Pastor David B. Curtis

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They Knew God? (Romans 1:19-23)

Delivered 01/03/16

For our time of study this morning I want to look at a passage in Romans 1. I want to correct here what I said about this passage in our study of the book of Romans. People often ask me why I don't write a book; this is why, I keep changing my views.

Romans chapter 1, verses 19 through 23, is known among theologians as the classic passage on natural theology. But is Paul teaching that all men are without excuse before God because God is revealed in creation?:

because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Romans 1:19-21 NASB

Now let me ask you something: Can man come to know God through nature? As man looks at the creation, the earth and heavens, does he realize there is a God, and therefore, become without excuse before Him? Is this what these verses teach? That is the common interpretation of them.

Tertullian, the early church father said, "It was not the pen of Moses that initiated the knowledge of the creator. The vast majority of mankind, tough they have never heard the name of Moses—to say nothing of his book—know the God of Moses nonetheless. Nature is the teacher; the soul is the pupil."

Do men come to know God in any way through looking at nature? What about the scientists who study various aspects of Yahweh's creation—When they see the complexity and awesomeness of God's creation, do they fall down and worship Yahweh? They do if they are Christians. But if they are not Christians, what they worship is the big bang theory.

The late author and astronomer, Carl Sagan, said, "The universe is all that ever was and ever will be." As an astronomer who studied the heavens, he didn't see the glory of God, he didn't see God at all. Julian Huxley, who was an English evolutionary biologist, said, "It is all accident, all a matter of chance. No reason, no end, no purpose at all." These men didn't just view, they studied God's creation, and they never saw Him or His glory. Natural man says that the matter of which the universe is made somehow over billions of years organized itself into all that we see without any outside assistance or intelligence.

What is called, "natural or general revelation" will not bring anybody to God; just like special revelation won't bring anybody to God. The only way man comes to God is if God draws him to Himself:

"No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. John 6:44 NASB
But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. 1 Corinthians 2:14 NASB

The man without the Spirit cannot appreciate God's glory through the heavens, or through special revelation. God must first effectually call a man, then man can see His glory in creation and in the Word. How much do dead men see of the glory of God?:

For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 1 Corinthians 1:21 NASB

This verse destroys every variety of "natural revelation" and natural theology: "The world through its wisdom did not come to know God." Knowledge of God comes only through His propositional revelation.

Thomas Aquinas taught that Romans 1 was endorsing Aristotle's pagan theory of knowledge called "empiricism." But Romans 1 doesn't teach any such thing. It does not teach that men learn truth about God or anything else from sensation. Francis Schaeffer warned the Church about Thomas Aquinas and "nature eating up grace." By this he meant that if you give "natural revelation" an epistemological inch, it will displace Scripture.

Can natural men, using natural means, derive truth from nature? No, they can't, so what are these verses in Romans talking about? Well verse 18 says:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, Romans 1:18 NASB

Notice that Paul says this wrath, "Is being revealed from heaven"— to understand this, we must see the parallelism in the language and structure between verse 17 and 18. He said in verse 17 that God's righteousness is being revealed in the Gospel, so in verse 18 we see that God's wrath is also being revealed in the Gospel. Paul's Gospel reveals God's covenant faithfulness, which involves the announcement that God will judge the covenant breakers, and that the agent of this divine judgment is Yeshua.

because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. Romans 1:19 NASB

"Because"—this is the reason for the wrath of God in verse 18. "Which is known" is the Greek word gnostos, which means: "well known." "Is evident" is phaneroo, which means: "to make visible, to make known."

"God made it evident to them." Who is the "them"? Who did God make Himself visible or known to? In the first 17 verses Paul says, "You," referring to the first century Roman Christians, and then in verse 19 he says, "Them," and in verse 20 he says, "They." Who did God make Himself visible or known to? When I did the study of Romans, I said that this is referring to Israel! Had God made Himself visible or known only to Israel?:

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. Romans 1:20 NASB

I asked, "Is it possible that Paul is not talking about the physical creation in this verse? The Greek word used here for 'creation' is ktisis, which is at times used for the physical creation, but it is also used for mankind." Yes, It is possible, this word ktisis does not always mean the physical creation, it is some times used for men. But is it here? Well five years ago I thought Paul used ktisis here to refer to Israel, but I no longer think that.

Two things have changed my view on this: one of them being a new understanding of the Israelite world view, and the other being a new understanding of the Gospel in the stars. Starting with the second view, look at:

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. Romans 1:20 NASB

Literally, this verse reads, "For the invisibles of Him from the creation of the world, the made has clearly understood being discerned" The word "made" here is poiema, which means: "a product, thing that is made, workmanship." It is only used here and in:

For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Yeshua for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. Ephesians 2:10 NASB

We, as believers, are a direct creation of Yahweh and so also is the zodiac. As I said a couple of weeks ago, I believe that the constellations of the Zodiac are signs that point to the Messiah and His death on the cross. How has God made His eternal power and divine nature clearly seen? He has written the Gospel in the stars.

The Book of Enoch states that an angel revealed the constellations to Enoch.

Enoch 8: 1 "...Baraqijal (taught) astrology, Kokabel the constellations..." Which makes sense because knowledge of the constellations would have to have been a special revelation because those pictures just are not there for anyone to see without a lot of instruction.

The Bible tells us that Yahweh named the stars:

He counts the number of the stars; He gives names to all of them. Psalms 147:4 NASB

The stars all have names, and their names all have meaning. The star and constellation names have been handed down from antiquity. This knowledge may well have come down from Noah and even from Adam. The names of the stars have retained their meaning in various languages. When we look at the ancient names, we see the Gospel laid out in the stars. I think that this is how the "expanse is declaring the work of His hands."

"His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen"—how have His eternal power and divine nature been clearly seen? They have been seen in the Zodiac. Like the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, the vault of the heavens declares the story of the Lord Yeshua the Christ, the Creator of the universe, to the glory of God.

For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, Romans 1:21-22 NASB

Who was it that knew God? In our study of Romans I said, "It was Israel, and only Israel." Then as a spoof text I used:

He declares His words to Jacob, His statutes and His ordinances to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any nation; And as for His ordinances, they have not known them. Praise the LORD! Psalms 147:19-20 NASB

So Yahweh gave Israel and only Israel His statutes and ordinances. He gave them to no other nation. This is true, but was Israel the only people to ever know Yahweh? No, Adam and Eve knew Yahweh. They dwelt in Eden the Temple of Yahweh. But because of their sin they were put out of Eden. I used to believe that once that happened that was the end of Yahweh's communication with man until he called Abram.

Even though man is removed from the Garden Temple, Yahweh is still communicating with man. Notice these three very important verses:

Then Enoch walked with God three hundred years after he became the father of Methuselah, and he had other sons and daughters. Genesis 5:22 NASB
Enoch walked with God; and he was not, for God took him. Genesis 5:24 NASB
These are the records of the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God. Genesis 6:9 NASB

"Walked with God"—is a very significant phrase. This phrase only occurs three times in the Bible, and none in the New Testament. When God walks with men, it is a really rare thing. The first occasion of this was in Genesis 3, "LORD God walking in the garden." Adam was in that Garden, Adam walked with God in that Garden/Temple. Walking with God depicts a direct divine encounter, a direct divine relationship. Sometimes we think (or at least I did) that the people from Adam to Abraham were ignorant of Yahweh and His ways, but these men walked with Yahweh, they knew Him.

Coming to understand Israel's world view is what helped change my view of Romans 1. Israel was not the ONLY people to know God. Let's take a brief look at Israel's world view: In the creation account, God creates Adam:

God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Genesis 1:27 NASB

We are created "as" the image of God, would be a better translation. This means that we are divine representatives. We are to represent Him, we are to do what Yahweh wants us to do as if He were physically present with us. So Yahweh creates Adam. And according to Job, Adam had access to the divine council:

"Were you the first man to be born, Or were you brought forth before the hills? "Do you hear the secret counsel of God, And limit wisdom to yourself? Job 15:7-8 NASB

The first man, Adam, was in Eden in the council of Yahweh. Adam was in an intimate relationship with Yahweh:

They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. Genesis 3:8 NASB

Adam and Eve walked in the Garden with Yahweh. They dwelt in His presence. Eden was where Yahweh lived and issued decrees. He was with His heavenly host, who existed before humanity did. This is the divine council, the family of God, and Adam was there with them.

You know what happens next, man is tempted, and he sins. Who tempted him and why? I don't think it was a snake. I think in Genesis 3 we see one of the watchers, a council member, tempting man so he could get rid of him. God had made man vice regent with Him, and some of the watchers may not have been too happy about this:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, "Indeed, has God said, 'You shall not eat from any tree of the garden'?" Genesis 3:1 NASB

So we see here that it was the "serpent" who tempted them. That we know; what we need to know is who or what is the "serpent." I believe that this "serpent" was a divine being, it is not a member of the animal kingdom, but a member of the divine council.

"Serpent" here is from the Hebrew word nachash, which is most likely a triple entendre, which is a word or phrase that has three different meanings at once. If you take nachash as pointing to the noun, the word here would mean: "serpent." If you were to take it as a verb, it would mean: "deceiver" or "diviner." As an adjective, it would mean: "bronze," or "the shining one." Luminosity is a characteristic of a divine being in the Hebrew Bible and in the ANE texts.

This watcher chose to oppose Yahweh's plan for humanity by prompting humans to disobey Yahweh, so they would either be killed or removed from Eden, Yahweh's council and family. So what we have in Genesis 3 is a divine being, not an animal, but a throne room guardian, a saraph, a serpentine being, one who was part of the divine counsel in Eden decides to deceive humanity to get rid of them; to get humans removed from Eden, from Yahweh's council and family. Why? I think the Scriptures hint at pride or jealousy.

The Pseudepigrapha work called, Life of Adam and Eve, elaborates on the motive and role of Satan in the fall of humankind. In chapter 14 it states:

And Michael went out and called to all the angels, "Worship the image of God as the Lord God has commanded." And Michael himself worshiped first; then he called me and said, "Worship the image of the Lord God." And I answered, "It is not for me to worship Adam." And since Michael kept urging me to worship, I said to him, "Why do you urge me? I will not worship an inferior and younger being than I. I am his senior in the Creation, before he was made was I already made. It is his duty to worship me."

When the angels who were under me heard this, they refused to worship him. And Michael said, "Worship the image of God, but if you will not worship him, the Lord God will be angry with you." And I said, "If He be angry with me, I will set my seat above the stars of heaven and will be like the Highest."

Does that sound familiar to you?:

"But you said in your heart, 'I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, And I will sit on the mount of assembly In the recesses of the north. Isaiah 14:13 NASB

The devil is seen explaining to Adam in chapter 16 of Life of Adam and Eve:

And the Lord God was angry with me and banished me and my angels from our glory; and on your account we were expelled from our abodes into this world and hurled to the ground. Straight away we were overcome with grief, since we had been robbed of such great glory. And we were grieved when we saw you in such joy and luxury. And with guile I cheated your wife and through her action caused you to be expelled from your joy and luxury, as I have been driven out of my glory.

The book of Enoch attributes the temptation of Eve to Gadreel; here it is attributed to Satan.

In Genesis 3 the nachash (the serpentine, shining one, deceiver) was in the Garden of Eden where Yahweh walked. Notice what Ezekiel says:

"You were in Eden, the garden of God; Every precious stone was your covering: The ruby, the topaz and the diamond; The beryl, the onyx and the jasper; The lapis lazuli, the turquoise and the emerald; And the gold, the workmanship of your settings and sockets, Was in you. On the day that you were created They were prepared. Ezekiel 28:13 NASB

These stones elsewhere describe the brightness of Yahweh's throne. So whoever this is talking about is in Yahweh's Temple, His throne room. This being talked about in Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 was in Eden, he was a member of the divine council. This being tempts man, and man sins, he falls and is removed from Yahweh's Temple. He is put out of the Garden. But then we have a promise from Yahweh:

And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel." Genesis 3:15 NASB

Eve's seed, a human being, will come and fix what Adam has done. A deliverer will come. I believe that in an attempt to stop the "seed of the woman" a group of the watchers left heaven and cohabitated with women in an attempt to corrupt the "seed of the woman":

Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose. Genesis 6:1-2 NASB

These watchers got man kicked out of the Garden/Temple and now they are trying to keep a redeemer from bringing them back into the Temple.

Even though man is removed from the Garden/Temple, Yahweh is still communicating with man. Sometimes we think that the people from Adam to Abraham were ignorant of Yahweh and His ways, but some of these men walked with Yahweh, they knew Him:

Then the LORD said to Noah, "Enter the ark, you and all your household, for you alone I have seen to be righteous before Me in this time. "You shall take with you of every clean animal by sevens, a male and his female; and of the animals that are not clean two, a male and his female; Genesis 7:1-2 NASB

Anything strike you as interesting in these verses? How did they know "clean" and "unclean" animals? The Law wasn't given until fourteen hundred years later. These men knew Yahweh, they had been given laws. They were in a covenant relationship with Him.

Enoch and Noah are Yahweh's prophets, according to Jude and Peter:

It was also about these men that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, "Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones, Jude 1:14 NASB
and did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; 2 Peter 2:5 NASB

As earth's population grows, it becomes wicked as a result of a divine rebellion as per Genesis 3 and 6. Man begins to worship the watchers instead of the watcher's creator, Yahweh. This rebellion of man culminates in building a ziggurat at Babel:

So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city. Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth. Genesis 11:8-9 NASB

Things are in a state of chaos. They are in rebellion against God, and they are judged. They will not follow Him so He disburses them and turns them over to lesser deities. This is a very significant text, which we learn more about in:

"When the Most High gave the nations their inheritance, When He separated the sons of man, [Adam] He set the boundaries of the peoples According to the number of the sons of Israel. Deuteronomy 32:8 NASB

The English translations based on the traditional Hebrew text of the Tanakh read "sons of Israel." But there is a variant rendering of this passage. It's based on the 3rd-century BCE translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, the Septuagint, as well as Hebrew manuscripts of Deuteronomy found among the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran:

When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. Deuteronomy 32:8 ESV

In Genesis 10, the table of nations, Yahweh divides Noah's descendants into 70 different nations. This is recorded in:

These are the families of the sons of Noah, according to their genealogies, by their nations; and out of these the nations were separated on the earth after the flood. Genesis 10:32 NASB

Chapter 10 of Genesis is the backdrop for Moses' statement in Deuteronomy 32:8 that Yahweh is responsible for the creation and placement of the nations (Hebrew: goyim). In fact, variations of the same Hebrew root word parad (separate) are used in both Genesis 10:32 and Deuteronomy 32:8.

The idea that the separation of mankind into 70 nations at the Tower of Babel was by and for the angelic "sons of God" is supported by the ancient Book of Jasher (which is mentioned in Joshua 10:13, "Is it not written in the book of Jashar?" and 2 Samuel 1:18, "it is written in the book of Jashar.")

And they built the tower and the city, and they did this thing daily until many days and years were elapsed. 32 And God said to the seventy angels who stood foremost before him, to those who were near to him, saying, Come let us descend and confuse their tongues, that one man shall not understand the language of his neighbor, and they did so unto them. JASHER 9:31

If in Deuteronomy 32, Moses was indeed referencing Yahweh's separation of the nations according to Noah's offspring (specifically their physical separation at the Tower of Babel), it is important to note that Israel is not listed in the index of the 70 nations found in Genesis 10. The nation of Israel did not yet exist at that time. Therefore, the statement that God "set the boundaries of the nations according to the number of the children of Israel" clearly seems out of context here.

What happens at Babel is man's disobedience causes Yahweh to divide them up and give them to the lesser gods. They were to worship the lesser gods because Yahweh was done with them. Man continued to reject Yahweh and serve other gods, so Yahweh gave them up. What happens then in chapter 12?:

Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go forth from your country, And from your relatives And from your father's house, To the land which I will show you; And I will make you a great nation, And I will bless you, And make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; Genesis 12:1-2 NASB

Yahweh calls Abraham and starts over with Israel as His people. Yahweh starts a new family. He has turned over the nations to the lesser gods, who, in fact, work for Him. They are all under His control, and He will some day call the nations back.

When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. But the LORD's portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage. Deuteronomy 32:8-9 ESV

These two verses are fundamental for understanding the world view of Old Covenant Israel. These verses explain both the existence of the foreign pantheons and their inferiority to Yahweh.

Commenting on Deuteronomy 32:8-9, John Walton writes,

"These verses are intended to contrast the fact that the Lord has set Israel apart unto himself from among all the nations, and Israel is not numbered with them. The nations have their own 'gods,' who are mortal, but they do not have Yahweh, who alone does not die and is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent." (John H Walton, Professor of Old Testament, Wheaton College), Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary (Old Testament) Volume 1: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), 516

The word "portion" here is cheleq, a noun related to nachal. The word "inheritance" is nachalah. Verse 9 clearly presents the nation of Israel (here called "Jacob") as an allotted inheritance of Yahweh. Whereas the inheritance of the nations was the sons of God. The point of verses 8-9 is that sometime after God separated the people of the earth at Babel and established where on the earth they were to be located, He then assigned each of the seventy nations to the fallen sons of God (who were also seventy in number).

According to Deuteronomy 4:19 this "giving up" of the nations was a punitive act:

"And beware not to lift up your eyes to heaven and see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, and be drawn away and worship them and serve them, those which the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven. Deuteronomy 4:19 NASB

"Host of heaven" refers to sentient created spiritual beings which reside in the heavens. Notice here that these "host of heaven" have been "allotted to the peoples." The word "allotted" in Hebrew is chalaq, which literally means: "apportioned" or "assigned." Here we are told that Yahweh has assigned "the host of heaven" to the peoples of the earth; meaning: "all non Israelites."

Israel is not to worship the watchers. Speaking of judgment that was to come upon disobedient Israel, Moses says:

"All the nations will say, 'Why has the LORD done thus to this land? Why this great outburst of anger?' "Then men will say, 'Because they forsook the covenant of the LORD, the God of their fathers, which He made with them when He brought them out of the land of Egypt. 'They went and served other gods and worshiped them, gods whom they have not known and whom He had not allotted to them. 'Therefore, the anger of the LORD burned against that land, to bring upon it every curse which is written in this book; Deuteronomy 29:24-27 NASB

These gods that Israel worshiped were "not allotted to them," those gods were allotted to the nations.

So at the tower of Babel Yahweh is done with the nations, they want to follow and serve the watchers above Yahweh. So Yahweh gives the watchers to rule over the nations, and in Chapter 12 He calls Abram and starts over with His own people Israel.

As we come to the New Testament we see in Acts 2 at Pentecost that God begins to reclaim all the nations for Himself. Yahweh, in other words, had not forever abandoned the nations to the watchers:

Now after this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them in pairs ahead of Him to every city and place where He Himself was going to come. Luke 10:1 NASB

What is the significance of "seventy"? Remember, the number of nations listed in the Table of Nations in Genesis 10 that Yahweh disinherited was seventy. Since Luke viewed the Gospel as God's plan for reclaiming the nations He disinherited at Babel, the number of disciples in Luke 10:1 was meant to match the number of nations to reinforce this symbolism.

The number "seventy" has great theological significance in the context of Canaanite religion. Ancient Ugarit texts provide evidence that the Canaanites believed there were 70 sons of God (El). For the Israelites, the number 70 was symbolic of Yahweh's choice of them as His chosen people over the other nations of the world.

Yeshua's inauguration of the Kingdom meant that these 70 disinherited nations were being reclaimed. Sending out 70 disciples expressed this theological message:

The seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name." And He said to them, "I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning. "Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you. Luke 10:17-19 NASB

In conjunction with the successful mission of the "seventy," Yeshua declares the expulsion of Satan from God's presence. Satan is being defeated, and the nations are being made part of the Kingdom of God.

Back to Romans:

and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. Romans 1:23 NASB

The darkness and ignorance of unbelieving men resulted in them creating their own gods. The reference to their exchanging the glory of God for images could be an echo of Psalm 106:20, which references Israel's sin in making the golden calf. Or it could go back to a time prior to Genesis 11.

Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies might be dishonored among them. Romans 1:24 NASB

This could be Genesis 11 and the tower of Babel. Yahweh giving up the nations to the 70 watchers:

For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. Romans 1:25 NASB

This is something that is true of men in all ages, Adam did this and so did his decedents and so did Israel. People who knew God walked away from Him. This teaches us that without the Lord Yeshua as our Savior none of us will ever live up to Yahweh's desire for us. Without Yeshua we all tend to worship and serve the creature. Thank God for a Savior who saves completely!

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