Retelling Romans 1:18-2:16

“God’s anger is being poured out from heaven on all the godlessness and injustice of those people who, in their wickedness, suppress the truth. Because that which can be known about God is known to them – God has made it known! From the creation of the cosmos, God’s invisible aspects (God’s everlasting power and divinity) are clearly understood and intelligible, precisely through that which was made, so that those people are without excuse.

“For even though they knew God, they did not glorify God as God, nor were they thankful. But in their foolish disputations, their uncomprehending hearts were darkened. Even while claiming to be wise, they became fools.

“They traded in the glory of the immortal God for idols made in the likeness of perishable entities – human beings, birds, beasts, and even serpents. For this reason, God handed them over to the lusts of their hearts, with the result that they engaged in impure and dishonoring acts together.

“They traded God’s truth for a lie, and worshiped and sacrificed to created entities rather than the Creator who is blessed forever – can I hear an Amen? For this reason, God handed them over to dishonoring lusts, so that even their women swapped their natural submissive sexual roles with men for sex with one another. Likewise their men left the natural use of women as sex objects and burned with passion for one another – men doing obscene things with men! They’ve received the appropriate consequence for their error.

“Even as they disapprove of having knowledge of God, God gave them over to an impure mind, to do unseemly things. They are filled with injustice, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, quarreling, deception, and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, full of hubris, arrogant, boastful, inventors of new ways to do evil, disobedient to parents. They are uncomprehending, untrustworthy, callous, merciless. Everyone who does the righteous deeds of God knows that those who do such things are worth of death, right? And not only those people who do these things, but those who approve of them too!”

And so, whoever you are who talks in the manner I’ve just imitated, passing judgment on others – you are without any excuse! For in every instance you condemn another, you actually condemn yourself, being guilty of the same things. We know that God’s judgment on those who behave in this way is in accordance with the truth. And so do you really think that you will escape God’s judgment, when you condemn what others do while doing the same things yourself? Do you have so little appreciation for the wealth of God’s kindness, and tolerance, and patience? Are you unaware of God’s goodness leading you to repentance? But in accordance with your own stubbornness and unrepentant heart, you are instead stockpiling anger for yourself on the day of anger, the disclosure of God’s justice.

For (as Psalm 62:12 says), “God will reward each person according to their deeds.” For those who seek glory, honor, and immortality by persisting in doing what is good, there will be eternal life. But for those who act out of self interest, who disobey the truth and yield to injustice, there will be passionate anger.

There will be suffering and distress for every human being who does evil – first for the Christian, then for the non-Christian. And there will be glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good – first for the Christian, then for the non-Christian.  For God shows no favoritism.

As many as sin without the Bible will be destroyed without the Bible, and those who have the Bible and sin will be judged in accordance with the Bible. For it is not those who hear the Bible’s teachings who are considered righteous before God, but rather those who do what the Bible teaches. For when those who are not Christians and do not have Scripture do by nature what the Bible teaches, they are a Bible for themselves, even though technically they have no Bible. They show that the works taught by the Bible are written on their hearts. Their conscience bears witness to them, and their thoughts will accuse them and/or approve them in the day when God will judge human secrets in accordance with the good news which I proclaim through Jesus Christ.

 

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I decided to substitute “Christian” and “non-Christian” in the text towards the end, where the original has “Jew” and “Gentile.” There is simply no way for Christian readers to feel the impact of what Paul was saying in the way that his Jewish contemporaries would have without making this substitution.

And I really do believe that, if Paul wrote to Christians today, and was aware of the extent to which Christians resemble the viewpoint he opposed, he would write something along these lines.

I do not anticipate that I will be able to continue to make such a substitution consistently throughout my “Retelling Romans” series. But I felt it was important to do so here in order to accurately convey the import and impact of Paul’s words in their original context for a contemporary audience.

I had to also refer to “the Bible” rather than more specifically to “the Law” or “the Torah” – but that is not a radical change, since the Torah was and is Scripture for Jews, and is not just laws. And so referring to the Bible or Scripture is arguably a close correspondent to Paul’s meaning.

At the start of the section, I placed the viewpoint that Paul is imitating – only to lure readers in and condemn them for agreeing with it – in quotation marks.

Although the section from 2:17 onward ought to be included for the sake of continuity, since it is part of the same large point, I felt that doing so would make this blog post so long that it might be less likely to be read.

  • Gail Dawson

    James, thank you for this very thoughtful paraphrase, and for your explanation of how you made some of the word choices that you did.

  • http://tunabay.com/ Keika

    Professor, you are a natural born lyricist. You make Paul’s words sing to me.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    At someone’s suggestion, I went back and added quotation marks at the start of several of the early paragraphs. Perhaps Paul would have used the BLOCKQUOTE HTML tag had he been blogging, and if so, I ought to do so as well?


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