Arguments for the proposition, 1:18-5:21
#1: The impartial nature of God's righteous condemnation of universal sin, 1:18-3:20.
Part 1: All humanity stands under the judgment of God due to universal human sin, v18-23.
Paul, having stated his thesis in 1:16-17, now sets out to progress his argument against nomism. Paul begins by arguing for the universality of human sin. Humanity, in its totality, is infected by sin and so stands under the condemnation of God, v18-23. Humanity, blind to reality, exists in a state of rebellion / sin before God, without personal righteousness and therefore undeserving of any blessing from him.
i] Context: See 1:1-7. In 1:18-32 Paul argues for the universal state of human sin, an all-inclusive condition which prompts God's righteous condemnation.
ii] Background: The Nomist Heresy, 1:8-15.
iii] Structure: The universality of human sin:
The revelation of God's wrath, v18.
The reason - human sinfulness, v19-23.
A denial of God's evidential existence in nature, v19-20;
Humanity is spiritually dull and idolatrous, v21-23.
Who are the object of God's wrath? Up till recent times, commentators tended to argue that Paul is focusing on the Gentiles in this passage and that in chapter 2 he will deal with the Jews. This view faces challenge today, such that it is more than likely that in chapter 1 Paul is establishing the universal condition of sin afflicting all humanity - those with the law and those without the law. Having established the universality of sin, Paul will then go on to argue that the "righteous / weak", law-bound believers (nomists) are similarly affected by sin and that the law is impotent in dealing with this problem - the law does little more than condemn.
Second temple Jewry, as with first-century Jewish Christianity, did not need to be instructed about the extent of human sin. The sacrificial system functioned to cover the constant failings of the "righteous" and so served as a daily reminder of the human condition. Paul will go on to establish that the universal condition of human sinfulness is not in the least addressed by the law. The law does not have the power to restrain sin and thus shape holiness for God's promised blessings. In the face of human sinfulness, the law is impotent. Life for the righteous rests on the faithfulness of Christ appropriate through faith.
The universality of sin, the total corruption of humankind, denies any attempt to move forward in the Christian life other than by resting on God's covenant mercy in Christ.
v] Exposition: A simple verse-by-verse exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.
Text - 1:18
The universality of human sin, v18-23: i] Humanity has suppressed the truth, v18. All humanity rightly stands under the judgement of God, for although we possess an adequate revelation of God (of his eternal power and deity, ie., his invisible nature and attributes), we still suppress the truth about him.
gar "-" - for. Most likely transitional here, so not translated, as NIV. Some commentators opt for an adversative, "but", or concessive, "although" - both are unlikely. Cause / reason, "because, for" is assumed in some translations; "For God's anger from heaven", Williams.
qeou (oV) gen. "[the wrath] of God" - [wrath] of god. The genitive may be taken as adjectival, possessive, "the wrath God has", or verbal, subjective, "the wrath God disburses", and/ or ablative, source / origin, "wrath from God."
apokaluptetai (apakaluptw) pres. mid./pas. "is being revealed" - is revealed. Present tense is durative expressing the ongoing nature of God's wrath, the passive being divine. The word, as used in v17, is dynamic; God is not just communicating, but doing. The righteous anger of God, "God's divine retribution", NEB, is "revealed" in the sense of being acted out; the heavenly condemnation of human rebellion is already unfolding. Although sourced from above (= from God), is the gospel actually performing this task, such that those who hear and reject it are, in that act, condemned? There is a sense where the gospel does perform this task, but this is not its primary purpose. Its primary purpose is to reveal the inauguration / realisation of the righteousness reign of God, his setting all things right, rather than the judgement of God, even though both go hand in hand.
ap (apo) + gen. "from" - from [heaven]. Expressing source / origin; from the place of divine residence, where his throne is located.
epi + acc. "against" - against. Spatial, expressing opposition; "against".
anqrwpwn (oV) gen. "of men / of people" - [all ungodliness and unrighteousness] of men. The genitive is probably verbal, subjective; "performed by humankind." "Unlawful conduct toward others", Dunn, although better "God's wrath is directed against asebeian ungodliness, a violation of the first table of the ten commandments, and adikian wickedness, a violation of the second table", Dumbrell.
twn ... katecontwn (katecw) pres. part. "who suppress" - the ones suppressing [the truth]. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "men", "people who suppress / hold down / hold back / restrain the truth" Describing a willing covering of evil. "The truth" in the sense of "the real state of affairs", Dunn, or more particularly, "the ultimate truth of Christianity", Harvey / BDAG.
en + dat. "by" - in / by wickedness. Possibly adverbial, temporal, "while they live in unrighteousness", cf., Moule, Sandy & Headlam, but more likely instrumental, "through / by means of their unrighteous acts they suppress the truth", so Murray, Moo.
ii] Paul explains in what sense humanity has suppressed the truth, v19-20. God's eternal power and divinity is evident in nature, but corrupted humanity has degraded this revelation, ignoring the divine and therefore rendering humanity without excuse.
dioti "since" - because. Causal conjunction introducing a causal clause explaining why "God punishes them because ....", TEV.
to gnwston adj. "what may be known" - the = that which may be known. The articular adjective serves as a substantive. Obviously not "is known" since it produces a tautology, "what is known is manifested to them." Paul has no doubts that there is divine revelation in nature and that sinful humanity has covered it. This possible knowing is not a direct knowing, given that such is impossible.
tou qeou (oV) gen. "about God" - of god [is manifest]. The genitive is adverbial, reference /respect; "with respect to, concerning, about, with reference to God." The verb to-be "may be / can be" is assumed.
en + dat. "to [them]" - in = among [them]. Possibly "to", referring to the indirect object "them", so NIV, or better, taking a local sense, either "in" or "among"; "that which can be known of God is manifest among them", Barrett.
gar "because" - because. Introducing a causal clause explaining why a knowledge of God is easily obtained, "because ....."
efanerwsen (fanerow) aor. "has made it plain" - [god] manifested it. The aorist is probably gnomic, expressing a universal truth. The use of a different verb for God's revelation in nature, as compared to his revelation in the gospel, is probably not significant, although some commentators argue that it is. "God made it evident to them", NAB; "lies plainly before their eyes", Cassirer.
autoiV dat. pro. "to them" - to them. Dative of indirect object.
As to the degree of knowledge possessed by those without Biblical revelation, Hodge says "the knowledge of God does not mean simply a knowledge that there is a God, but as appears from what follows, a knowledge of his nature and attributes, his eternal power and Godhead (v20), and his justice (v32)."
gar "for" - for [the invisible things of him]. More reason than cause; "let me explain further" - "let me explain how it is that what may be known about God is plain to humanity. Since the world's creation, God's invisible attributes, both his eternal power and divine nature, have been (are) clearly seen and understood through the things which are created." Note that in line with the Old Testament, Paul maintains that the deity is not visible - no person has ever seen God.
apo "since [the creation]" - [are clearly seen] from. Temporal use of the preposition; "since the beginning of the world's creation."
kosmou (oV) gen. "of the world" - [the creation] of the world. The genitive is adjectival, usually classified as an objective genitive, where the genitive substantive "world" receives the action of the verbal noun "creation", but possibly just possessive, "the world's creation."
te .... kai ".... and" - both [his everlasting power] and] [deity]. Coordinate construction. "Deity" = "the invisible existence of God", NJB.
kaqoratai (kaqoraw) pres. pas. "have been clearly seen" - are clearly seen, learnt about. Hapax legomenon, once only use in NT. God may be invisible to the human eye, but something of his nature is visible, and this in the creation.
nooumena (noew) pres. pas. part. "being understood" - being perceived. Attendant circumstance participle, identifying action accompanying the main verb "clearly seen", "clearly seen and understood." "Perfectly evident", Cassirer.
toiV poihmasin (a) dat. "from what has been made" - by the things made, creation. Instrumental dative modifying the verb "have been clearly seen", "through / by means of the things he has made." The source of God's general revelation to humanity is the creation itself. "The mind can grasp them in (instrumental sense) the things that he has made", Barrett, cf. REB.
eiV to einai "so that" - in order that [they be]. The articular infinitive of the verb to-be with the preposition eiV serves to introduce a purpose clause, as NIV, although consecutive (result) is more likely, "with the result that / as a consequence." "Thus leaving men without a rag of excuse", Phillips.
anapologhtouV adj. "without excuse" - unable to justify themselves. "Without defence." Humanity cannot claim to be ignorant before God. We "are therefore left without defence", Barclay.
iii] Humanity became spiritually dull and so turned to idolatry, v21-23. Although humanity has a sufficient knowledge of God from the glory of the creation, we have none-the-less turned from that revelation. This neglect has brought with it a dullness of mind with regard to spiritual things. So, instead of worshipping God, we worship elements of the creation. This idolatry is totally inexcusable.
dioti "for" - because. Inferential, here with a weak causal sense. It is because we "know", but fail to respond to God, that we are "without excuse."
gnonteV (ginwskw) aor. part. "although they knew" - having known [god]. The participle is adverbial, concessive, "though / although they recognised", with the aorist best taken as gnomic / timeless. The degree of knowledge is debatable, but certainly enough knowledge to properly respond to God. To conclude that God is a crocodile etc., or as is the case in Western society, that he doesn't exist, leaves us "without excuse." "They knew all the time that there is a God", Phillips.
ouc ... edoxasan (doxazw) aor. "they neither glorified him" - they glorified him not. The aorist is constative where the action is viewed in its entirety. "they neither gave him praise (honoured, respected God as God) nor gratitude", Barclay.
wJV "as" - as [god]. Here expressing a characteristic quality, not "like', but "as", although Harvey suggests it is adverbial here, expressing manner, "in the manner that God should be." Humanity had every opportunity to recognise the God evidenced in the creation, but chose to neither honour this God as God nor thank him. "They knew all the time that there is a God, yet they refused to acknowledge him as such", Phillips.
hucaristhsan (ercaristew) aor. "gave him thanks / gave thanks to him" - [nor] thanked him. "They ought to have recognised their indebtedness to his goodness and generosity, to have recognised him as the source of all the good things they enjoyed, and so to have been grateful to him for his benefits", Cranfield.
all (alla) "but" - but. Strong adversative standing in a counterpoint construction, "not ....., but ..." ; although they had the knowledge they chose not to use it, "instead they indulged in their useless speculations until their stupid minds were all in the dark", Berkeley.
en + dat. "[their] thinking" - in [the reasonings of them]. Local, space, expressing inward reasoning. "In their heart", "in the un-understanding heart", Moo, = in their rational faculties, rather than feelings.
emataiwqhsan (mataiow) aor. pas. "became futile" - became vain, useless, worthless. The aorist is probably ingressive, where the emphasis is placed on the beginning of the action, with the passive viewed as divine / theological.
eskotisqh (skotizw) aor. pas. "were darkened" - [and their senseless heart] was darkened. Darkened in the sense of being unable to perceive or understand. "Their senseless minds being filled with darkness", Cassirer.
So, instead of worshipping God, humanity worships elements of the creation. Note Moo's division here, a division which certainly has merit. In three units, v22-24, 25-27 and 28-31, Paul first describes the people's rejection of the divine revelation in nature, then the people's resulting sin and finally God's punitive response.
faskonteV (faskw) pres. part. "although they claim" - professing, asserting, claiming. The participle is adverbial, probably concessive, "though / although", as NIV, although instrumental, expressing means, is possible, "by pretending to be wise they made themselves fools", Murray.
einai "to be" - to be [wise]. The infinitive of the verb to-be, following a verb of saying, serves to introduce a dependent statement of indirect speech, stating / expressing what they claimed, namely, "that they were wise ('we are wise')."
emwranqhsan (mwrainw) aor. pas. "they became fools" - they became foolish. The aorist is possibly ingressive, stressing the commencement of an action, as NIV, "became fools. "Their alleged wisdom was in fact folly", Barclay. Giving weight to the passive voice, "they were made foolish", Harvey
This idolatry is totally inexcusable.
thn doxan (a) "the glory" - [and changed] the glory. Accusative direct object of the verb "to change." "His weighty and magnificent presence", Dunn; "the manifest majesty of God", Cranfield; "manifested perfection", Sandy and Headlam.
tou ... qeou (oV) gen. "the [immortal] God" - of the [incorruptible, immutable] god. The genitive is possibly ablative, expressing source / origin, referring to the glory that emanates from God, which glory was replaced by mere images created by human hands, or simply adjectival, possessive / derivative characteristic. The article is anaphoric.
en + dat. "for" - in = into. With verbs of motion, here hllaxan, "they changed", this preposition is can be used instead of eiV, "to, into"; "they even altered the glory of God immortal into images in the form of mortal men ....", Berkeley.
eikonoV (wn onoV) gen. "images" - [a likeness] of an image [of corruptible man and birds, and quadrupeds and reptiles]. The genitive is adjectival, attributive / idiomatic, "a likeness which represents an image." The four genitives joined by kai are adjectival, probably possessive, so Harvey, "a likeness belonging to / characterising a corruptible human being, ....."; "a likeness which resembles a mortal man." Having ignored the Creator, humanity reshaped a divine presence to their own liking. "The mere shadowy image of corruptible man .......", Barrett