A Pauline Universal Salvation? Conclusion (6)

A Pauline Universal Salvation? Conclusion (6)

Post Series
1—On 1 Corinthians 15:22
2—On Romans 5:18-19
3—On Philippians 2:10-11
4—On Colossians 1:20
5— Conclusion


This examination has sought to assess whether there is a Pauline universal salvation, as some contend. The four passages we have assessed are the same passages proponents of Christian universalism use to maintain their claims that Paul explicitly teaches universalism. 1 Cor 15:22 is argues that those who are in Christ can be assured that since Jesus Himself has been raised from the dead, so too will believers. Rather than referring to the same universal humanity who are dead in Adam, Paul places Christ in parallelism alongside Adam as a representative to indicate those who are in Him are also raised to new life and will participate in His new humanity.

Similarly, Paul employs this Adam-Christ parallelism in Rom 5:18-19 to assert that the status of all believers—Jews and Gentiles—who are in Christ are part of His new humanity. Like 1 Cor 15:22, the context is clear the believers are in mind, as they are the ones who have received God’s abundant provisions (v. 17) for new life in Christ. That all people are in the epoch of Adamic condemnation is clear from 12-14; that all people are in the epoch of Christic salvation certainly is not. Where 1 Cor 15:22 and Rom 5:18-19 emphasize the typological parallel between Adam and Christ, ensuring that believers will be resurrected along with Christ and both Jews and Gentiles are included in Him, Phil 2:10-11 and Col 1:20 are both hymns of praise announcing the authority and sufficiency of Christ as both Creator and re-Creator.

In Phil 2:10-11, Paul emphasizes the universal rule and authority of Jesus as Lord over all of creation, a rule and authority that will be acknowledged by every good and evil being whether they want to or not. Rather than arguing for a universal salvation, these verses fit into the broader context of 2:6-11 that reveal to us the exalted, authoritative Jesus who Himself is God. Paul’s language of bowing and confessing does not mean all people will willingly acknowledge salvation in Jesus or convert. Instead Paul emphasizes a final acknowledgement that “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2:36).

Paul continues these Christological thoughts in Col 1:20 by sketching for us a powerful portrait of Christ as both Creator and Reconciler. Just as “all things” were created through Christ, so too are “all things” re-created through Him; just as Christ is the only one through whom all creation finds birth, He is the only one through whom creation finds re-creation. Paul’s point is that God has brought his entire rebellious creation (“all things”) back under the rule of Creator Christ. While Christian universalists interpret Phil 2:9-11 and Col 1:20 soteriologically, these hymns are instead majestic Christological statements on the person of Jesus.

As Roger Olson says, “The story of Christian theology is the story of Christian reflection on salvation.”1 The same is true today, which is why this examination is necessary. Because the souls of many people are at stake, it is important to reflect on the theology of universalism and its implications for salvation. It is clear that Christian universalists are making these passages do and say things Paul never intended; Paul does not argue for universal salvation. While the deep, wide grace of God in the end could extend to every person who ever lived, it is not clear from these passages that it does. Therefore, it is incorrect and irresponsible for leaders, ecclesiastical and academic alike, to assert a Pauline universal salvation where none is explicitly argued.

  1. Roger Olson, The Story of Christian Theology, (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1999) 13. []

  • Nicolas

    Dear Jeremy,

    A final thanks for this series you've given us. I'm trying to sum up now the background presuppositions which lie between us.

    Again and again, I found your separation of Christological and Soteriological a bit too black and white, as does riveroffire.

    May be on your side there is the fear that Evangelical Universalism denies God's justice — or that there's no judgement, or punishment, or that there's no urgency to bring salvation to others asap. But none of this is true of a proper Christian Universalism.

    I'll just finish with the end of Mark chapter 9. Jesus is saying that if our hand or foot or eye causes us to sin, it's better to loose them than go "complete" into the fires of Gehenna. Then in verse 49 there is his additional statement: "For (because) everyone will be salted with fire."

    What can this mean, but that everyone of us will have the evil burned out of us one way or another — a salting, purification process — everyone of us, either by growing with Christ in This Age (and cutting out the evil in our lives) or by a much harder purification (salting) process in the thorough burning out of evil in the Age to Come.

    So, I think the basic stumbling block between us is this issue. Is death, judgement and punishment the end of God's loving mercy? Because you believe that death is the cut-off point, then you simply had to find another way to explain the universalist texts the way you did.

    Anyway, we'll keep meditating on the text as we go on through our journeys, and "God help us all" !