I suppose that all Evangelical universalists believe in the theory of plenary inspiration of the Bible.
It seems to me there is a huge problem here since Jesus and Paul often spoke about the eternal damnation of the wicked.
I believe we have’ no reason to think that this damnation means conscious eternal torment but that we have good grounds for thinking that (according to the NT) the wicked will be utterly destroyed.
Let us consider the following verses as examples:
Matthew 22:13 “…where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Same as Matt 8:12
Matthew 25:41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’”
I think that a good case can be made that the “eternity” mentionned here stems from an OT imagery meaning total destruction.
But how could these verses be reconciled with univeralism?
For surely if Jesus thought that this destruction was only a purgatory, he would have clearly stated they would be redeemed after their stay in the fire.
I think it is safe to say that universalists on this forum are quite divided on plenary inspiration or inerrancy. I believe in inerrancy, but I think the current definition of inerrancy is too rigid to explain what we know about the manuscript discrepancies.
For me, these scriptures (that you quoted) have no bearing on the subject of “plenary inspiration”. The subject is one of interpretation, not errancy. Almost all scriptures have a cryptic understanding attached to them, either completely or partially. This is how God has chosen to communicate. God has not made access to knowledge easy, because, the difficulty of understanding assures that our heart condition is tested, not just our faith. When we insinuate (in our faith) that God is careless and errant, immoral and cruel, hateful and despotic… these conclusions say *just as much about us *as they say about our characterizations about God. In such a way God has chosen to sort all of mankind into class groups based on what they do and what they believe.
Just as there are millions of different animals sorted into phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species…, so too, mankind is being sorted into groups in preparation of the judgment and resurrection. Our rewards and “punishments” will be reflected in our resurrection bodies. Paul made this clear in 2 Corinthians 5:1-10 -
This resurrection body is the “building from God” which is a recompense for our deeds, good or bad. Every human, good or bad, is being sifted like wheat and tested like refined gold. We are being sorted into a body just as you might try on a suit. We need to have our suit (body) tailored to recompense our deeds. God is the great architect of building bodies, as we can see reflected in nature - there are millions of different kinds of bodies. What we do counts, because the judgment God gives us will either bring rejoicing or weeping. Not literal ‘weeping’…, but there will be a recognition that our future resurrection body is given to us as a recompense, and we will be ‘stuck’ with that body as a judgment from God.
There is a lot involved in understanding scripture, and some people will never understand, because understanding is ‘given’ as a reward for our trials and sacrifices. Not everyone is willing to sacrifice for God, and not everyone is willing to repent. These choices will determine our understanding and our judgment.
There are surely people who can answer these questions much, much better than I can, but I can add that I’ve found their explanations logical and satisfactory when I was first researching universalism myself.
When I was first researching universalism, I also found the following website quite helpful. Some of its answers were confusing or lacking in substance, but overall, I think it’s a good place to start for a quick answer.
If you Google your questions, you’ll likely find many old posts from the forums. I know I usually do.
Also, it might help others in answering your questions if you list some specific examples of the “OT imagery meaning total destruction.” Many here have abundant knowledge of biblical translation, so they might be especially helpful in explaining possibly obscure OT verses.
Actually, I suppose that if you qualify it with “evangelical,” it would be safe to say that (though even here there are exceptions), but of course not everyone on this site would consider themselves to be evangelical. And amongst the evangelicals there are varying definitions as to what infallibility of scripture exactly means. Speaking for myself, I see the entire canon (at least the one I’m familiar with, which would be the Protestant one) as inspired, profitable for instruction, correction, etc. That said, there are many, many words in scripture that aren’t presented as being the words of God, but rather the words of people and even of the devil. What’s more, I suspect that the narrators in some of the books may not be entirely reliable. The story is true, though told with perhaps some bias and even some braggadocio or covering up for themselves by fallible human beings. Nevertheless, I consider myself to believe in biblical inerrancy though more strict inerrantists would perhaps disagree with that.
In addition, quite a LOT of understanding scripture involves knowledge of the culture, attention to the writer’s/speaker’s audience, time period, the situation and motivation of the speaker in communicating, the general subject of the passage and etc. So if Paul says something to Christians, we shouldn’t necessarily take it as being pointed toward unbelievers (unless he makes it apparent that he IS talking of or to unbelievers). The bible is not an easy collection to understand. It does take work and study and especially prayer for the Spirit’s guidance.
Jesus is talking to the priests and Pharisees, as you’ll see if you look at the verses preceding and following this parable. Israel is called; the whole nation. Of all people who expected to be included in the wedding feast, the priests and Pharisees would have been most confident. Yet Jesus insults them with this parable. They consider their own righteousness and their inheritance from Abraham to be sufficient. It was customary for the host to provide needy guests with a wedding garment so as not to shame them and also to keep the wedding decorous. The priests and Pharisees would not consider themselves to be in the needy class, and would be insulted to think they would require this benevolence. Their own garments should be more than sufficient, they would think – whether speaking literally or metaphorically.
The Jews were looking forward to a Messianic kingdom, of which they expected the Messiah to be the king, and to include them in His ruling class – a kingdom of Israel presiding over the world – no longer oppressed, the head and not the tail, as promised. Jesus was not shaping up as they’d hoped therefore they reject Him and the righteousness He alone can provide. They will come to the party and be thrown out because they rely on their own righteousness. (The wedding is in the parable symbolic of the Messianic age and would have been so interpreted by the audience – through their culture’s “filters.”)
We have our own filters though. We see being left out of the wedding as eternal damnation. I’m not convinced Jesus’ audience would have seen it that way. Life goes on after the wedding. Missing the party is a HUGE disappointment, but it’s not the final word. You are still citizens of the kingdom even if you aren’t invited to the wedding, even if you don’t get the status you were hoping for. Life in the Messiah’s kingdom is still good, even if you didn’t get to come to the wedding because you were too proud to ask for the wedding garment and too stubborn to put it on. So you were left out in the cold darkness while everyone else was celebrating? Next time don’t be so proud of yourself. I don’t see anything in this parable to suggest annihilation.
Using this parable (of the Sheep and the Goats, or more accurately, of the Small Unspecified Herd Animals and the Baby Goats) presents quite a few problems for the evangelical. I’ll name a couple, but I’ve done a longer bit of work on it, and [tag]JasonPratt[/tag] has quite a lot to say on the topic and is more learned than I, so maybe he’ll drop in and share. My blog posts begin here: journeyintotheson.com/2012/0 … -the-kids/ There are three, and you can click through at the bottom right, if you’re interested.
Briefly though, one of the big problems I have with our traditional interpretation of this parable is its inconsistency with our traditional eschatology. We insist that salvation in Christ hinges on believing and confessing (as well we might) yet this parable says absolutely nothing about believing and confessing. In fact, the sheep are saved by their good works and the goats are damned by their selfishness. Hmm . . . I don’t think Jesus is talking about what we think He is talking about in this parable.
It doesn’t seem to me that Jesus would have felt any need to state that the baby goats would be redeemed after their stay in the fire. The word translated “eternal” in this parable didn’t mean “eternal” to the Greeks, and the word “olam,” if He used that, didn’t mean “eternal” to the Jews. It meant age-abiding. It carried with it the idea of an indeterminate but finite period of time. As to the Greek word family “aionios” needing to mean never-ending for the punishment if it’s to mean never-ending for the life, it would be best, I think, for you to look at my blog posts. The last of the three talks about that, and while the post isn’t terribly long, it’s too much to rewrite here when I already have it written down there. (in other words, I’m that lazy!)
Have a look if you have the time and inclination, and let me know what you think.
I’ve compiled my notes about the sheep and goat judgment (along with some much briefer comments on the preceding two judgment parables) here at my Exegetical Compilation project on the forum.
I haven’t compiled my notes about the two wedding feast judgment parables yet (or Matt 8 for that matter), and I’m at home tonight whereas my notes are at the office. This would be a good excuse to tally them together, though. (Perhaps adding my notes for Matt 8, too. )
As a quick observation (for the wedding feast parables in GosMatt and GosLuke, not Matt 8), while it’s true that so far as those parables go repentance and salvation of the punished rebels isn’t shown, neither is their annihilation shown – the last we hear of them they’re wailing and gnashing their teeth, which they have to exist to do. Consequently, annihilation cannot be read out of those parables, only into it.
The annihilationist may reasonably reply that the parables don’t exclude annihilation later; and I would agree they don’t! But I don’t usually find annis willing to agree in turn, on exactly the same principle, that the parables just as reasonably don’t exclude repentance and salvation later.
In short, the story isn’t over for them either way, unless ECT is true (wherein wailing and gnashing of teeth is the final result). But if Kaths or annis have reason to believe the story goes on to a further result later, then these parables don’t count as ECT testimony except in a completely trivial way.
The details of the parables are kind of peculiar in any case, in ways which preclude them fitting neatly into any Calvinistic or Arminian (or for that matter universalistic!) final judgment scenario. This could be a prophecy limited to the coming fall of Jerusalem, or to the coming millennial reign, instead, either of which would occur well before the general resurrection, and would surely involve the story not yet being over in some significant way, regardless of which soteriology category (in whatever variation) turns out to be true.
Cindy and Jason, this was really interesting. As far as I can tell, N.T. Wright teaches that Jesus did not mean our final destiny with the parables but the fate of Jerusalem and Israel.
Yes Cindy, the parable of the sheep and the goats is really embarrassing for Evangelicals, for it does seem to teach salvation by works.
The traditional Evangelical response, namely that Jesus explained how it should look like, while thinking that there is no sheep and everyone needs grace, is anything but convincing.
The greatest problem of Evangelical systematic theology is that it does not tolerate the existence of true contradictions between the different Biblical books. Therefore it resorts to many very implausible harmonizations.
Yes, he’s probably the highest profile “preterist” around right now. There are a mix of preterists and non-prets here (keeping in mind that even non-preterists agree that SOME of the prophecies apply to the fall of Jerusalem, or even apply in multiple fulfillments.) I’m in the non-pret camp. I like NTW but I think he and other preterists press their arguments on this point way too far.
I wouldn’t be a Christian universalist unless I thought it offered a soteriology more coherent to trinitarian theism (on the metaphysical side of things) and a more coherent exegetical account (on the systematic theology side of things). While I may not strictly accept Biblical inerrancy or (in the usual sense of the term) infallibility, I prefer as much conceptual and historical inerrancy as possible. (And I don’t think the scriptures will ultimately fail in God’s purposes, so I do accept infallibility in that sense.)
So for example, I’ve learned over the years to take note when something Jesus says is appealed to by Arminians at one point and by Calvinists at another point (or by their Catholic analogues either way). And those two (slightly different) wedding feast parables are one such example.
Arminianists like to point to the universal and serious scope of the invitation to the meal: everyone is eventually invited (within the imagery-set of the parable), even though some sooner than later, and God seriously intends them to attend, which is why He is torqued when some of the ones the king expected to be most certainly on His side, the ones first invited, start making insultingly bad excuses not to attend. (Which is a sign of rebellion, and which is why one of the parable versions makes that rebellion and the king’s response more overt.) The king doesn’t make a fake or merely incidental or even a serious invitation to people whom he then doesn’t give even the slightest ability to attend, much less then blame them for acting only according to how he allowed them to act.
Calvinists like to point to the sure and certain bringing in of a certain class of person: the king decides to straight out compel various people to come into the wedding feast, people who are in no position to resist his invitation.
Of course, then the guy brought into the wedding feast by the king decides not to wear the festival sash which would have been provided by the king for guests (like the ones he was forcibly bringing in!) who couldn’t afford good clothes. So the king throws him out of the wedding feast, into the wailing and gnashing of teeth in the dark outside. Wait, how does THAT fit a sure and certain salvation!? But it doesn’t really fit a hard Arminian notion of losing salvation at any time, either, unless the wedding feast isn’t a symbol of final judgment and final salvation and final punishment after all: that would be like saying once you’re “finally” saved to heaven, you can rebel and lose your salvation again! Even hard Arms don’t typically teach that, only that someone can lose their salvation at any time up to the point of death.
But then if the parable isn’t about final results, it isn’t testimony for final perdition either, only for punitive action by God against rebels in some eschatological fashion. Which can fit some kinds of universalism just as well as anything else. Granted, that would be a result after the end of the parable, but it would have the advantage of thematically fitting both the serious universal scope of the invitation and also the original gracious and fully competent authoritative choice of the king to bring people into the wedding feast (no one having to convince the king to invite and let them in). If per Calvinism (and the hint of the parable itself in regard to the humble) the king really doesn’t fail in the end to bring in everyone he seriously invites, then the parable points to the remedial purpose of humiliating both the rebel nobles and the guest who refused the festival clothes – even though the humiliation is explicitly fatal! So the parable would even point to post-mortem salvation, despite not specifically showing it.
(I’m still not at my office with my notes, but those are the thematic issues I can recall offhand. )
I feel insulted for Sonja’s sake at what you’ve written, but I realize English isn’t your first language and your culture is probably different as well. So I’m just instructing as you’ve instructed her. Schooling people in this tone is probably not going to get you yelled at by Sonja as she is a patient and wise woman (though firm when needed), but it doesn’t sit well for most people in the USA at least. It would work better to request, humbly, that she expand on her statement.
The historical Jesus (in the Synoptics or GosJohn either one ) doesn’t mention trinitarian theism clearly either; the doctrinal set is put together from a ton of things said by Jesus and by canonical authors. If it comes to that, neither of the two scriptural example-sets you gave at the start of the thread clearly testify to annihilation either!
Still, the historical Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels clearly says that the unquenchable fire of Gehenna is for salting everyone, and that salting is the best of things and leads to peace with one another when we’re salted in our hearts. (Mark 9:49-50) The most common variation of that verse just adds an OT reference which amounts to the same thing (sacrifices being salted with salt before being burned, both for sake of purifying the sacrifice and giving it to God – the process involves bathing in the Temple’s version of the ‘lake of fire’, too.) Yet commentators (myself included once upon a time) routinely ignore important details in those two verses trying to explain how that doesn’t add up to universal salvation eventually, when they rarely bother to mention those two verses at all!
Note that annihilationists, so far as they go, don’t draw that doctrine clearly from Mark 9, but appeal to the final verses of Isaiah being quoted by Jesus there (and at the GosMatt parallel), which is a reasonable method. But then they have to explain away the final two verses of Mark 9, by which Jesus explains the meaning of His reference to Gehenna, and which involve the opposite of annihilation (or eternal conscious torment for that matter). Also there’s a problem with appealing to the final verses of Isaiah by themselves, which is that the scene matches details of something to happen before the general resurrection not after: they only seem to count for anni by stopping the story early.
Anyway, systematic theology isn’t about making guesses about what someone or other would have clearly mentioned due to utter importance – that’s a metaphysical argument (at best, and not one connected to a systematic metaphysic as presented) – but rather about inferring doctrine from compiling the scriptural testimony in a comprehensive and valid way (fitting together as much data as possible).