Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Romans 1 & 2, does the popular understanding of these chapters render Jesus redundant?

Friends,

I think the epistle to Romans is the most misunderstood and misrepresented book in the Bible. I do not intent to get into the exercise of identifying audience (addressees) of the epistle or the correct understanding of the passages that I cite here. I use this post to raise a few logical questions, which beg for logical answers.

(Scriptures are cited from ESV, you may refer other versions as well. Some may think that this post is childish.)

Passage #1: Rom 1:19-21

Rom 1:19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them
Rom 1:20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 
Rom 1:21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 

Let us apply this passage to a fictitious man who lived in some remote part of Asia or the dense forests of Africa, say, circa 4000 BCE. Let us call him Mr. AH (ancient human). Mr. AH could have been an illiterate, knowing not much beyond gathering food, biological functions and procreation. His language could have been very primitive and rudimentary. He may not have heard about things like God or religion.

Now, Mr. AH wakes up on a fine morning and happens to see a tree or an animal - that which have been made by God (Rom 1:20). Immediately he has to think of the eternal power, divine nature of God. If he doesn't, he is without excuse (Rom 1:20).

Does the passage talk about the scenario after Christ, NO! It is about everyone since the creation of the world. (Rom 1:20).

Even in this 21st century there are many native people without any awareness of god or spirits (e.g. Pirahã of Amazon, Irulas of India). Even their languages are so primitive that there are no words to mention parts of their own anatomy, leave alone words to express the concepts of god, spirit, etc.

Will someone enlighten me as to how someone has to realize the eternal power, divine nature of God by seeing that which are made by God? Once I heard a preacher using this passage to condemn all those who do not believe in his understanding of God. He is an educated man, with a graduation in theology. I asked him: Sir, will you please tell me as to how the water that is poured at the bottom of a tree reaches all the way to its leaves? He had to think for a while before admitting his ignorance. This being the plight of an educated man living in the 21st century, how can anyone expect Mr. AH, who lived 6,000 years back, to realize the attributes of God by seeing a tree or an animal?

More importantly, if everything that can be known about God is clearly perceived from the things that are made what is/was the role of Jesus? God could as well have judged the world based on whether human beings perceive the attributes of Himself from the created things.

Passage #2, Rom 2:12, 14

Rom 2:12 For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law
Rom 2:14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law
Does this not cover every human being ever born on this planet, both Jews and gentiles? Even a gentile who unknowingly practice some provisions of the Law, like, not seeing the nakedness of his mother or sister, becomes a law to himself and thus comes under the ambit of the Law (Rom 2:14)

If the popular understanding of this passage is correct:

  • All those who sinned without the Law will perish without the Law.
  • All those who sinned under the Law will be judged.
Is there anyone (except Jesus) who has not sinned? The answer is an emphatic NO. (Rom 3:23, 1Jn 1:8). So, at the end of the day, everyone is doomed! Since the Law cannot justify anyone before God (Gal 3:11), what is the point of even judging at all?

If things are so simple, why God had to sent His only begotten son to earth? He could have used the Law as the criteria for judging the world!

Do I say that the author of the epistle to Romans was wrong? No, all that I say is that popular understanding of many portions of the epistle (not just the passages I cited) could be wrong, because of various reasons.

In Christ,
Tomsan Kattackal