Bible Passage: Romans 1:16-32

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.

 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed- a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith.'

[For] 18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness,

 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.

 20 For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities- his eternal power and divine nature- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

 21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools

 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

 24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.

 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator- who is for ever praised. Amen.

 26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones.

 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

 28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.

 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips,

 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents;

 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.

 32 Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practise them.

(Rom. 1:16-32 NIV)


Key OT/NT passages on how this passage fits within the Bible story as a whole

In Genesis 1 and 2, God the creator divides the world into different realms, and fills them with living creatures, birds, and reptiles. He creates male and female and tells them to be fruitful and multiply. The serpent in Genesis 3 tells Adam and Eve a lie (that they will not surely die, Genesis 3:4), and from that point onwards they turn from God and are banished from the garden. What follows for God’s people is a long history of idolatry, exemplified in the golden calf incident (Exodus 32), and culminating in the exile (2 Kings 22:16-17).

The New Testament confirms that we are all idolaters, worshipping creatures, birds, and reptiles rather than turning back to our creator (Romans 1). One sign of the inversion of the created order is disordered sexual relationships (Romans 1). In the gospel, though, those that were once idolaters and sexual sinners can turn and be restored to the living God (1 Cor 6), and live for eternity in the new creation – a place of perfect order, beauty, and worship.

Brief note on context/key themes of book

The book of Romans was probably written in Corinth in about AD 57, while Paul was in Corinth (see Acts 20:2-3). Two significant things are going on. First, Paul is looking for a church that will support him on his missionary journey to Spain (see 15:25). Secondly, he knew that the church in Rome was facing tension between Jew and Gentile – it seems that Claudius has expelled Jews from Rome from AD 49 to his death in AD 54, so it’s possible they have recently returned. His two intentions in writing the letter are to prepare the church to be mission partners, and teach them to live in harmony with one another. The way that he will do that is to teach and apply the gospel, which will build humility, and so prayerfully produce unity and mission-mindedness.


Structure of the passage

1) The problem: God is angry with us (18-20)

Paul starts with a summary of the problem. Even in the here and now, God’s wrath is evident because of people’s “godlessness” (rebellion against God) and “wickedness” (evil against one another). This wrath is both inescapable (“from heaven”) and culpable (“who suppress the truth”). That is because God has revealed himself in nature (20) – there is ample evidence that he is there. People, then are without excuse.

2) The proof: God hands people over (21-31)

The two repeated ideas in this section underline the two main themes. First, we are told three times that something has been ‘exchanged’ (23, 25, 26); such a response to God’s generosity is ungrateful, wilful, and ridiculous (23, 25). Secondly, we are also told that God has ‘given them over’ (24, 26, 28); he has removed his gracious restraint from sinners, and allowed them to slide deeper and deeper into rebellion. Comparing this passage with Genesis 1 and 2, we can not only see a reversal of creation order (God→man→creation becomes creation→man→God), but also a disruption of the one-flesh relationship between Adam and Eve. That is probably why Paul focuses in on homosexual practice – not because it is uniquely evil, but because it shows the creation account being turned on its head. Starting with Genesis 1 and 2 and spreading out to affect the whole of life (29-31), sin effectively reverses the whole of God’s creation order.

3) The practice: approval for all who will join in (32)

Here, Paul shows the full extent of human rebellion. Not only is future judgement denied, but further sin in others encouraged.


Suggestions for any tricky bits?

Who are the ‘people’ against whom God has showed his wrath?

On the one hand, we might think that it was Jewish people, who had been aware of the creation account. On the other hand, some of the behaviours listed sound very much the pagan world. Really, it’s talking about the story of humanity. Christians don’t need to fear God’s wrath, but they do need to know the extent of the wrath that God expressed against Jesus as he died on the cross for them.

In verse 1:27, what does it mean that they received in themselves the due penalty for their error?

This probably doesn’t refer to any new penalty; rather, it seems to refer back to the ‘giving over’ of verse 26.


Summary of author’s main point

The world has culpably rebelled against its creator, and God’s wrath is shown in handing over the world to its disordered desires.

Aim/purpose for original audience

To be confronted with the culpability of the world’s rebellion, and acknowledge the evidence of God’s present wrath shown in the world’s disordered desires. 

Aim/purpose for us today

To be confronted with the culpability of the world’s rebellion, and acknowledge the evidence of God’s present wrath shown in the world’s disordered desires.


Key area of application

We feel that we are free when we cut ourselves off from God. The terrifying truth is that it is him that has handed us over to our destructive desires. For the Christian, though, there is no wrath to face – the rescue gospel has saved us to such an extent, that it radically humbles and unites us.