7 July 2018
A Commentary by John Stott
Paul’s opening statement in verse 28 this time includes a play on words between *ouk edokimasan* (‘they did not think it worthwhile’) and *adokimon noun* (‘a depraved mind’). It is not easy to reproduce it in English. One might say that ‘since they did not see fit to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to an unfit mind’.
And their *depraved mind* led this time not to immorality but to a whole variety of antisocial practices, which *ought not to be done* (28), and which together describe the breakdown of human community, as standards disappear and society disintegrates. Paul gives a catalogue of twenty-one vices. Such lists were not uncommon in those days in Stoic, Jewish and early Christian literature. All commentators seem to agree that the list defies neat classification. It begins with four general sins with which these people *have become filled*, namely *every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity*. Then come five more sins which they are *full of* and which all depict broken human relationships: *envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice* (29). Next come a couple on their own, which seem to refer to libel and slander, although JBP offers a characteristically imaginative translation: ‘whisperers-behind-doors’ and ‘stabbers-in-the-back’. These two are followed by four which seem to portray different and extreme forms of pride: *God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful*. Now comes another independent couple of words, denoting people who are ‘inventive’ in relation to evil and rebellious in relation to parents (30). And the list ends with four negatives, *senseless, faithless, heartless and ruthless* (31), which JB rather neatly renders ‘without brains, honour, love or pity’.
Verse 32 is a concluding summary of the human perversity Paul has been describing. First, *they know*. Yet again he begins with the knowledge possessed by the people he is depicting. It is not now God’s truth that they know, however, but *God’s righteous decree*, namely *that those who do such things deserve death*. As he will write later, ‘the wages of sin is death’ (6:23). And they know it. Their conscience condemns them.
Secondly, they nevertheless disregard their knowledge. *They not only continue to do these very things*, which they know deserve death, *but* (which is worse) they actively encourage others to do the same, and so flagrantly *approve* the evil behaviour of which God has expressed his disapproval.
We have come to the end of Paul’s portrayal of depraved Gentile society. Its essence lies in the antithesis between what people know and what they do. God’s wrath is specially directed against those who deliberately suppress truth for the sake of evil. ‘Dark as the picture here drawn is,’ wrote Charles Hodge, ‘it is not so dark as that presented by the most distinguished Greek and Latin authors, of their own countrymen’. Paul was not exaggerating.