Romans 1 – Who is the subject of 1:18-32?

Figureheads of Mankind by: Richard Savage

Figureheads of Mankind by: Richard Savage
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You might think I am a little (or massively) obsessive about Romans 1.  Here’s another post on that small section of Scripture.  In my defence, let me say, this is mostly an apologetics blog, and I am convinced Romans 1 is by far and away the most important Biblical text for apologetics.  Also, I’m working on the text for my thesis, so I’m thinking about it a lot.

Who is the subject of Romans 1:18-32?  Moo says ‘humanity apart from special revelation’.  Dunn says ‘man apart from God’, both Jew and Gentile.  Cranfield says ‘primarily Gentiles’, Luther says ‘Greeks’/’Gentiles’.  The typical reasons for such suggestions (rather than going for ‘every individual’ as the subject) is firstly, that some parts of 1:21-32 clearly don’t apply to every person ever to live.  And secondly, 1:18-32 seems to reflect ‘Gentile-like’ sin, with chapter 2 reflecting Jewish-like sin.

However, the problem is that if the subject of Romans 1:18-32 is limited (to say just Gentiles), it is very hard to see how a universal conclusion can follow in 2:1. ‘You therefore have no excuse’ is a universal conclusion, which applies to every kind of reader of Romans.  Surely if the conclusion applies to anybody, the argument leading to that conclusion should apply to anybody.

On the other hand, there is a problem with seeing Romans 1:18-32 being about every individual.  For not every individual has performed the deeds of 1:21-32; not every man has ‘become inflamed with lust for other men’, or made images to look like mortal man and birds and animals, etc.

So if the subject is not universal, and not not universal, who is the subject?

I submit that the subject  of 1:18-32 is mankind in general, describing the typical person.

This overcomes both problems outlined above:

Taking 1:18-32 as being about mankind universally (not limited to Gentiles or unregenerate man) allows a universal conclusion to be made in 2:1 ‘You therefore are without excuse’

Taking 1:18-32 as being about mankind in general (the typical person), rather than about each person individually allows there to be exceptions to the various assertions made in 1:18-32


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