NT Wright's rebuttal of Universalist explanations



Is it the typical “pull God down a peg, can’t let him go too far, or get too overzealous about saving people” argument?


Hmm. I’m not attempting Sachkritik, although to some degree, I think all systems do this. I don’t “admit very readily that [my] doctrine conflicts with much biblical teaching.” Sounds like he’s attacking perhaps liberal universalists, especially with his comments about abandoning the Bible?

Again this is written in 1979, so it isn’t addressing EU, which is a lot more robust than liberalism.


I feel just a little silly contradicting someone of Wright’s stature, but hey. I will anyway.

Wright argues that “all” in Romans means “both Jews and Gentiles alike”. Universalists argue “all” means “all Jews and Gentiles without exception”. If “all” merely means “both Jews and Gentiles”, what’s the big deal? It’s nothing new. It’s certainly nothing to get excited about. Jonah preached to Gentiles. Ruth was a Gentile, as was Abram himself! Of course God will save Gentiles who repent. This old news is neither revolutionary nor particularly inspiring, so why does Paul exult? How does “both Jews and Gentiles alike” comfort Paul in his grief over his unbelieving brothers? Given Wright’s interpretation, they will still be lost. “Both Jews and Gentiles alike” is pretty thin soup, in my estimation. Rather, Paul is calling us to a feast! Listen to his joy:

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?”
“Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen.

If Paul concludes “all without exception” will be saved, this outburst of praise makes brilliant sense. On the other hand, if he concludes “a few Jews and Gentiles will be saved, but most will be lost”, his exultation makes no sense whatsoever.


Excellent observation!




I like this :smiley: :smiley: and two thumbs up :smiley:


apologies in advance for my insouciance, but Wright’s article is boring and irrelevant to me. maybe it’s because the article is so old, or maybe it’s because the universalism he references is totally outside my experience, or maybe he’s arguing against straw men, or maybe it just reminds me of too many first -year seminary essays. Wright usually has good insights, but this just doesn’t seem worth engaging … :frowning:


I also have a very difficult time believing he still holds to the positions taken in this paper. But I keep being told his current position is essentially the same. So… :question: :question: :question:


Having now read and commented on most of his paper, I think I can say NTW doesn’t actually argue that universalism in Romans 5 would be too late to introduce so can’t be there.

He does (try to) argue that it would be totally out of context with the chapters before (1-4) and after (5-8… strangely he never seems to even notice much less reference 9, which one might have thought was the ultimate kicker in Romans! :mrgreen: ); and maybe that’s what Luke meant by his summary statement: Paul had already introduced non-universalism so it would make no sense for him to do so in chapter 5.

I’ll discuss that when I post my comments later. :wink: But I wanted to say I was glad to see that his argument wasn’t that silly.

As other people here have noted, the main drawback of the paper is that NTW is arguing entirely against ultra-universalism, and not even against a Christ-centered ultra-universalism but against a vague pluralistic universalism that disregards salvation by Christ unto faith in Christ. His arguments are less than worthless against a purgatorial universalism, and aren’t terribly good exegetics even against Christian ultra-u’s (or even at all, although the relative brevity of the article may be partly to blame for this.)

I was very amused to see his notorious penchant for disregarding future prophecy fulfillment possibilities as though present fulfillment somehow excludes such a thing, to be deployed in his attempt at interpreting Romans 11.

I’m sure I’ll post up my comments in their own thread, with a link back here (and a link here to there) for convenience. Tomorrow most likely.


From Wiki: Wright was 30 when he wrote this and was a Fellow of Merton College. He had two degrees (both first class honors) plus an Oxford MA, and was completing his doctorate: “A Study in Pauline Theology with Particular Reference to the Argument of the Epistle to the Romans.”