his justice, God has appointed and provided."
Besides, if the expression be understood of "God's plan of justifying men," we shall have great difficulty in explaining the parallel passages. They will not bend to any such principle of interpretation, In Romans 5:17, this righteousness is spoken of as a "gift" which we "receive," and in the Romans 5:18 and Romans 5:19 verses, the "righteousness of one" and "the obedience of one," are used as convertible terms. Now it is easy to understand how the righteousness which Christ has procured by his obedience, becomes "a gift," but "a plan of justification" is appropriately said to be declared, or promulgated. It cannot be spoken of in the light of a gift received. The same observation applies with still greater force to the passage in 2 Corinthians 5:21, "For he hath made him to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." How would this passage appear, if "plan of justification" were substituted for righteousness of God?
In Philippians 3:9, Paul desires to be found in Christ, "not having his own righteousness, which is of the land, but what is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith." Is not his own righteousness what he could attain to by his works or obedience, and is not the righteousness of Christ what Jesus had procured by his obedience?
Lastly, in Romans 10:3, the righteousness of God is thus opposed to the righteousness of man, "they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God." Now what is that righteousness which natural people seek to establish, and which is especially called "their own?" Doubtless it is a righteousness founded on their own works, and therefore what is here properly opposed to it is a righteousness founded on the "work of God. See Haldane, Hodge, Scott, Guyse, etc." This meaning of the term furnishes a key to unlock "all" the passages in which it is used in connection with the sinner's justification, whereas any other sense, however it may suit a few places, will be found generally inapplicable.)
In regard to this plan it may be observed;
(1) That it is not to declare that people are innocent and pure. That would not be true. The truth is just the reverse; and God does not esteem men to be different from what they are.
(2) it is not to take part with the sinner, and to mitigate his offences. It admits them to their full extent; and makes him feel them also.
(3) it is not that we become partakers of the essential righteousness of God. That is impossible.
(4) it is not that his righteousness becomes ours. This is not true; and there is no intelligible sense in which that can be understood.
(It is true indeed that the righteousness of Christ cannot be called ours in the sense of our having actually accomplished it in our own persons. This is a view of imputation easily held up to ridicule, yet there is a sense in which the righteousness of Christ may be ours. Though we have not achieved it, yet it may be so placed to our account that we shall be held righteous, and treated as such. I have said, first, we shall be held righteous, and then treated as such; for God treats none as righteous who in some sense or other are not really so. See the note at Romans 4:3.)
But it is God's plan for pardoning sin, and for treating us as if we had not committed it; that is, adopting us as his children, and admitting us to heaven on the ground of what the Lord Jesus has done in our stead. This is God's plan. People seek to save themselves by their own works. God's plan is to save them by the merits of Jesus Christ.
Revealed - Made known, and communicated. The gospel states the fact that God has such a plan of justification; and shows the way or manner in which it might be done. The fact seems to have been understood by Abraham, and the patriarchs Hebrews 11, but the full mode or manner in which it was to be accomplished, was not revealed until it was done in the gospel of Christ. And because this great and glorious truth was thus made known, Paul was not ashamed of the gospel. Nor should we be.
From faith - ἐκ πίστεως ek pisteōs. This phrase I take to be connected with the expression, "the righteousness of God." Thus, the righteousness of God, or God's plan of justifying people by faith, is revealed in the gospel. Here the great truth of the gospel is brought out, that people are justified by faith, and not by the deeds of the Law. The common interpretation of the passage has been, that the righteousness of God in this is revealed from one degree of faith to another. But to this interpretation there are many objections.
(1) it is not true. The gospel was not designed for this. It did not "suppose" that people had a certain degree of faith by nature which needed only to be strengthened in order that they might be saved.
(2) it does not make good sense. To say that the righteousness of God, meaning, as is commonly understood, his essential justice, is revealed from one degree of faith to another, is to use words without any meaning.
(3) the connection of the passage does not admit of this interpretation. The design of the passage is evidently to set forth the doctrine of justification as the grand theme of remark, and it does not comport with that design to introduce here the advance from one degree of faith to another, as the main topic.
(4) the Epistle is intended clearly to establish the fact that people are justified by faith. This is the grand idea which is kept up; and to show how this may be done is the main purpose before the apostle; see Romans 3:22, Romans 3:30; Romans 9:30; Romans 9:32; Romans 10:6, etc.
(5) the passage which he immediately quotes shows that he did not speak of different degrees of faith, but of the doctrine that people are to be justified by faith.
To faith - Unto those who believe (compare Romans 3:22); or to everyone that believeth, Romans 1:16. The abstract is here put for the concrete. It is designed to express the idea, "that God's plan of justifying people is revealed in the gospel, which plan is by faith, and the benefits of which plan shall be extended to all that have faith, or that believe."
As it is written - See Habakkuk 2:4.
The just shall live by faith - The Septuagint translate the passage in Habakkuk, 'If any man shall draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him, but the just by my faith," or by faith in me, "shall live." The very words are used by them which are employed by the apostle, except they add the word "my," μοῦ mou, my faith. The Syriac renders it in a similar manner, "The just by faith shall live." The meaning of the Hebrew in Habakkuk is the same. It does not refer originally to the doctrine of justification by faith; but its meaning is this, "The just man, or the righteous man, shall live by his confidence in God." The prophet is speaking of the woes attending the Babylonish captivity. The Chaldeans were to come upon the land and destroy it, and remove the nation, Romans 1:6-10. But this was not to be perpetual. It should have an end Romans 2:3, and they who had confidence in God should live Romans 1:4; that is, should be restored to their country, should be blessed and made happy. Their confidence in God should sustain them, and preserve them. This did not refer primarily to the doctrine of justification by faith, nor did the apostle so quote it, but it expressed a general principle that those who had confidence in God should be happy, and be preserved and blessed. This would express the doctrine which Paul was defending. It was not by relying on his own merit that the Israelite would be delivered, but it was by confidence in God, by his strength and mercy. On the same principle would men be saved under the gospel. It was not by reliance on their own works or merit; it was by confidence in God, by faith, that they were to live.
Shall live - In Habakkuk this means to be made happy, or blessed; shall find comfort, and support, and deliverance. So in the gospel the blessings of salvation are represented as life, eternal life. Sin is represented as death, and man by nature is represented as dead in trespasses and sins, Ephesians 2:1. The gospel restores to life and salvation, John 3:36; John 5:29, John 5:40; John 6:33, John 6:51, John 6:53; John 20:31; Acts 2:28; Romans 5:18; Romans 8:6. This expression, therefore, does not mean, as it is sometimes supposed, the "justified by faith" shall live; but it is expressive of a general principle in relation to people, that they shall be defended, preserved, made happy, not by their own merits, or strength, but by confidence in God. This principle is exactly applicable to the gospel plan of salvation. Those who rely on God the Saviour shall be justified, and saved.
18For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;
For - This word denotes that the apostle is about to give a reason for what he had just said. This verse commences the argument of the Epistle. an argument designed to establish the proposition advanced in Romans 1:17. The proposition is, that God's plan of justification is revealed in the gospel. To show this, it was necessary to show that all other plans had failed; and that there was need of some new plan or scheme to save people. To this he devotes this and the two following chapters. The design of this argument is, to show that people were sinners. And in order to make this out, it was necessary to show that they were under law. This was clear in regard to the Jews. They had the Scriptures; and the apostle in this chapter shows that it was equally clear in regard to the Gentiles, and then proceeds to show that both had failed of obeying the Law. To see this clearly it is necessary to add only, that there can be but two ways of justification conceived of; one by obedience to law, and the other by grace. The former was the one by which Jews and Gentiles had sought to be justified; and if it could be shown that in this they had failed, the way was clear to show that there was need of some other plan.
The wrath of God - ὀργὴ Θεοῦ orgē Theou. The word rendered "wrath" properly denotes that earnest appetite or desire by which we seek anything, or an intense effort to obtain it. And it is particularly applied to the desire which a man has to take vengeance who is injured, and who is enraged. It is thus synonymous with revenge. Ephesians 4:31, "let all bitterness, and wrath, etc.; Colossians 3:8, "anger, wrath, malice," etc.; 1 Timothy 2:8; James 1:19. But it is also often applied to God; and it is clear that when we think of the word as applicable to him, it must be divested of everything like human passion, and especially of the passion of revenge. As he cannot be injured by the sins of people Job 25:6, he has no motive for vengeance properly so called, and it is one of the most obvious rules of interpretation that we are not to apply to God passions and feelings which, among us, have their origin in evil.
In making a revelation, it was indispensable to use words which people used; but it does not follow that when applied to God they mean precisely what they do when applied to man. When the Saviour is said Mark 3:5 to have looked on his disciples with anger (Greek, "wrath," the same word is here), it is not to be supposed that he had the feelings of an implacable man seeking vengeance. The nature of the feeling is to be judged of by the character of the person. So, in this place, the word denotes the "divine displeasure" or "indignation" against sin; the divine purpose to "inflict punishment. It is the opposition of the divine character against sin;" and the determination of the divine mind to express that opposition in a proper way, by excluding the offender from the favors which he bestows on the righteous. It is not an unamiable, or arbitrary principle of conduct. We all admire the character of a father who is opposed to disorder, and vice, and disobedience in his family, and who expresses his opposition in a proper way.
We admire the character of a ruler who is opposed to all crime in the community, and who expresses those feelings in the laws. And the more he is opposed to vice and crime, the more we admire his character and his laws; and why shall we be not equally pleased with God, who is opposed to all crime in all parts of the universe, and who determines to express it in the proper way for the sake of preserving order and promoting peace? The phrase "divine displeasure" or "indignation," therefore, expresses the meaning of this phrase; see Matthew 3:7; Luke 3:7; Luke 21:23; John 3:36; Romans 2:5, Romans 2:8; Romans 3:5; Romans 4:15; Romans 5:9; Romans 9:22; Romans 12:19; Romans 13:4-5; Ephesians 2:3; Ephesians 5:6; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:16, etc. The word occurs 35 times in the New Testament.
Is revealed - That is, revealed to the Jews by their Law; and to the Gentiles in their reason, and conscience, as the apostle proceeds to show.
From heaven - This expression I take to mean simply that the divine displeasure against sin is made known by a divine appointment; by an arrangement of events, communications, and arguments, which evince that they have had their origin in heaven; or are divine. How this is, Paul proceeds to state, in the works of creation, and in the Law which the Hebrews had. A variety of meanings have been given to this expression, but this seems the most satisfactory. It does not mean that the wrath will be sent from heaven; or that the heavens declare his wrath; or that the heavenly bodies are proofs of his wrath against sin; or that Christ, the executioner of wrath, will be manifest from heaven (Origen, Cyril, Beza, etc.); or that it is from God who is in heaven; but that it is by an arrangement which shows that it had its origin in heaven. or has proofs that it is divine.
Against all ungodliness - This word properly means "impiety" toward God, or neglect of the worship and honor due to him. ἀσέβειαν asebeian. It refers to the fact that people had failed to honor the true God, and had paid to idols the homage which was due to him. Multitudes also in every age refuse to honor him, and neglect his worship, though they are not idolaters. Many people suppose that if they do not neglect their duty to their fellow-men, if they are honest and upright in their dealings, they are not guilty, even though they are not righteous, or do not do their duty to God; as though it were a less crime to dishonor God than man; and as though it were innocence to neglect and disobey our Maker and Redeemer. The apostle here shows that the wrath of God is as really revealed against the neglect of God as it is against positive iniquity; and that this is an offence of so much consequence as to be placed "first," and as deserving the divine indignation more than the neglect of our duties toward people; compare Romans 11:26; 2 Timothy 2:16; Titus 2:12; Jde 1:15, Jde 1:18. The word does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament.
Unrighteousness of men - Unrighteousness, or iniquity toward people. All offences against our neighbor, our parents. our country, etc. The word "ungodliness" includes all crimes against God; this, all crimes against our fellow-men. The two words express what comprehends the violation of all the commands of God; "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, etc. and thy neighbor as thyself," Matthew 22:37-40. The wrath of God is thus revealed against all human wickedness.
Who hold the truth - Who "keep back," or "restrain" the truth. The word translated "hold" here, sometimes means to "maintain," to "keep," to "observe" 1 Corinthians 7:30; 2 Corinthians 6:12; but it also means to "hold back, to detain, to hinder." Luke 4:42, "the people sought him (Jesus), and came to him, and stayed him." (Greek, the same as here.) Plm 1:13, "whom I would have "retained" with me," etc.; 2 Thessalonians 2:6, "and now ye know what "withholdeth," etc. In this place it means also that they held back, or restrained the truth, by their wickedness.
The truth - The truth of God, in whatever way made known, and particularly, as the apostle goes on to say, what is made known by the light of nature. The truth pertaining to his perfections, his Law, etc. They hold it back. or restrain its influence.
In unrighteousness - Or rather, by their iniquity. Their wickedness is the cause why the truth had had so little progress among them, and had exerted so little influence. This was done by their yielding to corrupt passions and propensities, and by their being therefore unwilling to retain the knowledge of a pure and holy God, who is opposed to such deeds, and who will punish them. As they were determined to practice iniquity, they chose to exclude the knowledge of a pure God, and to worship impure idols, by which they might give a sanction to their lusts. Their vice and tendency to iniquity was, therefore, the reason why they had so little knowledge of a holy God; and by the love of this, they held back the truth from making progress, and becoming diffused among them.
The same thing is substantially true now. People hold back or resist the truth of the gospel by their sins in the following ways.
(1) people of influence and wealth employ both, in directly opposing the gospel.
(2) people directly resist the doctrines of religion. since they know they could not hold to those doctrines without abandoning their sins.
(3) people who resolve to live in sin, of course, resist the gospel, and endeavor to prevent its influence.
(4) pride, and vanity, and the love of the world also resist the gospel, and oppose its advances.
(5) Unlawful business - business that begins in evil, and progresses, and ends in evil - has this tendency to hold back the gospel. Such is the effect of the traffic in ardent spirits, in the slave-trade, etc. They begin in the love of money, the root of all evil 1 Timothy 6:10; they progress in the tears and sorrows of the widow, the orphan, the wife, the sister, or the child; and they end in the deep damnation of multitudes in the world to come. Perhaps there has been nothing that has so much held back the influence of truth, and of the gospel, as indulgence in the vice of intemperance, and traffic in liquid fire.
(6) Indulgence in vice, or wickedness of any kind, holds back the truth of God. People who are resolved to indulge their passions will not yield themselves to this truth. And hence, all the wicked, the proud, and vain, and worldly are responsible, not only for their own sins directly, but for hindering, by their example and their crimes, the effect of religion on others. They are answerable for standing in the way of God and his truth; and for opposing him in the benevolent design of doing good to all people. There is nothing that prevents the universal spread and influence of truth but sin. And people of wickedness are answerable for all the ignorance and wo which are spread over the community, and which have extended themselves over the world.
19Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.
Because - The apostle proceeds to show how it was that the pagan hindered the truth by their iniquity. This he does by showing that the truth might be known by the works of creation; and that nothing but their iniquity prevented it.
That which may be known of God - That which is "knowable" concerning God. The expression implies that there may be many things concerning God which cannot be known. But there are also many things which may be ascertained. Such are his existence, and many of his attributes, his power, and wisdom, and justice, etc. The object of the apostle was not to say that every thing pertaining to God could be known by them, or that they could have as clear a view of him as if they had possessed a revelation. We must interpret the expression according to the object which he had in view. That was to show that so much might be known of God as to prove that they had no excuse for their crimes; or that God would be just in punishing them for their deeds. For this, it was needful only that his existence and his justice, or his determination to punish sin, should be known; and this, the apostle affirms, was known among them, and had been from the creation of the world. This expression. therefore, is not to be pressed as implying that they knew all that could be known about God, or that they knew as much as they who had a revelation; but that they knew enough to prove that they had no excuse for their sins.
Is manifest - Is known; is understood.
In them - "Among" them. So the preposition "in" is often used. It means that they had this knowledge; or it had been communicated to them. The great mass of the pagan world was indeed ignorant of the true God; but their leaders, or their philosophers, had this knowledge; see the note at Romans 1:21. But this was not true of the mass, or body of the people. Still it was true that this knowledge was in the possession of man, or was "among" the pagan world. and would have spread, had it not been for the love of sin.
God hath showed it to them - Compare John 1:9. He had endowed them with reason and conscience Romans 2:14-15; he had made them capable of seeing and investigating his works; he had spread before them the proofs of his wisdom, and goodness, and power, and had thus given them the means of learning his perfections and will.
20For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:
For the invisible things of him - The expression "his invisible things" refers to those things which cannot be perceived by the senses. It does not imply that there are any things pertaining to the divine character which may be seen by the eye; but that there are things which may be known of him, though not discoverable by the eye. We judge of the objects around us by the senses, the sight, the touch, the ear, etc. Paul affirms, that though we cannot judge thus of God, yet there is a way by which we may come to the knowledge of him. What he means by the invisible things of God he specifies at the close of the verse, "his eternal power and Godhead." The affirmation extends only to that; and the argument implies that that was enough to leave them without any excuse for their sins.
From the creation of the world - The word "creation" may either mean the "act" of creating, or more commonly it means "the thing created," the world, the universe. In this sense it is commonly used in the New Testament; compare Mark 10:6; Mark 13:19; Mark 16:5; Romans 1:25; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15; Colossians 1:15, Colossians 1:23; Hebrews 4:13; Hebrews 9:11; 1 Peter 2:13; 2 Peter 3:4; Revelation 3:14. The word "from" may mean "since," or it may denote "by means of." And the expression here may denote that, as an historical fact, God "has been" "known" since the act of creation; or it may denote that he is known "by means of" the material universe which he has formed. The latter is doubtless the true meaning. For,
(1) This is the common meaning of the word "creation;" and,
(2) This accords with the design of the argument.
It is not to state an historical fact, but to show that they had the means of knowing their duty within their reach, and were without excuse. Those means were in the wisdom, power, and glory of the universe, by which they were surrounded.
Are clearly seen - Are made manifest; or may be perceived. The word used here does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament.
Being understood - His perfections may be investigated, and comprehended by means of his works. They are the evidences submitted to our intellects, by which we may arrive at the true knowledge of God.
Things that are made - By his works; compare Hebrews 11:3. This means, not by the original "act" of creation, but by the continual operations of God in his Providence, by his doings, ποιήμασιν poiēmasin, by what he is continually producing and accomplishing in the displays of his power and goodness in the heavens and the earth. What they were capable of understanding, he immediately adds, and shows that he did not intend to affirm that everything could be known of God by his works; but so much as to free them from excuse for their sins.
His eternal power - Here are two things implied.
(1) that the universe contains an exhibition of his power, or a display of that attribute which we call "omnipotence;" and,
(2) That this power has existed from eternity, and of course implies an eternal existence in God.
It does not mean that this power has been exerted or put forth from eternity, for the very idea of creation supposes that it had not, but that there is proof, in the works of creation, of power which must have existed from eternity, or have belonged to an eternal being. The proof of this was clear, even to the pagan, with their imperfect views of creation and of astronomy; compare Psalm 19:1-14. The majesty and grandeur of the heavens would strike their eye, and be full demonstration that they were the work of an infinitely great and glorious God. But to us, under the full blaze of modern science, with our knowledge of the magnitude, and distances, and revolutions of the heavenly bodies, the proof of this power is much more grand and impressive. We may apply the remark of the apostle to the present state of the science, and his language will cover all the ground, and the proof to human view is continually rising of the amazing power of God, by every new discovery in science, and especially in astronomy. Those who wish to see this object presented in a most impressive view, may find it done in Chalmer's Astronomical Discourses, and in Dick's Christian Philosopher. Equally clear is the proof that this power must have been eternal. If it had not always existed, it could in no way have been produced. But it is not to be supposed that it was always exerted, any more than it is that God now puts forth all the power that he can, or than that we constantly put forth all the power which we possess. God's power was called forth at the creation. He showed his omnipotence; and gave, by that one great act, eternal demonstration that he was almighty; and we may survey the proof of that, as clearly as if we had seen the operation of his hand there. The proof is not weakened because we do not see the process of creation constantly going on. It is rather augmented by the fact that he sustains all things, and controls continually the vast masses of matter in the material worlds.
Godhead - His deity; divinity; divine nature, or essence. The word is not used elsewhere in the New Testament. Its meaning cannot therefore be fixed by any parallel passages. It proves the truth that the supremacy, or supreme divinity of God, was exhibited in the works of creation, or that he was exalted above all creatures and things. It would not be proper, however, to press this word as implying that all that we know of God by revelation was known to the pagan; but that so much was known as to show his supremacy; his right to their homage; and of course the folly and wickedness of idolatry. This is all that the argument of the apostle demands, and, of course, on this principle the expression is to be interpreted.
So that they are without excuse - God has given them so clear evidence of his existence and claims, that they have no excuse for their idolatry, and for hindering the truth by their iniquity. It is implied here that in order that people should be responsible, they should have the means of knowledge; and that he does not judge them when their ignorance is involuntary, and the means of knowing the truth have not been communicated. But where people have these means within their reach, and will not avail themselves of them, all excuse is taken away. This was the case with the Gentile world. They had the means of knowing so much of God, as to show the folly of worshipping dumb idols; compare Isaiah 44:8-10. They had also traditions respecting his perfections; and they could not plead for their crimes and folly that they had no means of knowing him. If this was true of the pagan world then, how much more is it true of the world now?
And especially how true and fearful is this, respecting that great multitude in Christian lands who have the Bible, and who never read it; who are within the reach of the sanctuary, and never enter it; who are admonished by friends, and by the providences of God, and who regard it not; and who look upon the heavens, and even yet see no proof of the eternal power and Godhead of him who made them all! Nay, there are those who are apprized of the discoveries of modern astronomy, and who yet do not seem to reflect that all these glories are proof of the existence of an eternal God; and who live in ignorance of religion as really as the pagan, and in crimes as decided and malignant as disgraced the darkest ages of the world. For such there is no excuse, or shadow of excuse, to be offered in the day of doom. And there is no fact more melancholy in our history, and no one thing that more proves the stupidity of people, than this sad forgetfulness of Him that made the heavens, even amid all the wonders and glories that have come fresh from the hand of God, and that everywhere speak his praise.
21Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
Because that - The apostle here is showing that it was right to condemn people for their sins. To do this it was needful to show them that they had the knowledge of God, and the means of knowing what was right; and that the true source of their sins and idolatries was a corrupt and evil heart.
When they knew God - Greek, "knowing God." That is, they had an acquaintance with the existence and many of the perfections of one God. That many of the philosophers of Greece and Rome had a knowledge of one God, there can be no doubt. This was undoubtedly the case with Pythagoras, who had traveled extensively in Egypt, and even in Palestine; and also with Plato and his disciples. This point is clearly shown by Cudworth in his Intellectual System, and by Dr. Warburton in the Divine Legation of Moses. Yet the knowledge of this great truth was not communicated to the people. It was confined to the philosophers; and not improbably one design of the mysteries celebrated throughout Greece was to keep up the knowledge of the one true God. Gibbon has remarked that "the philosophers regarded all the popular superstitions as equally false: the common people as equally true; and the politicians as equally useful." This was probably a correct account of the prevalent feelings among the ancients. A single extract from "Cicero" (de Natura Deorum, lib. ii. c. 6) will show that they had the knowledge of one God. "There is something in the nature of things, which the mind of man, which reason, which human power cannot effect; and certainly what produces this must be better than man. What can this be called but "God?" Again (c. 2), "What can be so plain and manifest, when we look at heaven, and contemplate heavenly things, as that there is some divinity of most excellent mind, by which these things are governed?"
They glorified him not as God - They did not "honor" him as God. This was the true source of their abominations. To glorify him "as God" is to regard with proper reverence all his perfections and laws; to venerate his name, his power, his holiness, and presence, etc. As they were not inclined to do this, so they were given over to their own vain and wicked desires. Sinners are not willing to give honor to God, as God. They are not pleased with his perfections; and therefore the mind becomes fixed on other objects, and the heart gives free indulgence to its own sinful desires. A willingness to honor God as God - to reverence, love, and obey him, would effectually restrain people from sin.
Neither were thankful - The obligation to be "thankful" to God for his mercies, for the goodness which we experience, is plain and obvious. Thus, we judge of favors received of our fellow-men. the apostle here clearly regards this unwillingness to render gratitude to God for his mercies as one of the causes of their subsequent corruption and idolatry. The reasons of this are the following.
(1) the effect of ingratitude is to render the heart hard and insensible.
(2) people seek to forget the Being to whom they are unwilling to exercise gratitude.
(3) to do this, they fix their affections on other things; and hence, the pagan expressed their gratitude not to God, but to the sun, and moon, and stars, etc., the mediums by which God bestows his favors upon people. And we may here learn that an unwillingness to thank God for his mercies is one of the most certain causes of alienation and hardness of heart.
But became vain - To "become vain," with us, means to be elated, or to be self-conceited, or to seek praise from others. The meaning here seems to be, they became foolish, frivolous in their thoughts and reasonings. They acted foolishly; they employed themselves in useless and frivolous questions, the effect of which was to lead the mind further and further from the truth respecting God.
Imaginations - This word means properly "thoughts," then "reasonings," and also "disputations." Perhaps our word, "speculations," would convey its meaning here. It implies that they were unwilling to honor God, and being unwilling to honor him, they commenced those speculations which resulted in all their vain and foolish opinions about idols, and the various rites of idolatrous worship. Many of the speculations and inquiries of the ancients were among the most vain and senseless which the mind can conceive.
And their foolish heart - The word "heart" is not infrequently used to denote the mind, or the understanding. We apply it to denote the affections. But such was not its common use, among the Hebrews. We speak of the head when we refer to the understanding, but this was not the case with the Hebrews. They spoke of the heart in this manner, and in this sense it is clearly used in this place; see Ephesians 1:18; Romans 2:15; 2 Corinthians 4:6; 2 Peter 1:19. The word "foolish" means literally what is without "understanding;" Matthew 15:16.
Was darkened - Was rendered obscure, so that they did not perceive and comprehend the truth. The process which is stated in this verse is,
(1) That people had the knowledge of God.
(2) that they refused to honor him when they knew him, and were opposed to his character and government.
(3) that they were ungrateful.
(4) that they then began to doubt, to reason, to speculate, and wandered far into darkness.
This is substantially the process by which people wander away from God now. They have the knowledge of God, but they do not love him; and being dissatisfied with his character and government, they begin to speculate, fall into error, and then "find no end in wandering mazes lost," and sink into the depths of heresy and of sin.
22Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,
Professing themselves to be wise - This was the common boast of the philosophers of antiquity. The very word by which they chose to be called, "philosophers," means literally "lovers of wisdom." That it was their boast that they were wise, is well known; compare Romans 1:14; 1 Corinthians 1:19, 1 Corinthians 1:20, 1 Corinthians 1:22; 1 Corinthians 3:19; 2 Corinthians 11:19.
They became fools - Compare Jeremiah 8:8-9. They became really foolish in their opinions and conduct. There is something particularly pungent and cutting in this remark, and as true as it is pungent. In what way they evinced their folly, Paul proceeds immediately to state. Sinners of all kinds are frequently spoken of as fools in the Scriptures. In the sense in which it is thus used, the word is applied to them as void of understanding or moral sense; as idolaters, and as wicked; Psalm 14:1; Proverbs 26:4; Proverbs 1:17, Proverbs 1:22; Proverbs 14:8-9. The senses in which this word here is applied to the pagan are,
(1) That their speculations and doctrines were senseless; and,
(2) That their conduct was corrupt.
23And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.
And changed - This does not mean that they literally "transmuted" God himself; but that in their views they exchanged him; or they changed him "as an object of worship" for idols. They produced, of course, no real change in the glory of the infinite God, but the change was in themselves. They forsook him of whom they had knowledge Romans 1:21, and offered the homage which was due to him, to idols.
The glory - The majesty, the honor, etc. This word stands opposed here to the "degrading" nature of their worship. Instead of adoring a Being clothed with majesty and honor, they bowed down to reptiles, etc. They exchanged a glorious object of worship for what was degrading and humiliating. The glory of God, in such places as this, means his essential honor, his majesty, the concentration and expression of his perfections, as the glory of the sun, 1 Corinthians 15:41 means his shining, or his splendor; compare Jeremiah 2:11; Psalm 106:20.
The uncorruptible God - The word "uncorruptible" is here applied to God in opposition to "man." God is unchanging, indestructible, immortal. The word conveys also the idea that God is eternal. As he is incorruptible, he is the proper object of worship. In all the changes of life, man may come to him, assured that he is the same. When man decays by age or infirmities, he may come to God, assured that he undergoes no such change, but is the same yesterday, today, and forever; compare 1 Timothy 1:17.
Into an image - An image is a representation or likeness of anything, whether made by painting, or from wood, stone, etc. Thus, the word is applied to "idols," as being "images" or "representations" of heavenly objects; 2 Chronicles 33:7; Daniel 3:1; Revelation 11:4, etc. See instances of this among the Jews described in Isaiah 40:18-26, and Ezekiel 8:10.
To corruptible man - This stands opposed to the "incorruptible" God. Many of the images or idols of the ancients were in the forms of men and women. Many of their gods were heroes and benefactors, who were deified, and to whom temples, altars, and statues were erected. Such were Jupiter, and Hercules, and Romulus, etc. The worship of these heroes thus constituted no small part of their idolatry, and their images would be of course representations of them in human form. It was proof of great degradation, that they thus adored human beings with like passions as themselves; and attempted to displace the true God from the throne, and to substitute in his place an idol in the likeness of men.
And to birds - The "ibis" was adored with special reverence among the Egyptians, on account of the great benefits resulting from its destroying the serpents which, but for this, would have overrun the country. The hawk was also adored in Egypt, and the eagle at Rome. As one great principle of pagan idolatry was to adore all objects from which important benefits were derived, it is probable that all birds would come in for a share of pagan worship, that rendered service in the destruction of noxious animals.
And fourfooted beasts - Thus, the ox, under the name "apis," was adored in Egypt; and even the dog and the monkey. In imitation of the Egyptian ox, the children of Israel made their golden calf, Exodus 22:4. At this day, two of the most sacred objects of worship in Hindostan are the cow and the "monkey."
And creeping things - Reptiles. "Animals that have no feet, or such short ones that they seem to creep or crawl on the ground." "(Calmet.)" Lizards, serpents, etc. come under this description. The "crocodile" in Egypt was an object of adoration, and even the serpent so late as the second century of the Christian era, there was a sect in Egypt, called "Ophites" from their worshipping a serpent, and who ever claimed to be Christians, (Murdock's Mosheim, vol. i. p. 180, 181). There was scarcely an object, animal or vegetable, which the Egyptians did not adore. Thus, the leek, the onion, etc. were objects of worship, and people bowed down and paid adoration to the sun and moon, to animals, to vegetables, and to reptiles. Egypt was the source of the views of religion that pervaded other nations, and hence, their worship partook of the same wretched and degrading character. (See "Leland's" "Advantage and Necessity of Revelation.")
24Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:
Wherefore - That is, because they were unwilling to retain him in their knowledge, and chose to worship idols. Here is traced the practical tendency of paganism; not as an innocent and harmless system, but as resulting in the most gross and shameless acts of depravity.
God gave them up - He abandoned them, or he ceased to restrain them, and suffered them to act out their sentiments, and to manifest them in their life. This does not imply, that he exerted any positive influence in inducing them to sin, any more than it would if we should seek, by argument and entreaty, to restrain a headstrong youth, and when neither would prevail, should leave him to act out his propensities. and to go as he chose to ruin. It is implied in this,
(1) That the tendency of man was to these sins;
(2) That the tendency of idolatry was to promote them; and,
(3) That all that was needful, in order that people should commit them, was for God to leave him to follow the devices and desires of his own heart; compare Psalm 81:12; 2 Thessalonians 2:10, 2 Thessalonians 2:12.
To uncleanness - To impurity, or moral defilement; particularly to those impurities which he proceeds to specify, Romans 1:26, etc.
Through the lusts of their own hearts - Or, in consequence of their own evil and depraved passions and desires. He left them to act out, or manifest, their depraved affections and inclinations.
To dishonour - To disgrace; Romans 1:26-27.
Between themselves - Among themselves; or mutually. They did it by unlawful and impure connections with one another.
25Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
Who changed the truth of God - This is a repetition of the declaration in Romans 1:23, in another form. The phrase, "the truth of God" is a Hebrew phrase, meaning "the true God." In such a case, where two nouns come together, one is employed as an adjective to qualify the other. Most commonly the latter of two nouns is used as the adjective, but sometimes it is the former, as in this case. God is called "the true God" in opposition to idols, which are called false gods. There is but one real or true God, and all others are false.
Into a lie - Into idols, or false gods. Idols are not infrequently called falsehood and lies, because they are not true representations of God; Jeremiah 13:25; Isaiah 28:15; Jeremiah 10:14; Psalm 40:4.
The creature - Created things, as the sun, moon, animals, etc.
Who is blessed forever - It was not uncommon to add a doxology, or ascription of praise to God, when his name was mentioned; see Romans 9:5; 2 Corinthians 11:31; Galatians 1:5. The Jews also usually did it. In this way they preserved veneration for the name of God, and accustomed themselves to speak of him with reverence. "The Muslims also borrowed this custom from the Jews, and practice it to a great extent. Tholuck mentions an Arabic manuscript in the library at Berlin which contains an account of heresies in respect to Islamism, and as often as the writer has occasion to mention the name of a new heretical sect, he adds, 'God be exalted above all which they say'" (Stuart).
Amen - This is a Hebrew word denoting strong affirmation. So let it be. It implies here the solemn assent of the writer to what was just said; or his strong wish that what he had said might be - that the name of God might be esteemed and be blessed forever. The mention of the degrading idolatry of the pagans was strongly calculated to impress on his mind the superior excellency and glory of the one living God. It is mentioned respecting the honorable Robert Boyle, that he never mentioned the name of God without a solemn pause, denoting his profound reverence. Such a practice would tend eminently to prevent an unholy familiarity and irreverence in regard to the sacred name of the Most High; compare Exodus 20:7.
26For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:
For this cause - On account of what had just been specified; to wit, that they did not glorify him as God, that they were unthankful, that they became polytheists and idolaters. In the previous verses he had stated their speculative belief. He now proceeds to show its practical influences on their conduct.
Vile affections - Disgraceful passions or desires. That is, to those which are immediately specified. The great object of the apostle here, it will be remembered, is to shew the state of the pagan world, and to prove that they had need of some other way of justification than the law of nature. For this purpose, it was necessary for him to enter into a detail of their sins. The sins which he proceeds to specify are the most indelicate, vile, and degrading which can be charged on man. But this is not the fault of the apostle. If they existed, it was necessary for him to charge them on the pagan world. His argument would not be complete without it. The shame is not in specifying them, but in their existence; not in the apostle, but in those who practiced them, and imposed on him the necessity of accusing them of these enormous offences. It may be further remarked, that the mere fact of his charging them with these sins is strong presumptive proof of their being practiced. If they did not exist, it would be easy for them to deny it, and put him to the proof of it. No man would venture charges like these without evidence; and the presumption is, that these things were known and practiced without shame. But this is not all. There is still abundant proof on record in the writings of the pagan themselves, that these crimes were known and extensively practiced.
For even their women ... - Evidence of the shameful and disgraceful fact here charged on the women is abundant in the Greek and Roman writers. Proof may be seen, which it would not be proper to specify, in the lexicons, under the words τριζὰς ὄλισβον trizas olisbon, and ἑταιρίστης hetairistēs. See also Seneca, epis. 95; Martial, epis. i. 90. Tholuck on the State of the pagan World, in the Biblical Repository, vol. ii.; Lucian, Dial. Meretric. v.; and Tertullian de Pallio.
27And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.
And likewise the men ... - The sin which is here specified is what was the shameful sin of Sodom, and which from that has been called sodomy. It would scarcely be credible that man had been guilty of a crime so base and so degrading, unless there was ample and full testimony to it. Perhaps there is no sin which so deeply shows the depravity of man as this; none which would so much induce one "to hang his head, and blush to think himself a man." And yet the evidence that the apostle did not bring a railing accusation against the pagan world; that he did not advance a charge which was unfounded, is too painfully clear. It has been indeed a matter of controversy whether paederastry, or the love of boys, among the ancients was not a pure and harmless love, but the evidence is against it. (See this discussed in Dr. Leland's Advantage and Necessity of Revelation, vol. i.-49-56.) The crime with which the apostle charges the Gentiles here was by no means confined to the lower classes of the people.
It doubtless pervaded all classes, and we have distinct specifications of its existence in a great number of cases. Even Virgil speaks of the attachment of Corydon to Alexis, without seeming to feel the necessity of a blush for it. Maximus Tyrius (Diss. 10) says that in the time of Socrates, this vice was common among the Greeks; and is at pains to vindicate Socrates from it as almost a solitary exception. Cicero (Tuscul. Ques. iv. 34) says, that "Dicearchus had accused Plato of it, and probably not unjustly." He also says (Tuscul. Q. iv. 33), that the practice was common among the Greeks, and that their poets and great men, and even their learned men and philosophers, not only practiced, but gloried in it. And he adds, that it was the custom, not of particular cities only, but of Greece in general. (Tuscul. Ques. v. 20.) Xenophon says, that "the unnatural love of boys is so common, that in many places it is established by the public laws."
He particularly alludes to Sparta. (See Leland's Advantage, etc. i. 56.) Plato says that the Cretans practiced this crime, and justified themselves by the example of Jupiter and Ganymede. (Book of Laws, i.) And Aristotle says, that among the Cretans there was a law encouraging that sort of unnatural love. (Aristotle, Politic. b. ii. chapter 10.) Plutarch says, that this was practiced at Thebes, and at Elis. He further says, that Solon, the great lawgiver of Athens, "was not proof against beautiful boys, and had not courage to resist the force of love." (Life of Solon.) Diogenes Laertius says that this vice was practiced by the Stoic Zeno. Among the Romans, to whom Paul was writing, this vice was no less common. Cicero introduces, without any mark of disapprobation, Cotta, a man of the first rank and genius, freely and familiarly owning to other Romans of the same quality, that this worse than beastly vice was practiced by himself, and quoting the authority of ancient philosophers in vindication of it. (De Natura Deorum, b. i. chapter 28.) It appears from what Seneca says (epis. 95) that in his time it was practiced openly at Rome, and without shame.
He speaks of flocks and troops of boys, distinguished by their colors and nations; and says that great care was taken to train them up for this detestable employment. Those who may wish to see a further account of the morality in the pagan world may find it detailed in Tholuck's "Nature and moral Influence of Heathenism," in the Biblical Repository, vol. ii., and in Leland's Advantage and Necessity of the Christian Revelation. There is not the least evidence that this abominable vice was confined to Greece and Rome. If so common there, if it had the sanction even of their philosophers, it may be presumed that it was practiced elsewhere, and that the sin against nature was a common crime throughout the pagan world. Navaratte, in his account of the empire of China (book ii. chapter 6), says that it is extremely common among the Chinese. And there is every reason to believe, that both in the old world and the new, this abominable crime is still practiced. If such was the state of the pagan world, then surely the argument of the apostle is well sustained, that there was need of some other plan of salvation than was taught by the light of nature.
That which is unseemly - That which is shameful, or disgraceful.
And receiving in themselves ... - The meaning of this doubtless is, that the effect of such base and unnatural passions was, to enfeeble the body, to produce premature old age, disease, decay, and an early death. That this is the effect of the indulgence of licentious passions, is amply proved by the history of man. The despots who practice polygamy, and keep harems in the East, are commonly superannuated at forty years of age; and it is well known, even in Christian countries, that the effect of licentious indulgence is to break down and destroy the constitution. How much more might this be expected to follow the practice of the vice specified in the verse under examination! God has marked the indulgence of licentious passions with his frown. Since the time of the Romans and the Greeks, as if there had not been sufficient restraints before, he has originated a new disease, which is one of the most loathsome and distressing which has ever afflicted man, and which has swept off millions of victims. But the effect on the body was not all. It tended to debase the mind; to sink man below the level of the brute; to destroy the sensibility; and to "sear the conscience as with a hot iron." The last remnant of reason and conscience, it would seem, must be extinguished it those who would indulge in this unnatural and degrading vice. See Suetonius' Life of Nere, 28.
28And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;
And even as they did not like ... - This was the true source of their crimes. They did not choose to acknowledge God. It was not because they could not, but because they were displeased with God, and chose to forsake him, and follow their own passions and lusts.
To retain God ... - To think of him, or to serve and adore him. This was the first step in their sin. It was not that God compelled them; or that he did not give them knowledge; nor even is it said that he arbitrarily abandoned them as the first step; but they forsook him, and as a consequence he gave them up to a reprobate mind.
To a reprobate mind - A mind destitute of judgment. In the Greek the same word is used here, which, in another form, occurs in the previous part of the verse, and which is translated "like." The apostle meant doubtless to retain a reference to that in this place. "As they did not approve, ἐδοκιμασαν edokimasan, or choose to retain God, etc. he gave them up to a mind disapproved, rejected, reprobate," ἀδοκιμον adokimon, and he means that the state of their minds was such that God could not approve it. It does not mean that they were reprobate by any arbitrary decree; but that as a consequence of their headstrong passions, their determination to forget him, he left them to a state of mind which was evil, and which he could not approve.
Which are not convenient - Which are not fit or proper; which are disgraceful and shameful; to wit, those things which he proceeds to state in the remainder of the chapter.
29Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,
Being filled - That is, the things which he specifies were common or abounded among them. This is a strong phrase, denoting that these things were so often practiced as that it might be said they were full of them. We have a phrase like this still, when we say of one that he is full of mischief, etc.
Unrighteousness - ἀδικία adikia. This is a word denoting injustice, or iniquity in general. The particular specifications of the iniquity follow.
Fornication - This was a common and almost universal sin among the ancients, as it is among the moderns. The word denotes all illicit sexual intercourse. That this was a common crime among the ancient pagan, it would be easy to show, were it proper, even in relation to their wisest and most learned men. They who wish to see ample evidence of this charge may find it in Tholuck's "Nature and Moral Influence of Heathenism," in the Biblical Repository, vol. ii. p. 441-464.
Wickedness - The word used here denotes a desire of injuring others; or, as we should express it, malice. It is that depravity and obliquity of mind which strives to produce injury on others. (Calvin.)
Covetousness - Avarice, or the desire of obtaining what belongs to others. This vice is common in the world; but it would be particularly so where the other vices enumerated here abounded, and people were desirous of luxury, and the gratification of their senses. Rome was particularly desirous of the wealth of other nations, and hence, its extended wars, and the various evils of rapine and conquest.
Licentiousness - κακία kakia. This word denotes evil in general; rather the act of doing wrong than the desire which was expressed before by the word "wickedness."
Full of envy - "Pain, uneasiness, mortification, or discontent, excited by another's prosperity, accompanied with some degree of hatred or malignity, and often with a desire or an effort to depreciate the person, and with pleasure in seeing him depressed" (Webster). This passion is so common still, that it is not necessary to attempt to prove that it was common among the ancients. It seems to be natural to the human heart. It is one of the most common manifestations of wickedness, and shows clearly the deep depravity of man. Benevolence rejoices at the happiness of others, and seeks to promote it. But envy exists almost everywhere, and in almost every human bosom:
"All human virtue, to its latest breath,
Finds envy never conquered but by death."
Murder - "The taking of human life with premeditated malice by a person of a sane mind." This is necessary to constitute murder now, but the word used here denotes all manslaughter, or taking human life, except what occurs as the punishment of crime. It is scarcely necessary to show that this was common among the Gentiles. It has prevailed in all communities, but it was particularly prevalent in Rome. It is necessary only to refer the reader to the common events in the Roman history of assassinations, deaths by poison, and the destruction of slaves. But in a special manner the charge was properly alleged against them, on account of the inhuman contests of the gladiators in the amphitheaters. These were common at Rome, and constituted a favorite amusement with the people. Originally captives, slaves, and criminals were trained up for combat; but it afterward became common for even Roman citizens to engage in these bloody combats, and Nero at one show exhibited no less than four hundred senators and six hundred knights as gladiators.
The fondness for this bloody spectacle continued until the reign of Constantine the Great, the first Christian emperor, by whom they were abolished about six hundred years after the original institution. "Several hundred, perhaps several thousand, victims were annually slaughtered in the great cities of the empire." Gibbon's Decline and Fall, chapter xxx. 404 a.d. As an instance of what might occur in this inhuman spectacle, we may refer to what took place on such an occasion in the reign of Probus (281 a.d.). During his triumph, near 700 gladiators were reserved to shed each other's blood for the amusement of the Roman people. But "disdaining to shed their blood for the amusement of the populace, they killed their keepers, broke from their place of confinement, and filled the streets of Rome with blood and confusion." Gibbon's Decline and Fall, chapter 12. With such views and with such spectacles before them, it is not wonderful that murder was regarded as a matter of little consequence, and hence, this crime prevailed throughout the world.
Debate - Our word debate does not commonly imply evil. It denotes commonly discussion for elucidating truth; or for maintaining a proposition, as the debates in Parliament, etc. But the word in the original meant also contention, strife, altercation, connected with anger and heated zeal; Romans 13:13; 1 Corinthians 1:11; 1 Corinthians 3:3; 2 Corinthians 12:20; Galatians 5:20; Philippians 1:15; 1 Timothy 6:4; Titus 3:9. This contention and strife would, of course, follow from malice and covetousness, etc.
Deceit - This denotes fraud, falsehood, etc. That this was common is also plain. The Cretans are testified by one of the Greek poets to have been always liars. Titus 1:12. Juvenal charges the same thing on the Romans. (Sat. iii. 41.) "What," says he, "should I do at Rome? I cannot lie." Intimating that if he were there, it would follow, of course, that he would be expected to be false. The same thing is still true. Writers on India tell us that the word of a Hindu even under oath is not to be regarded; and the same thing occurs in most pagan countries.
Malignity - This word signifies here, not malignity in general, but that particular species of it which consists in misinterpreting the words or actions of others, or putting the worst construction on their conduct.
Whisperers - Those who secretly, and in a sly manner, by hints and inuendoes, detract from others, or excite suspicion of them. It does not mean those who openly calumniate, but that more dangerous class who give hints of evil in others, who affect great knowledge, and communicate the evil report under an injunction of secrecy, knowing that it will be divulged. This class of people abounds everywhere, and there is scarcely any one more dangerous to the peace or happiness of society.
30Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,
Backbiters - Those Who calumniate, slander, or speak ill of those who are absent. Whisperers declare secretly, and with great reserve, the supposed faults of others. Backbiters proclaim them publicly and avowedly.
Haters of God - There is no charge which can be brought against people more severe than this. It is the highest possible crime; yet it is a charge which the conduct of people will abundantly justify, and the truth of which all those experience who are brought to see their true character. To an awakened sinner there is often nothing more plain and painful than that he is a hater of God. His heart rises up against Him, and his Law, and his plan of saving people; and he deeply feels that nothing can subdue this but the mighty power of the Holy One. This is a charge which is not unfrequently brought against people in the Bible; see John 7:7; John 15:18, John 15:24-25; John 3:19-20. Surely, if this be the native character of man, then it is "far gone from original righteousness." No more striking proof of depravity could be given; and in no creed or confession of faith is there a more painful and humiliating representation given of human wickedness, than in this declaration of an inspired apostle, that people are by nature haters of God.
Despiteful - This word denotes those who abuse, or treat with unkindness or disdain, those who are present. Whisperers and backbiters are those who calumniate those who are absent.
Proud - Pride is well understood. It is an inordinate self-esteem; an unreasonable conceit of one's superiority in talents, beauty, wealth, accomplishments, etc. (Webster). Of the existence of this everywhere, there is abundant proof. And it was particularly striking among the ancients. The sect of the Stoics was distinguished for it, and this was the general character of their philosophers. People will be proud where they suppose none are superior; and it is only the religion that reveals a great and infinite God, and that teaches that all blessings are his gift, and that he has given us the station which we occupy, that will produce true humility. We may add, that the system of paganism did not disclose the wickedness of the heart, and that rids was a main reason why they were elevated in self-esteem.
Boasters - Those who arrogate to themselves what they do not possess, and glory on it. This is closely connected with pride. A man who has an inordinate self-conceit, will not be slow to proclaim his own merits to those around him.
Inventors of evil things - This doubtless refers to their seeking to find out new arts or plans to practice evil; new devices to gratify their lusts and passions; new forms of luxury, and vice, etc. So intent were they on practicing evil, so resolved to gratify their passions, that the mind was excited to discover new modes of gratification. In cities of luxury and vice, this has always been done. Vices change their form, people become satiated, and they are obliged to resort to some new form. The passions cease to be gratified with old forms of indulgence, and consequently people are obliged to resort to new devices to pamper their appetites, and to rekindle their dying passions to a flame. This was eminently true of ancient Rome; a place where all the arts of luxury, all the devices of passion, all the designs of splendid gratification, were called forth to excite and pamper the evil passions of people. Their splendid entertainments, their games, their theaters, their sports - cruel and bloody - were little else than new and ever-varying inventions of evil things to gratify the desires of lust and of pride.
Disobedient to parents - This expresses the idea that they did not show to parents that honor, respect, and attention which was due. This has been a crime of paganism in every age; and though among the Romans the duty of honoring parents was enjoined by the laws, yet it is not improbable that the duty was often violated, and that parents were treated with great neglect and even contempt. "Disobedience to parents was punished by the Jewish Law with death, and with the Hindus it is attended with the loss of the child's inheritance. The ancient Greeks considered the neglect of it to be extremely impious, and attended with the most certain effects of divine vengeance. Solon ordered all persons who refused to make due provision for their parents to be punished with infamy, and the same penalty was incurred for personal violence toward them." Kent's Commentaries on American Law, vol. ii. p. 207; compare Virg. AEniad, ix. 283. The feelings of pride and haughtiness would lead to disregard of parents. It might also be felt that to provide for them when aged and infirm was a burden; and hence, there would arise disregard for their wants, and probably open opposition to their wishes, as being the demands of petulance and age. It has been one characteristic of paganism every where, that it leaves children to treat their parents with neglect. Among the Sandwich islanders it was customary, when a parent was old, infirm, and sick beyond the hope of recovery, for his own children to bury him alive; and it has been the common custom in India for children to leave their aged parents to perish on the banks of the Ganges.
31Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:
Without understanding - Inconsiderate, or foolish; see Romans 1:21-22.
Covenant breakers - Perfidious; false to their contracts.
Without natural affections - This expression denotes the lack of affectionate regard toward their children. The attachment of parents to children is one of the strongest in nature, and nothing can overcome it but the most confirmed and established wickedness. And yet the apostle charges on the pagan generally the lack of this affection. He doubtless refers here to the practice so common among pagans of exposing their children, or putting them to death. This crime, so abhorrent to all the feelings of humanity, was common among the pagan, and is still. The Canaanites, we are told Psalm 106:37-38, "sacrificed their sons and their daughters unto devils, and shed innocent blood, even the blood of their sons and their daughters, whom they sacrificed unto the idols of Canaan." Manasseh among the Jews imitated their example, and introduced the horrid custom of sacrificing children to Moloch, and set the example by offering his own; 2 Chronicles 33:6.
Among the ancient Persians it was a common custom to bury children alive. In most of the Grecian states, infanticide was not merely permitted, but actually enforced by law. The Spartan lawgiver expressly ordained that every child that was born should be examined by the ancient men of the tribe, and that if found weak or deformed, should be thrown into a deep cavern at the foot of Mount Taygetus. Aristotle, in his work on government, enjoins the exposure of children that are naturally feeble and deformed, in order to prevent an excess of population. But among all the nations of antiquity, the Romans were the most unrelenting in their treatment of infants. Romulus obliged the citizens to bring up all their male children, and the oldest of the females, proof that the others were to be destroyed. The Roman father had an absolute right over the life of his child, and we have abundant proof that that right was often exercised.
Romulus expressly authorized the destruction of all children that were deformed, only requiring the parents to exhibit them to their five nearest neighbors, and to obtain their consent to their death. The law of the Twelve Tables enacted in the 301st year of Rome, sanctioned the same barbarous practice. Minucius Felix thus describes the barbarity of the Romans in this respect: "I see you exposing your infants to wild beasts and birds, or strangling them after the most miserable manner." (chapter xxx.) Pliny the older defends the right of parents to destroy their children, upon the ground of its being necessary in order to preserve the population within proper bounds. Tertullian, in his apology, expresses himself boldly on this subject. "How many of you (addressing himself to the Roman people, and to the governors of cities and provinces) might I deservedly charge with infant murder; and not only so, but among the different kinds of death, for choosing some of the cruelest for their own children, such as drowning, or starving with cold or hunger, or exposing to the mercy of dogs; dying by the sword being too sweet a death for children."
Nor was this practice arrested in the Roman government until the time of Constantine, the first Christian prince. The Phoenicians and Carthaginians were in the habit of sacrificing infants to the gods. It may be added that the crime is no less common among modern pagan nations. No less than 9000 children are exposed in Pekin in China annually. Persons are employed by the police to go through the city with carts every morning to pick up all the children that may have been thrown out during the night. The bodies are carried to a common pit without the walls of the city, into which all, whether dead or living, are promiscuously thrown. (Barrow's Travels in China, p. 113, Amos ed.) Among the Hindus the practice is perhaps still more common. In the provinces of Cutch and Guzerat alone the number of infantile murders amounted, according to the lowest calculation in 1807, to 3,000 annually; according to another calculation, to 30,000.
Females are almost the only victims. (Buchanan's Researches in Asia, Eng. ed. p. 49. Ward's View of the Hindus.) In Otaheite, previously to the conversion of the people to Christianity. it was estimated that at least two-thirds of the children were destroyed. (Turnbull's Voyage round the World in 1800, 2, 3, and 4.) The natives of New South Wales were in the habit of burying the child with its mother, if she should happen to die. (Collins' Account of the Colony of New South Wales, p. 124, 125.) Among the Hottentots, infanticide is a common crime. "The altars of the Mexicans were continually drenched in the blood of infants." In Peru, no less than two hundred infants were sacrificed on occasion of the coronation of the Inca. The authority for these melancholy statements may be seen in Beck's Medical Jurisprudence, vol. i.-18-197, ed. 1823; see also Robertson's History of America, p. 221, ed. 1821. This is a specimen of the views and feelings of the pagan world; and the painful narrative might be continued to almost any length. After this statement, it cannot surely be deemed a groundless charge when the apostle accused them of being destitute of natural affection.
Implacable - This word properly denotes those who will not be reconciled where there is a quarrel; or who pursue the offender with unyielding revenge. It denotes an unforgiving temper; and was doubtless common among the ancients, as it is among all pagan people. The aborigines of America have given the most striking manifestation of this that the world has known. It is well known that among them, neither time nor distance will obliterate the memory of an offence; and that the avenger will pursue the offender over hills and streams, and through heat or snow, happy if he may at last, though at the expiration of years, bury the tomahawk in the head of his victim, though it may be at the expense of his own life. See Robertson's America, book iv. Section lxxiii. - lxxxi.
Unmerciful - Destitute of compassion. As a proof of this, we may remark that no provisions for the poor or the infirm were made among the pagan. The sick and the infirm were cast out, and doomed to depend on the stinted charity of individuals. Pure religion, only, opens the heart to the appeals of want; and nothing but Christianity has yet expanded the hearts of people to make public provisions for the poor, the ignorant, and the afflicted.
32Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.
Who knowing - That the Gentiles had a moral sense, or were capable of knowing the will of God in this case, is clear from Romans 2:14-15. The means which they had of arriving at the knowledge of God were, their own reason, their conscience, and an observation of the effects of depravity.
The judgment of God - The word "judgment" here denotes the declared sentiment of God that such things deserved death. It does not mean his inflictions, or his statutes or precepts; but it means that God thought or judged that they which did such things ought to die. As they were aware of this, it showed their guilt in still persevering in the face of his judgments, and his solemn purpose to inflict punishment.
Were worthy of death - The word "death" in the Scriptures is often used to denote punishment. But it does not mean here that these deserved capital punishment from the civil magistrate, but that they knew they were evil, and offensive to God, and deserving of punishment from his hand; see John 8:51; Romans 5:12-19.
Have pleasure ... - They delight in those who commit sin; and hence, encourage them in it, and excite them to it. This was a grievous aggravation of the offence. It greatly heightens guilt when we excite others to do it, and seduce them from the ways of innocence. That this was the case with the pagan there can be no doubt. People do not commit sin often alone. They need the countenance of others. They "join hand in hand," and become confederate in iniquity. All social sins are of this class; and most of those which the apostle mentioned were sins of this character.
If this revolting and melancholy picture of the pagan world was a true representation, then it was clear that there was need of some other plan of religion. And that it was true has already in part been seen. In the conclusion of this chapter we may make a few additional observations.
1. The charges which the apostle makes here were evidently those which were well known. He does not even appeal to their writings, as he does on some other occasions, for proof; compare Titus 1:12. So well known were they, that there was no need of proof. A writer would not advance charges in this manner unless he was confident that they were well-founded, and could not be denied.
2. They are abundantly sustained by the pagan writers themselves. This we have in part seen In addition we may adduce the testimony of two Roman writers respecting the state of things at Rome in the time of the apostle. Livy says of the age of Augustus, in some respects the brightest period of the Roman history, "Rome has increased by her virtues until now, when we can neither bear our vices nor their remedy." Preface to his History. Seneca, one of the purest moralists of Rome, who died in 65 a.d., says of his own time, "All is full of criminality and vice; indeed much more of these is committed than can be remedied by force. A monstrous contest of abandoned wickedness is carried on. The lust of sin increases daily; and shame is daily more and more extinguished. Discarding respect for all that is good and sacred, lust rushes on wherever it will. Vice no longer hides itself. It stalks forth before all eyes. So public has abandoned wickedness become, and so openly does it flame up in the minds of all, that innocence is no longer seldom, but has wholly ceased to exist." Seneca de Ira, ii. 8. Further authorities of this kind could be easily given, but these will show that the apostle Paul did not speak at random when he charged them with these enormous crimes.
3. If this was the state of things, then it was clear that there was need of another plan of saving people. It will be remembered that, in these charges, the apostle speaks of the most enlightened and refined nations of antiquity; and especially that he speaks of the Romans at the very height of their power, intelligence, and splendor. The experiment whether man could save himself by his own works, had been fairly made. After all that their greatest philosophers could do, this was the result, and it is clear that there was need of some better plan than this. More profound and laborious philosophers than had arisen, the pagan world could not hope to see; more refinement and civilization than then existed, the world could not expect to behold under paganism. At this time, when the experiment had been made for four thousand years, and when the inefficacy of all human means, even under the most favorable circumstances, to reform mankind, had been tried, the gospel was preached to people. It disclosed another plan; and its effects were seen at once throughout the most abandoned states and cities of the ancient world.
4. If this was the state of things in the ancient pagan world, the same may be expected to be the state of paganism still. And it is so. The account given here of ancient pagans would apply substantially still to the pagan world. The same things have been again and again witnessed in China, and Hindostan, and Africa, the Sandwich islands, and in aboriginal America. It would be easy to multiply proofs almost without end of this: and to this day the pagan world is exhibiting substantially the same characteristics that it was in the time of Paul.
5. There was need of some better religion than the pagan. After all that infidels and deists have said of the sufficiency of natural religion, yet here is the sad result. This shows what man can do, and these facts will demonstrate forever that there was need of some other religion than that furnished by the light of nature.
6. The account in this chapter shows the propriety of missionary exertions. So Paul judged; and so we should judge still. If this be the state of the world, and if Christianity, as all Christians believe, contains the remedy for all these evils, then it is wisdom and benevolence to send it to them. And it is not wisdom or benevolence to withhold it from them. Believing as they do, Christians are bound to send the gospel to the pagan world. It is on this principle that modern missions to the pagan are established; and if the toils of the apostles were demanded to spread the gospel, then are the labors of Christians now. If it was right, and wise, and proper for them to go to other lands to proclaim "the unsearchable riches of Christ," then it is equally proper and wise to do it now. If there was danger that the pagan world then would perish without the gospel, there is equal danger that the pagan world will perish now.
7. If it should be said that many of these things are practiced now in nations which are called Christian, and that, therefore, the charge of the apostle that this was the effect of paganism could not be well-founded, we may reply,
(1) That this is true, too true. But this very fact shows the deep and dreadful depravity of human nature. If such things exist in lands that have a revelation, what mush have been the state of those countries that had none of its restraints and influences? But,
(2) These things do not exist where religion exerts its influence. They are not in the bosom of the Christian church. They are not practiced by Christians. And the effect of the Christian religion, so far as it has influence, is to call off people from such vices, and to make them holy and pure in their life. Let religion exert its full influence on any nominally Christian nation, and these things would cease. Let it send its influence into other lands, and the world, the now polluted world, would become pure before God.