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I’ve studied Romans 1:18-32 for some time, so I understand the context. God’s wrath being revealed from Heaven against godless humanity who rejects God & His revelation. Yet, there is a hermeneutic issue I have here with understanding Romans 1:21, first off let’s lay out the text in context:

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,

because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.

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.

For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their reasonings, and their senseless hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools,” ‭‭Romans‬ ‭1:18-22‬ ‭NASB2020

‬‬In Romans 1:21, we read “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks

What I wanted to focus on is the phrase “or give thanks

How do we interpret this phrase when we see Atheists, agnostics, skeptics & the like occasionally spouting the words “Oh, thank God!” Or “thank God!” ??

Q1: Is Romans 1:21 mainly suggesting that since those who suppress the truth are not thankful, that this unthankfulness is coming from the heart & not the mouth? (Heart being far removed from God)

Q2: Is their lack of honoring God the key to them not being “genuinely” thankful?

Can anyone help me to understand this spiritual/cultural/scriptural reality?

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Paul’s purpose in writing Romans 1:18-20 was to explain why the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16). The problem was that then, just as now, most people felt the way to get others to come to God was to condemn them and scare them out of hell. People doubted that Paul’s good news of the love of God would be enough to cause repentance.

Therefore, Paul began to prove that every person already has an instinctive knowledge of God’s wrath against their sin. We don’t need to prove God’s wrath; God has already done that.

In Romans 1:19, the Greek word that was translated “manifest” is the Greek word “PHANEROS,” and it means “shining, i.e. apparent” (Strong’s Concordance). The Greek word translated “shewed” in this verse is “PHANEROO,” which is derived from PHANEROS. PHANEROO means “to render apparent (literally or figuratively)” (Strong’s Concordance). These words make it very clear that this instinctive or intuitive knowledge is not so subtle that it can be overlooked. God gives every individual the right to choose, but there can be no doubt that every person has, at one time, clearly seen and understood (Romans 1:20) the basic truths of God’s existence.

As Paul explains in Romans 1:18-20, all people who have ever lived have had God reveal Himself to them, but this verse is explaining that revelation is not always received. Each individual has the freedom of choice.

In Romans 1:21-23, Paul described different characteristics of those who reject God’s revelation. These could also be descriptive of progressive steps that one takes away from the true revelation of God.

This passage reflects the steps in rejecting God. The first two are a sign that self is exalting itself above God. After these first two steps have been taken, then the individual’s mind is free to begin imagining foolish, wicked, and idolatrous thoughts. This leads to a hardened heart (“foolish heart was darkened,” Mark 6:52) and being reprobate (Romans 1:28). Hence you can have the behaviours you attributed to some ”Atheists, agnostics, skeptics”.

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  • I read everything you wrote, yet, what did you mean within the context of Rom 1:18-20, when you said: “Each individual has the freedom of choice.” What did you mean by that? Are you suggesting Romans 1:18-20 means that each individual has freedom of choice to suppress the truth of God or not? Just trying to understand you.
    – Cork88
    Jan 30, 2022 at 20:15
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    @Cork88 Yes. ‘Man’ can suppress that inward (subconscious) perception. And many do - or else try to satisfy it via religion.
    – Dave
    Jan 30, 2022 at 20:38
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I believe your Q2 is on the way to the correct viewpoint.

Thankfulness is part and parcel of faith. To truly believe in God is to honor Him by being thankful. Consider these verses (KJV):

1 Corinthians 4:7

For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?

James 1:17

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning

Hebrews 11:6

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

Hebrews 13:5

By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name.

True faith in God understands that we possess nothing in and of ourselves and that everything we possess in this life, including our identity, comes from God. So it is impossible to believe in God without understanding that He alone is the sole provider for everything we possess/obtain/encounter in this life. Therefore a life of true faith is also a life of continual thanksgiving.

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Read this to see what an atheist/agnostic deals with: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/bering-in-mind/god-may-work-in-mysterious-ways-but-cognitive-science-is-getting-a-handle-on-them/

Here's the testimony of a former atheist who came to Christ:
https://www.catholiceducation.org/en/faith-and-character/faith-and-character/escape-from-nihilism.html

If an atheist/agnostic says, "thank God," they are probably using God's name in vain. They may use the phrase because they are used to hearing it; like the Christian working around people who curse may struggle to avoid cursing. Paul meant people truly being thankful, not people using the phrases in vain.

There isn't much debate over what εὐχαριστέω means (transliterated eucharist).

Figure 1. Senses of εὐχαριστέω in the New Testament (generated by Logos Bible Software). enter image description here

If people don't give God credit for what he does, how can they be thankful?

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