No Eternal Hell: More Scriptural Support for Universalism
- Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus Explained
But doesn't the parable of Lazarus and the rich man support a belief in a fiery hell? I'll explain.
This article is adjunct to my main article on the subject of Christian Universalism", the belief that, through Christ, God will eventually reconcile all people to Himself. Thus, no one will remain in a literally "eternal" hell. This article provides a closer look at the scriptural support for this viewpoint.
1 Timothy 2:3-6:13 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, 6who gave himself as a ransom for all people
So God wants all people to be saved. Is God unable to accomplish what he wants? Isaiah 46:10 says “I (God) will accomplish all that I please”.
Romans 5:18:18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people.
Notice that this verse, by saying "life for all people", doesn't refer to merely a physical resurrection for all people. Christians universally admit that there will be a physical resurrection for all people, but they don't generally admit that justification will also come to all people.
Notice also that Christians readily affirm that "one trespass" (Adam's) condemned "all people", by which they understand literally every human being who ever lived or ever will live. So why would the "all people" in the second half of this verse not refer to the same "all people" as the first half: every single person who ever has or ever will live?
Romans 11:32-36:32 For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all. 33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments,and his paths beyond tracing out! 34 “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” 35 “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?” 36For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.
There are several issues here. First, there is the idea that God Himself binds people over to disobedience. This seems to contradict both the idea of free-will and the idea that God only does good things. After all, it wouldn't seem like a good thing to "bind" someone to disobedience. But the goodness of God, it seems, lies in the end result He has in mind, as the very reason that He binds all people to disobedience is in order to have mercy on them. Thus, it seems that God is sovereign over even our wills, and intends to use this sovereignty to bless us all. This, for the author of Romans and for me, sounds like a cause for awe and celebration.
1 Timothy 4:9-10:9 This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. 10 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.
Notice first that this says that God is the Savior of all people. Next, it adds, "especially of those who believe". In Greek, the word for "especially" in this particular instance is "malista", and means "most of all" or "especially". Now, if God were the Savior of only those who believe in this lifetime, why doesn't it say "only" instead of "especially"? Or why does the verse have two parts at all, first mentioning "all people", and then "those who believe"? Why doesn't it simply say, "we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of those who believe"? If God were indeed the Savior of only those who believe, this would seem to be a much simpler and less confusing way to word the sentence. But using a clause that begins with "especially" necessarily indicates that the idea of the sentence, though it may apply even more so to the people mentioned after "especially", must also apply to those mentioned before "especially" (that is, to all people).
It is important to note something else about the structure of the Greek language, as it applies well in this passage. In Greek, a present tense verb is usually best translated with imperfective aspect, but not always. Imperfective aspect means that the verb refers to a continuing action. In English, for example, we might say "the boy runs" or "the boy is running". Both of these statements are present in tense, rather than past or future. The first statement, however, describes a simple, general action. "The boy runs" could mean that from time to time, the boy runs. The second statement, however, means that the boy is currently in the act of running; it describes an action which is being continually performed as we speak. The Greeks, however, would have used the same exact word for "runs" and "is running". Most often, the second sense (that is, the continual sense) would be what was meant. In certain situations, this continual sense was necessarily what was meant. Such is the case in the verse we are now looking at.
In the verse above, most English translations read, "especially of those who believe". A more literal translation would read "especially of those who are believing." The verb here is a present participle, which in Greek always denotes this imperfective (that is, "continuing") aspect. When the verse is read in this manner, it becomes even more apparent that the author is here picturing the benefits of God's salvation as being all the more active in those people who are now believing, whereas for those people who are currently not believing, the benefits of salvation are hindered by their current unbelief.
2 Peter 3:9:9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.
Again, scripture shows that God is able to perform all that He wants. So if He wants everyone to come to repentance, won't everyone come to repentence?
Colossians 1:19: 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 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.
Matthew 19:25-26:25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” 26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
This verse illustrates again that God is able to accomplish anything He wants to, as it says "all things are possible". And we've seen from several verses above that God certainly wants all people to be saved. It is especially interesting that this particular reference to God's limitless power is in response to the disciples' question "who then can be saved." The response "all things are possible" implies "with God, all people can be saved".
If God desires that everyone be saved (as the scripture directly states), and God is able to save all people (which one must necessarily conclude from the passage above, since this passage indicates that all things are possible with God), then what could possibly prevent everyone from being saved?
1 Peter 4:6:6 For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.
This verse makes it obvious that chances for salvation are not in this life only. The gospel was preached to the dead. And for what reason was the gospel preached to them? To make them sorrow and regret over something they could never enjoy or attain? No, but that they could live according to God in the spirit. So the life that they are given is spiritual life according to God. What could that be except salvation?
1 Peter 3:18-20 :18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us[e] to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, 19 by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, 20 who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited[f] in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.
Again, we see the gospel being preached to the dead (as those who had disobeyed in Noah's time must surely all have been dead by the time of Christ). What's more, these disobedient souls were in a prison after they died. What might this "prison" be? And from the previous verse we know that this preaching was not in vain, but that those who were preached to might have life in the spirit according to God.
Lamentations 3:31-37:31 For the Lord will not cast off forever.32Though He causes grief, yet He will show compassion according to the multitude of His mercies. 33 For He does not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men. 34 To crush under one’s feet all the prisoners of the earth, 35 To turn aside the justice due a man before the face of the Most High, 36 Or subvert a man in his cause—The Lord does not approve.37Who is he who speaks and it comes to pass, When the Lord has not commanded it?