The Extent of Man’s Sinfulness
And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and, although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them. (1:28–32)
Because fallen mankind did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over in still another way, in this case to a depraved mind. The God-less mind is a depraved mind, whose predetermined and inevitable disposition is to do those things which are not proper.
The basic meaning of adokimos (depraved) is that of not standing the test, and the term was commonly used of metals that were rejected by refiners because of impurities. The impure metals were discarded, and adokimos therefore came to include the ideas of worthlessness and uselessness. In relation to God, the rejecting mind becomes a rejected mind and thereby becomes spiritually depraved, worthless and useless. Of unbelievers, Jeremiah wrote, “They call them rejected silver, because the Lord has rejected them” (Jer. 6:30). The mind that finds God worthless becomes worthless itself. It is debauched, deceived, and deserving only of God’s divine wrath.
The sinful, depraved mind says to God, “Depart from us! We do not even desire the knowledge of Thy ways. Who is the Almighty, that we should serve Him, and what would we gain if we entreat Him?” (Job 21:14–15). Although God-less people think they are wise, they are supremely foolish (Rom. 1:22). Regardless of their natural intelligence and their learning in the physical realm, in the things of God they are devoid even of “the beginning of knowledge,” because they lack reverential fear of Him. They are merely “fools [who] despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov. 1:7; cf. v. 29).
Even God’s chosen people, the Jews, fell into that foolishness when they rejected or neglected the revelation and blessings He had showered on them so uniquely and abundantly. “For My people are foolish, they know Me not,” the Lord declared through Jeremiah; “they are stupid children, and they have no understanding. They are shrewd to do evil, but to do good they do not know” (Jer. 4:22; cf. 9:6). Those who reject the true God are wholly vulnerable to “the god of this world [who] has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4).
The catalog of sins Paul proceeds to mention in Romans 1:29–31 is not exhaustive, but it is representative of the virtually endless number of vices with which the natural man is filled.
The first two terms in the nasb text, all unrighteousness and wickedness, are comprehensive and general, synonyms that encompass the entire range of the particular sins that follow. Some versions include fornication between those first two terms, but that word is not found in the best Greek manuscripts. The idea is certainly not inappropriate to the context, however, because fornication is universally condemned in Scripture and is frequently included by Paul in lists of vices (see 1 Cor. 6:9; Gal. 5:19; Col. 3:5). Fornication is implied in the sin of impurity, which has already been mentioned in the present passage (1:24).
The sins mentioned in the rest of the list are basically self-explanatory: greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful. The Greek term behind untrustworthy means literally to break a covenant, as reflected in some translations. Unloving relates especially to unnatural family relationships, such as that of a parent who abandons a young child or a grown child who abandons his aging parents.
Reiterating the fact that rebellious, ungodly men are without excuse, Paul declares that they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death. The apostle has already established that, since the creation of the world, God has made Himself known to every human being (vv. 19–21). People do not recognize God because they do not want to recognize Him, because they willingly “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (v. 18). “This is the judgment,” Jesus said, “that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed” (John 3:19–20).
Whether they recognize it or not, even those who have never been exposed to the revelation of God’s Word are instinctively aware of His existence and of His basic standards of righteousness. “They show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them” (Rom. 2:15).
In most societies of the world, even in those considered uncivilized, most of the sins Paul lists here are considered wrong, and many are held to be crimes. Men inherently know that such things as greed, envy, murder, deceit, arrogance, disobedience, and mercilessness are wrong.
The absolute pit of wickedness is reached, Paul says, when those who are themselves involved in evils also give hearty approval to others who practice them. To justify one’s own sin is wicked enough, but to approve and encourage others to sin is immeasurably worse. Even the best of societies have had those within them who were blatantly wicked and perverse. But a society that openly condones and defends such evils as sexual promiscuity, homosexuality, and the rest has reached the deepest level of corruption. Many of the most socially advanced societies of our own day are in that category. Sexually promiscuous celebrities are glamorized and the rights of homosexuals are ardently defended. These acts of sin are in direct contradiction to the revealed will of God.
A certain species of ants in Africa builds its nests in deep subterranean tunnels, where its young and its queen live. Although they may be great distances from the nest foraging for food, worker ants of that species are able to sense when the queen is being molested and they become extremely nervous and uncoordinated. If she is killed, they become frantic and rush around aimlessly until they die.
What better illustration could there be of fallen man. Even in his sinful rejection and rebellion, he cannot function properly apart from God and is destined only for death.
28–32 Here the second key word of v. 18 (adikia, NIV, “wickedness; NASB, “unrighteousness,” GK 94) reappears (v. 29), indicating that this section is to be given over almost totally to a picture of the havoc wrought in human relations because of suppressing the knowledge of God. Paul describes the sinful world that we know all too well from experience. There is a wordplay in the Greek—people “did not think it worthwhile” (edokimasan, GK 1507) to retain God in their knowledge, so God in turn gave them over to a “depraved [adokimon, GK 99] mind,” which led them in turn to commit all kinds of sin. It is God’s function to judge, but human beings have usurped that prerogative in order to sit in judgment on him and dismiss him from their lives. The prior emphasis on the mind is in accord with the appraisal of our Lord, who traced the wellspring of sinful acts to the inner life rather than to environmental factors (Mk 7:20–23). The depraved mind is explained in terms of what it approves and plans—“to do what ought not to be done,” namely, what is “offensive to man even according to the popular moral sense of the Gentiles, i.e., what even natural human judgment regards as vicious and wrong” (TDNT 3:440).
Paul’s opening statement in verse 28 this time includes a play on words between ouk edokimasan (‘they did not think it worth while’) 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, 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 specifically 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.
28. And since they did not deem it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to (their) worthless disposition, to do what is improper …
Here for the third and last time our attention is focused on the correlation between man’s rejection of God and God’s rejection of man. For the two previous references to this correlation see verses 24 and 26. Men’s arrogance comes to the fore in the expression, “They did not deem it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God,” the very knowledge to which reference was made in verses 18–21; note especially, “For although they knew God” (verse 21). Instead of regarding this knowledge about God which they were deriving from his revelation in nature to be a precious treasure, they were constantly attempting to suppress it (verse 18) and, as is stated here in verse 28, regarded it as a negligible entity. They did not deem it to be worthwhile to pay any attention to God and to his revelation. So they continued on their sinful way, as described in verses 21–27 (the way of idolatry and immorality). In fact, the improper things the apostle has in mind probably also covered those mentioned in verses 29–32. Note that an evil “disposition” or “mind” or “attitude” results in evil deeds.
29–31.… having become filled with every kind ofunrighteousness, wickedness, greed, depravity;being full ofenvy, murder, strife, deceit, and malice. (They are)gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of (novel forms of) evil, disobedient to (their) parents, senseless, faithless, loveless, pitiless.
The list of vices mentioned in Rom. 1:29–31 should be compared with similar lists elsewhere in Paul’s writings: Rom. 13:13; 1 Cor. 5:9–11; 6:9, 10; 2 Cor. 12:20, 21; Gal. 5:19–21; Eph. 4:19; 5:3–5; Col. 3:5–9; 1 Thess. 2:3; 4:3–7; 1 Tim. 1:9, 10; 6:4, 5; 2 Tim. 3:2–5; and Titus 3:3, 9, 10.
Whether there were factors other than identity of authorship (for example, already existing lists) that account for this resemblance is difficult to ascertain.
The most simple and logical way to divide the twenty-one vices mentioned in Rom. 1:29–31 is to list them in three groups:
- one group of four vices (in the original each in the dat. s.), these four being introduced by the words “having become filled with every kind of”;
- one group of five vices (all in the gen. s.), introduced by “being full of”; and
- one group of twelve items, beginning with “gossips.”
The final four items in this group of twelve form a kind of sub-group, each member beginning with ἀ-privative (equal to English prefix un, dis-, or suffix -less).
The 4–5-12 grouping is also accepted by Cranfield, Murray, Ridderbos, Robertson, etc.
It will be noticed that no longer is there any specific reference to sins of sex, since that subject has been fully treated in the preceding verses.
Group of Four
unrighteousness. See on verse 18.
wickedness. This describes those people who take delight in doing what is wrong.
greed. This is covetousness, over-reaching, the craving for more and more and still more possessions, no matter how they are obtained. At times, as in Eph. 5:3, the word applies to ravenous self-assertion in matters of sex, at the expense of others.
depravity. This is badness in general. It is hard to distinguish it from wickedness.
Group of Five
envy. This is the keen displeasure aroused by seeing someone having something which you begrudge him.
murder. Envy often leads to murder. This was true in the case of Cain who murdered Abel (Gen. 4:1–8; 1 John 3:12). It was true also with respect to those who demanded Christ’s crucifixion (Matt. 27:18; Mark 15:10). And was it not envy that caused the brothers of Joseph to plan his death? See Gen. 37:4, 18.
strife. This refers to a quarrelsome disposition and its consequences.
deceit. This is cunning, treachery.
malice. This indicates malignity, spite, the desire to harm people.
Group of Twelve
gossips. The “whispering” slanderers are meant. They do not—perhaps do not dare to—come out in the open with their vilifying chatter, but whisper it into someone’s ear.
slanderers. What the gossips do secretly, the slanderers do openly.
haters of God. The word used in the original more often refers to those who are hated by God. However, the word is also used at times, as it is here, to indicate those who hate God.
insolent. See also 1 Tim. 1:13. This marks overweening individuals. They treat others with contempt, as if they (these insolent ones) and they alone, amounted to anything, and all others amounted to nothing.
arrogant. These fellows consider themselves “supermen.”
boastful. Such people are constantly bragging about themselves. Think of Lamech (Gen. 4:23, 24), of Sennacherib (2 Chron. 32:10–14); and of those described in Isa. 10:8–11; 14:13, 14.
inventors of (novel forms of) evil. The reference is to those who take special delight in inventing “original” methods of destroying their fellowmen.
disobedient to (their) parents. Read Exod. 20:12; Lev. 19:3; Prov. 20:20; Matt. 15:4; 19:19; Eph. 6:2.
And now the little sub-group of four:
senseless. These are the people that are “void of understanding.” But this is not merely a mental weakness; it is also a moral blemish. They are stupid because they have all along been unwilling to listen to God! See Matt. 15:16; Mark 7:18; Rom. 10:19 (cf. Deut. 32:2).
faithless. They are “not true to the covenant,” hence are perfidious, not to be trusted. See Ps. 73:15; 78:57; 119:158.
loveless. The meaning is: without natural affection. It was not at all unusual for pagans to drown or in some other way to destroy unwanted offspring. In this connection think of present-day abortion, for which all kinds of excuses are being invented.
pitiless. The reference is to people without mercy, cruel persons, ruthless ones. Think not only of the robbers in the parable of The Samaritan Who Cared (Luke 10), but also of the priest and the Levite, the two who “passed by on the other side.”
32. And although they know the ordinance of God that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only continue to do them but also approve of those who practice them.
What Paul is saying is that the perpetrators of the crimes, either implied or expressed in verses 29–31, must not be regarded as being so innocent that they cannot distinguish between right and wrong. On the contrary, they know—have an awareness of the fact—that according to God’s ordinance, his decree, those who practice such vices are worthy of death.
How do they know this? They know it because a righteous and holy God has revealed himself to them in nature (1:21) and in conscience (2:14, 15); in fact, is constantly doing this. Accordingly, they sense the fact that God will call them to account, and that continuing in their evil way will result in perdition for them. Nevertheless, in spite of this awareness, they not only continue to practice these vices and to perpetrate these crimes but even applaud others who do the same.
There are those who see a problem here; as if the apostle were saying that rejoicing to see other people engage in wickedness while you yourself abstain is even more wicked than taking part in such evil practices yourself. Having created this problem, they then try to solve it.
But is it not true that what Paul is actually saying is that those who not only practice these vices but also applaud others who engage in them are even worse than those who simply practice them? For example, a person might commit a wicked deed. Afterward he is sorry. Perhaps he even warns others. But here is another person who not only commits evil and continues to do so, but who in addition encourages others to copy his example, applauding them when they do so. Certainly such an individual has reached the climax of perversity.
Having reached the close of the chapter, and looking back, we should not forget that Paul’s real purpose in writing it was to show that man’s (here particularly the Gentile’s) wickedness is so great that only God is able to rescue him. Only when man accepts the divinely appointed way of salvation, namely, that of embracing God by faith, can he be saved. To God alone be the glory!
1:28 Because of men’s refusal to retain God in their knowledge, either as Creator, Sustainer, or Deliverer, God gave them over to a debased mind to commit a catalog of other forms of wickedness. This verse gives deep insight into why evolution has such enormous appeal for natural men. The reason lies not in their intellects but in their wills. They do not want to retain God in their knowledge. It is not that the evidence for evolution is so overwhelming that they are compelled to accept it; rather, it is because they want some explanation for origins that will eliminate God completely. They know that if there is a God, then they are morally responsible to Him.
1:29 Here, then, is the dark list of additional sins which characterize man in his alienation from God. Notice that he is full of them, not just an occasional dabbler in them. He is trained in sins which are not fitting for a human being: unrighteousness (injustice); sexual immorality (fornication, adultery, and other forms of illicit sex); wickedness (active evil); covetousness (greed, the incessant desire for more); maliciousness (the desire for harm on others; venomous hatred); full of envy (jealousy of others); full of murder (premeditated and unlawful killing of another, either in anger or in the commission of some other crime); full of strife (wrangling, quarreling, contentiousness); full of deceit (trickery, treachery, intrigue); full of evil-mindedness (ill-will, spite, hostility, bitterness); whisperers (secret slanderers, gossips);
1:30 backbiters (open slanderers, those who bad-mouth others); haters of God (or hateful to God); violent (despiteful, insulting); proud (haughty, arrogant); boasters (braggarts, self-paraders); inventors of evil things (devisers of mischief and new forms of wickedness); disobedient to parents (rebellious to parental authority);
1:31 undiscerning (lacking moral and spiritual discernment, without conscience); untrustworthy (breaking promises, treaties, agreements, and contracts whenever it serves their purposes); unloving (acting in total disregard of natural ties and the obligations that go with them); unforgiving (irreconcilable or implacable); unmerciful (cruel, vindictive, without pity).
1:32 Those who abuse sex (1:24), who pervert sex (1:26, 27), and who practice the other sins listed (1:29–31) have an innate knowledge not only that these things are wrong but also that they themselves are deserving of death. They know this is God’s verdict, however much they seek to rationalize or legalize these sins. But this does not deter them from indulging in these forms of ungodliness. In fact they unite with others to promote them, and feel a sense of camaraderie with their partners-in-sin.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1991). Romans (pp. 107–110). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Harrison, E. F., & Hagner, D. A. (2008). Romans. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, p. 50). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Stott, J. R. W. (2001). The message of Romans: God’s good news for the world (pp. 78–79). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
 Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans (Vol. 12–13, pp. 79–82). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1679–1680). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.