Apologetics to the Glory of God

Futile Speculations

An excerpt from Exposition of Romans 1:16-2:26: The Knowledge of God – found in In Antithesis Vol. 1, No. 1


For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. – (διότι γνόντες τὸν θεὸν οὐχ ὡς θεὸν ἐδόξασαν ἢ ηὐχαρίστησαν ἀλλ’ ἐματαιώθησαν ἐν τοῖς διαλογισμοῖς αὐτῶν καὶ ἐσκοτίσθη ἡ ἀσύνετος αὐτῶν καρδία)

It should go without saying that it’s plainly stated in the text that “they knew God”; unfortunately, it has long been fashionable, instead of taking the text for what it says, to circumvent the usage of “know” by the insertion of the philosophical terminology of respective eras, or to question whether it really means “know”. The question, of course, should not be whether they know God, but how. Many of the aforementioned philosophical considerations are, in fact, asking “how”, not whether; but it remains plain that the contextual meaning of “know” can be seen in the text, and brought out from it, without the necessity of philosophical eisegesis. The sentence, as mentioned previously, opens with διότι, which ties it to the previous sentence, and links them together argumentatively. The end of vs. 20 tells us that they are without excuse – without a defense – without an apologetic. This is because they knew God; but they did not honor Him, glorify Him , as God (οὐχ ὡς θεὸν ἐδόξασαν) – or give thanks to Him (ἢ ηὐχαρίστησαν). Because they knew God, this is their duty, and their proper response; yet their response was otherwise, so they have no defense before Him. To try to explain away the knowledge that men have of God is, quite simply, to cut the heart out of Paul’s presentation of the state of man before God. There is no way around it, there is no option here presented. To say that men, for whatever reason, have not the knowledge of God is to leave them with an excuse – which is precisely the opposite of what Paul here tells us. Any definition of the knowledge of God which leaves men with an excuse, according to the text, is hereby precluded; if your definition of knowledge, whatever that may be, results in man not knowing God; the problem is with your definition.

The knowledge of God here discussed is explained over the course of the previous verses; it is revelatory, it is sufficient, it is inescapable, and it is clear. It is revelatory, because the text tells us it is. God made it manifest to them. It is sufficient, because (a) God is who has made it manifest, and (b) It renders men indefensible before God. It is inescapable, because man is a creation of God, in His image, as well as a part of creation – he cannot escape himself, and neither can he escape his environment. It is clear, again, because God has made it thus. The text says, expressly, that what God has revealed is clearly seen, and understood. Paul’s argument is inexorable, it is perspicuous, and it is unavoidable. Men are without an excuse, because they know God, know who He is, what is required of them, and that they have a necessary covenantal relationship with Him as His creatures. Yet, they neither glorify God as they are required to do, nor do they thank the God they know for what they know He has given them, in His common grace. In their suppression of the truth (which they are in possession of) their foolish hearts are darkened. All of their deliberations, their speculations, or arguments (διαλογισμός), are useless, worthless, or futile (ματαιόω). They have no apologetic for their lack of proper response to the God they know, and are required to glorify and give thanks to. Romans 1:21 is not the end of Paul’s argument, however. His argument, in fact, continues on through the majority of Romans; we lack the time, or the space, to examine it in detail in this particular article, but we should, indeed, look at it in terms of the overarching argument of this great epistle. In the meantime, we will continue on.

Professing to be wise, they became fools, – φάσκοντες εἶναι σοφοὶ ἐμωράνθησαν

Professing, or affirming their own wisdom, they act foolishly. In other words, by their pretensions of wisdom – by setting themselves up as the wise men, they have made fools of themselves. This brings to mind 1 Cor 1:18ff, where the “wisdom” of the world and the “foolishness” of God is contrasted; and, interestingly, where the “power of God” to salvation is also referred to. It would be beneficial to examine the parallels involved in these two passages; there are many. This verse also calls to mind the many verses in the Psalms and Proverbs concerning wisdom and foolishness. Also recall 2Ti 2:23, in connection with this verse and the preceding. In fine, the foolishness of man comes out all the plainer when he professes to be wise. This thought, however, is not completed in this verse.

and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. – καὶ ἤλλαξαν τὴν δόξαν τοῦ ἀφθάρτου θεοῦ ἐν ὁμοιώματι εἰκόνος φθαρτοῦ ἀνθρώπου καὶ πετεινῶν καὶ τετραπόδων καὶ ἑρπετῶν

The first use of “exchange” (ἤλλαξαν) is here, and will be further explained shortly. The suppression of the truth seen earlier is here expressed. The exchange of glory for the Creator is with glory for the creature. Of the incorruptible, the immortal (ἄφθαρτος), for the corruptible, the mortal (φθαρτός). Note the antithesis in the forms here – ἄ is the only change in the two words – the negation of φθαρτός. This exchange is of the real thing, for the image of the real thing. The ἐν ὁμοιώματι εἰκόνος φθαρτοῦ for δόξαν τοῦ ἀφθάρτου θεοῦ. I cannot help but note the connection of this exchange to the “darkened” (σκοτίζω) in vs. 21. The picture hearkens back to Matthew 4:16, Luke 2:32, Ephesians 5, and will be seen shortly in 2:19; it also finds parallel in 1Tim. 6:16; μόνος ἔχων ἀθανασίαν φῶς οἰκῶν ἀπρόσιτον. The light of the incorruptible wisdom and glory of God is exchanged for the darkness of corruption, foolishness, and dishonor.

Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. – διὸ παρέδωκεν αὐτοὺς ὁ θεὸς ἐν ταῖς ἐπιθυμίαις τῶν καρδιῶν αὐτῶν εἰς ἀκαθαρσίαν τοῦ ἀτιμάζεσθαι τὰ σώματα αὐτῶν ἐν αὐτοῖς

We again see διό used to tie the previous verse and this verse together. Because of the preceding, God delivers them up, gives them over (παρέδωκεν αὐτοὺς ὁ θεὸς). What does He give them over in, or to? ἐν ταῖς ἐπιθυμίαις τῶν καρδιῶν αὐτῶν εἰς ἀκαθαρσίαν – in the lusts, or desires of their foolishly darkened hearts, to impurity. They are in the state of their lustful foolishness, and God gives them over to impurity.[1] For what reason? τοῦ ἀτιμάζεσθαι τὰ σώματα αὐτῶν ἐν αὐτοῖς – that their bodies might be dishonored among them. Interestingly, this seems to be a direct tie to their refusal to honor God in vs. 21. If God is not honored, he gives them over to dishonor the very things that they are professing to honor, instead. That which they have exchanged for is thus shown to be just as worthless as their speculations are.

For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. – οἵτινες μετήλλαξαν τὴν ἀλήθειαν τοῦ θεοῦ ἐν τῷ ψεύδει καὶ ἐσεβάσθησαν καὶ ἐλάτρευσαν τῇ κτίσει παρὰ τὸν κτίσαντα ὅς ἐστιν εὐλογητὸς εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας ἀμήν

“Verse 25 reverts to the thought of verse 23. This virtual reiteration serves three purposes-it unfolds the character of the offense, it reaffirms the ground upon which the judicial infliction rested, and it vindicates the gravity of the infliction by emphasizing the religious perversity on account of which the penalty was imposed.”[2] The truth of God (τὴν ἀλήθειαν τοῦ θεοῦ) here exchanged is that which God has made manifest, explained in vss. 18-20. The lie (ψεῦδος) is that which they are suppressing that manifest truth with. This suppression is expressed in the service and worship of the creation, rather than the Creator. As to ψεῦδος, a case can, and should be made that this refers back to φάσκοντες εἶναι σοφοὶ, in vs. 22. Their affirmation of wisdom is a self-attestation. It does not look to God as the fount of wisdom, and, frankly, denies the claim Paul presents in Col 2:2-3 – that all wisdom and knowledge is hidden in Christ. In short, the lie exchanged for truth is autonomy.

♦ End excerpt

What I mean to point out by sharing this exegetical passage is that the entire thrust which with the argument of Romans begins is that the dishonor of bodies, the giving over to lusts, is an exchange – of corruptible depravity for incorruptible glory. This is the emblematic, visible sign of the “dark exchange” of the Fall – of creation enslaved.

This is worship of the creation – a specific idolatry of the image of God, replacing the worship of God Himself.  Sexual immorality is idolatry. 

Hence, any claim that sexual immorality is a sin about which God “whispers” (per J.D. Greear’s approving citation of Jen Wilkin) is patently, egregiously false.

He turns the momentum and impetus of the text on its ear by so doing.

  1. [1]The Epistle to the Romans, Murray, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997, 43-44
  2. [2]The Epistle to the Romans, Murray, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997, 45






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