It is significant that Paul expands on his argument about belief in God in Rom 1 by stating in Rom 2:
14 Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they
do not have the law. 15 So they show that the work of the law is
written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and
their thoughts either accusing or defending them 16 on the day
when God will judge men’s secrets through Christ Jesus, as proclaimed
by my gospel.
Famously, C S Lewis took up this theme in the first part of his much-quoted book, "Mere Christianity". That is, the classic teleological argument for existence of God can be mounted on two fronts:
- the extreme order and functioning of the universe, including irreducible complexity and the impossibility of the natural formation of some structures (eg, the cell)
- The existence of morality (as in Mere Christianity by Lewis) and altruism as expounded in Rom 2:14-16 quoted above
- Some apologists also suggest another, much debated basis which is really a sub-set of the first above, namely, the apparent anthropic principle.
Now it is true, that in the absence of God's specific revelation of the Bible, many more questions about the nature of God, etc, would exist; nevertheless, Paul in Rom 1 is indisputably true that some information can still be understood about God, namely:
18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their
wickedness. 19 For what may be known about God is plain to them,
because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation
of the world God’s invisible qualities, His eternal power and divine
nature, have been clearly seen, being understood from His workmanship,
so that men are without excuse.
This passage is significant for several reasons because it says the following:
- every person receives some revelation of God, in some form (this presumably varies widely)
- this revelation of God is plain to all people, despite the efforts of some to resist it
- this revelation of God is often by the visible universe around us, ie, His "workmanship".
- the revelation of God includes God's eternal power and divine nature
- all people are without excuse
This statement of Paul's is reinforced by other in the NT such as:
- John 1:9 - The true Light who gives light to every man was coming into the world.
See the appendix below for more information.
This raised the much-debated question about why the Bible revelation and Christ's personal revelation of God was necessary? The answer is simple - while general revelation of God provides some information, specific revelation about God adds much, much, more. This makes those of us, who are thus privileged, responsible for spreading "The Word."
APPENDIX - Pagans who understood God
For the sake of the following discussion, we will define “Pagan” as a person who is neither Christian nor Jewish. Here are some examples of people who did not have the Bible nor Jewish/Israelite teaching but still understood that God exists AND that we must live by moral requirements:
- Pharaoh rebukes Abram after a vision from God. Gen 12:17-20
- Abimelech rebukes Abraham after a vision from God. Gen 20:3-6
- Abimelech rebukes Isaac about Rebekah. Gen 26:8-11
- The Philistine king Achish appeared to recognize YHWH, the LORD, in 1 Sam 29:6, 7.
- King Necho of Egypt rebukes Josiah’s foolishness. 2 Chron 35:20-22
- Jonah was the divine agent in saving the pagan city of Nineveh without the need for them becoming Jews. Jonah 3:4-10
- The magi (“wise men”) of the east were avid students of Scripture. Matt 2:1, 2, 11, 12.
- Several Roman Centurions were obviously saved. Matt 8:5-12, Luke 23:47, Acts 10:30-35.