Feb 122013
 
This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Innate Knowledge In Romans 1:18-23

This series of posts is intended to be a progression from The Johannine Logos which deals with the Christian God as the necessary precondition to epistemology and will naturally presume much of that content. Those posts are linked here so that they may be referenced as needed.

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
— Jeremiah 17:9, ESV

The Epistle to the Romans is considered to be Paul’s statement of Christian doctrine.  The entire epistle is written with the Gospel in mind from start to finish.  It deals with the human condition leaving no one exempt and offers the only solution to our predicament, Jesus, the Messiah.  This series of posts is going to look at our innate knowledge of God and the concept of self-deception as discussed in Romans 1:18-23.  The passage reads:

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.1

There are a few key points that we can surmise from Paul’s remarks here that really help to define not just the rest of the epistle for us, but the predicament of the world around us.  The first is that man can and does suppress the truth which can simply be called self-deception.  By that we would mean that man on some level literally deceives himself from trusting things which would otherwise be plainly known.  The second is that there are things which can and should be known about God by man, which is often called general revelation or natural theology.  Often in systematic theology, the idea of general revelation deals with those things that can be understood about God by looking at the world around us.  Taken together and in the context of the passage quoted above, we can say that man has within himself an innate knowledge of God but suppresses, or holds down that knowledge in order to avoid its conclusions.

Of course, this idea creates all sorts of conflict for those interpreting the passage.  Do people really intentionally deceive themselves in some way so as to avoid certain outcomes without knowing that they are doing so?  Paul seems to clearly state that this is the case.  The argument really centers around the question of to what extent this is done and accomplished.

Sense of Deity

In Book 1, Chapter 3 of Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin mentions the sensus Deitatis or sense of Deity which he notes must come from natural instinct.  He writes:

THAT there exists in the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, some sense of Deity, we hold to be beyond dispute, since God himself, to prevent any man from pretending ignorance, has endued all men with some idea of his Godhead, the memory of which he constantly renews and occasionally enlarges, that all to a man being aware that there is a God, and that he is their Maker, may be condemned by their own conscience when they neither worship him nor consecrate their lives to his service.2

Further, Calvin goes on to state that this is evident just by looking at all cultures in the world around us.  Even the farthest removed from civilization have some form of a god whom they worship and so he concludes “that a sense of Deity is inscribed on every heart.”  Calvin even states that it is absurd to suggest that religion is simply the invention of man in order to subdue society because man would not so easily go against what is natural to him and so man must be “previously imbued with that uniform belief in God” in order for him to succumb to those who would devise such things.  And this is the point: that the knowledge of God, the sense of Deity, that Paul is speaking of here is innate, it is natural, it is inborn in every human being.

We don’t always think of belief in God as a natural instinct but the Bible plainly does.  The Bible simply doesn’t bother to give an accounting or argument for the existence of God, but instead, it hints at the impossibility of the contrary, that without the Christian God knowledge would be impossible.  And this is the real starting point that I think determines how we live, preach, teach and defend the Christian faith.  Where apologetics has largely attempted to reason man towards a belief in the Christian God as though the non-Christian is starting with a blank slate in his mind and our reasoning from looking at the universe around us eventually makes it plainly obvious, the Bible rather presumes that by nature the non-Christian actually already has an innate knowledge of God and that Creation, the universe, rather attests to that innate knowledge.  Indeed, the very attempt to ‘reason’ by way of argument wouldn’t even be possible without God.  It is with this idea in mind that I think R.H. Mounce is correct in stating that “[d]isbelief requires an act of rebellion against common sense.”  He continues:

It displays fallen humanity’s fatal bias against God. Although the created order cannot force a person to believe, it does leave the recipient responsible for not believing.3

And this is why Paul can proclaim in Romans 1:20 that they are without excuse.  The Greek word, anapologetos (ἀναπολόγητος ), is actually from the same word that gives us apologetics, which connotes a legal defense, however, the alpha privative negates the legal defense so the person is stripped of any legal standing.4  It is in this sense that the non-believer cannot be reasoned to believe in God.  The non-believer already has built within him an innate knowledge of God which he has suppressed.  This is not to discredit reasoned arguments for the existence of God since they are incredibly valuable for the believer in his own life and the preaching, teaching and defense of the faith.  I would only submit that arguments for the existence of God should be used with the desire to awaken the knowledge of God that is already there.

Invisible Attributes

In Romans 1:20, Paul states that God’s invisible attributes have been clearly perceived since the creation of the universe.  The clearly perceived has the sense of receiving both sensual and mental impressions.  In other words, the perceiving going on is through common sense.5  We might say that through Creation, God’s existence and subsequent invisible attributes are inescapable.  But what are these attributes?  Specifically, they are His eternal power (ἀΐδιος αὐτοῦ δύναμις) and divine nature (θειότης).

In Part 1 of The Johannine Logos I discussed Stoicism as one of the competing worldviews in the first century.  For the Stoic philosophers, the universal law that guided and controlled everything was called the divine logos and they saw that this logos was expressed through nature.  Because of this they understood that they should live in accordance with what they were perceiving.  Why is this important?  Because Paul is making use of what appears to be Stoic thought in these invisible attributes, which his readers would probably be familiar with.6  Paul is by no means advancing Stoic thought, but rather pointing to the fact that even they not only understand to some degree, these attributes that God has revealed, but it has pointed them in such a direction that it influences how they live.  Contrast that to the man who denies what he innately knows and lives contrary to what is clearly perceived.

Conclusion

The innate knowledge of God in every man is not something that is learned by using human reasoning faculties.  Rather, it is a part of the light that is given to every man in John 1:9, the Wisdom of God.  It is only through the use of human reasoning that man can hold down or suppress the knowledge that is inborn.  Doing so is contrary to the natural order which Paul will illustrate further in Romans 1.  In the next post I will look at man’s relationship to God regardless of whether he is a believer or not.

  1. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, use: English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
  2. Calvin, J., & Beveridge, H. (1845). Vol. 1: Institutes of the Christian religion (55). Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society.
  3. Mounce, R. H. (1995). Vol. 27: Romans. The New American Commentary (78). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
  4. The alpha privitive is the pre-fixed ‘a’ or ‘α’ added to a word in order to show negation.  Perhaps one of the most familiar examples is theist verses atheist where the theist believes in God and the a-theist does not believe in God.
  5. Vol. 4: Theological dictionary of the New Testament. 1964- (G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley & G. Friedrich, Ed.) (electronic ed.) (948). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
  6. Seeley, David. (1994). Vol. 5. Deconstructing the New Testament. (130). Leiden: Brill.

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© 2011-2017 David Christopher. This post along with all content on this site (except citations) is the property of davidchristopher.net and is made available for individual and personal use. Please give appropriate citation along with a link to the URL and the date it was obtained.

Feb 192013
 
This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Innate Knowledge In Romans 1:18-23

This series of posts is intended to be a progression from The Johannine Logos which deals with the Christian God as the necessary precondition to epistemology and will naturally presume much of that content. Those posts are linked here so that they may be referenced as needed.

And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will cast you off forever.
— 1 Chronicles 28:9, ESV

The invitation of a personal relationship with God is often over simplified when discussed.  This isn’t to say that a relationship with God must be complicated, but what is often overlooked in the discussion, or perhaps presumed, is our relationship to God and since this is logically prior it needs to be handled before any further discussion of a relationship with God can take place.

In the first two chapters of Romans, Paul discusses man’s predicament from three points of view and leaves no one without excuse.  He starts with the lawless or pagan man in Romans 1:18-32.  The issue here, and what is being focused on in this series of posts, are those who claim that there is no God and therefore live according to that idea.  But Paul states that idea is absurd and that the lawless are actually suppressing the innate knowledge of God that they have in order to accomplish this.  The next group he goes after could be referred to as the moral man in Romans 2:1-16.  The moral man thinks of himself as morally superior and casts his own judgement on those around him.1  His problem is that he cannot even live up to his own standards and therefore in passing judgment condemns himself.  The final group, whom Paul calls the Jew, can be referred to as the religious man in Romans 2:17-29.  This is the group of people who by blood lineage were given the Torah, or the Law, and were probably the most sincere and committed to God and yet even they dishonored God by breaking the Law since their outward obedience didn’t line up with their inward condition.2

Relationship To God

It’s important to note that through these two chapters, Paul has condemned all of humanity.  In Romans 3:23 he states that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  No one, by his own merit, is in right standing with the Holy and Righteous One True God.  That is the predicament of every man.  We can think of this standing to God as a position and that is what is meant by relationship to God.  In this sense, every human being is in relationship to God since they are created in the image of God and have the light from John 1:9 given to them.  The question is what that relationship entails.  Going back to the passage at hand, Romans 1:18-19 reads:

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.3

So from the perspective of Christianity, everyone is in relationship to God but under the relationship of disobedience.  That man takes his unrighteousness and uses it to hold down or suppress the truth is an act of disobedience.  That man has been given the innate knowledge of some of God’s attributes, the attributes that are stated to be inescapable and yet he works against what God has graciously given him is an act of disobedience.  Man is working against the clear natural order to produce something that runs contrary to his natural instinct.

Dr. K. Scott Oliphint has written quite a bit about this relationship to God that the unbeliever is in. He writes:

The first thing worth considering when we develop a biblical apologetic approach is that every living person is in a relationship to the one true God. It seems to me that this truth is all too easy to forget. Such forgetfulness may be due, in part, to the emphasis on the radical transformation that takes place when God adopts us into his eternal family; an emphasis that we must continue to have. However, because we often focus on the relationship we have to God by virtue of our union with Christ, we can forget that unbelievers are related to God as well. We should remember that even those outside of Christ are in a covenant relationship to the God who made them.4

I believe that this starting point when looking at the world around us is incredibly helpful.  What is being stated is that there are only two worldviews as far as the Christian is concerned: The Christian worldview and the non-Christian worldview.  Both the Christian and non-Christian are in a relationship to God.  One is obedience and the other is disobedience.  One is at peace and the other is in rebellion.  This is what Jesus proclaims in Matthew 12:30 when He says “whoever is not with me is against me.”

Of course, the common objection is that this is too restrictive but that doesn’t make it any less true.  It does not deny that there are variations of the non-Christian worldview such as atheism, pantheism or Islam but they are still non-Christian systems of thought.  Once we recognize this and understand that the non-Christian is in open rebellion against the Creator then we can begin to show the irrationality of the non-Christian worldview.

The Creator-Creature Distinction

From the first verse of Genesis we see that God is distinct from His creation.  In John 1:1-3 we see that He exists prior to, or outside of His creation and nothing was created without Him.  Hebrews 1:3 and Colossians 1:17 state that all things are held together, or sustained, through Him.  If all things in creation are held together or sustained through the Creator that includes mankind.  But the Creator also created mankind apart from the rest of creation as He created mankind in the image of God.  We, as human beings, are the image bearers of our Creator.  We are His representatives.  As His creatures who are His image bearers and are continually sustained by Him, we are dependent upon and obligated to our Creator.5  As Paul states in Acts 17:28, “in Him we live and move and have our being.”

Our relationship to God is one that naturally follows from being created as His image bearers.  As of Genesis 3, however, the relationship with God was severed.  This subsequently affects our standing, or position to God and as a result we are now disobedient.  The obligation hasn’t changed, that is we are still related to our Creator, we are dependent upon and obligated to Him, but our own desires have taken over and worked to serve ourselves rather than God.  From this point of view, it is easy to see Paul’s reasoning in Romans 1:18-23.  Man was created by God, in the image of God, dependent upon and obligated to God but chose to sever that relationship from the start.  Having done so goes contrary to what we were designed to do.  Denying the very Creator who created us in His image, the very one we are dependent upon, the very one we were Created to serve goes so contrary to the natural order, that we must hold down, or suppress or most basic intuition to do so which is why the wrath of God gets revealed.  The rest of Romans 1 flows naturally from this understanding.

Conclusion

Mankind, being in relation to God is still obligated to Him.  God is the source of our being and without Him we would not exist.  To deny God is to deny our own creator.  It is as good as saying we have no biological parents.  Doing so runs contrary to the natural order and puts us at odds with the world around us as Paul so explicitly points out in the rest of Romans 1.  The next post will take a look at general revelation, that is what we can know about God through the world around us.

  1. This is not to say that we cannot judge. Christians are commanded to judge properly, not as though we ourselves are morally superior, but judging what we rightly know versus judging what we do not know.
  2. Much more could be said about these three items but brevity is being used here.  The intention is simply to show that all of humanity is in relationship to God.
  3. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, use: English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
  4. Dr. Oliphint, K. S. From the article Unbelievers and the Knowledge of God: Biblical Warrant for a Presuppositional Apologetic.  Retrieved from the Web Archive on February 5th, 2013.
  5. See Jeff Down’s excellent article A Covenantal Apologetic.

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© 2011-2017 David Christopher. This post along with all content on this site (except citations) is the property of davidchristopher.net and is made available for individual and personal use. Please give appropriate citation along with a link to the URL and the date it was obtained.

Feb 262013
 
This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Innate Knowledge In Romans 1:18-23

This series of posts is intended to be a progression from The Johannine Logos which deals with the Christian God as the necessary precondition to epistemology and will naturally presume much of that content. Those posts are linked here so that they may be referenced as needed.

7 “But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the heavens, and they will tell you; 8 or the bushes of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. 9 Who among all these does not know that the hand of the LORD has done this? 10 In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind. 11 Does not the ear test words as the palate tastes food? 12 Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days.
— Job 12:7-12 (ESV)

In evangelical Christianity, God’s disclosure to man is referred to as revelation.  This revelation can be segmented into two parts typically called general revelation and special revelation.1  General revelation deals primarily with the witness of creation to a creator while special revelation reveals God on a much more personal level which is reserved for Scripture.  Therefore we can say that special revelation is everything identified in Scripture that is not already a part of general revelation.  While creation itself cannot identify the means of Salvation, Scripture can and does.  This post will look at general revelation in light of Romans 1:18-23 as it stems from the sense of Deity and relationship to God that every human being is born with.

General Revelation

Since general revelation is identified through the witness of creation it can be sub-categorized into areas of specific study.  To start with, creation consists of the physical created order.  This is the world in which we interact with in our day to day life.  What we can perceive about the world around us can generally tell us something about the one who created it.  The next segment is typically that of human nature.  How we interact with the world around us as well as relate to our fellow man can and should be able to tell us a bit about our Creator.  The final major category is what is often called God’s revelation in human history.  In this case we are studying God’s work throughout history and His interaction with man.2

Apologetics will, more often than not, attempt to start on some sort of neutral ground with the non-Christian and build a case for a Creator as attested by creation.  This would, for the most part, seem the appropriate thing to do but recall in the previous discussions for this series and from the discussions in The Johannine Logos, that we are already dealing with this understanding in place.  Instead of seeing general revelation as a means or tool to reason someone to God, we should look at general revelation as a testimony to their innate knowledge of God or sense of Deity that is already in place.  This, by no means, turns general revelation as we know it on its head, but rather, better aligns it with Scripture.  In Romans 1:19-20, Paul writes:

19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.3

There are several things that can be drawn from these two verses.  First, that things about God can be known outside of Scripture.  This is because God has shown it to all of mankind.  Furthermore, the things that can be known about God outside of Scripture are plain.  That is, we don’t need any more than our intuition, or common sense, to understand some of the most basic things of God.  God has already given us the capabilities of knowing about Him.

I once saw an illustration of just how basic this understanding should be for us.  It was a scenario of a bunch of fleas sitting around and discussing the existence of a dog.  Their conclusion was that there was no evidence of a dog and therefore they decided that no dogs exist.  Just as they were affirming this a storm erupted and the ground beneath them began to shake.  The next thing we see is a dog getting sprayed with a garden hose and shaking the water off his coat.  Now granted, we don’t believe in pantheism, but it is in this sense that Carson Weitnauer so well puts it when he writes that “[f]rom the Christian perspective, the atheist’s situation is akin to climbing the world’s tallest building in order to more ably broadcast the message that a belief in architects is a primitive fantasy.”4

The Physical World

That God can and does reveal himself in the physical world is evident.  In verse 20, Paul describes a couple of divine attributes of God,  his eternal power and divine nature.  As I mentioned in Part 1 of this series, these seem to allude to attributes that Stoicism had been using in their descriptions of the divine logos.  The point is that these things are clearly perceived.  Human beings don’t really even have to reason to get to this point.  It’s just common sense.  It is because of this that Paul states the pagan man is without excuse.

We can reason in a manner to explain what is clearly evident.  That the universe is an ever changing environment tells us that it is not eternal, that is unchanging.  Since the universe is not eternal it must have began at some point but whatever caused that beginning had to itself be outside of the created order, thus eternal and supernatural.  So it is plain that an eternal God is the best explanation of the world around us.

We know that the Bible states the Christian God is the creator and thus the cause for the origin of the universe (Genesis 1).  But God is also proclaimed as the sustainer of all things, that is to say that God upholds all things by His will and nothing could continue were it not through Him.  These are juxtaposed in Colossians 1:16-17 where Paul writes that “all things were created … through Him” and that “in Him all things are held together.”  This is further amplified In Hebrews 1:1-2 where the universe, the ages, the time worlds “was made through Him” and that he “sustains all things through His powerful word.”

God as sustainer is also evident by general revelation.  Since the universe is clearly ever changing, there must be a governing principle by which it is sustained.  Without it there is absolutely no good reason to believe that it will operate tomorrow in the same manner that it operates today.  Without God, man is left void of any rational reason to believe that the world will continue on as it supposedly has in the past.  However, the universe does function in a relational manner and it only makes sense to understand that the same principles the universe operates on today will be used to uphold the universe tomorrow.5  Therefore general revelation can also account for God as the sustainer of all things.  These confirm our innate sense of Deity as the best explanation of the universe and even tell us, just as Paul says, that God is eternally powerful and has a divine nature.

In Human Nature

The natural man also has the light given by the Wisdom of God (John 1:9) and since we are His created creatures we are clearly in relationship to Him.  Special revelation confirms that we are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and so from the worldview of the Christian it makes sense that human nature would also stand to reveal some of the characteristics of our Creator.

From the start, we are relational creatures.  In order to be relational there is a necessary precondition that tells us we can communicate in a manner that makes sense and doesn’t result in nonsense.  The fact that this sentence has meaning demonstrates that we can reason and communicate and make sense of the world around us.  If we could not then there is no point to the discussion.  This should confirm our innate understanding that the Creator who created us is also relational for how else could a relational being such as man exist?  Special revelation confirms this in that God interacts with His creation and particularly makes and keeps promises with His people.  Further, He has chosen to communicate with His creation by the written word, that is Scripture.

What’s more, human beings are thinking creatures with rational minds.  The phrase I think therefore I am is self attesting in that you cannot think if you are not.  Since mankind is rational and thinking it stands to attest to a rational mind as the Creator.  Again, special revelation confirms this.  We are commanded to “love the Lord your God with all of your … mind” in Matthew 22:37.

Our moral compass is a part of the intellect revealing God.  By nature, man seeks justice.  Anyone who demands that there is no objective moral standard has no reason to complain when you punch him in the face for no reason.  What is often called the ‘golden rule’ seems to exist throughout all cultures and all of human history.6  Therefore objective moral values demonstrate an aspect of the Creator God.  Special revelation confirms this through Scripture.  God is called the “Just Judge of all the earth” in Genesis 18:25.  From all of this, the Christian God is the best explanation for human nature.

Human History

God has revealed himself in human history in that His covenant people, Israel, have existed and still exist.  Special revelation confirms this and further states that they will never cease to exist in Jeremiah 31:36.  His interaction with them demonstrates their God must be the Creator God.  John MacArthur in his sermon on Sovereign Election, Israel & Eschatology said:

When Frederick the Great asked his chaplain for proof of the truthfulness of the Bible, he said, “Give me a brief defense.” His chaplain replied, “I can do it in one word. Israel.” Israel. They exist. There they are. Israel, understood as a people preserved by God for an eschatological kingdom, has immense apologetic value. Immense.7

Dr. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum calls Israelology “the missing link of systematic theology” and indeed it is.8  While Israel is neglected for various reasons the Jewish people desperately need to be put back in place as a subject of God’s revelation in human history.  It is simply absurd for the Christian to ignore this incredible testimony to God’s interaction with mankind that is going on right now in our daily news.

Conclusion

General revelation is the attestation to the sense of Deity that is innate in mankind.  Paul affirms this as does the field itself.  Further, everything in the field of general revelation is subsequently affirmed in special revelation which not only discloses more of God to us, but also the path to Him, that is Salvation.  God has revealed himself through creation in the sense that mankind is able to affirm his natural understanding of God.  This does not mean that man can come to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ through general revelation, but that this revelation is adequate to condemn every man as accountable to God.  In the next post I will look at the futile thinking that is the wisdom of the world.

  1. General revelation may also be referred to as natural theology.
  2. Geisler, N. L. (1999). Baker encyclopedia of Christian apologetics. Baker Reference Library (670). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
  3. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, use: English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
  4. Gilson, Tom; Weitnauer, Carson (2012-03-09). True Reason: Christian Responses to the Challenge of Atheism (Kindle Locations 295-297). Patheos Press. Kindle Edition.
  5. Although special revelation gives us further reason to trust that the universe will function tomorrow as it does today. Genesis 8:22 tells us “while the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.”
  6. This is not to say that all cultures interpret it the same.  How the moral framework is implemented is not the same as the moral framework itself.
  7. PDF transcript available here and audio available here.  For a discussion of this topic see Probe Ministries essay Israel’s History Written In Advance.
  8. His book is titled Israelology: The Missing Link of Systematic Theology.

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© 2011-2017 David Christopher. This post along with all content on this site (except citations) is the property of davidchristopher.net and is made available for individual and personal use. Please give appropriate citation along with a link to the URL and the date it was obtained.

Mar 052013
 
This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Innate Knowledge In Romans 1:18-23

This series of posts is intended to be a progression from The Johannine Logos which deals with the Christian God as the necessary precondition to epistemology and will naturally presume much of that content. Those posts are linked here so that they may be referenced as needed.

“The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.”
— 1 Corinthians 3:20 (ESV)

One of the primary examples the Bible uses to describe a fool comes from Psalms 14:1 which says that “the fool says in his heart there is no God.”  While this comes as a surprise to many, it really shouldn’t.  As I’ve shown in the previous posts of this series, we are given an innate knowledge of God and to deny this goes against the natural order.  Even by man’s own wisdom we would consider anyone denying the natural order of the world a fool so if an innate knowledge of God is a part of the natural order, then it follows that a denial of such is foolishness.  Scripture goes on further to note that that which is wisdom in the worlds eyes is foolishness as far as God is concerned, but that which is foolishness to the world, particularly the Gospel, is the power of God.1  We can see this thought taking shape in Romans 1:21-23 which reads:

21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.2

Many of the most popular English translations have done much to water down not just the message of Scripture as a whole but even specific words that are utilized in the original Greek and Hebrew.  One such word is moros (μωρός) which is the word used here in Romans 1:22 for fool.  The Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament lists “stupid”3 as a suitable rendering for moros and the Louw-Nida Greek-English Lexicon explains it as “nonsense, thoughts devoid of understanding”4 but what few tell us is that moros is actually the Greek word from which we get the English word moron.5

A Moron By Any Other Name

Vincent Cheung notes that “[a] moron by any other name is still an idiot, and there is really no reason to use other words and expressions unless it is to hide our true meaning and to reduce the offensiveness of the biblical message.”6  I agree and I don’t think we should be willing to compromise what the Scriptures say.  This is important for numerous reasons but for the sake of the topics being dealt with in these posts the problem isn’t that the unbeliever, in particular the atheist, needs more information but that the unbeliever has made the subsequent choices that has rendered his intellect inept.  In other words, his mind is broken.  This can be seen much clearer in Romans 1:22 when we translate it as “claiming to be wise, they became morons” and we are perfectly justified in doing so.

The exasperation in trying to discuss any of life’s tough questions with the atheist is due to the completely polar starting point.  In the case of the atheist the starting point “there is a God” is broken.  This is what the Scripture says and the sooner we are able to recognize that the easier our discussions with our non-Christian friends will become.  This doesn’t mean we adopt their starting point for sake of argument, but rather, we reduce their worldview to the absurdity that it is and only after it has been destroyed are we able to start putting it together in a proper fashion.

For example, when someone wants to bring about a moral accusation against the Bible, such as the typical but misguided “the Bible condones genocide”, the Christian usually wants to run to the Bible’s defense and explain in a rational manner why certain things in Scripture had to come about.  While this is perfectly acceptable and fruitful to learn about, it really is meaningless for the unbeliever.  Rather, the Christian needs to turn it around on his accuser.  He must demand a standard by which the non-Christian is bringing about the accusation to begin with.  The atheist is in a predicament; he is making a moral judgement without a standard to judge by.  Unless the accuser can show the ultimate and objective moral standard by which he is accusing Scripture, there is no reason to bother answering his accusation because the accusation itself is nonsense.  What business does anyone have claiming that someone’s moral values are wrong unless he subscribes to objective moral values?  In this instance the non-Christians accusation is as misguided as claiming that Drew Driver didn’t stop properly at a stop sign while denying that there is a proper way to stop at a stop sign.

Futile Thinking

And it is in this same manner that Paul states the pagan man has become “futile in his thinking.”  If we know God, then we are obligated to honor Him as God and give thanks to him for not only is it that we live and move through Him7 but also that He has graciously provided everything we need.8  By ignoring, or suppressing this knowledge, the pagan man is forced to come up with his own version of reality, one by which he ends up worshiping the creation instead of the Creator!  Worshiping the creation is nothing more than idolatry, no matter how the act itself eludes the atheist.  Incredibly, Paul is able to describe the modern day Epicurean with startling accuracy, indicative of the fact that even with all of the supposed knowledge modern man has, nothing has really changed in 2,000 years.

The idea of becoming futile in thinking is one that needs to be stressed.  First, the word thinking (διαλογισμός) is one that denotes deliberation, reckoning, rational thought.9  Being able to correctly perceive anything requires the capability of proper reasoning.  John 1:9 states that the Wisdom of God gave light to all man and from Genesis 1:27 we know that we were created in the image of God.  It is this light, I believe, that gives us the capability to reason or make use our senses effectively at all.  Without the light, nonsense results since we have no means by which to determine and correctly use input from sight or sound or touch if we are relegated to the senses alone.

Second, the word futile (ματαιόω) connotes worthlessness in that it serves no purpose, things are simply done in vain.  Paul is quite literally speaking of worthless rationality.  But notice that they became, that is they have fallen into futile thinking.  In other words, this worthless rationality was never the way it was supposed to be but rather, a direct result of the failure to give honor and thanks to the Creator God.  Mankind was made in the image of God and the Wisdom of God gave light to every man.  Part of that light was an innate knowledge of God but man suppressed that knowledge, refused to give thanks or honor to their Creator and subsequently became futile in their reasoning faculties as a result.10

Conclusion

Futile thinking is a direct result of the suppression of the innate knowledge of God in Romans 1:18-23.  Because the starting point necessary for a proper understanding of reality is wrong, the pagan man’s intellect is basically broken.  He is forced to come up with his own version of reality leading ultimately to the worship of creation rather than Creator.  All of this comes right back around to Romans 1:18 where, because of all of this, the wrath of God is being revealed.  The final post for this series will discuss the revelation of God’s wrath.

  1. See 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
  2. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, use: English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
  3. Balz, H. R., & Schneider, G. (1990-). Vol. 2: Exegetical dictionary of the New Testament (450). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans.
  4. Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
  5. HELPS Word Studies copyright © 1987, 2011 by Helps Ministries, Inc., Entry available here.
  6. Cheung, V. (2005). A Moron By Any Other Name. Boston, MA. www.vincentcheung.com
  7. Acts 17:28; also see Part 2 of this series.
  8. See Matthew 5:45 and Acts 14:17.
  9. Vol. 2: Theological dictionary of the New Testament. 1964- (G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley & G. Friedrich, Ed.) (electronic ed.) (96). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.
  10. Much more could be said of the contrast between light and darkness, wisdom and foolishness in Romans 1:21 leading even further into the discussions of John 1:9 but for sake of brevity I would recommend The Johannine Logos series, particularly Part 4.

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© 2011-2017 David Christopher. This post along with all content on this site (except citations) is the property of davidchristopher.net and is made available for individual and personal use. Please give appropriate citation along with a link to the URL and the date it was obtained.

Mar 122013
 
This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Innate Knowledge In Romans 1:18-23

This series of posts is intended to be a progression from The Johannine Logos which deals with the Christian God as the necessary precondition to epistemology and will naturally presume much of that content. Those posts are linked here so that they may be referenced as needed.

Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”
— Jeremiah 9:23-24 (ESV)

This series of posts has looked at man’s innate knowledge of God as laid out in Romans 1:18-23 in that man was created in God’s image, as God’s image-bearers and with the light referred to in John 1:9 that gives every man the ability to interact with the world in which he lives.  But man continually works hard to hold down that sense of Deity, to suppress it in a manner that denies the Creator and subsequently leads to the wrath of God revealed.  It is this revelation of God’s wrath that takes us back around to Romans 1:18, the same verse with which this series began.  But before looking at the revealing of God’s wrath, we should look at the revealing of God’s righteousness and for that, we need to go a little further back, particularly Romans 1:16-17.

The Righteousness Of God Revealed

Romans 1:16-17 reads:

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”1

When Paul says that he is “not ashamed of the gospel” he essentially lists two reasons for why he is not ashamed, the first, that it is the power of God for salvation to all who believe it and the second that it reveals the righteousness of God.  But how is it that the gospel reveals the righteousness of God?

There are certainly numerous views as to exactly how the gospel reveals the righteousness of God but for sake of this post I want to look at the aspect that was raised in Part 2 of this series.  In that post I discussed the relationship to God that every human being has, that it is a position of right-standing with God.  In this sense the gospel reveals the righteousness of God for those who believe by changing the recipients status of righteousness.  Mounce clearly notes that “[t]he result is that people of faith are declared to be righteous.”2  Of course, this is through no work of our own.  One of man’s greatest problems is that he insists on becoming righteous by his own means.

Contrast Christianity with every other system of thought and you will find that every other system of thought has at least one thing in common that Christianity does not.  It is that non-Christian systems demand that you can do something to merit righteousness.  Christianity, however, insists that this is impossible.  In fact, our standing before God is entirely determined by our faith in Him – it is “by faith for faith” in that our right-standing begins in faith and is subsequently carried out through faith.  We can do nothing but trust in God.  As I wrote in my Salvation page “If our current predicament could be described as our current world and God being separated by a great chasm, the thinking of our current world desires a way to get to God on our own, that is, we as humanity must find a way to bridge the chasm.  Christianity, on the other hand says that only God can bridge that chasm and provide a way to Him.”

But if we can only be declared righteous through trust in the gospel then without that trust we are by definition unrighteous.

The Wrath Of God Revealed

And about this unrighteousness Paul writes in Romans 1:18:

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

It is in this unrighteousness that the pagan man suppresses the plain innate knowledge of God and it is against this unrighteousness that the wrath of God is revealed.  The contrast between the righteousness of God being revealed from the gospel and the wrath of God being revealed from heaven needs to be stressed.  Man is subject to God’s wrath which is a direct result of man’s unrighteousness, that is to say, God’s wrath is revealed because man has suppressed his own nature that was given him by God.

The importance of God’s wrath in a discussion of the righteousness of God being revealed cannot be overemphasized.  If God is righteous3 then by nature He cannot let sin go unpunished or simply tolerate any acts of wickedness.  Any judge who does such things is considered a crooked judge.  The JFB commentary defines the wrath of God as “righteous vengeance against sin.”4  The first part of Proverbs 11:21 reads “Be assured, an evil person will not go unpunished”.

All of that being said, Jesus commands us to preach the Gospel!5  Why?  Because the Gospel reveals the righteousness of God.  The Gospel is what allows a person to be in right-standing with their Creator again.  That man would go so far as to suppress the truth they’ve been given, God goes farther to reveal His righteousness again.  In Romans 10:4 Paul asks:

14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?

Think about that.  Mankind, left to his own devices will do nothing but suppress the truth of God.  Surely, how can anyone call on the name of the Lord if they have suppressed their innate sense of Him?  It follows they must be told, but if they are never told, then how can they hear?  The answer is that Christ crucified must be preached.  God has provided a way in which man may be declared righteous and it is up to us to preach it to those who are perishing.  Think of what 1 Corinthians 1:18 says, that the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  That “power of God” leads us right back to Romans 1:16 and the first reason Paul gives for not being ashamed of the gospel.  As the second half of Proverbs 11:21 reads “but the offspring of the righteous will be delivered.”

Conclusion

Mankind was created with an innate knowledge of God.  We were made in God’s image, as God’s image-bearers.  But mankind has suppressed, that is held down or imprisoned that innate knowledge in order to go his own way.  Even the creation testifies to the Creator, but man has chosen to deny this and instead go so far as to worship the creation itself.  Therefore our position to God is one that is an object of wrath.

But as 2 Peter 3:9 says God is not willing that any should perish and has chosen to reveal His righteousness through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  That is, though we are objects of God’s wrath, we can be declared righteous by faith in the message of the cross.  But because mankind is suppressing the truth, this message must be preached.  This is why Paul says he is not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God for all who believe.

  1. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, use: English Standard Version. 2001. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
  2. Mounce, R. H. (1995). Vol. 27: Romans. The New American Commentary (73). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
  3. Righteousness may be thought of as just, as we would think of a just judge.
  4. Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (Ro 1:18). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
  5. See Mark 16:15

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© 2011-2017 David Christopher. This post along with all content on this site (except citations) is the property of davidchristopher.net and is made available for individual and personal use. Please give appropriate citation along with a link to the URL and the date it was obtained.