The Knowledge Of God In Romans 1:18-23: Exegetical And Theological Reflections -- By: Richard Alan Young

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 43:4 (Dec 2000)
Article: The Knowledge Of God In Romans 1:18-23: Exegetical And Theological Reflections
Author: Richard Alan Young

The Knowledge Of God In Romans 1:18-23:
Exegetical And Theological Reflections

Richard Alan Younga

In Rom 1:18–23 Paul says that all humans stand under the judgment of God because they have forsaken God and worshiped idols. His argument presupposes that somehow they had acquired a knowledge of God for which they are held accountable. This poses several questions. How do humans have this knowledge? When do they have it? And what precisely is this knowledge? The problems are compounded by human sinfulness and divine mystery. How can finite, sinful humanity come to know the infinite, holy God? Kierkegaard says that there is an “infinite qualitative difference” between God and humans.1 Nevertheless, Paul assumes such knowledge and claims that it is universal.

Three responses have been offered. All three have been referred to as general revelation. Thus to employ the term “general revelation” without qualification would only confuse the issue. (1) Some say that the Creator left behind clues or “tracks” in creation from which all persons can logically reason to a thematic knowledge of God. This is commonly called “natural theology.”2 (2) Some say that God personally reveals the divine presence through the medium of creation to all persons.3 Those who take this position usually assert that only God’s personal self-disclosure can rightfully be called “revelation.” If a personal self-disclosure is in view in Romans 1, then it would be indirect; that is, it would be analogous to the episode of Moses

and the burning bush, but on a universal scale.4 (3) Others say that all persons have a vague, unthematic awareness of God by virtue of recognizing that they are finite creatures living in a contingent world.5 The recognition of creaturely finitude awakens a faint, intuitive awareness that there is something beyond. It depends on neither ratiocination nor divine self-disclosure.

None of the three views can be established with absolute certainty, since each encounters its own set of difficulties. The purpose of this essay is to help bring unthematic awareness (option 3) back into the conversation as a plausible option.

I. Exploring Paul’s Symbolic World

One way of uncovering what Paul could have meant in

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