|Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary|
1:18-25 The apostle begins to show that all mankind need the salvation of the gospel, because none could obtain the favour of God, or escape his wrath by their own works. For no man can plead that he has fulfilled all his obligations to God and to his neighbour; nor can any truly say that he has fully acted up to the light afforded him. The sinfulness of man is described as ungodliness against the laws of the first table, and unrighteousness against those of the second. The cause of that sinfulness is holding the truth in unrighteousness. All, more or less, do what they know to be wrong, and omit what they know to be right, so that the plea of ignorance cannot be allowed from any. Our Creator's invisible power and Godhead are so clearly shown in the works he has made, that even idolaters and wicked Gentiles are left without excuse. They foolishly followed idolatry; and rational creatures changed the worship of the glorious Creator, for that of brutes, reptiles, and senseless images. They wandered from God, till all traces of true religion must have been lost, had not the revelation of the gospel prevented it. For whatever may be pretended, as to the sufficiency of man's reason to discover Divine truth and moral obligation, or to govern the practice aright, facts cannot be denied. And these plainly show that men have dishonoured God by the most absurd idolatries and superstitions; and have degraded themselves by the vilest affections and most abominable deeds.
Verses 22, 23. - Professing themselves to be wise, they Became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into the similitude (literally, in similitude; cf. Psalm 106:20, whence idea and words are taken) of an image of corruptible man, and of birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. The expression, γνόντες τὸν Θεὸν, refers to what has been said of τὸ γνωστὸν τοῦ Θεοῦ, having been "manifest in them." It implies actual knowledge, not mere capacity of knowledge. Mankind is regarded as having lost a truer perception of God once possessed, idolatry being a sign of culpable degradation of the human race - not, as some would have us now believe, a stage in man's emergence from brutality. Scripture ever represents the human race as having fallen and become degraded; not as having risen gradually to any intelligent conceptions of God at all. And it may well be asked whether modern anthropological science has really discovered anything to discredit the scriptural view of the original condition and capacity of man. The view here presented is that obfuscation of the understanding (σύνεσις) ensued from refusal to glorify and give thanks to known Deity. "Gratias assere debemns ob beneficia; glorificare ob ipsas virtutes divinas" (Bengel). Hence came ματαιότης, a word, with its correlatives, constantly used with reference to idolatry; cf. Acts 14:15; 1 Corinthians 3:20; Ephesians 4:17; 1 Peter 1:18; also in the Old Testament, 1 Kings 16:26 (ἐν τοῖς ματαίοις ἐπορεύαὐτῶν, LXX.), 2 Kings 17:15 (θησαν ὀπίσω τῶν μαρταίων, LXX.); Jeremiah 2:5; Jonah 2:8 (φυλασσάμενοι μάταια καὶ ψευδῆ). Two forms of idolatry - both involving unworthy conceptions of the Divine Being - are alluded to, suggested, we may suppose, by the anthropomorphism of the Greeks and the creature-worship of Egypt, which were the two notable and representative developments of heathen religion. The expression, φάσκοντες εῖναι σοφοὶ, with the previous ἐν τοῖς διαλογισμαοῖς, have led some to suppose in this whole passage a special reference to the schools of philosophy. But this is not so. The degradation spoken of was long anterior to them, nor is this charge, as formulated, applicable to them. The idea is, generally, that boasted human intellect has not preserved men from folly; not even "the wisdom of the Egyptians," or the intellectual culture of the Greeks (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:19, etc.; 1 Corinthians 3:19, etc.).
Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
Professing themselves to be wise,.... The learned men among the Gentiles first called themselves "Sophi", wise men: and afterwards, to cover their wretched pride and vanity, "Philosophers", lovers of wisdom; but notwithstanding all their arrogance, their large pretensions to wisdom, and boast of it
they became fools; they appeared to be so; they showed themselves to be such in those very things they prided themselves with the knowledge of: as, for instance, Socrates, after he had asserted the unity of God, and is said to die a martyr for the truth; yet one of the last actions of his life was sacrificing a cock to Aesculapius, at least he desired his friend Crito to do it.
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
22, 23. Professing themselves—"boasting," or "pretending to be"
wise, they became fools—"It is the invariable property of error in morals and religion, that men take credit to themselves for it and extol it as wisdom. So the heathen" (1Co 1:21) [Tholuck].
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