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The book of Romans is a Pauline epistle which has profound theology and uses an impressive style to deliver its teaching. It is the first book among the Pauline epistles in the New Testament which was written to the Church of Rome. Chapter one of the epistle gives a clear introduction and also highlights the purpose of the book. Paul studies natural revelation through the creation and notes that humanity rejected God (Creator) and was satisfied with baser instincts. This chapter relates to the early part of the book of Genesis. The book contains structural relationships and use of non-routine words which gives a clear interpretation.
The epistle contains different sections. Paul introduces the chapter by addressing his commissioning in Verse 1-7. The second section of verse 8-15 discusses the main theme of the book: the gospel of salvation (sinner's justification). After this introduction, the epistle addresses other topics in the chapter.
Man's original sin (Verse 18-23). Original sin is a doctrine that holds that everyone is born sinful with an internal urge to sin. Paul says that the knowledge of God is plain to man. However, although human beings knew God for who he was, they never worshipped him as God nor were they thankful.
Depraved human mind (Verse 24-25). In this section, Paul explains the fruits of man's rebellion against God. Humanity fell into moral depravity and became slaves to Gods creation. God handed them over to their bodily lusts.
Homosexuality (Verse 26-27). As a result of man's depravity and rebellion against God, they violated human sexuality order. Men and women exchanged natural relations for unnatural relations (Homosexuality).
Destruction of natural sentiments. (Verses 28-32) As a result of the depraved human mind, Paul gives a list of social vices that follows. The social vices express social pathology, injustices against neighbours, self-centeredness, and the invention of new ways to do evil.
The Structural relationships in Romans chapter 1.
New Testament books contain structural relationships which guide the reader in the interpretation of the shared information. Certain structural features such as recurrence, comparison, contrast, particularization, causation, generalization, crucially, substantiation and climax have been a significant part of an inductive Bible study (IBS). The structural relationship has three overarching categories; recurrence structures, semantic structures, and rhetorical structures (Bauer, 2011). The first chapter of Romans uses both recurrence and semantic structures.
According to Bauer (2011), recurrence is a repetition of terms, phrases or elements that are similar and may involve literary forms, persons, motifs, concepts or other structural relationships. Recurrence has three components, frequency (a phrase appearing more than once), distribution (the distribution of a phrase throughout the text) and significance (the term having substantive meaning) Bauer (2011).
The book of Romans has used reoccurrence to create emphasis on the result of human rebellion against God. The phrase "God gave them up..." has been repeated in three different verses. In verse 24, Paul says that God gave up humankind to uncleanliness because changing the image of the incorruptible God and made like that of corruptible man. In verse 26, the writer says that God gave man up to vile passions when they exchanged the truth of God for a lie. Also in verse 28, God gave humankind up to a debased mind as a result of homosexuality. Recurrence has developed the theme in the passage that humankind rebellion against God resulted in a depraved mind.
Semantic structures mean the use of twofold progression to indicate a connection (Long, 2014). Semantic structural relationships include contrast, summarization causation, and comparison among others. Causation means the movement from cause to effect. In causation, the critical terms used include "therefore," "then" or "so" (Bauer (2011).
The use of causation is seen in verse 23 &24. The writer says that God gave up men to uncleanliness when they exchanged the image of incorruptible God to that of corruptible man. Similarly, causation is used in verse 25 & 26. The phrase used in verse 26 is "for this reason..." to show the effect that followed when man exchanged the truth of God to a lie in verse 25.
The question raised in this text (Chapter 1) is, "what is the cause of human depravity?" Is it the original sin or is it a consequence of their rebellion against God? Bauer (2011) ideas on structural relationship have assisted in identifying the relationship between the cause and effect of the human resistance against God.
None-routine terms are important in the study of scripture as they give meaning to the text. These terms may be words which are difficult to understand, words that express a profound concept or words which are critical to the meaning of the passage though maybe not hard to understand. Non-routine words used in Romans chapter one include wickedness and godlessness and wrath.
In verse 18, the writer says that "the wrath of God" has revealed against all unrighteousness and ungodliness from heave. The "wrath" (orge in Greek) means an agitation of the soul, determined indignation, and violent emotion. However, Calvin comments that the word wrath does not refer to feeling in God (Greathouse & Lyons, 2008 ). He further comments that the term does not mean a divine temper tantrum but relates instead to Gods unrelenting resolve to pass judgment against a rebellious race. Wrath means the personal reaction of God against sin. God does not express his wrath in peevishness. On the contrary, he lets sinners have their way and suffer the effects.
In the same verse, Paul uses the terms ungodliness and unrighteousness. The term godlessness (asebeia) and wickedness (adikia) translate to "ungodliness" and "unrighteousness" respectively. Adikia means moral perversion which is illustrated through immorality - living contrary to what is right. Both terms refer to a life led contrary to religious practices and beliefs which include acts like idolatry (Greathouse & Lyons, 2008).
Romans 1:21-23 mention steps through which humankind fell from the true worship of God. First, they refused to glorify God as God despite having known him. Humankind pride was expressed in a refusal to acknowledge the character of God. Glorifying God refers to the recognition of God as the creator and daily experiencing of his presence. Secondly, they did not give him thanks. They refused to acknowledge that God created the universe with its magnificence. The rebelliousness against God was witnessed by humankind refusing to be grateful to God for his creation. Thirdly, men became futile in their thoughts. Man's inward reasoning became foolish and believed in fairy tales rather than the truth (Greathouse & Lyons, 2008 ).
Distinctive Elements (Verse 26-32)
Verse 26: Their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. One of the effects of the fall of man was homosexuality amongst women.
Verse 27: Men left the natural use of women and committed what is shameful. This element implies that men's lust led them to unnatural relations with other men.
Verse 28: The disliked retaining God in their knowledge. This means that humanity's heart became opposed to the knowledge of God.
Verse 29: They were filled with all unrighteousness.
The term "therefore" refers to the semantic structure (causation). Causation means the movement from cause to effect (Bauer (2011). God gave up men to uncleanliness when they exchanged the image of incorruptible God to that of corruptible man. The cause is seen in verse 23 when men exchanged the image of incorruptible God with that of corruptible man. The effect was that God gave up men to uncleanliness.
The clue word "for" in verse 21 is the use of semantic structure (substantiation). This is the movement from effect to cause (Long, 2014). The key terms used are "because" or "for" (Bauer (2011). The word aids in the understanding of the passage as it gives the effect and what caused the impact. This means that the darkening of humankind's heart came from their refusal to glorify God despite having known him as God.
Who is Paul addressing specifically in these verses?
Contextually Paul was addressing the gentiles expressing why God's wrath was being revealed to humanity. The heathens had adopted the worship of idols (Creation) and suppressed the truth. He was addressing the sins that the pagans committed and the believers in the Church of Rome. In verse 18, Paul says that the wrath of God was revealed to all humanity who practised unrighteousness. This message meant to the biblical audience that the evil they were witnessing was all due to their rebellion against God. There exist no difference between the biblical audience and us today. The book is addressing the nature of the human heart, which is intrinsically opposed to the worship of God. This is the same for humanity to date.
The theological principle in the book of Romans chapter one is the s clarity of the Person and character of God. God is great in mercy, and his grace is abundant to save humanity. However, rebellion against him gives room to his wrath.
Interpretation of Romans 1:18-32
The book of Romans chapter one is a clear indication of the character of God versus the nature of God. God has expressed his invisible quality not only through his world but even though what he has created. He deserved all glory and thanksgiving. God is the creator of heaven and earth. All the beauty and magnificence on earth is all due to his will. He expects all human beings to yield worship to him.
The human heart is disobedient and rebellious against God. Men depart from the worship of true God in full realization of his divine power. The perversion witnessed in the world is as a result of man's rebellion. God is mighty to save, but it is human desires that lead them to go against the will of God. God wrath is unrelenting resolve by God to let humankind follow their sinful ways when they rebel against him and at the end face the effect of their sinfulness. The result of God's wrath on humankind is seen through the injustices, social vices, and the invention of new ways to do evil against one another.
Greathouse & Lyons (2008) comments on the book of Romans chapter one is in agreement with my interpretation. According to them, homosexuality is one of the forms of God's wrath when he resolves to let man abuse creation and other human beings due to his wickedness (Greathouse & Lyons, 2008, 77). This is true because according to the scripture, Paul uses semantic structure (Causation) to show that men exchanged unnatural relations when they exchanged the truth of God to a lie.
In conclusion, what is known of God has been made clear to all humanity. However, men are full of hate and evil desires. They fail to obey God and follow their hearts. As a result, the wrath of God is revealed to humanity.
Bauer, D. R., & Traina, R. A. (2014). Inductive Bible Study: A Comprehensive Guide to the Practice of Hermeneutics. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic.
Greathouse, W. M., & Lyons, G. (2008). Romans 9-16: A commentary in the Wesleyan tradition.
Long, F. J. (2014). The Journal of Inductive Biblical Studies. Major Structural Relationships: A Survey of Origins, Development, Classifications, and Assessment, 1(1), 22-58. Retrieved from DOI: 10.7252/JOURNAL.02.2014S.03
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