The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Reading All of the Bible: UR as More Biblical than ECT

If I had to guess, I think the most common objection to UR is that proponents simply aren’t reading their bibles. That proponents of UR are cutting out or reading around texts that clearly teach ECT.

Is that characterization true? Are proponents of ECT reading the bible while proponents of UR are not? Are proponents of UR letting their feelings get in the way of their reading of Scripture?

Here’s my take. I believe the exact opposite is going on. In my opinion, it is the proponents of ECT who are selectively reading Scripture and reading around texts that don’t jibe with their assumptions. If anyone is picking and choosing it’s the proponent of ECT.

How do I support that claim?

To start, for my part I willingly grant all the texts the proponent of ECT will point to showing judgment after death. I don’t have any problem with those texts. They don’t make me worry and I don’t read around them. In fact, I heartily endorse them. God’s judgment plays a part in how I think God will deal with sin, evil, and human rebellion.

But as I see it, those texts begin and end with declarations of God’s judgment. The point of departure for proponents of ECT and UR at this point is if God’s judgment lasts forever and for what ultimate purpose. The texts supporting the belief in ECT can’t, in and of themselves, answer those questions. Mainly because we’re now discussing the nature of God.

And when we step back and look at the nature of God we find something important, mainly in the Old Testament prophets: that God judgment does not last forever. God says, “Enough!” God “relents.” God’s mercy eventually overwhelms God’s wrath. Because of this, judgment is only ever a season with God. Importantly, the prophets teach that God relents because that is what God is like. “Relenting” is a part of God’s nature. Why? Because God’s mercy always triumphs in the end. God does not “treat us as our sins deserve.” This is a clear teaching of Scripture.

In addition, when we look at passages that do speak to God’s ultimate purposes concerning humanity and the cosmos we run up against those expansive “all” passages. As in Adam all died, all will live in Christ. After the fulness of the Gentiles all Israel will be saved. God will be all in all. Every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father. Through Christ God will reconcile all things to himself. Again, this is a clear teaching of Scripture.

So how do we read all these passages–about God relenting in judgment and God’s ultimate purposes for Creation–in light of the passages talking about judgment after death?

Well, it’s at this point where the proponent of ECT starts to fudge, read-around, and pick and choose. That is, the proponent of ECT will ignore, marginalize, or downplay these texts, forcing them to submit to a narrow interpretation of the judgment texts. But here’s the deal. Why do that? Why not read the entire bible and allow all the texts to mutually inform and reinforce each other? Why use some texts to aggressively silence other texts? Why not strive for a fuller, more biblical account?

The point is, I don’t quibble with the proponent of ECT about the texts regarding judgment and hell. I don’t avoid or read around those passages. I read them as they stand: warnings about God’s coming judgment. But I do go on to read the rest of the bible and that reading informs how I see the nature of God, the duration of God’s judgments, and God’s ultimate purposes for creation.

And this is why I think UR is more biblical than ECT.

Agreed. Since coming to understand UR, I believe I have a much more cohesive understanding of scripture. It seems to fit together much better than before and make better sense. I think that’s in large part because I no longer have passages that I have to “write off” – I can accept them all as meaning what they say. And you’re right – that’s totally the opposite of what people assume about me: “you’re ignoring the passages you don’t like.”


I had an argument with someone not so long ago. I recently read Romans 11 right after reading all of Hebrews, and it sounded extremely URish to me. I pointed to “all Israel” as being, well, all of any valid Israel, including the hardened ones and the cut off ones, and the Pharisees, since Paul was speaking about the hardened group. The argument against me was that the “hardened” Israel included only some specific subset of disbelieving Israel. It got a bit convoluted there and I asked if there was an elected group among the non-elected group or something. Or why does some hardened Israel get away with all the stuff they did described in the prophets while someone defying the Sabbath does not. He said “all Israel” doesn’t include the Pharisees, but from where I am sitting, Paul is EXACTLY talking about the Pharisees, because they are hardened. And if the Pharisees will be saved that makes all the warnings Jesus threw at them moot as far as eternal damnation goes - clearly they were enemies of the Gospel. My opponent actually thew Galantians at me as trying to prove that Israel didn’t really mean Israel, but Paul described what he was talking about at the end of Romans 10/beginning of Romans 11.

It was really bewildering.

The thing about ECT arguments, is that it seems for people a verse saying “they will be punished forever” has, for whatever reason, more power than “one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for fall men”. It’s as if the negativity of the previous statement overpowers any positive of the latter. And whenever ECT becomes suspicious, words like “all” and “world” are redefined to somehow mean a small subset of humanity, while words like “eonian” are permanently defined as “forever”, even when clearly shown to not make sense.

It’s just bias, that’s all. May all of us URish lot get some self-esteem and realize that.

I guess you could reply “well, you are ignoring the passages you like!”

Hi Richard. Thanks for your input, I find it very helpful.
The quote above reminds me of a book I’ve just read by ‘Pinnock’ about Open Theism. I must admit that it seems to require a paradigm shift on my part (as did UR) but I am pleased to have been introduced to his ideas.
God bless.

I think everyone agrees that Romans 9-11 is pretty bewildering. Here’s the part of Romans 9-11 that I find helpful for UR.

Romans 9-11 is a defense of God’s reputation (“Is God unjust?” Rom. 9.14; “Did God reject his people?” Rom. 11.1). How can God be trustworthy if God has dealt with the Jews, in the wake of their rejection of Jesus, so harshly? Was God just setting Israel up to take the fall when Jesus arrived? That seems cruel.

In response Paul deploys an array of (at times confusing) arguments. First, Israel (and humans generally) can’t really object to God’s actions. God can do what God wants to do (“But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God?” Rom. 9.20). Second, God has always worked with remnants in Israel (“only the remnant will be saved” Rom. 9.27; “there is a remnant chosen by grace” Rom. 11.5). Thus, we shouldn’t be shocked that only a minority of Jews accepted Jesus. Third, as grace comes to the Gentiles Israel will become “envious” and return to God (“salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious” Rom. 11.11).

But having walked through all these arguments Paul seems to sense that he’s not yet won the day. Objections still linger. So he winds up the argument with a “mystery” (Rom. 11.25). And the mystery is this: Yes, Israel has experienced a “hardening” (Rom. 11.25) to give the Gentiles a shot at salvation. Yes, as a part of God’s foreknowledge and plan Israel was made to be an “object of wrath prepared for destruction” (Rom. 9.22). Israel is now an “enemy” of God for the sake of the Gentiles (Rom. 11.28). However, Paul contends that this does not mean that God is going back on God’s promises. God’s promises are “irrevocable” (Rom. 11.29). Well, how does Paul reconcile this seeming contradiction? How can Israel be an enemy of God and an object of wrath prepared for destruction and still be saved? Paul really doesn’t have a logical answer. His answer is doxology (Rom. 11.33-36): “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!”

But what is clear is this: Those who were previously “enemies” of God and “objects of wrath” will be saved in the end. Right before the doxology Paul wraps up the entire argument with this:

The key theological point for UR is this: Being an enemy of God and an object of wrath predestined for destruction does not foreclose on salvation. Objects of wrath and enemies of God are saved in the end.

No wonder Paul ends in a song of praise.

You are so right, Richard. Looking at the Bible as a whole, rather than piecemeal bits in a collection is absolutely key. As many have said, it’s oh so possible to take just about anything and “prove” it from the Bible. But that’s not at all what the Bible is. It is its coherence that makes it the most amazing book ever. It isn’t a bunch of random stars; it’s a huge constellation; and the picture it represents is Jesus! If we see anything else when we look in there, well we just aren’t looking right.

Blessings, Cindy

I think so, too. It’s ironic that people accuse us of doing the very thing they are actually doing. UR vs. ECT is not the only place I’ve seen this dynamic, and I bet it’s not the only place you’ve seen it either, as a psychologist!..

Great thread. Thanks Richard and all who have responded.

Just have to strongly affirm this. I’ve been reading (and rereading the OT) and am consistently shocked at how redemptive it is, even as judgment is so starkly administered.

As Job said (and Handel magnificently quoted in Messiah):

I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the Earth. And though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.

Thanks for sharing, Richard. :slight_smile: Very encouraging. :slight_smile:

I was thinking about Psalm 2:9, which is the basis for the Tenor Aria that immediately precedes the “Hallelujah Chorus” in Handel’s Messiah. (YouTube the John mark Ainsley version btw.)

“Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

Pretty sobering. Then this morning I was thinking about the metal casting process, where liquid metal is poured into a ceramic mold, which after the metal is cooled is shattered and broken, revealing the cast piece inside.

And I thought of 1 John 3:3: what we are becoming is not yet revealed.

Hi Richard – you are probably correct here, though My experience has been somewhat different in that most of the folks I worship/discuss with believe in annihilation which they hold to be far superior to ECT. (Which, if those were the only two choices, probably is superior…)

But I’ve found that if the discussion comes down to us asserting that the other one is not reading their bibles completely, or objectively, or with understanding, the case is already lost.

What I hear you talking about here, and I quite agree, is that there really are tensions and possible contradictions that the bible seems to set up for us: a God who both destroys and saves; a God who judges and has mercy; a God who strikes, yet heals; a God who punishes vs a God who relents. So it’s as if we are forced to chose one extreme or the other. No synthesis allowed.

As you say however, it is rather curious that so many choose to retain the picture of God punishing and destroying in lieu of the God who does those things yes, (we in UR have never denied any of that) but does them so that He may save!
I am coming to appreciate that the guarantee of judgment is the guarantee of salvation! God judges so that He can save. There are many examples where God speaks of judgment in terms that are tender, nurturing, encouraging, hopeful even:

“Praise God! for He comes to judge…” (Psalm 96:11-13)
Malachi 3:5 “Then I will draw near to you for judgment”
Isaiah 41:1 “Let us come together for judgment.”
Ezekiel 20:34-36 “…so I will enter into judgment with you," declares the Lord GOD.”
Isaiah 26:9 “… For when the earth experiences Your judgments The inhabitants of the world learn righteousness.”
Ezekiel 34:15-17 I will feed My flock and I will lead them to rest," declares the Lord GOD….I will feed them with judgment.

Then of course all the places in scripture where judgement is harshly rendered, but the results are healing and salvation! (the root of the word “salvation” being “salve” – which is more about healing than punishing…) Like Is 19, Eze 16.

But the thing which bothers me most I think about this different emphasis in reading the bible, is the question
***“To what purpose does God judge/punish/destroy?” ***

For both ECT proponents, and annihilationists, it seems that punishment is the purpose; nothing else is served! It’s little more than a way or place of disposing of the bodies! But for me this presents a horrible theodicy problem for God; for evil is not thereby destroyed, but is instead enshrined in perpetuity.

Thankfully, God is far more creative (and thorough) in dealing with sin and evil than either ECT or annihilation believers give Him credit for: He destroys evil doers by making them His friends! His purposes for the entire creation are eventually realized and He is victorious in every possible way.

So I hear you calling for a much more comprehensive telling of the bible story when we speak of the God of UR. Would be hard to agree more Richard!


Notirbd said:

Wow! Wonderful visual. Thanks so much for sharing this!


I am a firm believer in UR, but I just don’t think the statement “all Israel will be saved” provides evidence for UR. I consider it a mistake to presume that this has reference to national Israel, or ethnic Israel, or religious Israel. Indeed, concerning ethnic Israel, Paul stated that though the sons of Israel be as the sands of the sea, only a remnant of them shall be saved — and there has always been a remnant, true Israel, whom Paul calls “the Israel of God” in Galatians. When the Messiah appeared, his disciples or followers were the Israel of God.

In Romans 11 Paul compares the Israel of God to an olive tree. Branches that did not belong were broken off. These seem to refer to Jews who did not become disciples of the Messiah. But Paul say that if they don’t persist in their unbelief they will be grafted in again. Gentiles who become disciples of the Messiah are grafted into the olive tree. They become as much a part of true Israel as the Jews who remain in the tree because they have become disciples of their Messiah. “IN THIS MANNER, all Israel will be saved.” (Romans 11:26) In what manner is that? By the process of breaking off branches which do not belong in the Olive tree, and grafting in branches that do, even if they are wild branches (Gentiles).

If every individual in the Israel of God is a disciple of the Messiah, then ALL Israel will be saved.

By the way, translating the Greek word “οὑτος” as “so” is pretty weak. Greek lexicons state that the meaning is “in this manner.”

Amen :slight_smile: Great thoughts bro :slight_smile:

…Paul speaks of this very same remnant in Romans 11… he then speaks about the “other” part of Israel. Which cannot be this remnant. Galantians is not relevant here, IMO, and is speaking in a different mode.

If Paul is not referring to all Israel in that sense, what on Earth is he referring to? We will be forced to run into the elected-among-non-elect situation, which I think is silly.

Well, this is what I am beginning to call redundancy-exegis. When you say “Paul is stating the obvious”. I do not believe he does. I believe he’s actually stating something really bewildering, hence the “unsearchable” God.

Treating this argument (that UR synthesizes potential biblical tensions) as purely evidentiary, I can see now what a bias I read the Bible with as I grew up! I had never even considered things like judgment and wrath being seasonal.

The lesson, I suppose, is that the translation of certain words can have a tremendous impact. Richard, you were the one who first introduced me to the idea that ‘eternal’ is more quality than quantity (how very Hebrew, I suppose). Given that distinction and the obvious fact that for a great many Christians the only potential meaning is ‘forever’ do we think this equation of ‘eternal’ exclusively as ‘forever’ was primarily done by the institutional church to manufacture hegemony?

I think it was definitely given that spin. Here is an excellent article that another member pointed out in his introduction thread: … stine.html

Augustinian thinking has had a huge influence on Western Christian thought, and not just when it comes to UR vs. ECT.
Constantine and Jerome also had a hand in the hegemony.

i think you’re right, Bob.

when i read that God only chastises those He loves…to what purpose does He chastise forever? and if those He chastises forever are not loved…again, why does He chastise?
a father chastises his children to teach them right from wrong and raise them up as responsible, capable adults. he does it for their good and so that they can BE good.
and we being evil know how to give good gifts to our children
how much more so God!
and if some are not His children…i ask again: why does He chastise them?

i really always felt this strange dichotomy in the Bible long before i knew of UR as an option. it made no sense to me, and seemed like God was changing character from loving but at times harsh Father in the OT to simply hardcore hanging judge in the NT. it didn’t make sense to me. eventually i learned why! because i was trying to force a square peg (the Bible) into a round hole (standard dogma).

i always felt this wild hope and joy when i read that God did not purpose for anyone to perish… i dared not say everyone would be saved, but i’d say that Heaven would be vastly populated and hell practically empty.

thankfully i know how to tie it all together now…UR makes that theological dissonance go away.

Thanks, here’s a snippet from the article you linked about Jerome’s influence:

Jerome removed the understanding held by all early Christians for three centuries that God’s judgment in Hades, the place the dead are held, was for an age, for a season, for redemption. He took the word “an age” found all through the New Testament and turned it into “eternal,” forever and ever. By doing so, he created the conviction that rules all through what is called Christianity today that God tortures forever those whom He refuses to save in a place named after, of all things, the Germanic corpse goddess, and that whatever any of the great torturers of history did, they were only copying God.

And concerning Augustin:

The truth is, it is not Christ-ianity, it is Augustin-ianity. When people read the Bible, they read it through Augustine, when they read Aristotle, they read him through Augustine. When they looked at life and this world and God and eternity, they saw all of it only through Augustine.

–and later:

It was this open disgust of his own humanity, a feeling never shown by Jesus, that sorrowed me.

And, finally, hegemony!:

We are to read the Bible ONLY through the Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed and Augustine’s explanation of it comes first; the New Testament comes second, regardless of what God might actually say in it. That is, Augustine’s explanation of the Nicene Creed is the lens through which we MUST look regardless of what we think God actually says.

That took forever, and I have a very hard time reading in Texan.