Reaons why people think evangelicals cannot be universalists


Please read my posts. See #4, above- my response to Gregory (it is in color). I already answered that.




Are you talking about “by roofus on Thu Sep 18, 2008 9:22 am”?

If it’s another post, please copy and paste the date and time for me.: )



I’m sure Roofus is talking about his red-colored reply in message #4, included within a total follow-up repost of Gregory’s reply. Roofus wrote, “I don’t see how we could know such a thing, therefore if that is true it would be impossible to follow!” Roofus seems to be agreeing with you, Gregory and me, that there isn’t any way for us to know whether someone is sinning unto death or not; therefore if the verse is translated the way it typically is, the injunction to pray for one kind of sinner but not to pray for another kind would be impossible to follow. Roofus’ comments since then have been consonant with this: he has basically denied that anyone could feasibly distinguish one kind of sin from another; therefore the injunction is at best impractical, or even impossible to keep.


I think James has gotten the impression that you believe this impossibility to be a problem when applied to universalism. Whereas, I think we all understood you at the beginning to be talking about “a sin unto death” being the problem when applied to universalism, but in this fashion: that if we are expected not to pray for God to give life to those who are sinning unto death, in contrast to praying for those who are not sinning unto death, then how can (or why should) we expect God to give life to the sinners-unto-death anyway?

Aside from “unto death” not necessarily being a hopeless situation in several ways (as Gregory and I both mentioned), the question is: do you still think this situation is a problem even when you seem to be clearly agreeing that the injunction is impossible for us to keep?


James- roofus on Thu Sep 18, 2008 9:22 am


Good question, Jason. I have learned new things since post #1. At this point, it remains a mysterious verse. Paul says to pray for all men, no? And Jesus says to pray for enemies (enemies are those denying Christ, for sure.). Is it a problem for universalism? Doesn’t seem to be (at this point in time). This might be a stretch, but maybe it means that we shouldn’t ask God to give life to the unrepentant. It is impossible to please God without faith, for instance.


I could agree with that easily enough. After all, a basic tenet of orthodox/evangelical universalism is that the only unforgivable sin is the one that is not repented of.

In this case, a sin not unto death would be one that the other person is repentant of but still tends to habitually do, or he tends to fold under temptation, or whatever; but he does know it’s wrong and (this is the key point) is seeking to be free of it. (Several of my own persistent sins fall under this category.) A sin unto death would be one the other person is unrepentant of. Not only would such sins be somewhat feasibly identifiable by us as external second-party observers, but it might actually be a sin to ask God to give life (in the sense of the zoe eonian) to someone who persists in being unrepentant! (This should be distinguished from those who are sinning but don’t realize yet that they are sinning.)

Not that this would solve the translational difficulties. :wink: But the typical translation is far from being completely fallacious, either.

From the standpoint of universalistic soteriology (as developed elsewhere), what should be prayed for is that God would lead the sinner-unto-death to repentance. The final chapter of RevJohn is (one way or another) an excellent poetic-puzzle example of this process; and indeed shows that God expects us to help Him with this goal, encouraging those who still love their sins to repent and drink of the water flowing from under the throne of life, freely and without cost (major OT imageries there, as well as NT Jesus links), so that they may obtain permission to enter the never-closed gates of the city and eat of the tree of life, the leaves of which are for the healing of the nations. Washing of garments in the river is included in the imagery, too.

Arminians could easily go with that interpretation as well, so long as they read the final chapter of RevJohn as being a sort of flashback to what we’re supposed to be doing now before the final judgment after which it’s too late (and the never-closed gates are closed, or something. :open_mouth: :confused: )

Calvs would have the hardest time with that interpretation, but would obviously have other interpretative options to choose from. (No hope at all for the one sinning unto death, etc. They’d either have to read RevJohn 22 as being a flashback picture of God persistently saving the sinning elect before the final judgment, which is why the gates are never closed for them; or they’d have to ignore/wildly-redefine the salvific elements of the portrait altogether if they understand it to happen after the lake-of-fire judgment. I’ve seen Calvinists go each way. RCCs with Calv or Arm soteriological leanings either one, might easily consider this a portrait of the RCC version of purgatory.)

At the end of the day, 1 John 5 isn’t a decisive chapter for any of the three basic soteriology groups. The sin-unto-death verses are tough to translate, and positions already developed elsewhere can be fitted into the various translation options (sometimes into more than one option per soteriology.)


I suppose that it could mean that unrepentance, if continued unto death has no way of being repented of. That would harmonize with the traditional “no second chance” theology.
The translation of aionios, it seems to me, is the biggest issue of all. And it isn’t so easy to translate this word…



I like how Jesus defined “eternal life” (aionios zoe) per John 17:3 (NIV), “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”


I like it too, but it’s not really a verse that “slams the door shut”.


I know that a contextual study of “aionios” and related tenses in the New Testament would include that aionios sometimes refers to indefinite periods of time. I’m sorry that it might be a while before I do a complete word study on it. But I’m not sure what you mean “slams the door shut”. Are you suggesting that my one-liner didn’t slam the door shut on your concerns?: )


I meant that it didn’t prove that aionios doesn’t mean “forever”.


We’ll, it’s the noun “aion” that sometimes gets translated to “forever” or “the ages” while “aionios” is a cognate adjective. We do see at least in the context of John 17:3 that the meaning of “aionios” isn’t limited to a period of time while it focuses on relationship to God. I will develop this more in the future. And I have to go home for tonight.: )


Well…aionios is translated “eternal” in most of the translations that I have seen!


In Hebrew/Aramaic, though, when someone is talking about the Everlasting, they’re talking about God. The adjective would then be rendered Godly, or perhaps from-God. The punishment and the whole ruination and the fire and the life, etc., is from God, rooted in God’s intrinsic nature. (In contemporary Greek outside the NT, aionios had a somewhat similar meaning, too.)

So it gells (to some extent) with usage outside the NT; comports with a Hebrew/Aramaic idiom; allows us to avoid certain highly unorthodox translations (God is identified in several places as being and acting as an everlasting fire, toward repentence; so is there one eonian fire or two??–an everlasting fire that wasn’t God would be cosmological dualism at best); and could be accepted in principle by any of the three basic soteriologies.


I think this booklet definitively shows that aionios does not mean endless. Quite the opposite.

One example from the book will suffice:

‘Servants were declared to be bound forever, when all servants were emancipated every fifty years. Thus in Deut. xv:16,17, we read, “And it shall be, if he say unto thee, I will not go away from thee; because he loveth thee and thine house, because he is well with thee, then thou shalt take an awl, and thrust it through his ear unto the door, and he shall be thy servant forever aionios].” And yet we are told, Lev. xlv:10,39,41, “And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubilee unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family. And if thy brother that dwelleth with thee be waxen poor, and be sold unto thee; thou shalt not compel him to serve as a bond servant, but as a hired servant, and as a sojourner, he shall be with thee, and shall serve thee unto the year of jubilee: and then shall he depart from thee, both he and his children with him, and shall return unto his own family, and unto the possession of his father shall he return.” This forever at the utmost could only be forty-nine years and three hundred and sixty-four days and some odd hours.’


Well it doesn’t necessarily mean ‘endlessly ongoing’.

There’s a similar use of the word (actually written in Greek, not transliterated from a Heb/Aram original), in one of Paul’s epistles, where he talks about the eonian mystery having been revealed.

{checking} Ah, yep, there it is: part of the benediction at the end of Romans 16:25, “…and the heralding of Christ Jesus in accord with the revelation of a secret hushed in times eonian, yet manifested now and through prophetic scriptures, according to the injunction of the eonian God being made known into all the nations into faith-obedience–to the only wise God, through Christ Jesus, be the glory into the eons of the eons. Amen!”

This one is notable in that eonian (the adjective) is used twice in close succession, where one use simply cannot mean ‘going on forever’ whereas the other one certainly cannot mean anything involving not going on for ever. Yet also, a common phrase often translated into English as “eternal” is used at the end, “into the eons of the eons” (sometimes phrased “the eon of the eon” or even just “into the eon”. And again, no orthodox theologian disputes that this can (and in this case does) mean it goes on forever (and indeed has been going-on-forever already.) But both local and wider-scale contexts have to be applied.

Since eonian can be demonstrably used, even in close proximity, in regard to nouns that do or do not keep going forever, I submit that it’s better to translate it (for a primary meaning) as an adjective along the line I previously mentioned: Godly, or from God. For example, everyone on all sides of the theological aisle agrees that God can (and in some cases does) stop doing wrath, whereas everyone on all sides also agrees that God’s wrath, punishment, whole ruination, brisk agricultural cleaning, crisising, etc., is described as ‘eonian’.


I haven’t yet analyzed the Hanson (1875) word study to the point where I can defend it, but I find it valuable. I need to set apart a long chunk of time to study it. Anyway, even if the word study has some flaws, it indicates that the New Testament words aion and aionios in regards to death, destruction, or punishment don’t necessitate a refutation of EU.


If you take the whole verse of Titus 1:2 The word aeonian is used twice, once translated as eternal and the other as world.

Tit 1:2 In hope of eternal(166-aeonian) life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world(166-aeonian)began.
The life that is promised is pertaining to the the age to come.

The same as the chastisement and life mentioned in Matt 25:46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

I think the resistance to the idea that the chastisement is limited to an age is because of the perception that the life must end at the end of the age, however 1 Cor 15:25-28 says Christ is reigning (kingdom) until all is subdued (under his feet) then the kingdom is handed over to God and he will be all in all. The fear that the life ends is unfounded as when the chastisement ends and the reigning with Jesus ends, all will be alive in the time (or timelessness?) which follows the current age and the coming age.


Actually, the phrase at the end reads, {pro chrono_n aio_nio_n}. (Underscores after omegas instead of omicrons; no significant variants in the textual apparatus.)

The translation above (“before the world began”) is more of a loose paraphrase; literally the phrase means ‘before times eonian’. (Also, the verb form of ‘promise’ is the kind that keeps going or has a timeless quality.)


Titus 1:2 (NIV) “a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time,”

Titus 1:2 (NASB), “in the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised long ages ago,”

Titus 1:2 (ASV), “in hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised before times eternal;”

These three versions translate “aionios zoe” as “eternal life”.

The last phrase of Titus 1:2 is “pro aionios chronos” per Strong, “before the beginning of time” per NIV, “long ages ago” per NASB, and “before times eternal” per ASV.