VERSE 21: REASON FOR MAN’S JUDGMENT–HIS WRECKAGE
“Because that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.–Instead of looking to God, men looked to themselves.
“Because that…”–Paul here is showing that it was right to condemn men for their sins.
To do this it was needful to show them that they had the knowledge of God, and the means of knowing what was right; and that the true source of their sins and idolatries was a corrupt and evil heart. This connects with verse 18. Men possessed the truth, but practiced unrighteousness.
BECAUSE: (Grk.–dioti)–This really connects with v. 18. They possessed the truth but preferred unrighteousness.
“when they knew God”
Literally: “Having known God.”– That is, they had an acquaintance with the existence and many of the perfections of one God (cf. v. 19).
They did not celebrate God’s perfections (what He is to His creatures.) That many of the philosophers of Greece and Rome had a knowledge of one God, there can be no doubt. This was undoubtedly the case with Pythagoras, who had traveled extensively in Egypt, and even in Palestine; and also with Plato and his disciples. Yet the knowledge of this great truth was not communicated to the people; instead, it was confined to the philosophers; and not improbably one design of the mysteries celebrated throughout Greece was to keep up the knowledge of the one true God. Gibbon has remarked, that “the philosophers regarded all the popular superstitions as equally false; the common people as equally true; and the politicians as equally useful.” This was probably a correct account of the prevalent feelings among the ancients.
A single extract from Cicero (de Natura Deerum, lib. fl. e. 6) will show that they had the knowledge of one God: “There is something in the nature of things which the mind of man, which reason, which human power cannot effect; and certainly that which produces this must be better than man. What can this be called but God?” Again (c. 2,) “What can be so plain and manifest, when we look at heaven, and contemplate heavenly things, as that there is some Divinity of most excellent mind, by which these things are governed?” For the wiser heathens did know that there was one supreme God; yet from low and base considerations they conformed to the idolatry of the vulgar.
Here is a definite statement that originally men had some knowledge of God. No people, however degraded, have yet been found without some yearning after a god, a seeking to find the true God and get back to Him as Paul said in Athens (Acts 17:27).
Reason for Judgment #1
“they glorified Him not as God”
Literally: “they did not glorify Him as God.” Men did not give God that worship which His perfections required. They did not honor Him as God. This was the source of their abominations.
To glorify Him as God is to regard with proper reverence all His perfections and laws; to venerate His Name, His power, His holiness, and presence, etc. As they were not inclined to do this, so they were given over to their own vain and wicked desires. The did not yield the adoration due to Himself, nor rendered the gratitude which His loving kindness demanded.
Sinners are not willing to give honor to God as God; that is, they are not pleased with His perfections; and therefore the mind becomes fixed on other objects, and the heart gives free indulgence to its own sinful desires. A willingness to honor God as God–to reverence, love, and obey Him, would restrain men from sin.
Reason for Judgment #2:
“neither were thankful”
Literally: “nor were thankful”–They neither thanked Him for his benefits, nor glorified Him for his divine perfection. The obligation to be thankful to God for His mercies, for the goodness which we experience, is plain and obvious.
Thus we judge of favors received of our fellow-men. Paul here clearly regards this unwillingness to render gratitude to God for his mercies as one of the causes of their subsequent corruption and idolatry. The reasons of this are:
1. The effect of ingratitude is to render the heart hard and insensible.
2. Men seek to forget the Being to whom they are unwilling to exercise gratitude.
3. To do this, they fix their affections on other things; and hence the heathen expressed their gratitude not to God, but to the sun, moon, and stars, etc;, the mediums by which God bestows His favor on men. And we may learn here that an unwillingness to thank God for His mercies is one one of the most certain causes for their alienation from God and hardening of their hearts.
They displayed no gratitude for the blessings they received from His providence, but became vain in their imaginations, in their reasoning. This certainly refers to the foolish manner in which even the wisest of their philosophers, including Socrates, Plato, or Seneca, discoursed about the Divine nature. Who can read their works without being struck with the vanity of their reasoning, as well as with the stupidity of their nonsense, when speaking about God? I could flood this study with proofs of this. In short, their foolish, darkened minds sought God nowhere but in the place in which He is never to be found; i.e., the vile, corrupted, and corrupting passions of their own hearts. As they did not discover Him there, they scarcely sought Him anywhere else.
Reason for Judgment #3
“but became vain in their imaginations”
Literally: “But (they) became vain in their reasonings;” that is, in their thoughts or reasoning.
When willfully men turn from truth, they will run to the extremes of error. The world (the pagan world) yielded to idle fancies, and were involved in deeper darkness. He who shuts out the light will finally be unable to bear it. They even concocted the insane theory of evolution.
VAIN: (Grk.–mataia)–Empty, useless (see Deut. 32:21). “Vain things” (mataia) was the Jews name for idols. Their ideas and conceptions of God really did not correspond with the truth.
They became like the idols they worshipped. With us, to become vain means to be elated, or self-conceited, or to seek praise from others. The meaning here seems to be, they became foolish, frivolous in their thoughts and reasoning. They acted foolishly; they busied themselves in useless and frivolous questions, the effect of which was to lead the mind farther and farther from the truth respecting God.
IMAGINATIONS: (Grk.–dialogismois)–This word means thoughts; reasonings, and also disputations. Perhaps our word speculations, would more closely convey its meaning. It implies that they were unwilling to honor God.
They began their speculations which resulted in all their vain and foolish opinions about idols, and the various rites of idolatrous worship. Many of the speculations and inquiries of the ancients were among the most vain and senseless which the mind can conceive.
Various, uncertain, foolish speculations. What vain reasonings, and how dark a heart, amidst so pompous professions of wisdom! There are hundreds of thousands of men and women in our universities who literally believe in nothing. They are hollow souls because they have been taught to believe in man. They have been disillusioned by the failures of man and therefore have nothing to rely on, or believe in. This is nothing but Nihilism the belief in nothing–at is deadliest.
Reason for Judgment #4:
“and their foolish heart was darkened”
Literally: “And the discerning of their heart was darkeed.” The word heart is often used to denote the mind, or the understanding, or even our manner of living. We apply it to denote the affections. But such was not its common use among the Hebrews.
We speak of the head when we refer to the understanding, but this was not the case with the Hebrews. The ancients also spoke of the heart in this manner, and in this sense it is clearly used in this place.
FOOLISH: (Grk.–asimetps)–Literally: “that which is without understanding” Matt. 15:16–“And Jesus said, ‘Are ye also without understanding’” (literally: unintelligent, Grk.––asunetoi). They did not combine the facts which were obvious or evident in their observations.
HEART: (Grk.––kardia)–The most comprehensive term for all our faculties, whether feeling (9:2), will (1Cor. 4:5), intellect (10:6). It may be the home of the Holy Spirit (5:5) or of evil desires (1:24).
Mark 7:21 gives a list of vices that come out of the heart–“For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts: adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness” All these evil things come from within, and defile the man.”
WAS DARKENED: (Grk.–eskotisthē)–Their hearts were rendered obscure, so that they could neither distinguish nor comprehend the truth. The process which is stated in this verse is:
1. That men had the knowledge of God;
2. That they refused to honor Him when they knew Him, and were opposed to his character and government;
3. That they were ungrateful;
4. That they then began to doubt, to reason, to speculate, and wandered far into darkness. This is substantially the process by which men wander away from God now.
They have the knowledge of God, but they do not love Him; and being dissatisfied with His character and government, they begin to speculate, fall into error, and then sink into the depths of heresy and of sin. So darkness settles down on their hearts.
“Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools”
Here Paul presents an oxymoron. It is impossible to be both “wise” and a “fool” at the same time. You must be either one or the other. They are as much opposites as are light and darkness.
“Professing themselves to be wise”
Literally: “Professing to be wise.” Boasting, or, pretending to be. This was the common boast of the philosophers of antiquity.
The very word by which they chose to be called, philosophers, literally means “lovers of wisdom.” This is most strikingly true of all the ancient philosophers, whether Greeks or Romans, as their works, which remain, sufficiently testify.
PROFESSING: (Grk.–phaskontes)–This word not mean simply professing, but includes the actual assumption of the philosophic character. This Greek word is used of unfounded assertion. All civilized heathen nations looked down upon the rest of mankind as barbarians. They were puffed up by their knowledge, while they devised, or accepted and practiced, or at least sanctioned, the basest superstitions.
WISE: (Grk.–saphoi)–Plato uses the term, “vain-glorying of wisdom.”
Reason for Judgment #5
“they became fools.”
Literally: “They became foolish.” —This is Paul’s (and God’s) estimate of the philosophers and religious leaders of the race.
Rejecting the light of God’s knowledge in their consciences, men now became arrogant in their own wisdom, and became –what? The became FOOLS! The wisdom of man is foolishness to God. Man searches for truth through logical reasoning but arrives at a philosophy that is foolish in God’s sight. Both mythologists and philosophers boasted of superior wisdom; but they acted like fools—the mythologists in setting forth their polytheistic, and the philosophers in setting forth their pantheistic (that there is God is in everything) absurdities.
They became really foolish in their opinions and conduct. If you refuse the love that is offered to you in the Savior, you will inevitably head down the road to abandon. This road will ultimately lead you to be abandoned by God. Sinners of all kinds are frequently spoken of as fools in the Scriptures. In the sense in which it is thus used, the word is applied to them as void of understanding or moral sense; as idolaters, and as wicked (Psa. 14:1; Prov. 26:4; 1:7, 22; 14:8-9). The senses in which this word here is applied to the heathen are:
1. That their speculations and doctrines were senseless;
2. That their conduct was corrupt
Reason for Judgment #6
“And changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things.”
Literally: “And exchanged.” This does not mean that they literally transmuted God Himself; but that in their views; in their ways of thinking; they exchanged Him; or they changed Him; as an object of worship for idols.
They produced, of course, no real change in the glory of the infinite God, but the change was in themselves. They forsook Him of whom they had knowledge, (v. 21) and offered the homage which was due to Him to idols.
CHANGED: (Grk.–allassō)–Literally: “to make other than it is; to transform; exchange.” It means to exchange one thing for another, and in the LXX, represents the Hebrew word hemir (hemir). which means, “to change for something else.” This is an instance of their folly. Have you noticed that the unsaved world has made caricatures of God, or have caricature names for Him?
“the glory of the uncorruptible God”–The glory of God, in such places as this, means His essential honor, His majesty,
The concentration and expression of His perfections, as “the glory of the sun,” (I Cor. 15:41) means His shining, or His splendor. The more you reflect upon the infinite glory and majesty of the eternal God, the more hideous will be the unspeakable insult to Him of any kind of idolatry appear to you.
GLORY: (Grk.–doxa)–The majesty, honor, etc.
UNCORRUPTIBLE: (Grk.–aphthartou)–This word stands opposed to the degrading nature of their idolatrous worship. Instead of adoring a Being clothed with majesty and honor, they bowed down to reptiles, animals, etc. This Greek word is rendered as “immortal” in I Tim. 1:17–mortal that does not decay.
The word uncorruptible is here applied to God in opposition to man. God is unchanging, indestructible, immortal. The word conveys also the idea that God is eternal. As He is incorruptible, He is the proper object of worship. In all the changes of life, man may come to Him, assured that He is the same. When man decays by age or infirmities, he may come to God, assured that He undergoes no such change, but is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Comp. I Tim. 1:17.
“into an image”
Literally: “In the likeness.” They exchanged a glorious object of worship for that which was degrading and humiliating. Turning from the glorious revelation of God in nature, they showed that they were fools by making an image, like man, or lower animals, and calling it a god.
An image is a representation or likeness of anything, whether it is made from wood, stone, or by painting, etc. Thus the word is applied to idols, as being images or representations of heavenly objects, II Chron. 33:7; Dan. 3:1; Rev. 13:14,
“like to corruptible man”
Literally: “Of an image of corruptible man.” This stands opposed to the incorruptible God.
Many of the “images” (idols) of the ancients were in the forms of men and women. Many of their gods were heroes and benefactors, who were deified, and to whom temples, altars, and statues were erected. Of such were Jupiter, and Hercules, and Romulus, etc. The worship of these heroes thus constituted a large part of their idolatry, and their images would be of course representations of them in human form. It was proof of great degradation, that they thus adored men with like passions as themselves; and attempted to displace the true God from the throne, and to substitute in His place an idol in the likeness of men.
The allusion here is doubtless to the Greek worship, and Paul may have had in his mind these statues (idols) of the human form which lay so profusely beneath and around him as he stood on Mars' Hill; and “beheld their devotions.” But as if that had not been a deep enough degradation of the living God, there was found “a lower deep” still. The Greeks made their gods like men. Many statues still exist that were taken from old Greek or Roman temples. The Bible says that man was created, in the image of God, but these rebellious and godless men attempted to make their gods in the image of men.
The finest representation of their deities was in the human figure; and when they had formed their gods according to the human shape, they endowed them with human passions; and as they clothed them with attributes of extraordinary strength, beauty, wisdom, etc., not having the true principles of morality, they represented them as slaves to the most disorderly and disgraceful passions; excelling in irregularities the most profligate of men, as possessing unlimited powers of sensual gratification. Deities of human form prevailed in Greece; those of the bestial form in Egypt, and both methods of worship were practiced in Rome.
“and to birds”
Literally: “and of birds”–This is referring to the Egyptian and Oriental worship. The ibis was adored with peculiar reverence among the Egyptians, on account of the great benefits resulting from its destroying the serpents, which, but for this, would have overrun the country.
The ibis, or hawk, was adored in Egypt, and the eagle in Rome. As one great principle of pagan idolatry was to adore all objects from which important benefits were derived, it is probable that all birds would come in for a share of pagan worship.
“and to four-footed beasts”
Literally: “and four-footed animals”–Thus the ox, under the name apis, was adored in Egypt (Horus). In imitation of the Egyptian ox, the children of Israel made their golden calf, (Ex 22:4). The goat, the monkey and the dog were also sacred animals among the Egyptians. They also had their jackal-headed god. To this day, two of the most sacred objects of worship among the Hindus are the cow and the monkey.
“and creeping things”–Meaning reptiles. Such as the crocodile and scarab, or beetle, among the Egyptians.
Serpent worship was common in Chaldea (Babylon) and Egypt. The asp was sacred throughout Egypt, and in India the cobra is worshiped. The worship of Isis was domesticated at Rome, and the Roman writer Juvenal relates how the priests of Isis contrived the silver images of serpents kept in her temple should move their heads to a supplicant.
This means animals that have no feet, or such short ones that they seem to creep or crawl on the ground. Lizards, serpents, etc., come under this description. The crocodile in Egypt was an object of adoration, and even the serpent. So late as the second century of the Christian era, there was a sect in Egypt called Ophites, from their worshipping a serpent, and who even claimed to be Christians. There was scarcely an object, animal or vegetable, which the Egyptians did not worship. Thus the leek, the onion, etc., were objects of worship; and men bowed down and paid adoration to the sun and moon, to animals, to vegetables, and to reptiles. Egypt was the source of the views of religion that pervaded other nations, and hence their worship partook of the same wretched and degrading character