|24Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: 25Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. 26For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: 27And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust toward one another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. 28And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; 29Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, 30Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: 32Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.||24For this reason, God abandoned them in the lusts of their hearts to uncleanness that they might dishonor their bodies with one another; 25they exchanged the truth of God for the lie and worshipped and served the created thing in place of the Creator, who is to be praised for eternity. Amen. 26This is why God gave them over to dishonorable passions: even their females changed the natural use to that against nature. 27In the same way, the males, having forsaken the natural use of the female, burned up in their lust toward one another, males acting out shamefulness among males, and receiving in return the reward that was appropriate to their self-deceit. 28Just as they did not think it fit to maintain a knowledge of God, God left them to an unfit mind, to do the things that are improper: 29having been filled with all injustice, malice, insatiability, and vice; full of envy, murder, quarrels, deceit, and conspiracy; being gossips, 30slanderers, God-haters, over-reaching, proud, braggarts, devisers of evil, disobedient to parents, 31undiscerning, covenant breaking, unloving, and unmerciful—32they are they who, having known the judgment of God, namely, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, not only do them, but also approve of those who practice them.|
In Greek, wherefore (dio, διό) is a strong connective. Paul uses it to refer to verses 22 and 23, and this connection can help us understand verse 24 to mean “because people are such fools, God gave them up to sin.”
Gave them up
“Gave them up” is a literal translation of the verb paradidōmi (παραδίδομι), but “abandon,” in the alternate translation, more fully captures the awfulness of what is described. Idolaters abandon God and are, in turn and perhaps necessarily, abandoned by him until they repent. This is the same word translated “gave them up” and “gave them over” in verses 26 and 28.
The Greek word akatharsia (ακαθαρσία), translated “uncleanness,” means “what is impure,” “refuse,” or “filth.” We could understand this to mean “unatonement,” though that would probably not be a good translation of the Greek word. The Father is clean and pure. When idolaters refuse to be clean, they refuse to be at one with him. God punishes them by allowing them to be alienated from him. The book of Wisdom says much the same thing in its assertion that the instruments of sin are the instruments of punishment (see Wisdom 11:16 and page 17 for more on the book of Wisdom). Just as virtue is its own reward, sin is its own punishment. As Alma says, “Wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10). Those who sin have chosen not to live in harmony with the world God has created. That harmony is a unity with the will of the Father and, therefore, with the rest of creation. The Father allows those who sin to live in the disharmony they have created, outside the unity that is possible and thus outside the at-one-ment that is possible. Sinners thereby deny the atonement of Christ, which makes possible our return to at-one-ment with the will of God.
God also gave them up to uncleanness
Failure to worship God is sin, and sin is a consequence of that failure to worship. This is evident in the phrase God also gave them up to uncleanness. Failing to recognize God as God results in the sin of idolatry. God not only permits idolaters to sin, he gives them over to their sins and to the lust and dishonor they feel is their just reward. He gives idolaters what they say they want. If we envy the sins of others, then we are not yet converted. If we were converted, we would realize that they cannot be happy in their sins and would not see their experience as either happy or even pleasurable in any fundamental way. Verse 24 explains why this is so: when we sin, we are given up to our sins and lose God. To lose God is to lose everything, just as to gain him is to gain everything (compare D&C 84:38). When the creature loses its connection to the Creator, it loses the meaning of its existence. As the ancients would say, it becomes unreal.
To dishonourTo dishonour (atimazō ατιμάζω) means “to treat shamefully.” In verse 26, the same word is translated “vile affections.”
To dishonour their own bodies between themselves
As we see in the phrase to dishonour their own bodies between themselves, when we commit idolatry—in the broadest sense, all sin—we disgrace our own bodies. We do what we are ashamed of. Spiritual death results in physical shame, in the self-disgrace of the body. This implies that in the absence of sin we would not be ashamed of our bodies; we would not disgrace them.
This verse continues the sentence begun in verse 24. Verses 24 and 25 together form an inclusion. Inclusion is a rhetorical device that is similar to chiasmus but not as structured. The material is “sandwiched” between an idea or phrase that appears both before and after it.
Wherefore [in other words, because men foolishly worship something other than God (verse 24, referring to verses 21 and 22)],
God gave them up to the uncleanness of their hearts [verse 24]—
namely, those who worshipped the creature more than the Creator [verse 25, referring to verses 22 and 23].
The antecedent of who is them—the wicked—in verse 24.
As the alternate translation shows, “into” is not as accurate a translation of en (εν) as “for.” This verse uses the language of exchange: those who abandon God for idol worship exchange one thing for another. In chapter three, Paul capitalizes on this idea, using the language of economics and business to discuss our relation to God.
LieLie is the Greek pseudei (ψεύδει) and means not just a lie, but what is false or unreal.
Who changed the truth of God into a lie
From the phrase who changed the truth of God into a lie, we can see that the truth of God is that through faith in Jesus Christ we can again be a part of the Father’s orderly, harmonious creation (see the discussion of truth in verse 18, pages 73–75). Those who, by sinning, refuse to recognize God exchange this truth for the lie that the world is ordered by someone or something other than God. Sometimes when we sin we think that our own desires order the world. Other times we think it is ordered only by supposedly natural processes, and still other times we let the world and our lives be ordered by greed and self-interest. In all cases, sinners give up the truth of God for idolatry.
The verb translated “worshipped” (sebazomai, σεβάζομαι) has the same root as does the word for impiety in verse 18 (asebeia).
The verb translated “served” (latreuō, λατρεύω) is the same verb used in verse 9, where Paul served God with his spirit. Here we see that because idolaters refuse to recognize God with their spirits, with their bodies they serve the world that God created. Idolatry is refusing to serve God.
And worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator
In the phrase and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, Paul continues to use the language of exchange. Idolaters worship what is created rather than the Creator. As the alternate translation suggests, they worship the created world “in place of” its Creator. They may worship the world itself, things in that world, idols, or other humans. They probably worship themselves in addition to whatever else they claim to worship. In any case, they worship the creation—the creature—rather than the Creator.
Sin is always idolatrous because it replaces God, who should be in our hearts, with something else. This is why sin is adulterous and why adultery is idolatrous (see below, page 89). Sin replaces the Creator with one of his creations. When our eye is on something other than the Father, we value something more than we value him. Thus, when our eye is not single to his glory (see, for example, D&C 4), or when we sin, we are idolaters.
The Creator, who is blessed for ever
The Greek word translated “is blessed” (eulogētos, ευλογητός) in the phrase the Creator, who is blessed for ever is passive and means “to be praised.” It refers only to God in the New Testament.106 The Creator is the one whom we are to praise. Unlike the idols of the sinful, the Father is praised for eternity, and the righteous bless him for eternity because he has given us the gospel through his Son, Jesus Christ. In spite of the fact that the sinful make a lie of his truth (in the words of verse 18, they hold it captive), God will be praised forever. Their lie cannot prevail, presumably because he continues to have the power to do good.
We use amen to mean something like “so be it.” Our word is a transliteration of a Hebrew word (&702;amez) that means, approximately, “certain, sure or firm.”107 Incidentally, the King James New Testament consistently translates amen as “verily.” In Hebrew, amen indicates resolve, and this is why it is an appropriate ending to prayers. Paul uses it in the sense of certainty: it is certain that God will be praised forever.
Just as verse 25 referred to verse 23, verse 26 repeats verse 24 and adds an example of how some disgrace their bodies: people have turned to homosexual practices.
Burned in their lust
The phrase burned in their lust indicates that some have succumbed to homosexual practices. Paul presents this behavior as a type for sexual sin in general. In the Old Testament, idolatry is almost always associated with sexual sin, in part because idolatry often involved sexual sin, though it also stems from the connection between sin and idolatry noted in the discussion of verse 25. In fact, the connection between sexual sin and idolatry was so strong that adultery and idolatry could be used as synonyms. (The similarity of sound of the two English words makes the connection even more apparent for us.) For example, the book of Hosea is entirely devoted to the use of this association of sexual sin and idolatry. In a call to Israel to repent, the book focuses on Israel’s relation to God and portrays it as one of marriage. Paul does not think it a coincidence that the idol-worshiping people of the Greco-Roman world allow homosexual practices. He contrasts the creative power of God with the noncreative sin of homosexual practice.
Sexual sin is particularly obvious as a kind of idolatry. It makes sexuality into a lie; it makes it false and then worships that falseness. It mocks God profoundly, for it changes his glory—eternal increase, the creative power that marks his Godhead—into something profane. For many, lust for the flesh, either heterosexual or homosexual, replaces godly desire.
Of course, godly desire does not negate our existence in the flesh, and the opposite of lust is not celibacy. Sexuality is very much part of what our Father has made us and, therefore, a part of what he wants us to be. Genuine, virtuous, godly sexuality is far more than mere self-gratifying lust. Ironically, lust confuses need with desire, substituting the satiable want of something (lust) for the insatiable attraction to someone (desire).108 If I am hungry, I have the need to eat. That need orients me to apples, oranges, and other food that will satisfy my need, things used up in satisfying my need, which will, at least temporarily, cease when it is satisfied. The desire I have for my wife is not like the need I have for an apple. My desire for her is increased by our relation to one another and cannot be satiated. In other words, our relation is not one in which either of us is used up. My love for her is gratifying in a different way than satisfying a need is gratifying.
It seems to follow that if my relation to another person is confused, a matter of lust rather than desire, it cannot be a gratifying relation. Lust expects satiety and another person cannot provide that. Thus, because lust does not really gratify, though it tries to, virtuous sexuality is more pleasurable than unvirtuous sexuality. Like all sin, lust cannot attain the thing it supposedly seeks after so diligently, while virtue, in doing what is right unselfishly and seeking the glory of God, receives what lust seeks and more.
The Greek word katergazdomai (κατεργάζομαι), translated “working,” is one of Paul’s favorite words, especially when he talks about sinning.109 It means “to achieve,” “to accomplish,” or “to bring about, produce, [or] create” something.110 Paul’s use of this word may run counter to our expectations because he consistently connects work and accomplishment with sin rather than with more positive things. This unusual use follows from his understanding of our relation to God. When we refuse the slavery to God that we are obligated to fulfill, our so-called accomplishments amount to nothing more than sin. On the other hand, when we recognize our slavery to God, we achieve nothing of ourselves. We do nothing, because everything that is done is the will of God. It is his work, not ours. Christians acknowledge that they can do nothing but what God does through them. The sinful wrongly believe that they can accomplish something by their own power.
This understanding of accomplishment does not necessarily imply quietism, waiting for God to do something. We are required to be “anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of [our] own free will” (D&C 58:27) without assuming that what we do is our own. Similarly, a wise steward can make a profit on his master’s money, but the money remains the master’s and the accomplishment is also the master’s (see Matthew 25:13–20; Luke 17:7–10).111
That which is unseemly
The Greek word aschēmosunē (ασχημοσύνη) means “what is shameful” or “what cannot be presented in public.” Here it is translated “that which is unseemly.” In the Septuagint it refers to the genitalia as well as to excrement (see Exodus 20:26; Leviticus 18:6–19; Deuteronomy 23:14).
The word apolambanō (απολαμβά&νω), translated “receiving,” implies not just receiving, but receiving a reward.112 The Greeks Paul speaks of have accomplished indecency, and in return they receive the reward appropriate to what they have accomplished: they are allowed to be what they have made themselves (see verses 26 and 28). Sin is their reward.
King Benjamin teaches that we must acknowledge our own nothingness (see Mosiah 4:5–11). He also teaches that doing so will bring joy in this life as well as a remission of sins, in other words, both temporal and spiritual salvation (see Mosiah 4:12–29). Only when we know that we are nothing can we be saved. Thinking he is nothing, the repentant person receives everything. In contrast, the sinner, thinking that he has accomplished something, discovers his own nothingness in the nothingness of his sin. Thinking he is something, he receives nothing.
As evidenced by the phrase in themselves, idolaters receive their sins into themselves. Those sins become part of what they are, and the idolaters are defined by their sins, or their nothingness, rather than by God’s blessings and righteousness.
The Greek word antimisthia (αντιμισθία), translated “recompence,” is a word for reward that emphasizes the “reciprocal nature of the transaction.”113 Paul continues to use the language of exchange, introducing the question of grace versus works: do we earn salvation in exchange for what we do for God? In Romans 4:2–16 Paul will argue that the answer is no. He can call himself and, implicitly, all believers slaves of God because we must act, but we do not earn. Paul uses the word recompence to show that the only thing that we can earn is the reward appropriate for our sinful lives. As we will see in verse 32, that reward is death.
Literally, their error means “their deceit” or “their deceit of themselves” (planē aōtōn, πλάνη αωτων). The word error is not incorrect, and neither is something like straying, as found in some translations, but error is not as strong as the Greek word planē. The alternate translation translates their error as “self-deceit” to capture this stronger meaning. The sins of these people are a deceit, as the previous verses have fully explained. Their sin is not only a mistake, it is an act of self-deceit. Sinners go against what they know to be true by the light of Christ, their own existence.
MeetMeet means “appropriate.”
To retain God in their knowledge
The Greek word translated “knowledge” (epignōsis, επίγνωσις) is emphatic, meaning something like “full knowledge.” The prefix, epi, gives it emphasis. The word can also mean “recognition” or even “decision” or “conscience.” It is related to the word for known in verse 19. The word indicates activity, something people do rather than something that happens to them. This phrase could also be translated “they did not think it fit to recognize God.” These people were not merely unknowing, they refused to know God. As the discussion of verse 27 points out, they have deceived themselves. Another way to look at this is that those whom Paul describes have refused to recognize their ability to judge good from evil and the knowledge they have gained in their experience of the world. In other words, they have refused the light of Christ. As a result, they have refused to experience God; they have refused to know him.
God gave them over
In the phrase God gave them over, Paul repeats what he said in verse 24. The question might arise why he speaks of their sins as something God has done even indirectly. The alternate translation “left them to” helps clarify that Paul does not mean that God played any role in their sins. However, at least partly as a reaction to the idolatry to which Israel was always succumbing, the Old Testament prophets rarely ascribe anything in their writings to a power other than God. For example, we read that “he [the Lord] hardened Pharaoh’s heart” (Exodus 7:13). As Joseph Smith’s revision, “Pharaoh hardened his heart,” makes clear, this does not mean that the Lord took the Pharaoh’s agency from him and forced him to have a hard heart. Ascribing events such as this to God’s power was a literary convention of the Old Testament writers.114 They knew that the Lord had not forced Pharaoh to have a hard heart, but to show the subservience of every power—including the Pharaoh—to God, they ascribed all significant actions to the Lord. Perhaps they also did this to help prevent idolaters from using the scriptures to show the power of their idols. Pharaoh was worshiped and was thus an idol. The prophets seem to have thought that even though the Lord allows people to choose for themselves, it was appropriate to ascribe what happened to the Lord. They wanted people who read this story to understand that the Lord is always in control, although Pharaoh obviously could choose whether to harden his heart.
The scriptures make it clear that the Lord does not cause people to do evil, and the phrase gave them up thus cannot mean that these people could not choose otherwise or repent once they sinned. This is reinforced by the meaning of knowledge in the phrase retain God in their knowledge (see above). Paul seems to be relying on the Old Testament literary convention of ascribing all actions to God’s power, though his usage is different. The phrase gave them up is considerably less forceful than caused or hardened. Paul’s use of this convention indicates his familiarity with the Old Testament and does not imply a lack of free agency, as the Old Testament use might if not understood.
The Greek word nous (νους), translated “mind,” means something broader than our concept of mind. For the Greeks of Paul’s time, mind referred to the totality of both moral and mental existence. For us, the word mind refers almost exclusively to consciousness, although that way of understanding mind is relatively recent, perhaps no earlier than the seventeenth century. Anciently mind could include “insight,” “inventiveness,” “disposition,” and “character.”115 Paul says that idolaters are immoral and their reasonings are vain (see verse 21) because they have unfit minds. Good thinking and morality cannot be separated.
They did not like to retain God in their knowledge . . . [so] God gave them over to a reprobate mind
The alternate translation of the phrase they did not like to retain God in their knowledge . . . [so] God gave them over to a reprobate mind shows a wordplay Paul uses to make a point: “They did not think it fit to [dokimazō, δοκιμάζω] . . . [so] he left them to an unfit [adokimos, αδόκιμος] mind.” This is a variation of verse 24 and helps us understand that the “reward” of sin is to be given over to it. Because these sinners did not think it appropriate to concern themselves with understanding God, who is ultimately the supreme thing worth understanding, the Father allowed them to have inappropriate, unfit, and worthless minds. Such minds are not suited to understanding him. God gave them what they demanded: minds not fitted to him. (Recall from the discussion of truth, verse 18, pages 73–75, what it means for them not to be fitted to, in other words, not in harmony with, the truth.)
As the alternate translation shows, in modern usage “convenient” is not a sufficiently strong translation, though in the etymology of convenient we see that its roots mean “that which comes together.” The Greek word for convenient is kathēkontōs (καθηκόντως). In Stoic philosophy it means “what is in accord with duty.”116 The point is that the Romans do not do what they are supposed to do.
And even as they did not like to retain God according to some knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do the those things which are not convenient.
It is not clear what to make of Joseph Smith’s changing in their knowledge to according to some knowledge, because it is not clear what the changed phrase means. One possibility is that the Prophet’s view of the world is different from Paul’s. Paul clearly believes that everyone comes into the world knowing of God. It is not apparent just what that means or in what way they know, but it is evident that Paul holds the view that everyone knows of God in some way. On the other hand, the Prophet Joseph may be suggesting that some simply do not know of God. If a knowledge of God is something learned from culture, tradition, and family, then it is quite conceivable that not all have that knowledge. The Book of Mormon’s insistence on the importance of the brass plates, record keeping, and preaching seems to be in agreement with the latter view.
In verses 29–31, Paul gives a comprehensive list of sins. Notice that the list contains three sublists: (1) being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; (2) full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; and (3) whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant-breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful.
Some have asserted that the order of the lists is meaningful, but this requires a good deal of straining. Paul may be listing four general types of sin—fornication, wickedness, covetousness, and maliciousness (see verse 29)—and then giving specific examples of these general types. However, he appears simply to be giving a long list of possible sins, running the gamut from what we might think of as small, like gossiping, to great, like murder. The order seems to be a function of the sounds of the Greek words, especially in the first two lists, where Paul groups words with similar endings, prefixes, or other sounds. For example, the sins mentioned in verse 31 all begin with the Greek letter alpha. It is not possible to effectively translate this rhetorical ordering into English.
The effect of a long list like this is much more powerful than the phrase many sins would be, especially when the words are also joined by similar sounds. Paul is obviously interested in using language to best present his message to his listeners: he wants them not only to hear the doctrinal content of his message (which could be stated, perhaps, in a chapter or two), but also to feel what he is saying. However, unlike the sophist or the con artist, Paul uses language that matches its content. He uses rhetoric not in place of content, but as part of it.
The Greek word translated “filled” (plēroō, πληρόω) is a perfect passive participle. The translation is thus “being filled” or “having been filled.” The perfect tense indicates completion or fullness, so we might translate this as “having been completely filled” or “having already been completely filled.” Those of whom Paul speaks here, namely, sinners, are completely unrighteous. Being unrighteous is ultimately not a matter of degree; one either is or is not unrighteous.
Unrighteousness could also be translated “injustice.” (See the discussion of ungodliness and unrighteousness in verse 18, page 73.)
The sin of fornication is not mentioned in every New Testament manuscript; in fact, many of the better manuscripts leave it out. The Greek word for fornication or prostitution (porneia, πορνεία [one of the roots of our word pornography]) and the word for malice (ponēria, πονερία) look much alike, and there appears to have been some confusion of the text by transcribers. That may explain why it appears in some manuscripts and not in others. The word translated “fornication” includes all sexual sin.117
The alternate translation uses “insatiability” rather than “covetousness” to remind us of what it means to be covetous. Covetousness is having inappropriate desires, desires not contained within proper bounds. Understanding the New Testament notion of perfection and the necessity of bounds or limits (see pages 12–13, 15–23) suggests that desires that remain within their proper boundaries are perfect. It also suggests that we may be able to think of all imperfection as a kind of covetousness, desiring to go beyond the bounds appropriate to one’s existence.
“Evil habits” or “craftiness,” indicating guile and machination, are variations of the word translated “malignity.” The alternate translation uses “conspiracy.”
Whisperers are those who spread gossip.
Backbiters are slanderers.
The Greek word hubristēs (υβριστής), translated “despiteful,” could also be translated “hubristic.” In the New Testament, it often means something like “arrogant” or “insolent” and can also mean “insulting.”118 Hubristēs describes one who cannot be governed, so it may be an implicit reference to those who refuse their service to God. To help distinguish this sin from pride, the alternate translation harks back to the earlier meaning of the word, “those who go beyond the mark” (compare Jacob 4:14). This earlier meaning explains what it means to be arrogant.
ProudProud could be translated “arrogant.” This pride is not positive. In fact, though the English scriptures use the word pride and variations of it 184 times, as Ezra Taft Benson pointed out, there is not one scriptural use of it as a positive attribute.119
Latter-day scripture is especially adamant that pride is not good. The Book of Mormon discusses pride considerably more than do the other scriptures, referring to it at least sixty-nine times, mostly in the writings before Christ (fifty-eight times). According to a WordCruncher™ analysis, the Book of Mormon uses pride 16 percent more often than one would expect if the words of scripture were randomly distributed. This is an indication of its importance to Book of Mormon writers. To my knowledge, not once does the Book of Mormon speak of pride positively. These facts should give us pause when we talk about a positive kind of pride. We might ask ourselves, “What is the scriptural term for that?” If there is one, it might be helpful to use it, and that might help us avoid viewing as positive something the scriptures universally condemn.
Verses 19–23 have shown how people have become without understanding, in other words, undiscerning.
The Greek word translated “implacable” (aspondos, ασπονδος), meaning “irreconcilable,” is not included in the better manuscripts. Modern editors usually omit it from the text.
This is the end of the sentence that began in verse 28. Paul again uses the rhetorical device of inclusion (see the discussion of verse 25, page 87). In verse 28 he described people who did not think a knowledge of God was fit to keep in their minds (or, as we might say, in their hearts). This is the first part of the inclusion and will be repeated at the end. The center portion is in verses 29–31, where Paul enumerated the ways in which these people were unfit, or the sins the Lord allowed them to be given over to. In verse 32, he concludes the inclusion by referring to the sinners in verse 28 and their fitness of mind in knowing of the judgment and justice of God. They know that what they do is wrong, but they not only do those things, they also take pleasure in seeing others do them. A diagram of this inclusion follows:
They did not like to retain God in their knowledge, so he gave them over to their unfit minds and their sinning (verse 28)
They were unrighteous, fornicators, iniquitous, covetous, malicious; full of envy. . . . (verses 29–31)
They knew that these things were worthy of death, but did them anyway and took pleasure in seeing others do them (verse 32)
In this context, retaining God in their knowledge and knowing that these things are worthy of death are the same: sinners know they are worthy of death if they retain a knowledge of God. They deceive themselves, not liking to retain a knowledge of God but knowing nonetheless that the result of doing such things is death, be it physical or spiritual. The idea that the Father turns them over to their unfit minds and the idea that they take pleasure in the sinning of others are thus also parallel. Their pleasure in the sins of others is perfect evidence of their unfit minds.
The Greek word translated “judgment,” dikaiōma (δικαίωμα), is related to the word translated elsewhere as “righteousness” and “justice” (see the discussion of righteousness of God in verse 17, pages 58–63). There are two ways to understand the word judgment. One way is to see it as a use of legal language: God has pronounced the verdict of guilty on those who sin, and these people, though they understand that verdict and its sentence of death, not only do the things that will bring the sentence upon them, but also take pleasure in seeing others do them.
The other way to understand the word judgment results from the fact that the word translated “judgment” often refers to the rules and regulations that maintain harmony.120 Given this information, we could also translate it “commandment” or “regulation.” The Greek word does not commit Paul to either meaning, leaving both open for his listeners to hear (the two are obviously related). English does not allow the same richness of meaning. The alternate translation arbitrarily uses the first of these meanings, but the second is equally acceptable.
Knowing the judgment of God
Paul has already explained how the sinners know God (see verses 19 and 20) even though they have deceived themselves into thinking that they do not know him. In the phrase knowing the judgment of God, Paul says that sinners implicitly understand God’s sentence on those who commit the sins he has listed.
Worthy of death
Worthy of death could also be translated “liable to death.” Perhaps to some readers’ surprise, not only are murder and unchastity said to warrant death, but so are whispering (gossiping) and pride. As becomes clear at the beginning of chapter 2, Paul expects those who hear or read this list to be smug, looking condescendingly at the people he describes as they agree with Paul that those people really are evil. We may be tempted to the same condescension as we read verses 22–27. As a result, we may assume that Paul means that one who commits these sins is worthy of capital punishment, but when we look closer at the range of sins that he has introduced, we have to question whether the word death really means “capital punishment.” One explanation is that Paul is using hyperbole, or exaggeration, to achieve the effect he desires. Another likely explanation is that he means that those who do these things are worthy of spiritual death. Since no unclean thing can enter the kingdom of heaven, those who commit such sins are worthy of being, or liable to be, cut off from the presence of God. Paul may also mean that the sins he lists make us worthy of physical death. Those who commit them should not be executed, but because of sins we suffer physical death. In other places it appears that Paul may believe that we die not only because of Adam’s transgression, but because of our own sins as well (see Romans 5:12 and 1 Corinthians 15:21; compare Moses 6:48).
The comparison of verses 1–17 with verses 18–32 draws our attention to the emphasis in the latter section on the fact that sin brings spiritual death. The first verses of Romans 1 are about the gospel and Paul’s preaching of it. In Greek, the last word of verse 17 is life, referring to eternal life. Verses 18–32 are about those who have been disobedient. Though it is not the last word, death is referred to at the end of this section. The central contrast in these two sections, then, is between the life brought by the gospel and the death brought by the denial of God, by disobedience. Romans 1 parallels the first two divisions of the entire letter to the Romans (see the discussion of the just shall live by faith in verse 17, pages 67–70, as well as the outline of the book, pages xx–xxi).
Because Paul discussed the content of the gospel in terms of the relation between the spirit and the flesh, and because he used Christ’s resurrection from the dead as his example of God’s power (see verses 3 and 4), we can view the rest of the chapter as a working out of that theme. Obedience to the gospel brings life, which is the union of spirit and flesh and the overcoming of sin (see verses 4–17). On the other hand, sin brings death, which is the dissolution of the spirit and the destruction of one’s body by lust (see verses 18–32).
Not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them
As the alternate translation shows, the sense of not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them seems to be that those who sin approve of the sins of others. Perhaps they encourage them. Perhaps they excuse them. Perhaps some even take pleasure in seeing others join them in sin. Sometimes we sin without recommending our sin to others. Even though we act unrighteously, we at least say that we do not want others to do what we have done. However, the people Paul is discussing not only sin, they also approve of the fact that others sin, even knowing, by the light of Christ, that what they are doing is wrong.
Though it may seem unlikely, I believe it is impossible to sin without recommending our sins to others in some sense. When I sin, I do what I sincerely believe to be wrong. If that were not true, although what I do might be a mistake, it seems odd to call it a sin. If I do what I believe to be wrong, I must in some way or another convince myself that it is either right or inescapable. Otherwise, I would do what I believe to be right. In other words, I must have and believe reasons, even deceptive excuses, for my behavior when I sin. Sin is always a form of self-deception. That I always recommend my sins to others follows from this conclusion. Any reasons to commit sin would also be reasons for another to do the same thing in my situation. If they are not sufficient for someone else in my situation, then they are not sufficient for me. Regardless of what I say to others or to myself, when I sin I implicitly recommend my sins to anyone in my situation. Conversely, I necessarily approve of the sins of others whenever I myself sin.
And some who, knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, are inexcusable, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.
The addition of are inexcusable in the inspired translation redescribes those who know the judgment of God. The King James translation of the Greek text says that some not only sin, but take pleasure in the fact that others sin. It parenthetically remarks that those who do this know that God considers them worthy of death. The Prophet’s addition changes the parenthetical clause, indicating that sinners know that God thinks them worthy of death and adding that they have no excuse. Joseph Smith’s change in this verse connects it to verse 20, making the last part of the chapter a sort of inclusion or, perhaps, a very loose chiasm:
A Idolaters are without excuse because they understand “from the creation” (verse 20)
B How their refusal to know God made them idolaters (verses 21–26)
B' A list of sins along with a repetition in verse 28 of the problem that occasions those sins (verses 26–31)
A' A return, not only to verse 28 (as in the Greek and King James texts), but also to verse 20 (verse 32)
It may be possible to think of the two center parts of this inclusion (verses 21–26 and 26–31) as parallel to each other: the sins listed in verses 29–31 result from the same kind of refusal to know God that also brings about idolatry. They are the same kind of act, a turning away from God toward something else, usually one’s own will. If this parallel is valid, this may, very loosely, be a chiasm. Chiasmus and inclusion may overlap.
106. For the other uses of the word, see Mark 14:61; Luke 1:68; Romans 9:5; 2 Corinthians 1:3; 11:31; Ephesians 1:3; 1 Peter 1:3.
107. See Kittel, Theological Dictionary, 1:335–36.
108. This discussion of need and desire is consequent on my understanding of Emmanual Levinas’s discussion of them in Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority, trans. Alphonso Lingis (Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1969), 104, 117, 179, 236, 254–73.
109. Paul also uses this word in Romans 2:9; 4:15; 5:3; 7:8, 13, 15, 17, 18, 20; 15:18.
110. See Bauer, Greek-English Lexicon, 421.
111. It is interesting that the steward is rewarded. Reward is commensurate with service to God, though we do not earn whatever reward we may receive. See also Mosiah 2:21; Matthew 20:1–16.
112. See Liddell and Scott, Greek-English Lexicon, 205.
113. Bauer, Greek-English Lexicon, 75.
114. Most modern translations deal with this literary convention by translating it in the active voice or by leaving the subject indefinite. For example, we see these varying translations of the phrase in Exodus 7:13: “Pharaoh’s heart was hard” (M. Rosenbaum and A. M. Silbermann, trans., Pentateuch with Rashi’s Commentary [London: Shapiro, Vallentine, 1945], 1:31) and “Pharaoh, however, remained obstinate” (The New Jerusalem Bible: Reader’s Edition [New York: Doubleday, 1990]).
115. See Kittel, Theological Dictionary, 4:952–53.
116. See Bauer, Greek-English Lexicon, 389. For example, see Polybius, Histories 6.6.1–8. Incidentally, though kathekontos is not related to the word translated “fit” in the alternate translation, “fitting” is a good translation here.
117. See Bauer, Greek-English Lexicon, 693.
118. See Ibid., 832.
119. See Ezra Taft Benson, “Beware of Pride,” Ensign, May 1989, 4–7.
120. See Bauer, Greek-English Lexicon, 198; Kittel, Theological Dictionary, 2:219–23.