Pondering Romans 1:18-32

(Steven White) #1

For defenders of traditional Christian marriage this is a key passage. But I think sometimes we don’t examine enough what it actually says. I think Paul does condemn homosexual behavior in this passage, but that is not the only thing he condemns.

There are three places Paul says “God gave them over”:

verse 24: God gave them over to sexual impurity. (A general term that refers to heterosexual desire expressed out of marriage).

verse 26: God gave them over to shameful, unnatural lusts. This part does describe homosexual behavior.

verse 28: God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do all sorts of evil. Paul details a lot of evil here, most of which is non-sexual in nature.

A question I wonder here, are these three “gave them overs” distinct chronological stages? People ignore God, so God gives them over to sexual impurity. If that does not work, God gives them over to same-sex desires. If that does not work, then God gives them over to all sorts of evil. This interpretation makes sense to me in the text, but it does not seem to fit reality. Our world is full of people who are clearly in stage three, without having gone through stage two.

Maybe the passage is an explanation of the many ways God gives people over to sin, but that different individuals experience this in different areas of their lives. And while it can sound “uncaring” that God gives people over, it is also what those who reject God are indeed asking for: “Leave me alone.”

Wondering what you all think.

(SeanO) #2

@Narphi Steven, thank you for your post. In regard to the question of whether or not these stages of ‘gave them overs’ are distinct chronological states, I would say the answer is no. I think what is chronological is the rejection of the knowledge of God which leads to idolatry which leads to a further corruption of the flesh. Sam Storms has laid out this process using modern psychological terms - what follows is a direct quote from his blog:

Trauma R. C. Sproul explains: ‘A traumatic experience generally involves something negative or threatening to the individual. . . . In the case of Paul’s analysis the trauma is produced by encounter with God’s self-revelation. For various reasons, God’s presence is severely threatening to people. God manifests a threat to human moral standards, a threat to the quest for autonomy, and a threat to the desire for concealment. God’s revelation represents the invasion of light into the darkness to which people are accustomed’ (58).

Repression In psychological terms ‘repression may be defined as the process by which unacceptable desires or impulses are excluded from consciousness and thus, being denied direct satisfaction, are left to operate in the unconscious’ (59). The knowledge of God is simply unacceptable to the pagan, who buries what he knows or at least camouflages it sufficiently that it no longer poses a moral threat.

Substitution This corresponds to what Paul says about exchanging the glory and truth of God with an idolatrous substitute. As Sproul explains it, ‘what results from the repression is the profession of atheism either in militant terms, or its less militant form of agnosticism, or a kind of religion that makes God less of a threat than He really is. Either option, atheism or false religion, manifests an exchange of the truth for a lie. The truth is exchanged for a lie simply because the lie seems easier to live with’ (60).

Regarding your question of the ‘gave them overs’, Storms has a few helpful notes. He says the specific examples used by Paul are not intended to be ‘this is always how it works’ but rather some of the most egregious examples of abandoning what is natural. First, he quotes Douglas Moo who says that “God does not simply let the boat go — He gives it a push downstream. Like a judge who hands over a prisoner to the punishment his crime has earned, God hands over the sinner to the terrible cycle of ever-increasing sin”.

However, he then clarifies that:

  1. God does not tempt anyone to sin and is not the author of evil - “In the midst of the retributive action of God there is no coercion of man. God does not entice or compel to evil” (S. Lewis Johnson)

  2. Because God removes restraining grace, the sin accelerates

If you are interested, here is Sam Storms’ full article on Romans 1:18-32. I am not endorsing all he says - it is a long article, but I generally like Storms.


Any follow up questions? Any points of agreement / disagreement? May the Lord grant you understanding as you study His Word.

(Steven White) #3

Thanks for the link to Sam Storm’s article. I like that idea that Paul did not intend ‘this is always how it works’ but some clear examples.

(SeanO) #4

@Narphi Glad it was helpful :slight_smile:

(Philip T. Sarlo) #5

Just an added comment to this important segment of scripture. I do see …“five smooth stones” in a progressive spiral downwards in the two verses below. It starts out with a statement I have never heard preached…that these people knew God!..but when they knew him, they did NOT give him glory and here is where the problem begins, in my opinion, in ANY area of deviation from God’s plan for our lives…“unthankful” ungrateful; they are the red flags of the down-hill slide. Just like in the garden, mankind buying into the lie that God is holding out on them. The final and fifth smooth stone, so to speak that slew the giant, was…they became fools and we know the Psalmist said, "The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God. So, these type of sins, progressively draws people from “knowing God” (at least knowing of Him) to becoming fools, and denying his very existence, and then becoming (given over to), as I see them, “walking dead.” Blessings, phil

Romans 1:21-22 (KJV)
21 Because 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.
22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,

(Sandy) #6

Steven, I think what I heard said something like this sums up your point:
We believe God and say: Thy will not mine.
Or we don’t and He says: Ok, your will be done.
But thanks be to God that He is longsuffering not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentence…from 2P3:9. So…we keep preaching The Good News…for it’s the goodness of God that’s leads to repentence!

Oh! But for His Grace!..

(Sorry, I think I inadvertently posted this on the wrong thread previously)