Can the confession of Phil 2:11 be “forced”?


I’ve been unable to find if this has been addressed on this site so sorry if this has already been asked/dealt with. This text is most quoted in the “Argument of Humility” thread by auggybendoggy in this discussion affirmative section but this specific question is not touched.

But when I’m discussing UR with Christians and the wonderful prophecy (can’t it be a prophecy?) of Phil 2:10 and 11 comes up – “Every knee will bow… and Every tongue will confess” – it’s amazing how many reply something like this;
“Oh sure they confess, but they don’t ‘really mean’ it; it is a confession forced from them and not real.”


To me this seems just a fanciful way of dismissing an obvious text; besides, isn’t it kinda goofy (you can tell I’m no theologian; they don’t use words like “goofy”!) to lump all confessions together – free and forced – as if even false and forced worship can mix right in with sincere and willful worship?? As if that’s something to celebrate?

Or they will dismiss it (one would think that this text would be emphatically embraced as is!) with a reference to James 2:19 where even the demons believe and it scares them. So confession is demeaned as mere mental assent to a fact and not as humble realization and embrace of Christ as saviour and Lord.

I sense that this idea of confession as forced and therefore insincere and invalid is simply imported from out of nowhere to avoid the implications of Universal Restoration.

Any help with this text from the theologically savvy?


Strongest evidence

Yes, I heard someone say, “Every knee shall bow all right, when the back of those knees will be struck with a 2 by 4!”

There is another passage which speaks of every knee bowing:

Romans 14:11 for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” RSV

You may be able to force a person to bow their knee. You may be able to force a person to utter praise words. But this passage speaks of every tongue actually giving praise! There is no way to force a person to give praise to God! Yet that’s what this passage states that EVERYONE will do! Sooner or later EVERYONE will, of their own free will, submit to the authority of Christ.


Of course those that believe in annihilation will say that those that bow are the only ones left!


I noted in Talbott’s corner that I have a hard time with the traditionalist who argues that free will is a necessary component in this life for there to be a real relationship.

However when it comes to God receiving glory it seems that him forcing them to bow to himself, is just as glorious as if they had bow out of free will?

I’m not sure how this works in their view.



The annihilationist doesn’t have that problem, for the ones destroyed are no longer in existence.


Well, if that’s the traditionalist’s stance, I agree with him! (though I can hardly be said to be a traditionalist)

Would you please reread your sentence above and correct it or reword it so that it is comprehensible?


This is a sticky question, because on the one hand the scriptures (OT and NT both) are pretty consistent about God eventually using force on people who (in effect) insist, as Isaiah puts it, going out to war against God with thorns and thistles. God then burns up the thorns and thistles–one way or another, God is using force to do that.

When people cling to God as refuge as a result of this–and the various narratives (especially concerning Israel) do involve sinners choosing to cling to God instead as refuge as a result of such things–then God establishes a covenant relationship with them. The Isaianic passage puts the tension very aptly: they make Him their friend by doing so, but the passage begins with God saying that He has no wrath in Him, even when going to war against those people who go out against Him with thorns and thistles.

The confession of Phil 2:11 (and elsewhere) has to be honest praise for the saving deeds of God and His defeat of evil; that’s how the term is regularly used, and God would not accept hypocrisy on this topic as a final position. (On the contrary, in one of the Synoptic parables of the wedding guests, the king throws out a guest who refused to cooperate with him in true loyalty–despite this fellow having been compelled to come in originally! And this is taking place in the eschatological feast, so…! :open_mouth: )

But the question is whether any praise of God can be honest and sincere when it was preceded by some kind of butt-kicking of the intransigent. Speaking as someone who can be intransigent about some things, and whose butt is occasionally kicked as a result, however, I’m inclined to answer from experience (as well as in agreement with the scriptures on this): yes, my praise of God for healing and leading me from sin can be honest and sincere. Even if the leading requires Him to turn up the heat on me because I won’t accept anything better than that.

Such a process can be (and frequently has been) obviously abused. But the abuse doesn’t abolish the use.



no, on the face of it, annihilation doesn’t conflict with the all-praise prophecies, that’s true. Whether it conflicts with the all-praise prophecies on a closer check of the contexts might be worth a thread discussion somewhere, though. :slight_smile:


I’m seeing a significant overlap here with the conversation about violence. And Jason, I think you are quite right that it is a sticky question. I think there is general agreement among us that a confession that is forced would have, to God, about as much value as a confession that was determined; that is, meaningless in the context of free will. (Nothing close to a language expert here, but confession of the sort talked about here seems highly associated with free will…)

However, I might deviate somewhat from characterizing God as using “force” to get people to the point of decision. Perhaps there should be a category called “natural consequences” whereby God need simply stand aside and let things happen as they do when sin is in control. History certainly confirms that disaster results – but this need not be seen as of God’s doing.

As Tom Talbott has talked about, God seems to allow worsening separation from Himself which leads to greater and greater suffering. This need not mean God authors that suffering.

Anyway, I think there is agreement in UR that the final choice for God, by all His creation, is not forced but is free.

So I’m wondering if the thing that changes is God’s intervention in finally letting consequences go where they may. Right now we live in a state where the sun and rain fall on the just and the unjust. Seems following God brings no discernible material benefits in our current paradigm; but perhaps this is an unnatural state and some day God will back off and let things flow with less intervention. And it is only then that the starkness of life without God becomes fully evident. The cry of faithful men now is “why do the wicked prosper?” but perhaps there comes a day when they don’t!

I’m suggesting that maybe someday God will actively bless the faithful (ie abandon the blessings to good and bad alike plan) and let the wicked reap what they have sown and it’ll be obvious what they reap is not from God’s hand. And maybe that’s how the wicked slowly learn to love God… ??



In the parable of the 2 sons although the father keeps vigil for the return of his errant son he doesn’t go and get him. The son’s repentance is fermented by his situation. Might this have a connection with being ‘handed over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh’?



I’d say yep. :slight_smile:


Yep, definitely some overlap with the “myth of redemptive violence” topic (my first main answer of which I haven’t finished composing yet. Might not see it until the weekend. It isn’t that the first reply is huge; I just want to figure out the best way to begin approaching the topic.)

My only caveat to what you’ve said, is that this shouldn’t be thought of in terms of disassociating God from enacting the punishment. Relatedly, God routinely insists upon active responsibility in these things happening, as well as in more obviously direct punishment, in the OT and the NT. “I, even I, am doing this.”


God’s wrath, when understood in the context of his love, always brings the prodigal home. Did you get spankings as a child that you knew were for your good. They helped you, made you better people, or at least smarter people. I poked a wasp nest with a long cane pole when I was about 9. The 23 stings I got taught me not to do it again. The spanking I got because I wouldn’t tell mama what was wrong helped too. Sometimes we have to be dumbfounded like Paul on the road to Damascus. I would say that he was forced to confess or at a very minimum severely convinced to confess.


“Saul, Saul!–how hard it is for you to kick against the goad!” :slight_smile:


Noy much kicking afterwards. Andrew Peterson says his “blindness made him see.”


I understand the goading to have taken place before Jesus shows up, with his blindness being the climax. Unfortunately, the prior goading isn’t a part of the narrative structure. But Jesus’ statement doesn’t make much sense unless there’s been some goading beforehand. (As you note, not much kicking from Saul afterward!!)



  1. Great honor, praise, or distinction accorded by common consent; renown.
  2. Something conferring honor or renown.
  3. A highly praiseworthy asset: Your wit is your crowning glory.
  4. Adoration, praise, and thanksgiving offered in worship.
  5. Majestic beauty and splendor; resplendence: The sun set in a blaze of glory.
  6. The splendor and bliss of heaven; perfect happiness.
  7. A height of achievement, enjoyment, or prosperity: ancient Rome in its greatest glory.
  8. A halo, nimbus, or aureole. Also called gloriole.

Caveman logic here: I will be in Heaven. If I were to observe forced/false confessions it would not be a “glory” for me to behold; therefore the confessions must be genuine.

Were I an unwilling “subject”, God could force me to my knees, beat me into submission and force me to speak, but there would be no honor in doing so. I would not be conferring honor-horror perhaps, but not honor. The ability to force a “subject” into submission isn’t a praiseworthy asset. I wouldn’t be offering adoration, praise, and thanksgiving in worship because it would be offered in fear. I would neither be participating in the splendor and bliss of heaven, nor would I have perfect happiness if I were forced to confess Christ as Lord when I didn’t believe it to be true. The height of God’s achievement, enjoyment, and prosperity would not be reached if I offered my confession for any reason other than because I genuinely believed it was the truth. The way for me to get a halo (crown of life-James 1:12) is to LOVE God, and any confession other than a genuine confession is not an expression of love.


Aha! I see. Sorry I didn’t get what you were saying. Too much brain damage from spending all my time with 8th graders in the spring. :laughing:


If it were a fake submission, one done with much grumbling and complaints under one’s breath, it most certainly would not be worth it. Does God want praise from people who don’t mean it? I can’t wait to tell the next person who says, “You’ll bow your knee and confess, but will it be willingly now or unwillingly later?” to read Isaiah 1. What does God care for empty sacrifices? That is no true victory.

The only victory Love could ever have is the willing submission of an adoring yet trembling human heart to its worthy passionate embrace.


Absolutely! - for some reason this instantly made me think of Isaiah 55:8-9