Romans 1:23
And changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four footed beasts, and creeping things.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(23) Into an image made like to.For the likeness of the image of mortal man. This anthropomorphism applies more especially to the religions of Greece and Rome. Representations of the Deity under the form of beasts were most common in Egypt. “Worship was universally paid to cattle, lions, cats, dogs, weasels, and otters; among the birds, to the sparrow-hawk, the hoopoe, the stork, and the sheldrake; and among fish, to the eel and lepidotus. Besides these, other creatures received local worship. The sheep was worshipped in Sais and the Thebais, but sacrificed and eaten in Lycopolis. The hippopotamus in the district of Papremis, and the crocodile in the greater part of the land, were considered specially sacred; but the latter was chased and eaten in Tentyra and Apollinopolis. The sacred serpent Thermapis which served as head-gear for Isis had holes in all the temples, where it was fed with veal fat.” “Among the sacred beasts,” says Döllinger, “the first place was given to the divine bulls, of which the Egyptians worshipped four.” No doubt the images in Greece and the beasts in Egypt were by some of the people regarded only as symbols of the Deity, but it was in all probability only a small minority who were capable of drawing this distinction.

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.And changed - This does not mean that they literally "transmuted" God himself; but that in their views they exchanged him; or they changed him "as an object of worship" for idols. They produced, of course, no real change in the glory of the infinite God, but the change was in themselves. They forsook him of whom they had knowledge Romans 1:21, and offered the homage which was due to him, to idols.

The glory - The majesty, the honor, etc. This word stands opposed here to the "degrading" nature of their worship. Instead of adoring a Being clothed with majesty and honor, they bowed down to reptiles, etc. They exchanged a glorious object of worship for what was degrading and humiliating. The glory of God, in such places as this, means his essential honor, his majesty, the concentration and expression of his perfections, as the glory of the sun, 1 Corinthians 15:41 means his shining, or his splendor; compare Jeremiah 2:11; Psalm 106:20.

The uncorruptible God - The word "uncorruptible" is here applied to God in opposition to "man." God is unchanging, indestructible, immortal. The word conveys also the idea that God is eternal. As he is incorruptible, he is the proper object of worship. In all the changes of life, man may come to him, assured that he is the same. When man decays by age or infirmities, he may come to God, assured that he undergoes no such change, but is the same yesterday, today, and forever; compare 1 Timothy 1:17.

Into an image - An image is a representation or likeness of anything, whether made by painting, or from wood, stone, etc. Thus, the word is applied to "idols," as being "images" or "representations" of heavenly objects; 2 Chronicles 33:7; Daniel 3:1; Revelation 11:4, etc. See instances of this among the Jews described in Isaiah 40:18-26, and Ezekiel 8:10.

To corruptible man - This stands opposed to the "incorruptible" God. Many of the images or idols of the ancients were in the forms of men and women. Many of their gods were heroes and benefactors, who were deified, and to whom temples, altars, and statues were erected. Such were Jupiter, and Hercules, and Romulus, etc. The worship of these heroes thus constituted no small part of their idolatry, and their images would be of course representations of them in human form. It was proof of great degradation, that they thus adored human beings with like passions as themselves; and attempted to displace the true God from the throne, and to substitute in his place an idol in the likeness of men.

And to birds - The "ibis" was adored with special reverence among the Egyptians, on account of the great benefits resulting from its destroying the serpents which, but for this, would have overrun the country. The hawk was also adored in Egypt, and the eagle at Rome. As one great principle of pagan idolatry was to adore all objects from which important benefits were derived, it is probable that all birds would come in for a share of pagan worship, that rendered service in the destruction of noxious animals.

And fourfooted beasts - Thus, the ox, under the name "apis," was adored in Egypt; and even the dog and the monkey. In imitation of the Egyptian ox, the children of Israel made their golden calf, Exodus 22:4. At this day, two of the most sacred objects of worship in Hindostan are the cow and the "monkey."

And creeping things - Reptiles. "Animals that have no feet, or such short ones that they seem to creep or crawl on the ground." "(Calmet.)" Lizards, serpents, etc. come under this description. The "crocodile" in Egypt was an object of adoration, and even the serpent so late as the second century of the Christian era, there was a sect in Egypt, called "Ophites" from their worshipping a serpent, and who ever claimed to be Christians, (Murdock's Mosheim, vol. i. p. 180, 181). There was scarcely an object, animal or vegetable, which the Egyptians did not adore. Thus, the leek, the onion, etc. were objects of worship, and people bowed down and paid adoration to the sun and moon, to animals, to vegetables, and to reptiles. Egypt was the source of the views of religion that pervaded other nations, and hence, their worship partook of the same wretched and degrading character. (See "Leland's" "Advantage and Necessity of Revelation.")

23. And changed—or "exchanged."

the glory of the uncorruptible God into—or "for"

an image … like to corruptible man—The allusion here is doubtless to the Greek worship, and the apostle may have had in his mind those exquisite chisellings of the human form which lay so profusely beneath and around him as he stood on Mars' Hill; and "beheld their devotions." (See on [2180]Ac 17:29). But as if that had not been a deep enough degradation of the living God, there was found "a lower deep" still.

and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and to creeping things—referring now to the Egyptian and Oriental worship. In the face of these plain declarations of the descent of man's religious belief from loftier to ever lower and more debasing conceptions of the Supreme Being, there are expositors of this very Epistle (as Reiche and Jowett), who, believing neither in any fall from primeval innocence, nor in the noble traces of that innocence which lingered even after the fall and were only by degrees obliterated by wilful violence to the dictates of conscience, maintain that man's religious history has been all along a struggle to rise, from the lowest forms of nature worship, suited to the childhood of our race, into that which is more rational and spiritual.

Changed the glory of the uncorruptible God; you have the same phrase, Psalm 106:20 Jeremiah 2:11; and from thence it is borrowed.

Into an image made like to corruptible man, &c.: the apostle proeeedeth from the more worthy to the less worthy creatures, that the grossness of their idolatry might the better appear; and these four are put for all other kinds. This gross idolatry of the heathen in worshipping such images as are here spoken of, was practised by the Israelites; see Ezekiel 8:10,11: and so it is by the Romanists to this day; nor doth it avail them to say, they do not worship images, but the true God in or before those images; for the same plea was made by the idolaters of old. Symmachus, in a learned oration, wherein he craved of the emperors Valentinian and Theodosius the restitution of the Roman gods, affirms, that they had respect only to one God; but they had divers ways to bring them to that God: they did not hold such things as they worshipped to be God, but in them they said they worshipped the true God. That worship which is intended to God by an image, is not the worship of God, but of the image. Compare Psalm 106:19,20, with Exodus 32:4,5. And changed the glory of the incorruptible God,.... God is incorruptible and immortal in his nature, and so is opposed to all corruptible creatures and things: he has a glory which is essential to him, and a manifestative one in the creatures, and which is relative, and of right belongs to him: his absolute essential glory cannot be changed, cannot be taken away from him, nor given to another; but his relative glory may be said to be changed, when another is worshipped in his stead, and called by his name. So Philo the Jew (g) speaks of

"some, who, leaving the true God, make to themselves false ones, and impose the name of the eternal and incorruptible upon created and corruptible beings.''

Into an image made like to corruptible man; which was worshipped in different forms by the several nations of the world:

and to birds; as the dove by the Samaritans, the hawk, the ibis, and others by the Egyptians:

and fourfooted beasts; as the ox, and other creatures:

and creeping things; such as beetles, serpents, and others, by the same.

(g) De Vita Mosis, l. 3. p. 678, 679.

And changed the glory of the {h} uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.

(h) For the true God they substituted another.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
23. into an image made like to] Lit. in the resemblance of the likeness of; i.e. “so as to appear in a form like man, bird, beast, snake, and insect.” Deity, and its prerogatives, were so degraded as to be (in the idolater’s act) transferred to idols. The illustrations of the Apostle’s words from ancient and modern heathenism are too abundant to need special mention.Romans 1:23. Ἤλλαξαν, they changed), with the utmost folly, Psalm 106:20; Jeremiah 2:11. The impiety being one and the same, and the punishment one and the same, have three successive stages. In the first, these words are the emphatic ones, viz., καρδία, in Romans 1:21; καρδιῶν, in Romans 1:24; ἐδόξασαν, and δόξαν, and ἀτιμάζεσθαι τὰ σώματα, in Romans 1:21; Romans 1:23-24. In the second stage, μετήλλαξαν is emphatic, and the repetition of this verb, not, however, without a difference between the simple and compound forms [ἤλλαξαν τ. δοξαν, Romans 1:23; μετήλλαξαν τ. φυσικὴν χρῆσιν, Romans 1:26, the corresponding sin and punishment], gives the meaning of like for like [talionis, their punishment being like their sin], Romans 1:25-26; as παρὰ changes its meaning, when repeated in the same place [παρὰ τ. κτίσαντα, Romans 1:25; παρὰ φύσιν, Romans 1:26]. In the third, οὐκ ἐδοκίμασαν, and ἀδόκιμον, Romans 1:28, are emphatic. In the several cases, the word παρέδωκε expresses the punishment. If a man worships not God as God, he is so far left to himself, that he casts away his manhood, and departs as far as possible from God, after whose image he was made.—τὴν δόξαν το͂υ ἀφθὰρτου, the glory of the incorruptible) The perfections of God are expressed either in positive or negative terms. The Hebrew language abounds in positive terms, and generally renders negatives by a periphrasis.—ἐν), Hebrew ב, [So, after the verb to change with, or for] the Latin pro, cum; so, ἐν, Romans 1:25 [changed the truth of God into a lie].—ἀνθρώπουἑρπετῶν, like to man—to creeping things) A descending climax; corruptible is to be construed also with birds, etc. They often mixed together the form of man, bird, quadruped, and serpent.—ὁμοιώματι εἰκόνος, in the likeness of an image) Image is the concrete; likeness the abstract, opposed to δόξῃ, the glory; the greater the resemblance of the image to the creature, the more manifest is the aberration from the truth.Image made like (ὁμοιώματι εἰκόνος)

Rev., more literally, the likeness of an image. See on Revelation 13:14. Equivalent to what was shaped like an image. Likeness indicates the conformity with the object of comparison in appearance; image, the type in the artist's mind; the typical human form. See, further, on Philippians 2:7.

Birds and beasts and creeping things

Deities of human form prevailed in Greece; those of the bestial form in Egypt; and both methods of worship were practiced in Rome. See on Acts 7:41. Serpent-worship was common in Chaldaea, and also in Egypt. The asp was sacred throughout the latter country. The worship of Isis was domesticated at Rome, and Juvenal relates how the priests of Isis contrived that the silver images of serpents kept in her temple should move their heads to a suppliant ("Satire" vi., 537). Many of the subjects of paintings in the tombs of the kings at Thebes show the importance which the serpent was thought to enjoy in the future state. Dollinger says that the vestal virgins were intrusted with the attendance upon a holy serpent, and were charged with supplying his table with meats on festival days.

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