Exegesis of Paul’s Letter to the Romans, Chapter One.
From Romans Chapter One, v. 18-27, we can link together the following account:
1.) Certain persons knew the eternal power and divinity of God (v. 19,20),
2.) but they changed this truth into a lie (v. 25),
3.) and as a consequence/ punishment of this they began to use the natural power of sexual activity in an unnatural way (v. 26,27).
ad 1.) The knowledge of these persons is of God’s “eternal power and divinity”. Why these attributes? God has no limit to his attributes, so why is it that these ones are manifest? Now Paul tells us that these attributes are seen from “the things that are made”, and so the attributes seem best taken as relating directly to the things that are made. “Eternal power” therefore means “the power of making the world” and “divinity” seems to mean “the nobility that a creator has over the thing created”. The power is also explicity called “eternal”, i.e. it transcends the temporal world where things come to be and pass away.
This knowledge of God is also not a knowledge of God founded on scriptural revelation. We could prove this in any number of ways (Paul is writing to the Romans; “wise men” in Paul’s letters
are always Pagans “the Jews seek signs, and the Greeks seek wisdom”; this knowledge is clear always, whereas the truth of God as revealed was hidden to the world, etc.) but though we could prove this, it would be to labor the point. No one has ever called into question the fact that, in this passage, the knowledge of God that Paul speaks of is the kind of knowledge that man has apart from revelation.
ad. 3) Why is this the consequence? Paul is clear the this did not happen because God forced it to happen, rather God “handed them over to their shameful passions”. There are two things to point out here: first, the passions in question are “their own”; and the passions in question are “unnatural”, in other words, they presuppose some natural state that was corrupted by some cause. The ultimite cause of this corruption is the rejection in practice of a speculative truth that is naturally known, apart from scriptural revelation, namely, God’s eternal power and divinity. In our own time, we tend to call “speculative truth” “theoretical truth”. I have no substantive objection with this, so long as the two are understood to mean the same thing.
Paul’s doctrine here (or, for those who believe in scriptural inspiration, we would say “God’s doctrine”) can be summarized as follows:
-human passions, if they are to be saved from perversion, must act in accordance with the speculative truth that man knows about God, apart from revelation. In other words, they must be in accord with the truth that is known by reason.
This doctrine of Paul (or, again, of God) is an infinite treasure house of truths for many different sciences. It is a psychological truth, for it shows us that the human passions have a necessary and per se relation to God; it is a theological truth, for it understands human nature as explicitly related, through reason, to God as “eternal power an divinity”; it is an ethical truth, for it provides the necessary condition for virtue, which consists in the dominion over the passions; and it is a political truth, for it makes explicit a necessary condition without which human persons will degrade to the tyranny of passion, and the anarchy of uncontrolled and unnatural emotion.