*The following is a condensed version of the full-length commenty by Hodges on Romans. This will be part of the new one-volume Grace New Testament Commentary, due in December.
By Zane Hodges
I. Introduction: Paul Connects with the Roman Christians (1:1-15)
A. Doctrinal Salutation (1:1-7)
1:1. The salutation reveals Paul’s sense both of his position and of his purpose before God. Two phrases denote his position: a bondservant of Jesus Christ and a called apostle. The first title stresses subjection; the second stresses privilege.
Paul’s purpose is that he was set apart for the gospel of God (i.e., God the Father). Paul probably thinks of his being set apart for the gospel as a work of God’s Holy Spirit. If so, the implicit reference to the Spirit makes Paul’s initial self-identification in Romans Trinitarian.
1:2. The gospel for which Paul had been separated was not his own invention, nor was it even a revelation made especially for him. Instead, the gospel was promised beforehand through God’s prophets of old in the Holy Scriptures. This is precisely the perspective taken in the book of Acts (see, for example, Acts 17:2-3; 24:14-15; 26:22-23; 28:23). In Acts, Paul persistently appealed to the OT Scriptures as giving authority to his gospel. But this viewpoint goes back to our Lord Himself (see Luke 24:25-27, 44-47). The gospel is rooted in the OT.
1:3-4. The subject of the gospel is God’s Son. The first phrase, the One who came from David’s seed, identifies His human origin in David’s royal line. The second phrase, the One who was designated as the Son of God with power, identifies Him as a divine Person who possesses mighty power.
In this twofold identification, Paul begins with a reference to the Incarnation and His human status (as regards the flesh). His resurrection, however, clearly disclosed a higher status that was related to God’s Holy Spirit (as regards the Spirit of holiness).
The Holy Spirit is indeed the Spirit of holiness since it is He who produces holiness in Christian experience (see esp. Rom 8:11-13). The Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead is the divine source of true holiness.
The reality of the resurrection of the dead is manifested in the raising of God’s Son back to physical life. Where there are first fruits, there will also be a harvest, and that harvest will include everyone who has ever died.
It should also be observed that this power is inseparably related to His right to judge all men. As Jesus personally declared, “…the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22).
Finally, Paul implicitly lays the foundation for the truth he will more fully expound in this epistle. The gospel, he will soon tell us, “is the power of God for deliverance” (1:16, emphasis added). But this power for deliverance is nothing less than the resurrecting power of “the Spirit of Christ” (8:9-11), and so it is also an expression of the power that God has designated His Son as possessing.
In the English verse divisions, the phrase Jesus Christ our Lord concludes v 4.
1:5. Paul acknowledges himself as the recipient both of grace and of apostleship through Him (Jesus Christ our Lord).
The goal of Paul’s apostleship is to bring about obedience by faith…among all the Gentiles.
We may dismiss out of hand the view that the phrase refers to the obedience that inevitably flows from true faith. It is possible, however, that the phrase might mean “the obedience which is faith” in the sense that faith is a form of obedience. That is certainly a correct doctrine (see John 3:36 in Greek, ho apeithōn).
But the most natural sense here is that this refers to the obedience that can and should be produced by faith in God’s Son. The Apostle was obviously interested in bringing about a response of faith to the gospel message he proclaimed (vv 1-4). But he was interested in more than that. He was also profoundly concerned with the obedience to God that ought to result from that faith.
Faith in God’s Son is the starting point from which obedience proceeds. Thus Christian living is obedience stimulated by, and caused by, the original justifying faith. Obedience is the product of such faith. Or, as the literal rendering indicates, this is faith’s obedience. This truth will become more evident when Romans 6–8 are considered in detail.
Paul’s apostolic ministry was aimed at producing faith’s obedience among all the Gentiles. And this obedience was intended to glorify “Jesus Christ our Lord,” that is, it was to be done for His name’s sake.
1:6. Paul now clearly affirms that the Gentile readership of Romans is part of the larger circle of Gentile believers (among whom) who are the object of his purpose to “bring about [an] obedience” that proceeds from their faith (see v 5). Thus this letter to the Roman Christians is fully harmonious with Paul’s apostolic goal for Gentile believers in general. His readers are among those called by Jesus Christ and thus they possess a faith that should lead them to obey the One who called them.
1:7. Paul concludes the formal salutation of his letter by explicitly identifying his audience and by wishing a benediction on them. Specifically he is writing to all who are in Rome who have become the recipients of God’s gracious love and now have the status of saints, to which status He had summoned (called) them. Paul’s hope and expectation for such privileged people was that they might have an on-going experience of God’s abundant grace and peace. As Christians, they would know that these blessings were sourced in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
B. Paul’s Desire to Visit Rome (1:8-15)
1:8. The first thing Paul wishes to do is to assure his readers of his appreciation for their Christian faith, news of which is widely published throughout the whole Roman world. Though they are not his converts, he rejoices, nonetheless, in the fact that their faith has impacted people in countless places. It must have been no insignificant matter for the early Christians that their confidence in Jesus Christ was shared by people in no less a place than the capital of the empire. The report of the gospel’s fruitfulness there must have spread rapidly from congregation to congregation.
1:9-10. Paul’s interest in the Romans, however, goes beyond merely rejoicing in their faith. As a matter of fact, that interest finds significant expression in his prayer life. God Himself can witness to the fact that Paul has a constant remembrance of them in his prayers. After all, those prayers were made to Him. But this prayer activity, Paul suggests, is part of his service to God in my spirit on behalf of the gospel of His Son. Since Paul knew the value of intercession, he understood that the gospel could be truly served not only with our lips, but also with our spirits through the medium of prayer.
But not only did Paul mention the Roman Christians constantly before God, he also was regularly requesting…in [his] prayers the opportunity to come and visit them in Rome. This had not been possible up to now (see v 13), and Paul realizes that the success of any effort he makes to come depends on the will of God. Paul had learned through many experiences that the sovereign hand of the Lord determined where he went and when.
1:11-12. The desire for personal fellowship with the objects of his prayer and the desire to be of benefit to them are merged in Paul’s heart as one desire. The man who asks God’s gifts for men wishes naturally to be able to give some gift himself. To be attuned to God’s generosity is to become generous; to wish with such an attitude to see individuals is to wish to share with them for their good.
The words some spiritual benefit take the Greek word charisma in a non-technical sense. Paul’s doctrine about spiritual gifts was that every Christian already had one (see Rom 12:6; 1 Cor 12:12-31). There is no persuasive evidence that Paul believed a Christian could change his gift or add one he did not previously possess.
Paul is not so proud, however, as to imagine that only the Romans will benefit from mutual interaction with him. On the contrary, he anticipated that he and they would be encouraged together by means of their mutually shared faith. The Christian teacher who thinks that other believers can no longer bring him spiritual enhancement is a teacher in urgent need of additional wisdom.
1:13. Many times Paul had decided to come to them but was prevented from doing so. Given the multiplicity of his spiritual responsibilities, plus the frequency with which he was persecuted, the delay was fully understandable. But the intention was there.
The fruit of which he speaks, the aim of his coming, was that he might impart some “spiritual benefit” (1:12; cf. Phil 1:21-25). Elsewhere, Paul uses fruit of the holy and beneficial results of Christian experience (see Rom 6:21-22; 15:28; Gal 5:22; Eph 5:9; Phil 1:11, 22; 4:17), and somewhat differently in 2 Tim 2:6. No other uses of fruit occur in his epistles except 1 Cor 9:7 as a discussion of material remuneration.
Paul moves from the concept of his burden for the Romans to his obligation to them. He wants fruit among them, just as he had elsewhere among the rest of the Gentiles. He will now tell the Romans that this desire grows out of his sweeping responsibility to the Gentile world.
1:14-15. Paul considered himself a debtor to the Gentile world because he had “received grace and apostleship to bring about obedience by faith for His name’s sake among all the Gentiles” (1:5). It is not that the Gentiles have some claim on Paul in their own right, but rather that the Lord Jesus Christ has a claim on him because of the “grace and apostleship” that He had bestowed on Paul.
Thus, he is a debtor to every kind of Gentile—to Greeks and to barbarians (those outside the Greek culture). He had a readiness…to preach the gospel also in Rome. His debt extends to those in that city as well. As the capital of the empire, of course, Rome would be a locale unthinkable to pass by in a ministry designed to reach all types of Gentiles.
Note that Paul’s desire to preach the gospel is personalized as directed to you who are in Rome. No doubt the you (humin) is broad enough to embrace the idea of “you people” who are in Rome. Naturally this includes the unconverted whom Paul would certainly try to reach. Yet the you also implies that he will “gospelize” his readers as well when he comes. No preacher worth his salt would fail to spell out the gospel he preached to a new group of Christian hearers, since the Apostle knew quite well how readily believers could be diverted from the simple truths of God’s saving grace. If we doubt this, we ought to read Galatians again—more carefully!
Paul’s gospel, therefore, will be proclaimed when he comes to Rome.
II. Thematic statement: The Gospel contains God’s power for deliverance (1:16-17)
1:16-17. Paul now states the fundamental theme of the epistle. The words I am not ashamed of are an understatement for “I am quite proud of” the gospel of Christ. He is proud of Jesus’ gospel because it is the power of God for deliverance for everyone who believes.
In my translation, the word deliverance replaces the more familiar word salvation that is found in most translations. The word salvation prejudices interpreters right from the start since it is traditionally understood as “salvation from hell.” The word deliverance properly leaves the issue open and almost automatically elicits the question, “deliverance from what?”
An examination of the Epistle to the Romans turns up the surprising fact that after Rom 1:16, the Greek word for deliverance or salvation (sōtēria) does not occur again until Rom 11:11, and the verb form of this word (sōzō) occurs next at Rom 5:9-10. Thus, the noun and verb are totally absent from Paul’s discussion of justification in chaps. 2–4, even though, on the traditional view, this is where they would most naturally appear.
In addition, in Rom 5:9-10, the experience from which we are saved or delivered is specified as “wrath” (5:9). Although this word, too, has a traditional meaning (i.e., the wrath associated with hell), Paul’s epistle does not support this. In Romans, wrath is a manifestation of God’s temporal displeasure. This is clear from 1:18ff and 2:5-8. Given the close proximity of 1:16 to 1:18, and in the light of 5:9-10, we may conclude that in Rom 1:16 deliverance refers to being rescued, or “saved,” from the divine temporal anger that is so vividly described in Rom 1:18-32.
The believing Roman recipients of this letter can embrace its message, whether they happen to be Jewish or Gentile (Jew…and…Greek).
The gospel of Christ is the power of God since it reveals the righteousness of God. God’s power never operates contrary to, or inconsistently with, His righteousness. For the gospel of Christ to be a source of deliverance for men, it must also be manifestly consistent with God’s righteous character.
Paul is thinking principally of the righteousness of God that is imputed to those who believe (note especially, 3:21-22). This is made clear by the words by faith, granted to faith. The righteousness of God is attained by means of faith and it is bestowed on, or granted to, faith.
The following words express the connection Paul finds between justifying faith and the deliverance he has just mentioned. Thus, “Now the one who is righteous by faith shall live” (Hab 2:4). The righteous man, therefore, is the one who can live in precisely the sense Paul elaborates in Romans 6–8. In fact, he states, “if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (8:13). Life in the truly Christian sense of that term can only be “lived” by the one who is righteous by faith.
Accordingly, in Rom 1:16-17, the Apostle has set forth his theme succinctly and effectively. He is proud of the gospel precisely because it makes available the power of God that accomplishes deliverance in the lives of believers. This deliverance of sinful creatures is in full harmony with God’s own righteousness. That righteousness is revealed in the gospel as a righteousness actually attained prior to deliverance on the sole basis of faith. Thus the gospel leads to the realization of the profoundly important truth stated in Habakkuk: if a person is righteous by faith, he can live. For the NT person, that is nothing less than victorious Christian experience.
III. Body of the Epistle: Spiritual Deliverance Arises from the Righteousness God Grants to Faith (1:18–15:13)
A. God’s Displeasure with Humanity Is Manifest (1:18–3:20)
1. Humanity Stands under God’s Wrath (1:18–2:5)
a. The Declaration of This Manifestation (1:18)
1:18. The first word of this verse in Greek is the one rendered is revealed (Apokaluptetai). The gospel, Paul has just said in v 17, is a message wherein God’s righteousness is revealed (apokaluptetai is used there, too). Now he speaks of the revelation of God’s wrath. The repetition of apokaluptetai highlights the contrast.
It is precisely because man is so clearly under divine wrath that he stands in need of a gospel of divine righteousness. Specifically, this wrath is directed against all the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.
Man thus stands far distant from the basic character of God who possesses a perfect righteousness. But, in addition to this, unrighteous man is also hostile to the truth of God. Hence, the revelation of God’s wrath is said to be against the sinfulness of men who suppress (katechontōn) the truth by unrighteousness. It is serious enough for man to deviate from God’s holy standards. It is even more serious for him to seek to hold back God’s truth.
This tendency is everywhere on display in our own day and time.
b. The Cause of This Manifestation (1:19-23)
1:19-20. What mankind can know about God, says Paul, is perfectly plain, that is, evident (phaneron) among them. In fact, God Himself has made it evident (ephanerōse) to them. Paul does not imply by this that all the information humanity might need about God falls under the category of self-evident truth.
What Paul has in mind by what is knowable (to gnōston) is defined in v 20 as His invisible attributes, specifically, His eternal power and Deity. These attributes are seen clearly by means of the creation of the world. That is to say, the visible creation testifies to the awesome power, and hence the undoubted Deity, of the Creator.
Invisible realities about God are clearly visible to the rational faculties of mankind, that is, they are seen clearly, and this perception arises directly from the things that have been made. Paul does not entertain the notion here, or anywhere else, that the evidence of creation is somehow insufficient if not buttressed by sophisticated argumentation. Those who reject the testimony of nature are without excuse.
The greater the complexity of a system, the more emphatically that system testifies to a Designer. Only with regard to the cosmos, the most complex system of all, is this self-evident truth denied.
The responsibility of men is precisely Paul’s point. Since God’s eternal power and Deity can be seen clearly, humanity has no defense for its ignorance of these realities, so that they [mankind] are without excuse. If there is ignorance, it is willful ignorance and hence, suppression of the truth (v 18).
Of course, the gospel Paul proclaims is itself a special divine revelation and in no way deducible from the natural world. But if men were willing to recognize the manifestation of the Creator which creation itself affords them, they would then be in a position to search out the further will of their Maker (cf. Acts 16:9-10; 17:27). However, as long as they suppress, with their idolatry, the true witness of nature, no such progress is possible. To acknowledge the existence of a Creator is implicitly to acknowledge human accountability for unrighteous behavior. Unrighteous man does not want to do that.
1:21. There was indeed a time when the God of creation was known (when they knew God).
Paul is thinking here of the period covered in the early chapters of Genesis, after the fall of man. Even Lamech, the second murderer in human history, implicitly acknowledges the God who had promised vengeance on anyone who hurt Cain (see Gen 4:23-24). Shortly after, we are told that “then men began to call on the name of the Lord” (Gen 4:26). There is no evidence prior to the flood of a movement toward idolatry. Yet at the same time, man’s failure to honor his Maker and to appreciate His gifts is transparent (Gen 6:5-7).
Mankind’s response to the God they knew was dramatically insufficient in three ways. First, mankind did not glorify God as God. His manifest “power” and “Deity” were not acknowledged with the reverence and honor that was fitting. Second, neither were they thankful for His innumerable gifts, starting with physical life itself. Third, they engaged in their empty reasonings. The net result was that their senseless heart was darkened. Out of this inward darkness arose the hideous distortion of Deity found in idolatry.
1:22-23. Yet, strangely, benighted man is never as self-confident as when his ignorance is most deep: claiming to be wise, they became fools. So far was mankind from recognizing their own darkness that they confused it with light! The consequent descent into idolatry was a powerful testimony to this utter lack of true perception.
Something like this darkening process has repeated itself today. Most of academia holds tenaciously to the view that natural processes explain everything, when in fact they explain nothing. The folly and perversity of this attitude should be manifest.
The supreme Intelligence that is so obvious in our cosmos, and becomes more obvious as new discoveries are made, is excluded from human calculations. The wise have become fools.
In Paul’s day, this folly was transparent in the degradation to which the image of the Creator-God was subjected by idolatry. The glory of the immortal God is exchanged by some idolaters for an image made in the likeness of mortal man. Others made idols of birds, and of four-footed creatures, and finally of reptiles. These elements of idolatry underline the abject decay of the concept of the living God whom mankind refuses to see in the evidentiary character of the creation itself.
c. The Results of This Manifestation (1:24-32)
1:24-25. Precisely because of this idolatry (therefore), God has turned them over to their own iniquity. It is evident that the section encompassing vv 24-32 is unified by a threefold use of the phrase turned them over found in vv 24, 26, and 28. It is here that we meet Paul’s fundamental thought about the wrath of God which the Apostle has already declared to be revealed from heaven (v 18). This divine anger, Paul has said, is directed against men who restrain the truth (vv 19-23). It is now appropriate that God’s wrath should be spelled out specifically.
Since men have dishonored the Creator God by misrepresenting Him with creature-like images, they are given over to the outworking of their corrupt inward desires (the lusts of their hearts) and are dragged into a moral uncleanness that dishonors their own physical bodies. Those who have degraded God with “bodily” representations of Him are allowed to experience their own “bodily” degradation!
Physical existence has no real meaning apart from a transcendent reality that gives it meaning. When man loses his sense of a God who transcends all physical representation, man cannot avoid reducing his own physical experience to the shameful level of immorality. The sanctity of physical life is only maintained by means of the perception of a God who transcends physical life
and who thus gives it its ultimate significance and value.
The idolatry described in vv 21-23 was nothing less than an exchange of the truth of God for a lie that resulted in worshiping the creature rather than the Creator.
In idolatry, Paul says, men have exchanged reality for a falsehood. The truth of God’s transcendence over His creation is replaced by the implicit lowering of God to the level of a creature of whatever form the idolater chooses. But this in fact is creature worship. Thus, the creature becomes the focus of everything.
In a creature-centered world, where the purposes and restraints of the Creator are forgotten, immorality is the tragically predictable result. Yet, as Paul affirms in the final words of the verse, the Creator whom men have forgotten is blessed forever. Man’s inexcusable defection in no way touches or diminishes the blessedness of the transcendent God.
1:26-27. Man’s idolatry (vv 21-23) leads to the debasing of his physical experience (v 24). But this debasing is founded on the exchange of truth for a lie (v 25), leading to a similar exchange of truth for a lie in perverted sexual practice (vv 26-27). Thus, man descends the staircase of moral corruptness. In lesbian/homosexual behavior, mankind embraces the lie that this form of sexual encounter is an experience equivalent to God-ordained sex.
The dishonorable passions to which God has also turned them over, therefore, are nothing less than distortions of reality in the sexual sphere. The key phrase here is that females exchanged (v 26) and males also left (v 27) their natural practice (vv 26-27).
The connection with v 25 is quite evident since the term exchanged of v 26 recalls the same verb in v 25 and thus stresses the correspondence between the sin and its penalty.
Once again, as in v 24, man’s failure to honor God properly leads to his own dishonor.
Paul’s description of homosexuality between males is fuller than his treatment of lesbian activity. Paul explicitly refers to the improper sexual desire for other men that leads to doing what is sexually shameful. In addition, it is pertaining to males that he speaks specifically of physical consequences.
The first words in vv 24-32 to refer to a direct physical judgment are those at the end of v 27. Homosexual males are described as receiving back in themselves for their error the recompense which was due them. Paul is not referring to eternal condemnation here.
No doubt Paul is thinking of sexually transmitted diseases. Of course, the same penalty may accompany the other sexual sins as well (vv 24, 26), but Paul stresses here the retribution deserved by male deviants.
1:28. For a third time we are told that God turned men over to something. This time it is to a debased mind. The reason now given is that they did not see fit to retain God in their knowledge. The sexual perversions just described (vv 26-27) cannot be comfortably engaged in when the human mind is thinking about God.
But a refusal to keep God before the mind is not confined to this type of sinner alone. When this banishing of God from the mind occurs, God simply allows them to possess the natural result—a debased mind.
Deprived of the ennobling concept of the Creator God, people suffer from the depraved and defective mental life to which God has turned them over.
The result of this base mindset in humanity is that they did unseemly things. These unseemly things are now detailed in the graphic verses that follow.
1:29-31. The list of vices contained in these verses falls into four groups that are indicated by the way Paul structures his list.
The opening series consists of five terms connected with the words filled with all. Mankind’s character and behavior reflect a surfeit of all kinds of unrighteousness (perhaps more specifically, “injustice”), immorality, wickedness, greed, and malice.
The second series begins with the words full of. Five additional characteristics of depraved humanity are now listed: envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity. The stress in this series falls on the harsh hostility that so often characterizes human beings’ relations with one another. This last word, malignity, cannot be sharply distinguished from malice which concluded the first chain of words. Thus, each series is rounded off by a similar idea, namely, the spiteful spirit that manifests itself in mankind’s interpersonal relations.
The third series in Paul’s list contains six words: whisperers, slanderers, God-haters [or repugnant], insolent, arrogant, boastful (inventors of evil things is a dependent genitive modifying boastful).
As inventors of evil things, nothing evil is beyond the range of their corrupt inventiveness.
Finally, the fourth series, beginning with disobedient (apeitheis) to parents, contains six terms that round off Paul’s withering analysis of humanity’s condition under God’s wrath. All six of the Greek words in this final series begin with the Greek letter alpha and thus form a climax to the whole list that has a pleasing alliteration.
The loss of respect for parental authority brings in its wake a lack of discernment (undiscerning, asunetous), a lack of fidelity (unfaithful, asunthetous), whether to commitments or to established standards, a lack of concern and affection (unloving, astorgous), a lack in the ability to accommodate or make peace (irreconcilable, aspondous), and a lack of elementary compassion (unmerciful, aneleēmonas). Sin is much more than what people do. It is also what people do not do!
Thus, Paul’s sweeping description of man’s moral state effectively articulates the broad dimensions of God’s displeasure with sin. Man’s very own condition proclaims loudly that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven” (v 18). Here, in Paul’s elaborate exposure of the depths of human depravity, the discerning eye can see how God has “turned [humanity] over” to the depraving effects of their own “unrighteousness and ungodliness” (see v 18). One final charge against mankind remains to be stated.
1:32. This verse offers a grim finale to Paul’s depiction of humanity under divine wrath. Although God is no longer held in recognition (v 28), a consciousness of God’s righteous standard remains. Man’s perception of what is right and just has not been totally effaced (they know). The realization that sin cries out for punishment can never be wholly eradicated.
Yet tragically men ignore this perception and not only perpetuate their own sin (they not only do them), but they even go so far as to approve of those who do them. It is bad both to do these things and to extend acceptance and commendation to the doers!
The result is an elevation of sin to a level of respectability among sinners, with the consequent ignoring of divine sanctions against it. This awful state is exemplified in many ways in our own time as well.
Paul’s indictment of humanity culminates in mankind’s tragic effort to make evil a virtue. The depth to which mankind has fallen under the wrath of its Creator painfully discloses the nature and extent of God’s displeasure.
Zane Hodges was a Bible teacher and Professor of Greek at Dallas Theological Seminary. He passed away in 2008.