Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Romans (2) Intrusion

The statement in Rom 1:18-32 comes as a jarring intrusion against Paul’s message of God’s grace and rightness. It has a strong emphasis on judgment. All people on earth are condemned for rejecting God. This is just the kind of statement that would be made by the Critical Judger that Paul is challenging in the first part of his letter. There are several things about the condemnation passage that distinguish it from Paul’s message.

  • Paul is writing about God’s rightness being revealed in verse 17. God’s response to the human condition is grace and mercy. He wants to rescue his people from the mess they have got into. In contrast, the Jewish Judger claims that God’s wrath is being revealed (verse 18). He sees humans as being under the wrath and condemnation of God and wants to ram that home. This is a harsh message compared to Paul’s message of grace and salvation. Paul focusses on God being right in everything he does, whereas the judge claims that God is angry and hostile to the people of the world. That is a distortion of the gospel.

  • The judge says that everyone in the world knows about God, and knows what he requires of them (Rom 1:19-20).

    What may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made (Rom 1:19-20).
    These verses have been popular, as a basis for natural theology, but they are simply not correct. Beliefs about god are common amongst people who have not received Jewish or Christian teaching about him, but they hold a huge variety of understandings about god. Many think that there are multiple gods. And they certainly do not know what God requires of people.

    God’s nature is not evident from the physical world. Many people who have not been taught otherwise, assume that he is harsh and cruel. The creation may give a sense of his omnipotence, but it does not reveal his love and his grace.

    The statement in Romans 1:19-20 is simply not true. This means that it was not Paul speaking. He had grown up with Jewish teaching, but he had such a distorted view of reality, that he went about killing God’s people. He could not say that he fully understood the nature of God before he received a revelation of Jesus. Like many who have not had that experience, he had a warped view of God. However, the statement is exactly what a person like the Jewish Judger would say.

    The situation reminds me of Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. The pharisee made himself feel righteous, by pointing out the sins of the tax collector. This is what the Jewish Judger does in Romans 1:18-32.

  • Although he tries to condemn humans, the Jewish Judger also tries to blame the sins of the world on God. Three times he says,

    God delivered them over to...
    before adding more sins to the list. The implication is that God is responsible for the worst human sins, because he pushed people into them. This is a direct contradiction to Paul’s message that God is right in what he does. He did not deliver people to sin. The spiritual powers of evil entrapped them and gained authority over them, forcing them to do more sin. God is not the cause of sin, as the Jewish Judger implies.

  • The Jewish Judger also condemns all humans (except the Jews). They knew what God required, so they are without fault.

    People are without excuse (Romans 1:20).
    They are stuck in sin without hope. This contradicts with Paul’s message of grace and salvation.

  • In Romans 1:27, the Jewish Judger says that people who commit sexual sins, receive in themselves the “appropriate penalty for their error”. But he is not satisfied with that. He also claims that they are under God’s wrath. They have been punished, which is true, but God still needs to punish them, which is false. This contradiction confirms that this passage is not Paul’s view.

  • The Jewish Judger declares that everyone is full of every sin.

    They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity (Rom 1:29).
    Again, this is not quite true, but an extreme exaggeration. Most humans have committed some sins. But it is not correct to say that everyone is full of wickedness of every kind. Many people who do not know God have done a huge amount of good, while living under terrible conditions. The entire population of the world is not depraved as the Jewish Judger claims. This is another contradiction that identifies his arguments.

  • The Jewish Judger claims that God has rightly decreed that people who do the things listed deserve death. Again, this is not true, but is an exaggeration. God told Adam and Eve that they would die death, if they ate from the wrong tree in the garden, but they did not actually die physically. They excluded themselves from God’s presence and left themselves vulnerable to the spiritual powers of evil who controlled life on earth from that time on. However, God did not say that they deserved death.

    The Torah prescribes death (exclusion from the community) for some of the sins listed, but not for all. The penalty for stealing is restitution (Exodus 22:1-4). Many of the sins listed, such as greed, deceit, arrogance, boasting, unfeeling, uncaring, unwise, are not specified as crimes in the Torah, so no penalty is specified for them. Therefore, it was a gross exaggeration to say that God has said that people who have done these things deserve death. That is not God’s view. He is gracious towards people who have sinned, and wants to rescue them. God is not angry and full of wrath; this was the view of the Jewish Judger, who wanted to point the finger at people who had failed.

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