God Gave Them Over: The Sin List – Romans 1:28-31

romans-sin-listThe conclusion of Romans 1 is that no human responds to the clear revelation of God in creation. Because humans do not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, God hands them over to a “not worthwhile” mind. Based on contemporary rhetoric one would assume the worst of all sins was homosexuality. Yet the worthless thinking of the world which rejects the clear revelation of God is quite familiar to everyone. It is remarkable how few of these sins are related to sex, in contrast to Christian preaching on sin.

The first verb (δοκιμάζω) is related to the adjective translated “debased” in the ESV (ἀδόκιμος). This word has the sense of “not standing the test” (BDAG), thus worthless. This play on words highlights the worthlessness of Gentile thinking, since they have chosen not to acknowledge God properly, God allows that thinking to follow its course, resulting in complete separation.

Virtue and vice lists are common on both Greek and Roman sources. Paul’s sin list is remarkably similar to a list in the Wisdom of Solomon 14:22-31.

Wisdom of Solomon 14:22–31 (NRSV) Then it was not enough for them to err about the knowledge of God, but though living in great strife due to ignorance, they call such great evils peace. 23 For whether they kill children in their initiations, or celebrate secret mysteries, or hold frenzied revels with strange customs, 24 they no longer keep either their lives or their marriages pure, but they either treacherously kill one another, or grieve one another by adultery, 25 and all is a raging riot of blood and murder, theft and deceit, corruption, faithlessness, tumult, perjury, 26 confusion over what is good, forgetfulness of favors, defiling of souls, sexual perversion, disorder in marriages, adultery, and debauchery. 27 For the worship of idols not to be named is the beginning and cause and end of every evil. 28 For their worshipers either rave in exultation, or prophesy lies, or live unrighteously, or readily commit perjury; 29 for because they trust in lifeless idols they swear wicked oaths and expect to suffer no harm. 30 But just penalties will overtake them on two counts: because they thought wrongly about God in devoting themselves to idols, and because in deceit they swore unrighteously through contempt for holiness. 31 For it is not the power of the things by which people swear, but the just penalty for those who sin, that always pursues the transgression of the unrighteous.

Paul’s list is “what ought not to be done.” Most of the words in Paul’s sin list are self-evident in the sense that we do not need to define anger, rage, or malice. We know it when we see it! One item in Paul’s list stands out. Disobedience to parents was seen by both Jews and Romans as “profoundly dangerous” (cited by Jewett, Romans, 188). Seneca the Elder said “remember, fathers expected absolute obedience from their children and could punish recalcitrant children even with death.” Deuteronomy 21:18-21 allows for disobedient children to be taken to the city gates and stoned to death!

The final four words, “foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless,” indicate people lack the basic essentials of humanity from the perspective of the Greco-Roman world (Jewett, Romans, 188-9).  The ESV attempts to give the rhyming flavor of the Greek text (ἀσυνέτους ἀσυνθέτους ἀστόργους ἀνελεήμονας, asynetous asynthetous astorgous aneleēmonas).

Virtually every vice on this list in Romans 1:28-31 would be considered sinful or evil in most cultures that have ever existed, yet every culture that has ever existed still struggles with envy, murder, strife, etc. For a Jewish reader it would be very easy at this point to point a finger at the Gentile world and say “preach it, Paul!” So too contemporary Christians who (hypocritically) finish reading this chapter and whisper to themselves, “I am glad I am not like one of those people!”

It is healthy for a Christian reader of Romans 1 not to point fingers at others, but honestly agree with Paul that these “things which ought not be done” are far too common in the local church. Paul’s intention was not to embarrass people or call them sinners, but to show that we are all in the same place, people who have fallen short of the glory of God.

8 thoughts on “God Gave Them Over: The Sin List – Romans 1:28-31

  1. This post and what Paul has to say in Romans is really relate-able and eye opening. In our culture today, it is incredibly easy to point the finger and play the blame game. As humans we do not want to take responsibility for our mistakes. As Christians it is important to strive to live in a way that is pleasing to God, living so that we are not looked at as hypocrites and condemners. “Paul’s intention was not to embarrass people or call them sinners, but to show that we are all in the same place, people who have fallen short of the glory of God.” This last sentence is helpful in understanding and realizing that Paul does not put himself above any of us, instead he wants only to show us that we are all so far from God. I have personally questioned Paul’s motives behind his harsh words in Romans while calling sinners out. At times I have found myself viewing Paul as an individual that thinks highly of himself and wants to condemn the world. My perception of Paul could not be more wrong. Paul is simply calling people out for their continual wickedness and wants people to come to know Christ and the peace/hope that He offers.We (I especially) need to get away from the preconceived ideas and thoughts about Paul and what he has to say and stop pin-pointing all the faults that others have, when we are just as bad or worse (Mathew 7:5).


  2. When Paul spells out what is right and wrong, I find it extremely eye opening. For me I know what is right and wrong about the big things, but I believe us as Christians forget the little things such as our inner thoughts. Of course we all know that cheating on our husband or wife is wrong, but we tend to forget that our inner thoughts of wanting to be with another man or women are wrong too. (Matthew 5:28). When I read the rules that Paul is laying out for the Romans, I do a inner reflection and see if my thoughts are as pure as my actions are. I think it is appropriate for everyone to read through the list of sins and see where they are falling short, because sometimes I believe we are not even noticing.


  3. What you said reminds me of the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14 that Jesus tells. So many Christians nowadays act like the Pharisee, looking down on those who are not as “good” as they are. However these people are only looking outwardly (at works) and not at their heart. As Paul stresses so often, we are all alive under sin, the law does not save, and it requires belief and acceptance in Jesus Christ. No one can be perfect, which is why God’s grace is so incredible. Contemporary culture, as you pointed out, has become so focused on sexual sin and people, rather than addressing their personal sins that may not have anything to do with sex, point fingers at those they believe practice the worst of sins, often homosexuality and sex outside of marriage.


  4. Some Christians do not like to associate themselves with this passage because it refers to “those pagans” (as some people may call them). Some Christians do not like to admit that they area sinners, even though they know that everyone was, in fact, born a sinner. (Romans 3:23) Jesus died to forgive such kinds of people. Church goers can mask their personal lives as an attempt to somehow show themselves as better people than “those pagans” mentioned in Romans 1. As it has been seen occurring over many generations, the acceptance of the sins mentioned in Romans 1:28-31 is becoming increasingly normalized. These behaviors are being encouraged by social media, tv shows, as well as the government. Even some of those who follow Christ have diluted their beliefs to approve of certain kinds of behavior. This is due to a complacency in faith not uncommon to this generation. They do not know what the scriptures say, and if they do not find authority in it, then their views regarding issues involving sin could potentially change. The suppression of truth as shown by the Gentiles in this chapter reminds one of a parent-child relationship. The child knows they must clean their room by a certain time in a day. They know the consequences of their actions, yet they still disobey. They have decided that disobedience is more satisfying then the relationship with their parents so they continue pursuing the same sin. So is the same with the Gentiles written about in chapter 1.


  5. I totally agree with Lexi. The church today is hyper focused on sexual sin while forgetting that all sin is equal in the eye of the Lord. The parable in Luke 18 is an important reminder to us to keep us accountable with our pride and condemnation. And I’ve noticed the “blame-game” being played with today’s society as well. Americans never seem to want to take responsibility for their actions. Mary Shelley captured this philosophy well in her creation of Frankenstein’s monster and his evasion of responsibility. The monster was seeking to do good in his society but was shunned and ridiculed. When he finally had enough, he lashed out in anger and killed a man. When questioned, his response was, “Am I thought to be the only criminal, when all humankind sinned against me?” This “victim mentality” is what I would say has become our giving over to sin in the 21st century.


  6. The list that Paul gives in Romans 1:29-31 is very eye opening. No one can help but come away feeling a sense of conviction after reading the list because we all have committed one of these sins before. We are a fallen nature in need of a Savior, and these are common sins that take place in every day life, the church is not excluded. It is sad that our society is to the point where these are common and not looked at as serious.

    About this list from Paul, Doug Moo states, “The focus throughout is on what we might call social sins- the evil that we do to one another” (p. 61). The point that Paul makes out of this is that we all suffer from these social sins- we all commit evil to one another. No group of people is different from another. We need to realize that we all struggle with these, and come along each other for encouragement on how to uplift each other as opposed to do evil towards each other.


  7. It is sometimes amusing to see how situations in Scripture come up again in the present day. As you say in your post, it is hypocritical for believers today to say “man, I’m glad I’m not like those people.” Back in the day, it seems Jews were doing the same thing to Gentiles, and Paul punches them right in the gut with Romans 2. Perhaps it is time for the church to stop focusing so much on the latter half of Romans 1 and more on Romans 2 and 3. After all, Romans 1:28-31 is talking about people who do not know Christ. Meanwhile, Romans 2 speaks to those who claims to be the people of God. If we keep Romans 2 at the forefront of our minds as believers, I believe it will become very difficult to pass judgment on non-believers. If we struggle with the same things as non-believers, why do we look down on them?


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