Romans 1:22
Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,
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(22, 23) Relying upon their own wisdom, they wandered further and further from true wisdom, falling into the contradiction of supposing that the eternal and immutable Essence of God could be represented by the perishable figures of man, or bird, or quadruped, or insect.

(22) They became fools.—They were made fools. It is not merely that they expose their real folly, but that folly is itself judicially inflicted by God as a punishment for the first step of declension from Him.

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.Professing themselves to be wise - This was the common boast of the philosophers of antiquity. The very word by which they chose to be called, "philosophers," means literally "lovers of wisdom." That it was their boast that they were wise, is well known; compare Romans 1:14; 1 Corinthians 1:19, 1 Corinthians 1:20, 1 Corinthians 1:22; 1 Corinthians 3:19; 2 Corinthians 11:19.

They became fools - Compare Jeremiah 8:8-9. They became really foolish in their opinions and conduct. There is something particularly pungent and cutting in this remark, and as true as it is pungent. In what way they evinced their folly, Paul proceeds immediately to state. Sinners of all kinds are frequently spoken of as fools in the Scriptures. In the sense in which it is thus used, the word is applied to them as void of understanding or moral sense; as idolaters, and as wicked; Psalm 14:1; Proverbs 26:4; Proverbs 1:17, Proverbs 1:22; Proverbs 14:8-9. The senses in which this word here is applied to the pagan are,

(1) That their speculations and doctrines were senseless; and,

(2) That their conduct was corrupt.

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].

Some think, that all along this context the apostle hath reference to the Gnostics, a sort of heretics in the first age, (of which see Dr. Hammond in locum), and that the meaning of the words is this, That they, assuming the title of Gnostics, of knowing men, and of men wiser than others, have proved more sottish than any. Others think the words refer to the heathen philosophers, who though they were learned and wise in secular and natural things, yet they became fools in spiritual and heavenly matters; though they well understood the creature, yet they erred concerning the Creator. And as fools delight in toys, neglecting things of great value; so they set up puppets and idols of their own devising, in the room of the true God; which the apostle gives us in the next verse, as a demonstration of their folly. Socrates, who was accounted one of the wisest amongst them, desired his friends, when he was about to die, to offer for him a cock to Aesculapius, which he had vowed.

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.

{g} Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,

(g) Or, thought themselves.

Romans 1:22-23. In a false conceit of wisdom (comp 1 Corinthians 1:17 ff.) this took place (viz. what has just been announced in ἘΜΑΤΑΙΏΘΗΣΑΝ.… ΚΑΡΔΊΑ), and what a horrible actual result it had!

The construction is independent, no longer hanging on the διότι in Romans 1:21 (Glöckler, Ewald); the further course of the matter if described. While they said that they were wise (comp 1 Corinthians 3:21) they became foolish. Comp Jeremiah 10:24 f. This becoming foolish must be understood as something self-incurred—produced through the conceit of independence—as is required by the description of God’s retribution on them in Romans 1:24; therefore the “dirigente Deo,” which Grotius understands along with it in accordance with 1 Corinthians 1:21, is here foreign to the connection. The explanation of Köllner, Baumgarten-Crusius, and others, including Usteri: “they have shown themselves as fools,” is erroneous, because the aorist passive in Romans 1:21 does not admit of a similar rendering.

For examples of φάσκειν, dictitare, in the sense of unfounded assertion (Acts 24:9; Acts 25:19; Revelation 2:2), see Raphel, Xenoph. and Kypke. Comp Dem. Phil. i. 46, iii. 9; Herodian, iii. 12, 9. Their pretended wisdom was a μάταιος δοξοσοφία, Plat. Soph. p. 231 B. We may add that this definition is not aimed at the Gentile philosophers, who came much later and in fact did not do what is declared in Romans 1:23 (comp Calvin), but generally at the conceit of wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:21), which is necessarily connected with an estrangement from divine truth, and from which therefore idolatry also, with its manifold self-invented shapes, must have proceeded. For heathenism is not the primeval religion, from which man might gradually have risen to the knowledge of the true God, but is, on the contrary, the result of a falling away from the known original revelation of the true God in His works. Instead of the practical recognition and preservation of the truth thus given comes the self-wisdom rendering them foolish, and idolatry in its train.

καὶ ἤλλαξ. Κ.Τ.Λ[475]] and they exchanged the majesty of the imperishable God for a likeness of an image of a perishable man, etc., i.e. instead of making, as they ought to have done, the glory of the eternal God manifested to them in the revelation of nature—כְּבוֹד יְהֹוָה, i.e. His glorious perfection (Romans 1:20)—the object of their adoration, they chose for that purpose what was shaped like an image of a perishable man, etc.; comp Psalm 106:20; Jeremiah 2:11. The ἐν (comp Sir 7:18) is instrumental, as is elsewhere the simple dative (Herod vii. 152; Soph. Niob. fr. 400, Dind.): thereby, that they made and adored such an ὁμοίωμα, and on the other hand rejected the glory of God, which they ought to have worshipped. Comp LXX. Ps. l.c[479]; ἠλλάξαντο τὴν δόξαν αὐτῶν ἐν ὁμοιώματι μόσχου. On the genitive εἰκόνος comp also 1Ma 3:48; Revelation 9:7; and on ὁμοίωμα itself in the sense of likeness, Romans 5:14, Romans 6:5, Romans 8:3; Php 2:7; Sir 38:28; 2 Kings 16:10; Isaiah 40:18; 1 Samuel 6:5; Plat. Phaedr. p. 250 A; Parm. p. 132 D. It is not mere similarity, but conformity with the object of comparison concerned as agreeing therewith in appearance; see also Holsten, z. Ev. des Paul. u. Petr. p. 440; Pfleiderer in Hilgenfeld’s Zeitschr. p. 523 f.

καὶ πετειν. κ. τετραπ. κ. ἑρπ.] No doubt as Paul, in using ἀνθρώπου, thought of the forms of the Hellenic gods, so. in πετειν. κ.τ.λ[481] he had in his mind the Egyptian worship of animals (Ibis, Apis, serpents). Philo, Leg. a[482]. Caj. p. 566, 570. For passages from profane authors respecting the folly (at which the φθαρτοῦ here also points) of image-worship, see especially Dougtaeus, Anal. 69, p. 102, Grotius and Wetstein. We may add that, like the previous φθαρτοῦ ἀνθρώπου, the genitives ΠΕΤΕΙΝῶΝ Κ.Τ.Λ[483] are dependent on εἰκόνος, not on ὁμοιώματι (van Hengel), which is less natural and not required by the singular εἰκόνος, that in fact refers to each particular instance in which a man, birds, etc. were copied for purposes of divine adoration by means of statues and other representations.

[475] .τ.λ. καὶ τὰ λοιπά.

[479] .c. loco citato or laudato.

[481] .τ.λ. καὶ τὰ λοιπά.

[482] d refers to the note of the commentator or editor named on the particular passage.

[483] .τ.λ. καὶ τὰ λοιπά.

22. Professing themselves to be wise, &c.] A severe but just description of speculation, primitive or modern, which ignores Revelation where Revelation has spoken. St Paul does not mean that in such speculations no intellectual power was exerted; surpassing power often was, and is, displayed in them. But the premisses of the reasoners, and their moral attitude, in view of the real state of the case, were fatally wrong. In the very act of “professing to be” competently “wise” they proved themselves “fools,” and further proved it by palpable acts, as follows.

Romans 1:22. φάσκοντες, professing.—ἐμωράνθησαν) The LXX., Jeremiah 10:14, etc., ἐμωράνθη πᾶς ἄνθρωπος ἀπὸ γνώσεωςψευδῆ ἐχώνευσανμάταιά ἐστιν, ἔργα ἐμπεπαιγμένα, (every man is a fool in his knowledge.—Their molten images are falsehoods, they are vain and deceitful works). Throughout this epistle Paul alludes to the last chapters of Isaiah, and to the first of Jeremiah, from which it appears, that this holy man of God was at that time fresh from the reading of them.

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.). Romans 1:22Professing (φάσκοντες)

The verb is used of unfounded assertion, Acts 24:9; Acts 25:19; Revelation 2:2.

Wise, they became fools

Another oxymoron; see on Romans 1:20. Compare Horace, insaniens sapientia raving wisdom. Plato uses the phrase μάταιον δοξοσοφίαν vain-glorying of wisdom ("Sophist," 231).

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