The Book of Romans [4] The Bad News – 1:18-28

ColosseumPaul, in verses 16-17, has begun to declare the Gospel which defines and motivates his mission. It is the very “power of God”; it is universal, for Jew or Greek (i.e., non-Jewish pagans), and it manifests the righteousness and power of God given as a gift to man, who live by faith.

But there can be no need for the Good News until we come to terms with the Bad News: That man has rejected God, and as a consequence, has turned from righteousness to unrighteousness, with the moral depravity and divine judgement which are the inevitable and certain consequences:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world,fn in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

Paul begins here with a statement of natural law: that man, by his reason, is capable of knowing God through the evidence of creation. The failure to know God is not one of insufficient knowledge or proof; it is rather a moral choice. Man refuses to acknowledge and submit to God because he, in spiritual darkness because of sin, has corrupted his reason, and now creates gods in his own image or in the image of the lesser creatures of creation.

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

Paul begins his depiction of man’s descent into moral depravity by his description of the impact on the most fundamental of human behaviors, reproduction and the relationship between men and women. But lest we think that sexual deviancy is the prime manifestation of the unrighteous man, he promptly lists virtually every vice of man. Furthermore, somewhat surprisingly, Paul points to the natural law knowledge of fallen man: they understand that such behavior merits God’s punishment, yet act in evil ways and encourage others to do so.

Key Words

Wrath (Greek:orge): anger, the natural disposition, temper, character; movement or agitation of the soul, impulse, desire, any violent emotion, but esp. anger; wrath, indignation; anger exhibited in punishment, hence used for punishment itself; punishments inflicted by magistrates

Suppress (Greek: katecho): to hold back, detain, retain from going away; to restrain, hinder (the course or progress of)that which hinders, e.g., of Antichrist from making his appearance; to check a ship’s headway i.e. to hold or head the ship; to hold fast, keep secure, keep firm possession of; to get possession of, take, to possess

Futile (Greek: mataioo): to render (passively, become) foolish, i.e. (morally) wicked or idolatrous, to become vain

Darkened (Greek: skotizo): to obscure; to cover with darkness, to darken; to be covered with darkness, be darkened; of heavenly bodies as deprived of light; metaphorically, of the eyes, of the understanding, of the mind

lust (Greek: epithymia): desire, craving, longing, desire for what is forbidden, lust

Gave them up (Greek: paradidomi):

  1. to give into the hands (of another)
  2. to give over into one’s power or use: to deliver to one something to keep, use, to take care of, or manage; to deliver up one to custody; to be judged, condemned, punished, scourged, tormented, put to death; to deliver up treacherously, by betrayal; to cause one to be taken, to deliver one to be taught, moulded
  3. to commit, to commend
  4. to deliver verbally: commands, rites, to deliver by narrating, to report
  5. to permit, allow: when the fruit will allow, that is when its ripeness permits; gives itself up, presents itself

Key Concepts

  • God has made known to man His nature, apart from divine revelation, through the evidence of creation
  • Man has made a moral decision to reject God and worship himself and the things of creation
  • The consequence of this choice is all manner of moral depravity, and ultimately the judgement and condemnation of God
  • That man in his nature understands the evil nature and consequences of his behavior, yet persists in it and encourages others to do so as well

Resources

The Book of Romans: [3] 1:8-17 – Paul’s prayers & desire to see the Romans

ColosseumHaving established his calling and authority to share the Gospel with the Romans, he now proclaims his heartfelt love for them, supporting them in prayer and expressing his deep desire to see them in person.

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. God, whom I serve in my spirit in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you.

I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong–that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.

I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

Key Words

Faith: (Greek: pistis) – “firm persuasion,” a conviction based upon hearing (akin to peitho, “to persuade”), is used in the NT always of “faith in God or Christ, or things spiritual.” It is defined in Scripture as:

  1. a firm conviction, producing a full acknowledgement of God’s revelation or truth;
  2. a personal surrender to Christ;
  3. conduct inspired by this surrender.

World (Greek: cosmos): implies not only the earth, but the unseen world of the spirit; all of creation, seen and unseen,

Obligated (Greek: opheiletes): lierally, a debtor, one held by some obligation, bound by some duty; one who has not yet made amends to whom he has injured.

Greeks (Greek: hellen): Those of Greek nationality, but more generally, the name embraces all nations not Jews that made the language, customs, and learning of the Greeks their own.

Barbarians (Greek: barbaros): often used by the Greeks of any foreigner ignorant of the Greek language, culture, uneducated. The contrast here is between the cultured, educated, intellectual Greeks and the uneducated, “unwashed masses”, crude, and often brutal.

Wise (Greek: sophos): skilled, expert: of artificers; skilled in letters, cultivated, learned; used in NT of Greek philosophers and orators, Jewish theologians, and Christian teachers. Also carries the sense of those morally astute, as in the contrast between the wise man and the fool throughout Proverbs.

Fool (Greek: anoetos): Unintelligent. uneducated, morally foolish.

Power (Greek: dynamis): strength power, ability; inherent power, power residing in a thing by virtue of its nature, or which a person or thing exerts and puts forth; power for performing miracles; moral power and excellence of soul.

Salvation (Greek: soteria): deliverance, preservation, safety; deliverance from the molestation of enemies; in an ethical sense, that which concludes to the soul’s safety or salvation; Messianic salvation; salvation as the present possession of all true Christians; future salvation, the sum of benefits and blessings which the Christians, redeemed from all earthly ills, will enjoy after the visible return of Christ from heaven in the consummated and eternal kingdom of God.

Believe (Greek: pisteuo): to think to be true, to be persuaded of, to credit, to place confidence in the thing believed; used in the NT of the conviction and trust to which a man is impelled by a certain inner and higher prerogative and law of soul; to trust in Jesus or God as able to aid either in obtaining or in doing something: saving faith; can also be used for mere acknowledgment of some fact or event, i.e. intellectual faith.

Key Concepts

Building on Paul’s spiritual relationship with the Romans as fellow Christans: Having stated his authority and calling to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the introduction, Paul now emphasizes his brotherhhod with Christians at Rome, proclaiming his constant remembrance of them in prayer, and his passionate desire to visit them, for the purpose of building their faith and deepening his own through their ministry to him.

Introduction to his in-depth proclamation and teaching on the Gospel: the “power of God”, available to all who believe, regardless of their status — intellectually or morally, or their lineage, whether of the Jews or the non-Jewish world. The exclusivity of the Jewish nation as God’s chosen people is now dramatically expanded to include all, in or out of the Jewish nation or religion.

References

The Book of Romans: [2] Paul’s Introduction, 1:1-7

ColosseumThe first seven verses of Romans serve as an introduction to his readers. In most of Paul’s letters, his readers knew him personally, as they were written to churches he had established. The church at Rome did not know him personally, however, and though some of his readers knew of Paul, his conversion and ministry among the Gentiles, many doubtless had little such knowledge.

Because Romans is addressed to a church he does not know personally, and is intended as a deep exposition of the faith, his introduction here is more detailed, and is rich in key concepts which will be much expanded in later chapters.

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God— the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in powerfn by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him we received grace and apostleship to call all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes fromfn faith for his name’s sake. And you also are among those Gentiles who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.

To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be his holy people:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

Key Focus Words

  • Servant (Greek: doulos): “bond servant”, one obligated through debt or other obligation to serve a master.
  • Apostle (Greek: apostolos): “one who is sent”, an ambassabor, one who speaks with the full authority of him who sent him. Generally refers to Christ’s 12 disciples (except Judas) who witnessed Him after his resurection, and to Paul, to whom the resurrected Christ appeared on the Damascus road.
  • Set apart (Greek: (aphorizo) – separated, made holy, or called out for the purposes of God.
  • Gospel: (Greek euangelion): The Good News of Christ, and His establishment of the Kingdom of God, salvation through faith in Him, detailed in this letter.
  • Saints (Greek: hagios): Christians who are declared holy, not by their efforts, but by their standing in Christ.

Key Concepts

  • Paul’s claim to authority: To establish his bona fides to teach the doctrines of the Christian faith, he makes two assertions: 1) To be an apostle of Jesus Christ, set apart and sent by Him; 2) To address them as one who speaks for God: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
  • Proclaiming the nature of Christ: Paul wastes no time proclaiming the true nature of Jesus Christ. He is the Messiah (Savior King) of God, spoken of throughout the old Testament by the prophets; He is truly man – “descended from David according to the flesh” — and truly God — “declared to the the Son of God in power … by His resurection from the dead”. The lineage of David is a matter of the historical record. Note, however, that Paul does not use disputable doctrinal claims about His deity, such as “born of a virgin”, miracles, verbal claims Jesus made about Himself, etc. He rests his claim to the divine nature of Christ on the fact of the resurrection from the dead.
  • He declares the triune nature of God:It is the “Gospel of God” (the Father), Christ the “Son of God”, according to the “Spirit of holiness”.

References

The Book of Romans: [1] Intro, Background, & Author

ColosseumThe book of Romans introduces the epistles (letters) of the apostle Paul in the New Testament. It is the longest of Paul’s letters, and the most in-depth in addressing the central beliefs of the Christian church: the nature of sin, salvation, the relationship between grace and law, and Christ’s central role in restoring man to right relationship with God.

Authorship, Date of Writing and Background

Saul of Tarsus, a fire-breathing Pharisee, was present at the martyrdom of Stephen in Jerusalem. He subsequently launched an intense persecution against the Christians, who he viewed as a heretical cult of Judaism. On his way to Damascas, with written authority from the Jewish high priest to arrest Christians and bring them to Jerusalem, he encountered the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, was struck blind, and had his vision restored 3 days later when he converted to Christianity through the courageous intervention of Ananias, a Christian disciple in Damascus.

Paul wrote this letter in Corinth, Greece (a church he had founded) during his third missionary journey (Acts 15:25–26; 16:23; 1 Corinthians 1:14). There being no public postal service, the commendation of Phoebe, a woman who lived in Cenchrea right next door to Corinth, probably indicates that she carried the letter to Christians in Rome (16:1–2). Paul had never visited the church at Rome at the time of its writing.

The Roman church was predominantly Gentile (1:5–6; 13, 11:13, 22–31; 15:15–16). The origins and founder of the church at Rome are not known; the Roman Catholic Church claims it was established by the apostle Peter, but there is little evidence other than some early tradition to support this), but he planned to visit the Christians there and gain their support for a mission to Spain farther west (15:24,28). So the letter takes the form of a self-introduction in terms of the gospel he proclaims.

There is no serious dispute among scholars that the author of this letter is the apostle Paul. Date of writing is 56-57 AD, from Corinth.

References:

  • Paul’s description of his conversion to the Galations: Gal 1:11-24
  • Paul’s description of his strict adherence as a Pharisee to every aspect of the Law: Phil 3:2-11

Letter from an Apostle – II: Known & Chosen

An ongoing study of the epistle 1 Peter.

  1. Letter from an Apostle – Background

  • 1:1 — This letter is from Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ. I am writing to God’s chosen people who are living as foreigners in the lands of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, the province of Asia, and Bithynia.

The apostle Peter, one of the 12 apostles of Jesus, appears frequently throughout the Gospels and the book of Acts. He was a fisherman, chosen by Jesus, and one of the inner circle of the disciples. He was present at the transfiguration of Jesus; in the garden of Gethsemane; at his trial, where he denied Jesus; and was appointed by Jesus to lead his Church. By declaring himself an apostle (apostolos)– a specific claim to have been appointed directly by Christ to teach and lead His Church — Peter is declaring his authority to speak on behalf of Christ Himself.

He addresses his epistle to those “chosen” of God and “foreigners”, in areas located in modern-day Turkey. The imagery here is strikingly similar to that used of the Jewish people, who also were spoken of God’s chosen people, many of whom represented a diaspora spread throughout the ancient world.

We do not know if Peter was writing to these churches which he himself had founded, or to Christians whom he had evangelized, or whether he was speaking to those he had never met, in his office as the chief of the apostles. He does not mention specific individuals — unlike many of Paul’s letters — which may suggest he himself had not founded these churches.
 

The use of the term “foreigners” (or “sojourners” or “pilgrims”) speaks to those who are not natives in the land in which they dwell. This suggests that these were either converted Jews of the Diaspora (for Peter was the apostle to the Jews), or perhaps Gentile Christians who had emigrated to Asia minor. As Peter will develop later in the epistle, however, there is also a sense of the Christian in the world as a pilgrim: a foreigner traveling to a world not his own, while a citizen of heaven.

  • 1:2a — God the Father knew you and chose you long ago…

“God the Father…”

This is shockingly and intensely personal. It is not God the Creator; God the lawgiver; God of judgment; God unapproachable, inscrutable, unknown. This is family: this God, although vastly above us and beyond our understanding, nevertheless considers us children, family, friends. This is a stunning contrast to the religions of this and every age, with gods either mythical, or vengeful, or distant and impersonal. This is a God of profound love, of tenderness, of mercy, of gentleness; a teacher, a guardian, a guide, a defender. Even among the Jews, who worshiped and served the same God, there was no sense of such intimate personality; theirs was the Yahweh of Sinai and the burning bush, a God to be feared and obeyed but surely not befriended. The God whom Peter came to know through Jesus Christ was an utterly new revelation, a profound paradigm shift in man’s understanding of God.

“God the Father knew you…”

We are known: intimately, throughout eternity, in every moment and every aspect of our lives. This is not mere familiarity, nor faint acquaintance: this is full, complete, transparent knowledge, that of the Creator fully comprehending His own creation.

We are known: in all our greed and selfishness; in our gossip and backstabbing; in our anger, and deceit, and hatred, and arrogance. The God of eternity, transcending time, knows our every moment, our every thought, our every action, our birth and death and all that lies between. “Every hair on your head is counted” — there is naught that is hidden, every corner of your soul, every cell of your body is known by God, throughout eternity.

We are known: not only in our deep rebellion and sinfulness, but in the glory which we might bring Him, and His purposes which we may serve. We are known in our fullest and highest potential; the goodness which God can bring about when we are once again restored to Him, empowered by Him, guided and gifted through Him. In this too we are known.

We are creatures of time; we have a beginning, and an end, and the sequence of minutes, hours, and days which pass between, one after another. Yet the God who knows us is above and outside time; He is eternal, unbounded by that which He has created. Every moment of our lives is now for God; He inhabits our past, our future, our eternity with Him yet to come: these are present to Him, who transcends time and redeems it.

“God the Father knew you and chose you…”

To be chosen: to be accepted in whole, unreservedly, unconditionally. This is the very deepest need of man; our rejection by God and man fosters an endless parade of human misery, suffering, pathos and pathology. Our entire lives are spent seeking the acceptance of others, and failing to find in them the acceptance which is our very life. Deep within each of us dwells a bottomless abyss, into which we pour an endless train of insufficient and destructive detritus. We seek to fill the abyss with material goods; with drugs, or alcohol, or food, or sex; we seek relationships, hoping through them to fill that void — then destroy those relationships when they fail to accomplish what they are utterly incapable of fulfilling. Neither power, nor money, nor eminence, nor the esteem of others will suffice. Only to be chosen by God; to be accepted, fully, unconditionally, eternally by Him: this alone fills the despondent destitution within — for that emptiness was made to be filled with naught but God Himself.

And we are chosen, not because we have earned this esteemed position; not because our behavior has made us worthy, nor our status gained God’s attention, nor our inflated self-worth merited his favor and mandated his choice. We are chosen: broken, failures, rebellious, arrogant, fully worthy of utter rejection — yet by grace, plucked from the mire of hopeless self-destruction and empty, purposeless lives, for the sole reason that we are loved, and that this love can transform us from something useless and empty to something purposeful and valued. We are chosen because we are loved, though unworthy, and because we may become empowered by our choosing to manifest that same love to a lost, desperate world.

We were chosen long ago — as we measure time.

Yet the time of our choosing is now, if we will but accept it.

Letter from an Apostle – Background

I have been asked to lead our small group Bible study, and have chosen to study 1 Peter. This short letter is often overlooked, as much time in the New Testament is spent on the Gospels or Paul’s epistles. But 1 Peter is a very rich resource, and I’m looking forward to studying it in some depth.

I thought I would share some insights from studying this book on the blog. I am not sure how well this medium will serve such a study, and I may experiment with some different formats and see how it plays out. I often find by writing my understanding of a topic deepens substantially, and it is my hope that any notes I post here will be helpful both to you as well as myself.

I am currently using the New Living Translation (which, unlike the Living Bible is not a paraphrase, but rather a thought for thought translation — see this for different philosophies and approaches to translating the original Scriptures). I will be referencing other translations from time to time as the need arises.

So let’s get started, and see where this goes.

  • 1:1a This letter is from Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ.

What seems at first a straightforward attribution proves not nearly as simple as it first appears. We are drawn to think of Peter, one of the 12 apostles chosen by Jesus to be his immediate followers, and spoken of often throughout the Gospels and the book of Acts.

When examining a piece of ancient literature, there are a host of tests and methods to assess its veracity. In general terms, these are categorized as internal and external sources. External sources refer to such things as archaeological evidence, references to a given work in other ancient works, and consistency of the message with its historical and cultural context. Internal evidence would refer to the specific writing style, internal consistency, stylistic similarity to other works by the same author, and in the case of Scripture, its harmony with the established teachings and traditions of the Christian faith.

It turns out that letters or Gospels claiming to be written by an apostle were a dime a dozen in the first few centuries after the death of Christ. The early Christian church, believing that the true gospel and true faith had been given to the apostles by Jesus, who then transmitted the same faith and truth to their immediate followers and disciples, placed great emphasis on ascertaining that any given letter or literary work was in fact the work of the apostles or their immediate delegates. The body of Scripture, which we refer to as the canon, represents the culmination of this verification and culling process. Although modern skeptics seek to portray this as the product of a dogmatic declaration by church leaders and bishops, designed to entrench them in power and exclude equally legitimate interpretations of Christianity by those out of power.

While this narrative has popular appeal in our modern culture, it quite simply does not mesh with historical fact. We have a great deal of literary evidence regarding the life and belief system of the early Christian church, embodied in the works of water known as the Apostolic or Church Fathers. We know from this large and diverse body of literature a great deal about what the early church taught and believed, from sources of extraordinary variety, both geographically and culturally.

It is clear from such sources that the core teachings of Christianity were not simply invented in the fourth century or later, but in fact were present from the very outset, taught by those who themselves were often disciples of the apostles, or disciples of those disciples. Furthermore, we have frequent early citations of Scripture which attest to manuscripts dating back virtually to their primary sources, themselves no longer in existence and thus undiscoverable archaeologically.

We know from these sources, as well as ancient manuscripts of Scripture itself, that most of the New Testament canon was universally accepted as apostolic, and had its origins from the very earliest days of the Christian faith. This body includes the four Gospels, the book of Acts, Paul’s letters, and 1 Peter. There was some dispute about a minority of the books in the New Testament, especially 2 Peter, Jude, James, Revelation, and 2nd and 3rd John, and some time passed before they were verified and accepted as well as part of the body of inspired Scripture.

The testimony of such sources is compelling that 1 Peter was in fact a letter by the apostle Peter, likely within 2 years of his martyrdom in Rome under Nero in 64 AD. Some scholars have disputed his authorship, asserting that the classical Greek style could not have been written by an unschooled Aramaic fisherman, and that the theology was too sophisticated and rather Pauline in nature. But Peter himself acknowledges the assistance of Silas, a Greek who was a companion of Paul and Timothy on their missionary journeys, and thus this objection seems easily overcome.

Pause and consider for a moment: what we have in this short letter are the thoughts, beliefs, and teachings of a man who accompanied Jesus throughout his earthly ministry, and if he is to be believed, witnessed the risen Christ after His resurrection. Whatever your opinion or convictions about the Christian faith, this surely must be acknowledged as a remarkable historical document, and an invaluable asset to understand the teachings of Jesus and the convictions of his followers.

So that’s some background on this epistle — we’ll start diving into the content, anon.