A Challenge to the Universalist

by David J. Barnes


Part 1

Universalists make the statement that "all men will be saved." The majority of traditional Christians deny this. Who is right? Moreover (and more importantly) who can be proven right? Both camps use the Scriptures to try and prove their point. One side says one thing and the other side comes back with a counter argument. The universalists use their favorite verses to establish their point; traditional Christians come back with theirs. And the tug of war continues. But who is convinced and who is convincing?

So how can the statement that "all men will be saved" be proven beyond a shadow of a doubt as a FACT (not merely an OPINION)? There is a very simple way to demonstrate whether the assertion that "all men will be saved" is a fact.

In order to know whether all men will be eventually saved, one has to know how many men were created to begin with. For instance, one would have to know that God created (say hypothetically) 1,356,782,946,818 men and that in the end He saved all 1,356,782,946,818 men. In other words, one will have to count all the people in heaven that made it up there and then compare that number with the number of people that God said He created. This is common sense. "All" means you can account for every single soul numerically. Otherwise this "all" is a meaningless term that can hide unverifiable conditions.

When you go to the bank, you have to know how much money was in your account previously in order to know whether you still have "all" of your money there currently. When you look at your account Monday, you may find that you have $56,789.00. If on Tuesday you find that you have $43,721 then you know that some money has been taken out. You can only say on Tuesday that you have saved all of your money since Monday if you know how much money you had to begin with that week.

Similarly you have to know how many people there are in the beginning in order to know whether each and everyone will have been saved in the end. Otherwise you can never know in eternity whether God truly saved everybody.

If Frankie says that Johnny ate all of the candies in the bag, it presupposes that Frankie knew how many candies there were in the bag to begin with. If a candy fell out of the bag before Johnny could eat it, then factually Johnny did not eat all of the candies; one fell on the ground. We want to ground the statement that "God will save all men" IN FACT, not in theory or belief or wish-fulfillment.

So the statement that "God will save all men" can only be a fact if one knows how many men there are included in this "all" from the start. How many inches in a foot? Twelve. How many feet in a yard? Three. How many people form this "all"? You tell us...

The question and challenge is: how many people did God create? You have to know this number in order to compare it to the number that eventually winds up in heaven. Only then can you establish the fact that "God saves all men." In the absence of this, you do not have a fact, only an assertion. And yet the universalist asserts that the salvation of all men is a statement of fact.

Part 2

If one says that it's good enough simply to believe in universal salvation because God's word says that "all men will be saved" (i.e., one doesn't need a number for corroboration), then the question comes up - does the Bible indeed say that all men will be saved? Remember that one side affirms this and the other side denies it. So the Bible does not appear to be conclusive for the universalist side because if it were, then every intelligent reader would see universal salvation as a fact. We come back to the question posed in part 1 - when does the statement that "God will save all men" move from being an opinion of interpretation to becoming a fact? It can only become a fact when one can absolutely prove by counting that all men created were saved. Where is this count?

The burden of proof is actually on the universalist to factually prove the statement that "God will save all men". The burden of proof is not on the traditionalist to disprove this statement because the traditionalist does not assert that "God will save all men".

Part 3

So where does the statement that "God will save all men" occur in the New Testament?

Did Jesus ever say in those very words that "God will save all men?" Find one verse in the gospels where Jesus says literally (without parable) WORD FOR WORD, "God will save all men." The closest verses that one can construe to signify the salvation of all men follow. However if one looks at them closely (word for word, phrase by phrase, verbatim), one does not find that Jesus ever states that "all men will be saved". Could it not have been very easy for Jesus to say once and for all that "God will save all men?" That would have ended all arguments on this point. WHY DIDN'T JESUS END THIS ARGUMENT FOR ALL TIME WITH A SIMPLE STATEMENT?

The verse most often used to denote Jesus' universalist claim is John 12:32:

"And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me."

Drawing all men to himself says nothing about all men being saved. Look at the words literally without interpretation. Nothing is being said here about salvation per se. You can "draw" another person to yourself but the other person may not embrace you. Jesus attempted to draw a rich, young man to himself but what happened in that case? Did that rich, young ruler embrace and follow Jesus? If Jesus is the same today as he was yesterday (another favorite universalist line), will he be as successful today or tomorrow as he was yesterday with the rich, young man? Drawing somebody to yourself does not mean you will be embraced by that person. Otherwise every love beckoning would be successful:

Luke 13:34, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem...how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!"

The second verse used to buttress any universalist claim in Jesus' words is John 3:17:

"For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved."

The phrase in the KJV is "might be saved." Not "will be saved."

The universalist says, "But look at that verse - God did not send Jesus to condemn the world." That is not the same as saying that Jesus "saved the whole world." The negative "not to condemn" does not automatically imply a positive "all being saved." Saying that I do not have a lot of money in the bank (a negative) does not say in fact how much money I do have (a positive). One does not imply the other. "Not condemning" does not imply "saving."

If Jesus does not condemn the world, does it stand to reason that the world is not condemned by any other means? No, because Jesus says in Matthew 12:37 that condemnation in fact exists (whether he personally condemns or not):

"For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned."

How come the universalist never quotes this verse from Jesus' own mouth? Whether this condemnation is by hell-fire or some other method is not the issue. Condemnation exists period.
So I come back to the question: where in any gospel, does Jesus actually utter directly the words that "all men will be saved?" Nowhere it appears. And if Jesus himself never said those words, how can you (if he is your teacher)?

Fact of the matter, Jesus did settle the question of universalism when He pronounced, "the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Matt. 20:28).

Part 4

If Jesus never said the words that "all men will be saved" then who did in the New Testament?
Universalists assume that Paul did. Is this true? Let's examine the verses used by universalists from Paul's epistles. Once again we will see whether Paul actually said that all men will be saved or whether all we have are inferences taken from interpretations of verses out of context.
The only verse in the whole New Testament that comes close to the phrase that "all men will be saved" is in 1 Timothy 2:3:

"For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved."

The universalist says, "There it is!" To this proclamation the traditionalist states, "Hold on - God's will to save all men is not necessarily imposed on everyone." God may desire all men to be saved but that is not the same thing as saying that all men will be saved. The possibility and the actuality are two different things. Who is right?

The universalist asks, "Doesn't God's will always get done?" (the verse "His word does not return void to Him" being cited)? Really? Is the record of human history that God's will is always done? If it were, why would Jesus have prayed, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven"? Why would he have needed to utter this prayer if a priori God's will is always done and in effect? If God's will is 100% in effect, why would Jesus have differentiated his will from the Father's when he said in Gethsemane, "Not my will but Thine"? Two wills, one deferring to the other. James says that the prayer of a righteous man "availeth much". But if God's will is always done, to what "avail" is the prayer of a righteous man?

Does the following verse sound as if God's will is inevitable and His commandments inexorable?
Leviticus 26:15 "And if ye shall despise my statutes, or if your soul abhor my judgments, so that ye will not do all my commandments, but that ye break my covenant."

If all men will be saved, why would Paul have written in 1 Corinthians 9:16:

"For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!"

Why is there the "necessity" for Paul to preach the gospel and "woe" if he does not preach it? If all men are saved...so what if Paul preaches or not? Whether Paul carries out his task or not, the consequences should be the same according to the universalist. Does Paul feel this way?

The second most frequently cited verse from Paul in support of universalism is Romans 5:18:

"Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous."

Notice that in verse 18 the word "all" is indeed used. But not in the following verse. Condemnation and the gift of grace came upon ALL men but only MANY shall be made righteous. Why did Paul not use the word ALL in verse 19 following on the heels of the "all" used in verse 18? If ALL exercise the free gift of grace, then why are not ALL made righteous? Could it be that not ALL are saved?

The author of the epistle to the Hebrews (9:28) states, "So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many."

The sins of many, not all. The pattern is consistent in the New Testament that the gift of grace is offered to ALL but that only MANY are made righteous by the act of Christ (not ALL). See how the word "all" is abused and subtly replaces the word "many" in people's re-interpretations of Scripture.

Universalists like to say that "all will be made alive in Christ". Really? All will hear Christ's voice but to what effect? Their being made alive has what consequences (John 5:25):

"Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. For the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation."

Coming out of the grave of the dead - to be made alive - can signify one of two things! One of which is...let's hear it - "damnation". Why did Jesus not say to BOTH thieves on the cross, "Today you will be with me in paradise"? Did Jesus miss the boat on that one to make it crystal-clear to every reader for all time that BOTH thieves would be saved regardless of their beliefs?

Another favorite universalist text from Paul is Philippians 2:10:

"That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

Bowing to Jesus does not entail being saved. Where does the word "salvation" occur in that verse? Demons acclaimed Jesus as the son of the highest then went on to mock him. The US "confesses" or professes that China is ruled by the Communist Party - that does not meant that the US agrees with the Communist regime. Bowing and confessing has nothing to do with being saved. In the Middle Ages, peasants bowed to a king they detested and confessed to a priest they disrespected.

Part 5

Finally some admonitions from the writer to the Hebrews.

Is there such a thing as a "second chance" in any and every context? The writer to the Hebrews states that a second chance is not operative in every case.

"For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance" (Hebrews 6:4).

"For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries" (Hebrews 10:26).

If everybody is saved, then why does the writer of the Hebrews differentiate the faithful from those who cannot be covered ANY MORE by sacrifice? So salvation in actuality is not universal! There comes a point, he states in verse 26, in which Christ's "sacrifice" ceases to operate! So how is everybody covered by Christ and saved if the sacrifice has stopped covering such people?

"But we are not of them who draw back unto perdition" (Hebrews 10:39).

Some people actually "draw back unto perdition"! Talking about "drawing" - weren't those the ones that Jesus was supposed to draw to himself? Do some get drawn in and then drawn out unto perdition?

"Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God" (Hebrews 3:12).

What...can some "depart" from the "living God" when the universalist says that God's will is irresistible and Jesus' pull unavoidable?


The talk of an eternal hell-fire has obscured the issue of condemnation and damnation. Both Jesus and Paul actually use those words - "condemnation" and "damnation" - no getting away from this. Never mind the method of condemnation or damnation. The method is not the issue here.

So the question I come back to is: demonstrate that "all men will be saved" by giving us the number of all men created and thereby prove mathematically and factually that "all men will be saved." In the absence of such a proof, all you have are texts from which you INFER by interpretation certain things but cannot absolutely prove.

Theoretically there is a huge hole in the universalist argument. The statement that "all men will be saved" has not been logically proven from a mathematical standpoint. Scripturally, the texts used to support this statement can be used to both prove AND disprove it.

Can we have a roll count of all men?

The burden of proof is on the universalist to make the assertion that "all men will be saved" a factual, empirical, demonstrable conclusion. The only verse in the entire New Testament that comes close to talking about the salvation of all men is 1 Timothy 2:3. One sole verse among some 2,000 passages! Why this scarcity if the concept of universal salvation is supposedly basic and fundamental to God's plan? Seems as if neither Jesus or Paul paid very much attention to it. For that matter who among Peter, James, Jude, or John ever used the phrase "all men will be saved", much less focus on the idea? They all told people to repent; they did not go around talking about some abstract universal salvation. Yet it becomes the universalist's obsession.

The universalist should also ask him or herself why The Master did not make a crystal-clear statement that "all men will be saved" but left some to try and infer such a thing. However be absolutely sure that your inference is right when men's destinies are at stake...

Note: This essay is not an effort to persuade universalists that they are wrong, merely that they have not made a persuasive case intellectually and have absolutely no scriptural evidence to submit on such a crucial issue.

Posted with permission

Check out David's other essay, The Universalist's Salvation

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