The Trees of the Forest Sing for Joy

A Hard Look at the “Universalist Texts” and Answers to the Commonest Objections


Author:
Tim Hall

Introduction

We’ve spent all our time so far talking about the “big picture”—character of God, “macro” readings of the Bible-as-a-whole, human freedom—the “forest” of overarching Biblical and philosophical themes which, in my opinion, ought to lead us to suspect a Universalist resolution to humanity's story. While I do find all of these considerations compelling on their own, they are not the means through which I came to adopt Universalism in the first place. I came to the view through the “trees” of the forest—texts. 

It started when I was first coming back to the Christian faith after years in absentia. I hadn’t taken on any Christian teaching since my teens, and was just beginning, then in my mid-30s, to read the Bible seriously, really for the first time in my life, not to find anything in particular, just to see what it said. There is no such thing, I know, as a lensless reading of Scripture, but it would be hard to get much closer to one than I was at that point. It was in this posture and under these circumstances that I had what still ranks as one of the most compelling movements of the Holy Spirit in my life: I came across Colossians 1:20, and my brain lit up like a Christmas tree. 

Selfie taken upon reading Colossians 1:20 for the first time

I want to be clear: I do not believe that any experience I have with the Holy Spirit ought to be convincing to anybody except me. I only mention my history at all to say to those who ask how we Universalists can read the Bible and still be Universalists that it was all and only through reading the Bible, as thoughtfully and as prayerfully as I knew how, that I became a Universalist in the first place. So I just want to present here the torrent of texts that came to me unbidden as I continued to read and to pray, and I want to unpack some of those texts to the best of my ability and then take a look at the best objections to the Universalist interpretations I’m offering to see if those objections hold up. 

In an earlier post, I mentioned that my own personal list of “Universalist texts” sits around 60. As I’ve engaged in discussions with smart non-Universalists, I’ve come to see many of these as having plausible non-Universalist interpretations. There is no surprise here. For any doctrine anyone supports, there will be some texts that will seem more powerful than others. So what I want to spend most of my time here doing is focusing on five texts whose Universalist implications seem to me, after a decade or so of reading and praying and talking to smart people who disagree with me, unassailable. These are the aforementioned Colossians 1:16-20, Romans 5:12-21, 1 Corinthians 15:22-28, Philippians 2:9-11, and Ephesians 1:7-10. In each instance, I’ll quote the text, offer a little exegesis, then discuss common objections.

In general, in order for a text to be considered to teach Universalism, I take it as uncontroversial that there are two criteria it must satisfy: The first is that it applies to literally all persons, the second is that it teaches the redemption of those literally-all persons. While I do think that, absent some compelling textual or contextual reason to interpret it otherwise, pole position in Biblical interpretation ought to rest with the plainest reading, so that we ought to read “all” as meaning “literally all” in most instances, I am also aware that there are times when the Bible uses “all” to mean something other than “literally all.” You will notice, therefore, that none of the texts below relies for its universality on the word “all.” Instead, the universal scope of these texts comes through the peculiarly expansive language (Phil. 2, Eph. 1), the parallel construction (Rom. 5, 1 Cor. 15), or both (Col. 1). 

Colossians 1:16-20

Text

16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Literally All

Paul’s language here doesn’t stop with “all things.” If it did, perhaps the non-Universalist would have recourse to the interpretation that Paul just means “all kinds of things” or the like. Such an interpretation doesn’t seem preferable to me in any event, but Paul’s language here won’t permit it anyway. First, it isn’t just “all things”—it’s “all things, whether on earth or in heaven”in other words, “all things in all of created order.” Further, the language of “on earth or in heaven” encourages us to read the “all things” of v20 in parallel with the “all things [. . .] in heaven and on earth” that were created in v16, which for Christians can only possibly mean at least literally all human persons.

Redemption

That the text bespeaks redemption for literally all things comes both textually and contextually. First, Paul says that the literally-all things of v16, 20 are “reconciled.” The word is “apokatallasso,” and it is used only in this context and in Ephesians 2, where, in the latter text, in v16, it is the Gentiles and Jews who are “apokatallasso.” And the reconciliation between Jew and Gentile is not one where any kind of separation persists; rather, the border wall between them has been “broken down” (v14) so that the two are made into “one new man” (v15), with all enmity between them “put to death” (v16). Nor do we have to wonder if Paul is using the word in some altogether different way here in Colossians, since Paul specifically notes that this “reconciliation” between God and man achieves “peace” between God and literally all mankind—just as does the same “reconciliation” in Eph. 2 between Jew and Gentile. 

Objections

There is therefore to my mind no plausible interpretation of this text which can cause it to mean that the cross didn’t accomplish universal communion of every human person with God. Nevertheless, some who are committed against our view will insist that there is a caveat in v23:

if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven”

These objectors will claim that this verse indicates there is still some work to be done on the part of people in order to actualize the reconciliation. But there are several problems with this line of reasoning. First, from the listing of a conditional, one gets no information about whether or not anyone will meet the condition. This is a common argumentative tactic in this discussion, but it isn’t a defeater—it’s a formal fallacy. What we want is reasons to know whether or not a condition listed will or will not be met. I argue we have at least three:

  1. According to v20, the reconciliation has already been accomplished “by the blood of the cross.” It cannot both be true that it has already been accomplished and that anything left to be done will not be done. It’s true that we don’t experience the world now as living into the reality of this reconciliation, but the fact that it was accomplished at the cross renders its ultimate actualization a fait accompli.
  2. Paul goes on to assure the very people to whom he’s addressed the conditional in v23 that they are assured of its accomplishment, calling “Christ in you” [the same “you” who are to enjoined to “continue in the faith”] the “hope of glory.” Christian “hope” is not wishful thinking; it is waiting in joyful expectation for a thing promised—in this case, “glory.” There is no room for doubt about whether the glory will come.
  3. Finally, the work of repentance that “continuing in faith” implies is purposed by God for literally every human person in Phil. 2 (below).

But suppose that none of this satisfies the objector. What then? It seems at any rate abundantly clear that, even if it were possible that some may not continue in faith, that their reconciliation, at least from God’s perspective, is complete. Is it possible that God would inflict a judgment of irredeemable, pure harm on anyone with whom, at least from God’s perspective, there is no enmity, but only peace? It seems a passing awkward conclusion to draw, so why draw it? (I imagine the answer to this rhetorical question for some folks will be “Because other texts demand it.” In a future post, we will see to what extent they really do.)

Philippians 2:10-11

"10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, 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."

Literally All

As noted earlier, the universality of this text is evident due to the peculiarly expansive language: It is not simply “every knee” and “every tongue,” which would still sound universal but perhaps leave the non-universalist with a little bit of interpretive wiggle room. No, this is every knee and every tongue “in heaven and on earth and under the earth”—that is, every-single-one, every-single-where. What stronger language could Paul have chosen if he wished to indicate that he was talking about literally every human person? It is hard to imagine.

Redemption

In the immediate context, Paul doesn’t note that salvation comes as a result of this universal confession, but there is a parallel, in Romans 10, where he could not be clearer about it: 

9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 

Therefore, that the universal confession of Christ’s Lordship is salvific is the conclusion of the premises offered in Romans 10 and Phil. 2, thus:

P1: If one confesses Christ’s Lordship, that one will be saved (Rom. 10).

P2: Literally everyone will confess Christ’s Lordship (Phil. 2).

C: Therefore, literally everyone will be saved (Universalism).

And there can be no doubt that these texts are parallel, so that the confession sufficient for salvation in Romans 10 is just the confession Paul has in mind in Phil. 2. It is the same author using the same language in a very similar context:


As a matter of bare logic, the objector could point out at this stage that whereas Romans 10 stipulates two conditions—confession and belief—Philippians 2 only affirms one—the confession. But if the confession is, as the text says, “to the glory of God the Father,” surely it's more reasonable to assume it will be accompanied by belief than that it won't. The reverse—that they'd confess Christ’s Lordship without believing God has raised him from the dead—seems deeply strange to me. In an even more meaningful way, the confession in Phil. 2 is caused by Christ’s work on the cross (v8). How much sense does it make to argue that the confession, then, comes without belief in the very thing that caused it?

Objections

There are two objections worth mentioning to this universalist text that I am accustomed to hearing:

  1. The confession of Phil. 2 is coerced, not willing, and thus not effective for salvation.
  2. It is too late at this point for those in hell to be saved by this confession that would have saved them had they made it on earth. 

We'll take these objections one at a time. 

Objection 1.) This confession is coerced, and thus not salvific. 

There is simply no evidence to suggest that this is the case. To the contrary, the word used for confess—”exomologeo”— both it and all its cognates, both in the New Testament and throughout the LXX, are always used in the context of willing, and almost always joyful expression. Most pointedly of these uses, Paul seems clearly to be referencing Isaiah 45, where the confession is also in the context of salvation:

22 "Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.

23 By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not  be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear.

Further, Paul notes that this confession, as we’ve already discussed, is "to the glory of God the Father." How much glory can the Father possibly get from a confession He coerces, and that He therefore knows isn't genuine? That type of behavior seems the purview of a myopically narcissistic earthly dictator, not of an omniscient and omnibenevolent Heavenly Father.

Objection 2.) It's too late. 

Why? Paul gives no such addendum in Romans 10; he simply says that the salvation follows from the confession and belief. If that effect—salvation—follows necessarily from the cause—confession, about which Paul’s language in Romans 10 leaves no doubt, then the fact that such a confession comes after death for some people is simply irrelevant. And the text most commonly marshalled against the idea of postmortem opportunity, Hebrews 9:27, seems woefully inept for making such a proof. Here’s that text:

27 people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment

Well, fine. Every Christian Universalist I know affirms this timeline. But it eludes me entirely what these words have to do with the possibility either of postmortem opportunity for a salvific confession or with the possibility of recovery from the judgment they face. I’m not playing coy, here—I genuinely see no connection. Perhaps in the comments, someone will be so kind as to illuminate it for me, but no one in any conversation I’ve had about it has yet had much luck. And in the meantime, texts such as 1 Pt. 3:18–4:6, 1 Cor. 15:29,  Rev. 21:24 (when considered alongside the rest of the narrative of the “kings of the earth” from John’s Apocalypse), Rev. 22:2 (when considered alongside the rest of the narrative of the “nations” from John’s Apocalypse), Mt. 8:12 (when considered alongside Rom. 11:12-16) seem to indicate that neither death nor eschatological judgment is any barrier to God’s salvific will. I mention these only in passing here, and I am aware that in each instance there are some people who would deny these texts teach postmortem opportunity for salvation. I will suggest only two things for now:

  1. The plausibility of postmortem opportunity from these texts seems patently more clear at least than the plausibility of any denial of such opportunity from Hebrews 9. 
  2. As we already know, God’s MO is precisely to restore from judgment those who undergo it. To argue otherwise in the eschaton, without exceptional evidence, seems like a simple instance of special pleading. 

Romans 5:12-21

Text

Literally All/Redemption

Again, the power of the text here doesn’t rest on the word “all.” But neither does it rest on the expansive language Paul uses in Colossians or Philippians. Instead, the Universalist thrust of this text comes in the three-fold repetition of parallel construction (vv15, 18, 19), a construction common to Paul, indicating co-extensiveness of the groups on either side of the parallel. So those to whom the “gift of grace” overflows are co-extensive with those who “died by the trespass” of Adam (note also that it’s not “many,” but “the many”—a Semitism meaning “all”); those who see “justification and life” are coextensive with those who see “condemnation” (v18); those who are “made righteous” are coextensive with those who were “made sinners.” Either this is literally everybody everywhere, or some folks were never condemned sinners who died by the trespass of Adam in the first place, and thus were never in need of the gift that brings justification and life and righteousness in the second. In either instance, Universalism obtains.

Objections

The principal objection I am accustomed to hearing here refers to v17. The objector will insist that one has to “receive” the gift in order for it to result in righteousness and justification and life. On the one hand, I agree; on the other, this is irrelevant; on a third, it’s probably just a misreading of the language:

Agreement

I tend to think that a faith response actualizes the communion with God acquired at the cross. But Phil. 2 renders that faith response a foregone conclusion, so the insistence that one must “receive” by responding in faith doesn’t tell us anything about how many or who will do so. (Philippians 2, by contrast, does.)

Irrelevancy

That said, we don’t need to visit Phil. 2 to see if it all comes out all right in the end. Rom. 5:18-19 by themselves let us know that the end of all this is decided. Righteousness, justification, and life come to exactly those to whom also came condemnation and death, and that’s literally all of us. So if Paul intends in v17 to offer some sort of necessary criterion, he nevertheless sees, as vv18-19 show us, that the meeting of the criterion is inevitable.

Misreading

What has gone before this renders the point I’m about to make mostly moot, but I do think it worthwhile to offer that the vision of “receive” as something akin to “reaching out and taking” is probably a misguided one. First, consider that Paul has already told us to whom the “gift” of v17 comes—it is to “the many” who “died by the trespass” (v15); again, the parallel structure (especially with the intensifying “how much more”!) tells us exactly who the recipients are. And this is just the form this section of text delivers: Paul links each step (condemnation, death, gift, righteousness, justification, life) to the next. He is very methodical here, as he often is. Note also that the condemnation isn’t a thing one “reaches out and takes”—it comes from Adam. Nor is “righteousness, justification, and life” something we can do for ourselves—it can only come from God, through Jesus, as the text also specifies (v15). Finally, as Dr. Tom Talbott points out, the verb in v17 is “lambano.” It is the same verb we see in 2 Cor. 11, where Paul relates that:

24 “Five times I received [lambano] from the Jews the forty lashes minus one.”

Paul, of course, did not “reach out and take” these lashes; they were bestowed upon him from without—just like the condemnation comes to us from without (from Adam), and the justification and righteousness and life come to us from without (from God through Jesus).

1 Corinthians 15:22-28

Text

22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.

Literally All

As with Romans 5, the universality of the text is in its parallel construction. So as with Romans 5, either literally all human persons experience the “In-Christ” life or not literally all persons experience the Adamic death. Thus, as with Romans 5, in either instance, Universalism here obtains.

Redemption

Both the contrast between Adam and Christ and the contrast between the death one brings and the life the other brings and the parallel construction of the text make this one read like a parallel of Romans 5:18, so if Paul has Universalism in mind in Romans, as it seems unassailable to me that he does, then he has it in mind here as well. For life to be “in Christ,” after all, entails that the one who experiences it is a “new creature” (2 Cor. 5:17), “redeemed” (Rom. 3:4), “free from condemnation” (Rom. 8:1-2), eternally alive with God (Rom. 6:23, 11). Finally, as noted in a previous post, this schema of Universal redemption from Universal judgment and condemnation fits, glove-like, the concentric pattern of same the Old Testament details time and again.

Objections

The commonest objection to the universalist thrust of 1 Cor. 15 is to assert that it's talking about two different groups—those in Adam, who die, and those in Christ, who are made alive."

But there are a couple of problems with this objection. The first is that, if that were the case, the wording should be, "For as all those in Adam die, so all those in Christ shall be made alive." Greek prepositional phrases act like English prepositional phrases in that we determine whether they are adjectival (modifying nouns and pronouns [such as "all"]) or adverbial (modifying verbs [such as "die" and "made alive"]) based on placement. Here, placement dictates they are adverbs—which is why almost all translations render the verse as they do and not in this other way. And the fact that they are adverbs means the pronouns “all” are left unmodified, and thus co-extensive. 

The second problem with the criticism that those who are “in Adam” are a separate group from those who are “in Christ” is vv. 45-49, which read as follows:

45 Thus it is written, "The first man Adam became a living being"; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.

46 But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual.

47 The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.

48 As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust, and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven.

49 Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.

We’re in the same context as the quoted passage here, just a few sentences down and using the same language; there can be little doubt this is an expansion on Paul’s ideas from those few sentences earlier. And these latter verses indicate precisely what the Universalist says Paul has in mind in the former—there aren’t two different groups, one in Adam, one in Christ; there is one group, first in Adam, then in Christ (vv45, 46). And lest the objector point to v48 and say, "See?! I told you it was two different groups!" I'd point to 49, the conclusion of this section, where it unambiguously is not—the man of dust precedes the man of heaven; both apply to the same group. 

Finally, there is the issue of v28, which insists that the final act of all this redemption (v22) and destruction of forces inimical thereto (vv24-26), is that God will be “all in all.” And how can this be if any are locked finally and irrevocably away from God in a judgment of irredeemable, pure harm? 

This is where annihilation sometimes steps in to offer that God is all in all because all the rebellious sinners have been finally and irrevocably destroyed. But beyond the problems of this scheme already mentioned, such a view doesn’t map well to the language. While it may seem broadly possible that a destruction (or a quarantine) of sinners may look like their “subjection,” the language of “destruction” (katargeo) is reserved here for death and powers in opposition to God which form a barrier between God and man (vv24, 26); it is not applied to man himself. By contrast, “subjection” (hypotasso) is here what Paul uses to describe the relationship of Christ to the Father, and surely this isn’t a subjection which indicates the destruction of Christ or the separation of Christ from God the Father. Why, then, would the same “subjection” of “all things” that aren’t destroyed (v27), here in the selfsame context, indicate something different?

Ephesians 1:7-10

7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,

8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight

9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ

10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

Literally All

As with all texts here listed, the universal scope of redemption doesn’t come simply from the word “all.” Along with Phil. 2 and Col. 1, the universality comes with that expansive language: “things in heaven and things on earth.” This is the language of all of created order; there is no room to wonder whether the “all” here means “literally all.”

Redemption

Aside from the obvious specific mention of “redemption” (v7), the verb used in v10 for “unite” is "anakephalaioō." This verb is used only one other time in the NT, in Romans 13:9, where all commandments are "summed up [anakephalaioō] in this word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" The kind of “summing up” in Romans 13 is not the kind that destroys a law, or keeps some laws locked in irrecoverable conflict with it, but which brings all laws harmoniously together under the umbrella of love. That harmonious “uniting/summing up,” applied to our text at Ephesians, yields not some of creation destroyed or locked in irrecoverable conflict with Christ, but all of creation brought harmoniously together under the umbrella of Christ. And again, as with 1 Cor. 15, this is a summing up that takes place "in [Christ]." And we have already discussed what that signifier means in our discussion of the previous passage (new creature, free from condemnation, eternally alive with God). 

Summing Up

In recent conversation with a non-Universalist, I was offered a familiar refrain. In an attempt to counter the potent Universalism of Romans 5, the fellow said something like, “If this is about Universalism, then it contradicts everything else Paul is saying in Romans.” Now, I don’t think that’s remotely true. In fact, I feel comfortable challenging anyone to name one text in Romans which even appears to teach a judgment of irredeemable, pure harm—it isn’t there to be found. (More on this in a future post.) But the guy’s more general point, if I understand him correctly, is that Universalist texts are rare, and irredeemable, pure harm texts are abundant, so I’m probably wrong about Universalism. 

To this, first, I am not sure that such an approach to scripture—where we each put all our texts in a bucket then put the buckets on a scale to see whose side tips—is a particularly persuasive or responsible approach to the Bible. But if it were, I think our “bucket” would prove plenty heavy. The above texts demonstrate, I believe, a persistent pattern of Universalist thought spanning the works of the most prominent New Testament writer. And though I’m not looking in depth at them now, I think there are other texts, which I mention briefly below, every bit as potent as the above. I’ll reference these for further reflection as well as to indicate that evidence for our view isn’t scant, but abundant. 

But before we get to those texts, I want to offer one final thought about the five texts above: the reason I wanted to look in so much depth at these particular five texts was not only because of the forcefulness with which they seem individually to teach our view; they also limn, in my opinion, the silhouette of a system for the graduated realization of the Universalism I’m proposing, which is this: 

Because of Adam, all are condemned and die (Rom. 5, 1 Cor. 15), but because of Jesus’s work on the cross, all are reconciled and made at peace with God (Col. 1), a cross-bought peace which works itself out ultimately in a universal confession of faith (Phil. 2) so that the universally faithful are given a righteous, justified life (Rom. 5, 1 Cor. 15) to the end that, in the end, everything is summed up harmoniously in Christ (Eph. 1) and God is thereby all in all (1 Cor. 15). 

In other words, as we said a few posts ago, these texts neatly sum up the Bible with a pattern precisely parallel to the pattern on evident display in the Old Testament:

Miscellany

Here are some more contents of the Universalist “bucket of texts.” This is not an exhaustive list, and I am aware that, in many instances, there may be (or certainly are) perfectly plausible non-Universalist interpretations of these texts. But I think at least in most instances, the Universalist understanding will seem obvious and intuitive (although I’ve added some emphases for the purpose of underscoring what may go missed, and where a little explanation seems to me in order, I’ve tried to offer it as well). 

Old Testament


2 Samuel 14:14 (ESV) 14 We must all die; we are like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. But God will not take away life, and he devises means so that the banished one will not remain an outcast.

_______________________________

Psalms 103:9 (ESV) 9 He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever.


[and lest we think this is because he punishes irrevocably and thus is sated]:


Psalms 103:10 (ESV) 10 He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.

____________________________

Psalms 115:3 (ESV) 3 Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases.


(Elsewhere, God’s stated desires are that all be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. So if that’s what God wants and God gets everything God wants…)

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Isaiah 53:6 (ESV) 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.


So does God require double payment? (Also see John 1:29; Hebrews 2:9; 1 John 2:2)

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Jeremiah 31:34 (ESV) 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."

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Lamentations 3:22 The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end;


(Any system of irredeemable, pure harm necessarily says those mercies do come to an end.)

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Lamentations 3:31 (ESV) 31 For the Lord will not cast off forever, 32 but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; 33 for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.

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Ezekiel 16:55 (ESV) 55 As for your sisters, Sodom and her daughters shall return to their former state, and Samaria and her daughters shall return to their former state, and you and your daughters shall return to your former state.


(In the New Testament, Jesus and Peter and Jude all compare eschatological judgment to the judgment of fire undergone by Sodom. So if eschatological judgment looks like Sodom’s, wouldn’t it look like a judgment that ends in restoration?)

New Testament


Luke 3:6 (ESV) 6 and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'"

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John 3:17 (ESV) 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

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John 12:32 (ESV) 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself."

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Acts 3:21 (ESV) 21 whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago.

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Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,


(Wait, who is "justified" in 24? The only subject in sight is the "all" in 23.)

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Romans 8:29 (ESV) 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many  30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.


(This may not sound terribly universalist at first glance, but contrapose that list of conditionals: if they weren't glorified, they weren't justified. If they weren't justified, they weren't called. If they weren't called, they weren't predestined. If they weren't predestined, God didn't...foreknow them...? Just who, exactly, did our omniscient God not “foreknow”...?)

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Romans 8:32 (ESV) 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

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Romans 11:32 (ESV) 32 For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.

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Romans 11:36 (ESV) 36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.


(If you wanted to summarize the entire Bible in one verse, this might be that verse. But here everything ("all things") in creation ("from him") finds its ultimate end with God ("to him")—not eternally separated, not destroyed irrevocably.)

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2 Corinthians 5:18-19 (NASB) 18 Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, 19 namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

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1 Timothy 2:4 (ESV) 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

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1 Timothy 4:10 (ESV) 10 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.


"Especially" is an interesting word here with many possible interpretations, but none of those interpretations seem to limit the scope of the salvation, which is to all men, which can't be the case if some aren't saved.

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Titus 2:11 (ESV) 11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,

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2 Peter 3:9 (ESV) 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.


Two things to remind the reader here at the end of the list:

  1. I do not need to be convinced that it is possible to read some of these texts as failing to convincingly teach Universalism. I think the honest critic, though, will see that neither is it difficult to understand how someone might come away from reading the Bible—and seeing these texts—believing in Universalism.
  2. These still don’t represent every text a Universalist could muster. This list (and that caveat) intend to indicate that our view is not based on a few texts here and there, but a sustained witness, backed by a persistent theme of restoration from punishment enacted by a God who is said and shown to be, in God’s essence, Perfect Love.

Tim Hall

Tim is an educator in Texas and a worship leader at his UMC campus. He majored in philosophy at the University of North Texas, minoring in English, and has taught courses in literature, philosophy, and Christian apologetics. Tim resides in North Texas with his wife, children, and pets. He suspects the pets will be with him in the New Jerusalem as well as everybody else. Except maybe the cat.