Why is Universal Salvation not Explicit?


#1

One problem I see with the idea of universal salvation is that although there are a good number of texts that seem to support (and in a few cases seem to strongly support) the salvation of all, yet there seems much stronger and more explicit (reading Scripture in a general sense) support for the notion of eternal separation and/or punishment. Annihilationism suffers the same problem as universalism; again, reasonable evidence found in the Bible for it but not anywhere near the much more common support for the traditional eternal hell view.

I guess I never studied to see which view has the mathematical edge in terms of passages, but this seems a foolish endeavor anyway…truth–at least normative truth at its core–is not considered to be determined by mathematical precision or numbers. Maybe ET seems the most explicit because it has permeated Christianity for so long. Nonetheless, given lists like this…
blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/ju … t-in-hell/
…ET seems to have the edge in Scripture, despite what I consider to be fairly powerful logical proofs against it. I don’t want to get into a prooftexting discussion, just interested in hearing others’ views on this concept.


#2

ET seems to have the edge in Scripture, despite what I consider to be fairly powerful logical proofs against it. I don’t want to get into a prooftexting discussion, just interested in hearing others’ views on this concept.
BartW

Posts: 24
Joined: Sun Nov 06, 2016 8:15 am

ET has the least support of the three views & the other two are about even. If you want to hear a lecture check out thenarrowpath.com under topical lectures & “the three views of hell.”


#3

Your argument hangs on the premise that despite many universal victory texts, even more texts warn creation will end with endless punishment for many. That can’t be evaluated without debating whether the individual texts confirm that. Recent books, like Four Views of Hell, present the ten prooftexts cited here, and of course those representing other interpretations challenge the ECT reading of those passages.


#4

You’re right of course. I’ve known for a long time that certain scholars have for years pointed out that most texts used to support the idea of the hell of eternal torment are suggestive and not explicit. That’s why I stated in the op that explicitness as I intend it is taken from a “general sense” of Scripture. Maybe a better way of wording this is that God’s anger and warlike stance toward sins and sinners certainly throughout the OT and to a lesser degree also in the NT (Jesus’ warning that He came not to bring peace but a sword for example, Mat 10:34) make the doctrine of severe punishment seem much more likely than universalism, Annihilationism on the other hand seems to allow for God’s mercy in the midst of His wrath; at least He isn’t torturing people for all eternity in this paradigm. Alongside the anger and harsh warnings of God are also passages of lovingkindess, reconciliation and forgiveness…but there seem to be limits to the latter imposed by the former. How are these things reconciled?


#5

Good question Bart. It’s a question I asked myself before I settled on universalism. I don’t have an answer, but that doesn’t make my belief in universalism feel any less reasonable. For whatever reason, the Lord has chosen not to be as explicit as we might like on certain very important questions. Here are a few other ones:

Why is the Trinity not explicit?
Why isn’t sola scriptura explicit?
Why isn’t free will or determinism explicit?


#6

Bart,

I think you’re spot on that we feel tensions in Scripture and can’t avoid asking what will reconcile things. Also that what sense of God’s character seems strongest and ultimate to us will determine what we conclude on this. You appear to think God’s angry warlikeness toward sinners is the overwhelming “general sense.” That’s certainly how many conservatives read it, and justify a God whose love and pursuit of the lost would stop.

I don’t see that as the overriding thing about God, or the kind of God we need, or the bottom line of Scripture’s revelation of God. Of course, for me, every approach is not equal, and it is in Jesus Christ that we have the bottom line clearest revelation of God’s character. Further, I don’t find the universal promises about God’s love and reconciliation, or triumph, to be more limited or less clear than the damnation texts (that you call “not explicit;” indeed they seem to use more debated terms and metaphorical language-including Jesus’ sword text you cite). This site honors books of Parry & Talbott which detail evaluations of both kinds of texts. All this to say there is no way to avoid messy exegetical debate.

I.e. You can’t just assert your perception of some ‘general sense’ that controls the rest. My own bias is that such generalized images of God are like a Rorschach test that reveals more about us than about the true God. And I find that the attitude toward sinners that we so graphically see in the flesh of our crucified Lord is most consistent with affirming the texts of God’s profound judgment, and the texts that promise every creature will one day praise Him in a fully reconciled creation.


#7

qaz and Bob Wilson (Wilson? Hey, didn’t you play that deflated basketball in Cast Away?),

I have no arguments against either of your posts, these are ideas I’ve considered before. Will just go on record as pointing out that while I concur a general sense of Scripture shouldn’t trump close study, it does seem odd that God inspired His authors in ways that seem, at first glance, contradictory. If this is how “many conservatives read it” it’s because that seems to be the way God wanted it read.

On the other hand I’m all for holding the literal sense of Scripture at arm’s distance, as it seems this is where religion gets into trouble so often. This is why I’ve said in the past if either annihilationism or universalism is true, they must be so in a strongly spiritual or metaphorical sense as the literal seems to lead continually to stumbling blocks.


#8

Bart,

You are gracious. As one who finds the Bible can be difficult, opaque, and contains troubling human aspects, I resonate with your implication that reading it with wooden literalism can be problematic, and I too may be interpreted as looking behind it for its ultimate spiritual sense.

I don’t see how your conclusion follows that if a group like conservatives reads it one way, then “that seems to be the way God wanted it read.” Since the Bible has a skeptical view of deceived human nature, and shows the Biblical conservatives of Jesus day in all out conflict with Jesus’ way of reading the Bible, I’d more say that if a given group reads its a certain way, there’s a good chance that it’s a lousy way to read it.


#9

The issue revolves around the word forever, as I see it. The reason I came to believe in the salvation of all was that after a brother presented it to me in brief, over the next ten years or so I began to see some very clear scriptures about the reconciliation of all, the restoration of all things, the gathering together of all things in Christ.

I am not a literalist in a strict way, but I strongly believed in the overall integrity of the scriptures so I had to ask myself, “Where is the seam between these views?” That is when I began to look into translation issues, because I believed then that both(or all three if you like) cannot be true.

One of the main things that spoke to me was that if every adversary is subjected and death is anulled and God becomes all in all(1 Cor 15), then only annihilation or UR could be true because if death is anulled the second death cannot last forever.

But if annihilation is true then God would not be all in all (1 Cor 15:28). All things could not be reconciled to God by the blood of His cross(Col 1:15-20). All things could not be gathered into one in Christ(Eph 1:9-11). Unless perhaps one wanted to add “all that is left”- but I do not believe the scriptures supply that interpretation in the verses in the original languages.

So I began to study “olam” and “aion” and came to believe that “eternal” is not a state of endles time, but like “olam”, the indefinite time according to the subject to which it is applied(450 Old Testament occurences) and that aion, in a way similar to “olam” was a definition of periods(ages) in the plan of God, seen through a glass darkly.

Now, I see so many verses in the OT and the New that declare(imo) that God will reconcile all things and restore all things because Jesus has been exalted above all things, and every enemy will be made a footstool ofr His feet, and every knee shall bow, whether in heaven or on earth or under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. When the last knee bows, death will be anulled along with “all rule, power and authority”, because God will be "“everthing in everyone” and love will rule the whole creation. Rule, power, authority and death will no longer be needed, because sin will be vanquished in its entirety. For punishment to last forever, sin must abide forever(imo).

For me, it has become quite explicit, because it is the only way thatI can see for all those scriptures can be integrated and find harmony.


#10

I see these things as best reconciled by taking history into account when formulating theology… something of a tradition evangelicalism has neglected to do, preferring the more spiritualising approach of generalising across the ages etc.

The problem as I understand it is that evangelicalism understands, interprets and thus represents each category in a grossly suspect way and as a result has engendered all manner of confusion into the debate due to certain key errant meanings being attached.

**For example:

1)** Biblical “hell” is automatically assumed to be a postmortem reality, as opposed to considering Jesus’ referring to the prophetic fires of Gehenna being similitudes of the forthcoming fire associated with the AD70 destruction of Jerusalem — HISTORY.

2) Biblical “annihilation” is automatically assumed to be a postmortem reality indicative of the cessation of total existence beyond the grave; annihilation however refers solely to the destructive loss of one’s literal life from THIS life, no more no less — HISTORY.

3) Biblical “universalism” is automatically assumed to be a postmortem reality covering the entirety of humanity. Now while I personally hold to the comprehensive scope and reach of reconciliation, and that through death, universalism fails to take into account that certain inclusive passages actually refer to specific groups in terms of its coverage relative to that particular group, and usually relative to the outworking of redemption — HISTORY.

Take for example the electuniversalism per sé typically applies “election” universally across all humanity and thus claims “all will be saved”. This however fails to grasp the specific nature, ministry and deliverance of the biblical ‘elect’… in NT times the elect were the “firstfruit saints” involved in the carrying out Jesus’ ministry and mandate to Israel, to all Israel far and wide.

‘The elect’ were always specific ones chosen to work deliverance (salvation) ON BEHALF OF the rest. The elect were not promised Heaven at the expense of all else, as per Calvinism… that is to misread, misrepresent and so misapply certain biblical texts. A good OT example of biblical election is Gideon and his band of 300 (Jud 7:7). All those who were dismissed as this group as it was whittled down and so NOT CHOSEN were not summarily considered “lost” or any other pejorative moniker. The elect were chosen ON BEHALF OF the whole; that’s what the elect did, they ministered on behalf of the whole, e.g., the priesthood etc.

Ultimately, Israel’s redemption secured man’s reconciliation, in toto…

Israel was the chosen (elect) firstfruits ON BEHALF OF “His increase” i.e., the WHOLE harvest, aka humanity.


#11

I always find this video, by Anglican New Testament scholar NT Wright - fascinating. Of course, he promotes the P-Zombie viewpoint

I always say, that the first question is this. Are the descriptions of hell literal or metaphorical? Personally, I look at the Revelations’ lake of fire…as the Eastern Orthodox view…of being in the presence of God


#12

Somehow, I got published twice. See above post.


#13

Tom Wright is always good value IMO even when he concludes on some things slightly other than I do… he’s a thinker.


#14

In light of the fact that most Christian denominations (Greek Orthodox being one that I believe openly embraces interpreting the Bible allegorically) have accepted ET as their standing soteriology—and this included a great “mixed multitude” of believers on the left and right—I don’t think it’s accurate to say conservatives read the Bible that way. It is true that in recent decades mostly leftists (Unitarians) were in the universalist camp and conservatives have only fairly recently (last 15 years or so?) been jumping on the wagon. Point is, I think it’s justified to say that God appears to have wanted the Bible read this way as it has been the accepted majority doctrine by all kinds of Christians.


#15

Hi Eaglesway,

I understand that a lot of modern Christian universalists accept the ‘forever’ modification. I can also see how you aligned the universalist proof texts with that idea, but although the aionios/aion distinction is interesting, I find the argument weak frankly. It seems to many traditionalists like Universalists justify their belief by changing (or at minimum throwing doubt on the traditional understanding of) a couple words to justify a doctrine. I just don’t think this single issue is strong enough to throw weight of salvation to the universalist side of things.

On the other hand I can’t fault your logic that if sin doesn’t last forever neither will punishment, and I’m with you also in your belief in the integrity of the bible.


#16

Sola scriptura was not a prevailing doctrine for the first three quarters of Christianity. The logic you’re using against universalism can just as easily be used against Protestantism: God appears to have wanted the Bible read in a way antithetical to Protestantism.


#17

Bart, you come on a minority view site (universalist) with this inquiry:

When we respond that the text matters, that we don’t think ET has the edge in it, and engage what we think it actually says, you respond that since most Christians embrace ET, you must conclude that this is what God intended us to believe in. So I’m unclear what views you seek?

If, despite my case that most of God’s fallible people have previously read a challenging Bible wrong, you’ve already determined that all majority interpretations just must be correct, and you “don’t want to get into” the text, what’s left for us to say? I’d think those who hold a minority view on any Biblical question have concluded that a traditional view isn’t necessarily warranted (and indeed is problematic and as you say, not logical).


#18

you respond that since most Christians embrace ET, you must conclude that this is what God intended us to believe in. So I’m unclear what views you seek?

Bart,
Very few Christians bother to find out what certain key greek words mean and have accepted the traditional bible translations so that is why ET has historically been by far the most popular view.
But it is a view built on a foundation of sand and really an interpretation formulated to keep the masses in line by the RCC and then incorporated in the Reformation. But if you step back and start with a clean slate and just try to judge it in with an unbiased method you may see ET actually has little support, really just Matt 25.46.
So again i recommend listening to 3 views of hell at topical lectures at thenarrowpath.com


#19

Yea, I agree that by itself the aionios is a weaker proof. However, if you take a good comprehensive look at “olam” you will see that forever is weak also. Of course we would have to make posts that far exceed the practical limits of the forum to go in depth into all of the OT verses that also lean into the restoration of all things, and thoroughly look at “olam”, so these points are merely signposts that will hopefully attract your attention as you walk on in the word.

For instance in this portion of Isaiah there is a testimony far clearer than any OT reference to eternal torment, because there is no clear OT reference to eternal torment.

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
the best of meats and the finest of wines.
7
On this mountain he will destroy
the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
8
he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken. Isaiah 25.

God will remove the shroud(2 Cor 4:3-6) from all people and remove the reproach of His chosen people. Paul parallels this in Ro 11(among other places)

I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved…

For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable his judgments,
and his paths beyond tracing out!

“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?”

“Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay them?”

For from him and through him and for him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen. Romans 11:35-36

Most people who say there are more verses pointing to eternal torment are (imo) reading with that presupposition, until they begin to seriously consider the possibility that Jesus meant what He said when he testified,

“If I am lifted up I will draw all men unto me” Jn 12:32

and

He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new, Write these words, for they are faithful and true.” Rev 21:5

In 1 Cor 15 23-28 and Phil 2:9-11, we see that the exaltation of Jesus over all leads to God becoming all in all. And in many, many other verses OT and NT, once the presupposition is removed, there is at the very least a clear possiblility for an honest interpretation that God will not destroy, or eternally torment most of His creation.

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.Ro 8:18-21


#20

Bob you’re reading way more into the op than I intended. Of course text matters. I don’t want to get into a prooftexting battle because 1] I don’t currently have time for poring over text, and, 2] I merely wanted discussion on the concept or idea of ET’s wide appeal. Many good reasons were given. You may recall I also stated, “Maybe ET seems the most explicit because it has permeated Christianity for so long”, indicating I realized the doctrine’s popularity might be merely an interpretational matter.

You read too much into things. I do not conclude that *ET is what God wants us to believe in *; I said it seems justified to suppose that God wanted it read this way first because it is and has been for centuries the orthodox position, and second I thought I might generate interesting conversation on why it seems this way.

As to your statement, “If, despite my case that most of God’s fallible people have previously read a challenging Bible wrong, you’ve already determined that all majority interpretations just must be correct, and you “don’t want to get into” the text, what’s left for us to say?”, I’ve determined no such thing. I merely offered an idea to generate discussion and have certainly never made the silly claim that “all majority interpretations must be correct”. You’ve offered several good ideas for why you think the notion of severe punishment has been commonly accepted and why you do not. Thanks for your contributions.