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Universal Salvation, Christian Universalism, or simply Universalism) is the doctrine that all sinful persons, who are alienated from God, because of God’s great divine love and mercy, will eventually be reconciled to God. Bible Scholar Richard Bauckham outlines the history of universal salvation,
The history of the doctrine of universal salvation (or apokatastasis) is a remarkable one. Until the nineteenth century, almost all Christian theologians taught the reality of eternal torment in hell. Here and there, outside the theological mainstream, were some who believed that the wicked would be finally annihilated (in its commonest form, this is the doctrine of ‘conditional immortality’). Even fewer were the advocates of universal salvation, though these few included some major theologians of the early church. Eternal punishment was firmly asserted in official creeds and confessions of the churches. It must have seemed as indispensable a part of universal Christian belief as the doctrines of the Trinity and the incarnation. Since 1800 this situation has entirely changed, and no traditional Christian doctrine has been so widely abandoned as that of eternal punishment. Its advocates among theologians today must be fewer than ever before. The alternative interpretation of hell as annihilation seems to have prevailed even among many of the more conservative theologians. Among the less conservative, universal salvation, either as hope or as dogma, is now so widely accepted that many theologians assume it virtually without argument.
“Modern Universalists claim that this doctrine is contained in the New Testament in the teachings of Jesus, and conforms to the laws of nature as taught by science and sanctioned by reason and philosophy.” One reason behind the Universalist mindset is, their dislike of the hellfire doctrine, where the sinner is punished, i.e., tormented for an eternity. For the Universalist, eternal torment for one, who is born imperfect, with a natural desire toward sin, which Genesis argues is mentally bent toward wickedness, and has a heart, which is treacherous and unknowable, would be a sign of injustice, and an unloving God.
The Salvation Debate
1 Corinthians 15:25, 28 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to him, so that God may be all in all.
The Good News Translations renders that last clause and prepositional phrase, “God will rule completely over all.” The Universalist would say that if God were going to “be all in all or if “God will rule completely over all” he would need to reconcile all humans to himself eventually. Another text often used by the Universalist.
Philippians 2:10-11 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Here the Universalist would argue that if “every knee should to bow” “and every tongue confess,” it must follow that every human that has lived up unto the time of Christ’s return will be reconciled to God in the end.
They would also point to,
Romans 5:18 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
18 So, then, as through one trespass there was condemnation to all men, so too through one act of righteousness there was justification of life to all men.
“One trespass”–“One act of righteousness”
“All men [in Adam]”–“All men [in Christ]”
It would seem at first that this text is a perfect balance, in that Adam’s one sinful act contributed to all of humanity inheriting sin and imperfection, and Christ one act as a ransom sacrifice would contribute to all of humanity receiving life. Before delving into a response to these verses, let us see what the Bible teaches. First, though, just know that, when you have a few Scriptures that appear to be in opposition to many Scriptures, you likely do not understand the few correctly.
The Bible Teaches
The Scriptures, which make all too clear that some will not be receiving salvation, are so abundant from Genesis to Revelation. Adam committed the most egregious sin of any human alive, as he, in essence, murdered billions of humans, by his rebellion. For this reason, Adam was told, “for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Gen. 3:19) Revelation 21:8 says, “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” There is not one verse in the Bible that speaks of redemption or a resurrection from “the second death.”
Matthew 25:46 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
46 And these [unrighteous] will go away into eternal punishment [Kolasin, lopping off, cutting off], but the righteous into eternal life.”
Kolasin “akin to kolazoo” “This means ‘to cut short,’ ‘to lop,’ ‘to trim,’ and figuratively a. ‘to impede,’ ‘restrain,’ and b. ‘to punish,’ and in the passive ‘to suffer loss.’ The first part of the sentence is only in harmony with the second part of the sentence, if the eternal punishment is eternal death. The wicked receive eternal death and the righteous eternal life. We might note that Matthews Gospel was primarily for the Jewish Christians, and under the Mosaic Law, God would punish those who violated the law, saying they “shall be cut off [penalty of death] from Israel.” (Ex 12:15; Lev 20:2-3) We need further to consider,
2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
8 in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 These ones will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, from before the Lord and from the glory of his strength,
Notice that Paul says, the punishment for the wicked is “eternal destruction.” Many times in talking with those that support the position of eternal torment in some hellfire, they will add a word to Matthew 25:46 in their paraphrase of the verse, ‘conscious eternal punishment.’ However, Jesus does not tell us what the eternal punishment is, just that it is a punishment, and it is eternal. Therefore, those who support eternal conscious fiery torment will read the verse to mean just that, while those, who hold to the position of eternal destruction, will take Matthew 25:46 to mean that. Considering that Jesus does not define what the eternal punishment is, this verse is not a proof text for either side of the hellfire argument.
Hebrews 2:14 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
14 Therefore, since the children share in blood and flesh, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he could destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,
Yes, Jesus’ ransom sacrifice will cause the destruction of Satan, the Devil. The unrighteous, also known as the wicked within the Bible are “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction.” (Rom 9:22) Yes, “the years of the wicked are cut short.” (Pro 10:27) According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, olothreuo means “‘to destroy,’ especially in the sense of slaying, while “katargeo” means, “to reduce to inactivity.” In addition, apollumi signifies “to destroy utterly.”
The Universalist likes to stress one quality of God, taking it beyond its balanced limits, that is mercy. However, they ignore the other quality that mercy is balanced with, namely justice. God had clearly told Adam, “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Gen. 2:17) The apostle Paul tells us, “The wages of sin is death.” (Rom. 6:23) The prophet Ezekiel recorded God as saying, “the soul [person] who sins shall die.” (Eze. 18:4, 20) God is selective in his mercy/justice, as he said, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” (Ex 33:19) God has provided the ransom sacrifice of his Son (Matt 20:28), to cover over Adamic sin, not the willful unrepentant practicing of sin. (Heb. 6:4; 10:26; 2 Pet 2:21)
Where did the Universalist go wrong? As they overplayed the mercy, while downplaying justice, they also overemphasize the God of love. (1 John 4:8) They are unable to wrap their mind around the God of love, who also possess the quality of justice, and even seeks vengeance on behalf of the righteous, which were treated wickedly.
However, it is also the unbiblical doctrine of hellfire and eternal torment, which moved them emotionally into another unbiblical doctrine, universal salvation. They would have been wiser to set aside the eternal torment in a burning hell as being unbiblical; recognizing that punishment for one’s actions that fit the offense is biblical. The position of the Annihilationist is that of eternal destruction as a punishment, which does not involve an eternal conscious torment, as it would not be compatible with the God of love, nor his justice.
Exodus 21:24 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
Another possibility as to why they hold to the position of universal salvation is the other unbiblical doctrine of immortality of all souls. This belief is that once God created a human being, bring him or her into existence, they must live forever in some fashion (physical or spiritual body), and in some place (earth, heaven, or hell). Since the Universalist arrived at the correct conclusion that God would not torture an imperfect human, who sinned for 70-80 years, by burning him forever, they just removed the place of hell (wrongly thought of as a place of eternal torment) from the equation, and accepted that all would eventually be reconciled to God. They could have simply looked at the original language words, and rightly concluded that the Hebrew sheol and Greek hades are not places of eternal torment, but rather the gravedom of mankind, with the punishment being eternal death.
“Athanasia lit., “deathlessness” (a, negative, thanatos, “death”), is rendered “immortality” in 1 Cor. 15:53-54, of the glorified body of the believer.” (Vine 1996, Volume 2, Page 321) There are no verses within the Bible, which says that every human has an inherent quality of immortality. Rather, as we have already seen, Adam was sentenced to death for rebelling against God, as well as God himself saying by way of his authors, “The soul that sins shall die” and “the wages of sin is death.”
Romans 6:23 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
If every human were created with absolute eternal life within him or her; then, there would be no gift for God to give. God has given humanity free will and the right to choose. He said to the Israelites, who wanted to be his people, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live” (Deut. 30:19) In other words, man can choose to live by the righteous laws of his Creator, or he can choose to lose his life in a rebellion against his Creator. God’s justice does not allow him to have wicked persons living forever among the righteous. Adam and Eve did not fully appreciate what God had done for them, such as the eternal life he set before them, a paradise garden that they were to grow until it encompassed the entire earth, and filling the earth with perfect descendants; therefore, they returned to the dust that they came from. The same exact choice is before each of us.
What about Philippians 2:10-11, “so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” A day is coming when all of the wicked will receive their punishment of everlasting destruction. Therefore, all who are alive on earth and in heaven will be submitting themselves to the sovereignty of God. Then, the verse will hold true, ‘every knee will bow,’ ‘and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.’ Thus, the knees and the tongues of the unrighteous, rebellious ones will no longer be in existence, as they will have been destroyed.
What about the argument of Romans 5:18 that Adam’s one sinful act contributed to all of humanity inheriting sin and imperfection, and Christ one act as a ransom sacrifice would contribute to all of humanity receiving life. As was stated earlier, when you have a couple of verses that seem to be in conflict with many verses from Genesis to Revelation, it means that you are likely misunderstanding the couple of verses. The Scripters clearly show that only the righteous receive life. Adam was not forced to receive eternal life; it was a gift from God, which was based upon his remaining faithful. Therefore, when he rejected that gift and was unfaithful, the gift of life was taken away. Thus, the same would hold true for Adam’s descendants as well.–Ezekiel 18:31-32
As you will see, “all” in Greek does not necessarily mean “all.” The Greek word behind “all” is pan, which comes in various forms. 1 John 2:2 says that Jesus is a covering “for the sins of the whole world.” Paul says at 1 Timothy 2:6 that Jesus “gave himself as a ransom for all [pantōn, all (ones)].” Romans 5:18 says, ‘Christ’s one act as a ransom sacrifice would contribute to all [pantas] of humanity receiving life.’ Titus 2:10 says, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all [pasin] men.” While this seems quite clear on the surface, it is not really so. What do we do with the other verses that say only redeemable humankind will receive salvation, that is, those that repent and turnaround from their former course. (Acts 17:30, John 3:16, 1 Jn. 5:12)
Yes, not all is so black and white, once the interpreter looks beneath the surface. Many times, the Greek word (panta) rendered “all” is often used in a hyperbolic sense. For example, at Luke 21:29, in speaking of a parable, it is said, “Look at the fig tree (suke), and all the trees. (panta ta dendra)” While the literal translation seems nonsensical, this is what pushes the reader to look deeper. The Good News Translation gives us the meaning in “Think of the fig tree and all the other trees.” “Other” is not in the Greek, but English translations add words to complete the sense in the English. Regardless, the “all” in many verses, including these, is being used hyperbolically.
At Acts 2:17, Peter at Pentecost speaks of the prophecy in the Old Testament book of Joel, saying, “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all [pasan] flesh.” Was the Spirit poured out literally on all flesh at Pentecost? No, it was only 120 initially, and eventually a few thousand, out of millions then alive. Repeatedly when the term “all” is used in the Greek New Testament, “all” is not literally meant as “all,” but rather hyperbolically to emphasize. It can have the sense of “all others,” “all sorts, “all kinds,” and so on. Keep in mind that God did pour his Spirit out on ‘sons and daughters, young men and old men, even on my male slaves and on my female slaves.’
Another example would be at Luke 11:42, which reads, “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every [pan] herb, and neglect justice and the love of God.” It should be noted that both the mint and the rue are herbs. Thus, the GNT renders it, “all the other herbs.” While this author accepts the literal translations as being closest to the Word of God in English, they can infer that the mint and rue are not herbs, while the dynamic equivalent translations clear it up.
The universal salvation position that all humans will eventually be reconciled to God, receiving salvation, is unbiblical. God has given humanity free will, and as free moral persons, they have the ability to reject his sovereignty. Moreover, if universal salvation were true, it would be at odds with the very reason God allowed humanity to go on after the sin of Adam, as opposed to just starting over. Satan had challenged the sovereignty of God and the integrity of humans, saying that they would not remain faithful to God, if they faced adversity. If all, were to be saved anyway (including Satan), why would God have bothered to direct Satan’s attention to the integrity of Job, pointing out that humans can choose to be faithful in adverse times?
Universal salvation is a feel-good unbiblical doctrine that our imperfect flesh wants to be true, and Satan wants us to accept as true. It allows us to not be concerned about our actions or deeds, as one will receive salvation regardless. What they are doing is removing integrity and faithfulness from the equation. However, Like Adam, who betrayed God, Like Judas Iscariot, who betrayed the Son of God, and all the rest, who have rejected God,
Hebrews 6:4-6 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
4 For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put him to public shame.
Renew, Restore, or Bring Back: (Gr. anakainizō) The sense of anakainizō is to cause change to a previous state, to start anew.–Heb. 6:6.
Jesus, in speaking to the Father about his disciples, said,
John 17:12 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
12 While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.
The apostle Paul made it all too clear, as to the outcome of willful unrepentant sinners,
Hebrews 10:26-31 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the accurate knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
Accurate Knowledge: Epignosis is a strengthened or intensified form of gnosis (epi, meaning “additional”), meaning, “true,” “real,” “full,” “complete” or “accurate,” depending upon the context. Paul and Peter alone use epignosis.
There have been many goodhearted self-declared Christians from the second to the twenty-first century, who have held to the unbiblical position of universal salvation. Again, this is not a biblical teaching. While it is true that “God is love” (1 John 4:8), it is just as true that he is a God of “justice” (Isa. 33:22; Ps 33:5; Job 37:23) As a God of love, he gives us free moral agents the choice between life and death, if we choose to live under his sovereignty, we receive eternal life. As a God of Justice, if we choose to reject his sovereignty, he rejects us, and we receive eternal destruction.
-  For details see L. E. Froom, The Conditionalist Faith of Our Fathers (Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1965–1966).
-  Richard Bauckham, “Universalism: a historical survey”, Themelios 4.2 (September 1978): 47–54.
-  Microsoft ® Encarta ® 2006. © 1993-2005 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.
-  Please see Volume 1 of this series, Basic Teachings of the Bible, article titled, Is Hell a Place of eternal Torment.
-  W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, and William White Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville, TN: T. Nelson, 1996), 498.
-  Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich, and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1985), 451.
-  This verses is included because it convey the same message, but it does not contain the Greek pan. Rather, it has holos, meaning “whole, complete, entirely.”
-  Good News Translation (GNT)
-  The literal translations are the best for both Bible reading and personal Bible study, and the ambiguity of this text would be cleared up for those who research.