Happily Ever After (Part 04) – The Biblical Argument for Universalism: New Testament

The story of Jared and Tyler Duncan’s conversation about universalism continues.  This time, they will be taking a look at what the New Testament has to say about the doctrine.

      “Come on, Snuffy, forget about the flowers.”  Jared Duncan instructed his grandmother’s Collie as she tried to sniff through one of the flower beds at the local park.  The dog glanced up for a moment as if to acknowledge Jared’s command and then returned to sniffing the flora.
      “I guess what Snuffy wants, Snuffy gets,” Tyler, Jared’s cousin, put in.  The boys were walking the dog for their grandmother who had to tend to some errands that had been overlooked in the few days since Pop, the boys’ grandfather, had suddenly passed away.  The cousins graciously offered to take Snuffy for her daily walk so that she could get in her exercise.
It was a bright day out with large, puffy white clouds extending across the sky as far as the eye could see.  A slight breeze bristled through the trees of the city’s main park as children played on swing sets and families picnicked on blankets.  Jared and Tyler were heading toward the part of park that was a walking trail for people with their dogs.  Soon, they arrived at the trail and found it, surprisingly, clear of other pet owners.
      “Looks like we got the trail all to ourselves today.”  Jared said as he guided the dog onto the dirt trail.  Snuffy, though perturbed that she had been separated from the flowers, now turned her nose toward the novel smells of plants along the dirt path.  As they began walking, Jared playfully punched Tyler in the arm.  “So, have you fully digested our talk on the Old Testament and universalism?”
      Tyler nodded eagerly.  “Yes, and I have gone back through some of the passages you shared with me.  I’m still shocked that in all the time I’ve gone to church that I’ve never seen those verses before.”
      Jared laughed.  “Well, to be honest with you, you probably have seen them before, but what often happens is that they get explained away to avoid their obvious universal scope in talking about the restoration of all creation – or – they are read in light of the verses that talk about utter destruction coming upon evildoers instead of the other way around.”
      “Makes sense.”  Tyler commented.  Jared had returned from college for the boys’ grandfather’s funeral several days earlier and since the night of the wake, the two had been in a dialogue about the doctrine of Universal Reconciliation, the Christian doctrine predominant in the early church that taught that following post mortem correction for those who practiced evil in this life, all will be saved.  Tyler looked over at Jared as his cousin pulled the dog out of a bush in which she had tangled the leash.  “So, what about the New Testament?   I’ve heard my pastor say that Jesus talked more about Hell than he did about heaven.  Why such an emphasis on Hell if everyone is going to be saved?”
      Jared, having successfully untangled the dog, chuckled.  “Jesus talked about Hell twelve times and he does so in highly metaphorical language (Bell, 2011, Klassen, 2001).  It’s a common myth that he talks about Hell more than heaven.  He talks about money more than he talks about Hell.  There is more mention of fish in the gospels than there is about Hell.  Jesus talks most about the Kingdom of God and, unfortunately, that gets equated in today’s church with ‘going to heaven when you die’ when that is not what the term originally meant.”
      “Then, why do people say that Hell is mentioned more often?”
      “I honestly can’t tell you.  It’s a myth that someone started somewhere and it just gets repeated among Christians.  I hear people say that all the time and used to believe it myself at one point.”
      “Wow,”  Tyler said aloud.  “It’s amazing how easily these myths get passed along unquestioned.”
      “Heel!” Jared commanded the dog.  He then looked up.  “It’s all because we as Christians expect other people to do the research for us instead of doing our own and, many times, even some pastors get lazy.  However, on the more negative side, there are many people whose theology is supported by such ideas, so they just keep on repeating them no matter what evidence they are shown that they are incorrect.”
      “Okay, so Jesus mentions Hell only 12 times,” Tyler summarized.  “But that still means there’s a Hell.”
      “Of course.  Hardly any Christian Universalist will tell you there’s no Hell.  The disagreement is over its nature, its purpose, and its duration.  What you will see in the passages in which Jesus talks about Hell and in other passages where he mentions judgment, the Old Testament themes of refinement and purification continue to run through them (Beauchemin, 2007).  Never does Jesus say that Hell is eternal, but at the same time, he doesn’t make it sound like a country club picnic, either.”
      “I’m aware of that from what I read the last time I skimmed through the gospels.”  Tyler reached into his back pocket and pulled out a mini-Bible he could reference as he and Jared talked.
      “The first point I want to make,” Jared said, “is that Jesus’ references to Hell are the first mention of the concept in the Bible.”
      Tyler nodded.
      “There may have been references to post-mortem judgment alluded to in the Old Testament, but none that came right out and said it, besides the one passage in Daniel 12 which doesn’t mention Hell.  So, think about it like this:  Why would God wait thousands and thousands of years to reveal the fate of the wicked?  If Hell is the worst fate that a person could possibly encounter, then why was He not screaming it from rooftops all the way back in the Garden of Eden?”
      Tyler shrugged.  “Can’t say I have an answer.  From what we talked about at the pizza shop last time, it didn’t seem like the Old Testament had any clearly formed view of the afterlife, just a future resurrection that developed in later Jewish theology in Daniel, like you said.”
      “Right.  So, the point is, again, how could God, being the loving Savior that He is, leave out such a critical piece of information such as the fate of the wicked across 1000 years of Old Testament revelation, only to first start talking about it when Jesus came on the scene?  What about the millions who were born, lived, and died before that point?  Do you mean to tell me that He would wait until this point in history to suddenly spring it on everyone that an eternal torture chamber awaits those who are evil?”
      “And on top of that, to then only talk about it twelve times in his whole ministry.” Tyler added.
      “Exactly.  The Law of Emphasis in biblical interpretation says that the amount of times a theme or subject is stressed demonstrates the importance of that subject to the author.  For example, the first half of the book of John covers about three and a half years of Jesus’ ministry while the second half of the book covers just the final week of Jesus’ ministry.  Obviously, for John, to devote half of his gospel to that last week conveys to us the importance of the events of that week to his purpose for writing.  Likewise, since the synoptic authors, Matthew, Mark, and Luke devote so little space to the topic of Hell, it wasn’t obviously something that was that pertinent to them in their own writings.  And, if the purpose of the gospels, as some Christians tell us, is to teach us how to be saved, then how could the fate of Hell be included so few times?  As a matter of fact, it is astonishing how few times it’s mentioned throughout the New Testament at all for something that is literally the obsession of so much fundamentalist and evangelical preaching on how to “get saved.” 
      Tyler sighed.  “Okay.  One thing at a time.  I agree that Hell is not mentioned in the Old Testament and I agree that it seems like it doesn’t get that great a deal of attention even in the teachings of Jesus.  I also agree that it doesn’t seem like it’s a big deal.  However, like I said, it is mentioned and so it has to play some role, right?”
      “Sure.  Let’s examine the gospels and see what exactly Jesus taught about Hell, “Jared replied.  “Then we can start to piece together the oddity of Hell’s absence from the early Christian preaching in Acts.”
      “Absence of Hell?”  Tyler queried.
      “Yes.  In all the sermons recorded in Acts by Peter, Paul, Steven, and others they never mention Hell as a consequence of rejecting Christ.  They talk about judgment, but never refer to Hell.”
      “Which means it’s really important for us to understand what Jesus was talking about when he taught on the subject,” Tyler added.
      “Right.” Jared nodded.  “It will inform us as to what the early New Testament preacher’s thought about the subject of judgment.  Let’s start in the earliest Gospel written – Mark.  I’ll make it easy for you.  Jesus only mentions Hell once in this entire gospel.”
      “Only once?”  Tyler could barely believe it.  “I guess I see what you mean about emphasis.  If the Gospels are meant for us to understand how to be saved, like my pastor says, then how could he possibly only mention Hell once?”
      Jared laughed.  “You’re catching on.  Let’s look at that one passage.  Look up Mark 9:42-48.”
      Tyler flipped through his Bible until he came to the passage which he read out loud.  “Kind of scary.”
      “It is scary and the passage is emphasizing the reality of God’s judgment for those who cause others to stumble with their sins.  However, think about it like this.  Does God want you to pluck out your literal eye?  Does God want you to cut off your literal hand?”
      “Well, of course not,” Tyler smiled.  “That’s taking it too literally.”
      “Exactly!”  Jared exclaimed.  “And that’s the problem.  This whole teaching is a metaphor for God’s judgment.  Think about it some more.  Does Jesus mean to say that some people are going to enter into life – the resurrection into the age to come – without one eye and without one hand?  Of course not!  It makes no sense to take it literally.  And so, if the body being talked about is not literal, then why would we think the fires of “Hell” are literal?  You can’t have it both ways.  You can’t pick and choose what parts you’re going to take literally and what parts you’re going to take metaphorically.”
      “So, the image is just a representation of judgment?”
      “And a vivid one.  The word for Hell in Greek is gehenna, which is the translation of the Hebrew, ‘Valley of Hinnom.’  It is a section of Jerusalem on the south and west sides of the city that was a city dump where fire constantly burned the garbage and a disgusting worm that was hard to kill infested the place.  It was a perfect analogy for judgment.”
      “Nasty.” Tyler cringed.  “I mean it sounds a lot like a real Hell.”
      “Sure does, but notice in the passage that Jesus never said anything about it being eternal or unending.  And, as a matter of fact, the fires that used to burn there burn no longer.  Today, it’s a beautiful garden that anyone can visit.”
      “Oh yeah, right,” Tyler laughed.  “I can just imagine inviting my friends to go to Hell with me.”
      Jared chuckled.  “They probably wouldn’t be surprised you were going there.”
      “Shut up!” Tyler shouted, punching Jared in the arm.
      Snuffy looked up, suddenly interested in what the commotion was about.  After determining there was nothing over which to be concerned, she went back to sniffing the trail in front of her. 
      Tyler took in a deep breath and sighed.  “You can see why people think that it’s eternal.  Jesus seems to be issuing the strongest warning possible and exhorting extreme measures to make sure you enter ‘life.’”
      “I totally see what you’re saying,” Jared said as he redirected the dog back onto the path.  “But ask yourself this question.  We used this example in our last talk.  If someone who smoked was at risk of developing cancer, wouldn’t the most effective warning be a picture of lungs corroding from lung cancer?”
      “Sure.”
      “Well, that’s what’s going on here.  Jesus is saying that Gehenna is going to be so bad that you should get rid of any sin in your life that could help you avoid it and enter into God’s life, but there is no implication that Gehenna is unending.  Just because a person will eventually enter God’s kingdom doesn’t mean there won’t be Hell to pay on the way there and, if that’s the case, the God of love in Christ would most certainly sound the alarm!”
      “This is all difficult for me to take in, Jared.”
      “I understand.  When I first started wrestling with this stuff I felt like my whole world was falling apart.”
      Tyler nodded.
      “The truth is that once you become a Christian Universalist, there’s no going back to the Bible or church the same way ever again.  Once you know the truth of universal reconciliation you start to sense a power in the gospel that you know deep down inside you it currently lacks.  You lose the shame that you had in sharing it with people because you were embarrassed by the idea of an eternal Hell – one that, if you were honest with yourself, you couldn’t fully bring yourself to believe in anyway.”
      Tyler nodded again.  “I guess it’s just like I’m learning all these things about the Bible that were right in front of me this whole time, but I completely missed it.  What else am I missing?”
      Jared laughed.  “Your whole life is going to be spent answering that question, cuz.  I’ve been on a journey through several different areas since I accepted the truth of universalism.”
      Tyler sighed.  “Your arguments are very persuasive, but I think I still need a more holistic case to be made in a few other areas and a bunch more questions answered before I can say I’m convinced.”
      “Sounds fair to me.  Why don’t we continue our discussion by moving along to Luke.  It doesn’t get better for those believers in a literal Hell there either.  Hell is only mentioned three times.”
      “Amazing,” was all Tyler could muster.
      Jared continued.  “In Luke 12, Jesus is warning the disciples to be aware of those that would cause them spiritual ruin.  He tells them not to fear those who can only harm them physically, but the ones who can cause them both physical and spiritual harm.”
      Tyler scratched his chin as he looked at the passage.  “It seems that Jesus is saying that God is the one who can destroy them spiritually and physically in Hell.”
      “I know at first glance it seems that way, but he’s actually referring to the Pharisees.  Again, if Gehenna is a place of judgment and spiritual ruin, the warning is to avoid people who could potentially make one’s path end there.  Just two verses later, Jesus tells them not to fear God, because He has the very hairs on their head numbered and will take care of them.”
      Tyler raised his eyebrows and nodded.  “Yeah, it kind of doesn’t make sense to tell them to run around afraid God is going to send them to Hell and then comfort them a second later that God is looking out for them.”
      The boys both laughed.  Jared kicked a rock off the path and said, “It’s another use of the word ‘Hell’ in a symbolic way.  Again, it’s not avoiding the fact that there is real judgment and ruin ahead for those who follow the spiritual example of the Pharisees, but it doesn’t say anything about an endless torture chamber.”
      “What about the judgment on the cities in Luke 10?  It seems like he’s threatening them with Hell there.”
      Jared held up a finger.  “But – the Greek word is hades and so, in typical Old Testament fashion, Jesus is threatening them with the same death as the other cities – destruction in this life, or, perhaps, spiritual ruin in the next age.”
      Tyler smiled.  “Good point, but – How do you explain the third reference in Luke 16 in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus?”
      Jared smiled back.  “There’s no difference here, except that, again, Jesus uses the word hades for Hell instead of Gehenna.  Hades was the Greek word used to translate sheol, the Hebrew word for ‘the grave’ when the Jews wrote the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament.  So, we should keep in mind that Jesus is going more with that idea than Gehenna here.”
      “Does this not refer to Hell, then?”
      “It’s most certainly talking about a fate of judgment after death, that’s for sure, but it’s an allegory and not meant to be taken literally.  Again, think about the folly of doing that.  Can people in Hell communicate with people in Heaven?  Would a cup of water really ease the rich man’s suffering?  Is there literally a gulf between Heaven and Hell (Klassen, 2001)?  Does the parable even mention Heaven as we think of it or does Abraham represent something that had to do with the place of Jewish blessing as described in the Old Testament?  Do you see the problems with the literal approach?”
      “So, what is it referring to, then?”
      “This parable is another warning to the Pharisees – and I think you’re beginning to see the pattern of these warnings going toward religious people – that their place of privilege and the poor people they ignore will be reversed in the age to come.  They get all the religious stuff right, but ignore the spirit of the law in helping those who are less fortunate than they.  It is a parable rich in allegory.  If you read the next verse after the parable you’ll see that the Pharisees were furious and set out from that point to kill Jesus.  They knew that they were the focus of that parable and their reaction proves it.”
      “So, many of these Hell passages are directed at the religious leaders, warning them that their moral correctness was not going to get them into God’s kingdom, but that their so-called pure life really wreaked of stinking garbage and was a farce in God’s eyes.  They kept the legalisms of the law, but ignored the real law of Christ – that of loving your neighbor, all the while claiming that they were the ones who were holy and right with God,” Tyler concluded.
      “Exactly!  Religious hypocrisy was far worse to Jesus than the supposed sins the Pharisees were always condemning.  They were the ones headed for spiritual ruin and judgment, not the ‘sinners.’  Jesus said in Matthew 21:31, ‘Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.’  Notice, He said ahead of you, not instead of you.  Jesus foresaw a time when even the Pharisees would enter the Kingdom.”
      “Hmmm,” Tyler mused.  “I never saw that before.  I always just assumed that the Pharisees were going to Hell and that’s it.”
      “They are going to Hell,” Jared explained.  “The point is that the prostitutes and sinners will enter the kingdom in the age to come and then, after enduring the chastisement of Hell, the Pharisees will be repentant and join the rest of them.”
      Tyler laughed.  “Okay, so we’ve gone through Mark and Luke, a total of four passages out of twelve about Hell and you’ve pretty clearly explained the meaning.  I think the biggest thing that jumps out at me is that you noted how Jesus never mentions these Hell judgments to be unending.”
      “Not one single time.”
      “So, what’s left?”
      “Matthew and John.  John’s easy.  There are no references to Hell in the book of John.”
      Tyler stopped walking.  “Hang on a minute, I can’t agree with you there.  Isn’t the book of John all about how to get saved?  John states in 20:31 that the book was written to convince people that Jesus was their savior so that they could be saved eternally by believing.”
      “Let me go back to something I said earlier.  I am making a distinction between Hell as it is translated from the words gehenna and hades.  There are words that talk about judgment in John such as ‘perish’ and ‘death.’  However, the word Hell itself does not appear anywhere in the book.  Do you not think it strange that the book you say is written to convince people to believe in Jesus does not mention Hell one single time?”
      Tyler heaved a sigh and then said, “Yes, if I were writing it then I would have included it, but John may have just used words that were equivalent.  Take John 3:16 as a perfect example.  It says that Jesus was sent that we might believe in him so that we would not perish.  Then, two verses later it says that those who don’t believe are already condemned.  What else could that mean, but Hell?”
      The boys came to a large, fenced-in grassy opening where other dogs were running around without leashes.  Several pet owners sat on benches located at various gate openings around the pen and watched their pets interact with others and have fun.
      “Perfect,” Jared said.  “A doggy play pen.  Come on, Snuffy.  Why don’t you get some exercise with your own kind?”  The boy led the dog to one of the openings to the pen, unhooked Snuffy from the leash and let her run.  Snuffy took off in a strong charge and joined a small group of dogs in the middle that were playing with a ball.  “That’ll keep her busy for awhile.”
      The boys walked over and sat down on one of the benches.  Jared restarted the conversation.  “I believe that all sinners are condemned to Hell.  Those that haven’t believed in Jesus – which simply means to follow Him as Lord in a life of loving others – are condemned in their selfishness.  They perish or are destroyed.  This harkens back to the Old Testament position on the fate of sinners.  They die, which is what perish means.  The contrast between life and death in the gospel makes clear that those who do not follow Christ are walking in darkness and if they continue to walk that path, then they will perish, lose their life physically and have no part in the resurrection to the age to come.”
      Tyler put a hand up.  “Hold it.  Have no part in the resurrection to the age to come.  Where are you getting that from?”
      “That’s what ‘eternal life’ literally means.  Zoe aionios in the Greek means ‘age-enduring life’ or ‘the life of the age to come.’  Jesus is promising them God’s life, which is eternal in that it comes from an eternal being, that leads up to and culminates in the life of the age to come.”
      “So, you’re saying that the word ‘eternal’ is translated wrong?”
      “In one way, yes, in another, no.  It’s correct to say it’s eternal since it’s God kind of life (Talbott, 1999), but it’s incorrect to say that it’s eternal in that it is referring to endless life, because that is not what the word actually means.”
      Tyler scratched his head as he watched Snuffy do a somersault in an effort to get at the ball that was bouncing between the dogs.  “I have to say that I’m skeptical about that.  It seems a bit of a stretch to say that Jesus is not talking about how to go to heaven when you die and that the whole book is translated wrong.”
      “Understandable.  However, you have to remember that from the Jewish perspective, they were not concerned with ‘going to heaven when you died.’  They were concerned with participating in the Messianic Age to come.  One must be resurrected or ‘born again’ into this age with a new resurrection body.  This was the reward of the faithful as taught in the Old Testament.  These people were not worried about going to heaven when they died, rather they were concerned with being part of the resurrection of the righteous into this kingdom age of peace and harmony.  I’m not saying that the whole book is translated wrong, just that the full meaning of that word doesn’t come through with the word ‘eternal.’  I’m not the best at explaining the languages thing.  I have a buddy, Rob, at school who’s graduating with a Religious Studies degree and he knows both Hebrew and Greek fluently.  Why don’t we take a ride up there later this week and talk to him about it?  He’ll make it a lot clearer than I can.”
      Tyler nodded.  “That would be cool.  I love understanding the original languages.  We’ll have to agree to disagree on John for now until we talk to him and I see what he has to say.”
      “Fair enough.  Ready for Matthew?”
      Tyler held up his bible triumphantly.  “Already got my spot.”
      “Shoot.”
      “Okay, it says here in Matthew 16:18 that the gates of Hell will not prevail against the church.”
      Jared nodded.  “Which is true.”
      Tyler looked at his cousin, a little confused.  “What do you mean?”
      Jared leaned forward on the bench and looked at Tyler.  “Jesus used the word hades twice in Matthew.  This is one of them.  He is saying that the gates of Hell or death will not prevail against the church that is alive in Christ.  Hades is that translation of sheol which means the grave.  The church will ultimately triumph against the gates of death.  Hell will have no power against those in Christ and will not keep them from the age to come.”
      “Okay,” Tyler continued, “So that’s not really talking about Hell the way I’m used to thinking about it.”
      “Right.  It’s a promise of victory over death and destruction, not a prediction of judgment.”
      Tyler seemed satisfied with this answer.  After pointing out Matthew 11:23, Jared instructed him that this was the parallel passage to the Luke one where Jesus pronounced judgment on the cities and that He again used the word hades to indicate destruction and death, not endless judgment.  The same was shown for Matthew 5:29-30 where Jesus used gehenna as a symbol of judgment for those who lived unrighteously.
      “What about when Jesus threatened Hell to the person who called someone a fool in Matthew  5:22?”  Tyler asked. 
      “Turn to Matthew 23:17,” Jared replied.  “Read it out loud.”
      Tyler turned to the passage and read:  “’You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred?’”  The boy looked up and smiled.  “I see where you’re going with this one.  If Jesus said that anyone who calls another a fool is going to face Hell, then He is guilty of doing it Himself in calling the Pharisees fools.”
      “Exactly,” Jared smiled.  “The passage isn’t meant to be taken literally.  There was no process in Israel like the one he describes in the passage.  It’s meant to be a warning against judging your brother hypocritically, which is why it is aimed at the Pharisees.”
      Jared expanded his thoughts when describing Matthew 23:15, 33 where Jesus pronounces judgment on the Pharisees by calling them sons of Hell.  This was a warning to the Pharisees that those who practiced hypocritical religion that burdened others and led them astray would face the judgment of God (Klassen).
      Tyler closed his Bible.  “Wow.  That’s all of them.  And none of them teach an endless torment or eternal conscious punishment.”
      Jared let the realization settle in.  After watching the dog run in circles chasing her tail, the boy spoke up.  “This understanding you’ve come through also helps explain why not one time in the entire book of Acts do any of the apostles threaten anyone with unending Hell for rejecting the gospel.  Judgement, for sure, but eternal punishment, no.  They understood the judgments in the same way Jesus did: fierce, but encompassing only a certain period of time, which is why they never talk about it being unending.”
      Tyler ran his hands through his hair.  “What about in Paul’s epistles?  Doesn’t he say anything about it?”
      “Nope.  Not one time does he talk about endless punishment for the wicked, although he talks about them being worthy of death and judgment in several places.  Not only does he not mention endless punishment, but the word gehenna does not even appear in his writings.  As for the other authors, James talks about the tongue being set on fire by gehenna, surely a reference to the spiritual condition of the untamed tongue and Peter mentions tarturus which was believed by the ancients to be a holding place for fallen angels.  Of course, there’s always the lake of fire in Revelation, but this is likely metaphorical, especially in light of everything we just studied.  Besides, my friend will have more to say about that when we go up to school later this week.”
      Tyler was in shock.  He had been attending a church that taught eternal Hell throughout the New Testament and now, in examining those passages specifically, he found no such thing.  Even if ‘perish’ in John meant judgment, there was no passage indicating the punishment was permanent.  Jared whistled and called the dog who obediently returned to him.  He reattached the leash and the boys starting making the trek back.
      “Okay,” Tyler continued. “If there is no teaching of endless Hell in the New Testament, then where are the passages that talk about universal salvation?”
      Jared smiled.  “I thought you’d never ask.”  He grabbed the Bible from Tyler and opened to Colossians 1:19-20 which says, “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 (italics added).”
      “I remember reading that passage in Sunday school,” Tyler said.  “Believe it or not, someone in the class asked a question about that very verse which says Christ will be reconciled to all things.”
      “What did the teacher say?” Jared wanted to know.
      “He said Christ will reconcile all things to himself that want to be reconciled to him.”
      Jared shook his head.  “You see, this is what I’m talking about.  Where does he get that out of this passage?  The text says that all things ‘whether things on earth or things in heaven’ will be reconciled to Christ.  This passage is not only universalistic in that it includes all people being reconciled to God through Christ, but it speaks of the whole creation being renewed and returned to the way God intended.  It’s a powerful passage.”
      “Yeah, I guess what that guy said isn’t in there.”
      “Do you see how these universalist verses get explained away without any contextual justification?  People have a preconceived notion that Hell is eternal and so they reinterpret these clear universalist passages to fit with their idea of eternal conscious torment.”
      “What else you got?”  Tyler asked.
      Jared turned to Romans 5:18-19 which says, “Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”
      “I’m not sure how that can be any clearer,” Tyler commented.  “One trespass brings condemnation to all people and one righteous act brings justification for all people.  Disobedience made everyone sinners and obedience made everyone just.”  He scratched his head.  “Couldn’t this just be referring to Christians, though?”
      “The parallelism doesn’t work if you say that it’s only speaking of Christians. “ Jared answered.  Like you said, the same ‘all’ that were condemned were justified.  And verse 16 says this, ‘But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!’  You see that?  He says, ‘How much more.’  God’s grace overtakes the sin of Adam and swallows it up.  Take a look at this passage from 1 Corinthians 15.”  Jared read verses 20-28, ‘But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.  But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.  Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.  For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.  The last enemy to be destroyed is death.  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.’
      “Wow, that’s one packed bunch of verses,” Tyler exclaimed.
      “I want you to notice a few things about this passage,” Jared said as he again pulled the dog out of the weeds.  He held the Bible with one hand and the leash with the other.  “It says that Christ has been raised from the dead and that he is the firstfruits of those who have ‘fallen asleep,’ or died.  Then he states that since death came through a man, then so does the resurrection.  Now, check this out.  He says, ‘For.’  This is an explanatory verse to the previous ones.  Watch and see the same parallelism that is in Romans.  ‘As in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.’  Paul is saying that everyone is going to take part in this resurrection and he goes on to name the order in the next couple of verses.  When he says, ‘then comes the end,’ grammatically that can mean, ‘then comes the last.’  Either way you translate it, it’s talking about the last group of people to be raised from the dead at the end when God puts all things under Christ’s feet.”
      “But the passage says that those in Christ will be made alive, not everyone.” Tyler disputed.
      “The Greek is an adverbial clause, meaning that it’s explaining how everyone will be saved, not delineating a particular group as opposed to another.  Remember the parallelism.  It has to match.  All died in Adam, all are resurrected in Christ.  The passage says that God will destroy all authority against Christ and put all things under his feet.  This doesn’t make it sound like there’s going to be a literal Hell with billions of people burning and in defiance of Christ.  Death cannot be defeated as the last enemy if billions are still spiritually dead.  He says that the goal of all this is to make God ‘all in all.’  If even just one person is not saved then God is not all in all.  All means all, plain and simple.”
      Tyler was deep in thought.  It certainly seemed like there were some straightforward universalist passages in the New Testament.  This being true, in combination with no mention of Hell in the Old Testament and no eternal judgment mentioned in the New Testament, made the Biblical argument for universalism seem pretty solid.  He had to admit, for the first time, that he was beginning to be persuaded by Jared.
      “You’re slowly winning me over.”
      The boys laughed and Jared said, “Try this one on for size.  This is a famous one.  Philippians 2:9-11.  ‘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 acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’”
      “Hmm,” Tyler wondered.  “Couldn’t that passage just be talking about God subjecting everyone to having to confess that Jesus is Lord, even if they refuse to trust him as savior?”
      “We reviewed the passage this is quoting in the Old Testament and the context of the passage there is one of universal victory.  This victory does not come by forcing people to confess Jesus as Lord when their heart does not truly acknowledge him as such.  Do you really think God’s ego needs to force his enemies to admit defeat and falsely acknowledge Jesus as Lord?  This is a cry of salvation and worship and the word ‘acknowledge’ (‘confess’ in many translations) in the Greek means that.  Also, in Romans 10:9-11 it says, ‘If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.’  To declare Jesus as Lord is salvation.  It says that God’s goal in this is not to put people to shame when they confess this, but to save them.  Besides, we know from 1 Corinthians 12:3 that no person can acknowledge Jesus as Lord from their heart without the Holy Spirit.  Finally, it says in 1 Timothy 2:4-6 that God wills the salvation of all people and 1 Timothy 4:10 says He is the savior of all people.”
      Jared also shared with Tyler the following verses:  1 John 2:2; Revelation 5:13; Ephesians 1:8-10; Romans 8:19-22; 11:32; Matthew 13:33; John 17:2.
      “I have to say that I’m kind of blown away right now,” Tyler remarked as the boys approached the entrance to the park.
      “It’s amazing how much it’s there in black and white, but people have this eternal Hell filter on their eyes that doesn’t allow them to see the universal scope of salvation,” Jared added.
       The boys climbed in the car with the dog in the back.  Tyler was deep in thought as Jared pulled the car out of the parking spot and began heading back to their grandmother’s home.  Suddenly, a verse popped into Tyler’s head.
      “Hey, wait a minute.”
      “What’s that?” Jared asked, a bit surprised.
      “What about Matthew 25:46?  I forgot about that one.  My pastor preached on it a few weeks ago.  It says that some go into eternal life and others go into eternal punishment.”
      Jared smiled.  “I think I’ll leave that one for my friend, Rob, to explain when we get up to school in a few days.  I think you’ll be quite surprised at what he has to say about it.”

TO BE CONTINUED…

References

Beauchemin, G. (2007). Hope beyond hell: The righteous purpose of God’s judgment. Olmito, TX: Malista Press.

Bell, R. (2011).  Love wins:  A book about heaven, Hell, and the fate of every person who ever lived.  New York:  Harper Collins.

Klassen, R. (2001). What does the bible really say about Hell? Wrestling with the traditional view. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press.

Talbott, T. (1999). The inescapable love of god. Universal Publishers.

               

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