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Upon initial reading of Romans 1:18-27, it seems like Paul is talking about everyone who is not a believer (and therefore he is also talking about those who are unrighteous, as the passage implies).

However, this seems to lead to the following conclusions:

  1. Everyone who does not believe in God/Jesus Christ actually knows God "deep down" but chooses to suppress that truth (vv. 18-21)

  2. Those who do not believe in God are given up to homosexuality (vv. 26-27)

These conclusions seem flawed to me, since it seems unfair to simply claim that everyone who does not believe God is just suppressing a truth they know deep down, as even I as a Christian oftentimes struggle to have faith in God, and saying that the existence of God is "obvious" seems to preclude any honest discussion about God.

Furthermore, not all non-believers are homosexual, and it also seems unfair to label all homosexuals as unrighteous and given up by God (I've heard pastors use this passage to claim that homosexuals are "reprobate" and have no chance of being saved).

Thus, I am wondering: Who is Paul talking about in this passage? Is he really referring to all non-believers?

If anyone has any thoughts/objections on the conclusions and subsequent critiques of the conclusions which I made above, I would appreciate hearing from you as well. Thanks.

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P1: Paul claims that all non-believers are homosexual in Romans 1:18-27.

Assume that P1 is true.

Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 9:22b

I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.

According to this, Paul would have to become a homosexual to save some. This is absurd. So P1 cannot be true. Paul only claims that some non-believers are homosexual in Romans 1:18-27.

In Romans 1:18-27, Paul was talking generally, not universally for all non-believers.

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Almost nothing in the bible is a stereotypical absolute statement. Those are all general statements. Only in the today's postmodern culture that general statements are frowned upon as offensive, due to the cultural opposition of objective reality and truth in favor of personal feelings. When someone states the saying that a Cretan sage himself says "Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, and idle gluttons" (Titus 1:12) The sage only means it as a general statement, obviously, and not an absolute statement which would discredit himself as a liar. Paul doesn't mean all gentiles are unrighteous, but that those unrighteous, unnatural, inhuman wicked sins like satanism, human sacrifice, rape, slavery, sexual sins are pervasive, accepted and accustomed to among them. Just a glimpse of the history of the pagan gentile world prior to the Christian European colonization can prove the extent of those sins. From the culture of skull pyramids to sex temples and burning widows alive, and infanticides, some of these practices are still rampant in some countries.

The term Gentile and pagan are almost synonymously to "sinners" (Gal 2:15), because sin being natural and acceptable among those cultures for being godless from the beginning. However, Paul mentions in Romans 2:6-16, how despite being without God and his law, some Gentiles live righteously, heeding to the conscience; conversely despite having the law and God some Jews live in sin, and that all will be judged equally and impartially according to their works. Neither of the two groups have any unfair advantage or disadvantage in their conditions or culture. The parable of the good Samaritan is a great example where a gentile unbeliever or heretic is shown as righteous but the religious priest shown as sinful.

Similarly, when a passage like Mark 16 may say that "these signs and wonders will accompany those who believe", it doesn't mean absolutely every single believer will show the signs but that the signs will show among the believing.

As for which kind of sinner being a reprobate as some may say, is their personal contextual judgment, but one thing is certain about homosexuality that it is called a very severe level of sin. You will find in the Bible that God gives absolutely no provision of sins, though there are different levels of sins, some lead to death, some not (1 John 5:16), the severity of sexual sins does not lessen the severity of non-sexual sins such as the pride and errors of religious hypocrites. There is absolutely no impartiality in the divine justice. I would suggest not to let your political and emotional bias come against the interpretation of the text. It may be unfair to you that the Bible labels sexual sinners such as homosexuals as unrighteous, but you have to deal with what the text says in all honesty. Everyone who commit sin is unrighteous or committing lawlessness or wickedness. Those who have been preached the revelation of God and warned will be judged more strictly than those who have never known the word of God. (Heb 12:25; Matt 10:15)

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Unless readers go on to read the rest of what Paul wrote about righteousness (and its lack), they will never grasp who “the unrighteous” are in those verses. The matter of righteousness is mentioned 7 times in chapter 3 alone! I suggest that anyone wanting to understand his initial references to who the unrighteous are in chapter 1, needs to read without stopping to the end of chapter 3, at the least. This is confirmed in “The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge”, on its notes about the book of Romans:

“The whole Epistle is to be taken in connection, or considered as one continued discourse; and the sense of every part must be taken from the drift of the whole. Every sentence, or verse, is not to be regarded as a distinct mathematical proposition, or theorem, or as a sentence in the book of Proverbs, whose sense is absolute, and independent of what goes before, or comes after: but we must remember, that every sentence, especially in the argumentative part, bears relation to, and is dependent upon, the whole discourse, and cannot be rightly understood unless we understand the scope and drift of the whole; and therefore the whole Epistle, or at least the eleven first chapters of it, ought to be read over at once, without stopping.” (p. 116, Bagster)

My answer, therefore, deals with what those first 3 chapters prove, for Paul there quotes Psalm 14:1-3 & 53 to bring home the full impact of what he started to say at the beginning of his letter. He starts by declaring that every person who denies the reality and claims of God is without excuse on two counts:

(1) The power of God unto salvation has been revealed through the gospel of Christ, to all who believe it; God’s righteousness has been shown in and through Christ for, via the cross and the resurrection, God dealt righteously with sin by pouring his wrath against sin upon his sinless Son, which enabled justice to be dispensed whilst simultaneously enabling his undeserved love and forgiveness to be received by sinners who put faith in that provision.

(2) That which may be known of God’s qualities and creatorship is seen in his creation, thus those who deny that evidence are without excuse.

But those who do not like to retain God in their knowledge have been given over by him to do what their unrepentant, unbelieving hearts desire to do (vss.28-31). There’s little need to single out homosexuality, for those verses also list acts of unrighteousness like fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness, envy, murder, argumentativeness, deceit, and suchlike things. It is not that all unrighteous people are homosexuals. There are plenty people in the world who would never do that but they are full of covetousness and maliciousness, or they are utterly deceitful, or they are murderers. The point of chapter 1 is to start unpacking how “the gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.’ (A quote from Habakkuk 2:4.)

Chapter 2 starts with, “Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest…” So you have to have taken on board all of chapter 1 to follow the continuation of the argument in chapter 2. Those who seek God’s righteousness are contrasted with contentious people who do not obey God’s truth, but who obey unrighteousness. “For there is no respect of persons with God, for as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law” (vss. 8-12).

Chapter 3 then asks what advantage there is in being a Jew, and the point is made that both Jew and Gentile alike are condemned in their sin, and God is not unrighteous to take vengeance and to judge the world. This is where the Psalms are quoted, bringing us back to the point of chapter 1:

“As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: their feet are swift to shed blood; destruction and misery are in their ways, and the way of peace they have not known; there is no fear of God before their eyes” (Psalm 14:1-3 & 53).

And, by vs. 20 he can say,

“Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe – for there is no difference, for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus …Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.”

By now, the answer to your question should have become clear. There is no-one righteous, no, not even one. Logically, this means that all are unrighteous, from God's sinless perspective. But those who accept the righteousness of God in what he did to deal with all our sin at the cross, will be justified by God, due to faith of Jesus Christ to all who believe.

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There are two questions here about Rom 1:18-31.

Who are the People?

The people Paul is discussing in Rom 1:18-31 is explicitly stated in V18:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.

That is, Paul is talking about those who know the truth about God but deliberately suppress it. Paul repeats this in the next verse, V19:

For what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.

Paul also discusses such people in 2 Thess 2:10 -

and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not accept the love of the truth so as to be saved.

Again, these people have received, or at least have been exposed to the Word of God and the the Gospel truth but refused to receive "the love of the truth". Paul then issues a warning about such people (V11 & 12) that:

God will send them a powerful delusion so that they believe the lie, in order that judgment may come upon all who have disbelieved the truth and delighted in wickedness.

Even in Rom 1:20, 21 we are told that such people:

... are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking and darkened in their foolish hearts.

Are Godless People all Homosexual?

Definitely NOT!!!

Paul lists a number of ways in Rom 1:22-31) that deliberately godlessness people become depraved (V21) and these include:

  • became fools (v22)
  • exchanged the glory of God for created images (V23) of creatures
  • sinful desires and degrading of bodies (V24) - contrast this with Paul's doctrine about the Christian's dedication of the body to God (1 Cor 6:19, 20, Rom 12:1, see also Phil 3:19, etc)
  • worshiped created things rather than God (V25)
  • homosexuality and lesbianism (V26, 27)
  • depraved mind to do evil things (V28)
  • (V29-31) evil, greed, and depravity, envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant, boastful, invent new forms of evil, they disobey their parents, senseless, faithless, heartless, merciless.

This is a long list of which homosexuality is just a small part. There is no suggestion here that all godless people have all of these characteristics, but godless people "who suppress the truth by their wickedness" all have one or more of these characteristics.

This illustrates what many of observed that the greatest trouble for the people of God who are described in Heb 10:26 -

If we deliberately go on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no further sacrifice for sins remains See also Heb 6:4-6.

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Who are the unrighteous in Romans 1:18-27?

I. "[It] seems like Paul is talking about everyone who is not a believer."

Answer: Not necessarily. His words are addressing those who have become depraved (vss. 28-31), and the depths to which they will fall without any moral compass. Ultimately, it is true that all the ungodly and faithless will fall into the same category: our faith in Christ is absolutely paramount.

II. "Everyone who rejects God/Christ actually knows God "deep down" but chooses to suppress it."

Answer: We all recognize the reliability and consistency of our world, irrespective of claims that we are merely "random molecules in suspension" as we are so often lectured. I suggest it is a universal truth that people suspect there is a higher power sovereign over all. The phrase "there are no atheists in foxholes" rings true even among the most hardened skeptics.

III. "Those who do not believe in God are given up to homosexuality."

Answer: Paul is referring to all manner of depravity, not exclusively homosexuality. Homosexuals are not condemned; it is the immoral lifestyle that may follow — just as much as any other type of fornication.

Paul has masterfully articulated a very common reality outside the constraints of Christ. The descent into degeneracy can arrive quickly and rapidly become all-consuming, just as he admonishes in the latter passages (vss. 28+). We tend to overlook these qualities in ourselves, although everyone — to one extent or another — possesses some of them (cf. Mk. 7:21-23). We simply fail to recognize it since we are blinded by the world.

It is a misreading of the text to emphasize homosexuality in Romans 1:18-27 as Paul is referring to every form of evil, the result of rejecting God and the moral imperatives of His Word.

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Who are the unrighteous whom Paul refers to in Romans 1:18-27?

Conclusion #1
Everyone who does not believe in God/Jesus Christ actually knows God "deep down" but chooses to suppress that truth (vv. 18-21)

This is correct and is corroborated by Hebrews 10:26

For if we practice sin willfully after having received the accurate knowledge of the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice for sins left (NWT)

If we know what Jehovah God requires of us and willingly ignore or disobey him, we have chosen not to follow his standards and have condemned ourselves.

As imperfect humans, we cannot say who is righteous or unrighteous because we cannot read the heart of the individual as God can. This is ultimately up to Jehovah God's judgment.

Conclusion #2
Those who do not believe in God are given up to homosexuality (vv. 26-27)

Not everyone. Remember to whom Paul was writing... Romans. Paul highlighted the attitude of those who had not accepted God's word and chose to follow in their own selfish desire. (i.e Homosexuality in ancient Rome)

Verses 28-32 continue expounding on all sorts of unrighteousness. If these are applied to mankind then all of mankind are unrighteous. And rightly so because we are all born into sin. (Romans 3:23)

Romans chapter 1 is Paul's introduction to the Christians that had Roman citizenship. As Gentiles, Paul was commending them for accepting Christ as savior and changing their way of life to be in line the God's standards. Paul contrasts these Roman Christians with Romans that not only ignore/reject God's standards and any who practice unrighteousness.

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  1. Who are the unrighteous whom Paul refers to in Romans 1:18-27?

These are the Gentiles who aren't Christians. Paul discuss Jews in the following chapters.

12 For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. (Rom. 2:12–13, ESV)

  1. Everyone who does not believe in God/Jesus Christ actually knows God "deep down" but chooses to suppress that truth (vv. 18-21)

This seems to be the case. Look at the following example:

Such an overwhelming fear of a vindictive, disappointed God certainly wasn’t something that my parents had ever taught me. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/bering-in-mind/god-may-work-in-mysterious-ways-but-cognitive-science-is-getting-a-handle-on-them/

You can find many like this: https://biologos.org/articles/does-evolutionary-psychology-explain-why-we-believe-in-god

Some agnostics seem preoccupied with explaining this.

  1. Those who do not believe in God are given up to homosexuality (vv. 26-27)

No, this discusses insatiable human desire apart from God. The Rolling Stones, "I Can't Get No Satisfaction, but I try, and I try, and I try,..." Homosexuals will make a point of the wording exchange and say exchange makes it a sin, but they did not exchange their orientation.

Homosexually acts by heterosexuals were prevalent among the Caesars and Roman military much like what happens in jails today. I don't want to give details here.

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In this epistle addressed to the church in Rome, Paul lays out his arguments for the inclusion of Gentiles in the early Christian church and against the requirement for Gentile circumcision. In the first chapters of Romans, faith is discussed in fundamental terms and is traced back to its roots, to the “invisible attributes” of God that can be perceived in all creation and to the seeds of faith that are planted in the heart of all men, whether Gentile or Jew.

  • For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, being understood by what has been made, so that they are without excuse. – Romans 1:20
  • For when Gentiles who do not have the Law instinctively perform the requirements of the Law, these, though not having the Law, are a law to themselves, 15 in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience testifying and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, 16 on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of mankind through Christ Jesus. –Romans 2:14-16

Paul states that the Jew is he “who is one inwardly; and circumcision is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter” (Rom 2:29). For the sake of this discussion, the words conscience, heart and spirit will serve to represent the invisible attributes, the “things of the Spirit of God” that “are evident” within each person, regardless of external belief (1 Cor 2:14, Rom 1:19). Nonbelievers are those who deny these evidence of God within themselves.

  • For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. – Rom 1:18-19

From this broad perspective, the nonbeliever is characterized not so much by a lack of faith as by a lack of righteousness. It is as though, in turning away from the truths of God within himself - of conscience, heart and spirit - man loses his moral point of reference. Instead of honoring God, he turns to idols that are carved in his own image and in the image of other creatures.

  • They exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible mankind, of birds, four-footed animals, and crawling creatures. – Rom 1:23

This verse seems to obliquely reference the gods of Roman mythology. Perhaps it is not surprising that the author, in this letter to the Romans, would make references to Roman religion, society and culture. As another poster has noted, the sexual behaviors that are condemned in the text refer to practices and attitudes that were common to Roman society at that time. These practices and attitudes do not strictly correlate to homosexuality as it is understood today. In fact, the terminology used to define sexual roles and relationships in ancient Roman were not based on gender but on power dynamics, and reflect a society in which partners could be chosen from either gender without distinction.

From the online article Roman Sex, Sexuality, Slaves and Lex Scantinia https://www.heritagedaily.com/2018/01/roman-sex-sexuality-slaves-and-lex-scantinia/97996

In ancient Rome, Latin has no equivalent translation for defining homosexuality, nor heterosexuality as an individual’s sexual nature. Gay or straight, there would be no distinction. Sexuality instead is determined by behavioral mannerisms, whether masculine or passive in both male and female roles. Roman society had a patriarchal system in which the gender role of the male is the primary authority, emphasized by the “active” masculinity as a premise of governance, power and status.

Still, the point of the passage and the wisdom that it holds are in some ways timeless. The Romans seemed to have glorified sex as a means of self-gratification and as a manifestation of power and virility, apart from any reference to love or relationship. In my opinion, the complete separation of sex from the context of relationship sets the stage for sexual immorality in any society and reflects the underlying disconnection of flesh from spirit and, by extension, of man from God.

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