Universal Reconciliation and the New Testament Pt 1

Below I offer notes I’ve made on various eschatological passages of the New Testament. They are meant as notes only.
Colossians 1:15-23
This passage speaks of the fact that Christ is the first born of “every creature.” And that the entire cosmos was created through Christ and “for” him. It also speaks of the church as being “the beginning” and “the first born.” This makes little sense unless there are things that came afterwards (i.e. “second borns) who are not identical to those in the Church. Futher, Paul tells us what “pleases” the Father – namely the Incarnation (i.e. the “fullness” of deity dwelling in Christ) and the reconciliation of all hostile things through the peace of the cross. Paul also shows the preciousness of the humanity of Christ: for we are reconciled in “his body of flesh”, which indicates the union of Christ’s human nature to his divinity, since the flesh of a mere man could never reconcile us to God. Note then that these two things is what please the Father: the incarnation and reconciliation. There is no mention of ECT or even judgment. Also note that the “all things” that the Father is seeking to reconcile parallel the all things which Paul said were created by Christ: “things in heaven and on earth” – as if to indicate, the entire cosmos. The question is, is ECT or CI compatible with the teaching of this passage that God will *reconcile* “all things” to himself?
1 Timothy 2:1-7
Before this passage note that Paul “delivers to Satan” Hymenaeus and Alexander, but not to destroy them in the sense of ensuring their eternal torment, but for a corrective purpose – “that they may learn not to blaspheme.” (1 Tim 1:20). This we have an example of a redemptive destruction that involves a handing over to Satan. To the passage at hand: Paul says we are to offer prayers, supplications, intercessions (interesting word) and thanksgiving for “all men” ( “thanksgiving” is often overlooked – he is advising we be thankful, even perhaps for men who wrong us.) Paul also says that God “desires all men to be saved” and that Christ “gave himself a ransom for all” and that Christ is the “one mediator between God and men.” Now, God either desires absolutely all to be saved or he does not. If he does not, then he desires some to be damned, and it follows that Christ was not a ransom for everyone nor is he mediator for every one. This interpretation seems to contradict what is laid down in the passage. The passage could be interpreted in a Calvinist sense in which the “all” refers only to “all kinds.” However, the text does not contain those words and it is not the natural reading. In fact, the common argument that “all kinds” or “all classes” of men is implied because Paul first references “kings” and those in high positions, appears very weak. For if Paul intended to be describing the many “classes” of men God wanted to save, he would have actually given some examples of different class. Instead he simply mentions those who are in positions of authority (i.e. he mentions only one class of people.) One more note: some translations have “God *will* have all men be saved” rather than *desire.*
1 Corinthians 5:5
This verse plainly shows that there can be the “destruction” of a person, given as a punishment, with the end in view of saving the one punished. Paul says the person is to be given over to Satan so that his “flesh” may be “destroyed” but his spirit saved. There are several interesting things to note here. First, the word “flesh” in Greek is “sarkos” – the word continually used in Paul and the NT to mean the carnal and weak part of human nature. It is often juxtaposed to the spirit: see for example the famous passage at the beginning of Romans 8 where Paul describes this dichotomy. The second interesting point is that the word used here for “destruction” (olethros) is the same one used by Paul in 2 Thess. 1:9, a verse that is used by ECT and CI views alike. So, it has been shown by Scripture that it cannot be the case that destruction necessarily entails annihilation or eternal torment. Further, it has not been shown positively anywhere that it in fact can.
Romans 11:28-36
This passage describes enemies of God as also being elected and “beloved.” It’s main emphasis is that God permits the contrasting groups of people to be disobedient so he can highlight his own mercy and saving power and show that God loves both Gentiles and Israelites: “God has consigned all to disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.” I don’t see here any explicit teaching on UR but I do see a sort of universal principle of God’s dealings with the disobedient. If in the end there is a third group – a group who God permitted to be disobedient but never showed mercy to – this would be an awkward display of the principle of God’s wisdom and judgment that Paul is highlighting here. The passage ends by claiming that all things are directed and tend toward God: “from him and to him and through him are all things.”
Ephesians 1:9-12, 21-23
Here Paul expressly declares the “mystery” of God’s will: to unite “all things” in Christ. This he goes out of his way to qualify: all things are “things in heaven and things on earth.” He further says this gathering together will come to pass “in the fullness of time.” Such uniting was a “plan” that God purposed to bring about. Paul also says that God works all things in accordance with his will: therefore it stands to reason that God will in fact accomplish his purpose of uniting all things – things in heaven and on earth – to himself by redeeming them through Christ’s blood. More is said at the end of the passage about the “age to come” where Christ puts all things “under his feet” and “fills all in all.” No mention is made of ECT.
Romans 5:16-19
The comparison is made between Adam’s transgression, which spread to all, and Christ’s obedience and act of righteousness, which spreads to all. The parallel is straightforward: however many were affected by Adam will be affected by Christ. How many were affected by Adam? All mankind. Therefore, all mankind will be affected by Christ. In what way will they be affected? Paul says: they will be made righteous, will be acquitted of their sins, and given life. The same mass of people who are made sinners by Adam and condemned, Paul says these same will be “justified” by Christ’s act. It is interesting to note those who think that all mankind inherit Adam’s guilt apart from any choice from themselves, and yet they deny that Christ’s act of righteousness will be similarly applied to all mankind. The logic of the parallel is simply this: all that are guilty of “condemnation” due to original sin by birth (and therefore whatever that entails on ECT or CI eschatologies – e.g. Hell) shall be justified for eternal life due to Christ’s obedience by birth.
1 Timothy 4:10
This verse is straightforward. It says God is the savior of all, “especially of those who believe” implying that God saves others besides “those who believe.” I’ll let it speak for itself.
1 Peter 3:18-23
In this passage we read Christ after he died “went and preached to the spirits in prison.” These people Peter tells us are those who were destroyed in the flood and were formerly disobedient. This verse overthrows two major assumptions of the ECT view (and even the CI view), for in it we see a) that what God destroys in the flood, he can still save (CI often use 2 Peter 3:6 to teach eternal destruction, but the same that “perished” are here preached to) b) after death, Christ’s power to save can still reach souls. (Chapter 3 vs 6 also says the gospel was “preached to those who are dead.”)
Romans 8:20-23
Here we read that the whole creation – that which was “subjected to futility” – groans for its own redemption. The parallel Paul makes is that the entire created order is under a curse, and it is this entire created order which will one day be liberated. Can this passage be true if ECT or CI are true? If so, in. what sense are the finally lost “freed”?
Matthew 18:11, Luke 19:10
Here we read that Christ came to save that which was lost. This word – “lost” – is used by in CI and ECT views to refer to those who either are tormented forever or are annihilated. But this single verse shows that just because a thing is “lost” (in Greek “apollumi” – a word that is used by CI to describe annihilation), it need not be irremediably lost. In fact Scripture speaks of many things being destroyed or lost that both ECT and CI do not believe are ultimately so: e.g. God destroys [apollumi—Septuagint] the blameless and the wicked (Job 9:22); and The righteous perishes [apollumi—Septuagint], and no man takes it to heart (Is. 57:1). In each case what is meant in the text is not absolute destruction where one is annihilated or tormented forever but only a relative destruction (otherwise we must conclude that the righteous go to Hell or are annihilated.) Several other verses are like this. The point is “death” and a state of “lostness” in Scripture need not imply something irremediable. Actually, they are a necessary condition for our salvation in the first place. We must lose our lives to find them (Matt. 16:25); the grain of wheat must fall into the ground and “die” before it produces grain (John 12:24); the “lost” coin is that which is found (Luke 15:8) the “lost” sheep is what’s hen shepard saves (Luke 15:6)
1 Corinthians 15:21-28
As many as die in Adam are made alive in Christ. To show that this resurrection does not mean simply the resurrection of the body after which there is a final destruction or torment, Paul says those made “alive in Christ” are done so in different orders. Some there are who belong to Christ, and others who, evidently, do not. There are “powers” and “authorities” and even “death” that are said to be destroyed or abolished, but no rational beings. Also it says that Christ must reign “until he puts all enemies under his feet” and that everything must be “subjected” to Christ. Now, that subjection, whatever it means, cannot mean total annihilation of what is subdued or torture or a forced bowing of the knee, for Christ, after he has completed his reign, is “subjected” himself to the father. This is followed by saying that God may be “all in all.” (The RSV renders it as God bein “everything to everyone.”) The passage thus indicates a universal harmonious and voluntary subjected of the entire created order to God through Christ in which all humans are alive.
1 Corinthians 15:51-55
Preceding this passage Paul speaks of the fact that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, but that we must shed our current body and put on a new one – one that is imperishable. Now he says also that at the last trumpet “the dead will be raised imperishable.” This same imperishable substance is given “immortality” which swallows up death. There is no distinction or mention of some of the dead being raised and given perishable bodies or imperishable bodies that are eternally tormented. In fact, the very same class of people who are raised from the dead (which are everyone believes *all* people) will, according to the logic of Paul’s argument, be raised to immortality. The passage reads as if Paul says “at the last trumpet, all the dead will be raised and given imperishable bodies that shall never die.”
Ephesians 4:4-6
We have here asserted the universal fatherhood of God. He is the father of all and “over all, through all, and in all.” Vs. 10 says that Christ ascended into heaven so that he could “fill all things.” There is no mention of anything being outside of God in some state of eternal separation, whether that be annihilation or eternal conscious suffering.
Philippians 2:10,11
Here Paul says that every knee will bow and confess that Jesus is Lord “to the glory of God the father.” Further on, in chapter 3:21 we read that Chris has the “power” to “subject all things to himself.” The question then is, which form of confession and bowing the knee glorifies the father most? A forced submission, or a voluntary one? Remember, the text says that Christ has the power to subject all things to himself. What kind of subjection – assuming God could do either – is more glorifying?
John 3:16,17 and John 6:52
The text reads that God loved “the world” and that Christ came to save “the world.” One can interpret that to mean less than the world, or to limit Christ’s saving power and God’s saving intent, but doing so requires stretching the text past its surface reading. Likewise the second text reads that Christ gave his flesh for “the life of the world.” Thus he gives his body either for the world, as the text says, or for less than the world. The second meaning is possible, but one must stretch the text. One also wonders why the word “world” was used in the first place.
Jude 1:7
Here Sodom and Gomorrah are said to undergo a punishment or penalty of “eternal” fire. Now there are two things to note here: a) this word, eternal, is a derivative of aiónios, the same word that is translated in Matthew’s parables of the sheep and the goats as “eternal” when used of the goats’ “eternal punishment.” It is also the same words used to describe the “eternal fire” prepared for the devil and the angels in this chapter of Matthew. In other words, what is being told about in the case of Sodom we know to be a definitive judgment that lasted for a time and then came to an end. The same words are used to describe the punishment of the unrighteous in Matthew’s gospel, without elaboration as to what that entails. It is then not unreasonable to interpret the less clear judgment (found in Matthew) with the more clear one (found in Jude.) b) In Ezekiel 16:53-55 the Lord prophecies that he will “restore the fortunes of Sodom and her daughters.” And that Sodom will “return to her former state.” Taking all of Scripture together, then, we have in the case of Sodom an example of i) eternal destruction by fire and ii) a restoration of the very thing that is destroyed. This example alone is enough to show not only that this kind of judgment is one which God performs, but also the danger in taking an unclear or incomplete reference in Scripture regarding judgment and extrapolating that in a way involving absolute finality.
Titus 1:2, James 1:13
These verses tell us there are things God “cannot” do: lie or be tempted. Therefore there are certain things that are unworthy of God because of his character. It is reasonable then to think that there are certain actions towards his creatures which God is incapable of, such as tormenting them forever or annihilating them. If he cannot lie to his creatures, is it likely he could inflict pain on them for no remedial purpose or take them out of existence altogether?
Matthew 24-25
We have here the passage of the sheep and the goats. There are two important things to notice. i) This particular parable is only one of several given in a single discourse. Christ gives several images, each with different outcomes, which describe the end of the “age” he is referencing. These outcomes are: a) being cut in pieces and put with the hypocrites, which entail weeping and gnashing teeth; b) being shut out from a wedding feast; c) being cast into outer darkness; and d) being punished with eternal fire. ii) It must be noted that Jesus’ whole discourse in chapters 24 and 25 is unbroken, and his speech is in response to the disciples asking him “what will be the sign of the end of the age?” Thus, all the parables are given in response to this question. What is more, Christ says that all the things which he is foretelling will come to pass in the lifetime of some of his listeners: “truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” Therefore evidently all the parables that Jesus mentions will have already came to pass, prior to, at the latest, 100 A.D. It seems reasonable then that these two chapters of Matthew refer to the destruction of Jerusalem.

Acts 3:17-26.

Here we find one of the first sermons, and by Peter himself. For those who do not listen to Christ, their “soul will be destroyed.” This is a quote from Deut. 18:18-21. This OT prophecy actually says that of those who do not hear the prophet (i.e. Christ), God will “require it” of them. We are not told what this means. The OT passage further goes on to give an even worse judgment to people who make false prophecies. These people will “die.” So evidently “destroyed” as used in Acts isn’t described as eternal torment in the OT where the quoted prophecy was given. In fact it gives a worse punishment for people who do something worse than “not listen.” Furthermore, the purpose, as described in Acts, of Christ coming is to bless those who are in sin, and to turn “every one” of them from their iniquities (vs 26). It is not to torment these sinners and unbelievers. What is more, some translations say that Christ was even “appointed” to come for those who had crucified his very self (vs 20, ESV, RSV). Lastly, note the mysterious idea of “heaven receiving Jesus until the restitution of all things” that evidently the prophets had spoken about “from of old.” No explanation is given of this “restitution” but it is at least consistent with a final reconciliation of all.
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