The Evangelical Universalist Forum

The epistles


I know universalists often get accused of being too focused on Paul. Am I the only person that thinks universalism seems more compatible with the Gospels than the epistles? It seems to me like Paul, Peter, John, and the Hebraist’s letters all have a harsher tone than Jesus’ words recorded in the Gospels.


I think people read Jesus’s parables through a lens of “bad things happening must equal Hell”. Plus the fact that Jesus used the word “Gehenna” quite a few times (while Paul never used it), which perversely gets translated as “Hell” (even though Gehenna is a literal valley just outside Jerusalem that you can visit and have a picnic in any day of the week).

It gets even worse with the Apocalypse, into which the believers in Hell can and do pour their most lurid fantasies. They turn the book into something of a Godzilla movie.



I think universalism is compatible with the whole bible, when rightly read. When we treat the bible as a god and as a book that must be taken literally (except where we don’t), then it can seem incompatible with universalism–especially since our translations were almost entirely made by believers in ECT. There’s a lot of need for judgment in translation, and your personal theology cannot help but be reflected in your choice of words when translating.

But to your question, I think that when you truly study the epistles (not just read through them, but really study them), you find that Paul is certainly a universalist despite a few passages that can (taken out of context) seem to teach ECT. When you read all of Paul’s writings and most especially when you read each as a letter which must be taken cohesively and not piecemeal, you can’t miss the universalistic tone unless you’re tone-deaf due to previous indoctrination. I thought so when I was a child, and because I “knew” that Paul couldn’t mean it when he said that all Israel would be saved, etc., I just skipped over those verses as puzzling aberrations. Now that I understand it is impossible to understand Paul unless you study his letters as cohesive, connected dissertations–not as they are usually taught in dissected form–I marvel at how expertly Paul has been misinterpreted and misunderstood. Reading Paul is hard work if you really want to understand what he was saying, but once you do, you will either have to pull the wool over your own eyes or own up that he was definitely a universalist.

The others aren’t nearly as problematic as the customary misunderstanding of Paul’s writings. His epistles get to be so long that you often forget what he was talking about by the time you get to the end of the letter (three weeks later or so). Of course, John’s apocalypse is a favorite of hell believers. It’s a favorite of mine, too, but I no longer see it as a matter of loyalty to try to force myself to read and believe it literally. I shake my head at myself for ever having been so foolish. In order for a thing to be true, it is NOT necessary for it to be literal. In fact, the deepest truths are usually best told via myth and poetry and yes, by apocalypse in John’s case. He was clearly a master of the genre. Listen to it well-performed in audio form sometime. You will be awed and dazzled by the magnificent picture he paints of the risen and majestic Lord. It’s amazing–a true blessing.

Love in Jesus, Cindy


I don’t know that the Hebraist, Peter, and John have a harsher sounding tone than Jesus’ denunciations in the Gospels; Jesus drops the hammer hard! Paul has his moments, but I can’t think of any harsher than what Jesus says, and my impression is that the harsh sayings from Paul are not only less frequent by proportion of material length, but less numerous period. That might be an interesting masters or doctoral project someday, comparing frequency in the material; but harshness about what could be variable: when Paul hands the Stepmom-Sleeping Guy over to Satan for the whole-ruination of his flesh, that sounds and evidently is awfully harsh, but Paul instantly follows it up with an expectation of the result being that the SSG’s spirit will be saved in the Day of the Lord to come. A lot of Jesus’ harsh language isn’t immediately so obviously less harsh than it first sounds.


These are crucial and hard to over-estimate facts. Speaking as a member of the Eastern Orthodox Church, I think these considerations that you mention, Cindy, are two of the main reasons that so many Orthodox believers today think that the Orthodox Church teaches never-ending Hell. When the city of New Rome (Constantinople) fell to the Turks in 1453, the Byzantine world was plunged into a dark age under the Turkish yoke that lasted for almost four centuries. Even when Greece gained its independence from the Ottoman Empire in the 1820s, it was not conceived as a restoration of Byzantium but rather as a restoration of classical, pre-Christian Greece. The Orthodox Slavic world was even worse off. In 1472 Ivan III of Russia married in the Vatican a ward of a Cardinal. The Slavs considered the Byzantines to be dead-and-gone has-beens. They concocted a “new and improved” Orthodoxy that mainly copied Roman Catholicism. (“We’re just Roman Catholics without the Pope!”) A few decades thereafter Protestantism was born, and the Slavs started copying the Protestants. They got their books (such as works of the Church Fathers) from Protestant or Catholic printers, translated by Protestant or Catholic scholars. Their Byzantine patrimony was all but lost, being neglected on a dusty shelf.

Is it any wonder, then, that contemporary Orthodox adopted the Roman Catholic’s and Protestant’s beliefs in Hell, which were themselves largely adopted from Augustine of Hippo? When one points to the thousands of pages of liturgy (crystallized in the Byzantine Empire) that teach universalism, they set it aside in favor of their novel, western-style thinking. Worst of all, they foist upon the liturgy their wretched translations and presuppositions (gained from Augustine via Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin) and pretend that the Byzantines spoke and thought like these men who left no trace upon the liturgy of the Church.

The liturgy proclaims that Christ makes dispassionate distinctions between good and evil, and that He continuously corrects/cures the evil in His process of re-creating the cosmos, which will culminate in a perfected creation. This, by incompetent translation, gets twisted into a notion that Christ is an angry judge who harshly punishes part of His creation by damning it to Hell for all eternity.

Until the Orthodox Church purges itself of its alien accretions picked-up in the last 550 years (essentially by hitting a button marked “re-set to 1452”), we’re going to have to deal with this.


Speaking of the Church Fathers, you know what we Orthodox have to read if we are going to read the Church Fathers? For the most part, translations done by Roman Catholics or by Protestants who believe in Hell. Lo and behold! These believers in Hell find Hell in the Church Fathers, in a perverse fulfillment of Christ’s words, “Seek, and ye shall find.”

It’s not much better when modern Orthodox translate these works, for these translators are laboring under the assumption of the reality of Hell gained from Augustine of Hippo via Aquinas, Luther, and Calvin (as discussed in my post above). So, once again, with wearying predictability, we find Hell.

I have yet to see a translation of a work of a Church Father thoroughly answer these questions:

I wish I could afford Ramelli’s tome. It must be a breath of fresh air.


Sorry it’s taken me so long to respond.

Jesus (as far as I can remember anyway) didn’t teach that people couldn’t have fun or be friends with sinners.


Amen, Qaz!


Cindy, the epistles do seem to teach these things though. That’s my concern.


I’m fuzzy about what that topic has to do with a discussion against universal salvation being true? :wink:

Otherwise, if the apostles are somewhat more against the pagan notions of ‘fun’ in wider Greco-Roman society than Jesus was in His own ministry, so what? In context of Christ’s discussion with His apostles in the Gospels, maybe He would rebuke such attitudes – or He might agree that people shouldn’t go out prostituting even though He Himself is friendly to prostitutes.


I’m not sure where to share this. So I’ll do it here. This week, the Theosophical Society is hosting a free webcast entitled The Jewishness of Jesus, by Rabbi Evan Moffic. Check with the adult reference department, at your local public library, to coordinate your time to CST.


You think the denunciations of fun only refer to pagan notions, like orgies and whatnot? It’d be nice for that to be true. STT’s bringing up of the ‘anti-fun’ verses has caused me a lot of tumult. I love studying the Bible, but I also like watching sports and movies, going to the beach, going out to eat, etc. The idea that I’m sinning by enjoying these worldly pleasures is painful. :frowning:


You know what, qaz. I have attended services in the RC, EO, Anglican, Lutheran, Quaker, Methodist, non-Denominational and community churches. And watched similar services and evangelists on TV. Suppose God wished us to interpret and understand these verses - like STT does. Don’t you think God could bring the same understanding - to all I have mentioned? The same goes for folks here, that present some offbeat or unusual theology. :smiley:


This is one of the joys of being Orthodox. I don’t have to fret over such thoughts. The Church in her 2,000-year history has interpreted the Scriptures for me. I can be lazy in that regard. I don’t have to rely on my own moronicness. (Is that a word?) Instead I can let all the saints do the heavy lifting for me. And on this topic the verdict is clear: The Church has never condemned simple fun. The very notion is foreign to Orthodoxy. One can’t even imagine the topic being one of serious discussion. One might as well say that the Bible teaches that people cannot eat burritos, or must stand on their heads, or forbids wearing yellow on the second Thursday of the month, or etc. It doesn’t even rise to the level of argument. It’s just kind of funny…

…except for the fact that it is a sad way to imagine our Father. What a repulsive little godling he would be if that were so! Even I, as a sinful earthly father, would never come within a mile of dreaming that I did not want my daughter to have simple fun, that I would want her a dour, bloodless, joyless creature. The very thought makes me shudder. We can rejoice that God is nothing like that preposterous idol! :smiley:


I attend an Anglican church Catholic/Reformed and we are allowed to have fun.

We can read Reformed materials as well as Catholic. I just talked to the Priest this morning “All Saints Day Prayer” and he says he loves this book on happiness by Randy Alcorn. I carried it with me to prayer service and he saw it. Randy Alcorn is Reformed. I have the book and have skimmed it and he makes a pretty good case that there is nothing wrong with having fun.


Okay, sorry it’s taken so long for me to post specific verses. I hope you all will consider them and share your thoughts.

2 Cor 6
11 O Corinthians! We have spoken openly to you, our heart is wide open. 12 You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted by your own affections. 13 Now in return for the same (I speak as to children), you also be open.

14 Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? 15 And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? 16 And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said:

“I will dwell in them
And walk among them.
I will be their God,
And they shall be My people.”

17 Therefore

“Come out from among them
And be separate, says the Lord.
Do not touch what is unclean,
And I will receive you.”
“I will be a Father to you,
And you shall be My sons and daughters,
Says the Lord Almighty.”

1 John 2
15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.

James 4
4 Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

The message Paul, John, and James are teaching sounds like one that leads to misery and/or pride and self-righteousness.


[tag]paidion[/tag] [tag]geoffrey[/tag] [tag]jasonpratt[/tag]


Romans through Philemon are for us gentiles in the current grace dispensation that we’re now living in.


I’m afraid that I’m not seeing that in the passages. Could you give some concrete examples of the sort of misbehavior you think might result from reading those passages? :slight_smile:



Is 2 Cor not saying that Christians should separate themselves from unbelievers? That kind of “separateness” reminds me of the pharisees. Does it not lead to pride?

What do you think John’s precept to not love the world means? Am I sinning for pursuing interests other than theology? Should I only eat bland food and live austerely?

What do you think James means when he admonishes people not to have friendship with the world? Again, isn’t “the world” unbelievers?