The Evangelical Universalist Forum

What Primitive Baptist Universalists (PBUs) Believe


Howard Dorgan lists the following ten central tenets of the Primitive Baptist Universalists:

  1. Because of Adamic sin, all humankind is inherently sinful; therefore, sinfulness is a standard characteristic of “natural man.”

  2. Satan is nothing more than natural man, warring with “spiritual man,” and thus will have no existence beyond the temporal world.

  3. In addition to the creation of “sinfulness” (the given nature of natural man), this Adamic transgression also instituted “punishment” (the “general judgment” hell of the temporal world, the torment of absence from God’s blessing that sin generates) and “death” (humankind’s ultimate punishment for Adamic sin).

  4. Humankind cannot possibly extricate itself from this state of natural sin and so requires Christ’s atonement.

  5. Christ’s atonement was for all humankind and at Resurrection will irrevocably come to pass for all humankind; just as, irrevocably, Adam’s transgression earlier had condemned all to the sinful state of natural man.

  6. However, there is an “elect,” Christ’s church (the established Primitive Baptist Universalists and perhaps others not known to the movement), which has been “separated from the rest of God’s people here in time,” chosen to be a witness for Christ and an earthly preserver of his righteousness, and “kept by the power of God through faith,” never finally to fall away.

  7. So these elected individuals can sin, and in doing so, they suffer the hell on earth that a separation from God’s blessing institutes. Probably they feel that hell more intensely than the nonelect, simply because the elect have a sharply contrasting experience for comparison.

  8. At Resurrection, however, all temporal existence will terminate [this does not mean that time itself will stop], for both the dead and the still living, bringing an end to all “sin” (that given nature of humankind), to the “general judgment” (the sentence imposed upon humans for Adamic sin), to “punishment” (the hell on earth, the absence from God’s blessing, that is instituted by sin), and to “death” (the ultimate punishment for Adamic sin).

  9. At Resurrection, all humankind will go to a totally egalitarian heaven, the culmination of Christ’s universal atonement.

  10. Since punishment is a factor solely of the temporal world, there will be no hell after Resurrection.


I’m a preterist, but I really like what you have to say. It sounds like you don’t believe in postmortem punishmen, which resonates with me. Is that right? Where can I read more about PBU?


I’m not going to declare it emphatically but as of the moment, I do not believe in postmortem punishment. I also think that, if there is postmortem punishment, it is before the resurrection and not after. Nevertheless, I do not believe there is punishment during that period after death and before the ressurection.

I just created a website ( and most of the books I’ve included thus far are written by purgatorial universalists. But, there is one author, James Relly, who holds to what would be known as the Unviersalist soteriology of the PBs. The reason I do not call him a PBU is simply because I am not sure his stance on baptism. I understood some “Ultra-Universalists” of his time period did not believe in water baptism.

I think that the best resource for learning about the PBUs would have to be Howard Dorgan’s In the Hands of a Happy God: The “No-Hellers” of Central Appalachia. I know that about 137 (roughly half) of the book is available on Google Books but I reccommend just ordering yourself a copy for a dozen or so bucks off of Amazon or some other online retailer.

I would also reccommend you read some of James Relly’s literature. For example, Epistles, or the Great Salvation Contemplated (1776). In this book, I believe the two letters before the last letter, he discusses this in depth. In these two letters, out of the 11 letters in the book, he outlines the idea that the unbeliever, in the state after death but before the ressurection will be under the apprehension of wrath but be delivered from this state of apprehensive damnation upon hearing and seeing the Lord at the ressurection (kind of like what happened to Saul).

There are other Universalist who I know for a fact, like Jeremiah White, held to the doctrine of justification as laid out by Primitive Baptists (typically labeled Justification from Eternity) but I am not sure as to whether or not they hold to the idea of punishment and chastisement being relegated to this life here on earth.

I wouldn’t be so certain, as of this moment, if they are correct. Jason Pratt paints this picture, by appealing to Scripture such as Daniel 12, in order to argue, I think, that after the ressurection, we will be in the NJ, and unbelievers will be in the lake of fire and be provoked to envy and eventually join the kingdom. I’m not sure if I represented Jason Pratt accurately here but I think that it would require more study on my part in order to say that I am certain in “No-Heller” Universalism. I know some PBs were actually “hellers” as well.

I’ll try to compile more literature that is consistent with PB Universalism on my site as time goes on but I also go to J.W. Hanson for some preterist interpretations, which I’m sure you are familiar of but like I said, I have not checked it out to make sure it’s true (I only recently became a Universalist).


Thank you so much for bringing PBUs to my attention. I’d never heard of them. Their theology is very appealing to me.


This is really interesting, Alexander. I’m in a kind of noisy environment at the moment, but I do want to subscribe to the topic–I’ll come back and look over what you’ve said as soon as I’m able. Thanks for posting.


For those who are not PBUs and believe that punishment persists beyond beyond the resurrection, I saw an interesting comment an annihilationist made to what I shared above. I shared the same thing, a summary of PBU theology, on the Rethinking Hell forum on Facebook and an annihilationist responded:

It seems that, in Purgatorial Universalism, death is not the last enemy to be destroyed. What do you Purgatorial Universal Reconciliationists (PURs) think?


Alexander, I’m an ultra universalist. Can you recommend any ultra universalist writings?


Why couldn’t death be the last enemy to be destroyed in Purgatorial Universalism?


I will, over time, add all of these books to my website, Lord willing (LW). The books that I am certain expound upon Ultra-Universalism are Howard Dorgan’s In the Hands of a Happy God: The “no-hellers” of Central Appalachia (1997), and James Relly’s Epistles, or the Great Salvation Contemplated (1776). I haven’t read Relly’s other books but that one certainly defends Ultra-Universalism. I would recommend his other books to you, but I am not sure if he defends UU in them. I’ve heard that Hosea Ballou was a “no-heller.” So, I would look for his literature. I would also check A. Wilson McClure’s lectures against Ultra-Universalism. I have not read them. But, I would assume he references some individuals or possibly even some works which defend Ultra-Universalism.

I wish there was more out there on it but at the same time it’s beautiful. There is a need for people to study the scriptures and clarify this form of universalism, if it is truly in there. So, the lack of literature can be motivating. One thing I find amount PBUs is that they don’t relegate themselves to old interpretation. They go to the text, and just interpret in a way they see contextually fit. They are not concerned about tradition. They don’t have this idea that infallible interpretations of every verse has been preserved in mainstream evangelicalism. My friend, owner of, is pretty much on the side of ultra-universalism but not going to totally dismiss purgatorial universalism. He told me that universalism is a mainstream view in Denmark, which is pretty cool.

One last thing: I would check the early church fathers and see if they really specified of punishment post-resurrection.


I’m not saying I am a Preterist, nor am I saying that I accept preterist interpretations of all verses, including those in revelation. I just want to point out that I just found out that Ultra-Universalism can sometimes be called Preterist Universalism. So, this website called Hosea Ballou the father of Preterist universalism:

I don’t want to lie to you and act like I believe Preterism. I really haven’t studied it. Like I said, I am fairly new to universalism so take everything I say with a very large grain of salt :laughing:


Thanks for recommending Dorgan’s book. I ordered it tonight.


I don’t think that I’ve ever said that those in the lake of fire judgment (which I don’t expect to be a literal lake of fire, but rather a poetic description of the detected presence of the omnipresent Holy Spirit, rather along classical Eastern Orthodox routes), after the general resurrection, would be provoked to envy!

Envy for those who are still impenitently fondling their sins would be a sin (and I expect any envy would be a sin), so I don’t think anyone could accept the evangelism of the Spirit and the Bride out of envy for the condition of the redeemed.

I do think they’re led to be discontented with their condition and so to (poetically speaking in the figure of the revelation) wash themselves clean and slake their thirst in the river of life flowing out of the never-closed gates (a figure for Christ) and so obtain permission to enter the city etc. That’s an act of repentance from their sins, dropping the thorns and thistles with which they are trying to war against God (in Isaiah’s poetic figure), and acceptance of the gracious salvation offered by God. I don’t know how that could ever be properly described as envy of the redeemed. (Although I’ll provisionally grant that some terms in Greek and Hebrew could have multiple uses, one perhaps more prevalently for a sin, the other for a more proper function. But such a term doesn’t seem to be used there, so…?)


1.) The term there is “the death”, which elsewhere in the scriptures (and patristic commentary) sometimes is treated as a title for Satan. The use of the direct article in Greek there doesn’t necessarily mean that, but because proper names or titles or nicknames are often (not always) introduced with a direct article, the meaning remains possible. If I recall correctly, “the death” as a title for Satan is appealed to by some annihilationists who would otherwise be stuck trying to figure out how a punitive application of {apol-} which, on their reckoning, must always mean “to kill” in such circumstances, would refer to literally killing death. (This assumes that the annihilationist hasn’t actually read the Greek there, and is inductively inferring from other uses of “destroy” in English that the translators are translating an {apo-} cognate again here. The translators aren’t, but that’s a problem in itself for later.) In that case the difference between us would be on whether destroying always means death by annihilation – which it demonstrably doesn’t in other scriptural uses! (This would loop back around to a prevalent weakness of anni exegetics, where they have a bad habit of making their position look more tenable by appealing to circumstances of pre-resurrection death as evidence for annihilation.) Sometimes destroy, even when punitive, refers to something less than death per se, and often means something less than death by annihilation. Of course, the anni could reply that death by annihilation fits well enough the grammatic usage here which refers to destruction after the general resurrection, but fitting (apparently) well enough doesn’t count as a decisive problem against other interpretations. And I add “apparently” because I would argue the overall context of the passage runs totally against anyone being annihilated by this destruction, even “the death” if that’s a personal title.

2.) Assuming for purposes of argument that the annihilationist understands “the death” here as something other than a personal title or nickname, it must necessarily involve death as a result of sin (not the holy death of self-sacrifice such as enacted by Christ, even as the 2nd Person of the Trinity at the level of God’s own self-existence.) But then either sin and this type of death are coterminous, and so would cease together as the final enemy; or else death as the result of sin would cease after sin ceases. The difference either way might only depend on the topical perspective, but either way what’s the trouble? On the contrary, the annihilationist would be better served himself by death ceasing after sin ceases, since the destruction of death in itself isn’t conducive as a description of annihilation per se: the destruction of death, thus the death of death itself as the final enemy, would mean people cease dying and live instead! That’s quite the reverse of annihilation! (Relatedly, death being thrown into the lake of fire as the second death, could hardly be annihilation of death without also being a ringing denunciation of annihilation: when death is annihilated, people live instead of dying. Having “the death” there be a nickname for Satan partially solves that problem for annis again. But then, so much for “Death” as the final enemy being a problem for universalists either: Satan is the final holdout typically if we agree a chief rebel personally exists, which I do – though I don’t necessarily regard “the death” there to refer to him. But I’m flexible either way. :slight_smile: ) Consequently, I would argue that annihilation itself needs death to be the final enemy (poetically speaking of death as an enemy along this line, not as a nickname for the chief rebel against God) which is destroyed after, or as, sin is destroyed here. But then there is no sequential difference from universal salvation, to appeal to as a supposed problem with universal salvation.

3.) Of course part of the problem is that the term there isn’t a cognate of {apo-} beloved by annihilationists as supposedly being decisive evidence of their position elsewhere (though I disagree, it isn’t). It’s {katargeo_}. (I’m not at a keyboard where I can put hats or something over the long vowels, so I’m adding an underscore as a ‘tail’ so to speak. :wink: ) The main definitions for this term involve the subject of its verb ceasing to do something or, relatedly, having no more relationship with something. That can mean “destroy”, too, as a sort of extrapolation, as in to cease having relationship with others in life, but basically the term means death is made to stop happening.

Well, Good Lord, if death stops happening as the final enemy, that’s practically a verbal denunciation of annihilation!

I’m willing to be fair to annis, that they could argue that if someone who is dying ceases to exist, then the dying stops; but that hardly treats dying itself as the final enemy to be made to cease by God (or to be rendered inoperative by God or to be deprived of power by God – which would fit the immediately preceding context of all rebel spiritual powers in Pauline language also being verbed the same way). Death as the final enemy of the person who is dying wins, on the contrary! – and then self-destructively ceases by accomplishing its victory. But then there are problems with the immediate and local context, which is not about the ultimate if pyhrric victory of death at all.

When Luke is translating Jesus, or Jesus is using Greek, at the parable of the tree to be cut down in Luke 13:7, the verb doesn’t describe the cutting down of the tree, but the tree (subject) verbing the ground (object) – making the ground useless or inoperative.

Hebrews 2:14 – Christ through death verbs him who has the power of death, the devil. Some translators (such as the NASB) have the Hebraist (whether he’s Paul or not) saying that Christ renders him inoperative or powerless. (Granted an annihilationist might complain that the translators are wrong and it ought to mean annihilate the devil or something like, even if such a meaning would be ludicrous for Luke 13:7 – words can have variant meanings after all.)

Every other usage in the NT is by Paul (if the Hebraist isn’t Paul; and notably Luke was an associate of Paul). It would quickly get tiring quoting Paul on usage of the verb; suffice to say, he doesn’t typically mean the annihilation of something by it, but rather than something is made to have no effect. The promises and faithfulness of God are not verbed; our body of sin is verbed in this life being crucified with Christ spiritually so that we will no longer be slaves to sin (although this is sometimes adduced as evidence that Paul does not elsewhere refer to a bodily resurrection or a transformation of what remains of the old body); a widow is verbed from the law requiring her to be faithful to her now-deceased husband; in the same way we are now verbed from the Law; when we become adults we verb childish things; love never fails, but other gifts cease and shall be verbed; the glory on Moses’ face verbs (three or four uses of this in 2 Cor); those who are seeking to be justified by the Law have been verbed from Christ; the stumbling block of the cross has been verbed if Paul was still preaching circumcision (which he isn’t); Christ verbs in His flesh the enmity between Jew and Gentile. And so forth.

There are admittedly sometimes that Paul uses the term in a way that might mean destruction in death – he uses the term in 2 Thess 4:8 to talk about Christ slaying the man of sin with the breath of his mouth and verbing him by the appearance of His coming, for example. Although that can’t refer to annihilation per se, since that’s before the general resurrection. By extrapolation after the resurrection such a destruction of someone could be consonant with annihilation – but not decisively so.

On the other hand, in 2 Timothy 1:10, Paul uses the exact same phrase (aside from suffixes to the verb for timing) of verbing the death: our Savior Jesus Christ has verbed death and brought life and immortality to life, through the gospel! – not for those already saved, notice, but for sinners!

So verbing death here (using the verb {katargeo_}) involves bringing life and immortality to life. If the last enemy to be verbed is the death, then Christ is thus bringing life and immortality to life for sinners!

This, to put it shortly, is not what annihilationism needs from the verb here: it needs sinners to be finally destroyed, not brought to life and immortality by Christ through the abolishment of death.

4.) The overall local context itself requires Christ to reign in some fashion that He has not been reigning before, and which He will cease reigning eventually. At that time He will hand over the kingdom to His Father in some way that was not being handed over before; but first all power and authority must be abolished, also death as the final enemy must be abolished, and all His enemies must be put under His feet in some way that they weren’t before, and this involves all His enemies being made subject to Him in some way that they weren’t subject to Him before; and once all things including His enemies are subjected to Him in some way that His enemies were not yet subjected to Him before, then the Son shall be subjected to the Father (Who brings all things except Himself in subjection to the Son) in some way that He was not before, so that God may be all in all in some way that the omnipresent and omniscient God has not been before.

Where is annihilation in any of this? Nowhere. The only high Christology solution to the details here is that all Christ’s enemies are not loyal subjects to Christ yet but the Father and the Son shall bring them to be loyal subjects to the Son and to the Father, so that the Son may bring all things in subjection to the Father which they weren’t previously, so that God may be in all things, even His enemies, in a way that He wasn’t previously for His enemies. Even a non-trinitarian Christology would be rather broken by annihilation here, or by any ongoing never-ending rebellion. Annis themselves typically agree that this absolutely cannot mean a never-ending rebellion, since the subjection of those subjected in Christ must be of the same subjection as the Son’s own subjection to the Father: a subjection of loyalty and cooperation, not still rebelling against God even if only in their hearts! But if some of Christ’s enemies are annihilated instead of being subjected, then all His enemies are not being subjected under Christ’s feet after all! Annihilation breaks the subjection just as thoroughly, though in a somewhat different way from variants of ECT (though still related through a rebellion that never ends in proper subjection but ends with no subjection).

Obviously annihilationists have trouble understanding that annihilation breaks the subjection requirement here – otherwise they would be a lot more doubtful, at best, about annihilation. :wink:

Of course, an absolute preterist could try to interpret this to mean that the subjection of all enemies to the Son and to the Father and the final abolishment of death with God now being all in all, was fully completed back at the Fall of Jerusalem or something like that; and an annihilationist could thus make that appeal to get around the problem for annihilationism here. But that would hardly result in a decisive problem for universal salvation here! – and I think such a full preterist anni (I might expect N. T. Wright to try such an argument for example although I don’t know that he does), would still be stuck trying to explain how annihilation could even follow from such an already fully accomplished result back in 70 CE. :unamused: (This is totally aside from any problems with interpreting this passage as already being fully fulfilled with the fall of Jerusalem.)



Can you explain this? Why wouldn’t annihilation follow from the AD 70 end times? (as you may remember, I’m a full preterist)

Also, you said you don’t think the LOF is literal fire. Why not? Is it because you (in agreement with me) think torturing people would be cruel?


I too would like clarification, on N.T. Wright - as a full preterist… For one thing, look at the article at

Or from this article at

And unless NTW changed this theological stance…he still maintains, what I call - a P-Zombie view of the unredeemed at


There’s one view that the dead are raised back to consciousness again on judgement day to give an account of themselves to God, be corrected & judged. Thereafter those not found in the book of life are cast into the lake of fire to die a second death (with no consciousness again) until they are raised immortal when death is simultaneously abolished. See, for example: … -is-death/

Another position is those in the lake of fire are conscious, being tormented & corrected. The lake of fire & second death are variously interpreted. Such as referring to spiritual death, the death of the fallen nature, the old man, the flesh. Some view the lake of fire itself as a reference to Love Omnipotent Who the Scriptures describe as a consuming fire, a refining fire & a laundry soap or bleach (e.g. Mal.3:2).


Jason, with regards to this… ““the death”, which elsewhere in the scriptures” — to what texts of Scripture do you refer?

Technically… NT Wright, like another brilliant scholar Andrew Perriman, is a PARTIAL prêterist, and in fact prefers to steer away from the prêterist moniker.


No, although I do agree that cruelly torturing people is cruel. (Intentionally inconveniencing people is not necessarily cruel, but the intensity on that inconvenience can get hard to bear and different people have different levels of tolerance for various inconveniences. That doesn’t mean it’s torture, which has a moral denunciation behind it. Reality isn’t always convenient, and is sometimes highly inconvenient. That doesn’t mean reality is torture.)

It goes back to the description of the fire as “the fire the eonian”. There is only one unquenchable eonian fire, which salts everyone so that they have peace in their hearts toward one another: that’s God, more specifically the Holy Spirit. Trying to read something less than God for, and as, that consuming fire, is worse than irrelevant.

On the first question, the context of my remark was about a theoretical attempt by an annihilationist at getting around problems with 1 Cor 15 by taking a very extreme view of preterism, so that what Paul’s talking about in 1 Cor 15 has (somehow) totally happened already with the fall of the Temple in 70 (or, as I qualified, something like that, but that’s the typical terminus in full preterism theories). Once someone goes that far however, in denying that anything about what Paul or any other Biblical authority thinks is going to happen in his future applies past 70, then any evidence apparently for annihilation would be readable the same way as already fulfilled in 70.

Remember, the context was a challenge on 1 Cor 15 itself being supposedly decisive evidence for annihilation over universal salvation. On my theoretical anni rebuttal to get around other problems by appeal to an extreme preterism that would read 1 Cor 15 (or the relevant parts of it for our discussion) as already fulfilled in 70, by exactly the same token 1 Cor 15 could not be considered any evidence for annihilationism.

It’s a question of technical grounds. A lot of the scriptural evidence appealed to by annihilationists is simply nullified (I might say abolished :mrgreen: ) as testimony for annihilation on a full preterist interpretation of the same evidence. Regardless of what that leaves over for an annihilationist case, an anni who treats 1 Cor 15 that way will (as I said) be stuck trying to get annihilation to still follow from 1 Cor 15. If they burn that bridge for me to appeal to as something to happen in our future, they burn the same bridge for them to appeal to as something to happen in our future.

On NT Wright only being a partial preterist instead of a “full” preterist, well, yes, obviously one of the criticisms against people who claim to be full preterists is that when it comes down to the wire they’re often only partial preterists after all. :wink: Just like the rest of us whom they tend to denigrate for only being partial preterists. But then we go back to challenges on why various judgment texts ought to ONLY BE READ AS FULLY PRETERMITTED ALREADY and yet other texts are supposedly referring to things still to happen in our future. Those of us who grit our teeth at the advances of the quasi-full preterists tend to think their grounds for arguing only fulfillment in 70 for one class of material could be just as easily applied to other classes of material still to happen in the future of the various Biblical authorities. Which, we think, would quickly lead to nonsense, or at best a gutting of Christian hope for salvation from our sins.

At any rate I’m very well aware that NTW doesn’t actually take his mere preterism line (so to speak) over to other Biblical promises about the future. He restricts it to judgment texts as a rule. But then he’s left without judgment texts as any ground for his annihilationism. Which, okay, he could be a philosophical annilihilationist instead; but then he doesn’t get to present annihilationism as the best Biblical option (and criticize non-annis for not being Biblical enough thereby): he has abolished the Biblical evidence for his annihilationism behind his preteristic reading of judgment and punishment texts.

And I’ve seen him go pretty far before in reading judgment texts as “fully” preteristic. He’s the person I have in mind chiefly for reading Satan as the one we ought to fear instead of human threats, for having the authority and the power to throw people into Gehenna and to destroy the soul as well as the body in Gehenna. That isn’t even supernaturalistic theism anymore, much less trinitarian theism (which he’s nominally supposed to be affirming and supporting). At best that’s some kind of God / Anti-God cosmological dualism. :imp: But it doesn’t matter on his reading because that text is supposed (by its reference to Gehenna punishment) to refer to a judgment fully completed already with the fall of Jerusalem in 70. So why bring Satan into it at all?! Because obviously a fully preteristic reading of that particular Gehenna warning can’t possibly account for language about never minding those who can only kill the body and after that have neither the authority nor the power to do anything more – which is all that could possibly have happened at the fall of Jerusalem in 70. Consequently he looped into a schizophrenic reading of the text: God can’t be the One Who has the power and authority to kill the soul as well as the body in Gehenna, because that would undermine his preteristic reading of other judgment warnings as already fully fulfilled. What’s left over? {cue Church Lady meme here} {and throwing out supernaturalistic theism for some kind of ultimate Satanism}

Granted, that was… gosh, twenty years ago now, twenty-five? Maybe he’s more consistent somehow today. But if one Gehenna reading doesn’t fit his insistence on Gehenna being fully preteristic, then that calls into major question his whole preterism plan about the judgment texts, which (once upon a time anyway) hinged solidly on nerfing the Gehenna warnings as being only about a historical human event to come (the fall of Jerusalem) which naturally got described (before and/or after the event) in florid poetic Ancient Near Middle-Eastern fashions. He can only be more consistent today if he’s more consistently partial in his preterism today: the judgment texts as well as the other future texts can’t be sequestered off by themselves as fully fulfilled already. Which in principle is what the rest of us partial preterists already believed: some prophecies have been fully fulfilled, others have been partially fulfilled, some of the partial fulfillments will be fulfilled more fully later, and so on. But then we don’t denigrate other partial preterists for only being partial preterists like ourselves. :unamused:



To say that the intentional infliction of prolonged excruciating pain is not torture is mental gymnastics. I find it hard to believe that deep down you don’t think it’d be cruel to cause someone the physical pain of being burned.


Disciplinary training =/= torture.

Healing with inconvenient temporary side effects =/= torture.

Being made aware of God’s omnipresence =/= torture.

There are massive conceptual differences between any and all of those, and torture. Even though any of them might involve someone feeling like they’re on fire for various reasons, and for a prolonged period of time.

Being saved from freezing to death might experientially seem like torture due to the stabbing needles of pain involved in waking up the body as the nerves are restored, but “torture” is very far from what’s actually happening. Someone who resents what’s happening might willingly misinterpret it, conveniently, as torture, too.

Being still a ‘ghost’ in the far-too-real redeemed world might experientially seem like torture to the ghost (borrowing from Lewis’ somewhat unfortunate The Great Divorce), but that’s also very far from what’s actually happening.