Universalism in Pauline Theology


#1

For 3 reasons the pre-Pauline hymn in Phil. 2:6-11 might be viewed as one of Paul’s visions of cosmic reconciliation and universal salvation:
“Therefore, God also highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every other name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in Heaven and on Earth and under the Earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”

(1) “Every knee…under the Earth” designates everyone in Hades, not everyone in Australia.
(2) For Paul, the confession “Jesus Christ is Lord” makes one a Christian and cannot be sincerely uttered apart from the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:3).
(3) Most importantly, the hymn as a whole is based on the invitation to universal salvation in Isaiah 45:22-23: “Turn to me and saved, all you ends of the Earth! For I am God and there is no other…To me every knee shall bow and every tongues shall swear.”

Future posts will discuss other pro-universalist Pauline texts.


#2

in 9:11 the Greek word “hina” (“in order that”) begins a purpose or result clause that specifies not what ought to happen, but what in fact will happen. That is confirmed by the use of Isaiah 45:22-23 as the source of inspiration for the Philippian hymn: “Turn to me and be save, all your ends of the earth!..To me every knee WILL bow and every tongue WILL swear.” Here God predicts not what every knee and tongue ought to do, but rather what they actually will do.

This universalist interpretation finds independent confirmation in the cosmic redemption text in Romans 11:32, 26: “God has imprisoned all in disobedience, so that He might have mercy on all…For from Him and for Him and back to Him are all things.”

3 points demonstrate a vision of universal reconciliation here:
(1) The 2 “alls” are parallel and universal."

(2) In 11:32, 36, Paul does not consider the Fall from the perspective of our willful disobedience, but from the perspective of God’s providential plan in which human is imprisoned and about which humanity therefore has no choice. In this respect, it is important to note that only the Fall empowers humanity to become “godlike” and thus to be able to discern the difference between good and evil (Genesis 3:22). Do you actually believe that God would have preferred Adam and Eve not to become godlike and not to be capable of discerning good from evil?

(3) Paul grounds the goal of divine mercy on all on the triumphal cosmic reconciliation in which all the creation that drives from God will ultimately be reconciled and restored to Him: “For from Him and for Him and back to Him are all things (11:36).”


#3

Paul takes for granted God’s desire to save everyone, not just the elect: “God our Savior who desires everyone to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4).” This divine desire raises the question of whether God’s will can be permanently thwarted by our disobedience. Paul excludes this possibility in his bold declaration of divine providence: “God has imprisoned all in disobedient so that He might have mercy on all (Romans 11:32).” Here Paul considers the Fall from the perspective that it was always God’s plan to imprison us with a fallen nature that would make us disobey Him. Most Christians assume that God wanted Adam and Eve to resist the forbidden fruit, but this assumption implies that God didn’t want them to become “like God” and to become capable of discerning good from evil (Genesis 3:22). How, then, can God be just if our sinful nature is guaranteed by divine decree? Because God’s purpose is that all of us ultimate benefit from His mercy and grace!

In that sense, God is not merely the potential Savior of all humanity; He is their actual Savior: “God who is the Savior of all people, especially (Greek: “malista”) of those who believe (1 Timothy 4:10)” “Malista” means “especially” in the sense of “most immediately” or “most certainly,” and leaves open the potential for the ultimate salvation of all.

Similarly, Romans 11:32 seals the promise that God “will have mercy on all” (11:32) with an assurance of cosmic restoration: "For from Him and through Him and back to Him are all things (11:36). Universalism may also be implicit in the pre-Pauline hymn in Colossians 1:15-20: “…in Him [Christ] all things hold together…Through Him God was pleased to reconcile all things to Himself, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross (1:20).”

It is against this background that the pre-Pauline hymn in Phil 2:6-11 is so relevant to universalism. Every knee in Hell bows before Christ and every tongue in Hell makes the saving confession “Jesus Christ is Lord.” Scholars recognize that these allusions to “every knee” and “every tongue” are inspired by Isaiah 45:22-23, where the professed allegiance is inevitable, not just prescribed. [Paul’s own quotation of Isaiah 45:22-23 is irrelevant to this point.]


#4

Well said.


#5

Donald, I assume by 9:11 you meant Phil.2:9-11, or more exactly verse 10 where the word “that” (hina) occurs. You claim that this refers to what will in fact happen.

Would you agree that in Jn.3:16 where the “hina” occurs again with the subjunctive that for those who are believing such belief will definitely (not merely possibly or potentially) result in them obtaining aionion life?

For God so loved the world that He gave the only begotten Son, so that everyone believing in Him should not perish, but should have eonian (aionion) life. Jn.3:16

In the very next verse, Jn.3:17, the hina occurs again with subjunctive:

Berean Literal Bible
For God did not send His Son into the world that He might judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.

Here again, like in v.16, is there any doubt about what the “hina” is referring to, and that the world - shall - be saved?

BTW, evidently EO scholar David Bentley Hart thinks John 3:17 is a clear proof text for universalism:

“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).”