Tag Archives: Romans

Do Atheists Just Suppress the Truth in Unrighteousness?

Greg Koukl is an apologist with Stand to Reason ministries. In the following 3-minute video clip, Greg tries to answer the question, “are atheists just suppressing the truth in unrighteousness?” From Greg’s reading of Romans 1:18-32, it is not just “atheists” for whom the question can be asked. Anyone who is not a believer in Christ would fall within this category.

Does Greg’s video get at the idea that Paul is trying to communicate here? Watch the video, read Romans 1:18-32, and let me know what you think.

NOTE: For those who want a little more background into this challenging passage of the Apostle Paul’s, you should be aware that Paul’s critique of pagan idolatry in Romans 1 is rooted in the Jewish theological perspective of his day. Sometime within 200 years prior to Paul ‘s writing his letter to the Roman church, an unknown Jewish writer penned the so-called “Wisdom of Solomon,” part of the Greek Septuagint, as well as part of what many Protestant Christians call the “Apocrypha.” In the Wisdom of Solomon, the writer extols the virtues of wisdom grounded in the worship of the True God of Israel, and contrasts this with the idolatry of paganism just as Paul does. Note the striking parallels in Romans 1 with Wisdom 13 and 14.

Paul, Moses, Romans 10, and How New Testament Writers Use the Old Testament

Targum Neofiti. Now online at the Vatican Library. This 2nd century Aramaic paraphrase of the Old Testament, used in Jewish worship, may hold the critical clue for how Paul references Moses in Romans 10 to teach that Christ is the end of the Law.

Targum Neofiti. Now online at the Vatican Library. This 2nd century Aramaic paraphrase of part of the Old Testament, used in Jewish worship, may hold the critical clue as to how Paul references Moses in Romans 10 to teach that Christ is the end of the Law.

I do not know about you, but I must be honest: I like reading things in the Bible that come across crystal clear. If I bump into something that forces me to dig back into some other part of the Bible, and it STILL comes across as a bit confusing, then I am like… well….uh… perhaps I should just move on to the next verse.

Sometimes (though thankfully, not every time), studying the Bible to really understand it is a lot of work. But if we are willing take the effort to do the digging, we can discover some riches that can not be had simply by skimming over the top. A classic case of this can be found in Paul’s letter to the Romans, specifically Romans 10:4-9. Paul is in the middle of making the case that God has not forgotten about the promises He made to the Jewish people, even though the Jews had confused their zealous observance of the Law of Moses (Mosaic Law) with genuine righteousness. In Romans 10:4, Paul comes to this conclusion that has intrigued students of Scripture for centuries:

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes (ESV).

What exactly does this mean? Has Christ rendered the Law of Moses meaningless? Has He in some sense fulfilled the Law? Chances are pretty good that your pastor’s library is filled with books that debate this very subject.

Then, Paul does something that is, well, frankly, a bit weird…. at least to modern readers. Check out Romans 10:5-9:

For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says,“Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (ESV).

Okay. What is all of this talk about living by the Law, much less ascending into heaven and descending into the abyss? I kind of look at that and go, “Uh, Paul…. you could have used a clearer illustration. I have no clue what this is about.” I am a 21st century American reading a 1st century text written by a Jewish convert to Christianity, and I am drawing a blank. This is when people start to peer into their notes in their study Bibles to see if they can figure out what in the world is going on. There is lot going on here, but I want to focus on just few aspects of this curious passage that will help us to understand how the New Testament writers, such as Paul, use the Old Testament to teach their message. Do you care to dig a little bit with me?
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Romans-1-Style Idolatry Indoctrination for Children

Okay, folks. What is wrong with the song in this video?  (Read Romans 1:25, just in case you are not sure, or see the full context in Romans 1:18-31).

The Righteous Shall Live By Faith

Habakkuk, one of the minor prophets, has a major message in the Bible. (credit: Wikipedia - 18 century icon painter - Iconostasis of Transfiguration church, Kizhi monastery, Karelia, north Russia.)

Habakkuk, one of the minor prophets, has a major message in the Bible. Tucked away in a rather forgotten part of the Bible, the Apostle Paul uses Habakkuk to provide the central theme to his arguably greatest work in the New Testament, the Book of Romans.  (credit: Wikipedia – 18 century icon painter – Iconostasis of Transfiguration church, Kizhi monastery, Karelia, north Russia.)

Paul’s most “theological” book in the New Testament, the Book of Romans, is in many ways an extended commentary on one single verse from the Old Testament, Habakkuk 2:4:

Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith (ESV).

That last phrase, “the righteous shall live by (his) faith,” stands in the main thesis statement of Paul’s letter, at the end of Romans 1:16-17. The problem is that this brief little phrase is not entirely self-explanatory.

My late pastor emeritus, Dick Woodward, would teach that the Book of Romans at a high level could be broken down into the different themes emphasized in different parts of the book (Note: “righteous” can also be translated as “just“, from Woodward’s MiniBible College, New Testament Handbook, p. 268):

The just shall live by faith (Romans 1-4).

The just shall live by faith (Romans 5-8).

The just shall live by faith (Romans 12-16).

So, how does one go about unpacking this verse? The great Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther, puzzled over how to understand this Bible verse, as quoted by the Apostle Paul in the Book of Romans, for at least two years, as a young teacher of theology in the early sixteenth century. Luther’s main problem, at first, was that he considered the idea of righteous as being something that one had to work for, a type of status that one would have to earn before a Holy God.  As a person of faith, Luther was convinced that he had to modify his own behavior, such that if he were to become truly righteous, only then could he truly live. But his quest to live a righteous life led him into depression. No matter how righteous he tried to be, he never felt like he was ever good enough to meet God’s rigorous demands. In his own understanding at the time, he actually hated the Gospel message:

I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God (Luther’s account of his own conversion).

Eventually, Martin Luther came to see that he had the logic of the verse all wrong. Instead, he finally learned that a person becomes righteous only by having faith, an implicit trust in God. It was through this faith, and through faith alone, that Luther learned that he was “declared” to be righteous by God, and that, as a result, enabled him to live, to live an eternal life. In a total reversal of thought, Luther had now become born again, loving that which he had hated before:

I extolled my sweetest word with a love as great as the hatred with which I had before hated the word “righteousness of God.” Thus that place in Paul was for me truly the gate to paradise.

Luther’s personal, theological breakthrough kickstarted the whole Protestant Reformation. The stumbling block of trying to understand Habakkuk 2:4 as presented in the Book of Romans was not unique to Luther. In fact, the debate over how the New Testament uses Habakkuk 2:4 for the sake of the Gospel remains a topic of considerable theological debate.
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Deep Dive Into Romans: Why Saul Became Paul


For those in the Williamsburg, Virginia area, you might be interested in an Adult Bible Class held at the Williamsburg Community Chapel, 9:30am – 10:40am, during the winter term of 2016, where we will be taking a “deep dive” into the Apostle Paul’s arguably greatest letter, the Book of Romans. Our church recently spent 10-weeks going through the first eight chapters of Romans. But frankly, Romans is filled with so many riches and questions that I thought it would be great to give an opportunity for folks to get together and dig deep into this most remarkable and influential book of the Bible. The course description:

Still not getting Romans? Have a lot of questions? Get ready to dive deep into Paul’s Letter to the Romans, and explore where church history, apologetics, and theology meet. An in-depth look into Paul’s greatest letter of the New Testament, paying particular attention to how the truths in Romans can be applied in a society today that is becoming increasingly indifferent to the Christian message.

Here is a very rough schedule of topics for the weeks ahead, subject to change (Room 156, most weeks):

  • January 10: Introduction to Romans
  • January 17: Romans 1:1-17. Paul’s Thesis for the Letter.
  • January 24 (location TBA): Romans 1:16-17. How Paul Uses the Old Testament.
  • January 31 (location TBA): Romans 1:18-2:5. Natural vs. Special Revelation.
  • February 7: Romans 1:26-27. Same-Sex Attraction and a Christian Response.
  • February 14: Romans 2:6-29. Judgment by Works.
  • February 21: Romans 3. The Righteousness of God and Justification.
  • February 28: Romans 4. The Example of Abraham.

A student in the first class this past week asked a very interesting question: So why was “Saul’s” name changed to “Paul”? Is there any significance in his name change? (Acts 13:4-12 ESV)

Well, the answer is, quite simply, we do not know for sure. Throughout the Bible, there have been incidents of name changes that reflect drastic changes in someone’s life, such as when “Abram” became “Abraham” in Genesis. In Paul’s case, his given Jewish name was “Saul.” However, Saul was also a Roman citizen, so by virtue of his Roman pedigree, he was also given a Roman name, “Paul.” Mosts scholars agree that Paul eventually adopted the name “Paul” exclusively as part of his calling to be an apostle to the Gentiles. Since Paul did not want to put up any unnecessary barriers in building relationships with the Gentiles, he opted to forgo using his Jewish name, Saul, when meeting new friends in his Gentile audiences. Paul’s sensitivity towards the cultural differences among the Gentiles helped to further his objective to break down the wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile, perhaps the greatest concern expressed in his letter to the Roman Christian community (For a rough timeline of Paul’s life, with approximate dates for his letters, consult this graph from the Blue Letter Bible).

If you want to catch up from what we talked about last week, you can read up from an early Veracity post introducing the Books of Romans. Enjoy!


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