Why is Universal Salvation not Explicit?


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.


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.


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.


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).


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?

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


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.
On this mountain he will destroy
the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
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


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


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.


Hi Steve7150,

Actually from my own studies I also include Dan 12:2 from the OT. Seems to me these are the only two in the Bible that seem to offer anything approaching explicit support for ET–and the fact that they are both from highly metaphoric passages suggests a potential caveat for taking them too literally.


Daniel 12:2 is a good example of what I was saying about olam.

The word translated everlasting in Dan 12:2 is olam(or owlam,or olammim). This word is used 450 times in the OT. Here are a couple examples that clearly do not mean “everlasting”.

…then take an awl and push it through his earlobe into the door, and he will become your servant** for life**(olam). Deut 15:17 NIV

…Then thou shalt take an aul, and thrust it through his ear unto the door, and he shall be thy servant for ever(olam). KJV

Clearly he will not be someones slave forever. He will be a slave for the time that remains in his life, as the NIV correctly translates it.

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days–and also afterward–when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old(olam), men of renown. Gen 6:4

Here olam clearly does not mean everlasting or forever. It means in the far distant past.

Word Origin
from an unused word
long duration, antiquity, futurity(NAS Exhaustive Concordance)

olam: long duration, antiquity, futurity
Original Word: עוֹלָם
Part of Speech: Noun Masculine
Transliteration: olam
Phonetic Spelling: (o-lawm’)
Short Definition: forever (Strong’s Concordance)

Strong favors the KJV , but clearly states the same thing the NAS does in the definition, because it has to, because in so many places olam cannot be translated forever, or everlasting. It means long duration, forwards or backwards.

In places where olam means something akin to everlasting it is doubled “olam olam” which really means ages of ages, which is as close to forever Hebrew ever got.

“Blessed are You, O LORD God of Israel our father, forever and ever(olam wead olam). 1 Chron 29:10 NAS

olam is determined by its context and the subject is describing, a lifetime(indeterminate period), a long, long way back in time(an indeterminate period), a long way into the future(an indeterminate period)

Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old(olam) Ps 25:6 NIV

“The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. He will not always chide: neither will he keep his anger for ever”(olam). Ps 103:8,9

He will not be angry for a long long time. He will not chide for a long, long time. He will not punish the wicked forever.

"As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flourisheth.

16For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more.

17But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting(olam wead me olam>>>olam from to olam) upon them that fear him, and his righteousness unto children’s children" Psalm 103:15-16 KJV

I have examined all 450 occurrences of olam, it is an indefinte period appropriate to the subject, and imo as regards the wicked, it is until “every knee bows, 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”

In all wisdom and insight 9 He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him 10 with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness(pleroma fulness, completion) of the times, that is,** the summing up of all things in Christ**, things in the heavens and things on the earth. Eph 1

When the “times” are fulfilled, when time is complete, everything will have been “gathered into one in Christ Jesus”(KJV)

There is an excellent article on this here tentmaker.org/books/time/Time_6.html and further chapters show the relationship between olam and aionios


Bart, I appreciate your gracious correction, that despite emphasizing the widespread consensus that the Bible teaches ET: “I do not conclude that ET is what God wants us to believe in.” It was your conclusion below that I’d wrongly thought sounded like you endorsed the opposite reasoning.

The reasons that a majority view might be incorrect is an interesting topic, and I’m sorry that I misread your words.


No biggie Bob, I was not very clear. For the record, I do not believe ET is the correct view of salvation.


Hi eaglesway,

I trust you’re not making the case that olam is never translated as forever? Assuming you concede it’s sometimes [or even quite often] translated as “forever”, we run into the same problem here as with aion and aionios. When are we justified in plucking “not forever” from somewhere and plopping it down elsewhere it’s commonly thought to intend “forever”? I struggle enough with my native tongue, am not at all learned on the ancient languages, but it does seem to me arguments about words have never [or maybe rarely?] had the strength, after so many centuries of scholarship, to change doctrine. All the same, these are interesting ideas and lend food for thought to the debate.


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

Actually from my own studies I also include Dan 12:2 from the OT. Seems to me these are the only two in the Bible that seem to offer anything approaching explicit supporlarly t for ET–and the fact that they are both from highly metaphoric passages suggests a potential caveat for taking them too literally.

Hi Bart,
Just out of curiosity in Dan 12.2 how do you see ET in “eternal contempt”? To me it sounds more like annihilation especially because there are no other real references to ET in the OT?


Bart, are you Protestant? If so, what are your thoughts on sola scriptura not being a widely held doctrine for almost the first 1500 years of Christianity?


No, I was not making the point it is never translated forever. My point is that olam is one word. If in many places it cannot possibly mean forever, it is reasonable to consider the possibility that forever is not the best, or correct translation. My point is also that olam means, as both the Strongs and NAS concordances show," long duration, antiquity, futurity", - a period of time in a dependent relationship to the subject it describes and the context.

It is far too convenient to make it “forever” when it suits the purpose. imo it cannot really mean forever if it is attached to things like a slaves life, or an ancient time in history.

A good example of this is “hell” which is translated for three different words(70 some times in the kjv 50 or so in the NAS)- sheol, gehenna and tartarus - none of which is a proper translation. Whatever popular religion has taught for the last millenia- it is easily provable in any lexicon.


Here is a text, that although doesn’t make universal salvation explicit, does make correction of the unrighteous after judgment explicit.

The Lord knows how to deliver the devout out of trial, but to reserve the unrighteous for a day of judgment, to be corrected. (2 Peter 2:9)

Here is an interlinear for your consideration:
οιδεν—κυριος— ευσεβεις εκ πειρασμου ρυεσθαι— αδικους
knows the Lord- devout—out of trial—— to deliver-unrighteous

δε -εις —ημεραν κρισεως—— κολαζομενους τηρειν
but into a day—- of judgment to be corrected to keep (2 Peter 2:9)

The whole strength of this “proof” lies in the translation of the lexical form of κολαζομενους, that is, “κολαζω” as “to correct”. I realize that some may object to this translation, but the Online Bible Greek Lexicon gives the primary meanings of “κολαζω”as:

  1. to lop or prune
  2. to chastise, correct, punish

Abbott-Smith’s A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament gives the meanings:

  1. to curtail, dock, prune
  2. to check, restrain
  3. to chastise, correct, punish

Originally, the word was used to reference to the pruning of trees, shrubs, or vines with a view to correcting their growth by shaping them. Later it was used figuratively with reference to the correction of people, e.g. Children. To translate the word as “punish” is correct as long as it is understood to be reformative rather than retributive. In English, “punish” may have either connotation, although it is more often taken in the latter sense, or in the sense of administering a penalty.

In Greek, the word “τιμωρεω” has the meaning “to punish” in the retributive sense. Indeed, every lexicon I have checked gives the primary meaning as “to avenge”. Strongs indicates that the word was derived from the two words “τιμη” (honour) and “οὐρος”(guard). Put them together, and you have the concept of a person guarding his honour through vengeance. In recording Paul’s own words concerning his treatment of disciples of Christ prior to Paul’s becoming a disciple himself, Luke wrote:

Acts 22:5 "as also the high priest bears me witness, and all the council of the elders, from whom I also received letters to the brethren, and went to Damascus to bring in chains even those who were there to Jerusalem to be punished (τιμωρεω).
Acts 26:11 "and I punished (τιμωρεω) them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities.

One of the best ways to get a sense of how a Greek word is used is to note how it is used in literature. The word is used in 4 Macabees 2:12 to indicate correction of children. No good parent punishes his children out of vengeance, but corrects them out of love.

4 Macabees is thought to have been written sometime between 100 B.C. to 100 A.D., that is, in the period in which the New Testament was written. It seems the author had been strongly moved by his reading of the deeds of Antiochus Ephiphanes against the Jews in 1 and 2 Macabees. So much of his “philosophical” thought and “devout reason” centers around the history he read there. In the following sentence he uses both “τιμωρεω” and “ κολαζω“ in a single sentence!

The tyrant Antiochus was both punished (τιμωρεω) on earth and is being corrected (κολαζω) after his death. (4 Maccabees 18:5)

The Judaistic belief at the time was that people’s souls survive death. So the sentence seems to say that while Antochus’s enemies got their revenge on him and his armies here on earth, God began to correct his soul after death. The author apparently held that post-mortem punishment was remedial. Otherwise he would not have chosen the word “κολαζω” but would have maintained the word “τιμωρεω” for his punishment after death, too.

Here is an example from the Septuagint translation of Ezekiel 43:10-11:

*And you, son of man, show to the household of Israel, the house, and show its appearance and its arrangement,that they may cease from their sins. And they shall receive their κολασις concerning all their doings, and you shall describe the house, and its entrances and its foundation, and all its systems, and you shall make known to them all it regulations and describe them in their presence, and they shall guard all my righteous ordinances and all my commands and do them. (Ezekiel 43:10-11) *

In this passage, God states His purpose in asking Ezekiel to show the house to Israel, namely that they may cease from their sins. He immediately follows this with “And they shall receive their κολασις concerning all their doings.” If God wants them to cease from their sins, and then gives them κολασις, is he punishing them retributively, or is He correcting them? The answer seems plain. Furthermore the conclusion of the matter is that the Israelites “will guard all my righteous ordinances and all my commands and do them.”

Surely this is reformation, and not mere revenge for their wrongdoing in the past.
Here is the Concordant translation of the verse in question:

*The Lord is acquainted with the rescue of the devout out of trial, yet is keeping the unjust for chastening in the day of judging.


Hi davo,

If you’re suggesting God’s meaning in Scripture can include a grammatical-historical literal interpretation of Jesus’ warning of Gehenna as the AD70 historical application* allowing freely for other layered other meanings*—which would clearly stand outside author intent—then I agree. If you intend to make the case that the former is the in toto meaning then I will take the position you’re performing the literalist corruption of stripping out the most important elements of what God is saying in His word in order to force a single, limited understanding that can be controlled by human reason.

What evidence would you offer to support this notion of a solitary meaning of annihilation?

This may be true of some or even many notions of universal salation, but as I see it universalism that does not take into account the validity of Scripture’s references to specific groups and incorporate them as potential metaphoric patterns to a literal reality don’t have a complete or systematic universalist theology.

I’d agree with this.

No fundamental disagreement here, either.

If universalism is true, I’d take it a step further; if Israel was firstfruits, Christianity is secondfruits, i.e., the expansion of God’s grace in time thus progresses from [possibly ever increasing in size and influence?] specialized groups one after the other, all leading to the eventual unfolding of the whole of salvation. Just as Judaism suffered its own corruption in her rejection of Christ, so modern Christianity is showing her own rejection of the scope of God’s grace by adherence to her own exclusivist doctrines, pushing Christ’s atonement further out into the sea of humanity. If true, I wonder how the next historical step will unfold?


As noted earlier, languages and the minutia associated with them are above my pay grade. I’ve read that in word usage then as now context plays a major role in interpretation. You may be right that forever may or may not be the best usage for olam, but that can also be turned around to say that it also can’t be applied willy-nilly as having non-eternal meaning either. This goes back in my mind to the question I asked in another thread, if God has controlled His Scriptures (which I believe to be true), to be presentable to us today, then are the reasons we want to override consensus interpretation justified, i.e., might it be that God wants it read according to consensus? Admittedly, the power of authority (in this case the authority of scholarship) is not identical to certitude of course, and God is often found in the Bible to be sided with offshoots and individuals instead of the crowds. These are tough nuts to crack.


I agree, it cannot be applied willy nilly. But it isnt a matter of inconsistent application if the scriptures themselves apply the word in ways where context clearly suggests it does not mean “forever” or “everlasting”. In such a case it is clear that the issue is inconsistent translation, being as that a slave does not live forever, and the Nephilim existed in antiquity- a long time ago, not forever ago. Therefore it is reasonable and honest to conclude that in relationship to punishment, it could mean for a long time, or for a given indeterminate time in the futre, not “forever”.

That may not be the conclusion most people reach, but to portray that possibility as frivolous or without basis in the scriptures(not saying you in particular are doing that) is, imo the result of superficial thinking. If context must be the only evidence one can receive, then the context presented in a parallel view of **Ephesians 1:9-11; Colossians 1:15-30; Romans 8:18-23; Romans 11:11-36; 1 Cor 15:21-28; John 12:32; 1 John 2:2 and 1 Tim 2:3, **among many others, provides enough contextual evidence to cause one to consider the possbility.
, among many others, should provide enough contextual evidence to cause one to consider the possbility.

This, in fact, is how I came to believe in the ultimate salvation of all through the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ- before I ever began to study translation issues.Being as I am, very much a “Word” guy, I felt it necessary to resolve the seeming paradoxes between statements that lean towards ultimate universal salvation and those that seemed to lean towards eternal torment. I am not fluent in any language of antiquity. One does not have to be because we have a rich supply of lexicons, dictionaries, interlinears and commentaries from which any serious seeker/disciple/student of the word can find these treasures hid in the field, if they so desire.

So if a person is unwilling to examine such context, and is arguing from a reliance on the expertise of religionists and churchmen from throughout history, consider that that thinking is what led to 1200 years of Roman Catholic dominon over the world, inquisitions, crusades, martyrdoms, indulgences, bowing down to idols, etc, etc.

Jesus replied, "You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. Mt 22:9

The whole of the Reformation began because people started reading the scriptures with a fresh perspective, and the Reformation is only 500 years old, and imo it is not over yet. It began because the Bible was made available to the masses. it is continuing because scholarly review of the scriptures and the languages of scripture has flourished abundantly over the last 300 years or so and exponentially so in the last 150 years or so.

“Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.” Acts 17:11

They went to the scriptures… they did not ask for the opinions of experts, seeing as that in those days, the experts(the Sanhedrin) were out to kill them, and did not even understand their own scriptures.

Jesus answered them, “Has it not been written in your Law, ‘I SAID, YOU ARE GODS’? 35“If he called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), 36do you say of Him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?

If the scriptures cannot be broken then the verses I listed above(in bold type) cannot be disregarded.


The Greek or Western mindset of “prophecy” is that of prediction and fulfillment. The Hebrew idea of prophecy, however, is that of pattern and recapitulation of the pattern, leading upto the consummate fulfillment or desired goal within the biblical narrative / timeframe. Each fulfillment being a “type” — teaching something further about the ultimate end. For example, Peter on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:16) stands and recapitulating Joel says “This IS that…

OT prophecy was more than mere predictive foretelling, but more so prescriptive forth-telling, or telling forth the Word of God. Certain “events” were foretold, while on other occasions the prophet’s utterance told forth or was instructive of God’s will to be followed, and or something to do with their response to it, etc.

In relation to “events” — prophecies were fulfilled in that OT setting — however, it was not unusual for Jesus to use such past fulfillment as a “type” of whatever it was that Jesus was speaking to, and thus it became the antitype; take for example Lk 13:3-5. Or for instance, take Matthew’s references of Hosea’s words… “Out of Egypt I called my son” as a prophecy concerning Jesus. Hosea’s words in Matthew’s mind had more than one meaning i.e., application. They meant historically that God had called Israel out of Egypt, and yet also now meant contemporarily that the young Jesus was being likewise delivered, being God’s chosen Son and Deliver and the Messiah. More than one dimension is present, as is plain to see, BUT always within the biblical narrative.

So this isn’t so much a case of “multiple fulfilments” as it was the reapplying of the meaning of such a fulfillment. One way to understand this is Jesus’ words in relation to the Scriptures or old covenant tradition when he said — “you have heard it said… but I say to you…” Jesus’ reinterpretation or reapplication is the recapitulation of what has gone before — but with a renewed and somewhat “fulfilled” or completed meaning i.e., its ultimate end — and that always in light of the new covenant of which all of old covenant history and story ultimately was pointing. And we know that all redemptive history, of which much was expressed through the prophetic, came to fruition and fulfillment in Jesus’ “this generation” timeframe AD30-70; culminating with ‘the Day of the Lord’ circa AD70 with the destruction of the Temple itself.

If “prophecy” is seen in terms of multiple fulfilments beyond the biblical narrative then it is only natural to ask — how many times does prophecy get fulfilled before it is actually and really fulfilled? it simply becomes an endless loop at the mercy of the next theory or prophetic timetable espoused. So, you can see what western Christianity has done… it has made us think metaphorically about simple and plain time statements, and yet think literalistically about symbolic metaphors. It’s all backward.

I’m yet to find any bible verses that speak of one’s total end BEYOND THIS LIFE… such ends speak of THIS LIFE and can be understood solely as pertinent to the end of one’s physical being — no more, no less. It’s the type of language used to describe a dire end or consequence of some culpable infraction.

There is no such thing, biblically speaking, as “secondfruits” i.e., they don’t exist. There is firstfruits and then the entire harvest, sanctified by them… again, no more, no less. The biblical pattern has AWAYS been that the firstfruits paid a/the price ON BEHALF OF the greater whole. Jesus (THE firstfruit) and His disciples and those called into that realm of service paid the price blazing the tail in the outworking of Israel’s redemption. This had the net effect of securing humanity’s reconciliation.