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“What may be known about God” (Rom_1:19) is now called God’s invisible qualities and identified as His eternal power and divine nature. Since “God is spirit” (Joh_4:24), all His qualities are invisible to physical eyes and can be understood by the human mind only as they are reflected in what has been made, that is, in God’s creative work. The self-existent God, however, is the Creator of all things, and therefore since the Creation of the world His “invisible qualities” have been clearly seen. Paul may have intended a play on words between the noun translated “invisible qualities” (aorata) and the verb translated “clearly seen” (kathoratai) because they share a common Greek root. Both the verb “clearly seen” and the participle “being understood” are in the present tense, which emphasizes the continuous nature of the action. The word theiotēs, translated “divine nature,” occurs only here in the New Testament and embraces the properties which make God God. Creation, which people see, reveals God’s unseen character — the all-powerful Deity. An Old Testament parallel to these verses is Psa_19:1-6. “Invisible things”: Or attributes, referring specifically to the two mentioned in this verse.
1. “The things that are made”: The creation delivers a clear, unmistakable message about God’s person.
2. “His eternal power”: The Creator, who made all that we see around us and constantly sustains it, must be a being of awesome power.
“They are without excuse:” God holds all men responsible for their refusal to acknowledge what He has shown them of Himself in His creation. Even those who have never had an opportunity to hear the gospel, have received a clear witness about the existence and character of God and have suppressed it if a person will respond to the revelation he has, even if it is solely natural revelation, God will provide some means for that person to hear the gospel. (Acts 8:26-39; 10:1-48; 17:27)
Paul’s conclusion to this description of natural revelation is important — men are without excuse. The witness to God in nature is so clear and so constant that ignoring it is indefensible. Their condemnation is based not on their rejecting Christ of whom they have not heard, but on their sinning against the light they have.
For perverting God’s glory
This reason for God’s condemnation of the pagan world builds on the preceding one just as that one built on the first. The relationship is seen in the use of the same Greek connective (dioti) at the beginning of Rom_1:19 and Rom_1:21, in the latter translated for. People’s suppression of the truth is seen in their rejecting the clear evidence of God as the sovereign Creator and their perversion of that knowledge into idolatry.
The clause although they knew God refers to an original experiential knowledge of God such as Adam and Eve had both before and after the fall. How long this knowledge of God continued before it was perverted is not stated, but God was known by people. This fact makes human actions all the more reprehensible. One would suppose that to know God would be to honor Him, but these people neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him. They turned from the very purpose for which God made them: to glorify Him for His Person and thank Him for His works. With such willful rebellion against God it is little wonder that their thinking became futile (emataiōthēsan, lit., “became worthless, purposeless”; cf. Eph_4:17) and their foolish (asynetos, “morally senseless”; cf. Rom_1:31) hearts were darkened (cf. Eph_4:18). When truth is rejected, in time the ability to recognize and to receive truth is impaired (cf. Joh_3:19-20). “Knew God”: Man is conscious of God’s existence, power and divine nature through general revelation. (Verses 19-20)
“They glorified him not”: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and Scripture constantly demands it. To glorify Him is to honor Him, to acknowledge His attributes, and to praise Him for His perfections. It is to recognize His glory and extol Him for it. Failing to give Him glory is man’s greatest affront to his Creator.
“Neither was thankful”: They refused to acknowledge that every good thing they enjoyed came from God.
“Vain in their imaginations”: meaning futile in their thoughts. Man’s search for meaning and purpose will produce only vain, meaningless conclusions.
“Heart was darkened”: When man rejects the truth, the darkness of spiritual falsehood replaces it.
When the true Source of wisdom is rejected (cf. Psa_111:10), people’s claim to be wise is an idle boast. Progressively they became fools (emōranthēsan, lit., “became stupid”), a reality demonstrated by the worship as gods of idols in the forms of people and animals (cf. Rom_1:25). The ultimate irony in humanity’s refusal to glorify the true God is the insanity or stupidity of idolatry described in Isa_44:9-20. Man’s refusal to acknowledge and glorify God leads to a downward path: first, worthless thinking; next, moral insensitivity; and then, religious stupidity (seen in idol-worship). Man rationalizes his sin and proves his utter foolishness by devising and believing his own philosophies about God, the universe and himself. The children of Israel, on the way to the Promised Land, tired waiting for Moses to come down from the mountain of God. They talked Aaron into making them a golden calf that they could worship. God is the Creator not the created. Those that worship things they can see with their physical eyes are worshipping idols.
They are substituting the worship of idols for the worship of the true God. Historians report that many ancient cultures did not originally have idols. The historian Eusebius reported that the oldest civilizations had no idols. The earliest record of idolatry was among Abram’s family in Ur. (Joshua 24:2) Although the false gods which men worship do not exist, demons often impersonate them.