The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Revisiting a Syllogism That Supports Universalism

The following is a simple, clear syllogism supporting Universalism. This syllogism is an argument built on premises taken directly from Scripture.

Premise 1: God desires all be saved. (e.g., 1 Timothy 2:4: “[God] who desires (thelo) all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”)

Premise 2: God accomplishes all He desires. (e.g., Isaiah 55:11: “So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire (thelo, from the Septuagint), And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.”)

Conclusion: All will be saved.

Some have rejected the conclusion of this syllogism by contending that God has two wills, one akin to a determination but another to a commandment. They contend that God’s will or desire that all be saved is not something that God determines to happen but is instead more of a commandment that can be defied. Thus, they say, this argument does not necessarily hold.

John Piper has written about the subject ( The Greek word for will or desire in verses cited by Piper to support his case is the noun thelema. That word has very different meanings. It can mean “what God determines,” in which case, if it is something God determines, it will happen. Humans are powerless to change whatever God determines to happen. But it can also mean “what God commands.” Consequently, if it means “what God commands,” what is commanded by God may not happen, for humans can and do freely choose to ignore commandments. So, here one sees different interpretations, even opposing ones, depending on which definition is used: a determination is not a commandment.

To support his case, Piper’s points out Matthew 6:10, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven,” in which will, translated from thelema, seems to mean “what God determines” and 1 Peter 4:2, “so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God,” in which will, translated from thelema, seems to mean “what God commands.”

There is a serious problem in rejecting the conclusion of the syllogism based on Piper’s logic that God’s will or desire does not necessarily mean that all will be saved. That problem stems from failing to observe the original Greek wording in the particular verses supporting the syllogism premises above. These verses do not rely on the noun thelema that Piper used to help establish the idea that God has two wills, but instead on the verb thelo. Thelo does not have disparate definitions, as does thelema. The definition of thelo, especially when it refers to God, is “to sovereignly decide a matter” (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament). Thus, in this case, it does not refer to what is commanded or anything else that can be defied.

But actually, one does not need to consult a theological dictionary to discern that the meaning of thelo when referring to God is “to determine,” not “to command.” One need refer only to the above Isaiah verse in the Greek translation of the Old Testament, or the Septuagint: “It [my word] will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire (thelo), And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.”

When thelo is the underlying word for will or desire, as it is in the verses supporting the syllogism premises, whatever God desires, He accomplishes. Thus, there is no rational basis to reject the conclusion of the syllogism–that all will be saved–in the language of the verses supporting the premises.


An interesting syllogism, Lancia!

I consider the following to be the best text in the Bible indicating the correction of the unrighteous after they are judged!

Here is an interlinear for your consideration:
οιδεν—κυριος— ευσεβεις εκ πειρασμου ρυεσθαι— αδικους
knows the Lord- devout—out of trial—— to deliver-unrighteous

δε -εις —ημεραν κρισεως—— κολαζομενους τηρειν
but into a day—- of judgment to be corrected to keep (2 Peter 2:9)

The whole strength of this “proof” lies in the translation of the lexical form of κολαζομενους, that is, “κολαζω” as “to correct”. I realize that some may object to this translation, but the Online Bible Greek Lexicon gives the primary meanings of “κολαζω”as:

  1. to lop or prune
  2. to chastise, correct, punish

Abbott-Smith’s A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament gives the meanings:

  1. to curtail, dock, prune
  2. to check, restrain
  3. to chastise, correct, punish

Originally, the word was used to reference to the pruning of trees, shrubs, or vines with a view to correcting their growth by shaping them. Later it was used figuratively with reference to the correction of people, e.g. Children. To translate the word as “punish” is correct as long as it is understood to be reformative rather than retributive. In English, “punish” may have either connotation, although it is more often taken in the latter sense, or in the sense of administering a penalty.

In Greek, the word “τιμωρεω” has the meaning “to punish” in the retributive sense. Indeed, every lexicon I have checked gives the primary meaning as “to avenge”. Strongs indicates that the word was derived from the two words “τιμη” (honour) and “οὐρος”(guard). Put them together, and you have the concept of a person guarding his honour through vengeance. In recording Paul’s own words concerning his treatment of disciples of Christ prior to Paul’s becoming a disciple himself, Luke wrote:

One of the best ways to get a sense of how a Greek word is used is to note how it is used in literature. The word is used in 4 Macabees 2:12 to indicate correction of children. No good parent punishes his children out of vengeance, but corrects them out of love.

4 Macabees is thought to have been written sometime between 100 B.C. to 100 A.D., that is, in the period in which the New Testament was written. It seems the author had been strongly moved by his reading of the deeds of Antiochus Ephiphanes against the Jews in 1 and 2 Macabees. So much of his “philosophical” thought and “devout reason” centers around the history he read there. In the following sentence he uses both “τιμωρεω” and “ κολαζω“ in a single sentence!

The Judaistic belief at the time was that people’s souls survive death. So the sentence seems to say that while Antochus’s enemies got their revenge on him and his armies here on earth, God began to correct his soul after death. The author apparently held that post-mortem punishment was remedial. Otherwise he would not have chosen the word “κολαζω” but would have maintained the word “τιμωρεω” for his punishment after death, too.

Here is an example from the Septuagint translation of Ezekiel 43:10-11:

In this passage, God states His purpose in asking Ezekiel to show the house to Israel, namely that they may cease from their sins. He immediately follows this with “And they shall receive their κολασις concerning all their doings.” If God wants them to cease from their sins, and then gives them κολασις, is he punishing them retributively, or is He correcting them? The answer seems plain. Furthermore the conclusion of the matter is that the Israelites “will guard all my righteous ordinances and all my commands and do them.”

Surely this is reformation, and not mere revenge for their wrongdoing in the past.
Here is the Concordant translation of the verse with which we began:

I’m a little confused by the syllogism. I certainly have no problem with Premise #1

Premise 1: God desires all be saved. (e.g., 1 Timothy 2:4: “[God] who desires (thelo) all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”)

Premise 2 imo is not strong enough to support #1.

Premise 2: God accomplishes all He desires. (e.g., Isaiah 55:11: “So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire (thelo, from the Septuagint), And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.”)

The proof text for the statement “God accomplishes all he desires” is not apropos; the verse, though it uses the word for ‘desire’ as in Premise 1, uses it to clarify what God’s Word accomplishes, not what God’s desire accomplishes.

The subject of Prem 1 is God’s desire
The subject of Prem 2 is God’s word

IOW, it would be a better syllogism if you stated:

  1. God spoke the word concerning his desire for all to be saved.
  2. same as 2 above
    Therefore, all will be saved.

Or better yet

  1. God desires all to be saved
  2. God accomplishes all he desires
    etc. Leave out the extraneous Isaiah verse.

I may be guilty of what grandpa called “picking the fly **** out of the pepper”. :laughing:


Indeed. I just coincidentally read the part of Talbott’s The Inescapable Love of God in which he talks about the similar word, kolasis, as used in Matthew 25:32, “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.” There he says about kolasis, “But quite apart from that, the Gospel writer employs a word that is, according to Greek scholar William Barclay, specifically a word for remedial punishment; ‘in all Greek secular literature,’ says Barclay, ‘kolasis is never used of anything but remedial punishment.’”

Actually, the subject of both premises is God. You’re mixing the premises with the verses supporting them, I guess.

And premise 2 is strong enough to support premise 1 because it addresses specifically what premise 1 focuses on: the desire of God. Granted the Isaiah verse talks about desire within the context of the word of God, but since the Bible IS the word of God, then anything written in the Bible qualifies as His word. And in the Bible we see a verse that states God desires all be saved (1 Timothy 2:4), and we also see a verse that states God accomplishes all He desires (Isaiah 55:11). If you see a substantive, syllogism-breaking difference between God’s word accomplishing what God desires and God accomplishing what He desires, then please explain, because I don’t see it. The point is, what God desires, God accomplishes, one way or another.

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No, I think you’re mixed up. The subject is God’s desire, and trying to slip that explanation into premise 2 only points to its weakness.
Whatever. Not trying to start anything here.

Here are the two premises, without the supporting verses.

Premise 1: God desires all be saved.

Premise 2: God accomplishes all He desires.

I don’t think I am mixed up, here at least. The subject of both premises is the word God. The verb that goes with the subject God of premise 1 is the word desires. The verb that goes with the subject God of premise 2 is the word accomplishes.

Nowhere in the syllogism is the word desire used as a noun, as in God’s desire. In other words, God’s desire is not a subject anywhere in the syllogism.

Iancia said:

I tend to agree… :laughing:

I already stated that the two premises were just fine.

Another verse with Strongs #2309 THELO is Matthew 23:37. It occurs two times in this verse:

Young’s Literal Translation
'Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that art killing the prophets, and stoning those sent unto thee, how often did I will(ETHELESA) to gather thy children together, as a hen doth gather her own chickens under the wings, and ye did not will(ETHESESATE)

Likewise in Luke 13:34:

King James Bible
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would[2309] I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would[2309] not!

Here’s Martin Zender’s take on what he calls the absolute vs the relative POVs & Mt.23:37: … Issue9.pdf

And some commentaries opinions re Isa.55:11:

Isaiah also says in chapter 45:

21 Tell ye, and bring them near; yea, let them take counsel together: who hath declared this from ancient time? who hath told it from that time? have not I the LORD? and there is no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour; there is none beside me.

22 Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.

23 I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.

24 Surely, shall one say, in the LORD have I righteousness and strength: even to him shall men come; and all that are incensed against him shall be ashamed.

25 In the LORD shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory.

Jesus shall see of the travail of His soul & be satisfied. Not satisfied a little bit, but the vast majority fried alive forever:

“He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.” (Isa.53:11).

For how “many” (not few) did He “bear their iniquities”? All.

Rom 5:18 Consequently, then, as it was through one offense for ALL MANKIND for condemnation, thus also it is through one just act for ALL MANKIND for life’s justifying."

Rom 5:19 For even as, through the disobedience of the one man, THE MANY were constituted sinners, thus also, through the obedience of the One, THE MANY shall be constituted just."

Paul makes a parallel between “the many” who were condemned & sinners and those who will be justified & constituted just.

“In Romans 5, the justification is co-extensive with the condemnation. Since all share in one, all share in the other. If only a certain portion of the human race had partaken of the sin of Adam, only a certain portion would partake of the justification of Christ. But St. Paul affirms all to have been involved in one, and all to be included in the other.”

Just an aside to be considered…

As a blanket statement is this really true? consider…

God repented… He had such a change of mind it affected a change of heart causing Him to change his decreed or determined actions.
Nineveh’s repentance initiated God’s repentance, i.e., they were NOT powerless to change whatever God determined to happen.

Everything written is relative to a given context and what you postulate from Isa 55:11 for example may not refer to a general universal principle per sé, but rather be articulating certain elements of God’s responding to a given situation or event, e.g., the likes of Isa 55:11 for example was a reaffirmation of the call for Israel to return to the abundant life found in His mercy… something so often promised of God and thus not to be left void, but accomplished.

Good analysis, davo.
I pointed that out, though not as detailed, earlier - that the Isaiah passage is not strong enough to be an argument for the premise, for the reasons you gave.
So I think the original syllogism is valid but not sound.

"A deductive argument is said to be valid if and only if it takes a form that makes it impossible for the premises to be true and the conclusion nevertheless to be false. Otherwise, a deductive argument is said to be invalid.

A deductive argument is sound if and only if it is both valid, and all of its premises are actually true. Otherwise, a deductive argument is unsound." -

Well Dave I understood your first 3 words :laughing: …the rest is a bit above my pay grade but I’ll trust your take on that :mrgreen:

I looked at that very verse in preparing the syllogism. It seems to show that the will or desire (thelo) of the speaker is indeed not always accomplished. Thus, does the definition of thelo, as a determination, not hold here? To answer this question, note that this is Jesus talking, not God. And we know that the will of Jesus is indeed sometimes not borne out. For example, in Matthew 26:39, we see an absolute comparison of the wills (thelo) of Jesus and God. The will of God is what prevails.

“And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.’”

Thus, it still seems true that when thelo is used for the will or desire of God, it is a determination. It is something that will occur.

For instance:

Valid: whether the premises are true or not, the form is a valid deduction
All men are mortal
Socrates is a man
Therefore Socrates is mortal

Not sound: the form may be valid, but one or more premises is not true:
All men are green
Socrates is a man
Therefore Socrates is green

That is valid, but since the first premise is not in fact true, the syllogism is not sound.

It does not appear to me that God’s determination did not occur. It appears to me that it did occur. The story starts in Jonah 1:2,

“Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.”

Key here are the words “cry against it.” Thus, God is telling Jonah to “rebuke them for their sin and call them to repentance” (Commentator David Guzik). God is not determined to destroy Nineveh. He is asking Jonah to tell the people of Nineveh to repent so they won’t be destroyed. If there is a determination by God, it is to warn Nineveh to get them to repent. And that warning worked. They did repent.

Premise 2: God accomplishes all He desires. (e.g., Isaiah 55:11: “So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire (thelo, from the Septuagint), And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.”)

This verse says that God’s desire is a sufficient condition of what is accomplished. (If A is a sufficient condition of B, then one cannot have A without also having B.) That is, if God desires something, that something will be accomplished. The phrases “without accomplishing what I desire” and “without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it” in Isaiah 55:11 make an iron-clad case that God’s desire, as expressed or exemplified by His word, is a sufficient condition of what is accomplished. As such, this verse certainly qualifies as support for the claim and premise that God accomplishes all He desires.

In addition, as was stated in the OP, thelo, when describing God, means “to sovereignly decide a matter.” And thelo is the word used in the Septuagint version of the Isaiah verse. Isaiah 55;11 essentially is providing that definition of thelo. So both text and usage show the same thing: God’s desire is a determination.

The syllogism appears to be both sound and valid.

But, again as I said, premise 1 is already based on God’s word.

Premise 1: God desires all be saved. (e.g., 1 Timothy 2:4: “[God] who desires (thelo) all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”)

How else do you think Paul, in writing the 1 Timothy verse, knew that God desires all to be saved???

He knew that from the word of God. He knew that through the encounter on the road to Damascus or from other communications that had their source in God. The point is, Paul got God’s word; he did not get the idea out of thin air.

So, both premises are already supported by verses that are based on the word of God.

Thanks for taking the time to answer, lancia, and for posting this syllogism.

WE BOTH agree on the deduction from the syllogism!!

How about:

God desires all men to be saved (using the excellent information concerning ‘desire’ that you provided)
For God, nothing is impossible

Therefore, all men will be saved.

Yes. Many ways exist to write a Universalism-friendly syllogism. I chose the one I used because it is short and simple, uses many of the same key words, has plenty of scriptural support (I could have chosen many other good verses), and the premises seem to be sound based on the original Greek.