The God Who Punishes: Universalism & Matthew 25:46

“. . . while to those who have proved of inferior merit, or of something still meaner than this, or even of the lowest and most insignificant grade, will be given a body of glory and dignity corresponding to the dignity of each one’s life and soul; in such a way, however, that even for those who are destined to ‘eternal fire’ or to ‘punishments’ the body that rises is so incorruptible, through the transformation wrought by the resurrection, that it cannot be corrupted and dissolved even by punishments.” 1

Origen of Alexandria, On First Principles, Chap. X. Sec. 3.

I’m an odd case in this debate. Though I now lean towards annihilationism, I consider the above quote to be one of my favorites, especially since I consider it a fine piece of patristic literature. With respect to the current debate on the eternality and function of eschatological post-resurrection punishment, all three views must put forth somewhat speculative arguments in support of refinement, torment, or death. Having been immersed in evangelical universalist literature for over a year,2 I think I’m in a good position to offer the universalist some grist for their theological mills. This post will specifically focus on the singular proof-text3 containing a statement by Jesus in Matthew chapter twenty-five and verse forty-six. I am not entirely settled on my interpretation of this verse, as I find the narrative-historical interpretation generally offered by Andrew Perriman4 to be quite compelling. However, for the sake of this discussion, I will assume that this climactic point concerns post-mortem final judgment. For the most part I find the universalist interpretation of this text rather strained so my intent is to offer a constructive critique that will hopefully add some light instead of heat.5

Matthew 25:31-46 is often the singular proof-text that makes universalism most difficult.6 The interpretation revolves around multiple arguments, but in the context of hurdles to overcome I will simply give four reasons why I believe there is good reason to doubt universalism based on this passage.7

The first major hurdle for universalists is that the text is non-redemptive. Nowhere in the context of the entire parable is there any prima facie hint of post-mortem salvation. Included in this is the adjective aionios, which, while it can be limited within certain contexts (e.g., Romans 16:25-27), there is no suggestion of it being limited here.8 The context itself determines the meaning and there is no reason to reassess the term here. It simply concludes with “eternal punishment” and that is the end of the resolution.

The second hurdle at least for Talbott is that his argument is self-refuting. He cites an example of “eternal” judgment, found in the book of Jude (v. 7). The issue is that the “eternal” judgment was cataclysmic and retributive, resulting in death. His comment about the fire “representing God’s judgment upon the two cities”9 is correct insofar as it certainly reflects (pardon the term) annihilation. This passage harkens back to the tale of Sodom and Gomorrah in which Yahweh intentionally wiped them all out. Thus Talbott is correct insofar as “eternal” judgment is certainly eternal in the sense that there is no coming back from it, but he seems to miss the fairly explicit point of annihilation. Talbott’s own citation of the tale reveals a God whose decisive intervention in a sordid mess amounts to an irrevocable destruction, not merely some “correction.”

The third hurdle is lexical. Both the Bauer-Danker (BDAG) and Liddell-Scott-Jones (LSJ) lexicons cite this text as “divine retribution.”10 This lexical rendering is consistent with Talbott’s use of “eternal” judgment in Jude 7, though it does not fit his interpretation or the range cited in both main lexicons.

In addition to this, 1 Clement 11:1, written maybe 50 years after the gospel of Matthew, cites kolasis in conjunction (kai) with torment. At first we get a sense of a possible outcome that is consistent with eternal conscious torment. However, in the broader context of 1 Clement 11 we see that this example has to do with Lot being saved from Sodom and that the judgment by “fire and brimstone” is showcasing an historical event that is cataclysmic in its totality. It is punishment that only God can enact, and as consistent with the panoply of scripture’s depiction of justice: swift, irrevocable, and final. In short, this is more consistent with annihilationism.11 Jude 7 is a poor choice for Talbott to use.12

Moreover, the use of kolasis with torment suggests that kolasis excludes an a priori understanding that Jesus must be speaking only of torment. Uniquely, this explanation renders an eternal conscious torment view unnecessary within its own context. Conscious torment isn’t in view within 1 Clement, and it isn’t in view here because kolasis does not carry an additional meaning that includes torment. It must be read into the text.

The fourth and final hurdle is that universalism and traditionalism must posit that everyone is ultimately given immortality. However, based on this text the only implication is that the righteous will receive eternal life.13 The punishment, therefore, is most likely not a pruning process, so to speak; rather, those who didn’t treat the poor and the hungry in a consistent manner are, by divine command, denied “eternal life.” Origen of Alexandria argued for a purifying view of hell in On First Principles.14 This, however, is inconsistent with the text itself. It seems to ignore the way eternal fire is used throughout Matthew and Jude.15 The eternal fire most likely refers to extinction since the context is usually represented by divine judgment that results in irrevocable death. I cannot exclude a purification interpretation, but it seems to strain the purely retributive context. Finally, this includes an act that only Yahweh is fit and just to give, and a judgment that is ultimately modeled and rooted in visible history—the removal of life, resulting in death.

The parallelism is intentional and stark throughout this parable. Goats and sheep, corporate groups “separated” in vv. 32-33, actions clearly defined and shown to be in opposition in vv. 40 and 45. The actions predicated upon the righteous and the unrighteous are set against each other in stark human terms: hunger, nakedness, poverty. These historical phenomena are no small issue, especially in our times. As a way of simplifying the issue, the parallelism is mandated and must be broken by the universalist to suggest either a universal immortality so-called or a punishment that ends. Both, I suggest, are strained readings of the text. However, the concept of First Testament justice (or what we anachronistically call social justice) is mandated by this. Works, according to this text, are of the utmost importance and must not be down-played.

In conclusion, I am grateful that Tom Talbott and others take this text seriously enough to engage with its complex idea of the afterlife. Unfortunately, I don’t see their interpretation doing consistent justice to the scope of the biblical text and must therefore reject it. I am grateful for the chance to dialogue with a scholar that has not only challenged me but enriched me as well.16

– Nick

  1. There is a gap that follows this sequence, left by Rufinus []
  2. Indeed, I was one before I discovered far more evidence in favor of the eternal death of mortal men and women []
  3. Usually cited, erroneously, by traditionalists []
  4. The Coming of the Son of Man: New Testament Eschatology for an Emerging Church (Wipf & Stock, 2012), 282 pp. []
  5. There are multiple authors I could engage but since Tom Talbott has the most influence within an evangelical universalist context I will limit myself to engaging with him. Also, many universalist Christians use Talbott as an exegetical and theological springboard []
  6. I’m excluding other texts, such as 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9, as well as those which assert or imply that immortality is conditional and given only to those who are reconciled to God []
  7. You can read the entirety of Talbott’s argument on this in The Inescapable Love of God (Universal, 1999), pp. 83-92. []
  8. Due to possible confusion, I take aionios here to mean beginning-but-doesn’t-end, as punishment begins but doesn’t seem to end. []
  9. Thomas Talbott, “A Pauline interpretation of divine judgment,” Universal Salvation: The Current Debate, ed. Robin A. Parry & Christopher H. Partidge (Eerdmans, 2004), 46. []
  10. The LSJ does refer to the pruning metaphor which William Barclay and Rob Bell cite, although not for the text in question (Henry Liddell, Robert Scott, Henry Jones, & Roderick McKenzie, Greek-English Lexicon, 9th edition (Oxford University, 1996), 971). The BDAG does not even mention the interpretation. Ironically, none of the authors give any footnote in support of this supposed metaphor. []
  11. This is not the only place kolasis is used in conjunction with death; see Wisdom 19:4 and 2 Macc. 4:38. Kolasis is used only once by Jesus so we must go outside the New Testament to determine it’s fuller meaning. []
  12. A brief note: Retribution may include correction. However, the context here seems to strain against such an interpretation since the text is silent on the issue. []
  13. Regardless of quality or quantity, the punishment is such that those who aren’t given eternal life are denied the only source of life that could sustain them. []
  14. See the quote above. I am aware that I am only scratching at the surface in regards to patristic universalism. I wish I had the space to devote to this. []
  15. Matthew 18:8; Jude 7 []
  16. I am aware that Talbott is working on a second edition of The Inescapable Love of God. I look forward to it. []
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  • Peter Grice

    Great article! The reference to 1 Clement is very interesting.

  • Juan Carlos Torres

    Two thoughts I’d like to share:

    1. Many biblical scholars and theologians believe the judgement in Mt 25 has to do with the judgement of jerusalem in 70 A.D., not with the final judgement spoken of in the creeds. Addressing this would strengthen your case I think.

    2. What of the incarnation? Has the fact that Christ has defeated death and risen incorruptible nothing to bear on the discussion here? We are not immortal, but once resurrected I think we all will be because we are all ontologically united to Christ. To me this rules out annihilationism. Obviously I need to develop this further but I hope you got the gist of my argument.

    • Chris Date

      I don’t agree that we are all–that is, the entire human race–ontologically united to Christ. The Bible says only believers are so united with Him, securing our resurrection unto immortality but not securing the immortality of the unsaved.

      • Hi, Chris! {wave!}

        If Christ is the 2nd Person of the one and only self-existent fact of all reality, upon which all reality depends for its existence, then all creatures are in fact ontologically united to Christ, and spiritual creatures specially moreso since God is the father of our spirits.

        The whole point to annihilationism being called more positively conditional immortality and conditionalism, is that the existence of everything is ontologically related to and dependent upon God (including Christ): whatever exists exists because God acts to bring it into and keep it in existence, and He can (so to speak) damn well take it out of existence again if He so chooses. We don’t have a choice about whether we are ontologically united to God or not, no more than we have a choice about self-existing or existing in dependence on something other than God (or annihilating ourselves for that matter).

        Calvinistic annihilationists (just like Calv ECTists) ought to be leaning on that union even more than Arminian annis, because it’s intimately related to the original and continuing assurance of God’s salvation of sinners from sin. But ontological union is important for annihilation either way, especially when critiquing positions that somehow spiritual souls are inherently immortal (even by the gift of God) so that God couldn’t destroy them even if He wanted to.

        • Chris Date

          The conclusion of your first paragraph simply does not follow from the premise. Such is the case with your second. One’s existence being upheld by Christ does not mean we are ontologically united to Him in such a way that His resurrection unto immortality leads to that of all mankind. And Hi to you, too :)

          • Nicholas Ahern

            Hey Jason (wave!!)

            I have to confess to agreeing with Chris on this one. And I don’t quite see how this is relevant to my post.

            –Nick

          • Chris (and Nicholas),

            I think you misunderstood me: I wasn’t arguing that being ontologically united to Him leads to all mankind through His resurrection unto immortality (although I noted its relation to Calvinistic assurance of salvation in passing, which universalists share along with Arminian scope of course). I was arguing that all creatures are ontologically united with God (upon whom all creatures depend ontologically for existence), and thus also with Christ (if trinitarian theism is true), against your statement that “I don’t agree that we are all–that is, the entire human race–ontologically united to Christ.”

            (Chris was replying that to Juan Carlos Torres. My reply to your post was elsewhere, Nicholas.)

            I would argue exactly the same thing as a supernaturalistic theist (moreso as a trinitarian theist) regardless of whether I was ECT, Anni or Univ. In fact I specifically emphasized the importance of this concept for annihilationistic arguments over against the occasional attempt by ECT and Univ proponents to claim that the human soul is intrinsically immortal so cannot be annihilated.

            By the same token, though, I am certainly not going to let a non-universalist deny the ontological unity of all rational creatures with Christ. ;)

            The Bible does not say that only believers are ontologically united to Christ: in Colossians 1 all creation even rebel creatures are ontologically united to Christ, by Whom they were created and continue to exist and in Whom they live and move and have their being (which is language predicated of God Most High of course). We certainly do not start out ontologically disunited from Christ and then start to exist in ontological dependence on Him later when we are saved!

            Granted, someone who has been annihilated wouldn’t be ontologically united with Christ anymore. But then they wouldn’t be part of the human race or even a creature anymore either: severing the ontological union results in their destruction because they cannot self-exist or exist dependent on some other self-existent reality.

            Jason

        • Peter Grice

          God’s “necessary being” caches out in its inviolability or indestructibility, and it is this feature that we link with the immortality that is conferred upon the believer in giving us glorified resurrected bodies made “incorruptible.” It is not as though God literally could not destroy such being, but rather, such a being is impervious to its perpetual environment, and “immortal” in that sense. (This includes imperviousness to God’s own righteous, consuming, eternal fire as per Isa 33:14,15.)

          So, the dependency of all mortals upon God is something different from the immortality conferred upon those in Christ. Each could be construed as a kind of ontological relation, though not the same, but the salient point is that the immortal have something additional to mere mortal contingency, which is something alone the lines of an incorruptible body.

          • Peter,

            Well, I don’t think as a supernaturalistic theist I can agree that we become immortal with the same immortality as the Necessary Being, since that would require us to become Necessary Beings ourselves. Even aside from Biblical testimony there are excellent metaphysical reasons to deny that there can be multiple necessary beings, much less ones which rise to being necessary beings from not having been necessary beings. Mormons might go that route, but I can’t.

            I certainly would never dare to claim that even a gift of God would make me impervious to the one and only righteous consuming fire Who is God Himself. I don’t live salted by the Holy Spirit in my heart by becoming impervious to the Holy Spirit.

            I certainly agree that the immortality conferred upon those in Christ is different from the dependency of all mortals on God, but not by ceasing to be dependent on God, and I deny that’s ever going to happen or could ever possibly happen. (Even Isaiah 33 basically denies that about the righteous in its poetic language.) The eonian life is not about ontologically beginning to exist dependent on God, and it isn’t about ceasing to depend on God for existence. It’s about cooperating with the source of our existence instead of rebelling against it — a rebellion that would instantly lead to our annihilation apart from the gracious action of God to keep sinners in existence for however long He does so.

            Jason

          • Peter Grice

            Thanks Jason. I didn’t suggest that believers become necessary beings, however. It is only the characteristic of indestructibility (a long way from logical and metphysical necessity), and even then, only indestructible in relation to our environment. I even said this doesn’t mean God can’t destroy such a being, so perhaps you’re not squarely interacting with what I did say—sorry if I was unclear, which would not be surprising.

            The idea is hardly much more than 1 Corinthians 15:53—”For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.” This is a new body-clothing which is unlike the old, and I take its non-perishability as fairly synonymous with non-destructibility. Not by God though.

            “I certainly would never dare to claim that even a gift of God would make me impervious to the one and only righteous consuming fire Who is God Himself.”

            But it seems that’s just exactly what Isaiah 33:14,15 entails, with the idea of the righteous dwelling in said fire. (If it is a gift, then it’s not a matter of daring.) You might say this is poetry, but it is nothing if not consistent with all the other passages speaking of a literal firey judgment which consumes the wicked. Again, I’m not trying to say much more than 1 Cor 15:53. God is a consuming fire (a primarily fearful concept, and not a poetic positive affirmation as some seem to think), and the righteous will receive an imperishable body in order that they might live and dwell with God.

            It’s interesting that you should draw reference in your other comment to the “Father of Spirits” (Heb 12:19), for it refers back to Numbers 16:22, in the midst of an episode where God threatens to consume Korah, and ends up literally burning up 250 men (v35). The end of Hebrews 12 is about that sort of fate, referring to a blazing fire, a consuming fire, the earth-shaking events at Mt. Sinai (Ex 19:18), and the fact that even animals who touched that mountain should be put to death. The contrast of course is with the righteous coming to this same God but without fear of being consumed. The whole thing is linked to the great shaking event at the end of the age, where only the things which “cannot be shaken may remain” and persist into the age to come. This is another passage I believe suggests the idea of imperviousness, in terms of things (particularly people) which cannot be harmed at the great firey judgment (cf 2 Pet 3:7,10). The idea is present, whether or not things will play out literally in all the detail.

            Peter

          • My confusion no doubt came from your opening statement, “God’s ‘necessary being’ caches out in its inviolability or indestructibility” which sounds like you meant the practical meaning or effect to being the NB is inviolability or indestructability (which I certainly agree with); plus your statement that this invulnerability would involve being immune to the fire. If you think there’s more than one unquenchable eternal fire than the Holy Spirit, though, then someone might be immune to that perhaps, especially if that fire isn’t a direct action by God. Except I gathered that annihilationists generally agreed it was (at least) a direct action from God, which seems to comport with Biblical testimony. So then we’re back to God actually being unable to destroy the saved (instead of continually choosing to give them life instead of giving them destruction) even by the eonian fire, as though the saved have become necessary beings and so would be invulnerable even to God.

            I’m not much in favor of the idea of someone being made invulnerable to God’s action, especially as a (mere!) environmental effect. Even if someone was annihilated by God, I wouldn’t regard that as becoming invulnerable to God. (God kills, God makes alive, God breaks the pottery so that no man could remake it and then remakes it, etc.)

            “But it seems that [being made invulnerable to God is] just exactly what Isaiah 33:14,15 entails”. If that was what the imagery implies, people wouldn’t continue being upkept by God in the immediately subsequent verses (though the imagery of that upkeep might be poetic with being given food etc.): people are still dependent on God for their existence. If they were made invulnerable to God and still needed to be upkept by God, they would die, because God couldn’t affect them anymore to give them life! — whereas if they didn’t need to be upkept by God anymore, they would become necessary beings like God with independent existence (which is impossible) or God wouldn’t be the necessary being, the one and only ground of all existence (which would be some kind of low Mormanism and at best we wouldn’t be talking about God Most High anymore but some creature).

            It’s bizarre that you would affirm in one breath that God could still
            destroy someone after they receive eonian life (which I agree is technically possible although He wouldn’t choose to do so), and then to say that
            Isaiah 33 testifies to being made impervious to God: if they’re
            impervious to God, then God could not still be able to destroy them!

            The Holy Spirit, being one of the Persons of God, is inherently life, not inherently destruction: we don’t need to be saved from God, and so be made invulnerable to God, but saved from our sins. God is a consuming fire toward our sins, which is the point of Hebrews 12, and certainly someone impenitent about their sins ought to be afraid of. But God is not a consuming fire intrinsically, in a “primarily fearful” way, or the Persons of the Trinity would be trying to destroy one another in God’s own self-existence (which would be contradictory to the whole notion of self-existence).

            I’m glad you agree Hebrews 12:19 and the various destruction threats afterward connects directly to Hebrews 12:9 and the “Father of Spirits”, though, because 12:9 and its surrounding contexts are nothing if not an explanation of why God disciplines people, even harshly so with the “rod of iron”: because He’s their father (being the father of their spirits and so even more of a father to them than an earthly father) and expects them to learn to do better. Except you apparently don’t expect those disciplined by God (like the Sons of Korah) to learn better, or even that God had that intention in mind toward them, despite what the first half of Heb 12 says. (But maybe that was why you eye-jumped ahead to 12:19 instead of 12:9. They stand next to each other in columns in my Bible, too, but 12:9 wouldn’t fit your referential purpose very well. {g} )

    • Nicholas Ahern

      Hey Juan. I mentioned my response to your first question. I consider Perriman’s contention to be quite persuasive. But as I mentioned above, I would simply be assuming that this parable is post-mortem.

      In regards to your second question, I confess I see little relevance. But I do see the gist of your comment. Incarnation is no more difficult to comprehend within a traditionalist, annihilationist or universalist paradigm. The defeat of death and the resurrection doesn’t establish an ontological unity with Christ. For instance, we are not all ontologically united to Christ now as not all things are beneath His feet (Heb. 2:8). Ontological unity seems conditional based on our actions in this life, and possibly, in the next. My friendly challenge to you would be to establish a universal ontological unity with Christ in this passage (or any other judgment text). I am not set on my interpretation (though I quite enjoy it) and am willing to nuance such things.

      I, of course, speak my own opinion and Rethinking Hell doesn’t necessarily endorse anything I say, spurious or not. :)

      God bless.

      –Nick

      • Peter Grice

        I think “ontological” should admit more than one sense, so a distinction may be helpful, and I propose a biblical rather than philosophical one:

        All being is “sustained” by Christ (Col 1:17; Heb 1:3) and all people do have their life, breath, and very being contingent upon God in this granting/sustaining sense (Acts 17:28).

        But as with Acts 17:30,31, such a relation is not enough in the end. There is another effectively ontological relation to Christ, which is called oftentimes “in Christ,” and which entails personal adoption as sons and daughters.

        The conditional immortality claim of course is that the first relation need not be enduring, and the second relation is, because it involves immortality or the grant of eternal life.

        • Nicholas Ahern

          Leave it to Peter to say it better than myself.

          :)

          –Nick

        • Except that when Paul talks about adoption as sons and daughters (as in Galatians 4), he’s predicating that on us being children of God to begin with: we don’t have our existence, especially not our spirits, from anywhere other than the Father of Spirits, so we are not being adopted by someone Who isn’t ontologically our Father, as Paul stresses very strongly in his Mars Hill sermon of Acts 17. It is precisely on the ground of God’s ontological fatherhood that He “winks at” the times of ignorance (which is a daringly gracious way for Paul to put it in Greek!), announces the time of repentance, and judges the world in righteousness (or into fair-togetherness to put it more literally). Paul does not say there (at least) that we start some other kind of ontological existence once favorably judged by God (or otherwise).

          • Peter Grice

            Jason, it’s straightforward from Romans 8:9 and 8:12-17 that only they belong to God who have the indwelling Spirit, which is the “Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’”

            This is not predicated upon us being “children of God” to begin with! It quite explicitly says that the Spirit “bears witness that we are children of God” (v16), that only those with the Spirit “belong to him” (v9) and “are sons of God” (v14), while others are “hostile to God” (v7).

            No surprise, then, that the parallel in Galatians 4 doesn’t depart from this. In Gal 3, the promises to Abraham (v16) are given to those who have faith in Jesus Christ (v22). Before faith came the law (like a “guardian”) imprisoned people under sin, but once faith came, “in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (v26). If a person is baptized into Christ (v27), then they “are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” (v29)

            So when Gal 4 continues, it’s clear what “heir,” “slave,” and “guardian” are referring to, through the general analogy. There is talk of a father and children, but it is not ‘ontological.’ v7 says it most directly: you moved from being a slave to being a son and an heir.

            Surely, also, the very concept of adoption tells us as much.

            I am reminded of John’s prologue, where it is clear that many rejected Christ, however “to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). In other words, they were not children of God to begin with. There’s a lot of talk about believers in Christ becoming God’s children, through adoption, by His Spirit, and this very concept is predicated upon them not being God’s children beforehand.

            With all this in mind it’s unhelpful equivocation to speak of being adopted by someone who was already our “Father” before that, implying familial relationship, and similarly, to speak of those not “in Christ” as God’s “children.”

            Paul really does not speak this way in Acts 17. He describes a Creator and sustainer (by providence), Whom the audience does not yet know (v23, 27). Nonetheless, poetically speaking, humans are offspring of God. Of course we are not literally divine progeny, and Paul is obviously contextualising Genesis through a line from ‘A Hymn to Zeus,’ but whatever the specifics, he portrays an ontological connection between God and all humans quite distinct from the “child of God”/”Abba, Father!”/”adopted as sons” language he uses elsewhere.

            So the biblical distinctions are well-worn, and precisely because they are so familiar, I think it actually hinders the UR case whenever someone might like to appeal to the idea that non-Christians are children of God. Their status is more helpfully understood as “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3).

          • Paul does indeed say in Rom 8:7 that those who are in the flesh and so who (in previous verses) walk in accord with the flesh instead of in accord with the Spirit, are hostile to God. It does not say that only those who walk in the Spirit are children of God. Whereas Gal 4 says that as child-heirs we were held in bondage under the elementary things of the world, the analogy explicitly being that of the paterfamilias of the ancient Mediterranean world where the children were regarded as slaves even though heirs (and truly children of the father) until they reached maturity at which time they were son-placed by the father into having the rights and responsibilities of serving in the family name.

            Normally the children would be taught by guardians and stewards until the set date (as in 4:2), but the guardians and stewards rebelled, leading us into rebellion with them, which among other things results in us denying that God really is our father (even though He is). Until the Father (and the firstborn Son) redeems us, while we still do not know God, we are slaves to those who are no gods (4:8), even though still heirs and the “lords” of all (4:1).

            So we do in fact belong to God and are children of God and heirs to God even while still in our sins, having followed the rebellious stewards (who were supposed to be teaching us). Which is very directly related to Paul’s thrust of approach to the pagan philosophers at the Mars Hill forum.

            Calvinists might restrict being children and heirs even while still slaves to sin (and to sinners), to only God’s chosen elect, perhaps, but that’s still how the details add up. I would think that’s a big selling point to Calv assurance of salvation: God isn’t going to let His chosen heirs be finally lost, even though they start out denying His fatherhood!

            Certainly the promises of Abraham are given to those who have faith in Jesus Christ, but that doesn’t mean those who are heirs to the promise didn’t start out heirs and children (though rebel ones). The salient question is whether everyone is in fact an heir by God’s intention to the covenant God made to Abraham (not whether some people receive the inheritance sooner than others, which everyone agrees is true). That the heirs start out as rebels now is no denial of their inheritance. But God must in actual fact be the father of the spirits of any who are permanently lost, too (unless some radical Calv theories are true and those apparent ‘people’ are philosophical zombies and so only appear to be real people but aren’t. But then there’s no point talking about punishing them for their sins either as though they had real personal responsibility.) Otherwise we’re introducing another ground of existence than God (supposedly) Most High, meaning God isn’t really the one and only ground of existence after all, and then we devolve into cosmological dualism which ends up being two creatures sharing the same overarching existence which we haven’t really been talking about yet.

            Being a supernaturalistic theist means I believe God is the one and only self-existent ground of existence, and so also especially the one and only father of all spirits. Whether He intends all His children to inherit is another question again.

            In Galatians 3:6-8, St. Paul argues that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham, but he says this in direct citational context of Genesis 18:18 which prophecies that God shall justify the nations by faith: all the nations cannot be blessed in Abraham, the believer, unless all the nations come to have faith in God. By the same token of proportion, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the Law, to perform them”–and in fact no one is justified by the Law before God. All nations have sinned: corporately, individually and universally. All nations means everyone in relation to the same context when talking about sin; the prophecy indicates (unless there are good reasons to believe otherwise) all nations means everyone when talking about being saved into faith and becoming sons of Abraham.

            Even more importantly, the promise of blessing to all nations is really being offered to Christ, the seed of Abraham (verse 16). Nor can the Law, which came 430 years later, nullify that promise nor invalidate a covenant (actually made with the Son by the Father through Abraham) previously ratified by God. For God grants it to Abraham (and thus to Christ) by means of a promise. Consequently, the failure of both Jews and Gentiles to keep the Law (and Paul recognizes that even Gentiles who do not have the Torah still have a conscience inspired by God to act as Torah within them so that no one has excuse but all are shut up under the Law), does not supercede the promise made to the Son by the Father to bless all nations: a blessing that Paul explicitly identifies as salvation from sin and the reception of the Holy Spirit through faith.

            The only way Abraham becomes the father of an uncountable multitude is precisely by the two-natures incarnation of Christ, as the seed of Abraham fulfilling the covenant of Abraham (including voluntarily dying when Abraham’s descendants break the covenant), and as the father of spirits the creator and sustainer of all creation including all rational creatures (as in Col 1). It is not only Abraham’s descendants by the flesh who break the covenant made with Abraham, but Abraham’s descendants by Christ Who incarnates as a descendant of Abraham despite being Abraham’s creator and sustainer (similar to the ADNY riddle of Psalm 110): thus all sinners are inheritors of Abraham by the incarnation of Christ, and Christ fulfill’s Abraham’s nominal side of the covenant (which only YHWH actively took part in by YHWH’s gracious choice, resulting in a covenant made between the Father and the Son) on behalf of all sinners.

            If the promise is given to Christ by the Father, and fulfilled for Christ by the Father, then how would the Father not be shamed by promising to the Son less than what was achieved through sin: the corruption of all humanity?! Or how would the Father not be shamed by giving up or (worse) being incompetent to fulfill that promise to the Son?!

            In any case it ought to be abundantly clear that the heir-children slaves in Gal 4:1 and afterward are not people who already have faith in Christ, much less people who have been baptized. They’re described as heir-children first under stewards and guardians and enslaved to the law due to sin (although they would have been counted as slaves until they matured even if no rebellions had occurred, following the paterfamilias analogy), meaning due to being enslaved to the guardians and stewards who are no gods. Then comes Christ to redeem them and raise them into the inheritance.

            The very concept of “adoption” tells us as much: because the concept of adoption being used by Paul here and elsewhere is clearly not our concept of adopting someone not naturally a child, nor the various ancient concepts of someone adopting outside the family. It’s the son-placement concept of not acknowledging legitimate children as acting in the family name until they’re trained up properly and the father thinks they’re prepared. The father is under no obligation to ever give the children the inheritance, and graciously does so in any case, but still won’t until he thinks they’re fit for it; but if he’s a good and loving father he’ll do whatever it takes to lead them out of their rebellions, even though they may not appreciate the discipline at the time.

            Which not-incidentally is an important aspect of Heb 12, too.

            (It’s this notion of adoption that John 1:12 is talking about, too, since you mention it — where the Light is enlightening every person, even the ones who didn’t receive the Light when the Logos came. Otherwise no one would be saved after Jesus’ ascension!)

            Peter: “Nonetheless, poetically speaking, humans are offspring of God.”

            Humans are the offspring of God ontologically speaking, not just poetically speaking: we don’t get any of our existence, especially our spirits, from anywhere other than God. Unless you are proposing a second Anti-God most high, or that Nature is equal ontologically to God, or that some humans are actually self-existent.

            We are not literally divine progeny in the sense the pagans thought (or modern Mormons), but we are literally divine progeny in a far deeper and more important sense.

            It would be better, if some distinction of childhoods is going to be recognized (and I agree it should), to distinguish a cooperative childhood of God from an ontological childhood of God: all rational creatures ontologically depend on God and nothing but God (or supernaturalistic theism is false, much less trinitarian theism), but not all rational creatures cooperate with God. All sinners are children of wrath (as all redeemed sinners used to be), but wrath is absolutely not where they came from nor which keeps them (graciously!) in existence, as St. Paul is very well aware.

            The idea that there can be two ontologies, though, I must adamantly reject, as I adamantly reject cosmological dualism of any kind. (Or I ought to stop being a supernaturalistic theist, and stop being a trinitarian theist, and become a cosmological dualist! — which I see less than no reason to do.)

            Calling a relationship ontological, in such a way as to imply two ontologies, is no good help. Call rebels children of wrath, especially as they follow wrath, denying God Who although He does temporarily do wrath is essentially and self-existently love and Who has no wrath in Him! But that childhood of wrath is utterly secondary to their one and only ontological childhood which comes only from God Most High.

            Again, I don’t have to be a Christian universalist to insist upon this point; I only have to be a consistent trinitarian theist (or even only a consistent supernaturalistic theist–although I wouldn’t be able to coherently talk about God really “being love” then.)

            Jason

  • Replying to Nicholas’ article as an admin at the Evangelical Universalist site, segueing in from a reply to a comment there by Peter Grice: http://www.evangelicaluniversalist.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=11&t=4440&p=61115#p61111

  • FeverEffect

    It seems fair to say that much of the rationale behind universalism is the desire to reconcile the ‘Arminian’ passages of scripture (which state or imply that God wants to, or will, save ‘all men’) and the ‘Calvinist’ passages (which state that God always gets what He wants). As many universalists have argued, those two sets of passages taken together (in isolation) imply that God will save all men. Unfortunately, to many bible-believing Christians, the universalist interpretation of the passages about the final judgement and Hell seem strained, with a lot of ‘reading between the lines’ to fill in what isn’t actually in the text. However, there is an alternative, non-universalist, interpretation of scripture that also affirms that ‘all men’ (in the sense of ‘every man’) will be saved, thereby reconciling the Arminian and Calvinist passages without recourse to universalism. Since I’ve not seen this interpretation mentioned in any of the debates on universalism, I thought I would bring it up here for discussion.

    In summary, this alternative interpretation claims that, read in context, the words ‘men’ or ‘man’ in the relevant passages refer to the physical descendants of Adam (who inherit Adam’s sin, and are therefore the exclusive objects of salvation). But not all homo sapiens are physical descendants of Adam. The non-Adamic homo sapiens are those referred to as ‘tares’ in the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares in Matthew 13. In Matthew 13:38-39, Jesus states that, “The tares are the sons [i.e physical descendants] of the evil one [Satan], and the enemy who sowed them is the devil.” In the next verse, Jesus states that the tares “are gathered and burned with fire.” It is instructive to note that ‘tares’ are a variety of weed (Lolium temulentum) that looks like wheat, until differences emerge near harvest time (hence Jesus’s instruction in Matthew 13:39 to not remove the tares till harvest time, “lest while you are gathering up the tares, you may uproot the wheat with them”). In other words, the tares look like human beings, but they are the physical descendants of Satan, and this will become more apparent (in their behavior) as we get closer to the Last Days. Like the real tares, they are utterly destroyed in the fire at ‘harvest time’.

    At the outset, it should be stressed that we are commanded to love our enemies, no matter who they are (Matthew 5:44), and not because of what they are but because of who our God is, and who we are in Him (1 John 4:8). But that love has to be appropriate to the kind of creature we’re dealing with. We cannot distinguish the wheat from the tares, so we are not to cast judgement and show favoritism in who we choose to help (except for practical reasons such as proximity, or biblical ones such as parental responsibility). There is no excuse for not loving anyone (though we don’t have to like them). However, it is not appropriate to wish salvation upon the tares, anymore than one would wish a bicycle on a goldfish. The tares are the “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” (Romans 9:22).

    To understand how Satan could possibly have physical descendants who look human, we need to turn to Genesis (I won’t attempt a complete biblical exegesis here, I’ll just raise enough points to show that this view is not as unbiblical as at first glance). Clearly, the Fall didn’t happen because Adam and Eve ate a piece of fruit (even if it was in disobedience to God). The ‘fruit’ symbolized something that the serpent (Satan) tempted Eve into doing (and Adam too, but for him, it didn’t have the same physical consequences as it did for Eve). It isn’t necessary to go into the sordid details here, though it is worth noting that in Romans 1:21-27, Paul places sexual impurity (including homosexuality) top on his list of the manifestations of spiritual rebellion. In 2 Corinthians 11:2-3, Paul draws a parallel between adultery and the way Eve was tempted by Satan, “For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted…” In Genesis 3:15, God says to Satan, “I will put enmity between … thy seed and her [Eve's] seed”. Notice the word ‘seed’ crops up repeatedly, a word that usually means ‘physical descendant’.

    Shortly after the Fall, Eve gives birth to Cain and Abel, who have notably different personalities. 1 John 3:12 says Cain was “of that wicked one, and murdered his brother.” In John 8:44, Jesus told some of his persecutors, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning … ” Again, the terminology implies physical descent from Satan, with murderousness as one of the prime characteristics of that descent. Both Cain and Abel are excluded from Adam’s genealogy in Genesis 5. Abel may have been excluded because he had no descendants, but although Cain had descendants (Genesis 4:16-24), his entire lineage was left out of Adam’s genealogy. It is likely that the two lineages (Satan’s and Adam’s) would intermingle from time to time, so God had to ‘weed out the bad seed’ occasionally, notably in the Flood (which was probably a local one), and in his exclusion of Esau and Ishmael from Israel’s inheritance. God also kept the Israelites genetically isolated in Egypt for 400 years (Genesis 15:13; as slaves, they would not have been allowed to mingle with non-slaves), and subsequently forbade them from marrying non-Israelites (Deuteronomy 7:3–4). It is unlikely that this ban was motivated solely by fear of religious pollution, as other religions don’t have a problem absorbing spouses from other faiths.

    But God had a larger plan than simply isolating the Israelites genetically. Not all of Adam’s seed were taken into captivity in Egypt, and subsequently led out by Moses as ‘Israelites’. Many Adamites (descendants of Adam) were scattered throughout the world. In Genesis 12:3 God told Abraham, “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” The word translated ‘peoples’ is ‘mishpachah’ (Strong’s 4940), which is better translated ‘kindered’ (as in the Douay-Rheims and Amplified Bible translations). God told Abraham that all his Adamite kinfolk (not ‘every person’) around the world would be blessed through him. Similarly, in Genesis 22:18, where God says to Abraham, “Through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed,” the word translated ‘nations’ is ‘gowye’ (‘the nations’), which according to Strong’s (1471), is often used “specifically of descendants of Abraham.” God had already planned beforehand that He would reconcile all of Adam’s descendants back to Himself, through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, so that, “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor 15:22). The ‘all’ in that verse are those who ‘die in Adam’, excluding those who are not Adam’s descendants, and who therefore did not inherit his sin.

    All Adamites will be saved, even those who had never heard of Jesus (such as Abraham, whose faith “was credited to him as righteousness”, Romans 4:22). All Adamites, past, present and future, will be saved through their innate faith in God’s saving grace. This innate faith may have been the gift that God imparted to all Adamites when He created ‘ha’adam’ or ‘Adamkind’ (poorly translated as ‘Man’ in most Bibles) in “His own image” in Genesis 1:27. Note, in that verse, what was created in God’s image was both “male and female”, so God’s image could not be passed on through Eve (or Adam) alone. So the descendants of Satan and Eve could not inherit the image of God, nor could they inherit Adam’s sin. Instead, they inherit the sin nature of their father ‘the devil’, marked by a rebelliousness that caused him to fall from Heaven to Earth (Rev 12:9). It is noteworthy that Matthew 23:32 states that when Jesus returns, “All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them [the nations, not 'people' as in some translations] one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” The word translated ‘nation’ there is ‘ethne’ (Strong’s 1484), where we get the word ‘ethnicity’. In other words, Jesus will separate the Adamic bloodline from the Satanic bloodline (sheep and goats are two different species who look quite similar, so the analogy is fitting).

    Why can’t the children of Satan be saved from their sin? The Bible teaches that Adamkind is composed of body, soul and spirit (1 Thess 5:23, Hebrews 4:12). Paul taught that, “The Spirit Himself (meaning the Holy Spirit) beareth witness with our spirit, that we are children of God (Romans 8:16). However, Paul states that “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14).” Since the ‘tares’ (the seed of Satan) are excluded from salvation (being entirely consumed in the fire, as real tares are), it follows that they are the ‘natural man’, lacking a spirit to ‘bear witness’ that they are ‘children of God’, and are therefore unable to respond to the Spirit of God.

    The children of Satan only have a body and a soul, they lack a spirit (which was the ‘image of God’ that was given to Adam and Eve as a couple). It is noteworthy that Jesus said, “be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). He did not mention ‘spirit’ being in hell, because the spirit cannot be destroyed (being the image of God), which is why it ultimately returns to Him in the salvation of all Adamkind. On the other hand, the Bible states that “The soul that sins [without the spirit] shall die” (Ezekiel 18:20). Hell destroys both soul and body, so it entirely consumes the seed of Satan. However, Satan, the Beast and the False Prophet are cast into Hell, where “they shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Rev 20:10). Satan is an angelic being, and it is quite likely that angels never die. Jesus taught that believers “will be like the angels in heaven” (Mark 12:25), where there is no death (Rev 21:4). The Beast and the False Prophet will have their souls and bodies destroyed, but while on earth they were indwelled by Satan or a fallen angel under Satan’s direction, who will therefore spiritually represent the Beast and False Prophet in Hell ‘for ever and ever’.

    So Satan and his fallen angels will be the sole occupants of Hell. Because Satan’s offspring only have a soul and body, their spirit is Satan (or a fallen angel under his control), who indwells them from time to time. When they are not possessed, Satan’s children only follow their (corrupted) natural instincts, as “brute beasts … who have gone the way of Cain” (Jude 1:10-11). As such, they cannot ‘sin’ (anymore than a rabid cat can ‘sin’). It is Satan who sins in their bodies whenever he indwells them (or directs a fallen angel to do so). So he will pay for the sins ‘of’ his children in Hell (and the fallen angels will pay for their part), just as Jesus paid for the sins of His people. There is a terrible irony in this, as the Satan-indwelled Antichrist (meaning ‘in place of Christ’) seeks to be a counterfeit Jesus. So it is fitting that Satan should be punished by being made to play ‘Jesus’ for real. It is noteworthy that in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, Jesus says to the goats, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). He did not say, “The eternal fire prepared for the devil, his angels, and all human sinners.” That’s because no human beings dwell in the ‘eternal fire’, they are all consumed by it (for the relevant verses, please refer to the literature on Annihilationism).

    What about God’s mercy, which the Bible says is “everlasting” (Psalm 100:5)? Should He be kind to Satan and his angels, and either destroy them or forgive them? Angels are a special category of beings, they possess privileges and powers that humans don’t enjoy (humans were “made a little lower than the angels” (Psalm 8:5)). Such an exalted status carries a corresponding responsibility, with more severe penalties for transgression (for example, among believers, teachers are judged more severely than others (James 3:1), in terms of God’s discipline in this life, and degrees of reward in the next (1 Cor 3:10-15)). Presumably, Satan and his angels will continue to sin in Hell (after all, Satan returned to sinning after being bound for a thousand years (Rev 20:7)). Perhaps the privilege of being immortal carries the responsibility of eternal punishment for unrepentant continual rebellion. If Satan or his angels were to repent, God may well forgive them, and in that sense, His mercy is everlasting. But the Bible states that Satan and his angels are tormented “for ever and ever”, which implies that they never repent (Rev 20:10), though God may be ever-merciful in his willingness to forgive. Their torment may well be their own psychic pain in the presence of someone they hate. In Rev 15:2 the saved are standing (comfortably) on “something like a sea of glass mixed with fire” before “the throne of God” (Rev 4:6). It may be this very same sea that Satan and his angels are standing on, but it is the presence of God (rather than the fire) that torments them. After all, before his fall, Satan “walked among the fiery stones” (Ezekiel 28:14), which didn’t seem to bother him.

    Some may object that in Romans 9:27, Paul quotes Isaiah 10:22 in stating that, “Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved.” So how can all of Abraham’s Adamite ‘kinfolk’ be saved? Paul supplies the answer, “Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel” (Romans 9:6). He cites the example of Esau, whom God ‘hated’ (Romans 9:13). As was mentioned earlier, the Satanic and Adamic bloodlines probably mingled at certain points, leading God to ‘weed out the bad seed’ such as Esau and Ishmael. Not all who can trace their descent to Adam necessarily have a pure Adamic bloodline. If some of their ancestors were from the Satanic line, the Satanic genes will be present in some individuals (while skipping others) in the generations that follow. So it is possible for non-identical twins, such as Esau and Jacob, to bear the Satanic and Adamic genes respectively. Correspondingly, someone who has a mixed bloodline (i.e. a ‘Gentile’) can be saved, if he happens to have the Adamic genes inherited from a distant Adamic ancestor (so the Adamic bloodline doesn’t correspond to any particular ‘race’ by physical appearance). The saved will come from “every nation, tribe and tongue” (Rev 7:9), but only a remnant (literally, ‘the remainder’) of those who call themselves ‘Israel’ will be saved. To those who have the Adamic genes, “The [Holy] Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16).

  • Ross Marshall

    If anyone is interested in reviewing some new books on Univ. Recon. ask me and Ill send free pdf’s. details go here. All are on Amazon under my name ROSS S MARSHALL
    500p THE ALL MANKIND BIBLE COMMENTARY
    http://www.GodSavesAll.org
    wwwUniversalAtonement.com

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