What does Romans 1:23 mean?
ESV: and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
NIV: and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
NASB: and they exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible mankind, of birds, four-footed animals, and crawling creatures.
CSB: and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles.
NLT: And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles.
KJV: And changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.
NKJV: and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.
Verse Commentary:
Paul is describing how humanity becomes so desperately unrighteous and earns God's wrath against our sinfulness. So far, he has shown that in spite of the fact that God has made some things about Himself obvious in what He has made in creation, unrighteous human beings (Romans 3:23) refuse to see Him there (Romans 1:18–20). Having rejected Him as creator, why would we honor Him? What would we give Him thanks for providing for us through His creation? We wouldn't. Of course, this leaves us to ponder the universe as if there is no God. That leads us to all kind of worthless conclusions. Our thinking becomes futile, and our hearts becomes dark. Even worse, in the midst of our foolishness, we think we possess great wisdom. Our view of the world is upside down (Romans 1:21–22).

The next step down on this ladder of unrighteousness is that we begin to worship the creation instead of the Creator. We refuse to give God credit and instead we honor created things. That's not right. As Paul describes this idol worship, we trade the glory of the immortal God for images that look like mortal people and animals.

In other words, God has revealed Himself by what He has made as a glorious and eternal being. We should see this in the beauty of creation (Psalm 19:1). How could He who made that not be a glorious being Himself? Look at how long creation has gone on and on beyond the lifespan of men. How could He who made that not have an existence longer than everything that exists?

Humanity, however, having rejected the creator God, creates our own, lesser versions of the mortal things He has made, and we worship those. We worship our pale version of the creation instead of the creator of it all.
Verse Context:
Romans 1:18–32 describes why God rightfully condemns humanity and some of what He has done about it. Humanity's fall is pictured as a downward progression. It starts with rejecting God as creator, refusing to see what can be known about Him by what He has made. We also reject that He is our provider and stop giving Him thanks. We worship His creation instead of Him. Finally, God acts by giving us over to the unchecked expression of our corrupt sexual desires and all other kinds of sin. In part, He expresses His wrath by giving us what we want and condemning us to suffer the painful consequences.
Chapter Summary:
Romans 1 introduces Paul and his purpose in writing this letter to the Christians in Rome. As servant and apostle of Jesus, Paul's mission in life is to preach the gospel of Jesus to all people groups, both Jews and Gentiles. He hopes to do so in Rome soon. Paul is not ashamed of the gospel. It is God's power for the salvation of all people by faith in Christ. We need to be saved because God is angry with us. Because of our sin, humanity has rejected Him as creator and provider. We worship created things, instead. In response, God has given us over to indulge in all kinds of sinful practices that lead to misery now and His angry judgment later.
Chapter Context:
Romans 1 begins with Paul's introduction of himself and his mission to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. After telling the Christians in Rome that he is eager to come see them and preach the gospel there, Paul declares that the gospel is God's power to save everyone who believes in Jesus. We need to be saved, because our sin has earned God's wrath. As a whole, humanity has rejected God as creator and provider. We worship creation instead of Him. In response, He has given us over to the full indulgence of our sinful desires. We are guilty and deserve His judgment.
Book Summary:
The book of Romans is the New Testament's longest, most structured, and most detailed description of Christian theology. Paul lays out the core of the gospel message: salvation by grace alone through faith alone. His intent is to explain the good news of Jesus Christ in accurate and clear terms. As part of this effort, Paul addresses the conflicts between law and grace, between Jews and Gentiles, and between sin and righteousness. As is common in his writing, Paul closes out his letter with a series of practical applications.
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