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Question and Answer

Questions on Romans 1:20 and James 4:5

Question:

I have a couple of questions on scripture:

1. Romans 1:20 speaks of "... by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead ..." Is not this scripture saying here that the Godhead was made by God and therefore is an extension of his power?

2. James 4:5 says "Do you think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?" Where is this scripture at in holy writ? I cannot find such a passage.

Answer:

Thank you for your questions.

Romans 1:20 reads "For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse" (King James Version). A good modern translation perhaps renders the meaning more clearly: "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." (English Standard Version)

The text does not mean that God created the Godhead or divine nature. This would be nonsense, and there is no way that the text can be read to support such a meaning.

What the text does mean is that God, who is invisible, has nevertheless made his attributes visible through what he has made. God's eternity and power are made known in what he has created. Everywhere we look we see manifestations of God's eternal power and divine nature. This revelation is so clear that no person can plead ignorance to it.

You might be better served with a modern translation of this passage, and I would recommend the English Standard Version, although many find the New International Version also to be helpful.

James 4:5 reads: "Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?" (King James Version) This text is admittedly difficult to translate. However, one thing is clear: that James does not refer to a specific text of Scripture but to a basic theme.

What is that theme?

One alternative is human envy. In this view, James writes of the human spirit. The New International Version reads, "Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the spirit he caused to live in us envies intensely?" The spirit is that which God breathed into man at creation. See Genesis 2:7, (ESV), "Then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature."

If this is the correct interpretation, then the point of James is that human spirit is, because of the woeful effect of sin, oriented toward evil, and specifically the sin of envy, which leads to the vices described in verses 1 and 2 of James 4:

1What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? 2You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God.

A second alternative is God's jealousy for his people. In this view, James writes of the Holy Spirit. The New International Version offers this alternative rendering: "Or do you think Scripture says without reason that the Spirit he caused to live in us longs jealously." (The original Greek of the New Testament does not use a capital letter to distinguish between "spirit" and "Spirit" as we do; hence which meaning is intended must be inferred from the context.) If this second rendering is the most accurate one, then the reference is to God's jealousy for his people. See the following:

4"You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God...." (Exodus 20:4-5, ESV)

24For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. (Deut. 4:24, ESV)

His holy jealousy will not compromise with spiritual unfaithfulness. See James 4:4, "You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God."

I hope you are attending a Reformed church with solid and systematic Bible teaching. The teaching ministry of a skilled pastor will be a profound encouragement to you.


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