In Search of a Coherent Narrative
Part 5: A Biblical Universalism
Part 6: Biblical Support for Universalism
Part 7: A Systematic Understanding of Universalism
Part 6: Biblical Support for Universalism
Part 7: A Systematic Understanding of Universalism
Previously we looked at how ambiguous the Greek and Hebrew words for "forever" are in both the Old Testament and New Testament. It seems wise to interpret them as indefinite periods of time rather than strictly "forever". Doing this means that it is unnecessary to conclude that people will be in hell forever and opens up God’s potential activities in the future aions that make up eternity. What I would like to address now is various scriptural support that suggests that all people will eventually be saved. I emphasise again that this does not mean that I am suggesting people don’t go to hell, only that we have misinterpreted the length of “punishment” or “rehabilitation” within hell.
Photo retrieved from: http://jesus-photos-pictures.blogspot.co.nz/2010/11/god-holding-world-in-his-hands-photos.html
Both Calvinists and Arminianists talk about God’s heart and his desire to save all people, but don’t really go much further than that. Alternatively, Universalism emphasises God’s will and determination to save all people.
Here are some verses that emphasise God’s determined will to save all people:
Romans 5:15-19 is an amazing passage exclaiming the power and extent of Christ’s death in comparison to Adam’s sin. The wording here is extremely fascinating and seems to point towards Universalism. The passage states more than once that Adam brought death to the many, but Christ’s death brought the gift of life to the many. In Arminian and Calvinist tradition one would think that it should say "through Adam death came to the many and through Christ life to the elect few". But no, Paul illustrates that Christ’s impact is just as big and if not bigger than Adam’s impact on humanity. Isaiah 53:11 also emphasises the many and not the few that Christ will save.
1 Corinthians 15:20-26 has another direct comparison between those that are brought to death through Adam and those through Christ. Although this one is even stronger because this time it says, “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive”. This passage also states, “the last enemy that will be destroyed is death”. The Bible talks about the lake of fire as the second death in Revelation. Therefore, I ask, if death is destroyed then how can it survive in the greater part of humanity… for eternity? Will hell fire reign forever or will Christ rule with all things under His feet and destroy death altogether? Oh death where is your sting…
At this point, I would like to be intellectually honest and point out that the Greek word pás meaning “all”, which is often used in the New Testament, actually could mean “all”, or “all types of”. From what I found there is disagreement about what it means generally speaking and therefore people say that the context should interpret its meaning. In this context, it would not make much sense to suggest that through Adam all types of people die, and through Christ all types of people shall be made alive. As with the following verse in 2 Peter 3:9 where pás is interpreted as “everyone”… it does not make much sense to say that God is not willing that any soul should perish but that “every type” of people be saved. It appears the word “any” would directly interpret what is meant by “everyone”.
The classic verse 2 Peter 3:9 is often interpreted as an expression of emotion by many, but the Greek suggests that it is so much more than that. It says, “The Lord is not slow to fulfil His promise as some count slowness, but is patient towards you, not wishing that any should perish, but wants everyone to repent”. The Greek word for “wishing” is boulomai, which actually means "to determine". HELPS Word-studies is worth quoting:
1014 /boúlomai (“resolutely plan”) is a strong term that underlines the predetermined (and determined) intention driving the planning (wishing, resolving). In contrast, 2309 (thélō) focuses on the desire (“wishfulness”) behind making an offer (cf. TDNT, 1, 629).
[While God’s “thélō-offers” can be rejected (see 2309 /thélō), His 1014 /boúlomai (“planning”) always works out His purpose, especially in conjunction with presetting the physical scenes of history.]
This word seems much stronger than what many translators have put into English. If God intends or determines that not any should perish, I ask, who could possibly thwart the determined plans of God? Unless of course God is deceiving Himself that He is able to save everyone, but He actually cannot and is grasping at the wind.
Colossians 1:19-20 is one of my favourites because it exclaims the supremacy of Christ and His mission to reconcile all things to Himself. It says that God is pleased to reconcile all things to Himself through Christ, both on earth and in heaven. Once again, here is very broad universal language seeming to include all things. Not only does it say all things but it specifies what it means by all things - and includes both heaven and earth.
On a similar note, we also have Ephesians 1:7-11.
“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will”.
The Greek for unite in this passage, anakephalaioó, means to “sum up” or “bring a head to”, which implies that Christ is in the business of reorganising everything in Him. I would question God allowing sin and death to reign in hell as a means of summing up everything in Him. Interesting though how at the end it says that God works everything according to the counsel (Greek is boulé = God’s resolved plan) of His will (Greek is thelo = desire), which has huge implications for verses such as 2 Peter 3:9 and many others which use stronger words than thelo. It does not sound like God is intending to fail at completing what He desires to happen.
John 12:32 is straightforward when it says that when Christ rises up He will draw all men to Himself. I assume He means women also… J
1 Timothy 4:9-11 is an extremely odd verse to read when not read from a Universalist perspective. It says that God is the Saviour of all people (there it is again), and especially of those who believe. It seems strange to me to talk about God being the Saviour of all people, but then talk about how He is the Saviour especially of those who believe. To me this sounds like it could be a grand plan of salvation that is in the process of saving all people, but has not yet saved all.
1 John 2:2 also is fascinating because he is reminding us believers that Christ died for the wider whole. In it John states that Christ’s death was not just for the propitiation of our sins but for the whole world.
Lamentations 3:31-33 is a powerful few verses talking about God’s longsuffering. It says,
“For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though He cause grief, He will have compassion according to the abundance of His steadfast love; for He does not afflict from His heart or grieve the children of men”.
This is further evidence that God is not in the business of eternal conscious torment, but instead to reconcile all back to Him.
Acts 17 states that God determined the boundaries of the nations so that they would seek Him. Here is a different Greek word, horizō, which also means “to determine” and the passage states that the purpose of determining the nations is that they would seek Him. Once again, it says nations and not the elect. Verses such as Luke 11:9-13 say that if we seek we will find, and therefore illuminates the potential that God determined all nations would seek Him.
It is interesting that God says that He does not take delight in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11 & 18:32). Alternatively God desires and commands that all men everywhere come to repentance (Ezekiel 33:11, Acts 17:30).
Last, but not least, comes an amazing chapter from Paul - Romans 11. Some of you may be surprised this contains evidence for Universalism, but on the contrary it is full of it. In the beginning, Paul talks about how God has reserved a remnant of Israel for Himself and these select few are ones that follow Him. In v7 Paul calls them the elect, and refers to the non-elect as the “others”. Paul refers to how God caused these non-elect to stumble and fail to see. However, in v11 Paul asks, “Have they stumbled that they should fall?” He goes on to answer his own question. “By no means,” he says, but that through their trespass salvation shall come to the Gentiles to provoke them to jealousy. It would not make much sense for Paul to be talking about the elect stumbling and falling. What Paul seems to be saying is that the non-elect or non-chosen have stumbled, but will not fall. Paul says this is because of a grand plan to bring in the Gentiles also. The point of this is that Paul includes the non-elect into at least a position for potential salvation. Paul gets firmer later in the chapter. He says:
"For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that He may have mercy on all."
Here Paul expresses God’s ultimate grand plan, that through a process of experiencing sin and disobedience everyone can experience mercy and reconciliation with God - the Jew, the Gentile, the elect, the non-elect… everyone. Paul finishes with an open-ended exclamation about how wondrous and unsearchable are God’s ways… let him speak for himself:
"Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgements and how unscrutable His ways! "For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counsellor? Or who has given a gift to Him that He might be repaid?" For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen."
The final verse completes the evidence provided in this part of the series. There are many more concepts and verses in support of Universalism, but these scriptures stood out the most as providing clear examples. All things are from God, through God and to God, and I would suggest that sometime in the future aions, all things includes all people.
We have seen how the Bible has many passages suggesting that all people will be saved. It suggests it by the language its uses such as “all”. It suggests it through God’s determining language used to speak about saving all people. It suggests it by direct comparisons between the many who have sinned through Adam and the many who have life through Christ. It suggests it through the salvation of the non-elect and ultimate mercy shown to all people. Last but not least, it suggests it through the all-encompassing power and extent of God’s control and grasp of all things.
Next, I plan write a post that seeks to philosophically pull the idea of Universalism into a systematic theology. I welcome any thoughts and comments from people who may agree or disagree with something I have said. We are all a work in progress and hopefully we all seek Truth.