Sunday, December 03, 2017

3. Concentrated Romans (1:18-32)

1. Romans 1:1-15
2. Romans 1:16-17

Romans 1:18-32
A. Structure of Romans
  • The book of Romans has two major halves. There is a logical cause-effect relationship between them signaled by the word "therefore" in 12:1. If the first half is true (1:16-11:36), then live the second half way (12:1-15:33).
  • So to be overly simplistic, the first half is the theological half; the second is the practical half. The first half is teaching; the second half is preaching. The first half is doctrine; the second half is application. Probably more accurate to say, the first half is more exposition, the second more exhortation.
  • In the first half, 1:16-17 are the key verses. They are a general statement that plays itself out in specifics in 1:18-11:36.
  • Now with 1:18 we begin in earnest this first half of Romans (1:16-11:36).
  • This first half of Romans consists of three sections. The first asks, "Who is justified?" (1:18-5:11). The second asks, "What about the Jewish Law?" (5:12-8:39). The third asks, "What about Israel?" (9:1-11:36).
  • So 1:18-5:11 deals primarily with the subject of justification. Who is right with God? To be justified is to be declared in right standing with God. You are declared "not guilty." You are declared innocent in the divine court.
  • This first section, "Who is justified?" also consists of three parts. The first establishes the universal problem that both Jew and Gentile have--both have sinned (1:18-3:20). The second reveals the universal solution--the offering of Christ and the possibility of justification by faith (3:21-4:25). The third is a swing section that at least in part concludes this first section (5:1-11).
B. Gentiles have sinned (1:18-32)
  • The general lay out of the first section of Romans is: 1) Gentiles are going to fry (1:18-32), 2) Jews are going to fry too (2:1-29), and 3) all have sinned and are going to fry (3:1-20).
  • It is easy to wonder if the first chapter of Romans is a kind of "sting" operation. He does not mention the Gentiles, but a self-righteous Jew (of course not all Jews were such) would probably enjoy Romans 1 just a little too much. While Paul is saying, "these foolish people did x, y, and z," a particular hypocritical Jew would be saying, "YES! Amen! Those Gentiles are going to fry! Preach it Paul!" But he is reeling such a person in so he can smack them with some bad news in chapter 2.
  • So the sins that Paul selects in Romans 1 are stereotypical Gentile sins--idolatry and sexual immorality. The overlap in content and order between Paul's comments here and the book of Wisdom 13-14 is extensive enough that we probably have to conclude that Paul is drawing from that book. He doesn't mention it or call it scripture, of course. Wisdom is a book in the Apocrypha, in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Old Testament but not the Protestant one.
  • The flow of Romans 1 is: 1) Gentiles turned away from the true God and became idolaters, 2) therefore God abandoned them and they became sexually immoral, 3) this spiraling out of control ended in all sorts of wickedness.
  • 1:18-23. Everyone should know what God is like. "The invisible aspects of God are clearly seen since the creation of the world--his power and divinity--so that they are without excuse" (1:20).
  • This verse is one of the key bases for what is called, "natural revelation." It is the idea that "the heavens declare the glory of God" (Ps. 19:1). One should be able to apprehend some things by observing God's creation (Acts 17:26-27). Paul thus indicates that every person is without excuse--everyone should know that God exists.
  • We thus get into some thorny theological questions. Can we come to God without the assistance of the Holy Spirit (Pelagianism)? What about those who have never heard or live in a place where Christ is the enemy--are they without excuse? Different traditions answer these questions differently, gluing passages together in different ways, supposing a different looking iceberg below the surface of the waters.
  • Not all Wesleyans glue the same either. Given the nature of God as love, many Wesleyans want to believe that God "lightens everyone who comes into the world" (John 1:9). By God's "prevenient grace," he turns up the light for everyone at some point to see if they will want more grace. Christ is still the only basis for atonement and reconciliation, but God looks for heart movement, not head movement. Hearing the gospel and prayer increase exponentially the spiritual grace that moves toward God but, because of free will, cannot force a person to be saved. This scenario, while speculative, makes better sense of the love of God than, say, the Calvinist scenario, which supposes that we are all damned already and so God is not unjust to let the majority of the world go to hell without ever having any chance whatsoever.
  • Idolatry is thus the reduction of God to something as ridiculous as an idol shaped like a reptile. Gentiles who thought themselves wise thus turned out to be fools to minimize God in this way. Of course there are many subtle ways to minimize God (e.g., American fundamentalism).
  • 1:24-27. "God handed them over." There is a significant strand of Romans interpretation that highlights the connection between God's wrath and him letting humanity spiral out of control. That is to say, part of God's wrath is him simply letting us experience the consequences of our own turning from him. We see a hint of this idea in 1:27 where homosexual acts are said to contain within themselves their own punishment. It would be highly anachronistic to say this is AIDS or some sexually transmitted disease. Paul seems to be saying that the shame of the act itself is a punishment. However, it would seem that Paul's sense of God's wrath is bigger than merely experiencing the consequences of our rebellion.
  • This passage is the central biblical text in relation to homosexual acts. There are at least six others. The Sodom and Gomorrah story in Genesis 19 proposed the rape of male angels by men (see also Judges 19). Jude 7 refers to this as a "going after different flesh." Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 prohibit a male-male sex act as part of the holiness codes of Israel. 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 include active and passive homosexual acts in a list of either sinful individuals or practices.
  • Paul does not give any context for such acts. We do not know for certain, for example, if the malakoi of 1 Corinthians 6:9 are male prostitutes (passive side of the act). We do not know if he pictures an activity done at a pagan temple (which would fit the flow of thought from idolatry to sexual immorality). His audiences presumably knew exactly what he was talking about.
  • All these passages focus on sexual acts. The idea of a fixed sexual orientation that is not heterosexual is a modern concept. The Bible only discusses people who engage in an activity and thus these passages do not condemn individuals who have a particular temptation that is not acted upon mentally or physically. This is the only biblical passage that mentions female homosexual acts.
  • Paul's broader point is that the Gentiles stand under God's judgment because they have not recognized God for who he truly is, thus they have devolved into idolatry and sexual immorality. This is his sting operation. A hypocritical Jew or conservative Gentile believer who is taking pleasure in this recounting of the wickedness of the Gentile is about to have the tables turned on him or her.
  • 1:28-32. This is the climax of the chapter. As the Gentiles spiral out of control for not glorifying God as God, Paul goes on to list more behaviors on which God's wrath falls: envy, murder, strife, gossip, slanderers, disobedience to parents, a lack of love and mercy. 
  • So Gentiles have sinned and are going to fry.

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