19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.
20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:
1901 ASV Translation:
19 because that which is known of God is manifest in them; for God manifested it unto them.
20 For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity; that they may be without excuse:
There is only a very minor textual variation between the Textus Receptus and the Nestle/Aland 26 that consists of a change in word order. The Textus Receptus puts the word "for" in front of the word "God" and the Nestle/Aland 26 puts it after.
I. Paul's words begin with a conjunction that he uses only four times in the book of Romans. It is a more emphatic "connector" between ideas than many of the conjunctions that were available to him. Being emphatic, it pulls our attention as with a tether rope to his argument.
II. Paul's argument moves directly into the "reasons" that God has determined to reveal His wrath against man.
A. The first reason is here in 1:19.
B. The second reason, introduced with the same emphatic conjunction, is in 1:21.
III. The first reason for God's display of wrath is that mankind "knows" certain foundational realities in regard to His being and his being. Man knows that he "is" and he knows that God "is". Thus, in Jesus' summation of the most critical "commandment", He said the "creature" must "love" his Creator with all of his "being" (heart, soul, mind, and strength). There is no man alive who does not intuitively "take" ownership of his own "creations" and he deals with them according to how well they fulfill his purposes. This puts him in serious difficulty when he, hypocritically, refuses to assign his Creator with the same prerogative over His creatures. If a man sets out to "create" a "rocking chair" and, when he has done what he can, it will not "rock", he feels completely justified in his own mind if he takes an axe or a sledge hammer and reduces it to kindling because it does not do what he wanted it to do. The potter, Paul says, has a "right" over the clay, to do with it as he pleases. The "clay" cannot say, "Why are you doing this?" in the sense of a challenge to the potter's "right". There is no one who does not think in terms of his/her "rights" when it comes to his/her own "stuff". Thus, there is huge liability for hypocrisy when one wants his/her "rights" but denies others the very same "rights".
A. Paul calls the foundation of man's liability "the known thing". He is translated with the words, "that which may be known". This translation could be misleading if a person over-emphasized the English notion of "may", which tends to cause us to think that it "may" and, thus, "may not". But Paul did not write in terms of "maybe man knows this or that". Instead, he pointedly declares that man "knows". His liability before God rests upon the inescapable fact that man is not ignorant, he is rebellious against his own certainty.
B. The "known thing" is focused upon "the God". The word "God" is typical and used extensively; its meaning, however, is not generally "focused". Biblically, "God" is the Exerciser of Power as the word "God" is developed in Hebrew from the notion of "power" being exercised. We are, in fact, introduced to "God" in the opening words of Scripture with the fact that He "did" this, and He "did" that, and all of these "doings" were significantly "powerful". Thus, "God" is the Exerciser of Power. By mere speech, He "creates" worlds and molecules. Thus, the "known" thing is that there is a "God"...i.e. a root source of power Who stands behind all "energy" and "flow of energy to accomplish certain objectives". When all is said and done, man will be faced with the "obvious" question: "And just Who did you think was behind the worlds and molecules of which you were extremely aware?" And, according to Paul, man does not just "think" this or that; in regard to this issue of power and its Source, man "knows".
C. How can Paul so emphatically declare that man is not "ignorant"? Because, he is convinced that the known thing regarding God is "manifest" because the Exerciser of Power has made it so. To express himself, Paul uses both the adjective "manifest" and the verb "to manifest". Same word used in these two varied grammatical forms. It means that man has certain "perceptive abilities" that are an essential part of his makeup (because God made him so) and that these perceptive abilities "work" the way they are supposed to in bringing "perception" to man. Man "knows".
IV. Paul's argument proceeds in verse 20 with his presentation of how it is that man "knows". In generic terms, God has made manifest what man "knows". But, in more specific terms, man "sees" this "manifest reality" with startling clarity.
A. Paul immediately acknowledges the "invisibility" of God. This pretty much takes the "eyes" out of the loop. Man does not "know" because his "eyes" are working properly. Even with 20/20 vision, man cannot "see" the Invisible God. This almost sounds like "one step forward, two steps back" for Paul. How can he argue that man "knows" with enormous certainty when he has to admit that God cannot be "seen"?
1. Given a bit of thought, the answer is not hard. Man "knows" next to nothing on the basis of whether his "eyes" have the ability to transmit visual images to man's "brain". All true knowledge is rooted in "rationality", not "sensory perception". Even after man has "seen", he does not "know" until he has mentally ferreted out the "meaning" of his sight-perceptions.
2. The eyes of man are simply one mechanism which feeds man the information he gets. It is not the raw data that enables him to "know"; rather, it is the way he puts that raw data into order so that he can "see" the significance of it. That he must have the raw data is a given, but the eyes are not the only source of raw data. Even a person born blind can learn to live at a pretty high level of efficiency because he/she has multiple other "data-receivers" that feed the brain with the raw data. Sight is a good thing; but it is not a necessary thing. Its "necessity" is undercut by its lack of "uniqueness". If man's only source of data was his eyes, then the eyes would be absolutely critical. But they are not. We have five senses that we "know" we have, and any one of the five would put us in "jeopardy" because we would "know" the "known thing of God".
B. But Paul does not acknowledge the "invisibility of God" in final terms. We use the words "Oh, I see that" when we mean that we have suddenly understood something that we may never have actually laid eyes on. [Notice the figures of speech.] Since we say "we see" when we do not mean "we have visually comprehended an object", we stand in liability before the invisible God for not "seeing" Him. Our words will stand against us in the day when we give an answer for every word we have spoken.
C. It is the created world that makes the Invisible visible. In specific terms, it is the "created order" that makes the Invisible visible. There is no such thing as absolute "random" lack of order. There is order without escape--we cannot turn anywhere without running smack into the reality of order. This reality demands an answer to "where did this come from?". Even the child's question "Mom, who created God?", though it posits a difficulty for "Mom", admits the natural reality that all men, even when children, "think" in terms of cause and effect without escape. The entire whole of the skills of life are absolutely dependent upon man's confidence that he can reason from this cause to that effect and, backwards, from that effect to this cause. There is nothing man can do in terms of the skills of life that are not inextricably tied to the reality of rationality regarding cause and effect. I cannot even type on my computer keyboard without having all of the pieces of cause and effect in the electronics of my computer being "there" and "working properly". Man may seek an excuse from an occasional appearance of "randomness", but even a computer's generation of a "random" number requires a very carefully crafted group of highly structured commands...so how "random" is "random"? How can we even call something "random" when it springs forth only from a tightly reasoned order?
D. The "invisible things" are two: power and divinity. Two inescapable realities that are understood by created order are the power behind the order and the divinity of the power. Man cannot think that power has no Source; and man cannot think in terms of that Source being simply some kind of eternal generation. At some point, man's mind demands an uncaused Causer because this is the way God made his mind to work. This is not "accident"; it is "intentional". God made man to "know" and he cannot escape the "knowing". He is without excuse because his problem is not "ignorance"; it is, as we have already said, "rebellion". "We will not have this [One] rule over us." Men may scream against his "knowledge" if he chooses, but the screams will sound pretty hollow on the day when God proves that rebellion was at the root of the screaming instead of "ignorance".
E. Paul's conclusion is that man is "without excuse". The word he uses here does not, technically, mean "excuse". It is related to a word that refers to the ability to give a reasoned answer to an interrogator. Typically, men give "excuses" for not doing what is required, or for doing the forbidden. The objective for an "excuse" is to escape the penalty of failure.
1. In Pauline theology, man does evil because he is evil. He goes so far as to say that man cannot do good as long as he is not good.
2. This raises this question in regard to "excuses": how does the idea of retribution fit within a concept of "liability based upon knowledge"?
a. It seems beyond obvious that Paul is making sure we understand that man's "knowledge" is not inadequate.
b. It also seems beyond obvious that Paul is arguing that God's wrath is being revealed against man because he is not ignorant.
c. It seems just as obvious that 'retribution' is according to 'deed', not 'reasons for the deed'.
1) Retribution is "according to one's works".
2) If it were possible for a person to internally rage against the "God" and, yet, never violate His commands at the external level, he would be "guiltless" and free from retribution. What does "law" care about "motives"?
3) Man's "problem" is that he cannot rage internally and do good externally. The danger of motivation is that it is motivational...i.e. what is within comes out into the external world "in kind" (according to the motivational reality that establishes "kind").
d. Thus, we need to understand man's liability in respect to Paul's claim that he is not unaware of his responsibilities.
1) The "problem" is that man rejects his responsibilities even though he knows precisely what they are.
2) Technically, man rejects his responsibilities even if he doesn't know what they are: his inherent depravity automatically generates evil even when it is undefined in his own mind.
3) So, why is Paul attempting to lay responsibility at man's doorstep on the basis of knowledge?
a) Salvation is "through" knowledge [at least as a first step].
i.The Gospel "reveals" a way of salvation in the form of knowledge.
ii. The wrath of God is "revealed", as a basis for warning man of the retribution that is waiting just over the next hilltop, in the form of knowledge.
b) But, salvation is not "by" knowledge.
i. It ought to be clear that if man does evil even though he "knows", his knowledge is not the key to salvation...if "knowledge" could control man's motives and actions, there would be no problem except a lack of knowing (ignorance) -- a condition Paul denies man.
ii. Man is saved by the grace of God "through" faith, which, in turn, is "through" knowledge. Since "knowledge" does not automatically lead to "faith", though, it should be clear that man cannot save himself by gaining knowledge. His condition is hopeless within the context of his own heart, soul, mind, and strength.
iii. Thus, man's salvation is up to God and His initiative to "show mercy".
c) So, why the focus upon man's knowledge?
i. Knowledge brings man's liability to the fore.
ii. As man is faced with his liability, he is terrorized by the prospects.
iii. In his terror, he may come to a desire for "salvation" from those prospects without conditions. "Conditions" are nothing more or less than the attempt to retain control in the situation and that is man's problem of depravity: he seeks to be the "God" and refuses to give it up.
iv. If his terror brings him to the sacrifice of his "conditions" for deliverance, he is on the brink of the kind of "love" that enables the kind of "faith" that saves.