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THE EPISTLE TO THE ROMANS - Chapter 1 - Verse 29
Verse 29. Being filled. That is, the things which he specifies were common, or abounded among them. This is a strong phrase, denoting that these things were so often practised as that it might be said they were full of them. We have a phrase like this still, when we say of one that he is full of mischief, etc.
Unrighteousness, adikia. This is a word denoting injustice, or iniquity in general. The particular specifications of the iniquity follow.
Fornication. This was a common and almost universal sin among the ancients, as it is among the moderns. The word denotes all illicit intercourse. That this was a common crime among the ancient heathen it would be easy to show, were it proper, even in relation to their wisest and most learned men. They who wish to see ample evidence of this charge may find it in Tholuck's "Nature and Moral Influence of Heathenism," in the Biblical Repository, vol. ii. pp. 441—464.
Wickedness. The word used here denotes a desire of injuring others; or, as we should express it, malice. It is that depravity and obliquity of mind which strives to produce injury on others. Calvin.
Covetousness. Avarice, or the desire of obtaining that which belongs to others. This vice is common in the world; but it would be particularly so where the other vices enumerated here abounded, and men were desirous of luxury, and the gratification of their senses. Rome was particularly desirous of the wealth of other nations, and hence its extended wars, and the various evils of rapine and conquest.
Licentiousness, kakia. This word denotes evil in general; rather the act of doing wrong than the desire, which was expressed before by the word wickedness.
Full of envy. "Pain, uneasiness, mortification or discontent, excited by another's prosperity, accompanied with some degree of hatred or malignity, and often with a desire or an effort to depreciate the person, and with pleasure in seeing him depressed." Webster. This passion is so common still, that it is not necessary to attempt to prove that it was common among the ancients. It seems to be natural to the human heart, it is one of the most common manifestations of wickedness, and shows clearly the deep depravity of man. Benevolence rejoices at the happiness of others, and seeks to promote it. But envy exists almost everywhere, and in almost every human bosom:
"All human virtue, to its latest breath
Finds envy never conquered but by death."
Murder. "The taking of human life, with premeditated malice, by a person of a sane mind." This is necessary to constitute murder now; but the word used here denotes all manslaughter, or taking human life, except that which occurs as the punishment of crime. It is scarcely necessary to show that this was common among the Gentiles. It has prevailed in all communities, but it was particularly prevalent in Rome. It is necessary only to refer the reader to the common events in the Roman history of assassinations, deaths by poison, and the destruction of slaves. But in a special manner the charge was properly alleged against them, on account of the inhuman contests of the gladiators in the amphitheatres. These were common at Rome, and constituted a favorite amusement with the people. Originally, captives, slaves, and criminals were trained up for combat; but it afterwards became common for even Roman citizens to engage in these bloody combats; and Nero at one show exhibited no less than four hundred senators and six hundred knights as gladiators. The fondness for this bloody spectacle continued till the reign of Constantine the Great, the first Christian emperor, by whom they were abolished about six hundred years after the original institution. "Several hundred, perhaps several thousand, victims were annually slaughtered in the great cities of the empire," Gibbon's Decline and Fall, chap. xxx., A.D. 404. As an instance of what might occur in this inhuman spectacle, we may refer to what took place on such an occasion in the reign of Probus, (A.D. 281.) During his triumph, near seven hundred gladiators were reserved to shed each other's blood for the amusement of the Roman people. But "disdaining to shed their blood for the amusement of the populace, they killed their keepers, broke from their place of confinement, and filled the streets of Rome with blood and confusion," Gibbon's Decline and Fall, chap. xii. With such views and with such spectacles before them, it is not wonderful that murder was regarded as a matter of little consequence, and hence this crime prevailed throughout the world.
Debate. Our word debate does not commonly imply evil. It denotes commonly discussion for elucidating truth; or for maintaining a proposition, as the debates in Congress, etc. But the word in the original meant also contention, strife, altercation, connected with anger and heated zeal, Ro 13:13; 1 Co 1:11; 3:3; 2 Co 12:20; Ga 5:20.
This contention and strife would, of course, follow from malice and covetousness, etc.
Deceit. This denotes fraud, falsehood, etc. That this was common is also plain. The Cretians are testified by one of the Greek poets to have been always liars. (Tit 1:12.) Juvenal charges the same thing on the Romans. (Sat. iii. 41.) "What, says he, should I do at Rome? I cannot lie." Intimating that if he were there, it would follow, of course, that he would be expected to be false. The same thing is still true. Writers on India tell us that the word of a Hindoo, even under oath, is not to be regarded; and the same thing occurs in most pagan countries.
Malignity. This word signifies here, not malignity in general, but that particular species of it which consists in misinterpreting the words or actions of others, or putting the worst construction on their conduct.
Whisperers. Those who secretly, and in a sly manner, by hints and innuendoes, detract from others, or excite suspicion of them. It does not mean those who openly calumniate, but that more dangerous class who give hints of evil in others, who affect great knowledge, and communicate the evil report under an injunction of secrecy, knowing that it will be divulged. This class of people abounds everywhere, and there is scarcely any one more dangerous to the peace or happiness of society.
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