A Brief Systematic Look at Universalism


Universalism is the belief that everyone eventually will be saved. It was first proposed by the unorthodox church Father, Origen (ca. 185-254). Origen and universalism in general were condemned as unorthodox at the fifth Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (533 A.D.). The theology of universalism should be distinguished from the Universalistic Church, an extreme anticreedal movement born in colonial America whose rejection of historic Christianity extended far beyond the doctrine of universalism itself. This group was a force in the liberal theologies of the nineteenth -century North America and continues to the present.

One of the most influential twentieth-century theologians to embrace universalism was Karl Barth (1886-1968). Philosopher John Hick is a contemporary proponent of the view. A small number of otherwise evangelical theologians, such as Clark Pinnock and John Stott, have embraced forms of universalism and/or annihilationism, the view that persons who cannot qualify for heaven simply go out of existence. The common principal throughout universalist and annihilationist theologies is that there is no eternal punishment.

Basis for Universalism

Universalists generally appeal to arguments from God's love in support of their positions. That site several passages of Scripture to substantiate their views.

God's Omnibenevolence. Universalism is usually based on the notion that a God of Love would never allow any creatures to perish. But, as C.S. Lewis demonstrated (see, for example, he book, The Great Divorce), just the opposite is the case. For while God "so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son" (John 3:16) and "does not desire that any should perish" (2 Peter 3:9), he does not force his love on anyone. Forced love is a self-contradictory concept. Jesus said, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!" (Matthew 23:37.) Lewis noted that "There are only two kinds of people in the end: those that say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, in the end, 'Thy will be done'" (Lewis, The Great Divorce, 69).

Furthermore, the Bible unmistakably teaches that there is an eternal hell and that human beings will go into it (see, for example, Matthew 25:41; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9; Revelation 20:11-15). Jesus had more to say about hell than He did about heaven. He warned, " And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28). He added of those that reject Him, " As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world" (Matthew 13:40). In the Olivet discourse, Jesus declared, "Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41). Elsewhere He stressed the horror of hell with the statement, "And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched" (Mark 9:43). One of His most vivid stories was about the rich man and a beggar named Lazarus. Since this story uses an actual name, most Bible teachers distinguish this from a parable and believe it refers to people who really lived. The description of hades speaks for itself:

And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead. (Luke 16:23-31.)

God's Omnipotence. Others have argued for universalism from God's omnipotence. Origen, declared, "For nothing is impossible to the Omnipotent, nor is anything incapable of restoration to its Creator" (On First Principles, 3.6.5). This, of course, implies that God desires by His goodness to do so, a position easily supported by many Scriptures (1 Timothy 2:4; 2 peter 3:9). But if God wants to save all, and he can save all (i.e., He is all-powerful), then it seemed to follow for Origen that he will save all.

Two points should be made in response. First, God's attributes do not operate in contradiction to each other. God is internally consistent in His nature. This is why the Bible insists that "It is impossible for God to lie" (Hebrews 6:18). This is also the reason that God's power must be exercised in accordance with His love. That is, God cannot do what is unloving. Second, as already demonstrated, it is unloving to force people to love Him. Forced love is a contradiction, and God cannot do what is contradictory. Love cannot work coercively but only persuasively. And if some refuse to be persuaded, as the bible says some will, then God will not coerce them into His kingdom. The Universalist would have God do exactly this by having God "condition sin" out of the wicked in the lake of fire.

Reformatory View of Justice. Origen argued that God's justice has reformation in view, not punishment. He claimed, "The fury of God's vengeance is profitable for the purgation of souls. That the punishment, also, which is said to be applied be fire, is understood to be applied by fire, is understood to be applied with the object of healing" (2.10.6). He added, "those who have been removed from their primal state of blessedness have not been removed irrecoverably, but have been placed under the rule of those holy and blessed orders which we have described; and by availing themselves of the aid of these, and being remoulded by salutary principles and discipline, they may recover themselves, and be restored to their condition of happiness" (1.6.2).

One cannot apply God's obvious desire that persons reform their lives to prove that all will be saved in the end. Nor can one assume, contrary to both Scripture and fact, that all persons choose to be reformed (Matthew 23:37; Revelation 20:10-15), or that no decision is final. Likewise, the Bible declares that each person is destined to die one and after that to face judgment (Hebrews 9:27). It is contrary to the proper concept of justice, which is penal, rather than reformatory. God's absolute justice and holiness demand that a penalty be paid for sin (see Leviticus 17:11; Ezekiel 18:20).

The reformatory view of justice also is contrary to the substitutionary death of Christ. Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God (1 Peter 3:18; 1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:21). "For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." Why did Christ have to pay the awful price for sin if sin is not an infinite crime and does not have to be punished?

God is indeed interested in reformation. That is what life is all about. Those who refuse to accept what Christ did in the atonement cannot be reformed in this life. And then they must stand without the righteousness of Christ before an infinitely holy God who cannot abide in the presence of sin's corruption. Separation from God is the necessary punishment for those who cannot exist in God's presence and are rightly the objects of His anger. This is why God is so long-suffering with those who live. He does not wish that any should parish (2 Peter 3:9).

Origen offered an argument for universalism from God's wisdom:

God, by the ineffable skill of his wisdom, transforming and restoring all things, in whatever manner they are made, to some useful aim, and to the common advantage of all, recalls those very creatures which differed so much from each other in mental conformation to one agreement of labor and purpose; so that, although they are under the influence of different motives, they nevertheless complete the fullness and perfection of one world, and the very variety of minds tends to one end of perfection. For it is is one power which grasps and holds together all the diversity of the world, and leads the different movements towards one work, lest so immense an undertaking as that of the world should be dissolved by the dissensions of souls.

This again misses the point that God's wisdom does not act contrary to His love. And love cannot force anyone to do something.

The fact that God is infinitely wise (omniscient) allows Him to know that not everyone will freely choose to serve Him. The attempt to save people God knows will never accept Him would be contrary to God's wisdom. Still, all are invited, even those God knows will reject Him.

Many, with Origen, respond, "that God, the Father of all things, in order to ensure the salvation of all His creatures through the ineffable plan of His word and wisdom, so arranged each of these, that every spirit, whether soul or rational existence, however called, should not be compelled by force, against the liberty of his own will, to any other course than that to which the motives of his own mind led him (lest be doing the power of exercising free-will should seem to be taken away, which certainly would produce a change in the nature of the being itself)" (Origen, 2.1.2). But God cannot "ensure the salvation of all" without compelling them by force. As long as someone refuses to freely accept God's love, a loving God cannot ensure they will be saved.

Biblical support for Universalism

A number of biblical texts have been used to support the claim of universalists. It should be noted at the start of this survey that the Bible does not contradict itself. Texts that can be interpreted in more than one way must be understood in the light of those that cannot:

Psalm 110:1. Davis said and Christ repeated (Psalm 110:1; Matthew 22:44): "The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool." The enemies, literally of the Christ, are here referred to as subjugated, not saved. They are called the Lord's "footstool" -hardly an appropriate description of saints who are joint heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17; Ephesians 1:3). In Psalm 110, David is speaking of the visitation of God's wrath on His enemies, not of blessings on His people.

Acts 3:21. Peter speaks of Jesus who must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as He promised long ago through His holy prophets. This reference to the "restoration of all things" is taken by universalists to mean the restoration of all to God. However, the context does not support such a conclusion. Acts 3:20-21 does not even remotely hint that there will be total salvation. Other passages totally refute such an idea. Jesus said the gates of hell would not prevail against the church (Matthew 16:18). He also promised His followers, "I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world (age)" (Matthew 28:20). Jesus could not be with his followers to the end of the age if the entire church had gone into apostasy soon after its founding. In Ephesians 3:21, the apostle Paul says, "Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end." How could God be glorified in the church throughout all ages if there was no church for many centuries? Ephesians 4:11-16 speaks of the church growing to spiritual maturity, not degeneracy.

What then does "the restoration of all things" mean? Peter is speaking to the Jews and refers to the "restoration of all things, which God has spoken by mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began" (Acts 3:21). Here is the "covenant which God made with our [Jewish] fathers, saying to Abraham, 'and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed'" (verse 25). This Abrahamic covenant was unconditional and included the promises of possessing the land of Palestine "forever" (Genesis 13:15). Peter refers to the future fulfillment of this Abrahamic covenant, the restoration of all things to Israel. Paul affirms the same in Romans 11 (see verses 23-26).

Romans 5:18-19. Paul wrote: " 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" (Romans 5:18-19). From these verses the universalists infer that Christ's death for all guarantees salvation for all. This conclusion, however, is contrary to the context and certainly to the message of Romans as a whole. This explicitly in the context of being justified by faith (5:1), not automatically. In the preceding verse Paul declares that salvation comes to those "who receive the gift of righteousness" (5:17).

The rest of Romans makes it unmistakably clear that not everyone will be saved. Romans 1-2 speaks of heathen, who "are without excuse" (Romans 1:20). Upon them the wrath of God falls (Romans 1:18). It declares that "For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law" (Romans 2:12). At the heart of his argument, Paul concedes that, apart from justification by faith, the world is "guilty before God" (Romans 3:19). Speaking of the destiny of both saved and lost, Paul affirms that, "the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord" (Romans 6:23). Likewise, Paul recognized that, in spite of his prayers, not all of his kinsmen would be saved (Romans 11) but would be "accursed" (Romans 9:3). The whole point of Romans is to show that only those who believe will be justified (Romans 1:17; 3:21-26). Romans 9 leaves no doubt that only the elect and not everyone will be saved. The rest are vessels of wrath prepared for destruction (Romans 9:22).

Outside of Romans are numerous passages that speak of the eternal destiny of lost people, including the vivid passage at the end of Revelation when John said:

And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:11-15.)

2 Corinthians 5:19. Universalists also use 2 Corinthians 5:19, in which Paul told the Corinthians "that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation." It is argued that "the world" was reconciled to God by Christ's work. Thus, all are saved on the basis of Jesus' work on the cross.

The context clarifies the meaning of "the world." First, reconciliation is regarded as a process according to God's purpose, not an accomplished universal fact. God desires to save all (2 Peter 3:9), but not all will be saved (Matthew 7:13-14; Revelation 20:11-15). Second, the context indicates that actual reconciliation is only for those "in Christ" and to "plead" with the world to "be reconciled to God" is senseless. They already are reconciled. All are made savable by Christ's reconciliation, but not all are thereby saved.

"Was reconciling" implies the time when the act of reconciliation was being carried into effect (verse 21), viz, when God made Jesus, who knew no sin, to be sin for us.

It is quite obvious that Christ was made a sin offering at His death. So whatever this reconciling involves in these verses, it was already accomplished at the time of Christ. Therefore these verses cannot be used to support an "ultimate reconciliation" doctrine. some Universalists will say that the reconciling of the world includes all people, because all people are in the world. but so are plants and animals. How or why are they reconciled? It is more than evident that all people in the world are not in harmony or friendship with God. In fact, most are not. All are not reconciled in the world by Christ, since John speaks of many "antichrists" in the world after the cross (1John 2:18,22; 4:3). Christ was tillto have enemies in the world (Matthew 22:44; 1 Cor. 15:25; Philip. 3:18; Hebrews 10:12,13). There are still tares or children of the wicked one in the world (Matthew 13:38). the great red dragon which persecutes and makes war with Christ and His elect was still in the world after Christ's death (Revelation 12:3-17). There is much in this world which is at odds with God and ehich was never reconciled to God by Christ's death. This tells us that this reconciling was not a universal act.

The message in 2 Corinthians 5 is "that God reconciled the believers to Himself through Christ," not everyone in the world. The "them" of this verse is the same as in Romans 11:15, i.e., Israel.

Ephesians 1:10. Also misconstrued by universalists is Paul's statement that in "the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in Him" (Ephesians 1:10). A careful examination of this text reveals that Paul is speaking only of believers. First, the context is those "He chose in Him before the foundation of the world" (1:4). Second, the phrase "in Christ" is never used in Scripture of anyone but believers. That unbelievers are excluded is further clarified by the omission of those "under the earth," which Paul elsewhere uses to speak of the lost (Philippians 2:10).

Philippians 2:10-11. Paul predicts that one day, " 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" (Philippians 2:10-11). Here the universalists insist, unbelievers are clearly in view in the phrase, "under the earth."

No one denies that unbeliever will eventually confess Jesus is Lord, but that does not mean they will be saved. Even demons believe that Jesus is Lord, but they refuse to submit to Him (James 2:19). Believing that Jesus is Lord will not save anyone. Only belief in Christ (James 2:21-26) saves. "Those under the earth" (= the lost) in this text, make a confession from their mouth, but this acknowledgment will not be from the heart. For salvation, Paul insisted, one must both confess and "believe in your heart" (Romans 10:9).

1 Corinthians 1:20. This is another verse that Universalists use to prove a universal restoration or reconciliation of all things. This text does not teach, as universalists assert, that all things will be reconciled; but rather that Christ has made pease TO reconcile all thingts. It is just like when Paul declaired, that by the grace of God he had preached the unsearchable riches of Christ, "To make all men see" (Eph. 3:8,9). Yet all men do not and will not see, for some "men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil" (John 3:19).

Further, it would be a difficult task for universalists to prove that all things means the whole human family. The phase, "all things" occurs four times in the verses preceding this text, in which they indicate that God created "all things." Now universalists do not profess to believe that all animals, vegetables and minerals which God has created will be reconciled, and taken to heaven. It follows therefore that "all things" is either a mere generalization or limited in some way.

When universalists quote verses such as these they give little or no explanation as to what they mean. They simply assume "all things" means every person. The verse speaks of the order of all things coming in line with God, which would include the destruction, not conversion, of the wicked and enemies of God.

1 Corinthians 15:25-28. Of the eschaton or culmination of history, Paul affirmed in 1 Corinthians 15:25-28 that "For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him. And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all." On this text Origen wrote, "But even if that unreserved declaration of the apostle do not sufficiently inform us what is meant by 'enemies being placed under his feet,' listen to what he says in the following words, 'For all things must be put under Him.' What then, is this 'putting under' by which all things must be made subject to Christ?" He added, "I am of opinion that it is this very subjection by which we also wish to be subject to Him, by which the apostles were also subject, and all the saints who have been followers of Christ" (Origen, 1.6.1).

This interpretation ignores both the content and the context of this passage. Paul is not speaking of the salvation of the lost but, rather their condemnation. This is evident in such phrases as destroy, put under his feet, and put an end to all rule. This is the language of subjugation (see verses 24, 27, 28). Those in view are spoken of as God's "enemies," not His friends or children. They are subjugated enemies, not saved friends. That God will be "all in all" (verse 28) does not mean that all will be in God. He will reign supreme in all the universe after ending the rebellion against Him. The phrase all things must be understood in its context. All things are made subject to Christ (verse 28). But these "all things" are enemies (verse 25). The phrase is used in parallel with enemies in successive verses (verses 26-27).

Heaven is not a place where God overpowers the will of His enemies and forces them into the fold. So, there is not a hint in such passages of the salvation for all unbelievers.

Universal Reconciliation


The term "reconciliation" occurs in both the Old and New Testaments. However, the Old Testament usage of the word actually means, atonement, a process the results in the reconciliation (Lev. 6:30; Ezek. 45:20; etc.). The concept of reconciliation in the New Testament is found only in the Pauline Epistles and once in Hebrews.

The question we now face is whether the writings of Paul support the doctrine known as "universal reconciliation," or "ultimate reconciliation." It is somewhat related to the idea of God saving all souls. Like all universal concepts or doctrine, universal reconciliation has at its foundation a principle of equality of all men in the eyes of God. To determine its validity, let us examine some basic definitions of reconciliation:

Reconciliation. To make peace between parties at variance; to secure favor (Matthew 5:24). Christ "reconciles" us; he fulfills all righteousness in our stead; he intercedes with God on our behalf (1).

Reconciliation is the word used in the NT to describe the changed relations between God and man which are the result of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. (2)

Reconciliation is God exercising grace toward man who is in enmity because of sin, establishing in Christ's redemptive work the basis of this changed relationship of persons (2 Cor. 5:19). That this reconciliation is the burden of God is shown by Romans 5:10 where it is suggested that even while we where enemies, God reconciled us to Himself through the death of His Son. (3)

Reconciliation in its general meaning is the effecting or restoration of unity or harmony where harmony ought to be, but where estrangement or conflict is the present fact. The connection in Christian theology is with the inner estrangement of men from God on account of sin. Reconciliation is the abolishing of this separation. A major issue is that of the relation of reconciliation to the work of Christ. (4)

The basic doctrine of universal reconciliation asserts that the Scriptures teach the ultimate holiness and salvation of all men. For this to happen, God must ultimately have mercy and friendship with all on earth, and finally unite Himself with all persons having no enmity towards anyone. Universalists often confuse the idea of reconciliation with that of being saved from death, inheriting eternal life, being resurrected, or going to heaven. But this is actually departing from the true biblical message on reconciliation.

Who Are Reconciled and When?

To determine who was to receive reconciliation we need to determine why reconciliation was needed. It is clear from the definitions given, and Scripture, that Christ's death and shed blood were the means by which this reconciliation was accomplished (Eph. 2:13). The blood atonement of Christ was a substitute for the blood of goats and calves (Heb. 9:12). The only people that needed to sacrifice goats and calves to God for atonement was Israel or those that believed in the God of Israel (Lev. 4 & 9); and it is Israel that needed a better sacrifice derived from the blood of Christ (Heb. 9:23,24). The reconciliation spoken of in the New Testament involves Christ as a "mediator," being the one who intervened between God and spiritual Israel. Christ is the mediator of the New Covenant, and that covenant was made only with those that enter into it (Hebrews 8:6-8).

Paul, in speaking to the Christians in Rome said, "For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son" (Romans 5:10). The concept of enmity or having enmity with God is used in other places by Paul to show who needed reconciliation (Eph. 2:15, 16; Col. 1:21). Israel had enmity with God since they were under the Old Covenant and in constant violation of its terms, causing God's wrath against them (2 Kings 18:12; 22:13; Jer. 11:10, 11). The reconciliation that needed to be performed was between God and faithful Israel. Furthermore, in the letter to the Romans Paul was writing to his "brethren" and "kinsmen" Israelites (Romans 9:3,4). The writer of Hebrews also indicates who reconciliation is for:

For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham.
Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people (Hebrews 2:16,17).

Jesus was made like "his brethren" for their benefit, or their reconciliation. The reconciliation was for "the people," a term used to mean the Israel people. It only makes sense that the reconciliation spoken of here pertains to this race of people, since this book was written to the Hebrews. Matthew Henry states that, "Reconciliation supposes a quarrel, or breach of friendship." (5) Thus when there is a separation of a husband and wife, the wife can be "reconciled" to her husband (1 Cor. 7:11); but she cannot be reconciled to another man. Only Israel was married to God, with God as the husband and Israel as the wife (Isaiah 54:5; Jer. 3:14). But since God divorced Israel, there was an estrangement between God and Israel. Thus Israel needed to be reconciled to God by being remarried to Him with Christ in the role of the bridegroom (Hos. 2:19; Matt. 9:15; 2 Cor. 11:2; Rev. 19:7). Only spiritual Israel can be reconciled to God in this manner.

Then why do Universalists have a doctrine of universal or ultimate reconciliation? Because they are humanists and simply do not like what God has done in the world regarding this matter. They realize that God never "knew" or had any type of relationship with the great mass of people of the earth except for those who held the God of Israel as their own (Amos 3:2). To the humanistic mind this is totally unfair of God, so they have to modify God so that He will do what they think He should do. Reconciliation does not mean to start up a new relationship, but to mend or change an existing one gone bad. You cannot have reconciliation between two parties who never knew each other and had no adverse relationship.

As to when this reconciliation is to take place, it is clearly perfected in the death and shed blood of Christ. Thus this reconciliation is something God has already done, as indicated by Paul:

Romans 5:10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.

2 Corinthians 5:18 And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation;

Colossians 1:21 And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled.

Reconciliation as used by Universalists is something that God will ultimately do with all people, nations and races. However, the reconciliation Paul speaks of in these verses is a completed and perfect act, not something God will do in the future. God has already reconciled Israel to Himself. Through Christ He has removed the enmity-relationship of His people by not imputing their trespasses to them (2 Corinthians 5:19). Paul also told the Ephesians that Christ had perfected reconciliation:

But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.

For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us;

Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace;

And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby (2:13-16).

Note how this whole message of reconciliation, or the act of "making peace," is all in the past context. There is nothing in Scripture that speaks of a future reconciliation beyond the cross, in which Christ or God performs some act to bring it about. Therefore, there can be no such thing as an "ultimate reconciliation" or a "universal reconciliation" except by sheer speculation or wishful thinking on the part of the Universalist. If reconciliation has already occurred, there can be no "ultimate reconciliation" in the future. Thus it is not surprising that Universalists do not quote most of the common verses dealing with reconciliation to support their position.


Not only is there a lack of support for universalism, but there are decisive arguments against it.

Universalism is contrary to the implications of being created in the image of God. God made humankind in His image (Genesis 1:27) which included freedom. For everyone to be saved, those who refuse to love God would be forced to love him against their will. Forced "freedom" is not freedom. A corollary to this is that universalism is contrary to God's love. Forced love is not love, but a kind of rape. No truly loving being forces himself on another.

Universalism is contrary to God's perfection and justice. God is absolutely holy. And as such He must separate Himself from and punish sin. Hence, as long as there is someone living in sin and rebellion against God, God must punish them. The Bible identifies this place of separation and punishment as hell (see Matthew 5, 10, 25).

Universalism is based on Scriptures wrenched out of context, and it ignores other clear passages.

Universalism is based on a kind of Freudian illusion. Sigmund Freud called any belief based on a wish to be an illusion. We do not wish anyone to suffer in hell forever, and this strong wish seems to be a primary impulse in the universalist thinking. But it is an illusion to believe that all wishes will be fulfilled.


K. Barth, Church Dogmatics
J.D. Bettis, "A Critique of the Doctrine of Universal Salvation," RS 6 (December 1970): 329-344.
W.V. Crockett, "Will God Save Everyone in the End?" in W.V. Crockett and J. G. Sigountos, eds., Through No Fault of Their Own? The Fate of Those Who Never Heard.
J. Danielou, Origen.
J. Gerstner, Jonathan Edwards on Heaven and Hell.
J. Hick, Evil and the God of Love.
C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce, The Problem of Pain.
D. Moore, The Battle for Hell.
Origen, On First Principles.
R.A. Peterson, The Fifth Ecumenical Council of Constantinople, Hell on Trial: The case for Eternal Punishment.
B. Russell, Why I Am Not a Christian.
J. Sanders, No Other Name, part 2.
J. P. Sartre, No Exit.
W.G.T. Shed, The Doctrine of Endless Punishment.
J.L. Walls, Hell: The Logic of Damnation.

1. The Popular and Critical Bible Encyclopedia, 1908, vol 3, page 1432.
2. A Theological Word Book of the Bible, edited by Alan Richardson, MacMillan Co., New York, 1960, page 185.
3. The Zondervan Pictoral Bible Dictonary, edited by Merrill C. Tenney, 1967, pages 707,708.
4. An Encyclopedia of Religion, edited by Vergilius Ferm, N.Y., 1945.
5. Matthew Henry, Commentary in One Volume, Zondervan, page 1832.

Primarily from the Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics (ISBN 0-8010-2151-0) with arguments and additions by Eric Landstrom.

Return to the Protestant Apologetics and Theology page