Romans 1:1-32

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The apostle Paul identified himself as the writer of the letter to the Romans. (1:1) In view of his apostleship to the Gentiles, he may have chosen to go by his Roman name “Paul.” His Hebrew name “Saul” had the proud distinction of having been the name of Israel’s first king, a man of the tribe of Benjamin (as was Paul or Paulos). The Latin word paulus means “small” or “little,” and the Hebrew name signifies “asked for” or “asked of,” the implication being that God was the one to whom the appeal was made for a child or a son.

As a slave of “Christ Jesus” (“Jesus Christ,” in other Greek manuscripts), Paul had the honor of being in the service of the “King of kings and Lord of lords,” the one to whom all authority in heaven and on earth had been granted. (Matthew 28:18; Revelation 19:16) His call to be an apostle (one sent forth with a commission) had come directly through Jesus Christ and God the Father. (Acts 9:5, 6, 15, 16; 26:15-18; Galatians 1:1) Paul had been set apart for the “evangel of God,” designated to proclaim the glad tidings about Jesus Christ and how reconciliation to God would be possible through him. It is the “evangel” or “good news of God,” for its ultimate source is the Almighty. (1:1)

Paul could speak of the evangel or glad tidings as having been previously promised through the prophets whose words were recorded in the “holy writings.” (1:2) The prophets referred to a time when a ruler would come from the tribe of Judah, through the line of David (the son of Jesse). This one would administer affairs according to the highest standard of justice, and non-Jewish peoples would rally to him as to a signal on an elevated site. The coming of this ruler, the Messiah or Christ, would be associated with the inauguration of a new covenant through his sacrificial death, providing the basis for true forgiveness of sins and complete reconciliation with God. (Genesis 49:10; Isaiah 11:1-5, 10; Jeremiah 31:31-34; Zechariah 12:10-13:1)

As Paul continued, the good news is about God’s Son, who, according to the flesh or natural descent, was of the “seed of David,” being in the line that had David as the illustrious royal ancestor. (1:3)

Jesus Christ, the Lord of believers, was designated, established, or declared as “Son of God in power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead.” (1:4) The words “Son of God in power” may mean that, in contrast to his human existence when he was a little lower than the angels, Jesus is now in possession of the fullness of power in his exalted post-resurrection state. (Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 2:8, 9) A number of translations make this meaning explicit in their renderings. “He was appointed to be God’s Son with great power by rising from the dead.” (NCV) “Jesus is the powerful Son of God, because he was raised from death.” (CEV)

Another possible meaning is that “in power” relates to the resurrection, which would mean that the powerful act involved in raising Jesus from the dead undeniably established his being the Son of God. This significance is conveyed in the renderings of various translations. “He was proclaimed Son of God by an act of power that raised him from the dead.” (REB) J. B. Phillips paraphrased the words to mean that Jesus Christ was “patently marked out as the Son of God by the power of that Spirit of holiness which raised him to life again from the dead.” In Ephesians 1:17-20, the working of God’s power is specifically mentioned as having effected Christ’s resurrection.

Numerous translators and commentators have considered the “spirit of holiness” to be the “holy spirit.” “And Jesus Christ our Lord was shown to be the Son of God when God powerfully raised him from the dead by means of the Holy Spirit.” (NLT) This rendering and others like it are questionable, because “according to [the] flesh” and “according to [the] spirit of holiness” are contrasting parallels.

It appears preferable to regard “spirit” as a contrast to “flesh” or “human nature,” with “spirit” relating to Jesus’ identity on the level of the spirit. A number of translations convey this meaning. “As to his divine holiness, he was shown with great power to be the Son of God by being raised from death.” (GNT, Second Edition) “As regards the holiness of His Spirit [he] was decisively proved by His Resurrection to be the Son of God.” (Weymouth) Unlike Jesus’ body of flesh, which bore the sins of humankind, the spirit does not function in the role of sin bearer and may, for this reason, be called the “spirit of holiness.” (Romans 8:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 9:28; 1 Peter 2:24)

While on the road to Damascus, Saul (Paul), intent on acting against believers in that city, had an encounter with the risen Lord Jesus Christ. At that time, the Son of God granted the persecutor Saul his grace or favor and gave him an apostleship. According to his own description to Timothy, Paul was then a blasphemer (a man who, through his extreme hostility to believers, demonstrated himself to be a person who considered Jesus Christ to be an impostor), a persecutor (one who pursued believers with violent intent, wanting to force them to recant and, if they refused to do so, to be severely punished) and an arrogant man, displaying haughtiness in waging his campaign against believers. Yet, because he acted in ignorance, he was shown mercy and granted the favor of having Jesus Christ reveal himself to him and commission him to be an apostle to the Gentiles. (1 Timothy 1:12-14)

When presenting his testimony before King Agrippa, Paul specifically referred to Jesus Christ’s words when he commissioned him, “I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and testify to the things in which you have seen me [the things that you have seen, footnote] and to those in which I will appear to you. I will rescue you from your people and from the Gentiles — to whom I am sending you to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” Commenting on his response to his commission, Paul continued, “After that, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout the countryside of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God and do deeds consistent with repentance.” (Acts 26:16-20, NRSV)

What he said in his defense before King Agrippa, Paul expressed briefly in Romans 1:5, “Through [Jesus Christ], we have received favor and an apostleship for obedience of faith in all the nations relating to his name [literally, over his name].” Although the Greek verb for “we have received” [elábomen] is first person plural (not first person singular), Paul is referring to himself, as evident from the mention of the apostleship with which he was entrusted. The expression “obedience of faith” could mean either the obedience prompted by faith or the obedient response in faith to the message about God’s Son. In fulfilling his assignment as an apostle, Paul made Jesus Christ known and did so for the sake of Christ’s name (that is, for the Son of God himself). So the final phrase “over his name” could apply to the “obedience of faith” that had Jesus Christ as the focus. Another possibility is that the reference is to the commission Paul carried out for the sake of Christ.

Among the nations, believers in Rome were “called ones of Jesus Christ.” (1:6) This could mean that they were called to belong to Jesus Christ or that he had chosen them.

All the believers “in Rome” whom Paul addressed were “beloved of God.” As God’s “sons” or “children,” they were members of his beloved family. Their calling was one to a life of holiness or purity as imitators of the Lord Jesus Christ. They were “called to be holy ones.” (1:7)

As in other letters, Paul included the prayerful expression, “Favor to you and peace from God our Father and [the] Lord Jesus Christ.” (1:7) “Favor,” unmerited kindness, or grace would include all the help and guidance the Father and his Son would provide. For believers to enjoy the peace that comes from God and Christ would mean their being in possession of inner tranquility, knowing that as beloved children of God and brothers of Christ they would be sustained and strengthened in times of trial and distress.

Foremost for Paul was the giving of thanks to God. Indicative of his personal relationship, the apostle wrote “my God.” In the case of all the believers in Rome, Paul gave thanks to God through Jesus Christ because their faith had been proclaimed “in the whole world.” From the capital of the Roman Empire, news about the faith believers there had in Jesus Christ spread throughout the then-known world. (1:8)

Paul called upon God as his witness that he always remembered the believers at Rome in his prayers. The apostle spoke of his service to God as being “in the evangel of his Son” or in making known the good news respecting him and what it could mean for those who responded in faith. When saying that he served God “in [his] spirit,” Paul indicated that his service was not merely an outward expression but involved his whole being, his inner self. (1:9, 10)

Regarding believers in Rome, Paul’s supplications (his fervent appeals) focused on being able to see them if, by God’s will, somehow the way would be opened up to him to come to them. (1:10) He longed to see them, for he wanted to impart a spiritual gift to them, a gift that would serve to strengthen them in faith. Paul did not regard this as being solely for their benefit, but he anticipated the mutual encouragement or comfort that would result from their interchange on the basis of his faith and theirs. (1:11, 12)

He wanted his “brothers” or fellow believers in Rome to know that he had often planned to come to them but had until then been prevented from doing so. As the apostle to the nations, he desired some “fruit” also among them as he had among the Gentiles in other regions. This “fruit” would be persons who responded or would yet respond in faith to the message about the Son of God. (1:13)

Paul considered himself to be a debtor to all persons, under obligation to make the glad tidings about Christ known to them. Whether “Greeks” or “barbarians,” “wise” or “senseless,” all were entitled to hear the good news. The terms “Greek” and “barbarian” apply to cultures, with “barbarian” (bárbaros) denoting someone from a non-Greek or non-Hellenic culture. In this context, it does not have the derogatory sense commonly associated with the word “barbarian.” The “wise” would be persons from the educated classes, whereas the “senseless” would designate those who did not have the benefit of education. (1:14)

Numerous translations are explicit in conveying the basic significance. “I have an obligation to Greek and non-Greek, to learned and simple.” (REB) “It doesn’t matter if people are civilized and educated, or if they are uncivilized and uneducated. I must tell the good news to everyone.” (CEV) “For I have a great sense of obligation to people in our culture and to people in other cultures, to the educated and uneducated alike.” (NLT)

Viewing himself as being obligated to share the good news, Paul eagerly wanted to do so in Rome. (1:15)

Considerable opposition to the glad tidings existed in the Greco-Roman world. Believers stood out as different. They ceased to engage in activities and religious practices that were deeply rooted in the existing culture but stood in conflict with Jesus’ example and teaching. Their belief regarding the benefits made possible through Jesus’ death by means of the worst form of capital punishment seemed especially foolish to the cultured and educated members of society. (1 Corinthians 1:23; Ephesians 4:17-23; 5:3, 4, 8-12, 18; 1 Peter 4:1-4)

Paul, though, was not ashamed of the good news. For believers, he knew the message about Christ to be God’s power for salvation, “to the Jew first and [also] to the Greek.” (1:16; see the Notes section.) The glad tidings concerning Christ, with a focus on the significance of his death, had a powerful effect on believers. It enabled them to see the seriousness of sin and the greatness of God’s love for them. As God’s means for having their sins forgiven and becoming reconciled to him as his children, Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death had a profound impact on their lives. In attitude, word, and action, they were moved to imitate God’s Son. The love he showed by surrendering his life for them and the love the Father revealed when sending his Son motivated them to respond in faith and to live a life of faith. The appeal of the good news proved to be universal, moving both Jews and non-Jews to embrace it.

“God’s righteousness” is the righteousness of which he is the source. The evangel reveals that sinful humans can come into possession of this righteousness by their faith in Jesus and his sacrificial death for them. Paul wrote that “God’s righteousness is revealed out of faith into faith,” and backed this up with a quotation from Habakkuk 2:4, “But the righteous one will live by [literally, out of] faith.” (1:17)

In relation to God’s righteousness, the expression “out of faith and into faith” may be understood to mean that obtaining this righteousness starts with faith and leads to ever-increasing faith or ends in faith. A number of translations convey this basic significance. “I see in it God’s plan for imparting righteousness to men, a process begun and continued by their faith.” (J. B. Phillips) “The Good News shows how God makes people right with himself — that it begins and ends with faith.” (NCV) “In it the righteousness of God is seen at work, beginning in faith and ending in faith.” (REB) “For the gospel reveals how God puts people right with himself: it is through faith from beginning to end.” (GNT, Second Edition) “This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith.” (NLT) “For in the Good News a righteousness which comes from God is being revealed, depending on faith and tending to produce faith.” (Weymouth)

On the basis of their faith, believers enjoy an approved standing with God. They are no longer under condemnation as is the case with those who refuse to put faith in God’s provision for salvation through Jesus Christ. Unbelievers continue to be dead in trespasses and sins, but believers are alive, justified, declared guiltless, or accounted as righteous. (Ephesians 2:1-5)

In the time of Habakkuk, when the Chaldean campaign against the kingdom of Judah began, the godly members of the nation were sustained by their faith or trust in God and their unwavering conviction that the divine promises would be fulfilled. By this faith, they lived as persons enjoying divine help, blessing, and approval despite the distressing circumstances.

God’s wrath is directed against those who, in their wickedness, suppress the truth that can be known about him. This suppression implies a desire to escape all moral accountability to God. His “wrath is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness” in that he allows humans to follow their debased desires and to experience the hurtful consequences from their debauchery. (1:18)

Those who conduct themselves in a corrupt manner do so despite the evidence that is available to them and which evidence God has revealed. Although his eternal power and divine nature are invisible, they can be perceived from the things made or from the creative works. The evidence of God’s eternal power and divine nature has existed since the “creation of the world.” Therefore, those acting as though he did not exist are without excuse. (1:19, 20; see the Notes section for examples of how even before Paul’s time conclusions about “gods” were drawn from creation.)

The visible creative works proved that lifeless, man-made images could not possibly represent an invisible, living God. So, although knowing or perceiving from the things made that a personal higher power existed, people “did not glorify him as God nor render thanks” to him. Instead of acting on what they should have known about God from the creative works, they misused their mental faculties. In their thinking, they became vain, and their “senseless mind” (literally, “heart,” which could also denote their inner self) was “darkened.” While imagining themselves to be wise, they foolishly exchanged “the glory of the imperishable God” for the lifeless images or representations of perishable humans, and of birds, quadrupeds, and reptiles. (1:20-23)

In accord with the “desires of their hearts” or the debased lusts of their inner selves, which were manifest in their deliberate choice of idolatry, God abandoned them to the pursuit of corrupt practices. He exercised no restraint on their choice of a life of uncleanness or impurity, whereby they dishonored their bodies. These debauched idolaters had exchanged “the truth of God” (which the creative works revealed) for “the lie,” the falsehood of idolatry (the veneration of things made or created instead of the Creator). (Compare Psalm 135:15-18; Isaiah 44:9-20; Jeremiah 10:14; 16:19, 20.) Paul, however, was moved to include an expression of praise to God, adding, “the Creator who is blessed forever [literally, into the ages]. Amen [So be it].” (1:24, 25; compare Psalm 89:52.)

Male and female prostitution came to be prominently associated with idolatrous rites, and the apostle mentioned the obscenities to which the rejection of the “truth of God” led. God totally abandoned the idolaters to their degrading passions. Women exchanged natural intercourse for that which was contrary to nature and the internal sense of decency. Men, not satisfied with natural intercourse with women, were consumed with lust for one another. Males engaged in indecent sexual acts with males. Regarding the adverse consequences of their impure practices, Paul indicated that they received in their own person the due recompense for their error. (1:26, 27)

Since, despite the evidence available to them, the idolaters did not see fit to recognize or acknowledge God, he gave them up to their twisted mind, letting them engage in unseemly practices. (1:28) The apostle then went on to describe the kind of persons they were.

They were filled with “all unrighteousness [adikía], wickedness [ponería], covetousness [pleonexía], badness [kakía].” (1:29; see the Notes section for additional information about this verse.)

“All” may be understood to apply to every type of the vices that are enumerated. “Unrighteousness” (adikía) is the opposite of dikaiosyne, which Greek term denotes righteousness, integrity, uprightness, purity of life, or correctness in attitude, thought, and action.

The word ponería signifies wickedness, iniquity, depravity, baseness, maliciousness, or sinfulness.

Covetousness (pleonexía) is descriptive of an inordinate desire to have more. It is an extreme passion or addiction expressed in wanting more without showing any regard for others or how they might be adversely affected.

Kakía may be defined as meaning badness, ill-will, viciousness, depravity, or malignity. It is the opposite of moral excellence or virtue.

Corrupt persons are described as “full of envy [phthónos], murder [phónos], contention [éris], treachery [dólos], malice [kakoétheia],” and being “whisperers [psithyristés.]” (1:29)

Envy (phthónos) is the trait that manifests itself in begrudging or resenting what others are or possess. It gives rise to outright hatred for those who become the object of envy.

In James 4:2, the verb form of phónos is used with apparent reference to the manifestation of a murderous disposition, and this may also be included in the mention of “murder” in this case.

Éris can denote strife, contention, wrangling, or discord. Persons given to quarreling cause division and destroy good relationships.

Dólos designates treachery, cunning, or deceit. Deceivers take advantage of others, exploiting them for selfish gain.

Kakoétheia, meaning “malice,” is characterized by the depravity of the inner self and life. It applies to a malicious disposition.

Psithyristés denotes a whisperer, tale bearer, secret slanderer, or a detractor. Whereas the whisperer engages in defamation in secret, the person designated as a katálalos slanders others openly.

The apostle Paul continued his list with “defamers” (katálalos) or evil speakers and then mentioned haters of God (theostygés), insolent ones (hybristés), arrogant ones (hyperéphanos), braggarts (alazón), contrivers of bad (epheuretés kakón), ones who disobey parents (goneúsin apeitheís), senseless ones (asynetos), those who were disloyal, faithless or broke agreements (asynthetos), lacking in normal affection (ástorgos), and merciless (aneleémon). (1:30, 31)

Theostygés is descriptive of a notoriously corrupt person who hates God. The reason for such hatred doubtless stems from wanting to do what is contrary to God’s will and feeling that God stands in the way of personal enjoyment.

The violent or insolent (hybristés) ones derive pleasure from wronging others. They make themselves guilty of wantonness, outrage, cruelty, or lust.

Persons described as hyperéphanos are arrogant or haughty, making others appear small while lifting themselves up above them. Such individuals manifest an exaggerated estimate of their means, accomplishments, or merits and despise others or treat them with contempt.

Alazón denotes a braggart or boaster. The term applies to a person who makes empty or boastful claims regarding cures and other feats, promising results that cannot be attained.

A contriver of bad (epheuretés kakón) would be someone who devised new ways to sin. In the course of time, humans have developed new vices to which many have been become enslaved.

Children who are disobedient to parents (goneúsin apeitheís) have no respect for them. They ignore their needs and are unappreciative of anything parents have done and may do for them. Such individuals refuse to come to the aid of their parents when it does not suit their own aims. They are stubborn rebels who indulge their own desires and refuse to listen to sound advice. (Compare Deuteronomy 21:20.)

The individual described as senseless or foolish (asynetos) would be one who failed to use his mental faculties aright. The folly is of a moral kind.

Those who are disloyal, faithless or break agreements (asynthetos) cannot be trusted. They pretend to be trustworthy but pursue their own objectives without any regard for the agreements they may have made.

Ástorgos describes a person who lacks the kind of love that family members or close associates normally have for one another. Individuals who fit this description are unfeeling or heartless. They are solely focused on themselves and their interests.

The merciless (aneleémon) person has no pity or compassion for those who are experiencing suffering or distress and is devoid of any fellow feeling. Such an individual is ruthless.

Within themselves, those who were guilty of the vices Paul enumerated knew that they were wrong. Because of possessing a conscience, an internal sense of right and wrong, they could be spoken of as knowing the just decree of God. Despite this, they continued to practice vices deserving of death and looked with approval upon others who engaged in like corrupt practices. (1:32)


In Romans 1:7, a few manuscripts omit “in Rome” and read, “To all those who are in God’s love.” The omission of the words “to those in Rome” (1:15) has even less manuscript support.

Fourth-century Codex Vaticanus and a number of other manuscripts do not include the word “first” in Romans 1:16.

That the ancients had no excuse for making idols and regarding these as gods is confirmed by the conclusions they were able to reach. Based on what they saw, ancient philosophers reasoned that higher powers must exist and attributed creative works to them. In his “On the Nature of the Gods,” Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BCE) had one of the debaters in his work remark, “In the sky innumerable fiery stars exist, of which the sun is the chief.” Commenting on what would happen if the fiery stars were closer to the earth, the debater is quoted as saying, “We should inevitably be burnt.” Regarding a person who concluded that this came about by chance, he continued, “He who believes this, may as well believe, that if a great quantity of the twenty-one letters, composed either of gold, or any other material, were [repeatedly] thrown upon the ground, they would fall into such order as legibly to form the Annals of Ennius. I doubt whether chance could make a single verse of them.”

He then quoted from a work (now lost) of the Greek philosopher Aristotle of the fourth century BCE. This philosopher concluded that, if there were people who lived underground in large and spacious homes, adorned with statues and pictures, and comfortably furnished, and then one day would actually come to see the earth and the sky, they would be moved to acknowledge that they were seeing the works of the gods. The following is part of the quotation, If “they should immediately behold the earth, the seas, the heavens; should consider the vast extent of the clouds and force of the winds; should see the sun, and observe its grandeur and beauty; ... and when night has darkened the land, should contemplate the heavens bespangled and adorned with stars; the surprising variety of the moon, in its increase and wane; ...when ...they should see these things, they would undoubtedly conclude that there are gods, and that these are their mighty works.”

The link of moral corruption to idolatry must have been familiar to Jewish believers. In the apocryphal book known as the “Wisdom of Solomon” (thought to date from the first century BCE and preserved in fourth-century Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus, and fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus and Codex Ephraemi), the following is stated: “The idol made with hands is accursed, and so is the one who made it — he for having made it, and the perishable thing because it was named a god. (14:8, NRSV) “For the idea of making idols was the beginning of fornication, and the invention of them was the corruption of life; for they did not exist from the beginning, nor will they last forever. For through human vanity they entered the world.” (14:12-14, NRSV)

In Romans 1:29, later manuscripts include the term porneía (fornication or sexual immorality), and fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus omits dólos (treachery).

Either before or after the expression meaning “without normal affection” (ástorgos), a number of manuscripts (in Romans 1:31) add aspóndos (irreconcilable or implacable). Perhaps the addition occurred when the copyist recalled the word from the list in 2 Timothy 3:2-5, where aspóndos follows astórgos.