CASE FOR UNIVERSAL SALVATION: PART FOUR

Universal Salvation and Predestination:

Romans, chapter nine:

       Some believe that what Paul wrote in Romans 9 shows that God predestinates some to be saved and others not to be saved. In Romans 9:11-13, Jacob is seen as chosen by God in preference to Esau.  This choice was made without regard to any good or bad behavior on their part.  Paul also relates how God chose Pharaoh for the express purpose of demonstrating God’s power. Paul then points out that “God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden” (9:18).

       Paul uses the potter and clay metaphor to show God can make some individuals for noble purposes and others for ennoble purposes.  Paul shows God can do what he wants to do with us humans and we have no right to question why He does what He does.  Paul speaks of God bearing with great patience the objects of his wrath in order to glorify himself before the objects of his mercy

       Romans 9:22-23: What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath--prepared for destruction (ἀπώλειαν (apōleian)? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory-even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?

       Some see Paul saying that God predestines some to be objects of His wrath and others to be objects of His mercy. This is tantamount to saying God predestines some to be evil so He can display wrath against them and predestines others to be righteous so He can display mercy upon them. Paul says God "bore with great patience the objects of his wrath."

       It would appear to make no sense for God to exercise patience with those who are objects of his wrath if He made such people for the express purpose of displaying His wrath against them and there was nothing they could do about it.  What purpose would it serve to exercise patience toward such people if they were predestined to suffer wrath and destruction?  It should be evident that what is being said here is that God bore great patience with those who became objects of His wrath because of their unrighteous behavior and not that God made them objects of His wrath.  People don’t become objects of God’s wrath unless they refuse to respond to the patience He extends to them to repent.  

       Romans 2:4: Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance?  

       Were the Jews and Gentiles who were called to be objects of God’s mercy and prepared in advance for glory predestined to be objects of His mercy and subsequent glory? As already discussed in this series, it is evident throughout Scripture that it is because of God’s mercy that we are forgiven of sin and reconciled to God through the Christ event. In this respect, all of humanity is predestined to be recipients of God’s mercy. 

       In Romans 9, Paul is simply distinguishing between those who at the time were refusing to believe the gospel message and those who were accepting the gospel message. Those who were accepting the Gospel message were in line for glory and those who were rejecting the gospel message were in line for destruction. 

       It should be noted, however, that the Greek word rendered “destruction” in 9:22 is apollumi.  As discussed earlier in this series, this word does not have an intrinsic meaning of permanent destruction.  It is used a number of times by NT writers to denote a temporary loss or ruin. It is not used in association with the eternal destiny of humanity.

       As already pointed out in this series and in various essays on this website, much of the NT narrative dealing with destruction, perishing and judgment pertains to the prophesied and expected return of Christ in association with the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem during the war with Rome. 

       A careful examination of Romans 9-11 reveals a struggle that was going on relative to the implications of the gospel for the nation of Israel.  Paul uses a number of OT passages in his discussion of these implications. A careful examination of Paul’s Old Testament quotes in Romans 9-11 sheds a distinctly different light on Paul’s discussion of predestination from what is commonly believed.  

       Paul’s discussion of predestination in Romans has nothing to do with who is ultimately saved or lost.  Paul’s discussion has to do with the dynamics associated with justification before God and how such justification comes about.  Paul’s whole focus in His letter to the Romans is to demonstrate that justification before God is based on faith and not on works.  Paul reveals how God has manipulated certain events in the historical past to bring about His purpose to provide His human creation with salvation. Paul is not revealing a universal template for how God deals with all human behavior.

       In Romans 1-8, Paul discusses the sinful state of humanity and how deliverance from the penalty for sin cannot be achieved by the works of the law but by faith in Christ Jesus.  In chapter 4, Paul uses Abraham as an example of justification by faith.  Abraham believed God’s promise that he and Sarah would procreate a son in their old age.  Sarah was well past the age for child bearing but because of faith in God’s promise was able to give birth to a son.  The birth of Isaac was not based on normal physical ability to have a son but on God’s facilitation of such ability.  Thus Isaac is seen as a son of promise. 

       Paul recites this event as an example of faith producing a given result as opposed to the works of the flesh producing such results.  Abraham is considered righteous because he believed God would produce a miracle in facilitating the birth of Isaac.  The righteousness of Abraham resulted from his reliance on God to facilitate the seemingly impossible.   Paul uses this event to demonstrate that righteousness comes by faith in the promise of God and not by our works. 

       Romans 9:8: it is not the natural children who are God's children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham's offspring.

       Israel believed they were the children of promise.  After all, they were descendants of Jacob who was a son of Isaac who was the child of promise birthed by Abraham and Sarah. Ethnic Israel sees their descent from Abraham as their ticket to acceptance before God.  However, we see in Galatians 4:21-31 that Paul identifies ethnic Israel with Hagar, as opposed to Sarah. 

       Galatians 4:22-31:  For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman.  His son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way; but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a promise.  These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar.  Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.  For it is written: "Be glad, O barren woman, who bears no children; break forth and cry aloud, you who have no labor pains; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband."   Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise.  At that time the son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now.   But what does the Scripture say? "Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman's son."  Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.

       Paul analogized Israel’s ethnic decent to Ishmael, who was Abraham’s descendant by purely natural means.  In contrast, both Jews and Gentiles are said to be children of Abraham based on their faith in Christ. Therefore, it is those who profess faith in Christ who are considered the true descendants of Abraham because they are children of promise.

       Galatians 3:6-11: Consider Abraham: "He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness." Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: "All nations will be blessed through you." So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law." Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, "The righteous will live by faith."

       Paul is telling First Century Israel that ethnic decent from Abraham and keeping the law is not what makes one a child of Abraham.  It is the placing of faith in the Christ event that enables such a relationship.  It is in this context that Paul says the following:

       Romans 9:6b-8: For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham's children. On the contrary, "It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned." In other words, it is not the natural children who are God's children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham's offspring.

       It is through Isaac Abraham’s offspring is reckoned. Isaac is the child of promise and as such represents the work of God and not of man.  It is through the work of God that salvation is facilitated and not the work of man.  This is the message Paul is trying to get across.  The real Israel of God is not the physical descendants of Abraham but all those who express faith in Christ, both Jew and Gentile. 

       Galatians 6:15-16: Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation. Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God. 

       Under the Old Covenant, God related to Israel on the basis of ethnicity and strict obedience to the covenant He made with them at Sinai.  God rewarded Israel for obedience and punished them for disobedience.  However, God’s ultimate purpose was to have an indwelling spiritual relationship with man facilitated by the death and resurrection of the promised Savior Christ Jesus.  Much of first century Israel could not grasp the covenantal change that was taking place and would not accept Paul’s teaching that a relationship with God was no longer based on physical descent from Abraham and obedience to law.  Many Jews were particularity incensed over Gentiles being accepted short of their being circumcised and keeping the Mosaic regulations.

       Paul’s use of Isaac and Ishmael (Ishmael's name is not mentioned but implied) in the way that he does in Galatians and Romans appears intended to establish that the Israelites have no reason to trust in their descent from Abraham as the pathway to a relationship with God.  Their physical descent from Abraham is not what matters.  If physical descent was the criteria to have a relationship with God, then Ishmael and his descendants would have just as much right to claim God’s promises as could the descendants of Isaac.

       Israel believed one was justified before God on the basis of descent from Abraham and keeping of the Law.  While a number of first century Israelites came to accept the teaching that faith in Christ was the pathway to justification before God, the vast majority believed this to be nonsense.  They looked at what Paul was saying and virtually concluded that if Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith in Christ were true, then God would have essentially broken His promises to Israel. 

       The people of Israel saw justification before God as based on descent from Abraham and keeping the Law.  How then could God now be saying that justification is not based on descent from Abraham or keeping the Law, but rather on faith in Christ?  It is this thinking on the part of first century Israel that Paul is dealing with in Romans, Galatians and other of his letters. Predestination must be understood in the context of God requiring that a relationship with Him is based on faith and not on works. It is this that God has predestined.

       Predestination in Scripture has nothing to do with predetermining in advance who is saved and who is not saved.  If this were the case, statements such as “God wants all men to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:3) would be meaningless and rather ludicrous and absurd. Predestination has nothing to do with God predetermining all human activity and events that occur.  Predestination has to do with specific events associated with God establishing the pathway for human salvation.

       God’s preference of Isaac over Ishmael and Jacob over Esau was for the express purpose of establishing a line of decent to fulfill His promise to bring a savior into the world to provide salvation to mankind.  This salvation was to be a miraculous work of God with human works being irrelevant.  To demonstrate the supernatural nature of God’s promise to provide a savior, the miraculously born Isaac is chosen over the naturally born Ishmael.  God supernaturally intervenes to have the elder Esau serve the younger Jacob through whose son Judah the Christ would come.  God is showing by all this that the entire process of facilitating salvation for humanity is based not on normal events and activities but on supernatural involvement that insures that human salvation is freely given and not something we can earn.  

       Romans 9:11-12: Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad--in order that God's purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls--she was told, "The older will serve the younger."

       God choose Jacob over Esau so that God’s purpose in election would stand.  It is the election of Jacob over Esau that is being discussed.  Paul is not here revealing a universal election were people in general are either chosen to be saved or chosen to be lost. Paul is not addressing the issue of being saved or lost at all.  Paul is addressing the matter of how the availability of salvation came about. Paul quotes Malachi 1:2-3 where God says he loved Jacob and hated Esau (Romans 9:13).  . 

       Romans 9:13-18: Just as it is written: "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all!  For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion."  It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: "I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

       Paul asks if loving Jacob and hating Esau is unjust on the part of God.  He answers by quoting what God said to Moses. "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion."  The implication is that God is sovereign and can choose how certain individuals will be used to fulfill his purpose irrespective of their own desires.  There is no reason to believe, however, that Paul is revealing that God predetermines all things and thus prevents the expression of freewill.  Paul is dealing with a specific event and not expounding some universal principle relative to how God relates to man in all circumstances.

       In reference to God saying He loved Jacob and hated Esau, it should be noted that all indications are that God expressed a preference for Jacob over Esau and not that He literally hated Esau in some adversarial sense.  In Genesis 33 is the account of Jacob meeting Esau and providing Esau with many gifts.  Esau initially turns down the gifts saying he already had plenty.  Esau is not seen as having been cursed by God.  Deuteronomy 2:4-6, shows that God did not allow the Israelites to attack Edom (descendants of Esau) or to take any portion of the land God had given them.  He instructed Israel to pay them in silver for the food they eat and the water they drink. This is not a picture of a God who hates someone in a condemnational manner.  It is reasonable to believe God hated Esau in the same sense Christ instructed that we hate our parents in contrast to loving Christ.  Jesus wasn’t teaching we are to literally hate our parents but that we preferentially put Christ ahead of our parents.     

       God predetermined that Jacob would be chosen over Esau as the one through whom the nation of Israel would be assembled and through whom Christ would trace His genealogy.  The whole process of providing salvation for mankind is seen to be supernaturally orchestrated and based on faith as opposed to the progression of natural events.  It is in this context we must read Romans 9. For further discussion of Romans 9 and the issue of predestination, please go to “Predestination and free will,” parts two and three.

What about Romans 8:29-30 and Ephesians 1:4-5,11? 

       Romans 8:29-30: For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

       Ephesians 1:4-7: For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will-- to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace.

       Ephesians 1:11: In him we were also chosen,  having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will,

       Some interpret these passages to say God predetermined from before the world was created who would receive salvation.  Some even view Romans 8:29 and Ephesians 1:4 as showing humans existed in some other dimension before the creation of the world and that is how God foreknew them and chose them. Let’s look at the context of Romans 8. 

        Roman 8:20-22: For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.  We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.

       Paul is talking about humans living on the earth who are in bondage and hoping to be delivered from this bondage into the glorious freedom of the children of God. In Hebrews 2:14-15 the writer uses the same Greek word to show how Christ destroyed death and thus we are delivered from the bondage of the fear of death. In Hebrews 2:9 it is recorded that Jesus tasted death for everyone. This is said within the context of Jesus, through His death, providing salvation. Since it is said Jesus tasted death for everyone, it would follow that the salvation provided by His death is for everyone and not just for some.     

       In Romans 11:32 Paul shows that “God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.” For Paul to be teaching in 8:29-30 that only a predetermined select number of humans will be saved would be contrary to much of what Paul taught regarding salvation as discussed in this series. 

       Paul and other NT writers consistently use the first and second personal pronouns “us,” “we,” “you” and “your” in their letters to first century Christians.  In doing so, they are addressing specific groups of people and not using these pronouns in some kind of editorial sense where they are actually addressing all who have and will read these letters throughout time.  In essence, when we read these letters, we are reading someone else’s mail. This being the case, how can we know if what Paul and others wrote to their audiences about salvation applies to us today?

       In Romans 8:32 Paul writes of God not sparing his own Son but giving Him up for us all. Is all humanity being spoken of here or does "us all" apply only to the Romans?  

       In the Ephesian 4:1-7 passage cited above, Paul uses the pronoun “us” three times and “we” once. In doing so, is Paul saying that only the Ephesians he was addressing at the time are chosen to receive salvation? In his letter to the Colossians Paul wrote the following:   

       Colossians 2:13-14: When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature,  God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.

       Paul wrote similar things to the Ephesians, Corinthians, Romans and other first century followers of Christ.  Does what Paul wrote to the Colossians, Ephesians, Corinthians, Romans and others apply to us today and how can we know?

       We can know what applies to us today by looking at the statements made by Scriptural writers that appear inclusive of all humanity and not just the specific audiences being addressed in the first century.  It is because of these statements that I have come to take the position I take as to salvation.

       John wrote that "the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world" (1st John 4:14). John the Baptist said of Jesus "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29b). Jesus told Nicodemus that "God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him" (John 3:17). Paul wrote that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners" (1 Timothy 1:15). Paul wrote to Timothy that God “wants all men to be saved" and that Christ Jesus "gave himself as a ransom for all men(1st Timothy 2:3-6).

        Paul also wrote Timothy that God "is the Savior of all men" (1st Timothy 4:10). John wrote that Jesus “is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1st John 2:2). To the Romans Paul wrote: "For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all" (Romans 11:32). Paul also wrote that “just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men (Romans 5:18).

       Paul told the Corinthians that “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them” (2st Corinthians 5:19).  To the Romans Paul wrote “For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!” (Romans 5:10). Jesus said “But I, (Jesus) when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself" (John 12:32). I submit that these are all universalist statements.

       These appear to be straightforward all inclusive statements that say it is the purpose of God through the Christ event to facilitate reconciliation with God for all humans and thus provide salvation for all humans.

        In speaking of being predestinated, called and chosen as seen in the Scriptures cited at the beginning of this section, Paul can't be teaching that atonement and salvation is limited to a selected few with the majority of the human race being excluded. If he is teaching this, it is in stark contradiction to dozens of statements cited above that teach a much greater scope of salvation.

Who are the called of God?

       Is being called by God necessary to the granting of salvation and if so what does it mean to be called by God? Some believe that to be called by God means to receive special favor over and above others as to the granting of salvation. Being called by God is seen as limited to a small segment of the human population with the majority of mankind not being called and therefore not given salvation.

       The Greek word rendered “call” or “called” in the NT is καλέω (kaleó). It appears 148 times. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines kaleó as “to call aloud, call forth, to invite, to give or bear a name.” This word is used by NT writers in ways reflective of all these meanings. It is often used to designate the giving of a name to something or somebody and thus calling that something or somebody by the name given to it.  

       This word is also used a number of times to speak of Christians being called by God. For example, Hebrews 9:14-15 speaks of those who are called by God will receive the promise of eternal inheritance facilitated by Jesus dying as a ransom to forgive sin.  Romans 9:22-24 speaks of both Jews and Gentiles being called by God.  1st Corinthians 1:9 speaks of God calling the Corinthians into fellowship with Jesus. In 7:15-20 Paul writes of God calling the Corinthians to live in peace and to remain in the situation which they were in when God called them.

       Galatians 5:13 speaks of being called to be free. In Galatians 4:1, 4 Paul instructs the Galatians to live a life worthy of the calling they have received and of being called to one hope. Paul tells the Thessalonians that God did not call them to be impure but to live a holy life (1st Thessalonians 4:7).  Paul told Timothy God had called them to a holy life (2nd Timothy1:9). 

       What does it mean to be called by God?  How does God call someone?  As mentioned above, some believe to be arbitrarily selected to receive salvation is to be called by God. Under this scenario God provides selected individuals with the understanding of the pathway to salvation while others are denied such understanding and therefore are never called and have no chance at salvation. Is this what it means to be called by God? Is to be called by God an arbitrary and selective process limited to just certain individuals at the exclusion of others? Let us look to the Scriptures to identify how one is called by God

       In 2nd Thessalonians 2:13-14 Paul tells the Thessalonians they are loved by God because from the beginning God chose them to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.  He then explains how this happened.

       2nd Thessalonians 2:14: He called you to this through our gospel that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

       Their calling came through hearing the gospel. The gospel is the good news of salvation and entrance into the kingdom through the sacrifice of Jesus. The gospel is seen as the power of God that brings salvation (Romans 1:16). Paul told the Corinthians that it was through the gospel that he preached that they were saved (1st Corinthians 15:1-2).

       I submit that to be called by God is to hear the gospel. The Scriptures reveal that the preaching of the gospel was intended to cover the world. It is intended to be available to the masses of humanity. It is the vehicle through which God calls people.  In reality, all who hear the gospel are called by God. To hear the gospel is to be made aware of salvation through Christ which what being called is all about.

       Paul wrote in Romans 10:12-15 that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. He then asks a series of questions.  He asks how can they call on the one they have not believed in and how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? Paul goes on to ask how can they hear without someone preaching to them and how can they preach unless they are sent? He then quotes Isaiah 52:7, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!"

       Being called by God is not some arbitrary selective process where only certain individuals are given opportunity to receive salvation. Being called by God is a universal process facilitated through the dissemination of the gospel to the entire world. Having the gospel message preached to the whole world is clearly revealed in Scripture as the will of God. To limit the ability to respond to the gospel to those who in some manner are predetermined to be “called” appears counterintuitive to the process of spreading the gospel message to the world.    

Who are the elect/chosen?

       Jesus, Paul and Peter all refer to followers of Christ as being the “elect” (Matthew 24:22, 31, Romans 8:33, Colossians 3:12, 1st Peter 1:1). The Greek word rendered “elect” (“chosen” in some translations) is κλεκτός (eklektos).  Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines this word as “picked out” or “chosen.” Some believe that scriptural passages that refer to followers of Christ as the elect/chosen demonstrate that salvation is limited to those selectively chosen in advance by God.

              If indeed only those selectively chosen by God receive salvation, statements such as “God wants all men to be saved” and Jesus “gave himself as a ransom for all men” (1st Timothy 2:3 & 6) are meaningless, ludicrous and absurd statements as I previously noted. Furthermore, all efforts to bring people to Christ for the past 2000 years would appear rather futile if only those predestinated and chosen in advance to believe in Christ are able to do so and all others who hear the message of salvation are unable to respond to it because they aren’t predestinated/chosen to do so.

       In Matthew 11:28 Jesus is recorded as saying “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” This would be a rather hollow statement if only those pre-selected were able to do this.

       Throughout Scripture we see humans being instructed to choose righteousness over unrighteousness and in so doing become pleasing to God. In Deuteronomy 30:19 the Israelites are asked to choose life over death which means to choose righteousness over unrighteousness. In Ezekiel 33:11 Israel is asked to turn from their evil ways and choose life.  In John 7:17 we read that “If anyone chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.

       In view of the many Scriptures instructing humans to choose righteousness over unrighteousness, it would appear much more Scriptural to conclude that when the elect/chosen are spoken of, they are those who have of their own free will chosen to believe the gospel message and in so doing become the elect and chosen and not that they respond to the gospel message because they already are the elect/chosen.

        In view of the universalist passages cited above it should be evident that what God has predestinated is the salvation of all humanity and when Paul speaks of the Ephesians, Colossians, Romans and others being predestinated to receive salvation, he is speaking of them being part of the overall fulfillment of God having predestined all of humanity to receive salvation.

       Let’s return to Ephesians 1:11 where Paul writes about being chosen and predestined. Paul goes on to write that they (the Ephesians) were the first to hope in Christ and be included in Christ when they heard the gospel of salvation and having believed they were marked in Christ with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:12-13).

       Did these Ephesian come to have hope and faith in Christ because they were predestined and chosen in advance to do so or did they simply respond in hope and belief to the hearing of the gospel and were thus given the Holy Spirit? Paul goes on to say “For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.”

       Paul is overjoyed at learning of their faith in Christ. If such faith was a predestined faith, a faith that these Ephesians were pre-chosen to have, it would appear rather strange that Paul would react in the manner he does. I submit Paul reacted the way he did because he was thrilled that they had chosen of their own free will to place faith in Christ and not that they were predestined to do so.  

        Let’s now look at some additional passages of Scripture that some feel falsify the concept of universal salvation.

Romans 5:19:

      Romans 5:19: For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

        I touched on this in Part One of this series. The Greek word "many" appears 361 times in the NT and Thayer's Greek Lexicon defines this word as much, many, numerous and great."     

        Some feel Paul’s use of “many” limits the number of individuals being considered.  The word “many,” however, is used within the context of all sinning in Adam and all being made alive in Christ.  Paul had just said “just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men” (Romans 5:18). Paul now saying many were made sinners through the disobedience that began with Adam and many will be made righteous through Christ does not reduce the “all men” Paul just spoke of in 5:18 to less than all men. The context is all men. The actions of both Adam and Jesus stand in relationship to all men, not just many (some) men.  

       To conclude that Paul's use of "many" in Romans 5:19 means less than all are made righteous through the Christ event is to equally conclude that less than all are made sinners through the Adam event. However, Paul clearly reveals that because of the one trespass of Adam all are condemned in contrast to all being justified through Christ. Therefore, it should be apparent that Paul is not using the word “many” to in some way qualify the “all” he just spoke of.  Paul's use of "many" in Romans 5:19 does not reduce his use of "all" in 5:18 to less than all.  All become sinners as a result of what started with Adam and in contrast, all are made righteous because of the Christ event. This is the continuous teaching of Paul throughout his writings. 

      Because of this, I submit that when Paul in Romans 8:29 speaks of Christ being the firstborn among many brothers and when Hebrews 9:28 speaks of Christ being sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people, the word "many" is being used in an all inclusive sense to mean all and not only some.   

       What about Jesus' use of the word "many" in relation to salvation? In Matthew 20:28/Mark 10:45 Jesus speaks of giving His life as a ransom for many. In Matthew 26:28 Jesus speaks of pouring out His blood for many for the forgiveness of sins. Both of these sayings appear to be a reference to Isaiah 53:11-12 where it is prophesied that He would  justify many and bear the sin of many and make intercession for the transgressors.

       Is Jesus, in speaking of giving his life as a ransom for many and pouring out his blood for many, teaching limited salvation?  Is Jesus' use of the word "many" teaching us His sacrifice applies to only some as opposed to all?

       It is instructive that in the Isaiah 53 prophecy which is considered a prophecy of the death and resurrection of Jesus, it is stated in verse 6 that “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all." Does "all" become less than all a few verses later when the prophet uses the word "many"?  Is "many" qualifying "all" to mean less than all? 

       If that is the case, such teaching would be in conflict with Paul's statement that Jesus gave Himself as a ransom for all men (1st Timothy 2:6), John's teaching that Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the whole world (1st John 2:2) and Jesus' own teaching that God sent Him to be the savior of the world (John 3:17) and that through His crucifixion He would draw all men to himself (John 12:32). 

       Furthermore, it is to be noted that in the prophecy about the death and resurrection of Christ, the prophet writes that all have gone astray and the LORD has laid on him (Jesus) the iniquity of all. I submit that the all who have gone astray is all humans and it is this same all whose iniquity is laid on Jesus thus removing the eternal death penalty for all humans.

1st Timothy 4:9-10:

       1st Timothy 4:9-10: This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially (μάλιστα (malista) of those who believe.

       Paul writes God "is the Savior of all men, and especially of all those who believe."  The Greek μάλιστα (malista) is defined in Greek Lexicons as “especially, chiefly, most of all, above all.” Some see Paul’s use of this word as God limiting salvation to only those who believe. Is this what Paul is saying?

        In Galatians 6:10 Paul writes: "Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers."  The same Greek word is here rendered "especially" as in 1st Timothy 4:10.  It should be obvious that doing good especially to believers doesn't take away the responsibility of doing good to all people. 

       In 1st Timothy 5:17 Paul writes: "The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching." Here again the same Greek word is rendered "especially" and as can be seen, giving double honor to those who preach and teach does not in any way mean giving less honor to the other elders.         

       It should be evident that when Paul writes that "God is the Savior of all men and especially of those who believe," he is saying two things.  Firstly, Paul is saying that God is the savior of all men and secondly he is saying God is especially the savior of those who believe. However, granting salvation to those who believe does not rule out salvation for those who don’t believe. The very fact Paul distinguishes between God being the savior of all men and those who believe shows God is the Savior of both those who believe and those who don’t believe.

       While belief in Christ is seen throughout Paul’s writings as the expected response to the salvation God has provided, lack of such believe does not prevent God from providing salvation. As discussed elsewhere in this series, it is not our faith that saves us; it is the mercy of God facilitated through the Christ event that saves us.     

       I submit that the word "especially" is simply being used to emphasize and highlight those who were believers at the time. The use of this word does not mean that salvation is not available to unbelievers.

       This being said, the Scriptures are clear that belief in God and Jesus is a prerequisite for having the gift of salvation applied. As covered elsewhere in this series, while few, comparatively speaking, demonstrate such faith during this lifetime, I believe that belief in God and Christ will be demonstrated by all humans in the afterlife enabling them to be granted salvation. Go to Faith-repentance-baptism-salvation-part-one for a comprehensive discussion of the relationship between belief and salvation.

Enduring to the end:

       Jesus, in speaking of His coming and the social turmoil that would precede that coming, indicates that only those who endure and stand firm to the end would be saved? (Matthew 10:21-23). Jesus says the same thing in Matthew 24:12.  Was standing firm to the end a condition of being saved?   

       As covered in my series “When Does Christ Return,” the end spoken of in Matthew 10 and 24 is the near to them coming of Christ in association with the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem in AD 70. This is made very apparent by the context of these two passages.

       Matthew 10: 21-23:  "Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. I tell you the truth, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

       Matthew 24: 9-13:  "Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. 

       It appears Jesus is exhorting believers to stand firm in the face of trials associated with the coming wrath upon Israel.  This is a common theme throughout the NT narrative. We see Paul and others writers admonishing, exhorting and encouraging believers to stay strong in the face of difficulties and persecutions as they wait for the imminent to them return of Christ to deliver them from the coming wrath.  To the Thessalonians Paul wrote, “They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead--Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath” (1st Thessalonians 1:9-10).

        Despite these exhortations, admonitions and encouragements, it is apparent that many believers would not stand firm and endure to the end but turn from the faith.  Jesus said that “At that time many will turn away from the faith (Matthew 24:10). What happened to these folks?  The writer to the Hebrew Christians provides a rather grim outlook for those who turn their back on Christ prior to his imminent return.

       Hebrews 10: 25-30: Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching (the day of Christ’s return).  If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.   Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?  For we know him who said, "It is mine to avenge; I will repay," and again, "The Lord will judge his people."

       Hebrews 10:37-39: For in just a very little while, "He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him." But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed (Greek: ἀπώλειαν (apōleian), but of those who believe and are saved.

       The wording of these passages of Scripture clearly reveals the anticipated soon to occur coming of Christ. The writer is addressing Hebrew Christians and telling them what is soon to take place.  The Greek here is very emphatic. Bullinger, in the Companion Bible, shows the Greek phrase mikron hoson hoson to mean: "in a very, very little while."   This statement was made some 2000 years ago to Jewish Christians who are being told to persevere so they will receive what was promised at a near to occur coming of Christ. 

       The believers are told to remain faithful and if they don’t, they will be judged and destroyed.  The Greek word translated “destroy” in Hebrews 10:39 is a tense of the Greek word apollumi which we discussed previously and determined that while this word means "to destroy" it does not necessarily convey permanent destruction.  It often is used by NT writers to convey temporary loss or ruin as seen previously in this series.

       As previously pointed out, the end that is discussed in the NT is the end of the Old Covenant age and this end came at the time of the destruction of the temple and the city of Jerusalem around AD 70.  Jesus made this clear in the Olivet Discourse as recorded in Matthew 24, Mark 13 and Luke 21.  Jesus made a number of other statements during His ministry that show He was talking about a soon to occur judgment upon Jerusalem. 

       Apostle Peter used the same apocalyptic language Jesus used in the Olivet Discourse to announce the soon to occur coming of Christ which is referred to here as “the great and glorious day of the Lord.”  In referring to the speaking in tongues event as an event to occur in “the last days” (Acts 2:17), Peter goes on to say how God “will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.  And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved'” (Acts 2:19-21).  I again refer the reader to my multipart series entitled “When Does Christ Return.” 

       In reading through the NT, it becomes apparent that much of what is written is in the context of the belief that Christ would be coming back within their generation. Jesus plainly taught that His coming in judgment would occur in the generation He was addressing at the time (Matthew 24:34, Mark 13:30, Luke 22: 46-51, Luke 21:32).

       Those that accepted the gospel message and remained faithful to that message to the time of their death or the time of Christ’s return would receive the promised gift of eternal life. Those that did not accept the gospel message and those who had accepted it but fell away (apparently many according to Christ (Matthew 24:9-13) would be judged for their unrighteous behavior and suffer the consequences of their disobedience.  For many it was physical death and for some it was captivity.  First century historian Josephus writes in his antiquities that one million Jews were killed and 100,000 taken into captivity during the war with Rome.   

       A careful reading of the NT passages dealing with the destruction of the wicked indicates their destruction was a temporal destruction and not an eternal one. Their destruction had nothing to do with their eternal destiny. It was a temporal destruction associated with the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple.

       As covered earlier, those destroyed in the judgments of Sodom and Gomorrah, Tyre, and Sidon are seen as facing a judgment after their biological death. This is a judgment over and above the destruction they experienced while physically alive. This appears to be a final judgment to determine their eternal destiny. It would appear those destroyed in the judgment of first century Jerusalem would receive such final judgment as well. 

       In Part Five I will discuss the relationship between faith, repentance and salvation and draw some conclusions as to the issue of universal salvation.