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Romans 1:18-32 KJV

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; 19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. 20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: 21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, 23 And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.

24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: 25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: 27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; 29 Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, 30 Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: 32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

At the risk of posing a question that may have been asked previously, but with perhaps a different slant, and fleshing it out a bit, who, exactly, is Paul referencing here? Notice that whoever these people are, Paul refers to them as "they", "them" and "themselves" as if his audience already knows who they are. Also, notice that much of this discourse is in the past tense; "when they knew God", "they glorified Him not as God", "neither were they thankful", "but became", "they became fools", "changed the glory", "God gave them up", "who changed the truth".

This sounds at first like a specific demographic who is behaving in a specific manner at a time in the past more so than the present or future. This really can't be referring to Jews because Jews generally believe in one God who is the Creator, regardless of how "righteous" they are or aren't. Is this aimed at atheistic, sinful Gentiles? Do atheistic, sinful Gentiles "really know there is a God", deep down in their hearts? Really?

I have read some commentaries that suggest that those being referenced by Paul here were the vast majority of people who lived prior to Noah's flood, whom God drowned in the flood precisely because those people back then did know God and refused to acknowledge Him. God walked with mankind in general before the flood and made Himself known. He did not "hide Himself" prior to the flood. So those people truly had no excuse. But after the flood, God withdrew Himself from man except for select individuals called to be prophets and a few righteous kings.

So I don't see how Paul can be referring to any or all disbelieving, sinful Gentiles past, present, or future here. And even if he were, what interest would Paul's Jewish audience have in disbelieving, sinful Gentiles? The pre-flood argument is the only one that makes sense to me. Feel free to edit this question as you all see best.

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This is really uncomplicated - Paul specifically mentions the people about whom he speaks in Rom 1:18 -

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

Note the three-fold definition of these people:

  1. godless
  2. wicked
  3. suppress the truth by their wickedness

Such people exist everywhere and in every culture and subgroup. Paul even lists some of their flagrant sins in the subsequent verses, eg,

  • (V23) exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images of mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles
  • (V24) dishonoring of their bodies with one another
  • (V25) exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator
  • (V26) women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones
  • (V27) men abandoned natural relations with women and burned with lust for one another
  • etc, etc

Paul offers a similar list in other places as well such as 1 Cor 6:9, 10

the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, men who submit to or perform homosexual acts, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, verbal abusers, swindlers

In the next verse, Paul makes a notable claim:

1 Cor 6:11 - And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Thus, Paul is addressing the unconverted people of the world.

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  • But that then raises more questions. Jesus said that no one can come to him unless God draws, or calls, that person. Which implies that God is not drawing/calling everyone. And, a person without a calling from God really has no understanding of God or the things of God, that is the whole purpose of being called, for God to reveal Himself and His son to a person. So what would be the point in castigating ignorant, uncalled human beings in their ignorance? It sounds like Paul is being a bit too judgmental of these idolatrous, ignorant Gentiles.
    – moron
    Oct 11, 2023 at 19:13
  • @moron - that is untrue - Jesus calls/draws all people to Himself, John 12:32, 1 Tim 4:10, Tit 2:11, Heb 2:9, 2 Peter 3:9, 1 John 2:2, etc. See also 1 Cor 6:9-11. However, many people refuse to respond and stubbornly remain in their sins. See especially, Rom 1:19, 20.
    – Dottard
    Oct 11, 2023 at 20:52
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Paul is referring mainly to Roman and Greek idolaters, whose followed the tradition of their forebears. These supposedly wise men who formed Roman culture:

...changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.

He argues that even though these "wise" philosophers, poets and artists did not receive God's word personally, they are 'without excuse' because God's glory is plainly seen in the creation. Instead of glorifying God, they created images modeled after human beings or animals and served them instead of God. Also, as a Pharisee himself, he was aware of the rabbinic idea of the Noahide covenant, which applies to all people and specifically bans idolatry.

The OP also asks why Paul's Jewish audience would be interested in such things. The answer is that he was not writing to a Jewish audience but to the church at Rome, which was mostly Gentile. Thus, verses 13-14 of this chapter reads

I often planned to come to you, though I was prevented until now, that I might harvest some fruit among you, too, as among the rest of the Gentiles. To Greeks and non-Greeks alike, to the wise and the ignorant, I am under obligation...

Conclusion: Paul challenged the venerable founders of Roman culture - people that worshiped Roman and Greek gods. He further criticizes them as immoral and corrupt, as result of the idolatrous myths and traditions they created. He argues that even without a commandment, they should have worshiped God as a result of the evidence of creation, rather than adoring images fashioned after the likeness of humans and animals.

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  • Your answer is better than mine, Dan, since it includes the context of the Roman audience to whom Paul is writing. I would add that Paul recognized the primary subject of God's anger isn't the sinner.
    – Dieter
    Oct 11, 2023 at 4:04
  • I stand corrected. Yes, Paul was speaking to the mainly Gentile church at Rome. I knew that. I forgot.
    – moron
    Oct 11, 2023 at 18:59
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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, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. - Romans 1:19-20

I suggest that Paul is referring to humanity in general and those who are "in Adam" specifically.

Adam was the first person to suppress the truth by unrighteousness and every human thereafter, apart from a righteousness which is by faith, is in Adam. They are without excuse because there are certain attributes of the one true God that are perceived by them in what has been created because God has shown it to them and they suppress that knowledge in favor of something else.

The claim that no proof can be found that God is true is, itself, a suppression of truth. This is an unpopular assertion in some circles but a rather plain statement within Scripture.

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The literal Greek in the APB (in English word order) reads

“For anger of God is uncovered from heaven upon all impiety and unrighteousness of men constraining the truth in unrighteousness.” – Romans 1:18 (APB)

The ERV expresses it like this:

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”

This statement in context with the entire passage does not qualify the human agents of “ungodliness and unrighteousness” as pre-flood, Jew, or gentile, but specifies whatever suppresses or constrains the truth. Paul then lists the consequences or fruit of impiety and unrighteousness as human behaviors that include envy, murder, strife, deceit, etc. These are obviously commonly observed today as well as in all of history.

The ERV concludes this passage with verse 32:

“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.”

Note that this passage does not read, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodly and unrighteous men.” It could have, and there’s a distinction. God loves people enough to have his Son die for them, but his anger is directed against a deadly spiritual poison.

By analogy, consider the statement, “I’m openly angry at the spread of fentanyl and its side effects that killed over 70,000 people in America in 2021 from dealers who know its addictiveness and deadly health risks, but promote it anyway even though they know that they deserve the death penalty for doing so.”

My primary anger is directed against the synthetic opioid, which is 50-100 times as powerful as heroin, not at its victims, although they will suffer the consequences and the dealers know that they deserve death for what they're doing.

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