The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Romans 11:32 -- a text we like, but tiptoe around?


Well, maybe that’s not really fair. It’s just that we don’t talk about it much (that I recall) and so maybe I should have titled this thread:

Rom 11:32 - Is God culpable for man’s sin?

Except that’s an obvious set up as well…

Here’s what it says: “For God has bound (imprisoned) all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.”

Yes, for we who embrace Universal Reconciliation (UR), this offers a nice acknowledgement that a) we are all sinners, and b) God’s mercy extends to all. It nicely and clearly identifies every human as disobedient (aka a sinner) – that’s not too hard to gather from many other texts as well – and, thus having defined those whom God has “shut up in prison” (that is, all humanity) assures us that it is this very group who enjoys God’s saving mercy.

However, it’s not all roses for we who embrace UR in this text is it? First off, there is the faintest of hints that perhaps the very disobedience which marks all rebels was of God’s doing – not ours. To be sure, one sign of our sinfulness is our urge to exteriorize blame for our acts on anything, or anyone, but ourselves. Yet this text openly states God has bound us all into disobedience. Best to just admit, I think, that on it’s face, this is potentially awkward for us.

Second, beyond hinting at the possibility that God thus has caused our sinful condition, one might be forgiven for wondering if this expression also offers an excuse to STAY in sin. As in “hey; ain’t my fault, God’s holding me here (in prison) until I’m good and ready to grasp the truth.” (-- Hearing that type of thinking should, of course, raise the hairs on the back of any evangelicals neck!) Yet the possibility is raised here, that people have not yet responded to the message of grace because they yet are bound – by God no less! – in their “sin prison” and thus have an “excuse” to remain where they are.

Perhaps this phrase (God has bound (imprisoned) all men over to disobedience) is simply an indication that God takes full responsibility for what he has allowed; which is certainly a moving and winsome thing for God to do. (Jason Pratt has talked about this many times on this site…) Further, I think this idea is too often overlooked as a fine defense of UR in itself. That God takes any responsibility at all for this sin problem which He has allowed surely suggests He takes ALL responsibility doesn’t it? Why would God only take SOME responsibility by only saving SOME? (This is something of an embryonic thought for me; anyone care to expand on this??)

Tom Talbott approaches this text by asking if we might learn the meaning by comparing it with the notion of God hardening Pharaohs heart. Talbott explains that the Hebrew word “hardening” means “to strengthen.” God thus strengthening Pharaoh’s heart to do that which he wanted to do anyway, but may have lacked the courage to do. (being something of a coward in reality. is it fair/safe to say that in many ways, ALL sinners are cowards? another topic I guess…)

It is then, as if God is saying in effect, “no no Pharaoh; you go right on ahead and act out every evil you can think of. You NEED to see the full flower of the seed you have pondered and planted. If you DON’T get to see that, if the dawning-of-the-horror-of-sin is short-circuited, you will always wonder if your plan was, in fact, the better one.”

Talbott, p. 73, “God hardens a heart in order to produce, in the end, a contrite spirit, blinds those who are unready for the truth in order to bring them ultimately to the truth, ‘imprisons all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.’” And on p. 76, “By literally shutting sinners up to their disobedience and requiring them to endure the consequences of their own rebellion, God reveals the self-defeating nature of evil and shatters the illusions that make evil choices possible in the first place.”

This all begins to paint a picture of a God who allows and encourages each human to make his choices and to watch the consequences of those choices play out on the great screen of life. The act of God which “holds” us prisoner then is His “forcing” us (lacking a better word here) to face real consequences head on – no flinching or ducking – as an ultimate means of our salvation. This “imprisonment” then fully equips us to grasp the full measure of comprehension of the mercy which has been in effect all along. A mercy which can only be fully grasped AFTER building the context of sins true effects.

God does this then, (imprisons us – all of us – in disobedience) in order to ensure that no one shirks the responsibility of building and having a context for the discoveries and revelations that are to come in the future. So no matter WHAT one believes, it will serve as context for the future learning that, surely, must be part of God redemptive promise. No one has the ability, or the excuse, of being on the “sidelines” for this great education. This idea comes to me, partly, by way of pondering Tom Talbotts suggestion that necessarily, we – our forefathers that is – were created in a milieu of ambiguity and uncertainty. See threads on his corner.

Wondering how you all interpret this phrase in Romans? Does it help you, hurt you, cause you to “excuse” sin?


PS This idea has particular relevance to my long term and ongoing concern over the violence of God. (For those who may not know of my worry, it’s basically that the fact of Universal Reconciliation possibly offers an excuse for God’s apparent violence in that He can be excused for it because He has good intent in His violence. I have referred to God as “shrugging” at violence – since it may simply be just another tool in His hands…) God then, in this scenario, sees the violence in mens hearts and openly encourages them to engage and practice it. having these violent notions, they must have the ability to see where such ideology leads. As part of the overall education process that must be a part of salvation. God allows/encourages violence then just as he “imprisons all men over to disobedience.”



Thanks for the well thought out post. What if the reference is to death? (Which I think it is)

Then what is the nature of mercy? The redemption from death via the resurrection.

Christ came to set the captives free. To deny that mission statement is to miss it all.



I don’t tiptoe around this verse at all. It is clearly not speaking about all men, but rather all of Israel as the subject of ‘them’. In fact, the last three chapters is all about Israel, it is not all inclusive. The reason Israel is held in disobedience (or unbelief) [Strongs: apeitheia - obstinacy, obstinate [i]opposition to the divine will] is so that God can extend His salvation to the rest of the world. Then when the time comes, all Israel will be saved. Read the whole chapter, in fact Romans 9-11 while you are at it.



Hi Ran:

Makes some sense on the face of it I guess; problem for all is death. Merciful solution for all (death having been definitively defeated at the Cross by Christ) is new life via Resurrection.

It seems a bit more complex than that however since the imprisoning is to disobedience; an attitude of rebellion. Hard for me to see how one can have this attitude while dead. The implication is that we are bound in this condition of sin and rebellion or something. And thus it is a condition of our wakeful and alive minds. See what I mean??

It’s easy to see that all of we humans suffer under the threat of death; less easy to see (though Christianity asserts it strenuously) we are all bound by this rebellious condition.




It is a universal statement. If we were not ‘bound’ in it, then perhaps there would be no need to die.



Hi Dondi:

I’m guessing that in the hierarchy of passages which suggest Universal Reconciliation, this one ranks down the line for you. You don’t “tiptoe” around it like I do since we don’t read it the same way?? ( I guess when I say “tiptoe” I mean that the meaning is not immediately clear…)

I liked how you described yourself as a “modified evangelical” back in November when you joined! It’s always so interesting to me how people self-identify. There being no category that perfectly describes us, adding “modified” seems as good a solution as any!!!

To the passage then, I’m assuming that, for you, the “all” on whom God has mercy is also only toward all Israel?

Except it seems to me that the entire passage (you’re right; the thought begins in Chapter 9 and culminates here in 11) is an explicit argument against limited election – against, as Talbott puts it, “the pernicious idea that God restricts His mercy to a chosen few”. He (Paul) starts by taking up the “problem of Jewish unbelief and systematically defends his view that, contrary to what many of his kinsmen believed, God has every right to extend His mercy to all human beings including Gentiles.” (p73)

So it’s difficult for me to see this passage as only talking about Israel when Paul mentions the inclusion of outsiders several times in the lead up to 11:32. eg 9:24 “even us, whom he also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles” and eg 10:12 “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all…” and so on…

Be that as it may, whether one sees this text as applying to Israel only, or sees it as perhaps explicitly about the Jews, and implicitly about all (ie everyone; Jews and Gentiles) one still has the “problem” (or awkwardness, or challenge) of determining in what sense God does the imprisoning. It’s potentially awkward because Satan (not to get distracted about him) is generally seen as an agent of imprisoning while God takes the role of the One who makes free. (Of course how one sees free will also plays a big role in how this text is seen)




That nails it on the head. Exclusion is always about ‘religion’. But I serve my Lord, who said that I was a rare bird for serving Him. “Capitalism Sucks” Now, put that in the grinder and send me to hell. See the problem of categories? How many categories can we make TO exclude? Jew and Greek, oh, there are so many more!



Briefly passing through! :smiley:

I agree with TV that the context, including back through chp 9 (and earlier for that matter), but especially the immediately preceding contexts in chp 11 back to where St. Paul starts warning Gentile Christians not to despise those Jews who have stumbled over Christ–since both are guilty, and God loves both Jews and Gentiles–is not restricting verse 32 to Israel only.

Besides, all Israel isn’t currently stumbling over Christ, as Paul made clear earlier by contrasting those who are and who are not currently stumbling over Christ (and as he himself exemplifies!) So the “all” in verse 32 cannot be cogently read as being limited to Israel; except in the broad sense that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”. But Paul was talking about both Jews and Gentiles in that statement, earlier in Romans.

Ran: if you mean that the binding or imprisonment is itself death, I agree, although I don’t think this (and the resurrection to come) is specifically in view here. I think it’s just talking about capture/imprisonment of rebels generally; everyone is “locked up” together (that’s basically what the Greek word means). We’re all in the same boat, and we all sink or swim together (as it might be metaphorically put in different wording.)

Calvs and Arms agree with the “all in the same boat” part; it’s the “all sink or swim together” part they reject. :wink: (Though they reject it in different ways.)

Back to TV: I don’t think it’s strictly necessary to factor in God’s hardening of various hearts toward sin, for verse 11:32; I don’t know that He does that with everyone. But yes, I still believe what you reported of me, in regard to God insisting upon final authoritative responsibility for all sin, and that also includes cases (if there are any) where God never hardens our heart along the ways we are going for a time (in order to accomplish other things in His plans). We still abuse the grace of God when we sin, and even if God doesn’t harden our heart into sin He still could stop us at any time by refusing to love us as children and treating us like puppets instead–merely making us ‘do good’, or poofing us out of existence, or at least nulling our ability to influence His-story whenever we intend to do something evil.

Whenever bad things happen to people, it’s always legitimate to cry to God, “But You could have stopped that!!” So long as we remember it’s always legitimate for God to answer back, “But I love X, too. Even to the sacrifice of Myself for X’s sake.”

Regarding the violence of God, especially in the OT: one common but not always noticed theme, is that (to paraphrase C. S. Lewis on a similar topic) those who volunteer to be the agents of God’s wrath, should be prepared to accept the wages for taking that job. (Or as Lewis originally put it, those who volunteer for the post of Satan had better be content with his wages!) This usually doesn’t happen in the OT; the upshot is that war is waged without an eye toward fair-togetherness, positive justice, or mercy. Few OT characters, Jew or Gentile, are willing to sacrifice themselves for the sake of saving the people they’re fighting against. The brightest exception I can recall, brief as that exception might be: before Moses goes down to gather a company of faithful to smite a portion of the calf worshipers, it’s important to remember that Moses himself was willing to die with them rather than that God would not be merciful to them.

I can think of some other examples along that line in the OT, too, even if not many: faint precursors to the proper attitude that God was working toward among the people in fitful steps (often with progress lost between one generation and the next). As my Mom likes to say, the toughest job in the world is managing people; this was more like trying to herd a bunch of wildcats. :wink:

Or, to paraphrase and repurpose an old Baptist joke: God has been trying to baptize cats, with the usual preliminary results. :laughing: But much of the point of Christianity is that God doesn’t spare Himself from being shredded by that attempt either; one of the revelations of the cross is that God Himself takes the brunt of the clawing.

And much of the point of the Epistle to the Romans is that none of us cats don’t need baptizing. And none of us haven’t scratched God to ribbons along the way. But God does baptize all of us cats, and it’s done with a goal in mind, not out of futility. :slight_smile:

(Baptizing us in Spirit and in Fire, as the Baptist himself puts it above his own symbolic baptism…)



I agree. There is a need for mercy! That’s the ‘boat.’

‘(Baptizing us in Spirit and in Fire, as the Baptist himself puts it above his own symbolic baptism…)’ Gotta love that salting.



A man had two sons, the youngest one with a good-nature, quick maturity and kind; the eldest, selfish, immature and disobedient. The man loved both his sons equally although eldest continued to disappoint his expectations of him. The elder son was the promised heir, while the youngest knew he had to live his life without this promise. The father seeing the disobedience of the eldest son still loved him his place was irrevocable. However, upon seeing the mercy he had for the disobedient of the eldest son who would receive the promise of a great inheritance, versus obedience of the younger who was promised nothing, the father had a plan. If such disobedient child would receive such a great inheritance also received mercy, he would also use the same mercy to the disobedient son towards the obedient son. If his mercy to the disobedient son ensured the inheritance, he bound also his obedient son under the same conditions giving him a share of this great inheritance giving him the same rights and place as the eldest.

The contrast of disobedient and obedient is for illustration purposes, Paul was speaking not obedience or disobedience but rather mercy that God has for all is based on the mercy He has for the worst of offenders who yet will inherit a promise. It is not the words, it is the concept meant by it. Paul is saying that the gentiles who did not have access to the promise received the promise. It was because of Israel’s disobedience as promised heirs, that the gentiles were grafted and adopted in as sons with the rights and privileges of the eldest. He bound all under the mercy He has for the disobedient children, and they too receive the benefit which the disobedient children receive, including their inheritance. We, as gentiles, have been adopted (this concept was not a stranger being brought into a family, but a son being given the rights as first born).



Good try, Craig; but it needs some grammatic polishing. (There are several important missing words, and the thrust of the prepositions isn’t sufficiently clear in places.)

Also, for the analogy to work better, both sons should be disobedient. (The Parable of the Prodigal Son is actually closer to an analogy, since the rebellion of the older son is more hidden and is only revealed when the father shows mercy on the penitent younger son.)



Analogy is clarified. It was for contrast purposes, whether or not the youngest was disobedient or obedient didn’t matter, so that is why I took the liberty to make such a large contrast. :wink:

Israel, purposely disobeyed God, while the gentiles lived in disobeyed God in their ignorance. The mercy He has for the purposeful disobedient would be given to the ignorant who disobeyed, which includes the promise which was given to the purposely disobedient towards the ignorantly disobeyed. Can you truly say that one who did not know or was given any promise was being disobedient? However, in order that they may all be treated with the same Mercy, God bound all mankind over to disobedience, so that He may have the mercy (which was given to the willful disobedient) applied to all (But God knew that was His Plan from the start).

It is the context of all Romans 9-11 which explains what is meant by “For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.”



Quite the contrary. This passage, extending back to chapter 9, is one of the key passages that has led me to UR. If indeed God’s mercy endures forever (even in the context of the ‘age’), then I don’t see it stopping at the end of our earthly demise. The ‘mercy’ passages back in chapter 9 has more to do with God’s purpose in general than with salvation specific.

Which relates to what we have in chapter 11. God’s purpose for Israel is for all the nations of the world to be blessed, promised to Abraham from the beginning. Where the surrounding Gentile nations for the most part were disobedient (the exceptions being stranger converts, for which there was provision in the Law) have now have obtained mercy because of Israel’s disobedience. There is a role reversal for the purpose of bringing the Gentiles in. Israel, to whom pretain the promises, the covenants, the oracles of God, and so forth, are blinded so that the Gentile nations may see the salvation extended to them. THEN another role reversal is explained in vs. 31, that through the Gentile’s mercy, Israel may obtain mercy. And following through to vs 32, again God holds them, that is Israel, in unbelief, UNTIL the time of Gentiles is fulfilled. So then God will have mercy upon all (both Jews and Gentiles).

As to believing Jews, in this role reversal, these come into the fold much like the Gentile strangers come into the Israel camp as provisioned in the Law.

Well, that’s the beauty of becoming one man with Christ.

Romans 9:24 speaks of Gentile nations, not just individuals. In fact the whole of Romans 9 speaks of different nations, Pharoah being representative of the nation of Egypt, Esau as the nation of Edom, and Jacob, of course, is the nation Israel.

Case in point in the use of the word ‘Greek’ in the latter verse. Obviously, one would not think that ‘Greek’ means only the residents of the nation of Greece. But it is a distinction, a separation of Israel encompassing nations of the rest of the world. God is not only the God of Israel, but the God of all the world.

Those that are saved prior to Israel’s salvation in Romans 11:26 are part of the elect, the rest were blinded. It is this group which God holds in unbelief. Much of this blindness has to do with the stubbornness of Israel in the first place. She did not accept her Messiah. When Jesus said that John the Baptist would have been Elijah, it was on condition of Israel’s belief:

“And if ye will receive it, this is Elias, which was for to come.” – Matt. 11:14

Obviously, Israel did not receive it. So as a consequence, they are blinded, except for the elect of Israel. (cf. Romans 11:7-8 – it’s God’s doing).

It isn’t a problem. It is the same phenomenon of when God hardened Pharaoh’s heart because of his first refusal. (which BTW was Pharaoh’s own doing in Exodus 5. God didn’t start hardening Pharaoh’s heart until the second time Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh in Exodus 7). And if I’m not mistaken, there is discussion elsewhere on this board that Pharaoh didn’t perish in the Red Sea. (Help me out here if you know).

It is the same phenomenon of God sending a strong delusion to those mentioned in 2 Thess. 2:10-12. They did not love the truth at the first.

I guess what you are asking is why God would do this, and what role Satan has in it. But you will remember what happened to Job, in that God permitted Satan to buffet Job. But you never hear from Satan after the first couple of chapters, huh? And in the end, Job gets doubly blessed.

When Saul rebelled against God, and God’s anointing left him, God send the evil spirit to Saul. Only when David played the harp did the spirit leave him.

When Nebuchadnezzar rebelled against God, God made him eat grass like an animal. But then Nebuchadnezzar repented, didn’t he?

Yes, I WAS a ‘modified evangelical’, as I explained in my post:

[emphasis mine]

For lack of another term, I labled myself that way. The difference being that I still held that some could be eternally lost, but far less that I believed in conventional Baptist circles. But now I’m fairly convinced about UR, so that title no longer applies, except that I’m still a evangelical. Which essentially makes me a Evangelical Universalist, no?



I’m the one who brings this up every once in a while (in regard to Rom 9 specifically). The scriptural narrative says Pharaoh died in the Re(e)d Sea collapse, but there is an old rabbinic tradition about Pharaoh either surviving or being raised by God afterward, giving glory to God, and then going on to become the ruler of Ninevah. This was their way of explaining how the king of Ninevah was prepared to lead his city in repentance at the ridiculously minimal preaching of Jonah–a man who was still running away from God’s mercy toward Ninevah (even at that point, which is why Jonah’s preaching when he arrives is even more minimal than the strict letter of what God intended him to say). Either Pharaoh was still miraculously alive or his descendant was familiar with the story as family tradition.

Some of the wording of Rom 9 fits very well with this old tradition, which St. Paul (as a former rabbi of Hillel’s school via Hillel’s grandson Gamaliel I) might be expected to have known about.

I still don’t know what (if any!) scriptural refs the rabbis were (even vaguely) grounding this idea with. (I could make a few guesses, but…)



But I argue that this (happened, happens, will happen) in stages. First Israel, then the Church (believers made up of both Jews and Gentiles), then back to Israel and finally the culmination of all. Would you agree?



It may, but there appears to be no type or shadow of this happening. It always appears that the eldest son learns humility through the adoption of the youngest son.

You could be correct I have no problem either way because all will be and are reconciled in Christ. :slight_smile:



For those who know Greek, is this comment accurate:

“Greek is an inflected language. It has voice, tense and mood. In Rom 11:32 the word translated “might have mercy” is ελεηση/eleésé it is a verb, active, aorist, subjunctive. The subjunctive mood is the mood of possibility and potentiality. The action described may or may not occur,
…If Paul had intended to say that God will absolutely have mercy on all no matter what he would have used the future, active, indicative ελεησω/eleéso as he did in Rom 9:15.
(15) For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.​”