Thesis #81 of 95 - There are verses in the bible that hint of absolute universalism. Given that the wicked shall undoubtedly receive post-mortem punishment, the matter should have no impact on one's conduct or life choices.
1Tim4:10 [NASB] – We have set our hope on the living God, who is the Saviour of all mankind, especially of believers.
Rom7:23-25 I see another law in my (bodily) members, warring against the law of my (spiritual) mind bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of THIS death? Thanks be to God, (it is) through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I in my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.
Rom8:20-21 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
1Pet4:6 [KJV] For this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.
Many Christians, not least those of my former ilk, have problems with the verses I have quoted, particularly the one from Paul’s letter to Timothy concerning God being the Saviour of all mankind ESPECIALLY of those who believe. It appears to undermine their raison d’être, indeed the very purpose of the gospel as they understand it. As a former Evangelical myself I remember questioning my pastor about the verse. I was assured that theologians were working on the matter; the matter being the meaning of “μάλιστα” rightly translated as I have quoted from the NASB as “especially”. Presumably, these theologians are still working on it for “μάλιστα” is “μάλιστα” – it can only be translated as “especially” or some very similar synonym/phrase such as “chiefly” or “most of all”. It cannot be translated as “specifically”, “exclusively” or “that is” which is what most would have expected Paul to have written in this context. The Greek word’s usage can be verified by examining every occurrence of μάλιστα in the New Testament on bible hub and noting that in all cases it can only sensibly mean what has just been stated.
Other attempts to explain this verse in the context of traditional binary soteriology include the notion that Paul is referring on the one hand to human life and on the other to a soul’s eternal destiny. The problem is that whilst God certainly sustains all life, He does not in any sense save everybody from the disasters of life, even from an early grave. A significant proportion historically have through no fault of their own or their parents failed to survive infancy. Paul must therefore be referring to people’s eternal estate. For, after all, why did God create man in His own image in the first place? It was surely that as the pinnacle of His creation along with the angels, we should come to know Him, worship Him and enjoy Him – if not in this life, then in that which follows.
Others argue that Paul meant that God is the only One who can save anyone. But read the verse through again – “μάλιστα” (=especially) simply cannot be made to fit that meaning. Others again (μάλιστα😊 Arminian Evangelicals) say Paul is making the point that Christ’s atonement was unlimited – He died for all. He did, but, as they would agree, only those who come to know Him as their personal Saviour are saved in the gospel sense. So again, μάλιστα” cannot be made to fit the bill.
No, either Paul is being dangerously clumsy with his wording, or he is theologically unsound (in which case we cannot really trust his teaching at all) OR he means exactly what he writes. That is effectively that there is salvation and there is SALVATION – which is precisely the case I have been making throughout. My other quotation from Romans 7 indicates how this comes about, but only when that passage is taken literally (e.g., “flesh”= bodily flesh, not “sinful nature”). As I have been explaining, the central soteriological problem he identifies in that chapter is “the body of this death”. That is, the procreated intellectual vessel in which (from a soul-creationist perspective) the God-given spirit temporarily resides.
The result is that whilst our “inner man”/”heart”/spiritual essence/conscience inclines us to do what Paul affirms elsewhere fulfils both the spirit and summation of God’s Law (treating others as we would ourselves – Rom13:9), we tend to act more selfishly in view of the “different law in the bodily members” (Rom7:23), i.e. the opposing impulses of the bodily senses as they are processed through the brain. So, asks Paul, who alone can deliver us from the body of this death such that we are consistently enabled to overcome our fleshly instincts? It is our Saviour God through Jesus Christ (v25).
Thus, only the Christian can be saved from the corrupting influence of the procreated intellectual vessel whilst the soul and spirit inhabit it. In Paul’s language, only the Christian “can possess his own vessel in sanctity and honour” (1Thes4:4). The remedy for the rest is more drastic – physical death when body and brain are buried or incinerated. But except they die in infancy, their souls will have been tainted, potentially poisoned and corrupted by the lives they have lived in mortal flesh. As covered in the previous thesis, that could require what Jesus described as “salting in fire” before the soul can rest in heaven prior to bodily resurrection within “the new heavens and new earth where righteousness dwells” (2Pet3:13).
As should also be evident from the previous thesis, my endeavour has been to outline a vastly broader benign providence than traditional bible-based Christianity has previously envisaged, not to make the case for absolute universalism. Paul on the other hand could be, if he had been given insights concerning what is to happen in future epochs (cf. Eph2:7). Unlike him, I have not been “caught up into paradise to hear unspeakable words which it is not lawful for a man to utter” (2Cor12:4). I have to rely on what has been at least implicated in Scripture. So going back to Jesus’s teaching, He indicates that some people are beyond salting or purging (Mk9:50). That implies they could never repent or change from what they have become – whatever enlightening or processing they might receive. They refuse to be saved.
Yet even if that is the case, God can still be regarded as the Saviour of all humanity. For, if given further opportunity to repent and having been enlightened with gospel truth (which is assuredly not the case for the majority in this life – cf. 1Pet4:6), a soul still refuses to acquiesce, God, however loving, would not force anyone against their will to act and be what they are incapable of doing and being – most especially to love and serve Christ. But then such a soul might no longer be regarded as fully human – if there is not so much as a flicker of resemblance to the divine image, at the heart of which is love. And so, it could be said, for all true humanity, God is their Saviour, but more immediately and gloriously so for those who having believed (and also shared in Christ’s suffering), become the heirs of God and co-heirs with His Son (Rom8:17).
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