The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Constructing a document against Universalism

I’ve been asked by a number of people to marshal the traditional arguments against Universalism. So I’m going to put together a short document outlining the traditional responses to the key arguments and proof texts for Universalism.

Now God has given us all minds to reason with but there’s also a spiritual dimension to the world and so I’m aware I’m only addressing one side of the equation so to speak. I’m not expecting any traditional argument to convince you, God will do that at time and place of his own choosing. My aim by posting this here and seeking all your help is not to offend anyone but gather what you think are the best theological reasons for Universalism and the key proof-texts so that I can put something to together that actual Universalists believe, not straw men that I’ve constructed.

I don’t profess to have all the answers, just ‘one beggar telling another where the bread is’ or in this case ‘which burning dumpster to avoid’. It’s also an emotional topic and this page isn’t designed to offend you but offer traditional answers to the questions Universalism, in particular ‘evangelical universalism’, raises.

Character of God
God is loving, just and merciful therefore he wouldn’t punish people forever!

The attributes of God are both multifaceted (Frame, 229, 392-394) and consistent with each other, there is no conflict within God (Heb 13:8). God’s ‘goodness’ includes both the attributes of love (John 3:16) and wrath (Rev 2:6). Just as God loves good and hates evil, and if he is opposed to evil he will punish those who choose rebellion, and in the process highlight his mercy to those he saves (Rom 9:23).
[list=]*]The Doctrine of God by John Frame
*]‘The Wrath of God as an aspect of the love of God’ by Tony Lane[/list]

If God punishes people forever, doesn’t that defame Him?

Punishment is part of judgement, judgement is the consequence of Sin. God is also the self-sufficient source of his morality (Matt 3:17). However sometimes it seems to us that both mercy and judgement are a violation of God’s own standards, a conundrum solved only in salvation (Rom 3:26).

Nature of Hell
God punishing someone forever sounds horrible.

It’s important to keep this statement in proportion. Clearly the punishment of Hell isn’t the same as Adam’s original disobedience (Phil 2:6) or the suffering of Jesus (Mk 14:36). But it does seems horrible in comparison to other terrible things on earth. Therefore this “horror” needs to be kept in emotional balance alongside the significance of sin (Isaiah 6:5) and the importance of God (Rev 4).

Judgement is restorative more than retributive.

While judgement includes both aspects, there’s no evidence it’s more restorative unless you presuppose the restoration of everyone and then re-interpret all Scriptural judgement in that light that presupposition.
]God’s glory in Salvation through Judgement by James Hamilton/:m]

If the final judgement is one of works, doesn’t that mean that some people don’t deserve Hell?

From our perspective God’s mercy is arbitrary (Matt 20:8-9), but this is the wonderful nature of salvation, it’s a free gift not dependent on how much good we do (Rom 9:16). If Evangelical Universalism is true then Hell is a type of purgatory for those who didn’t work hard enough in this life.

What are the main proof texts for Universalism?
Rom 5:18 Doesn’t the all in Adam correspond to the all in Christ?

Context from other parts of Romans is important in understanding the broad scope of this verse (Rom 9). It’s also important to note that if the Apostle Paul was announcing a new theme: ‘universal salvation’, he wouldn’t have introduced it during a tangent about justification and original sin, five chapters into his letter to the Romans.
]‘Towards a Biblical View of Universalism’ in Themelios 4.2, by N.T. Wright/:m]

Colossians 1:20 It says all things will be reconciled to God.

God begins saving people from before they were born, a process that ends in reconciliation with God. This verse either means that everything is either subject to or with God. Traditional theology argues while everything is subject to God, not everything is with God, namely evil beings and permanently rebellious people.

1 Tim 2:4 It says Christ redeems all.

Again context (1 Tim 4:10 & 1 Tim 5:21), is also important for understanding the scope of “everyone’’ in this particular verse. While “everyone” is certainly a broad phrase, it’s another step to argue that it has the precise meaning of “every-single-person-who-has-ever-lived-and-will-live.”
‘Paul on Hell’ in Hell Under Fire, by Douglas Moo

1 Peter 3:18 Isn’t there a second chance?

This admittedly mysterious verse doesn’t say anything about people’s ability to come to a saving faith after death. This is significant for Evangelical Universalism which emphasizes repentance and faith after death.

What are the main biblical themes that appear to support Universalism?
Why isn’t there a warning about Hell in the Old Testament Law?

There isn’t much about life with God after death either in the Old Testament, but both the blessings and curses in this life are the beginning of permanent trajectories to either life with God or punishment away from God. Although there are Old Testament glimpses of Hell (Isaiah 66:24 & Daniel 12:1-3).
]‘The Old Testament on Hell’ in Hell Under Fire, by Daniel Block/:m]
]'How Can a Loving God Send People to Hell’ of A Reason for God by Tim Keller/:m]

Are the images of fire, death and punishment really final or do they instead mean purification?

The spiritual aspects of fire are neither temporary (Ex 3:2) or merely disciplinary (Gen 19:24). Fire may also be used as symbol of purification (1 Pet 1:7) but this isn’t the way all images of fire in Scripture should be understood.

How do Universalists respond to counter proof texts?
Matt 25:46 At the end of a parable Jesus says some will go to eternal life and some to eternal judgement.

Most Universalists would argue that “aionios” doesn’t mean “eternal” because the original meaning was ambiguous and could just easily mean an “age” but this, according to many Universalists, became obscured by a narrowed traditional interpretation which has in turn been recently overturned by some recent scholars.

However mainstream scholarship is not unreliable in the translation of “aionios”, when referring both to life with God or life without God, as eternal. Furthermore Universalism introduces an artificial and unnecessary distinction between the length of time and the quality of the time.
]A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (colloquially known as BDAG)/:m]
]A short survey of the multiple and varied instances where “aionios” is correctly translated as eternal. /:m]

Luke 13:22-30 Someone asks Jesus if only a few will be saved.

While Jesus has the Jewish nation in mind, the gospels are written to a universal audience. Furthermore Jesus isn’t asked if only a few Jewish people will be saved but if only a few will be saved.

2 Thessalonians 1:6-9 Eternal punishment away from God.

This section of Scripture isn’t just about God avenging specific injustices against the Christians in Thessalonica but description of punishment as life eternally apart from God.

Revelation 14:11; 20:10-15 A place of torment

The structure of Revelation is centered around the proclamation of the seventh trumpet, ‘Jesus will be Lord forever’ (Rev 11:15-19). On either side of this proclamation God’s glory is expressed in judgment.

Universalism raises some strong emotional and spiritual questions.
Q:What about my brother who died several years ago and I’m not sure if he’s a Christian?

“In this situation there are two things we can be sure about, that God is good and God is merciful. However, in Romans 9-11 the apostle Paul suffers (unceasing) anguish in his heart because some of his people were cut off from God. We know that God’s call is irrevocable to those who were saved but that God is in charge. This knowledge causes us to stand in awe and fear God’s power.”

Q:Doesn’t Universalism take the pressure out of Evangelism?

Evangelism is important because what occurs in this life-span is important (Heb 9:27), and there is also a sense of urgency in the Scriptures to respond to God (2 Cor 6:2).
]‘Are all doomed to be Saved? The Rise of Modern Universalism’ in Southern Baptist Journal of Theology, by Timothy Beougher/:m]

Q:Should fear of God be my only motivation to stop sinning?

Our motivation to stop sinning should be both the wonder of who Jesus is and the fear of God. We don’t wish to return to our disobedience and face the punishment we’ve been saved from.

**Is there a historical basis for Universalism? **
Hasn’t Universalism been an important part of church history?

Universalism has been a minor theme for much of church history. However it’s never been consistently taught as an ongoing and significant theme by most of the church. Some of the early proponents were dubious such as Origen and the teaching about purgatory was more about sanctification than justification or faith.
]‘Universalism: a Historical Survey’ in Themelios 4.2, by Richard Bauckham /:m]

Useful Resources:
The Great Divorce by CS Lewis
Evil and the Cross by Henri Blocher
Kevin DeYoung’s review of Rob Bell’s Love Wins
DA Carson makes the case for Hell in this short video.

I agree. God has all the time in the world. His grace is irresistable, his plans are sure, and his love never fails. ie. His love never ends and always succeeds.

The problem I have with Calvin’s God is that he is not worth worshipping. Try as I might, I cannot love the unlovable. I cannot praise, adore and extol a God who, having the power to save all from endless torment, simply chooses not to.

But is God really like this, or is it just a diabolical slander? (Interestingly, “diablos” means “slanderer”.)

Hi Luke,
I really appreciate the way you started off this thread and I look forward to joining in the conversation when I have time.
Cheers, Andrew


Probably not the best thread to go into that right now. Luke is looking for case-information to answer.


This is a fine project, and I look forward to giving it a workout when you’re done! :smiley:

Keep in mind that while the simpler version of this is popular among universalists, some of us appeal to that in a far more theologically sophisticated and detailed fashion as a corollary to trinitarian theism. While it wouldn’t be exactly a straw man to stick with the simpler version (as by the way NT Wright does–obviously the shape of the material so far is a topical update to his old article), by tautology if you don’t address the chewier version the chewier version will not have been addressed (much less answered). :slight_smile:

The arguments involving the three scriptures so far mentioned (from NTW’s article again) are often far more exegetically and contextually detailed than your brief summary of them, too, of course.

Others of us, not being preterists, would agree that this references a real sorting of reward and punishment at the Second Coming, but that not being saved from punishment is not the same as not ever being saved from sin. The parable ends at the stage of not being saved from punishment when Christ comes again, but that is not the end of the story elsewhere in the Bible; and we would appeal to the principle that testimony beyond this should not be excluded on the basis that other testimony doesn’t go that far.

To give literally the most ‘immediate’ example, Luke reports just prior to this the parable of the leaven in the dough. Calvinists and universalists both recognize there the effective and original persistence of God to save all He intends to save; but Calvinists have to read in an exclusion of salvific scope here since no dough is set aside by the woman to be unleavened and thrown away. If it is legitimate for Calvinists (or Arminians in a different way, for that matter) to at least attempt to read this parable in light of more detail elsewhere (such as from the following pericope to give the most immediate example!), without being accused of simply rejecting one scripture in favor of another, then in principle it is legitimate for Kaths to at least attempt to read 13:22-30 in light of more detail elsewhere, too, without charging us with a bluntly negative Sachkritic. (An observation very applicable to NTW’s article, too, by the way. :wink: )

I would say it is also worth noticing that in the parallels to this pericope (reported in different and more detailed circumstances), the people wailing and gnashing their teeth are not only doing so at being cast aside while seeing the righteous Fathers and prophets in the kingdom of God, but at seeing those arriving from the four compasses to recline in the kingdom so that the first will be last and last the first! In other words, the grief and rage of those sinners is (at least partially) over the inclusion of those other people from ‘over there’ whom they were not expecting God to save! So who exactly are “the workers of {adikias}” or “unfairness” here? Those who expect God to save maximally?–or those who expect only a few to be saved?!

Our Lord’s answer to the man contextually, when the end of His declaration is accounted for, is a warning against the man for expecting only a few to be saved. “You be struggling to enter through the cramped door, for I am saying to you many will be seeking to enter and will not be strong enough.” “You should be beginning to stand outside [after the householder has stood up to latch the door] knocking at the door”, demanding that the Lord should open up–but refusing to really answer the judging question “where are you from?”

Thus there will be lamentation and gnashing of teeth when you (the man asking if only a few will be saved) shall be seeing people from all over the world (i.e. vastly many people) arriving to recline in the kingdom of God with the prophets and the fathers yet you (the man asking if only a few will be saved, who by context clearly thinks of himself as being among the first and not the last) cast outside.

Anyway, reading that warning kills pretty much any inclination in myself to consider myself one of the few specially elected “first” ones. :slight_smile:

(Fortunately, I don’t believe the overall story, for the one who expects only a few special elect to be saved, to end there; I have hope for them based on other biblical testimony about what happens during and after the eschatological punishment to come. As well as because if the orthodox Trinity is true, so that God is love, then I can expect God to keep on acting persistently to save them, too. :smiley: But be that as it may: obviously many theologians disagree on that topic. :wink: )

1.) Since there definitely examples when {aionios} doesn’t mean “eternal” in the sense expected here by non-universalists, either another broadbased meaning has to apply or the variable meaning has to be determined by context. The subsequent options typically leave open, in various ways, the possibility that eonian doesn’t mean never-ending in regard to the punishment.

1.1.) The term means “godly” in the sense of being uniquely from God; thus the statement here might or might not mean the punishment goes on (uniquely from God) never-endingly, even though the life (uniquely from God) goes on never-endingly. The answer depends on information established elsewhere about God and His intentions toward those He punishes at the eschaton. (This is my own position, btw.)

1.2.) The term, in context of the coming eschaton, refers to the reigning age of Christ which continues until He succeeds in subordinating all to Himself in their hearts and intentions, not merely in external circumstances, after which He shall deliver up the kingdom to the Father (subordinating Himself to the Father as all persons have finally become subordinated to Him, i.e. in true and faithful loyalty) so that God may reign altogether in all. Until then, while God reigns in the Trinity in all loyal believers, the infidels only see Christ as a tyrant reigning as they would reign (if they had the power and opportunity) and so only grudgingly accept Him as a pretender setting Himself up as though He was intrinsically the highest authority. God does not reign altogether in them. (I have a few problems with the usual attempts at this interpretation, but I accept a lot of its strengths, too. It borrows heavily from 1 Cor 15, of course.)

1.3.) The term only means a ‘really long time’, and is so variable that context alone can determine the meaning. (This is the simpler and more popular explanation but I don’t think it does justice to the parallelism of the statement at the end of this parable.)

2.) The term for punishment here is actually {kolasis} which is at least possibly (if not certainly) one of remedial punishment. If only possibly so, context will have to determine its weight in this case. The agricultural procedure from which the term is derived, is at least paralleled in Romans 11 where branches are grafted out (even if native to the vine) and back in again once clean. (With a warning from St. Paul that we should not disparage branches currently outside lest we ourselves be grafted out, too!)

3.) The “baby-goats” (in Greek) being punished are part of the flock of Christ but the least of His flock. They’re being punished explicitly because they didn’t bother acting to give hope and salvation to other people regarded by Christ as the least of His flock, so they are being sent off into imprisonment and (by context with coming punishment elsewhere described) hunger, thirst, sickness, unclothedness and exclusion. The parable is thus another Synoptic judgment riddle of reversed expectations where the hearer is tested as to whether they are in fact one of those being condemned: shall their attitude towards the baby-goats, the least of Christ’s flock who are to be imprisoned etc., be that of the mature flock/sheep? Or that of the baby-goats?! If the hearer insists on having the attitude of the baby-goats toward the baby-goats, then the hearer is setting himself up to be judged as a baby goat. The proper attitude (and thus parable interpretation) to have toward the goats is that of the mature flock (or sheep, although the word in Greek is more general than that): we should expect even in the Day of the Lord to come to visit the least of Christ’s flock whom He has imprisoned, heal them of injuries, feed them, give them drink, clean clothing, and bring them out of excluding imprisonment into included fellowship. All of which actions happen to be exemplified to those outside the New Jerusalem (and suffering the lake of fire judgment) by the redeemed Church in cooperation with the Holy Spirit.

The overall context thus indicates that the {kolasis} is in fact remedial and we Christians had better be cooperating with it ourselves instead of rejecting it! (As the final judgment parable of the set, this parable also thus demonstrates what to expect and do beyond the more limited judgment punishments of the prior two parables–both of which are also aimed at warning servants of Christ of judgment to come for not doing the work expected of His servants.)

In conclusion: Christians should interpret the meaning of the sheep and goat judgment the way the sheep in the parable would, not as the goats in the parable would. :slight_smile:

Thank you, Luke. :slight_smile:

Excellent idea Luke. Looking forward to it!


That is a great Spirit to have Luke! Much appreciated.

I recall a great theologian of our denomination telling a story of a good friend of his in Seminary who, over dinner with several other friends, described and explained a certain doctrinal point which was particular to our denomination so well that the men were shocked to realize he had changed camps. “No, I’ve not changed my mind” he said, “but it seems best to present the subject in the very terms my friend would use and agree with.” — I’ve found that very hard to do in real life so I applaud you.

Also, along these lines I really like the Bell’s Hell’s brief essay on 7 myths of Universalism which Alex has listed in the sites heading. If you intend to debunk Universalism, best not debunk a Universalism that no one actually believes in…


I should have been clearer. I don’t believe in Universalism for any of the reasons listed. The God who will save all no matter the personal cost is actually worth worshipping. Luke might like to add The worthiness of God to his list.

What about that we also believe God is just and that his justice is about restoration? Something along that line? I also appreciate, Luke, you wanting to put the best arguments for UR forward. I think it will be as beneficial for you as it will be for us.


I do want the best arguments but not all arguments because this document will be aimed those who wish to be identified as orthodox Christians; holding Scripture as an authority, valuing Church history, affirming the Trinity and believing in Jesus for salvation. This describes Alex, so I’ll take him as a your bog-standard Evangelical Universalist, if he doesn’t think it’s a good argument for Universalism then I won’t include it.


“the worthiness of God” … to be worshiped?


Thanks for the heads-up, I’ll definitely take a look at them but wanted to gauge what this online community thought first.


Some great points I’ll process them after Masterchef.

May I ask who the people are, to stop me “looking over my shoulder”, in every conversation :wink:

Btw, I think you’re being very honourable in your approach, and I appreciate that a lot :sunglasses:

As you rightly point out, there are many types of universalism. I think over the years various people, like Packer & Wright have mainly critiqued other forms, however, I think it is now time to consider Evangelical Universalism.

Have you read “Bell’s Hells: seven myths about universalism” it is a excellent, succinct, clarifying article.

Oh and it’s probably really worth listening to at least one of Robin’s talks (e.g. Robin Parry’s 2010 audio talks on Christian Universalism), as he’s developed a few ideas since his TEU book.

Also I like the Introduction to “All Shall Be Well”, as I think that help put things into perspective for people, and Samuel Green thought it was a “good introduction”.

As far as I can remember, I’m yet to find anything I disagree with in Robin’s theology, which is why I recommend places he has explained things clearer than I could. There are many others here who are on my wavelength too.

Occasionally I like the sound of something, but am yet to be convinced it’s actually the case (e.g. most the early Church schools teaching universalism), so I don’t use that in my main arguments…


I’m using you as my bench mark because there are range of views on this forum, some I’d reject as thoroughly heretical and others positioning themselves as you have within Orthodoxy.

Just finished looking at the “Bell’s Hell’s” document, I appreciate it’s clarity, somewhat ironic given Bell’s lack of clarity!

Please post if you think an argument is unique to a particular poster but not the strongest or the best for Universalism.


While I agree simple statements may lack important nuances I don’t believe that complexity equates with plausibility. A reliable concept should be translatable into a number of different contexts. Not to create more work for Alex (Has that monster project finished? I hope so!) if he’s able to summarise where you’re going with your “Universalism from Trinity” argument I’ll include it. (I’d be also interested to know what Allan thinks of your “Universalism from Trinity” argument.)

Luke 13:22-30
Universalist #1:
Universalist #2: Parable about the ‘judgement of works’ but doesn’t include all aspects of salvation. (I wasn’t sure how to summarise the second half of your argument.)

Matt 25:46
Universalist 1: “aionios” does not mean “eternal” because it has a broad meaning 'a long time" which is narrowed by the eschatological context of the passage to mean “the coming age.” In addition the hearers/readers of the parable should identify with the sheep not the goats. Furthermore kolasis refers to a remedial not retributive judgement.

I don’t feel I’ve captured the essence of what you’re saying with these two passages, anyone else want to jump in with a summary of Jason’s argument.

Just a clarification:
I’d say on Matt 25:46 (and other places) that aionios does not mean eternal in the sense of endless, because its broadest and most literal meaning (particularly in Koine) is “pertaining to/ of the age(s)” which is an undefined or indefinite (not necessarily but possibly, long) period of time.
I understand that in some cases in some forms of Greek, aionios and aidios can both (especially aidios) carry the sense of perpetuity (constant continuance until no longer needed), but is still not necessarily endless (see the situation of the demons bound with aidios chains until the judgment.)

There is very clear scholarship verifying that aiwvios has “lasting for an age” as part of its primary definition. It would often be translated simply “lasting” as a more simple translation.
This is from perseus, … ek#lexicon

lasting for an age

(Show lexicon entry in LSJ Middle Liddell) (search)
αἰώνιος adj sg masc nom
αἰώνιος adj sg fem nom

**αἰώνιος **, ον, also α, ον Pl. Ti.37d, Ep.Heb.9.12:—
A. lasting for an age (“αἰών” 11), perpetual, eternal (but dist. fr. ἀΐδιος, Plot.3.7.3), “μέθη” Pl.R. 363d; “ἀνώλεθρον . . ἀλλ᾽ οὐκ αἰώνιον” Id.Lg.904a, cf. Epicur. Sent.28; “αἰ. κατὰ ψυχὴν ὄχλησις” Id.Nat.131 G.; κακά, δεινά, Phld.Herc. 1251.18, D.1.13; αἰ. ἀμοιβαῖς βασανισθησόμενοι ib.19; “τοῦ αἰ. θεοῦ” Ep.Rom. 16.26, Ti.Locr.96c; “οὐ χρονίη μοῦνον . . ἀλλ᾽ αἰωνίη” Aret.CA1.5; αἰ. διαθήκη, νόμιμον, πρόσταγμα, LXX Ge.9.16, Ex.27.21, To.1.6; “ζωή” Ev.Matt.25.46, Porph.Abst.4.20; κόλασις Ev.Matt. l.c., Olymp. in Grg.p.278J.; “πρὸ χρόνων αἰ.” 2 Ep.Tim. 1.9: opp. πρόσκαιρος, 2 Ep.Cor. 4.18.
2. holding an office or title for life, perpetual, “γυμνασίαρχος” CPHerm.62.
3. = Lat. saecularis, Phleg.Macr.4.
4. Adv. -ίως eternally, “νοῦς ἀκίνητος αἰ. πάντα ὤν” Procl.Inst.172, cf. Simp. in Epict.p.77D.; perpetually, μισεῖν Sch.E.Alc.338.
5. αἰώνιον, τό, = ἀείζωον τὸ μέγα, Ps.-Dsc.4.88.

What would be the Universalist argument about translation? A conspiracy, a gradual shift, a recent shift or a long running minority view? I’m aware that I’ve had this argument before were I’ve asserted that the majority, mainstream view over time has been to translate it eternal. How can I represent the alternative? I need more then a website, I need an explanation.

I know this isn’t a thorough enough answer, but from all the reading I’ve done on it, the “translation issue” appears to be a combination of “conspiracy” (though perhaps not on the actual translation front, and probably the smallest part of the equation), gradual shift in original and translation language usage (as well as the fact that Koine was a dead language that none of the original bible translators were aware of by the time medieval translation work was being done), and just the ordinary difficulties in translation between languages (not having exact equivalents in the translation language from the original).

But I think this is less a universalist argument than it is a matter of uncovered facts that have helped the universalist understanding of scripture. A.E. Knoch, for example became a universalist while (and as a direct result of) translating into his concordant literal version.

That sounds very reasonable Melchizedek, it also makes sense of why the English translations started with lots of instances of the word “hell” and removed them as scholarship improved. I pray that scholarship continues to improve!