The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Talbott on Matthew 25:41, 46?


Luke, thanks for your genuineness and the fuller citation of BDAG. If it says that the #1 definition of Matthew’s term is pertaining to a “a long period of time” (translating Rom. 16:25 that way), on what basis would I be confident in their conclusion that Matthew 25’s reference to such an age to come should be translated differently as endless? Choosing variations among possible definitions for a given text is something that the greatest authorities disagree about all the time. I can’t see that there usually is any clear cut scientific basis that resolves differing opinions in such cases. We are always left to evaluate the actual contextual reasons offered for preferring a particular definition in a specific context.

Of course your question as to what drives universalism bears on such inclinations, though each of us may have different answers. Your two books proffer two things most compelling to me. Talbott’s argument that universalism best resolves the conflict I alway perceived in the Bible’s clearest widely held beliefs, such as that God loves and seeks to save all, and that his power is able to accomplish his ultimate purposes. Second, Mac Donald’s case that the whole direction of the Biblical story makes the most sense, as it pushes in the direction of a God who is constantly expanding the boundaries to achieve a universal victory of his love for the whole creation. That hopeful vision of an ultimate Reality in God that promises a Love and Wisdom that we can trust is able to succeed in reconciling and redeeming the most hopeless resistance is compelling for me. If I’m going to put my faith in the Goodness of God, why not really take a step of trust that appears coherent?


Bob, you said: “If it says that the #1 definition of Matthew’s term is pertaining to a “a long period of time”…”
Does BDAG say that about Matthew’s verse?


No, in Luke’s excerpt, it provides that reference for another more traditional translation.


The number one reason I believe in universalism is because it falls precisely in line with the God that I’ve experienced that all good-natured people seem to intuitively feel exists; and because the God of ECT can do nothing but repulsively disgust me, or strike me as horribly cowardly and weak, depending on what theory you rest on. If don’t think that any such god could even hold claim to have been the Creator of the world; if I encountered him I would call him Satan, or at best a fraud.

But there are numerous reasons on every level (historical, scriptural, philosophical) why I believe that God is a universalist. None of those are the clincher, though. I think it only makes sense that the central point is an emotional or spiritual one, if such an issue is a matter of real life and death at all.


A few years ago, I’d have said that was a load of sentimental hogwash. “The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked…” so we can’t know on our own what is good and what is bad. The tradition I come from says we can’t trust our own feelings and perceptions, and must rely solely on Scripture for our knowledge of God. I would have considered what you said as an example of people not ‘enduring sound doctrine’, gathering teachers to satisfy their ‘itching ears,’ and turning from truth to fables. (as per 2 Tim 4) :unamused:

I’m thankful to be able say I’ve come a long way in the last 5 years. I can appreciate and take joy in what you say.

I would never have come to believe in unversalism if I hadn’t seen it in scripture. But now, having come, it would be very difficult–impossible, I think–to convince me of anything less, for the reasons you stated so well. Having come to know a greater God and a greater Love, what could persuade me to turn my back on Him?

Besides, the fact remains that I do see it in scripture, and I can’t imagine that changing. When I believed in ET, it wasn’t so much that I** saw it myself **in scripture, but that people told me it was there, and I read the verses they pointed at, and I believed what they told me it meant.



Hi Luke, the most compelling evidence to me are the passages of scripture that affirm UR, especially:

Col. 1:15-20
15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Rom. 5:12-21
12Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned— 13for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. 14Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.
15But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

18Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. 19For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

20The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 21so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

As I studied these passages and others in context they seem to forthrightly say that the sacrifice of Christ ultimately saves, reconciles all of creation, especially all of humanity, to God. I then decided to study Hell to counter these passages but soon found that not one Hebrew or Greek word in scripture correctly interprets as Hell. Sheol and Hades mean realm of the dead; the good, bad, and ugly all go to Sheol/Hades. Tartarus, torturous realm of Hades is only used once and is for sinning angels and they are only held there until judgment. And Gehenna was Jerusalem’s trash dump, which is metaphorical of the judgement/punishment of God but does not equate endless torture.

And then I started studying the passages on Judgment and found that all are judged, and judgment is based on works, how we actually lived our lives. And I came to understand that such judgment was remedial in nature, for the destruction of our flesh so that our spirits might be saved, delivered, purified! And having experienced the judgment of the Lord, I know first hand how terrible and yet how purifiying and delivering such can be. The fire of truth burns the hell (deception) out of all who encounter it.

Well, the more I study, and the more trials I face because of open sharing about my change in beliefs, the more firmly I’m convinced that Jesus truly is the savior of all humanity, especially we who believe (1 Tim.4.10). Jesus does not fail to save anyone He loves, and He loves all humanity! We did not choose to be born into sin, and we do not “choose” to have faith in Christ and be saved. Rather, even faith is a gift from God and a by-product of the revelation of the Lamb!

And concerning the verses being discussed in this thread, I know people get hung up arguing over the meaning of aionios; but to me this is only a side issue. The crux of the verse is seen in the word that is translated as “punishment”, kolasis, which would better be translated as “chastizement” signifying “remedial punishment”. What is being warned is remedial punishment, punishment meant to bring a positive change. It is punishment that flows from a desire to bring about good in the one being punished. And it wouldn’t make sense for such remedial punishment to be endless. Surely, God’s punishment of us is able to bring about positive change in us. It might take a moment or years, but it will ultimately accomplish what God means it to accomplish. Not only that, but time is relative. For example, if one’s hand is stuck in a fire, moments can seem like hours; and if one is enjoying a hot steam bath, hours can seem like moments. It’s not the time that is the point, it’s the purpose of the punishment, the chastizement.

It’s also significant to me that the judgment spoken of in Mt. 25 is related to how we actually live, and is not based on whether we have faith in Christ or not. And this passage was spoken as a warning to the children of God, not the unbeliever. The passage is meant to be a warning to the children of God as to how they treat one another, warning of the chastizement that God our Father will put us through if we are selfish, immature, and treat eachother badly. It is not warning people of endless torture.

Well, that’s my 2 cents Luke. I hope it’s encouraging.



Hey Luke,

First, I agreed that aionion in Matthew 25:31-46 implies “everlasting”. However, Matthew 25:31-46 is a parabolic prophecy, so the imagery of everlasting fire and everlasting punishment might be nonliteral. And given the wider NT eschatological context, I conclude that the imagery of everlasting punishment is nonliteral. You might find me expressing different views on aionion in the past, but reading Bauckham and Hart, Hope Against Hope (1999) convinced me of their view.

Second, many ideas in biblical studies and church history clinch my views of universalism. My following two articles summarize my reasons for universalism:

I’ll also develop a lot of these ideas in my book with Wipf & Stock:


Is “pertaining to a long period of time” considered an older tradition that “endless”?


I’m not coversant enough with the etymological history to answer that! I do have the impression that before the NT, Septuagint OT translators chose “aioniois” to describe OT episodes that plainly were not “endless.” So it seems to me, despite our dominant tradition’s theological incentive to maintain a translation like “everlasting,” that the burden of proof falls on those who want to show that this was plainly the original connotation in the early uses of a term whose literal meaning does not appear to imply such a meaning.


An exhausting study needs to be done, or so it seems to me. I wonder why such zeal seems so rare?


Here’s a study of aion/aionios from 1875:

I haven’t read all of this yet myself–just bits here and there. I have it saved in my To Read folder.



Yeah, that’s one of the first pieces of universalistic literature I discovered. It was just after I prayed that I’d find something, too.

This is what I’ve tried to get across on a few different occasions:


To me, the debate over the meaning of aionios in Mt.25.46 is a side issue, a rabbit trail. A key point in understanding this verse is the meaning of *kolasis *- remedial punishment. It simply does not make sense to say “endless remedial punishment”, for “remedial punishment” speaks of punishment meant to effect a positive change. When the positive change is made there is no further need for the punishement.

Also, the judgment spoken of is based on works, how one treats others; it is not based on faith. And yet, traditionalists who point to “aionios kolasis” as affirmation of there being a Hell, routinely dismiss that judgment in this passage is based on works and instead they affirm that salvation is based on faith.

The Believer’s Bible Commentary notes:
25:46 Thus the goats go away into everlasting punishment, but the sheep into eternal life. But this raises two problems. First, the passage seems to teach that nations are saved or lost en masse. Second, the narrative creates **the impression **that the sheep are saved by good works, and the goats are condemned through failure to do good. …
As to the second problem, the passage cannot be used to teach salvation by works. The uniform testimony of the Bible is that salvation is by faith and not by works (Eph. 2:8, 9). But the Bible is just as emphatic in teaching that true faith produces good works. If there are no good works, it is an indication that the person was never saved. So we must understand that the Gentiles are not saved by befriending the Jewish remnant, but that this kindness reflects their love for the Lord.

The reason this passage is problematic for this author is because he assumes that the passage is warning of Hell, endless torture. If we recognize though that it is warning of remedial punishment (in this life and possibly the life to come), then the above “two problems” are no longer problems. God deals with individuals and nations, bringing about punishment that is needed to effect a positive change.

Word Biblical Commentary :
Although sometimes understood as confirming a salvation by works, this passage need not be understood as incompatible with the gospel of the kingdom as a divine gift. The apostle Paul, the champion of grace, can also stress the significance of good works (see esp. Gal 6:7–10; 2 Cor 5:10). Matthew does stress the importance of righteousness as good deeds, but as a part of a larger context in which God acts graciously for the salvation of his people (see Hagner, Matthew 1–13, lxi–lxiii and Comment on 5:20). The deeds of mercy in the present passage are symbolic of a deeper reality, and as Gray notes, “the main point of the parable is the acceptance or the rejection of the Christian faith” (353; cf. 359). For a balanced and helpful discussion of this problem, see esp. C. L. Mitton.

The “main point” of the passage is NOT “acceptance or the rejection of the Christian faith”! The “main point” of the passage is how we actually treat others; acceptance or rejection of the Christian faith is not even mentioned! By reading into this passage Hell and endless torture, one looses the whole point of the passage.

This passage is speaking of social maturity, looking out for others who are less fortunate. Those who are selfless, socially mature naturally looking out for the needs of others will be rewarded by God with a blessed life. Those who are selfish, all-about-me, socially immature, who do not even see the needs of others around them, they can expect chastizement from the Lord, punishment meant to help them grow up and become socially mature!

By interpreting aionios kolasis as Hell or endless punishment one is completely misinterpreting this passage, nullifying it’s power to call everyone to righteousness! Believers say, “Well this passage doesn’t apply to me because I have faith in Christ.” And unbelievers don’t care what this passage says anyhow. In fact, if the unbeliever is a selfless, socially mature person, and the Christian who is mis-using this passage to warn them to “turn or burn”; the unbeliever simply need point out the hypocricy of the Christian who disregards that this passage actually speaks of how we take care of the less fortunate.

The traditional interpretation of this passage is a case of not being able to see the forest because of being consumed with trying to use one small limb to beat others over their heads - to try and prove that others are surely going to hell.

Every day I grow increasingly sick of the traditional doctrine of Hell – “I’m saved by grace, but others are damned inspite of grace!” And “Jesus either fails to save (Arminianism) or chooses not to save (Calvinism) most of humanity!” Of course, traditionalists would not actually say this, but these statement do sum up the traditional doctrine!

Judgment is an eternal reality. When we encounter the Lord in judgment, it burns the hell out of us! As mentioned in other threads, I’ve encountered God’s judgment of me and particular sinful patterns of life that I had. It was terrible, but very good for me, working in me awesome changes in my character and in my life-style. God judges us to change us if we’re acting badly, and to encourage us if we’re acting rightly!


Thanks, Sonia. Yea, that was the first book on universalism I ever looked at. It’s OK, kinda disappointing from what I remember…


Yes, I’ve seen that. Interesting, but there isn’t much to demonstrate it offered by Hanson, I don’t think…



“The problems is…scholars don’t all agree”… about anything it seems.

As I noted, to me the passage is speaking of the punishment that comes from God upon those who are immature, selfish, so wrapped up in themselves that they do not even see the needs of others around them much less seek to meet those needs. Of course, such immaturity is not only seen in unbelievers, but also in believers. To take this passage and interpret it to speak of Hell and salvation one must then make salvation and not going to Hell based on works regardless of faith. The focus of the passage is God’s judgment of how we live, the good works we do or lack thereof, and does not mention salvation, grace, or faith.

If we are selfless, mature, and naturally take care of the needs of others then God will bless us. If we are selfish, immature, and rarely even note the needs of others, God will punish, chastize us, seeking to bring correction in us. If one reads heaven and hell into this passage it would then only affirm that salvation is by works and has nothing to do with grace. In this parable the people “earn” their reward, positive and negative. Don’t be fooled, what a man sows, so shall he reap.


But isn’t faith manifested by our works? Yes it is!


That’s a brilliant interpretation. It seems to have similarities to how annihilationists understand Matthew 25:46 & some other passages. If i understand your viewpoint, the verse could be understood as “everlasting corrective punishment” in the sense that its corrective effects are “everlasting”. My question is, if we also translate aionios as “everlasting” in other passages, will this type of perspective hold up as well as it does in Mt.25:46. For example Mark 3:29, which says in various translations:

New International Version
but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; they are guilty of an eternal sin."

Darby Bible Translation
but whosoever shall speak injuriously against the Holy Spirit, to eternity has no forgiveness; but lies under the guilt of an everlasting sin;

Young’s Literal Translation
but whoever may speak evil in regard to the Holy Spirit hath not forgiveness – to the age, but is in danger of age-during judgment;’

My question here is similar to that above. How, in this view, are other passages with aionios to be understood, especially those referring to punishment, e.g. Mark 3:29? If “Eternal punishment is then literally that kind of remedial punishment which it befits God to give and which only God can give”, what is an “eternal sin” (Mk.3:29)?

Likewise, if in Mt.25:46 & 41 aionios is to be rendered “eternal”, then how is the parallel passage of Rev.20:10 to be translated & understood. For example, the usual translation speaks of torments “for ever and ever”.

Don Preston on 2 Thes 1:9

Tom Talbott posted (on 22 February 2015) at the url below: