Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Romans 1:18-25

Text in purple indicates the Bishop’s paraphrasing of the scripture he is commenting on.

Rom 1:18  For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and injustice of those men that detain the truth of God in injustice:

The Gospel of God is the powerful instrument of salvation on another ground; for, it serves to deter us from the commission of sin by clearly revealing the heavy anger of God, which will one day (on the day of judgment) be visited on those men from heaven, who by impiety have sinned against religion, and by injustice have injured their neighbour, unjustly concealing the truth of God, and not showing it forth in their conduct.

The connexion of this verse with verse 16, as given in the Paraphrase, appears the most probable. The Gospel is also a most powerful means of salvation, by deterring men from the commission of sin—such as the Gentiles had committed against the natural law—which carried no strength for self-observance; and the Jews against the law of Moses, which also contributed no help for self-observance either; and the remainder of this chapter is devoted by the Apostle to point out how far their multiplied crimes rendered the Gentiles deserving objects of the heavy threats held out in the Gospel against sinners. In the next chapter, the same is shown in reference to the Jews, so that after having shown (chap. 3) that all, both Jews and Gentiles, were under sin, he shows the only means of rescuing them from this state, and rendering them just, to be faith. “That detain the truth of God in injustice.” The words “of God,” are not in the Greek. How many are there now-a-days, whose conduct is in opposition to their knowledge? To whom can the charge of “detaining the truth of God in injustice” so strictly apply as to pastors, and parents and all those who, having the care of others, and therefore, in some measure, bound injustice to teach them the knowledge of God, still neglect this most important duty? The Apostle directly and immediately alludes to the Gentile philosophers, whose crimes he is about enumerating.

Rom 1:19  Because that which is known of God is manifest in them. For God hath manifested it unto them.

They unjustly concealed the knowledge of God. For, the Pagan philosophers to whom I refer, had a knowledge of whatever could be known concerning God, from the light of reason; for, God himself gave a clear, certain knowledge of himself to them, by the aid of natural reason.

“Because that which is known by God,” i.e., whatever could be known of Him from the light of reason, “is made manifest to them. For, God had manifested it to them,” by giving them the natural light of reason to arrive at this knowledge, and by placing this knowledge within the reach of reason (next verse).

Rom 1:20  For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made. His eternal power also and divinity: so that they are inexcusable.

For, since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes are clearly seen: not by the eyes of the body, but by the light of the understanding, inferring them from the visible effects of creation; and among these attributes the most prominently displayed in creatures, are his eternal omnipotence and divine essence—the first beginning and last end of all things. So that no excuse, on the ground of ignorance, was left them.

“For the invisible things of him,” i.e., his invisible Attributes or Perfections, “from the creation of the world, are clearly seen.” The Greek word for “creation,” απο κτισεως, may mean “creature,” as if he said “his invisible attributes are perceived from the creature, called the world.” However, as the following words, “understood by the things that are made,” sufficiently convey this idea, and, in this construction, they would appear to be an unnecessary repetition, the construction given in the Paraphrase seems, therefore, preferable. “His eternal power and divinity.” “Divinity” refers to the leading Attributes of the Godhead, which have a peculiar claim on the worship of creatures, who are, therefore, without excuse for not adoring him, having these means of knowledge within reach—nay, having actual knowledge (as in next verse). The works of creation serve as the great book in which are read in legible characters, and the mirror in which are faithfully reflected, the Attributes of the Divinity. Hence, this visible word is, as it were, a natural gospel to the Pagans, whereby they are brought to the knowledge of God; and St. Chrysostom tells us, “The wonderful harmony of all things speaks louder on this subject than the loudest trumpet. “So that they are inexcusable,” not having the excuse of ignorance, for not adoring him, as in the following verse.

Rom 1:21  Because that, when they knew God, they have not glorified him as God or given thanks: but became vain in their thoughts. And their foolish heart was darkened.

For, having known God, they did not exhibit the worship due to his Supreme Majesty, nor did they thank him, as the author of all blessings; but they vainly and foolishly confined themselves to idle disquisitions regarding Him, referring their knowledge to no practical useful conclusion; and in punishment of this abuse their senseless intellect was darkened, and … their will perverted.

“They have not glorified him as God.” Having an actual knowledge of God and of his divine perfections, they neither properly adored nor praised those perfections, nor did they pay Him the supreme honour due to Him as God; in which praise of his perfections and exhibition of due worship. “glorifiying him as God” consists. “Nor gave thanks” by referring to him, by grateful acknowledgement, the benefits received from him, an homage which reason dictates should be paid to him as the author of all blessings, “but became vain in their thoughts.” The Greek word for “thoughts,” διαλογισμοις, means, reasonings. They became vain in their reasonings; because they confined their knowledge of God to mere idle reasonings or disquisitions regarding him, without making this knowledge subserve to his worship. Hence as they did not attain the great end for which this knowledge was given them as a means, viz.: the worship and honour of God, they became “vain” in its exercise. “And their foolish heart was darkened.” Their mind, rendered stolid in punishment of so much ingratitude, was more and more darkened, and their will perverted. Religious error has been at all times the consequence of pride of intellect and depravity of will.

Rom 1:22  For, professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.

While publicly boasting of, and arrogating to themselves the reputation of wisdom, they have fallen into the excess of folly.

“Professing themselves wise.” Laying claim to the character of wisdom, “they (in reality) became fools,” since they failed in attaining the end of all true wisdom, viz.: the love and worship of God. Some interpreters regard this verse as parenthetical.

Rom 1:23  And they changed the glory of the incorruptible God into the likeness of the image of a corruptible man and of birds, and of fourfooted beasts and of creeping things.

Which folly they carried to such an extreme as to transfer the glory, due only to the incorruptible God, to the image representing corruptible man, and birds, and four-footed beasts, and even the veriest reptiles.

And not only did they withhold from God the glory, due to him (verse 21), but they became foolish to such a degree as to transfer the glory, which is his inalienable due, to men, beasts, birds and reptiles, including fishes: and, what is worse, “to the likeness of the image” of them, or to the image representing these different creatures. The words, “likeness of the image,” mean, “the image like or representing them;” for, an image itself is nothing else but the likeness of an object.

Rom 1:24  Wherefore, God gave them up to the desires of their heart, unto uncleanness: to dishonour their own bodies among themselves.

In punishment whereof, God left them to the tyrannical dominion of their corrupt passions, suffering them to commit deeds of uncleanliness, dishonouring each other’s bodies by shameful impurities.

“Gave them up to the desires of their hearts.” (In Greek, “wherefore God also gave,” &c.; also is omitted in the chief MSS). The words “gave them up” do not imply a positive act of “giving them up” on the part of God, but merely the negative act of deserting them, of withholding his graces, which are indispensable for them in order to avoid sin. “Tradidit,” says St. Augustine, “non cogendo, sed deserendo.” (Serm. 57). He may also act positively, by throwing in their way obstacles, (v.g.) riches, honours. &c., things in themselves, good or indifferent, not necessarily inducing to sin, but which will as infallibly prove, owing to their abuse, the cause of sin to them, as if God had positively given them up to sin. In the same sense, God is said “to send to men the operation of error” “to harden their hearts,” &c.—(See 2 Thes. 2:10).

Rom 1:25  Who changed the truth of God into a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

Because they exchanged the true God for false and imaginary deities, to whom they transferred the supreme honour due to Him alone; and they worshipped in their heart and served exteriorly the creature rather than the Creator, to whom may due honour and praise be rendered for ever and ever.

This verse contains but a repetition, in different words, of the idea conveyed in verse 23. “Into a lie,” i.e., idols, false divinities, which, as gods, have no real existence; and hence, as such, are “a lie.” “Who is blessed for ever;” these words convey that this God, whose worship they transfer to false and imaginary deities, is deserving of everlasting honour and glory. And the word “Amen” expresses, on the part of the Apostle, an earnest longing that this due worship may be rendered to him

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