The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Evidence of Post-Mortem Repentance/Salvation

So, what evidence in scripture is there of post-mortem repentance/salvation, other than the many statements that affirm UR which necessitates such. I’ve thought of the following:

  1. The story of Jonah who repented in Sheol.
  2. Paul’s mention/affirmation of “Baptism for the dead”
  3. Jesus preaching to the dead, the most wicked generation of all so that they might have life.
  4. Weeping and grinding of teeth – terrible sorrow and regret
  5. Paul turning a brother over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh so that his spirit might be saved.
  6. Paul speaking of judgment as “fire” that consumes the worthlessness of our lives. “Escape as though through the flames”.
  7. Jesus warning that we shall all be purged as by fire, Mk.9.49.
  8. The Pharisees taught that some/most people suffered in Sheol/Hades/Gehenna until they were purified and then taken to paradise/Abraham’s bosom. “IF” Jesus was alluding to this doctrine in His warnings of being cast into Gehenna, then this affirms post-mortem repentance and reconciliation, “IF”.

Hi Sherman,

Would you expound upon these, or perhaps point me to a place in the forum where they are discussed?

For instance, why do you see the story of Jonah as evidence for God working after death to save? Though the word Sheol is used, Jonah doesn’t die in the story. When does Paul affirm baptism of the dead? etc.



Hi, Sherman

Good post! This seems to be a major stumbling point for people, although I confess I don’t understand why. Whether or not scripture teaches salvation is possible after natural death, it certainly does NOT teach that death is the end, or that salvation following death is NOT possible. Jesus didn’t seem to have any difficulty whatsoever bringing people back out of death whenever He decided to do that (or was led of the Father to do that). As you say, there are many, many, many scriptures that (to me) clearly teach that all people will be saved, and we can see that not all people are saved before death; therefore ===> Duh

Anyway . . .

*]I think the Jonah story is an excellent foreshadowing of this. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but you have a good point there, imo. I’ve always seen it as a foreshadowing of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and it is that – BUT Jonah was hardly being a good little boy when this happened, and yet he repented from the bowels of Sheol. And immediately following, God brought the entire city of Nineveh to dust and ashes repentance. I wonder if that’s a significant part of the picture too?

*]Personally, I don’t Paul’s mention of baptism for the dead is all that significant. I looked into this pretty deeply when I did a study on 1 Corinthians, and the historical suggestion that seemed most credible to me was that people in various religious cults would do this sort of thing in Corinth, and some of the members of the church apparently/possibly decided this would be a good idea for them to do for their deceased loved ones, too. It is interesting, though, that Paul didn’t roundly condemn this, even though he was using it to make a different point. He could have pointed out it was useless since these dead ones hadn’t received Jesus during this life. It wouldn’t have been much of an aside – and Paul is after all the king of the run-on sentence (I’m a pretender to the throne!)

*]Jesus preaching to the dead. This is a weird little passage:

It’s offered without explanation, as though it needs none. Preachers attempt to explain this all sorts of ways to make it fit in with ECT, but none of the ones I’ve seen are credible. The most common explanation I’ve seen is that it’s a obscure, strange passage and we don’t know what it means. Basically, “Ignore it; it doesn’t fit.”

*]The weeping and grinding of teeth. Some preachers say this is done in anger and frustration, not in repentance. I don’t think that’s superable. The context seems to be anguish at being left out. Yes, that’s self serving, but what about the prodigal son, who according to the story didn’t miss Dad, but in truth missed the dinner table and the warm bed? And what about the modern evangelical “gospel”? “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Everyone is headed to hell and deserves to go to hell – forever and ever! But if you ask Jesus to come into your heart, He’ll save you from your sins and take you to heaven when you die so you can live there with God forever.” That brings forth noble motives? I don’t know that God cares about our immediate motives; He wants us to come home, and He’ll work with us from there.

But I got off track – if people ARE weeping and grinding teeth in anguish and terrible sorrow, do we really think the God who is love, whose mercies are renewed every morning, whose faithfulness is great toward Israel despite their unfaithfulness, who commands us to love our enemies so that we can be like Him, will turn a deaf ear to their pleas? If someone were to cry out to God from hell, would He really scoff and laugh at them? Really?

*]I think the “turning over to satan” probably refers to excommunication, but maybe there’s more to it than that. It appears from 2 Corinthians that this erring brother was later reinstated to the fellowship, unless Paul’s talking about someone else.

*]The judgment by fire (I’m pretty sure that’s in 1 Corinthians?) is an excellent passage. I always thought that was strange and didn’t fit in with what I’d been taught (ie: either saved or lost; no in-between) But then Jesus taught some things that didn’t seem to fit that paradigm either.

*]Jesus did say that we would all be salted with fire. Again, this didn’t fit my accepted/learned doctrine. If you’re saved, you’re saved, right? Maybe He was talking about persecution, but it didn’t look like it in the context – still doesn’t.

]I hadn’t heard about #8, although I have heard that current Jewish teachings prescribe a maximum of a year in hell (or whatever they’re calling it) and after that redemption. And that’s for everyone, not just for Jews./:m]

Thanks for putting this up, Sherman. There’s a lot of good food for thought here! :smiley:

AND, and, and, and . . . you actually motivated me to finally figure out how to do an ordered list. :wink:

How about the following verses from Romans (when viewed in context of course, as always) - do we think they can be added to the list?

9.Rom 4:17 (NIV)

10. Rom 5:15 (NIV)*

Salvation is available to all without exception, including those who have died.

11. Rom 5:18 (NIV)*

There is justification and life for all without exception. The reference to ‘life’ indicates that this verse deals with the dead.

12. Rom 14:9 (NIV)

  • The Rom 5:15 and 5:18 verses, and explanations which I have briefly outlined above, are offered by Jan Bonda in The One Purpose of God as direct support for post-mortem repentance/salvation, but I am not sure to what extent CU/EUs more generally would view them as providing such support. I raised these two verses at more length in an earlier post - at UR in Romans? - but on re-reading that post I fear it was too wordy!

Blessings :smiley:


Just passing through, and certainly not trying to nix the conversation, but for reference and discussion purposes: I recently discussed a ton of post-mortem salvation references (although not all the ones I’ve found) while replying (here) to my friend JP Holding’s counter-challenge to Christian universalists.

JPH himself was replying to challenges on hell issued by Gary Amirault in one of his articles found at Tentmaker (links to all this are in the other thread of course), and one portion of JPH’s article referred back to another fairly extensive article of his replying to some Mormon apologists on the topic of post-mortem salvation. (The Mormons, so far as I can tell, weren’t universalists.)

Hospital is calling, got to go, Mom needs things from the house here. :slight_smile:

Hi Kelli, I’ll gladly expound a little. To start off with, Sheol means grave, realm of the dead. In chapter 2 Jonah says he was in Sheol, the bars of the earth surrounded him “forever”, he was at the base of the mountains. I see no reason from the passage to think that he was not dead. And of course, Jesus says he’ld be in the grave 3 days like Jonah was. In this state, Jonah felt cut off from the Lord and was in terrible distress. I see no reason from the text to think that Jonah pulled a Pinocchio. He drowned, was dead, seaweed wrapped around his head. He uses multiple ways of affirming that he was dead. And while dead and in despair, he cried out to God. God heard him and had a large fish, likely some type of shark swallow his body whole as large sharks do and then spit it up on the beach. God raised him from the dead and even set his feet upon the right path.

I’ll reply more when I get a chance.

Happy New Year everyone! (And btw, everyone means everyone!)

Wow. I need to go back and read about Jonah. I must have buzzed over all that as metaphorical or something. Crazy.

Yep, most people buzz right through Jonah and subconsciously assume he pulled a Pinocchio. I’m writing a chapter for my book on how I came to believe in UR. The chapter is on biblical evidence of postmortem repentance/salvation and I’m starting it off with this about Jonah. Most Christians assume that the story of Jonah is factual, not a redemptive myth; and if so then Jonah died and experienced a hellish reality, cried out to God, and God saved him. To me, this is pretty strong evidence of postmortem salvation, especially considering that Jesus spoke of him being the sign to that generation of Jews like Jonah was a sign to Nineveh, Mt. 12:40-42, 16:3-5, Luke 11:28-33. I especially like it because it is something that most people have not seriously considered.

Cindy, I agree that the baptism for the dead, 1 Cor. 15.29, is little weight in the argument for postmortem salvation. But every little bit counts when challenging tradition. I like it because it is something most people have not considered. And, I suppose, it would be more accurate to say that Paul “mentions” baptism for the dead, and not say that he “affirmed” it, though his mention of it is certainly not negative.

Well, gotta go, but Happy New Year everyone!

The clearest and most obvious indicator of postmortem repentance would be Paul’s… Phil 2:10-11 “…that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” See more HERE.

Further… on ‘the baptism for the dead’ - “the dead” Paul references was old covenant Israel; the gentile firstfruit saints had been brought into Christ’s redemptive ministry ON BEHALF OF Israel. See more HERE.

After the story of Jonah, I think 1 Peter 3:18-4:6 is the most significant in support of postmortem salvation, specifically 3:19 and 4:6. Most people stop with 3:19, but 4:6 restates it differently and more directly.

3:18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, 19 in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, 20 because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water. … 4:1 Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, 2 so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. 3 For the time that is past suffices (J)for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. 4 With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does. (ESV)

Pastors and theologians like to dismiss this passage because it doesn’t fit their beliefs. They dismiss it saying it’s an obscure passage that is difficult to understand. And yet, it’s not difficult to understand if one believes that Jesus does not fail to save anyone, that the kingdom of light trully overcomes the kingdom of darkness, that God does not fail to reconcile all of creation, that love does not give up and love does not fail!

Jesus preached the gospel to the dead. He even “proclaimed” it to the most wicked of all generations, those who had rejected God under the ministry of Noah, those whose every thought was evil, who were so evil that scripture says that God was sorry he made man! Jesus preached to the dead so that they might be judged so that they might live in the Spirit the way God does! The wages of sin is death, but that’s not the end of the story of God’s love! Sin brings death and destruction. And the penalty of sin is often more bondage to sin, until one comes into the full reality of death and separtion of God. Even then though love does not give up and love will not fail to save, fail to heal us of the sickness of our souls!

It’s an “obscure” passage because few pastors/teachers mention it. And the reason they do not mention it is because it is so evidently contrary to their belief that love fails, that God gives up on people when they die, that the kingdom of darkness knows no end.

This interpretation of Jonah is quite interesting and removes the problem of trying to figure out how a man could survive for 3 days in the stomach of a large fish or whale. But now there is the problem of how a dead Jonah wasn’t digested in that acid-rich environment. When I thought about this more, I remembered that there are tropical frogs that brood their eggs in their stomachs. The eggs are not digested because the egg coat contains a substance known as prostaglandin E2, which inhibits acid secretion by vertebrate stomach cells. Interestingly, many marine algae, i.e., seaweed, also contain prostaglandin E2. Could it be that the seaweed mentioned in Jonah 2:5 (i.e., “seaweed was wrapped around my head”) was ingested along with Jonah and inhibited acid secretion? What’s to say that miracles, at least partially, don’t involve perfectly natural processes?

lancia, in Stephen Jones’ book “Creation’s Jubilee”, he speaks about a whaler in the 1800’s that was swallowed by a whale and spit back out again. His skin was bleached white. He said this likely happened to Jonah, which was a sign to the people of Ninevah, because they worshipped the god dagon. (sorry the details are a little fuzzy, and I can’t find the book right now). Also that Jonah being white was a foreshadow of the resurrection.

Yes, I heard of that story, but later found it to be probably fictitious. Below is a review of the story.

And here is the academic study on the story written by the historian of science mentioned in the above reference.

Good discussion here guys. I’d agree with most of what Sherman and Cindy have posted.

For me one of the most powerful pieces of ‘evidence’ that post mortem salvation must be possible is the fact that so many people die, or have died, without ever having heard of Jesus. Now even orthodox ECT Christianity gives these folk a shot at redemption (except for ultra fundamentalists and, I guess, some strict Calvinists). But if we accept, as i do, that ultimately salvation comes through faith in Jesus, then these people are only properly ‘saved’ after death.

My own belief is that we are all saved ontologically in Jesus death and resurrection, and that this is a done deal from the foundation of the world. We enter into that salvation, actualise it in our lives if you like, when we come to conscious faith in Jesus. This faith is a gift from God, and it is given to each of us in his or her own time (noological salvation). This kick starts or catalyses the process of sanctification which eventually leads to us experiencing full and permanent salvation, attaining to the beatific vision in the eschaton (sacramental salvation).



Thanks for the heads up.

lancia, it is possible that Jonah drowned and was in the water for almost the full three days before the fish swallowed him and spit him up on dry ground. I think God uses both natural and supernatural events in accomplishing His will. It could have been an old fish with digestive problems. Who knows! It’s a facinating story that to me is a wonderful picture of post-mortem repentance and salvation. I use it often in my discussions with people concerning this topic. I love how Jonah describes being in Sheol, separated from God, and even in torment, and then crying out to God who saved him. Cool!

even if he didn’t literally die, the symbolism used i think is purposeful, that God can save even from the grave.
i am coming around to this a bit now.
actually, isn’t all orthodox hope based on post mortem salvation? Jesus was raised from the dead as a first fruits of what would happen to us?

my UR doesn’t rest on post-mortem salvation, but this could be a good extra angle.

Concerning the possibility that Jonah was not in the fish for three days, Jonah 1:17 claims he was: And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the stomach of the fish three days and three nights. Matthew 12:40 echoes that claim.

I agree that this is a fascinating take on the story, which I always assumed depicted Jonah as being alive for those three days. His death makes the story much more harmonious with the death and resurrection of Jesus, as analogized in Matthew 12:40. How could so many of us have misinterpreted the story AND the analogy?

While I agree that the story details indicate Jonah was in the animal three days and nights, the term doesn’t apply either to a fish or a whale.

It applies to a dragon. Like Leviathan.

If it literally happened, either an aquatic dinosaur swallowed him (which might also make a big difference in the physical restrictions any known whale or large shark would have), or the large animal is being compared to Leviathan poetically.

But either way, or even if the incident is only a fable for purposes of parable, the reference would connect to Jonah being taken by the great rebel against God.

Jonah doesn’t only typologically go to hell (punitive hades/sheol), he’s typologically swallowed and imprisoned by Satan! (Who is then forced to release him when Jonah seriously repents. Although not too seriously, as the sequel shows. :wink: )

Incidentally, this was a common ancient interpretation among all schools of Christians (universalist and otherwise) who believed in the harrowing of hell by Christ.

(There’s a mosaic dating from the 4th century showing Jonah being spit back up by what we would obviously regard as the Loch Ness Monster, too. :mrgreen: )

Very interesting about the Jonah story. I note that the prayer said from within the belly is a poem, which may indicate a degree of poetic license - but then again, it does seem fairly clear that Jonah died before being swallowed and that his cry from the belly of Sheol was more than just a metaphor …

At worst it is a clear example and type of resurrection and post-mortem repentance, at best it’s a historical narrative giving a concrete instance of a man who repented after death (and after being in a place of judgement - the sea/leviathan) and who was then restored by God. Which would nicely fit the theme of Jonah anyway, what with the unexpected repentance of the ninevites.

Which again can also be showed that God changes His mind from judgement to forgiveness if and when people, even those doomed to clear and prophesied judgement, repent.

Jason, can you give more information on how this story was interpreted in the early church? And Sherman, can you give commentary refs that might elucidate Jonah some more?

I have to admit, I’d never thought of Jonah in this way before, and it now seems quite compellingly EU friendly :slight_smile: