A Response to “The Growing Trend Toward Universalism”
I recently came across an article entitled “The Growing Trend Toward Universalism”. (A link for the article in its entirety can be found here and at the bottom of the page). This article was written by a Christian writer by the name of Wayne Jackson. He runs a website/magazine service by the name “Christian Courier”. Below, I will write my response to the arguments he attempts to make against the notion that God of the Bible will eventually save all of mankind against eternal conscious torment. In fact, it is my firm belief that eternal conscious torment is against the very nature of God, who is defined as “agape love”.
We recently received a letter from a courteous reader who asserted his belief that all people will be saved ultimately. He feels there is Bible support for this position, though he introduced not a solitary passage in defense of the theory. Perhaps there is some value in discussing this theme—in this day of widely diversified religious views, and a growing tendency to excuse or justify every conceivable ideology.
In this opening paragraph, the author has introduced universalism, not with a definition, but as another ideology “in this day of widely diversified religious views”. I find it is worth noting that the author is making an attempt to commit a “fallacy fallacy”; in which he presumes that this “courteous reader” has made a poor argument; therefore it must be false. Without reading the “courteous reader’s” letter, I cannot assume his argument was fallacious, but for sake of argument, I will concede that it was.
The dogma of universalism is not new. It has roots back into the post-apostolic age. A few of the “church fathers” (e.g., Origen) laid the foundation for this teaching. John Murray, a former Calvinist, introduced the doctrine in America in about 1770. It has had its relatively prominent defenders from time to time.
In this paragraph, the author makes an attempt at mentioning some of the history of universalism and two of its adherents of the belief: one in the post-apostolic age and one during the early days of the United States of America. The author places quotes around “church fathers” which reads as an obvious discrediting of these men; a poisoning of the well in essence. It should be noted that there were many more church fathers who subscribed to this belief and anyone who is remotely interested would be able to easily discover this information. The first such name that comes to mind is Gregory of Nyssa, (331-395): "he was a man that played an important role in shaping the Nicene creed. His Universalist views can be found in his book “The Soul and the Resurrection”. (christianuniversalist.org/re … versalism/) As always, it is important to understand the history of a movement before discrediting it. I find no importance in the reverse of that.
Harper Publishing Company of San Francisco recently released a new book titled, If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person. Authors Phillip Gulley and James Mulholland assert that every one will be saved, regardless of his religious persuasion—or even if he has none at all. Professor Ty Inbody of the United Theological Seminary has characterized universalism as “one of the hottest burners on the Christian stove today.” But the dogma is a wistful fantasy with no biblical support or logical underpinning.
The last sentence in this paragraph is again an attempt to refute something without addressing any arguments at hand. In fact, it is my contention that this author hasn’t heard any actual arguments, for if he did, he could not honestly sum up this belief as “wistful (vague or regretful longing) fantasy”. Also of note is the author’s attempt to suggest that universalism has no “logical underpinning”, all while committing fallacy after fallacy throughout his article. To this point, I have pointed out two (poisoning the well; fallacy fallacy). I will address the contention that universalism has “no biblical support” in the paragraphs ahead.
The doctrine of universalism is entertained only by a fractional element of those who loosely identify themselves with the Christian movement. In addition to Gulley and Mulholland, a few others more prominent than they, have sought to establish this concept. John Hick, former professor of philosophy of religion at Claremont University (California), has written the following: “We must thus affirm the ultimate salvation of all mankind” (1976, 259).Scottish theologian, William Barclay, took a similar position. This view is espoused, of course, by the Unitarian/Universalist Church.
The first sentence in the above paragraph is nothing more than a “bandwagon fallacy”. I could make an attempt to prove that I, along with others like me, more than “loosely” identify ourselves with the “Christian movement”. However, my intentions are not to defend myself against attacks, for attacks of this nature always speak more about the attacker than the attacked.
For the informed Bible student, there does not need to be an elaborate defense of the proposition that multitudes will be lost eternally. The scriptural affirmations are too profuse and definitive to assert otherwise.
This again seems like another attempt to poison the well, as it discredits all who hold to the notion that God will eventually save all from eternal torment. Certainly, as the author would have one believe, that no serious student of the bible would conclude that nobody will remain lost forever.
(1) David declared that “the wicked shall be turned into hell [Sheol], and all the nations that forget God” (Psalm 9:17). “Sheol” is used some sixty-six times in the Hebrew Old Testament. While the term sometimes is generic (i.e., the depository of the dead generally), it is also used for the realm where the wicked receive their punishment (Job 11:8; Psalm 9:17; 139:8; Proverbs 23:14).
I don’t disagree with anything the author states in this paragraph, as it has no bearing on the argument at hand. Sheol can stand for the state of the dead, where some will certainly receive punishment for their wickedness. I wouldn’t conclude that the “scriptural affirmations are too profuse and definitive” as of yet.
(2) The prophet Daniel declared that a segment of those who “awake” from “the dust of the earth” (i.e., they are to be resurrected from the grave) will experience “everlasting shame and contempt” (Daniel 12:2). A clear distinction is made between the saved and the lost.
For a deeper understanding of this text, I will concede an explanation to a forum administrator by the name of “Sonia” at evangelicaluniversalist.com/foru … =11&t=1942.
The word translated “age-during” or “everlasting” is the Hebrew ‘olam’ which no one can claim always has the meaning “without end” so to say it is proclaiming ECT (eternal conscious torment) would be presumptuous.
I find vs 3 particularly interesting. Here it is in a couple of translations:
KJV – And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.
NASB – "*Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the *expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.
Some items of interest:
will shine brightly – “shine” is zahar: to admonish, warn, teach, shine, send out light, be light, be shining
The double meaning teach/warn/admonish and shine/send out light, suggests that these wise insightful ones will be teaching and giving light to others.
Then the parallelism: those leading the many to righteousness, or justifying the many will shine/teach/warn like the brightness of the stars to the age (olam) and continuing on (`ad).
So what I see in this passage is that after judgment there will be those who are wise who will “shine forth,” teaching and leading others to righteousness. Their teaching will be like the brightness of the daytime sky and the brilliance of the stars in the night, and will result in the justification of the multitude. Interesting also that the descendants of Abraham (the father of all who have faith) are likened to the stars.
Jesus makes reference to this passage in Matt 13:41ff:
The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. "Then THE RIGHTEOUS WILL SHINE FORTH AS THE SUN in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, *let him hear.
The Greek “shine” is also compatible with the idea of giving knowledge, as we can see here:
2Cr 4:6 For God, who said, “Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
So, after the resurrection and judgment, the righteous will shine forth the Light of the knowledge of God, and lead the multitudes to righteousness! Amen!
(3) Hades is the New Testament term for that state between the death of the physical body and the day of judgment. In some New Testament passages, Hades stands for the abode of the wicked, i.e., the environment where they are punished before their ultimate banishment into the final domain called hell (gehenna) (Mathew 11:23; Luke 16:23; Revelation 20:13).
What I find rather interesting about this third point is the fact that none of the passages listed uses the word ‘gehenna’. For a definition of ‘hades’, I will quote “A Pocket Cyclopedia, Brief Explanations of Religious Terms”, written by John Wesley Hanson in 1892.
Hades. – (Hebrew Sheol). (See “Hell,” “Rich Man and Lazarus.”) These words occur sixty-four times in the Old Testament, Established version; and is rendered hell thirty-two times, grave twenty-nine times, and pit three times. The Revised Version properly retains Hades in the New Testament, and never renders it hell. [Hanson’s “Bible Hell;” “Universalist Book of Reference.”]
Hades occurs 11 times in the Greek Testament, and is improperly translated in the common version 10 times by the word hell. It is the word used in the Septuagint as a translation of the Hebrew word sheol, denoting the abode or world of the dead, and means literally that which is in darkness, hidden, invisible, or obscure. As the word hades did not come to the Hebrews from any classical source, or with any classical meaning, but through the Septuagint, as a translation of their own word sheol, therefore in order to properly define its meaning recourse must be had to the various passages where it is found. The Hebrew word sheol is translated by hades in the Septuagint, 60 times out of 63; and though sheol in many places (such as Gen. 35:35; 13:38; 1 Sam. 2:7; 1 Kings 2:6; Job 14:13; 17:13, 16, etc.) may signify kebor, the grave, as the common receptacle of the dead, yet it has the more general meaning of death; a state of death; the dominion of death. To translate hades by the word hell, as it is done ten times out of eleven in the New Testament, is very improper, unless it has the Saxon meaning of helan, to cover, attached to it. The primitive signification of hell only denoting what was secret or concealed, perfectly corresponds with the Greek term hades and its Hebrew equivalent sheol, but the theological definition to it at the present day by no means expresses it. (A Pocket Cyclopedia, Brief Explanations of Religious Terms, Hanson)
(4) Jesus taught that there is a “hell” (gehenna) into which the wicked will be cast. In this horrible realm, they will suffer eternally (Matthew 5:22, 29-30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5; James 3:6). Christ also taught that “many” would enter this condition of “destruction” (Matthew 7:13-14)—which is not a state of extinction, but of punishment and affliction (cf. Matthew 25:46; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9, ).
To the average reader, their bible will probably read “eternal” suffering. However, this translation of ‘eternal’ is from the Greek word “aionios”. Dr. Thomas Talbott, former philosophy professor at Willamette University, writes: “Whatever its correct translation, “aionios” is clearly an adjective and must therefore function like an adjective, and it is the very nature of an adjective for its meaning to vary, sometimes greatly, depending upon which noun it qualifies. For more often than not, the noun helps to determine the precise force of the adjective. As an illustration, set aside the Greek word “aionios” for a moment and consider the English word “everlasting.” I think it safe to say that the basic meaning of this English word is indeed everlasting. So now consider how the precise force of “everlasting” varies depending upon which noun it qualifies. An everlasting struggle would no doubt be a struggle without end, an unending temporal process that never comes to a point of resolution and never gets completed. But an everlasting change, or an everlasting correction, or an everlasting transformation would hardly be an unending temporal process that never gets completed; instead, it would be a temporal process of limited duration, or perhaps simply an instantaneous event, that terminates in an irreversible state.” (Does Matthew 25:46 Teach Unending Punishment, Talbott). It should also be noted how different the translation of 2 Thessalonians 1:9 is between various versions of the bible. Notice the following:
From the NIV: “They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might”
Young’s Literal Translation: “who shall suffer justice – destruction age-during – from the face of the Lord, and from the glory of his strength,”
I am not sure where the “shut out” came from but the NIV reads vastly different than the literal translation of the Greek words that were spoken. The two verses should seem contradictory to any “informed Bible student”.
(5) The apostles affirmed that some would be lost.Paul spoke of those who will not escape the “judgment of God” and the awesome “day of [his] wrath” (Romans 2:3, 5). Elsewhere he wrote of the “punishment” of the wicked in an “everlasting” abode of separation from the Creator (2 Thessalonians 1:9). He spoke also of the terrible slaughter of spiritual rebels at the time of the Lord’s coming (2 Thessalonians 2:8). He cataloged those who will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21). These references assert the very opposite of universalism!
Again, if one takes a prima facie reading of the Bible, they can certainly ascertain any number of doctrines. Certainly, there will be those how will not escape the “judgment of God”. No true Christian Universalist argues that God will not punish those who practice wickedness. However, one must look into the Greek word used for “punishment”. The word used in verses such as Matthew 25:46 was the word “kolasis”. “For as one New Testament scholar, William Barclay, has pointed out, “kolasis” “was not originally an ethical word at all. It originally meant the pruning of trees to make them grow better.” Barclay also claimed that “in all Greek secular literature kolasis is never used of anything but remedial punishment”–which is probably a bit of a stretch, since the language of correction and the language of retribution often get mixed together in ordinary language. But in any event, if “kolasis” does signify punishment of a remedial or a corrective kind, as I think it does in Matthew 25:46, then we can reasonably think of such punishment as everlasting in the sense that its corrective effects literally endure forever. Or, to put it another way: An everlasting correction, whenever successfully completed, would be a temporal process of limited duration that terminates in the irreversible state of being rightly related to God. Certainly nothing in the context of Matthew 25 excludes such an interpretation.” (Does Matthew 25:46 Teach Unending Punishment, Talbott).
Peter similarly took note of an ultimate accountability to God. He spoke of “lusts, which war against the soul” preliminary to the “day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:11-12). He listed egregious sins for which men will be held responsible by him who “is ready to judge the living and the dead” (1 Peter 4:3-5). His question “What shall be the end of them who obey not the gospel?” is clear enough in its implication (1 Peter 4:17-18). The apostle spoke of “heresies” that will “destroy” the wicked person (2 Peter 2:1ff; cf. 3:7).
Like before, I won’t defend myself from emotionally-based attacks on my belief. Certainly, anyone who contends that those who share my belief are the ones spoken of in 2 Peter 2 has no understanding of the argument they are being faced with. I, nor any of the writers, philosophers, theologians, professors, or like-minded brethren are the “false prophets” that 2 Peter 2 speaks of. To think otherwise is to concede the argument at hand, as it is my contention that those who appeal to emotions have already lost the argument.
How could anyone possibly survey such a variety of sacred texts (in concert with numerous others of similar import) and then contend for the concept of universal salvation? Only by a complete disregard for the plain meaning of the inspired narratives could such a conclusion be drawn.
This is nothing more than a vague, ill-thought out rhetorical question. The author’s presupposition is that he is correct and everyone else is wrong. This paragraph offers nothing other than mere emotion.
The natural inclination of humanity is to deny the doctrine of punishment for those who rebel against God. Yet the idea of ultimate and eternal retribution for sin has been virtually universal among those who identify with Christianity. This is inexplicable on mere naturalistic grounds. It concedes the compelling biblical case.
When the author mentions that “the natural inclination of humanity is to deny the doctrine of punishment for those who rebel against God”, he is employing a “straw-man fallacy”. Again, no true Christian universalist denies the “doctrine of punishment”, but saying so is much easier to refute for Mr. Jackson. Also, just because “the idea of ultimate and eternal retribution for sin has been virtually universal among those who identify with Christianity” seems true, one must look further into why that is. There seems to be a thousand year period in history where the Roman Catholic Church had a monopoly on how to interpret the Bible. This seems contradictory to the “naturalistic grounds” Mr. Jackson alludes to.
*Those who advocate the dogma of universalism occasionally will appeal to the Bible in support of their misguided ideology. We will comment briefly upon a couple of these rationalizations.
(1) It is alleged that the idea of some being lost is contrary to the goodness of God. Supposedly, as a perfectly good being, he simply could not allow that. Two things may be said in response to this idea.
First, the Lord’s goodness must not be interpreted in such a way that conflicts with the affirmation of his justice (Psalm 89:14; cf. Genesis 18:25). Justice demands punishment for sin. Do we suppose that a good government should provide no penalty for robbery, rape, and murder?*
The opening sentence to this paragraph is by far the most condescending yet. To discredit the thousands of hours that I, and many like-minded individuals, spend studying this in one sentence is more than offensive. Again, I have no reason to defend myself against this misguided attack.
When one discuss the nature of God, they must be careful not to make God into a schizophrenic being, who’s attributes are at war with each other. Every attribute of God must be viewed through the lens that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). So, when we discuss the jealousy, anger, justice, and wrath of God, it is always within the context of love. So, if an argument that “God is too good to punish” is presented for universal reconciliation, acknowledging that that particular argument is fallacious does not refute the conclusion. Again, the author employs the “fallacy fallacy” to argue against the conclusion that God will save all. As a side note, I won’t get into how the statement “do we suppose that a good government…” is an obvious oxymoron. Also, are we interested in the human idea of punishment or of God’s divine and remedial punishment?
Second, the fact that suffering is tolerated (and even used) by God within our earthly environment is a forceful demonstration that Jehovah’s goodness is not compromised by the negative consequences of human rebellion. One must not foist his own jaded sense of goodness upon his perception of the Lord, contrary to clear scriptural revelation.
This statement is completely unrelated to my argument the God will save all in the end.
*(2) It is contended that the Scriptures actually affirm universal salvation. Does not Peter declare that God does not wish that “any should perish”? (2 Peter 3:9).Yes, but this phrase represents the ideal will of God; he does not want anyone to be lost. That is why the Lord made adequate provision for the redemption of anyone who “wills” to accept salvation (Revelation 22:17).The real issue is this: what if men do not repent? (2 Peter 3:9b). What if they have no interest in salvation? In that event, those who have rejected divine grace, by means of their disobedience, will receive the terrible consequence of such. And remember this: just two verses earlier Peter had spoken of the “destruction of the ungodly.”
But did not Paul declare that God wants “all men to be saved”? (1 Timothy 2:4). Yes he did. But again, one must discern between what Heaven wills ideally and the reality that the Lord also honors human volition, i.e., freewill. When godless people choose to reject divine grace, as expressed through Heaven’s plan of salvation, they bring upon themselves “destruction and perdition”—as the apostle revealed in this same epistle (1 Timothy 6:9; cf. Acts 13:46).*
I suppose the argument Mr. Jackson is making is that God’s will is to save all men but that He respects our rational, free decision to deny him. So, if Mr. Jackson admits that the “ideal” will of God is to have all men be saved, does he think God will ultimately be unwilling or unable to save them? It is my belief that God’s will is to have all men be reconciled unto Him (II Peter 3:9; I Timothy 2:4; Romans 11:32; Ezekiel 33:11) and that God has the ability to do so (Ephesians 1:11; Job 42:2; Psalm 115:3; Isaiah 46:10b & 11b). In addition to these texts, there are a few, as Dr. Talbott points out, that seem to imply that God has both the will and the power to save all (I Corinthians 15:27-28; Colossians 1:20; Romans 5:18)
Mr. Jackson goes on to mention that “the Lord also honors human volition, i.e. freewill”. I am not quite sure if Mr. Jackson is speaking of compatiblist or libertarian freewill. However, if this were true, would one conclude that a perfectly rational agent would ever freely choose objective horror over objective bliss? Should God allow us to choose, and always have the freedom to do so, how can one conclude that we would ever choose eternal conscious torment? And if we don’t have the freedom to choose, do we believe that God either (a) doesn’t will all to be saved, or (b), that He doesn’t have the power to do so?
*If the doctrine of universal salvation were true, it would make no difference what anyone believed, taught, or practiced—however bizarre, untrue, or destructive. The consequence of all religious and moral activity would be identical ultimately.
Who can live with such an irrational conclusion? The doctrine of universalism has no basis in either the Bible or logic. It must be rejected summarily by those who esteem the Scriptures as a revelation from God.*
The first paragraph above is nothing more than a “red herring fallacy”, and thus, is meaningless. To me, it also speaks more to author’s heart, rather than my own. The statement “who can live with such an irrational conclusion?” is nothing more than an “appeal to emotion”, and again, is meaningless. I find it painfully difficult to understand how Mr. Jackson can seriously use the word “logic” in the above paragraph. I am no doctor of philosophy, and maybe I missed a few fallacies employed by the author, but I count at least 6 logical fallacies in his article.
I will conclude by offering something for my readers to chew on. Please consider the following:
Logically, wouldn’t a God who saves the very men who killed their own Savior have more grace than a God who doesn’t, or couldn’t? The murderer (all sinners actually) who killed Jesus committed the greatest sin, and therefore, in order for “where sin abounded, grace abounded much more” to apply, one must conclude grace must be given to that sinner. And more yet, grace then given even if the sinner doesn’t accept the grace, is even more gracious yet.
Grace and Peace to all. May God be the ‘all in all’ promised.
christianuniversalist.org/re … versalism/
auburn.edu/~allenkc/terms.html#sheol - “A Pocket Cyclopedia, Brief Explanations of Religious Terms”, written by John Wesley Hanson
evangelicaluniversalist.com/foru … =11&t=1942
willamette.edu/~ttalbott/prolegomenon.shtml - Dr. Thomas Talbott
christiancourier.com/articl … iversalism - Wayne Jackson
truth.info/future/universalism.htm, Terje Ronneberg