“God Gave Them Up”: A Study in Divine Retribution -- By: S. Lewis Johnson, Jr.

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 129:514 (Apr 1972)
Article: “God Gave Them Up”: A Study in Divine Retribution
Author: S. Lewis Johnson, Jr.

“God Gave Them Up”:
A Study in Divine Retribution

S. Lewis Johnson, Jr.

[S. Lewis Johnson, Jr., Professor of New Testament Literature and Exegesis, Dallas Theological Seminary.]

Preaching to his Sunday congregation in Bern, Switzerland, at the Münster on Romans 1:18–32, Walter Lüthi said, “In the words that we have just read we are told the whole truth about our condition. There may well be people among us who cannot bear to hear the truth, and would like to creep quietly away out of this church. Let them do so if they wish.”1 There is much justification for Lüthi’s words, for Paul’s canvas upon which he has painted his picture—dark, foreboding, threatening, flashing with lightning and crashing with thunder—is crammed with forms and figures, fights and shadows, of sin, wrath, and judgment. And the revelation of wrath is total and complete, encompassing all and rendering all without excuse and under condemnation, both individually and collectively.

Isaiah has spoken of judgment as God’s “strange work” and His “strange act”2 (cf. Isa 28:21), and the idea that it is strange because contrary to His goodness and grace, while a popular contemporary misunderstanding of his words, is not only out of harmony with the context of Isaiah 28:21, but it also does not agree with the the total picture of the being and attributes of God in Scripture. His retributive justice is one of His essential properties, and in this passage in Romans it comes to the center of the stage. In the threefold

paredōken (AV, “gave up”; vv. 24, 26, 28) the problem is plainly before the reader. It is the purpose of this article to analyze and, if possible, clarify the meaning of the term, setting it within the context of the theology of the being and attributes of God. But, first, a word regarding the flow of the Pauline thought in this section of the letter.

After having introduced this message to the Romans (cf. 1:1–7) and stated his theme, the gospel (1:16–17), the apostle skillfully and in detail develops the case-history of human sin and condemnation (1:18–3:20). The section moves from the declaratio...

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