8 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. 24 Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. 25 For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.26 For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.28 And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; 32 and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them. (Rom1:18-32 NASB)
The above is taken from the New American Standard Bible. Unfortunately, a number of Protestant Bible translations (e.g. New International Version, King James) choose to insert a comma at Rom1:18 where Paul is talking about God’s retribution being revealed against men “,” who suppress the truth by their wickedness and go on to be sexual perverts (v27), rotten, greedy, malicious, envious, murderous, treacherous, spiteful (v29), libelous, slanderous, God-haters, rude, arrogant, rebellious to parents (v30), brainless, loveless and pitiless (v31). These translators make this out to be Paul’s description of humanity as a whole by means of their punctuation (v18). The apostle is not here referring to all mankind or indeed all Gentiles. As is more easily demonstrated with regard to the critique of his fellow Jews (Rom3) Paul is drawing and linking together various Old Testament scriptural texts which highlight a particular group’s wickedness to set out a typically Jewish critique of the pagan world and the inevitable consequence of idolatry. As we shall also see, Paul recognized that many Gentiles, though not possessing the Law, do by nature the things contained in it in response to their conscience (Rom2:14). The context of his tirade against ungodly Gentiles was the previous verse (17) that those who are righteous live by their faith whereas the ungodly do not, hence: “We are sure that the judgement of God is in accordance with the truth against those who commit such things” (Rom2:2). The apostle is undoubtedly in the business of affirming the universality of human sinfulness, not its total depravity.
My parents were non-Christians, but they assuredly were NOT sexually perverted, malicious, murderous, brainless, loveless or merciless. Adding a comma to verse 18 implies that that is at heart what they were by nature. In reality my parents were generally caring, conscientious, respectful and kind to most if not all people with whom they dealt. They were certainly not sinless, nor will they have claimed to have “known God” in any personal sense. Yet as I have been endeavoring to adduce, in responding to the natural precepts that made them the conscientious caring people that they were, they were effectively responding to the light of Christ provided to every person coming into the world that governs the functioning of the conscience . Some people however DO suppress the innate light of reason and sound judgement provided to them – these are those whom God and Paul are condemning.
Largely thanks to Augustine and the Protestant Reformers these will be alien concepts to many – they were not so to the likes of 2nd/3rd century theologians such as Justyn Martyr, Polycarp, Clement of Rome, Irenaeus, Eusebius and Origen as we have recently demonstrated. As I also stated, unless such principals of natural law are accommodated, only then can Jesus’ final judgement (sheep and goats) passage in Matthew chapter 25 be reconciled with what Paul is teaching in Romans. Much more needs to be said concerning what the Apostle is intimating concerning who is or is not “righteous” but that will feature once we arrive at chapter three.