Universalism 47: Searching the New Testament

David Hart recently remarked that he has found 47 biblical texts that clearly speak of universal salvation.  Does that number sound high or low to you?  I thought it might be a fun exercise to find the 47 texts.  I’ll get us starting with 10.  Can you find the other 37?

Romans 5:18: “Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.”

Romans 11:32: “For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.”

1 Timothy 2:4: “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men.”

Colossians 1:19-20: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

1 Corinthians 15:22: “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”

1 Corinthians 15:27-28: “‘For God has put all things in subjection under his feet.’ But when it says, ‘All things are put in subjection under him,’ it is plain that he is excepted who put all things under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things under him, that God may be everything to every one.”

Ephesians 1:9-10: “And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.”

Philippians 2:9-10: “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, 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.”

John 12:31-32: “Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out; and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”

John 17:2: “For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.”

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23 Responses to Universalism 47: Searching the New Testament

  1. No Man's Land says:

    Off the top of my head, all of Romans 3, Rom. 9.16, Rom. 5.20, Rom. 11.25-26, Rom. 6.1

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  2. tgbelt says:

    I’ve always thought Rev 5.13 was significant: “And then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea. They sang: ‘Blessing and honor and glory and power belong to the one sitting on the throne and to the Lamb forever and ever’.”

    Every creature | in heaven | on earth | under the earth | in the sea

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    • Ed Smith says:

      Yes, I’ve always liked that one. There’s clearly a point made of universality there and it certainly sounds like they are reconciled to God.

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  3. Bilbo says:

    I have a “Biblical” argument for Universalism:

    (1) The saints will judge the world. (1 Corinthians 6:2)
    (2) The saints are admonished not to judge, lest they be judged. (Matthew 7:1)
    (3) Therefore the saints will refrain from judging the world.
    (4) Therefore the world will not be judged.

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  4. john burnett says:

    it’s the wrong approach to ransack the Bible for passages that prove what you’re desperate to prove.

    what you need to do is get the story of the Bible as a whole, of which these passages are part, and live with your question in the light of that story as a whole.

    and no, you don’t get an “answer” to your question. Some knowledge is beyond the horizon of the human condition.

    but who is the God who is revealed in Jesus?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      As the Joker might say, “Why so serious?” It’s just a fun exercise, John. Besides, proof-texting has a long history in the life of the Church, and it actually serves an invaluable purpose—it helps keep the tradition alive and hopefully will encourage people to dig deeper into the Scriptures. Ditto for the florilegia of patristic sayings. One has to begin somewhere.

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    • No Man's Land says:

      John, I totally agree with you, which, in a sort of irony, is why I’m a universalist. For me, it is the only coherent understanding of Pauline theology and God’s unconditional love. Indeed I think, unless read in this light, one can very easily miss the essence of the NT: grace.

      So I don’t see universalism as a cherry-picking approach to Scripture, although we all prooftext to some extent, but a position that takes the whole of Scripture, and its derivatives, into account.

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      • SteveO says:

        Amen! The accusation of proof texting rings hollow. How can it be called proof texting when SOOO many passages emphatically support the Heart of the Almighty to save all? When so many passages emphatically support the ability and power of the Almighty to save all? “That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.” 1 Timothy 4:10

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  5. Ignatius says:

    This one jumped out at me last night
    “…hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched. For EVERYONE WILL BE SALTED WITH FIRE. Salt is good…” Mark 9:48-49

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  6. Jeremy says:

    Matthew 20:16, “The first will be last and the last will first”. Note it does not say, “The First will suffer in Gehenna eternally” or “The first will be shut out forever”. They will make it eventually.

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  7. Marc says:

    It is a great comfort to know that God’s presence will illuminate and purify, yet love cannot be forced. To insist that all will come to love their creator, is very speculative.

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  8. Edward A. Hara says:

    I am getting more and more confused. Would appreciate some thoughts and help here. This is an honest request and not looking to argue or be a jerk with people.

    If the universalist hope is true (which I hope it is because it is very appealing and also inline with the superabundant love of God) then why is there a devil and demons who are still allowed to tempt people and trick them?

    What is the point of such a thing being allowed to happen? In the Roman Church, we get the idea that the devil is allowed to tempt God’s baptized children, even to the point of tricking them out of their baptism and into eternal hell. I find this a reprehensible belief. What kind of father would let an enemy hurt his children? What does such belief say about the Fatherhood of God? I am having a real problem understanding this idea and would appreciate any input in light of the universalist hope (even outside the universalist hope, I still say, what kind of father allows his children to be tricked and destroyed?)

    I just don’t get it.

    If I buy into the Roman idea, then really, I would have to say that the Calvinist approach to eschatology is more true – i.e., there are certain “elect’ who are protected from all evil and the rest can go straight to eternal hell, even the baptized.

    Such thoughts are a horror to me. I cannot find it within me to see such a God as loving at all.

    Thank you for any help you can give me.

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    • brian says:

      Edward, two works that I highly recommend as expressing the Fatherhood of God in a powerful way — George MacDonald’s Unspoken Sermons, and Charles Peguy’s The Portal of the Mystery of Hope.

      There are plenty of theologies out there that are disguised diabolism.

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    • Jonathan says:

      Am I correct here in thinking that the problem of evil is piggy-backing somewhat on the question of universal salvation based on a (perhaps specifically RC) understanding of temptation? That there is evil is one problem; what will be the outcome of all the evil is another.

      The matter of temptation is beguiling. It’s so easy to lapse into moralism. I think we have to never forget that Jesus himself was tempted and that he experienced some kind of divine abandonment on the Cross. I have yet to encounter an explanation of these tremendous scenes that didn’t feel like “explaining away.”

      I can’t be of much help, but I would say that if temptation is the concern, one couldn’t do better than to meditate on the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness. And if one is into poetry, maybe read Paradise Regained.

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  9. D. B. Hart says:

    Having been directed hither once again, but refusing to spoil the game, may I make just a few observations, to help the earnest searcher?

    1) The text as written in Greek must be observed. For instance, Romans 5:19 says exactly the same thing as 5:18, and hence asserts exactly the same isomorphic proportionality between the protasis (what happens in Adam) and apodosis (what happens in Christ). This is obscured in translations that render οἱ πολλοί as “many” rather than “the many,” and can be missed even in accurate translations if one fails to remember the special force of the definite article in Greek. The opposition (as in Plato, so in Paul) between “the one” and “the many” is the distinction between the singularity of a principle and the plurality of “everything else”; and, really, if you follow the logic of the verse, this is clear anyway.

    2) One must make sure that the translation upon which one relies is accurate and honest. For instance, Titus 2:11 in Nestle-Aland reads Ἐπεφάνη γὰρ ἡ χάρις τοῦ θεοῦ σωτήριος πᾶσιν ἀνθρώποις. Now, some translations try to make that plural dative “all human beings” follow from the verb–“the grace of God that saves has been revealed to all human beings”–but, while the grammar of the Greek is not outraged by this, the syntax precludes it (syntax does matter in Greek, even though it is inflected); and, in fact, the Byzantine majority text naturally renders it as Ἐπεφάνη γὰρ ἡ χάρις τοῦ θεοῦ ἡ σωτήριος πᾶσιν ἀνθρώποις, with the relative pronoun ἡ placed where the syntax demands it should be. The verse speaks, without any ambiguity, of the grace that “saves all human beings.” So, if your translation says otherwise (as, alas, the KJV does), it is simply wrong. And even some translators who yield to the evidence of the syntax have been known to do their damnedest to subvert the meaning. The New International Version, the second most contemptibly dishonest standard version in English (after the ESV), regularly inserts words into verses to make them conform to its editors’ (rather crude) theological prejudices; in its rendering of Titus 2:11, God’s grace merely “offers salvation to all men” (just another place where they had to correct a lapse by the Holy Spirit).

    3) Nuances of Greek lost in translation can be difficult to rescue from oblivion if one lacks a touch of specialized knowledge. I expect someone has already brought up Philippians 2:10-11, but it is worth pointing out that the word translated usually as “will confess” is ἐξομολογήσεται, which in the Septuagint and Koine New Testament is almost always used to mean not just a mere acknowledgement or a confession won by force (one of the customary ways of dismissing this verse from the universalist list is to say many will confess under torture or in terror), but as a joyous profession, even an act of praise, especially if the phrase is something like ἐξομολογήσεται…εἰς δόξαν, “unto glory”; it is also used of confessing one’s sins, but even then not under coercion or in grief, but as an open declaration without reservation, contritely but gratefully. So the passage really is about a universal hymn of grateful praise.

    4) I cannot say with any confidence that my rough count was of 47 separate passages or just 47 verses. I will check if I can remember where I made the note.

    But, in another sense, doesn’t the whole thing taken in its entirety say it?

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    • No Man's Land says:

      “But, in another sense, doesn’t the whole thing taken in its entirety say it?”
      Exactly.

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      • D. B. Hart says:

        Sorry, in regard to Titus 2:11, I meant that in the Byzantine text the repetition of the article represents where the syntax demands that the relative pronoun in the English should go. I should have read my remrak before hitting the button. The point is that “the grace of God, that which saves all men” is how one has the text has to be rendered, with the adjective placed clearly after what it qualifies so that it can take the plural dative as its object. Fascinating, of course.

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        • No Man's Land says:

          I agree.

          The NIV and KJV have something like “the grace of God has appeared to all men” or some such translation, which is not only erroneous for the reasons you outline above, but false on its face–surely, there have been people, since Christ, who have never heard of Christ and God’s grace through him

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    • Marc says:

      The New American Standard Bible has Titus 2:11 correct David.

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  10. D. B. Hart says:

    Oh, I can’t resist. Three obvious ones that get overlooked: John 3:17, 1 John 2:2, 1 Timothy 4:10. The last verse is delightful, because believers are only a special class of the saved, not the class itself. The middle verse does equal service in contradicting the Calvinist heresy of limited atonement. The first tends not to be noticed because its prettier, more famous sister gets all the press attention (especially at sporting events).

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    • brian says:

      We really need your translation of the N.T.
      I hope there will be a lengthy introduction, with perhaps a brief argument for universalism.
      (I know you are working on a full length monograph on the subject.)

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    • Marc says:

      Fr. Thomas Hopko, of blessed memory, used to say: “One drop of the Lord’s blood saves everyone, but the question is, who will accept it?” I think that the good news of the Gospel is that most, if not all, will accept it. I believe that the annihilation of Satan and the demons in Gehenna, may enable the most wicked of human beings to come to repentance and reconciliation.

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