The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Scriptural Support for Postmortem Salvation?

Eastern Orthodox scholar & universalist David Bentley Hart posted:

“In the end, it is solely because he has been indoctrinated to believe that something like the later picture of hell is present in the New Testament; and so he sees that picture in the texts whether it is there or not. In fact, what the New Testament provides are a number of fragmentary images that can be taken in any number of ways, arranged according to our prejudices and expectations, and declared literal or metaphorical or hyperbolic as our desires dictate. Yes, Jesus speaks of a final judgment, and uses many metaphors to describe the unhappy lot of the condemned. Many of these are metaphors of annihilation, like the burning of chaff or brambles in ovens, or the final destruction of body and soul in the Valley of Hinnom. Others are metaphors of exclusion, like the sealed doors of wedding feasts. A few, a very few, are images of torture and torment, and yet these are also for the most part images of penalties that explicitly have only a limited term (Matthew 5:36; 18:34; Luke 12:47-48, 59). Nowhere is there any description of a kingdom of perpetual cruelty presided over by Satan, as though he were a kind of chthonian god. Thus, pace Wills, there is no need on my part to “oust” this traditional picture of hell from the New Testament. It simply is not there. By letting my Hades be Hades and my Gehenna be Gehenna, all I have done is report a distinction present in the text. And, in not presuming the mythopoeia of later Christian eschatology and cosmology, I have done nothing more than leave a mystery intact that many translations, through their excessive fastidiousness and uniformity of expression, have tended to conjure away. A translator who does that can no more be said to have “ousted” the conventional picture of hell from scripture than a workman who oils the hinges on an upstairs door, repairs the window casement around a loose sash, and cuts away the tree branches that scrape against the eaves can be said to have “exorcised” the ghost that the residents of the house had imagined was responsible for all the strange noises keeping them up at night. After all, all those Greek-speaking fathers of the early church who were universalist—Origen, Didymus the Blind, Gregory of Nyssa, and so on—were perfectly familiar with the texts of scripture, and none of them felt in the least discouraged by what they found there.”

“While we are on the topic, however, I might mention that, alongside various, often seemingly contradictory images of eschatological punishment, the New Testament also contains a large number of seemingly explicit statements of universal salvation, excluding no one (for instance, John 3:17; 12:32, 47; Romans 5:18-19; 11:32; 1 Corinthians 15:22; 2 Corinthians 5:14, 19; Philippians 2:9-11; 1 Timothy 2:3-6;4:10; Titus 2:11; Hebrews 2:9; 2 Peter 3:9; Colossians 1:19-20; 1 John 2:2 … to mention only some of the most striking). To me it is surpassingly strange that, down the centuries, most Christians have come to believe that the former class of claims—all of which are metaphorical, pictorial, vague, and elliptical in form—must be regarded as providing the “literal” content of the New Testament’s teaching, while the latter—which are invariably straightforward doctrinal statements—must be regarded as mere hyperbole. It is one of the great mysteries of Christian history (or perhaps of a certain kind of religious psychopathology).”

“But there are those who find this an intolerable state of affairs, sometimes because of an earnest if misguided devotion to what they believe Scripture or tradition demands, sometimes because the idea of the eternal torment of the derelict appeals to some unpleasantly obvious emotional pathologies on their parts.”

That is an excellent DBH posting, thanks.

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Why are we wanting bad folks to reel in the fire when we are also bad folks?

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That there’s a good question.

God, we are what we are. God made us this way Why are we thinking that certain ones need to go to a hell, a place that does not even exist? Let’s have at it. THERE IS NO HELL !!!

It depends upon how “hell” is defined. I believe it is a place or perhaps a state where those who die in a state of rebellion against God are lovingly corrected by God. Part of this correction may involve discomfort.

But if “hell” is defined as a place where the rebels are tortured forever, then I agree with you. Such a “hell” does not exist.

From a biblical textual perspective… what actually constitutes a rebel against God — IOW, how according to the bible is such a one actually defined?

The Best Text Concerning Correction After Judgment

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

The Lord knows how to deliver the devout out of trial, but to reserve the unrighteous for a day of judgment, to be corrected. (2 Peter 2:9)

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 text 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:

Acts 22:5 "as also the high priest bears me witness, and all the council of the elders, from whom I also received letters to the brethren, and went to Damascus to bring in chains even those who were there to Jerusalem to be punished (τιμωρεω).
Acts 26:11 "and I punished (τιμωρεω) them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities.

One of the best ways (if not the very best way) 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 tyrant Antiochus was both punished (τιμωρεω) on earth and is being corrected (κολαζω) after his death. (4 Maccabees 18:5)

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:

And you, son of man, show to the household of Israel, the house, and show its appearance and its arrangement,that they may cease from their sins. And they shall receive their κολασις concerning all their doings, and you shall describe the house, and its entrances and its foundation, and all its systems, and you shall make known to them all it regulations and describe them in their presence, and they shall guard all my righteous ordinances and all my commands and do them. (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 in question:

The Lord is acquainted with the rescue of the devout out of trial, yet is keeping the unjust for chastening in the day of judging.


Excellent post Don! Thanks for the work you put into it.

Correction after judgment, so Don, do you think this happens before death or after?

It doesn’t matter what I think or what you think but what the New Testament writers, under inspiration, wrote.

First let’s examine the key verse I quoted together with the “if” verse that precedes it. We need an “if” to go with the “then”:

2Pe 2:4 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell (Tartarus) and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment;
2Pe 2:9 then Lord knows how to deliver the devout out of trial, but to reserve the unrighteous for the day of judgment, to be corrected.

Then read the following verses, and tell me which (before or after death) is meant by the authors:

Mt 5:22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.
Mt 10:15 Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.
Mt 12:41 The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.
Lu 11:31 The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.
Ro 2:5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.
2Pe 3:7 But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
Jude 1:6 And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day —
Jude 1:14,15 It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord came with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”

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Chad, here is the one that most clearly indicates that the judgment comes after death:

> Heb 9:27 (AKJV) And as it is appointed to men once to die, but after this the Judgment…

Don the Hebrews verbiage clearly was talking to the first century Jews. All of your proof text’s are about Israelites that are about to realize a huge on- slot by the roman army there and then. We do not have anything to look forward to as to the second coming in my opinion, FWIW. My question was to see if you thought the verbiage of the NT was to those folks there and then… Or to us here and now? You seemed to say it does not matter what we think?

Just butting in - there is no reason to believe that some truths are BOTH for ‘them’ and
‘for us’.
For instance, that Hebrews verse. Why would you think it was ONLY for ‘them’?

Edit: I meant there is no reason NOT to believe that some truths are Both…etc.

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Dave you are totally correct that much of the NT text (Hebrews in this instance) 'Could’ apply to us, but the fact remains it was not ‘WRITTEN’ to us, so we have to view it in that context. In my opinion.

Chad, I didn’t say a word about to whom it was written or to whom it applied. I said that the Hebrew 9:27 verse indicates that the judgment occurs AFTER DEATH. So let’s say it applies “those folks there and then” and not to us at all (as you appear to believe). Let’s say they are about to realize a huge onset by the Roman Army there and then. Does that make the slightest difference to the fact that AFTER men die, they face the judgment? Look at the verse again!.

… it is appointed to men once to die, but after this the judgment… (Heb 9:26)

Whether the men (human beings) die now or in A.D. 70, they face the judgment AFTER they die.

The death spoken about, in my opinion is the covenant relationship between God and Israel. So no there does not seem to be a problem. The problem is that you seem to take all the verbiage of a thousands of years of old group of documents and not only apply it to your life, but question others when they see it differently. (though we all do the same thing)

The death was the covenant with God and Israel, the judgment was the 70 ad onslaught to those who did not take the narrow way and realize that Jesus was Messiah, and such the road to destruction was mighty large.

How do you come to be of this opinion, my dear fellow?

Luther wanted to get rid of Hebrews and didn’t believe it carried authority. Along with James, Jude and Revelations.

So someone in the 1500s who founded, basically the Reformation thought that. It should give pause to anyone who wants to claim God used Luther to bring about the truth… I mean, if your founder basically doesn’t believe the way of many now in Reformation, can he really be seen as a founder? Seems so two-sided to me. They claim Luther was a great, yet expound something they consider heretical. It would be like believing Marcion was wrong, yet claiming your lineage through him… Boggles the mind, my mind at least.

If the Christian greats of the past could so readily dispute things in the canon, I feel the utmost freedom to do the same. And, to be clear, we have evidence of many different canons prior to the forced one in the 4th century and of course evidence after the forced canon as well… It is cognitive dissonance to believe that this is a Hallmark of a Christian; that is, that they must believe in the 39/27.

The Reformation was of its time, but it forgot its own motto : Always Reforming.
It got stuck.