Over the past few years, I have encountered people within my circle of social media friends who fallen into the universalistic camp doctrines, and a couple years ago I wrote some blog posts addressing some of the issues I saw with those who interpreted the Bible in such a manner.
In thinking back, I believe my first encounter with someone who held to a universal reconciliation view was in the late 1990's when one of my favorite Christian rock singers started promoting it. I engaged him over many, many emails, and found his arguments to be sadly deficient in many ways. For the most part, people tend to throw verse after verse at you that use any sense of the word "all" and try to make an all-inclusive case out of them.
Of course, I am not saying that all who believe in universal reconciliation are necessarily just as weak in their theology as my friend was, but I have yet to find anyone who promotes the belief that doesn't have some underlying theological stance that is a bit off the tracks and can be seen as a cause of leading them down the path to where they are.
Universal reconciliation is probably the more specific, more technical theological terms for this view, and is one often preferred by some of those who hold the view. While it is most often simply called universalism, some see the generic term of universalism as more applying to a slightly different view; one where all religions lead to heaven.
While I fully understand the difference and nuances between the two terms, for the sake of brevity, I will refer to the universal reconciliation doctrinal view simply as universalism throughout this message.
In a nutshell, some proponents of this view would define it by saying that Jesus is the only way to God, and that He died on the cross, shedding his blood for all of mankind without exception, every single person, and that His blood is totally effective. Therefore, all of mankind is redeemed, reconciled, justified and given eternal life to ultimately end up with the Father.
Some who hold this view, also extend this application to Satan and the fallen angels, but not all camps hold to that.
Universalist are often quick to point out that universalism was held by the early church fathers, and it is true that some did. Clement of Alexandria who lived from 150-220 sought to reconcile Christianity and Greek philosophy by creating a synthesis of the two.
His star pupil, Origen, lived from 185-250, and was the first to develop a systematic plan of salvation, and in his plan, he also included the ultimate reconciliation of Satan and the demonic hosts. According to Origen, the fires of hell were corrective and not punitive, a similar view that is connected to the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory.
Origen's views on the matter were reached by taking a very gnostic and spiritualized view on most key biblical passages employed to make his case, and his views were deemed heretical by many church councils in the early centuries of church history. After that it disappeared for the most part until it resurfaced during the Reformation period among some sects of the Anabaptists.
Most Reformed and orthodox creeds dismissed the view as heresy in their confessions. It never really took deep roots or became as prominent in orthodox circles, but in the mid 1700s it resurfaced in England and in 1770 came to America with the teachings of John Murray. Initially, these teachers were orthodox in every way, aside from their view of hell and of course universalism.
Sadly, within a single generation, these teachers departed from orthodoxy almost entirely, adopting basically a Unitarian theology. Again, their doctrine led them down paths even further from historically held doctrines of theology. The general path off the rails went something like this.
They said the loving nature of God made any view of an eternal hell impossible to defend. Also, because of man's "good" nature and free will, it makes an eternal hell unthinkable, because man is "free" to repent even if in hell itself. And obviously, any man who went to the horrors of hell would desire and act to repent and be saved, making hell no more than a place for temporary correction at best.
In placing the emphasis of salvation onto the nature of God and the free will of man, instead of focused on the atonement of Christ, the early universalists were led further into unorthodoxy. For, if the will of a loving God was to save all men, then hell is impossible and the salvation of all a necessity; and if man's nature was good and his will free, then that renders hell also impossible, and the salvation of all men ultimate.
With these two positions, it makes the orthodox teaching on the vicarious nature of the atonement an unnecessary view. And once you reduce or throw out that atonement from the equation, the idea of needing a belief in a Trinity, or even a resurrected Christ, is the next to go.
Some would reason that there really is no reason to believe in the fall of man, the necessity of the atonement, salvation by faith alone, etc. For once the doctrine of hell is thrown out, there really is nothing to be "saved" from, and so many orthodox views become obsolete and placed to the side.
By the late 1700s, universalism had taken a foothold and began to grow. The well-known evangelist Charles Finney had many debates with universalists, and as a way of seeking to defeat their view, he morphed his own view into one that is even now still commonly used and held in modern churches.
He removed the historical, orthodox understanding that the atonement was actually affectual and that the cross actually accomplished salvation for those it was intended alone. In place of that, he said the cross simply made salvation "possible." So in essence Christ did not secure salvation for anyone, and he did not die for "all men" in the way the universalists taught.
By the early 1900s, those who fell into the camp of liberal theology were normally universalists, while those who held to the inspiration of Scripture taught the doctrine of eternal separation. A couple decades later, in the 1960s, Karl Barth came on the scene with his neo-liberal views, mixed with universalism, and sought to bring those views into popularity by infiltrating the evangelical colleges and seminaries.
While those holding to these positions started to call themselves evangelicals, they, in truth, rejected the very doctrines that had historically made one an evangelical, in particular, the inerrancy of Scripture. Barth was raised in a Calvinistic heritage, and took parts of that, merged with his liberal theology and universalism, and produced what has since been called a "new Humanism" theology.
The universalism taught today tends to be still highly influenced by this Karl Barth new humanism and would still fall into the realm of liberal theology. There appear to be two key doctrinal stances that universalists new and old have held onto. One - God is an all loving God and would never send someone to hell for all eternity. Two – hell is not forever, and it is corrective, not punitive.
The historical doctrine of an eternal, conscious torment in a fiery lake does appear to be a key factor and driving force behind why many are swayed to the universalist side. They reason "God would never condemn a majority of his children to an eternal torture like that." I found one universalist blog site where the opening line states:
Am I a heretic? Maybe. If believing that God is all powerful, all loving, wiser than His creation and perfectly willing and capable of saving all of His children makes me a heretic, sign me up.
A belief that God is all loving, and then actually limiting or focusing his attributes to mainly only that, is, as I said, a key factor in universalistic. And then you have other's promoting their view of universalism by posing an equally twisted view of God in questions like this:
Which God is correct?
- The WEAK God who WISHES He could save everyone, but only ends up saving those who "freely" come to Him.
- The MEAN God who "chooses" to save only a few and not the rest.
- The loving Father, who actually does "save" all His children in the end.
I love this presentation method where you present two views in an obvious negative way, leaving only one acceptable choice. Of course, when all three views are biblically erroneous, what is the use at all other than to promote a flawed position?
This was a post on Facebook, and while I try to stay out of such frivolous conversations, I actually responded to this post. To be honestly, the wording here — being such a completely ignorant and unbiblical representation of Yahweh — sparked a bit of anger and I was baited into responding.
In an effort to show the warped view in point 2, I sought to remind them that no, it is not a mean God who saves a few, it is a merciful and gracious God who saves a few, it is merciful that He saves anyone at all, when everyone deserves nothing but death.
Instead, this type of silly presentation seeks to imply that God owes mankind salvation, and is either too weak or too mean to secure it, which is of course a totally unbiblical presentation. But that tends to be what is found, the often-common factor being an overly simplistic and truncated man-centered view of God and His attributes.
To believe that Yahweh is so loving that he would never hurt his creation, and definitely not to send them to an eternal hell, however you wish to understand the idea of hell, is a view of God and His attributes that is not found within the pages of Scripture.
In actuality, the only real mention we have of the love of God to people in general is in the context of and connection to the vicarious atonement of Christ, which, as we've discussed, in some views is not even an emphasized ingredient. In Scripture, we hear more of the justice, judgment and mercy of God, than we do the love that they wish to make His main, central attribute – one that universal salvation hinges on.
Now, before going further, let me state that I wish I could stand up here and go through each and every verse that the universalist throws out in an attempt to make their case, but there is not time. I found one site that was simply a hundred and twelve verses that they say teaches universalism. Honestly, I had to chuckle at how sad some of these proof texts were and how badly out of context they were being twisted.
Instead, my goal today will simply be to cover a few key verses that I tend to find are most often used by the proponents of the view. I will seek to show how they are either using verses out of their context, or they have misunderstood them because of the use of the words in English versus the original language.
I will also seek to discuss a few verses that cannot be twisted to fit a universalistic stance at all. Because we hold that the Scriptures do not contradict themselves doctrinally, all I need do is show even a few verses that are totally irreconcilable with universalism, and then the whole view must be abandoned as anti-Scriptural. It takes a great deal of hermeneutical and theological gymnastics in order to make some of these squeeze into the universalism system.
So, let's begin by looking at this commonly held idea that God desires that all mankind be saved. The universalist will throw out a verse like 1 Tim. 2:3-6:
This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. (1 Timothy 2:3-6 ESV)
So, in reading this simply from a surface level, in English and out of context, we'd get the impression that God really desires that all men be saved. And therein lies the issue, because the reader will look no further than simply considering the verse in English and out of context. Theological views are formed, and then other similar interpretations are influenced based on this type of quick assessment.
I don't know how many times I have heard these proponents say "all means all," which to them is to say that "all" means every single one, without exception, all of the time. So, when it says God wishes all to be saved, it means He wishes all people, without exclusion of any —every single individual— to be eternally saved. And likewise, when we are told Jesus died for all, it means He died for all men, without exclusion, each and every single person to have ever lived.
They don't get this view from looking at the original language, or from even considering the usage of the same word "all" in Scriptures that just won't fit this understanding. They are simply satisfied to just keep repeating, ALL MEANS ALL. Of course, I am painting with a wide brush here, but from the experiences I have had, this is most often the case.
I think part of the issue lies in the misunderstanding of the Greek word lying behind the English translations for "all." Oddly, when you try to bring up a discussion on what the little word all means in the original language, they almost always ignore or dismiss it away.
They start throwing out things like, "stop speaking to me of man-made understandings," as if I am using tricks of man to distort the word of God; but isn't that backwards thinking? After all, the Scriptures in question come from a Greek and Hebrew language background that has been translated to an English understanding, by man.
So, the English Bible translation is a big part of the "man-made" part of the equation, and is only as good as the translators were.
I agree, all does mean all; but all does not always mean all-inclusive as we may initially tend to think. It isn't even used that way typically in English. In the original language, and when you consider the Scriptures within their proper Covenantal and historical context, it makes no sense at all when you try to force their view upon it.
Now before I break out the original languages and get all theological and technical, let us just simply consider how the English word itself is used, to see some examples of use that even we have for it in our day and time, and how it can mean something different in different scenarios.
"Man, I tossed and turned and was up all night." So, are we necessarily saying that we did not sleep a single moment of the entire night? Sure, we could be saying that is literally true, but is that commonly what we mean most often? Of course not, we are simply saying we were up, or felt like we were up a good portion of the night.
"I wish you'd stop getting on my case about that all the time." So, not a minute goes by when the person is not on the other person's case about the issue?
"I think about you all the time." Yeah, that is sweet and all, but am I really saying that not a single minute goes by that I am not thinking about you?
If all means all inclusive, as they claim, then we are often using the word incorrectly even today. And of course we find the same type of usage in our English Scriptures too.
"When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him." (Matt. 2:3) So every single person in Jerusalem, without exception, was troubled?
"Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins." (Matt. 3:5-6) So, we are to understand that every single person of Judea and every single person in every region of Jordan went and got baptized by John?
"Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and shows him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them;" (Matt. 4:8) So are we truly to understand that from the top of that mountain Jesus saw every single kingdom across the entire Earth, as they would take the word to imply?
I could go on and on, but you hopefully get the point. Context in both sentence structure as well as cultural and covenantal use of a term of course plays a huge part of how a word is to be understood. While I wish, as I am sure many of you do too, that translators were always consistent in translation, this is not always so, and when taken strictly at English face value, yes, it can lead to confusions such as the universalists make.
So, let us delve into the original languages a little at this point. There are a few different Greek words that can get translated as "all," and some of it depends on whether it is used as an adjective or an adverb. I wish to focus in on just two main root words that are usually used and translated in some form for the English term all in a majority of the text used by universalists.
Anyone with an interlinear Bible, Strong's concordance, or electronic Bible program would have no problem quickly looking this up:
The first of these words is Strong's number 3650 – holos
It has been translated as "all," "whole," "every whit," and "altogether." The meaning is listed as - all, whole, completely. This would be more of what we would consider the word for all-inclusive, the whole of something.
The second word is Strong's numbered 3956 – pas
This one has been translated as "all," "all things," "every," "all men," "whosoever," "everyone," "whole," "all manner of," and "every man." The meaning of this word is two-fold:
When used in the context of an individual:
1a) each, every, any, all, the whole, everyone, all things, everything
When used in reference to a large number, or collectively (of a group, etc.):
2a) some of all types
So, the first word, holos would mean whole, all-inclusive, the whole of whatever is the topic, and basically this is the word that universalists need to find in order to make their case. For the word pas, it would depend on what the subject is that it applies to, but in the case of it speaking in reference to a large number or group, it is understood as speaking of a part or selection of them, a representation of all-types of the group.
So, when applied to a larger group, it does not usually mean all-inclusive or every single one, but just a selective representation of them. Now, with the original understanding in hand, let us go examine some of the usages in Scripture. First off, let's see one where both of these words is used in the same section:
And he went throughout all (holos) Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every (pas) disease and every (pas) affliction among the people. (Mat 4:23 ESV)
Some translations say "all" instead of "every" in this verse, but it is the same word pas that is used to translate both. And then there are actually, a few translations that render it more correctly, stating it as:
And Jesus went about all (holo) Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of (pas) sickness and all manner of (pas) disease among the people. (Matt. 4:23 KJV)
So, we have both words used here in this one verse, holo meaning whole, meaning he did go throughout all of the land, but did he heal every single disease and sickness for every single person in the place? No, the word pas when used to refer to a group tells us he healed all kinds and all types sickness and disease, but not every single one without exclusion.
Then in the very next verse, there is an example of potential translational confusion for those not knowing the original word and usage here:
And his fame went throughout all (holo) Syria: and they brought unto him all (pas) sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatick, and those that had the palsy; and he healed them. (Matt. 4:24)
Again, both words are used as in previous verse, but the English translates slightly different, even though the same root words are used in the same manner. He was known throughout the entire, whole land of Syria, and they brought to him pas — speaking of a large group of a variety of sick people — so "all types" or "all manner of" sick people. This cannot simply be forced to mean every single sick person without exception.
So, as we can see, ALL does NOT mean ALL inclusive, all of the time, in the manner the universalist would wish to imply. Let's look at a few more examples before moving on. Here is a fun one:
And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all (holo) the world for a witness unto all (pas) nations; and then shall the end come. (Matthew 24:14)
Now, most of you listening to me here probably already understand that the word world here is the Greek word oikoumene, and does not necessarily mean the entirety of the Earth as some universalism proponents might wish to make it; but it is understood from its more primary, historical meaning as that part of the world inhabited by the Greeks – or more generally, the Roman Empire. From Thayer's definition:
1) the inhabited earth
1a) the portion of the earth inhabited by the Greeks, in distinction from the lands of the barbarians
1b) the Roman empire, all the subjects of the empire
The point is that the gospel message was to go beyond the realm of just Jerusalem and the Jews, and out unto the surrounding inhabited pagan empire nations too. So, a translation just as valid would be:
And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all of the empire for a witness unto all types of nations; and then shall the end come.
Again, note, the speaker used two variants of the word we translate as "all" – and he does so because in each case it is a different result he is stating, while in English we tend to lump them both into one word, and it is easy to confuse.
Now there are so many numerous examples I could use, but I will stop with these examples and continue on to now look at some of the key verses that the universalists love to bring up. So, let's return to 1 Timothy, where, speaking of God it says:
Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:4)
To start with, let us first put it back into its fuller context. We must go back to highlight what is being said right from the start of this letter in chapter one. In chapter one, verses 5-6, he speaks of those who have strayed into vain discussion and a wrong use of teaching the law.
In verses 8-10 he proclaims that the law is good if used lawfully, and that it is to be used for the lawless and disobedient, and he lists a bunch of various types of sinful actions, summing them up as "whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine."
In verses 11-16, Paul lists how he has been given grace and this glorious gospel, even though he was formerly a blasphemer, persecutor and opponent, just as those previously mentioned are in their error, and how Jesus came to save sinners, of which he ranks himself as one.
In verse 16, he claims that he received this mercy so as to be an example of the perfect patience of Jesus – an example for those who were to believe in him for eternal life.
But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (1Ti 1:16 ESV)
Notice right here – it is about "those who were to believe in him for eternal life," – not for every single person in the world regardless of any belief or not. So, there is already a limited group of people in Paul's mind. Then, for the remaining of the first chapter, he charges Timothy to stay the course of this faith himself. This leads us directly in chapter two, which states:
I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all (pas) men; For kings, and for all (pas) that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; Who will have all (pas) men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim. 2:1-4)
In using the Greek word pas here, in a discussion where Paul speaks of many various collective groups and types of sinners, while speaking of grace bestowed to him, we can easily see the intended understanding in the original language was that:
… supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all types of men; (such as) kings, and for all types that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; Who will have all types of men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all manner of (pas), which is the testimony given at the proper time. (1 Tim. 2:1-6)
Every use of "all" here by Paul is the Greek word pas, which when speaking of a collective group is better understood as meaning a portion of, or a variety of the group, and that fits perfectly into the context of all that Paul is speaking of here. Specifically, the context speaks of praying for those in leadership, because if they become faithful and loving, he says it will be beneficial for himself and Timothy – "that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty."
Remember, this was a time of great persecution and tribulation for those holding to the gospel truth. Persecution came from all sides, including the ruling class. These ruling class scums, these politicians, would have been an easy group to think of ignoring when it came to the gospel.
They may not have been considered worthy of it by many. Paul is saying yes, even pray for those types of people, because God wishes all types of people to be saved, even kings and those in authority. Augustine understood what Paul was saying here too, when he wrote:
And what is written, that "he wills all to be saved," while yet all men are not saved…is so said that all the predestinated may be understood by it, because every kind of man is among them. (Augustine, On Rebuke and Grace 14.44)
If it was to be understood as the universalist wishes, to apply it to all men in general, then why does Paul even waste time speaking of specific people groups? Actually, why would Paul be exhorting Timothy to do any prayer, supplication or thanks for anyone at all, since ultimately all are under the saving power of Christ already?
Another often mentioned verse also in Timothy comes a couple chapters later, when we are told:
For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. (1Ti 4:10 ESV)
This one indeed sounds tricky, as it seems to imply that God is saving everyone, but especially the believers. Taking it at that face value though, really makes no sense. But why even mention it as if it is two separate groups if they are both receiving the same thing in the end?
Of course, you guessed it, the Greek word here for "all" is again pas, and when applied to a collective group – the people – it is to be understood as meaning all manner of people. So, obviously, God is the savior of all types of people. But that still leaves us with seeking to understand what it means by "especially of those who believe."
There are three things to note when dealing with this verse, and first is the subject. Who is the savior of all people here? It is Yahweh we're talking about, and not Jesus as is often the consideration when it comes to the topic of atonement, salvation and redemption.
Yahweh is the savior of all types of people, and this is true, and has been true from ages past. The question is, what are the people being saved from by Yahweh? Is this verse dealing with eternal life? We're not told specifically.
We know that during this time in history, on the brink of the ultimate destruction of the covenant people and the temple system, there was both a literal, physical/material salvation, preserving of life, from the coming wrath upon the people and city, as well as a spiritual salvation and gift of eternal life to be had. Which of these is God saving people from in this verse?
In the preceding verses of the chapter leading up to this section, we are told of those who have left the faith, who have devoted themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons. They were liars, they were forbidding to marriage, they were abstaining from food that Yahweh created for good.
Then Paul speaks of those who are being trained in the words of the faith and sound doctrine, not falling for the silly myths, but who are being trained in godliness, of which he says:
godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. (1 Tim 4:8 ESV)
And then the verse in question comes right in. So, he first makes the references to those who are straying from the faith, and them mentions those holding to godliness being blessed in the present, physical life, as well as the life to come. Could it be that God is indeed the savior of all types of men in this present life, especially and eternally saving believers in the life to come? It goes along the same lines as what Paul also says about Christians in Galatians:
So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Gal 6:10)
Either way, the point is clear that no matter what kind of salvation there is, physical or spiritual, it comes from God, and any man that is ever saved, in in this present life or the life to come, salvation comes Yahweh, for Yahweh is the only savior of any and all men, but especially those that believe.
As one commentator states:
The further description of God as "the Savior of all men" is evidently directed against the rigorous demands of the false teachers, and is intended to show that God is not merely the Savior of a handful of ascetics (vv. 3-4). For God's offer of salvation applies to all men without distinction (2:4), and this calls for the universal proclamation of his word of grace in order to bring the lost to faith (Titus 1:3).
It is a mistake to detach this verse from its "life-situation" and make it either a prop for universalism or the enemy of predestination. We shall be able to avoid such errors only as we seek to interpret every text within its proper context. (Geoffrey B. Wilson, The Pastoral Epistles)
So beyond considering the context, the word "especially" is itself a questionable translational understanding, or somewhat confusing interpretation. The word used there is malista, and is translated a number of ways as usual, all of which still kind of seem confusing here as if they are implying two types of salvation – general and special. The word is translated as:
1) especially, chiefly, most of all, above all
But modern scholarship is starting to see the word is best understood to mean more along the lines of "to be precise" or "in other words." That being the case, this verse would be understood as saying:
For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all types of people, in other words, of those who believe. (1Ti 4:10)
So, the verse should not be understood as speaking of two different salvations, but simply a reiteration of the parties involved in the salvation. A salvation that was not to be limited to a single people group, as the Jews maintained. Moving on and looking at another favorite verse often spoken of by those who hold to universalism, is John 12:32, which says:
And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all (pas) people to myself." (Joh 12:32 ESV)
Again, the word is pas, and when applied to a collective group, it means all types of, not all inclusive. So, if He is lifted up, he will draw all types of people to himself, plain and simple.
We could go on and on with additional examples, but instead, let us look at the covenantal aspects that some of these universalism interpreters seem to be totally missing. I am going to keep this really simple, and will be assuming most of you probably already understand much of this.
The Old Testament tells us of how eventually God rejected the nations, and chose a new people. The rest of the books are God's dealing with his new people; a special people chosen out of all the nations; a small group in comparison to many nations, but a group in which God showed special treatment to. They had the oracles and sacraments of God; they had his laws, his words, his special blessings. They were HIS people unlike any other nation.
God had this special relationship with them, and established a covenant with them. They lived under the blessings of this Covenant, and received things that no other people received from God. Other nations were condemned to destroyed by Yahweh.
Yahweh also promised to His people a coming Messiah - a savior who would come and set them free in a way never before experienced since Adam's fall. They, the people of God, this small group of people, were given a special promise of redemption by their creator, that no other nation was promised.
When this savior came upon the scene, he came first and foremost to his people; that was his mission, to his people, the covenant people of God (Matt. 15:22-24). His mission was to them, as their Messiah. He collected and taught the twelve, and then sent them only out to these same covenant people (Matt. 10).
Sure, this is painting with broad strokes, but I am trying to keep it simple. And sure, I know the promise of the coming in and restoration of the other nations was prophesied and a part of the plan from the beginning. Likewise, we know the eventual divorce and destruction of God's once covenant people also foretold (Deut. 32, Isaiah 65-66, etc.). But for now, the scene playing out during the time of Jesus, was that this was the Messiah reaching out to HIS chosen and covenanted people.
So, from the start, his direct mission, stated by Him directly, was limited to the remnant of that of the nation of God's covenanted people. He was their savior, he had come for them, and he sent forth apostles to them for their repentance. The focal point of Jesus' ministry while he was here, was to those covenanted people of God.
The Jews likewise had in their mind that it was them and them alone who God was providing for, for they had the promise of a Messiah. Even the Apostles, who knew who Jesus was, were still under the impression he was there solely to bless and save the Jews. The division between Jews and the rest of the nations was great, and to them, salvation was only for the Jews.
Those who converted to become followers of Jesus likewise tended to think that he was solely concerned with his covenanted people of old. We know even Peter had some concerns with taking his message to others like Cornelius at first because it was no natural. But then he makes the following announcement:
So Peter opened his mouth and said: "Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all)… (Acts 10:34-36 ESV)
In this first section from Acts, he clearly sees that the gospel message is now no longer just for the Jews as he had thought, but that it is open to pagan nations as well. He knows now, that the good news originally sent through and to Israel, is also available to the rest of the nations, for Jesus is the Lord of all – pas – all type of people, Jew and Gentiles, slave and free, etc.
We've seen it again and again, Jesus is for all, but here, like elsewhere, it is not a reference to being all inclusive on an individual basis, but of all in the sense of being Lord of all manner, all types of men. The cultural division between people is not a division in the gospel message, for it goes to all manner of people, for He is savior of all manner of people. He continues on in this same section stating:
And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name." (Act 10:34-36, 42-43 ESV)
Again, the message is very limiting in nature. Only those who believe in Jesus receive forgiveness of sins. So that means there will definitely be a group who do not believe, so how do they get their sins forgiven? Scripture does not have such a message, for if they die in their sins they do not have eternal life, but they perish.
This is (or should be) common knowledge to those reading the Bible. This is the culture and understanding of those living at that time the Scriptures were taking place. The Jews were originally IT when it came to a relationship with the creator, the pagan nations were NOT.
So, you have these preachers (the Apostles) who now burst onto the scene with claims that not only was Jesus the Messiah, He was the sacrifice and savior of His people, but also that this salvation was now being offered to those outside the old covenanted people. The gospel went to the Jews first, then to the Gentiles (Rom. 1:16).
This was a hard pill to swallow as a Jewish man of that time frame. For instead of their Messiah coming just to save only them, he came to save the whole world, meaning all types of people in the world, and not Jews exclusively.
So, keeping this understanding in mind, you should be able to clearly understand that when an all-inclusive sounding term is used in this period in Scripture, it is most likely pertaining to countering this Jews-only mentality.
For instance, when we were told things like how "Jesus died for all," or died for "the world," or "savior of all," those are not a declaration of Jesus' work being for every single member of mankind, but that those things are not limited in scope to just Yahweh's old covenant people as many believed.
Likewise for such large encompassing language such as how Jesus takes away the sins of the world. Such a statement was in fact a direct addressing of the issue that Jesus was the Messiah, and that his sacrifice was not simply for the Jews as expected, but that he had died for…you guessed it…"all manner of men," or as stated elsewhere, that he died for the whole world, meaning both Jews AND non-Jews.
Peter had already stated it clear enough, and Paul likewise makes that abundantly the case in Romans 11, speaking of how the trespass of Israel means salvation and riches for the world, also referred to as the gentile nations:
So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather, through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean! (Rom 11:11-12 ESV)
Paul equates the salvation going to the Gentiles as equivalent to saying salvation has gone out to the world. It doesn't mean every single person of the gentile world will be saved, that is just not the message or meaning of the language here. Plus, as we have touched on and shall see, the sacrifice made was not given to be all-inclusive of the whole world to begin with.
At the time of Jesus, the Jews had to be taught that now, in this gospel age, the old ways of Judaism were quickly passing away, and salvation was being offered to all men everywhere in the world, all types of men regardless of nationality or lineage; not just the Jews. This leads us right back to our look at one of the universalist's scriptures we discussed…let us continue building to again see how, in context, this is exactly what Paul was also saying here in 1 Timothy 2:1-8:
I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all (types of) men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior;
Who will have all (types of) men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;
Who gave himself a ransom for all (types), to be testified in due time. Whereunto I am ordained a preacher, and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not;) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity. I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. (1 Tim 2:1-8)
Paul makes it a special point to note that he has been called to be an Apostles unto the Gentiles, again, letting them know that the message and promises are no longer to be thought of as strictly applying only to the single group of God's original covenant people, but now the message, hope, redemption and promises are for all types of men everywhere.
Paul is in no way saying that God was wishing for every single solitary member of the human race to be saved, as that would be contradictory to so many other passages that have a definite "limited" scope of redemption. We've already discussed some of the passages where the Greek word for "all" has a limited scope and meaning, but what about some of the more clearer passages that show redemption was intended to be more restrictive?
Let us turn our attention to one of the earliest passages regarding the prophecy of the coming messiah and his promised redemption. Isaiah 53 tells us much about the coming Messiah and the suffering he would go through, and the ultimate redemption he would accomplish. Now, look closely at the scope of his redemption:
Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore will I divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he hath poured out his soul unto death: and he was numbered with the transgressors; and he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isa 53:10-12)
So, we are told he would come, and by his sacrifice, he shall bare the sins of ALL? Every single human? No, he would bare the sins of many. Looking at the Hebrew word used here for many, which is rab, none of the meanings for this word could be stretched to apply to an every-single-person scenario, it has a limited scope in mind.
This was an early prophesied hope given to Israel, that many would be saved — a remnant as it is known elsewhere. This limited idea is what the Israelites would have been expecting from the start, not an all-encompassing salvation. Of course, they thought the many would be a remnant from within their own people only, and not to include foreigners.
Also note, in this redemption plan, it is noted that he shall "see his seed." Some may try to argue that we are all God's children, we are all his seed, and therefore this obviously applies to every single person. However, it takes little effort to prove otherwise. Flip back to the garden, and God's declaration of the promise of a savior back then.
And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. (Gen. 3:14-15)
So, we have two seeds mentioned, the seed of the women (speaking directly of Jesus and ultimately those that are his) and the seed of the serpent (and ultimately those who are his). Regardless of your take on the meaning of the seed in this passage, the point clearly shows there are two separate groups being considered.
Now, jump back to the New Testament Scriptures, and what are we told there? First, we have Joseph being told of his wife's pregnancy, and the angel tells him:
And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. (Matt. 1:21)
Wait - his people? Not every single person? No, just those that are his? But aren't all people on Earth the children of God, therefore the people of Jesus? That tends to be the view of most universalists. But according to Scripture, as we have already seen, there are two seed lines. On top of that, we find Jesus later making a distinct delineation between the two lines and their fathers when speaking with some Jewish leaders:
I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father." They answered him, "Abraham is our father." Jesus said to them, "If you were Abraham's children, you would be doing the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. This is not what Abraham did.
You are doing the works your father did." They said to him, "We were not born of sexual immorality. We have one Father—even God." Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. (Joh 8:38-44 ESV)
So, if everyone truly is considered a child of God, then I guess Jesus was mistaken. Jesus divides the lines into the children of his Father, and the children of the devil, similar to what we have seen in Genesis. And again, it matters not how you interpret those two fathers, the point is, there are definitely two groups of people, and not all belong to the children of God.
We also fine that Jesus divides again using different languages when he speaks of the story of the Good Shepherd, he divides mankind into those that are his sheep and those that are not, and then plainly states:
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10:11, 15)
…and then he further explains in verses 24 and following what it is he gives to these sheep of his:
So the Jews surrounded him and began to say to him, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly!" Jesus answered them, "I told you and you do not believe! The deeds that I do in the name of my Father, these testify about me. But you do not believe, because you are not of my sheep!
My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. And I give them eternal life, and they will never perish forever, and no one will seize them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can seize them from the Father's hand. (Joh 10:24-29 LEB)
So, if Jesus says he lays his life down for the sheep only, and then he tells these people that they are not his sheep, then can we not easily deduce that he did not lay his life down for them, and if not, then by whose blood are they to be redeemed?
And we can further deduce that he gives only his sheep eternal life so they will never perish. So, the question is, where are the non-sheep ever promised to be given eternal life or to never perish? If he gives his life only for the sheep and gives only the sheep eternal life, then these non-sheep men being addressed do not have life, they indeed perish forever, and universalism is proven false.
And if this group can have neither, then how can anyone twist Jesus' words to say that He in fact was laying down his life and paying the price to give every single person in the world, without exception, eternal life? In an echo of the passages we looked at in Isaiah, even Jesus himself repeats the thought:
Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many. (Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45)
At another time, when he was establishing the actual new covenant, he states the same limiting factor:
For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. (Matt 26:28; Mark 14:24)
This of course leads us to look at the same language used later in Matthew, where Jesus' people are again referred to as the sheep, while the rest are referred to as the goats, when they come to the judgment and are separated:
Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world…
"Then he will say to those on his left (the goats), ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels…And these (goats) will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous (sheep) into eternal life. (Matt. 25:31-46)
So, again, the language of blessing for the sheep, and not for others, the goats, is evident; and Matthew already recorded a similar situation earlier in chapter 8:
I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Mat 8:11-12 ESV)
So again, in light of these and even more similar passages, how can a case possibly be made out to say salvation is universally applied to every single member of mankind, and that all will be ultimately given eternal, blessed life, if time and time again we are told of two separate groups with two separate destinations?
Where are we told that at some point after this judgment, that these goats are somehow brought back from perishing, removed from an obviously NOT eternal punishment, to be somehow renewed to receive the kingdom also? Where is the reversal of judgment for the wicked ever mentioned in Scripture? It has to be somewhere in order for a universalist to have a case.
And this judgment motif is nothing new that is presented in the New Testament, for even this same judgment scenario is presented in a similar manner in earlier Old Testament prophecy. Daniel tells us of the resurrection, stating:
And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. (Dan 12:2 ESV)
And Paul echoes the same thing, stating:
having a hope in God, which these men themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. (Act 24:15 ESV)
And then in Revelation we are likewise given the scenario, yet in different terms:
And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. … And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Rev 20:12,15 ESV)
So, in all instances of this judgment motif through unto Revelation we have the same scenario; two groups and two final destinations. The one thing we don't have, the one thing totally missing, is that in none of these situations is there ever mentioned a future change of destination for either group. And if you have a group who are justified — the just, and a second group who are not — the unjust, then by what means could the unjustified group ever be granted eternal life since they are not justified by Christ?
If Jesus died for the sheep and not goats, and he died to justify many, and those many that were justified were raised to receive everlasting life based on faith in the blood of Christ, then how are the goats, the unjustified, etc. ever to be reconciled without the blood of Christ?
To believe such a notion would require a whole other gospel with some other kind of redeemer. We could look at all of the promises of eternal life mentioned for believers, but where are we told that those who are said to perish are in fact sometime restored and given eternal life also? We're not, but in fact we are told the opposite:
And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. The one who has the Son has the life; the one who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. (1Jn 5:11-12 LEB)
So, how does someone without life, end up getting life? Jesus went so far as to tell some of those Jews that they would in fact not receive his blood atonement salvation, but would indeed die still in their sins:
I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins. (Joh 8:24 ESV)
Of course, some universalists might attempt to get around this by explaining away the judgment of sin, saying there is in fact a way to be redeemed after death. But you will search the Scripture in vain looking for even a hint of such a post-perishing conversion gospel, in light of the clear division given consistently throughout.
Then there are those universalists who try to use the "there is neither Jew nor Greek, but all are in Christ" angle, they seem to fail to see that even this verse requires faith in Christ, meaning there is a group of those who have not faith in Christ, as we consistently see:
But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe… But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you (who believe) are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise. (Gal 3:22-29 ESV)
So those who believe, and only those who believe, are sons of God, are Abraham's offspring, regardless of bloodline or heritage. Meaning those who do not believe are not sons of God or partakers in the promise. So then whose sons are they? And those who believe are baptized into Christ, meaning those who have not believed have not been baptized in Christ, so who are they baptized "in" for salvation?
And those who believe and are baptized into Christ are all one in Christ, whether they are Jew or Greek, for it matters not, for anyone is able to be in Christ. But again, this clearly teaches us that there is likewise a group who are not believing, nor baptized, nor in Christ — again, two groups as we consistently see.
So then, you can hopefully plainly see that the Bible is clear when it speaks of two groups, and only one of which receive Christ's work of atonement and eternal life. And if there is a group out there that does not have this life, then how can the universalist hold that they still somehow eventually acquired it? And how can one who has not the Christ of God be likewise given the same blessings as those who do have the Son? According to 2 John, they do not:
Everyone who goes on ahead and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God. Whoever abides in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. (2Jn 1:9 ESV)
We are clearly told of the gift and grace to those in Christ. We are clearly told of the group who are not part of that gift and grace. So then who or what is the redeeming source and sacrifice of the salvation for these people who have not Christ? Where in Scripture are we told that these people will be at some undisclosed future point in time be granted a salvation outside the blood of Christ after they have perished?
I believe that clearly it doesn't, no matter how hard you look for it, and that is why I believe universalism must be rejected as false and anti-Scriptural. It goes against the clear case of division presented throughout all of Scripture, and seeks to twist some verses out of their context (both historical and grammatical) to make a case that was never intended.
Universalism requires an over emphasis on grace and love which is not presented in Scripture in such a manner as they present. In Scripture, grace is particularized in more of an individual sinner or small group application and not an all-inclusive manner. To remove this particularism of it, and seek to apply it on a universal corporate scale, causes grace to lose its whole purpose and meaning.
Once grace is changed like this, it loses its "gift" status and becomes more of a "debt" that God owes, which is not at all how Scripture presents it. And in changing the emphasis on grace, there is also the loss of the Scriptural view of the transition from wrath to grace, which again affects the substitutional atonement. Van Til has this to say as a summation of how universalism strays from orthodoxy and how it is logically leading to the conclusion that:
The death of Christ on the cross is not that by which he, as our substitute, saves us from the wrath to come, for there is no wrath in God that could issue in man's eternal death. The resurrection of Christ is not the event in history by which Christ arises from the dead for our justification; we are already justified in Christ. Thus, there is no place in history where God and man really confront one another. (C. Van Til, Christianity and Barthianism, 165, p 117)
In the end, any theology that seeks to generalize grace in this type of manner runs into a host of theological issues, such as:
- It removes the significance of both faith and unbelief.
- It ignores the clear threats of the gospel that failure to believe will lead to perishing. There is no such threat in universalism, and so it is contrary to the gospel of Scripture.
- The offensiveness of the cross is removed, because no longer are men required to look unto Christ as the only way of salvation.
- There is no motivation for evangelism if all men are saved regardless.
- If universalism is true, then all of the biblical groups such as the saved vs the lost, the sheep vs the goats, the vessels of mercy vs the vessels of wrath, the elect vs the reprobate, the church vs the world, etc. make no sense at all.
In the end, there are just way too many verses that speak of a complete and final division of people, one into eternal life and the kingdom of God, and the others perishing, with no hint of their restoration ever being promised or completed at any point. It is only by severely twisting the context and meaning of the original languages that a case for universalism can even remotely be attempted to be made.
And while the universalist may throw out more and more Scriptures that I have not covered, they are doing nothing more than attempting to pit Scripture against Scripture, which can only be successful for their cause, if they totally ignore the overarching theme and scheme of the revealed plan of Yahweh throughout Scripture.
For hopefully it is plainly obvious, just from the clear message of what we have covered today, that the basic gospel story always consists of two groups with two destinations, and that this message is so engrained in the Scripture that there is no way to find a few verses to totally upset that message.
Universalism truly requires a total reformulation of so much of the Scripture message in order to make it fit that view. It requires re-writing much of the and it turns so much of Scripture on its head making it appear contradictory and at times simply gibberish.
As mentioned earlier, one of the key components that seem to be connected to and a driving force behind those who push for universalism, is the strong, and often emotional opposition to a view of an eternal conscious torment theology. But honestly, I think it would be much easier to make a Scriptural case opposing an eternal conscious torment view, as so many have done, than it would be to ever make a case made in favor of universalism in order to combat the view.
But that is a topic of another discussion and has been made in previous messages.