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Romans 1:20 - Without excuse? 
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So I had a thought yesterday -

One of the verses I've heard a lot in my life (especially growing up) was Romans 1:20:
Romans 1:20 (NIV) wrote:
"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"

I looked at the rest of Romans 1 for context but I think this is one verse that is kind of self-explanatory, at least in terms of context with the rest of the chapter - I'm not exactly sure if historical context would change the meaning of Paul's words at all.

But I'm pointing out this verse because it's one which was often used as a way to villainize non-Christians. People read this verse, and then notice that there are an awful lot of people in the world who aren't Christians, and jump to the conclusion that since all of these people are clearly without excuse, then they must all secretly know in their hearts that what they believe and what they do are both wrong, but do it anyway, because they must just have evil hearts. This was one of the verses used by Sunday school teachers and the like to point out to me that all atheists, Muslims, Buddhists, etc., deep down, they know that God exists and that Jesus is the true God, they just choose to follow SATAN instead! Because they're evil!


I'll admit that this verse is a hard one to reconcile with my faith and with what I know about people in general. Atheists, for example, are not atheists because they're willfully deluding themselves, don't want God to be real, or because they worshipped a little too much Satan at a party once and got corrupted. Muslims don't follow the Qu'ran because they got brainwashed by an evil demagogue bent on tricking as many people into following him as possible. I could go on and list more beliefs/religions - suffice to say they're all the same as us, they're all looking for truth and most are looking to find love and to spread love. They've just come to different conclusions than us (note: I'm not saying that truth is relative or that all beliefs are true - just saying that it's okay to recognize that somebody may have drawn different conclusions from evidence without having bad intentions or without help from demons)

So how do you all fit Romans 1:20 into your lives? I'm having a hard time with it honestly and I'd like to hear some of your interpretations!

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Wed Oct 11, 2017 8:44 am
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Koshka wrote:
But I'm pointing out this verse because it's one which was often used as a way to villainize non-Christians. People read this verse, and then notice that there are an awful lot of people in the world who aren't Christians, and jump to the conclusion that since all of these people are clearly without excuse, then they must all secretly know in their hearts that what they believe and what they do are both wrong, but do it anyway, because they must just have evil hearts. This was one of the verses used by Sunday school teachers and the like to point out to me that all atheists, Muslims, Buddhists, etc., deep down, they know that God exists and that Jesus is the true God, they just choose to follow SATAN instead! Because they're evil!


Hi Koshka,

Whoever provided you with this exegesis of Romans 1:18-32 needs to go back and take theology classes. If I had turned this exegesis in to my professor for our class on Paul, then I certainly would have gotten a failing grade.

I suggest getting a a copy of Joseph A. Ftizmeyers translation and commentary on Romans from the Anchor Bible Series. While there is not room to write out the entire chapter, the section you want to read is pg. 269-290.

Here is my best summary of the section, but please do read the original source as I might have missed something in giving such a short answer.

Paul was speaking of the fallen state of idolatry rather than Gentile religion. You must remember that Paul, as a diaspora Jew, had received both a sound Jewish education and also a Hellenistic education. He was very familiar with the Greek philosophical idea that one could come to know of the existence of God by reason. In his opinion, the practice of idolatry was a way the Gentiles had turned away from and ignored God. As Paul understood it, the punishment for idolatry was the same as that given over to the Jewish people who had violated God's commandment in the Old Testament. Therefore, the degraded condition of Pagan society and all its problems stemmed from the practice of idolatry. God had given them up to the natural results of worshiping created things as opposed to the Creator of the world.

Also, you should check Apostle of the Crucified Lord: A Theological Introduction To Paul and His Letters by Michael J. Gorman. The section you want to read is pages 352-354 of this text (reading the whole chapter is better). You'll find that Gorman is in agreement with Fitzmeyer's exegesis. He also adds that Paul places the discussion on idolatry among the Gentiles before his discussion about "the Jewish predicament" in order to draw their attention to his message:

"It was commonplace in Jewish thought and literature (eg.. Wisd. of Sol. 14-14) to charge Gentiles with idolatry, especially sexual immorality. That is, in part, what Paul is doing here. But he also has humanity more generally in mind, and he in fact also have in view his Jewish readers, who would instantly recognize Gentiles in these verses but not - at least before reading chapter 2 - themselves (though see parallels in Jer. 2)." (Gorman pg 352-354).

I also suggest getting a really good study Bible to use. The commentary will easily help guide you in determining the meanings of sections of the Bible you might have found confusing or taken out of context over the years.

One last source for you to check out is The Theology of Paul the Apostle by James D.G. Dunn. If you find Fitzmeyer and Gorman helpful, then you'll really enjoy this huge book on Paul.

Anyways, I hope this helps. :)

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Wed Oct 11, 2017 10:09 pm
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One thing I do when an interpretation of a Bible verse seems at odds with what could be observed from creation is try to come up with other interpretations I may have missed. One possibility is that the reality of God has been clearly seen, but not necessarily by every single person. It doesn't specify that. We, humanity, do not have an excuse to lack Christianity, though individuals may have a legitimate claim to ignorance.

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Fri Oct 13, 2017 11:22 am
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