Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Responses to evangelical objections to the orthodoxy of universalism

In the face of such serious considerations (see previous blog) it is hardly surprising that evangelicals have steered clear of the belief that all people will be saved. However, in considering whether an evangelical can believe in universal salvation it is important to realise that universalism is actually a broad family of views and not a single belief. The criticisms above do apply to some forms of universalism but not necessarily to others. There is one version of universalism that I think has good claims to being compatible with evangelicalism so rather than explaining all the different versions of universalism on the market, many of which are highly questionable from an evangelical perspective, I wish to explain just this one (which I will refer to as “evangelical” universalism with the “” marks to leave it an open question for now just how evangelical it really is). We can then ask how the standard evangelical anti-universalist objections stand up against it. It is important, before we do so, to be very clear about what I am, and am not, arguing in this brief article. I am not arguing that evangelicals ought to be “evangelical” universalists nor am I arguing that “evangelical” universalism is true. I am simply arguing that if someone holds to this form of universalism they do not automatically put themselves outsides the bounds of what can legitimately be called evangelical. So please do not complain after reading this that I did not produce any convincing arguments in defence of universalism – you’ll have to read my book (The Evangelical Universalist, Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2006) for my attempt to do that.
So what do the “evangelical” universalists believe? Much the same as any other evangelical. They believe that God is triune and created the world ex nihilo; they believe that humans are created in this God’s image; they believe that human rebellion separates us from God and deserves punishment; they accept the final authority of the Scriptures for matters of Christian faith; they believe that the Father sent his one and only Son as a human being (who did not cease to be divine) to live as our representative, to reveal the Father and to atone for our sins through his death on the cross; they believe that through his resurrection eternal life is available to those who trust in Christ; they believe in salvation by grace (not merit), through faith in Christ (not works); they believe in the return of Christ and the coming day of judgment; they even believe in hell! Like any evangelicals they may disagree on issues - they may be Arminians or they may be Calvinists; they may be inclusivists or they may be exclusivists;[1] they may accept penal substitution theories of atonement or they may not; they may accept retributive theories of punishment or they may not; they may accept the inerrancy of Scripture or they may not. However, on all the core evangelical doctrines (which are really just historical, orthodox Christian doctrines with some Protestant emphases) they will agree. At this point you may well be confused – exactly how are these “evangelical” universalists supposed to differ from the mainstream? In two respects

(a) they believe that death is not a point of no return. In other words, it is possible for those in hell to cast themselves upon God’s mercy (made available through Christ) and be saved.

(b) They believe that in the end everyone will do this and there will be no people left in hell.

Now not all Christian universalists accept this version of universalism but it is what I am proposing constitutes an “evangelical” version of universalism. Suppose someone holds to this belief – how will they react to the standard objections against universal salvation?

Objection 1: “evangelical” universalists have a very strong view of the seriousness of sin and they believe that hell is merited. They do not think that anyone deserves to be saved so this criticism simply misses the mark. Indeed, I would say that it is not because they have a low view of sin that they are universalists but because they have a high view of grace. In the words of Paul, “Where sin abounds grace abounds all the more.”

Objection 2: “Evangelical” universalists arguably have a very biblical and robust notion of divine love (or so I argue in my book). They do not need to imagine that God is a soft touch who would not dream of punishing anyone. Their understanding of divine love seeks to be shaped by its revelation in Christ. And they have a strong view of divine justice. Indeed, they think that every divine action is a manifestation of what P.T. Forsythe called, “holy love.” It is not that some divine acts are loving (like saving people) whilst others are just (like sending people to hell). Rather all God’s deeds are loving and just. Whatever hell is we must not suppose that it is the action of justice as opposed to love. It is, they think, an act of severe mercy – of “holy love.”

Objection 3: obviously “evangelical” universalism insists on the uniqueness of Christ and the necessity of the cross-resurrection for salvation so this objection slides away.

Objection 4: clearly “evangelical” universalism, at least in its exclusivist versions, insists on the necessity of faith in Christ for salvation (and in its inclusivist versions has no more problems than any other version of evangelical inclusivism). Hence this objection falls away.

Objection 5: “evangelical” universalists are committed to evangelism and mission more broadly construed. They desire that people enter into salvation through faith in Christ. In its Arminian version “evangelical” universalists also believe that without mission there are many who will go to hell who would not have done so otherwise thus preaching to stop people going to hell is still a motivation for evangelism. They also believe that there are many biblical motivations for mission and evangelism apart from the belief (a belief that they think mistaken) that those who die as unbelievers are damned to hell forever without hope of redemption. So whilst this objection has some teeth they are not sharp ones.

Objection 6: This really is the objection that most evangelicals think sinks universalism without a trace with so called “evangelical” universalism included. There is no way that I can possibly address all the complex issues here. For that I must refer you to my book in which I argue at length that there is a strong biblical case for universal salvation, perhaps stronger than most evangelicals have ever realised. In this context my point is merely that the “evangelical” universalist thinks that she has sought to do justice to the whole of Scripture and thinks that the Bible is compatible with her universalism. As those who seek to be true to evangelical traditions what more can we do? Obviously there are many discussions to be had on this topic and I can see the hands in the class raised even as I type. My question is simply that if we have a fellow evangelical believer who thinks in all honesty that Scripture is consistent with his universalism then, if that universalism is not a threat to any creedal beliefs or central gospel affirmations, can we exclude him from the fold? Can he not be treated simply as an evangelical who we think is mistaken about the possibility of redemption from hell? Can he not be treated with the same tolerance Arminians and Calvinists have for each other? This need not mean that we avoid arguing about the topic but simply that we see it as an argument taking place within evangelicalism.

Objection 7: Whilst I have heard some evangelicals make this “it’s not fair” objection it does seem to be a betrayal of the evangelical conviction in the gospel of grace. There is much one can say in response but it seems so clearly off the mark I shall not waste ink on it.

Objection 8: Clearly, “evangelical” universalism does not deny the Trinity. Indeed, “evangelical” universalists regard Unitarianism as a fundamental betrayal of the gospel and the biblical revelation of God.

So I ask, “Could ‘evangelical’ universalism possibly amount to a genuine evangelical universalism? Could it possibly be allowed as a legitimate evangelical option?” If not, on what basis is this denial made?
There are positive reasons for including this version of universalism within the fold even if as the black sheep of the family who needs careful watching.
First, it is based on gospel instincts and evangelicals are gospel people. The Father sent the Son to save all people (something many, though not all, evangelicals believe). The Son represented all humanity before God, and died for everyone. In Christ-our-representative all humanity dies and is resurrected to new life. Universal salvation is, in one sense, an accomplished fact in Christ. Of course, one needs to respond by the Spirit’s power to the gospel to participate in what God has already accomplished in Christ, but the fact remains that there are good biblical reasons to see the logic of the gospel (the evangel) as one with a universal reach. This form of universalism is gospel-affirming and mission-affirming and thus has some claim to belonging in the evangelical fold.
Second, it has biblical foundations. In my book I argue that it is not merely certain proofs texts that can be used to support universalism (e.g., Romans 5:18-21; Colossians 1:18-20; Philippians 2:9-11) but the logic of the entire biblical metanarrative from creation to new creation. Obviously that is a case that will need to be argued out elsewhere – especially in the interpretation of the hell passages (see my book) - but the form of universalism we are considering here has aspirations, at very least, to be thoroughly biblical. This instinct to seek to listen to the whole canonical witness is deeply evangelical and constitutes another reason to see the small number of “evangelical” universalists as players on the same team.
In conclusion, whilst I do not imagine that I will have persuaded anyone of the truth of “evangelical” universalism, indeed I have not sought to do so, I do hope that at very least the answer to my original question is not so obviously, “No!” and may even be, “Maybe” or just possibly even, “Yes!”

[1] Exclusivists believe that one can only be saved through Christ if one has explicit faith in Christ.


Jason Pratt said...

Hi Greg! Nice to see you starting a blog on the topic. I hope it does well!

As an orthodox universalist theologian (not Eastern Orthodox per se, just orthodox {g}), I thought I might try a brief answer, too, to the objection set you raised (which set is admirably complete, I think, in principle categories). Along the way I’ll explain why I prefer ‘orthodox universalist’ as a category description (though I appreciate ‘evangelical universalist’, too.)

To answer Objection 1: this can be complex; there are several topically related objections here that I would have to deal with piecemeal.

Ob1a: do I reject the seriousness of sin? No, I strongly affirm it. Especially in my own case. (It’s just as serious for other people, in principle and in fact, but if I’m going to co-operate with God in helping other people, I’d better be paying attention first to that log or even that speck of dust in my own eye.) The wages of sin are death. As a theologian and as an evangelical I am exhorting and preaching the salvation from sin. That’s what ‘salvation’ per se is about; which is why God Incarnate was named Jesus. Not incidentally, I routinely find that among Calv and Arm theologians (and their analogues in other-or-non-Protestant congrgations), what we are being saved from is passed over or obscured. I think theology would be better all around if we continually mentioned, as often as possible, what salvation is from in our various explications. Nonsense theology would be exposed (if perhaps not rooted out) more quickly anyway.

Ob1b.) I agree vehemently that we deserve hell; if by this is meant the Gehenna of God’s punishment. (Strictly speaking there is hades and Gehenna; but punishment can occur in hades, too.) But then, I understand the biblical notion of Gehenna to be somewhat principally different than Calv and/or Arm theologians do. If I am asked whether we deserve a hopeless punishment, my answer is no. If I am asked whether victims of sinners deserve for God to give up acting toward bringing about reconciliation between them and their abusers, so that justice may at last be positively fulfilled, I answer no. If I am asked if everyone deserves to be salted with the everlasting fire, I answer: yes, we do. And everyone gets that, too! (But then my opponents will complain that it is somehow reprehensible that we should somehow deserve salvation from sin, while maintaining that in effect we deserve to not be saved from sin.) Why we ‘deserve’ salvation from sin, is quite simply that justice at last may be fulfilled. If we reject this, then obviously we are being the unjust ones, refusing to fulfill justice; not God.

Ob1c.) Do I think it is God’s “job” to forgive everyone? Well, true love can be called a ‘job’, I guess; a scourging and crucifixion (which is only the tip of the iceberg of God’s suffering) is not exactly a walk in the Garden. But true love is what God essentially is; not merely what He happens to do sometimes in particular circumstances. “Job” is not how I would describe that. I would rather call it “life”. Is it God’s own life to forgive everyone? Yes; insofar as forgiveness means (as I believe it does in the scriptures) “acting to free a person from sin”. That’s consonant with God’s own life, being active fulfillment of love and justice.

Ob1d&e.) In that very particular sense, I do in fact affirm that we all ‘deserve to be saved’. I reject the notion that we can somehow coerce God into acting toward this, either directly or by appeal to some ethical standard greater than Himself which He, like us, is obligated to obey. God’s grace, literally His joy (in NT Greek), is freely given. (That being said, I rigorously reject the self-deceptive garbage of liberal ‘anthropology’ in the older sense of that word. In fact I go so far as to say that we have no practical business at all forgiving ourselves.)

To answer Objection 2: Oh, I strongly (even heavily) affirm God’s wrath; which I do not equate with God’s justice, though many theologians do. I affirm the justice of God even more than I do His wrath; for I understand that His wrath is not intrinsic to His own self-existence, while His justice certainly is. This is not the same as denying His wrath, however. On the contrary, I regularly and seriously pray, as a matter of self-discipline, that God will be wrathful to me, against my sins and my sinning! I can trust Him to keep doing that, too, for as long as it takes--precisely because He loves me, and is in fact intrinsically love.

To answer Objection 3 requires more differentiation as to parts of the objection:

Ob3a.) Well, strictly speaking, the form of Jesus’ death would be considered an ‘accident’ theologically, in that it isn’t some kind of principle necessity (even though set up by God throughout the history of Judaism in preparation). I affirm the Incarnation and (even moreso) the self-sacrificial death of God for our salvation from sin. (I say ‘even moreso’ because God, as the Son, sacrifices Himself eternally even for us to exist in the first place.) It needn’t have been on a cross per se, but that was how God chose for the sacrifice to happen in history.

Ob3b.) I would rather say that God will act, and has acted, to save us from sin, even if we think some other route than God’s action is the way to go. God’s action is the 2nd Person of God (the Logos), Incarnated as Christ, Who has acted (and will act) to reconcile all things to Himself, whether in the heavens or in the earth, through the blood of the cross. We certainly have to affirm that God does this regardless of whether any of us happen to believe it at a particular time or not, for none of us came into the world believing this (or anything else) about God! (Pious hagiography occasionally notwithstanding. {s}) What is actually being objected to here, though, is my rejection of the doctrine of ‘salvation-by-doctrinal-knowledge’, which I consider to be a technical heresy (specifically gnosticism; of which the Gnostics were only one example.) As an orthodox theologian, obviously I’m going to reject technical heresies; otherwise I’d either be an inept theologian or else trying to be a counter-orthodox theologian (as the Gnostics themselves historically were. In both categories, I’d say. {g})

Ob3c.) I strenuously affirm the glorious uniqueness of Christ and the truth of the gospel--though it should be remembered that Calvs and Arms and I are disagreeing on a few important details about what that gospel truth is. I strenuously deny that Christianity in any shape form or fashion is the Way, the Truth and/or the Life. I am not a Christianityian. {s}

To answer Objection 4: if what the objector means by “faith in Christ for salvation” is “believing and affirming some doctrinal position”, then yes I quite willingly ‘undermine’ that. Not least as a self-critical protection! (I am, after all, a hyperdoctrinaire. {s}) If the objector means trusting Christ, then I have infinitely less than zero interest in undermining that; but I notice that Christ Himself allows a lot wider leeway about what counts as “trust” in the canonical scriptures, than many of His exponents would be willing to admit. (I am always wryly amused, to take one example, at how often people telling the story of the rebel on the cross try to make his salvation fit some kind of doctrinal recognition and profession. {wry s}) The same goes for rejection of Christ: pretty much all of what Jesus has to say about punishment in the canonical sources is levelled against lazy and/or uncharitable servants of His! If it wasn’t for Christ’s retribution against the church at Ephesus in RevJohn, for instance, no one would guess from reading the approval list that they were in fact rejecting Christ. The same goes for those workers of injustice condemned by Christ despite not only calling Him Lord but even doing miracles and exorcisms in His name.

To answer Objection 5: this is frequently lodged as an objection against Calvs by Arms, too. (Isn’t God going to save “the elect” no matter what??) But Calvinists are not particularly lax about evangelical missioning. And I would be even happier about supporting the evangelical mission if I thought the people I was supporting weren’t preaching a doctrine of God’s hopelessness! (This is aside from my own small efforts at evangelization.) Be that as it may, my technical answer would be the same as an Arm or a Calv, if they paused a moment to think about it: the Lord God saves (call it a “job” if you can think of nothing better to call it; Christ Himself uses that as an analogy several times, so there are worse things to call it I suppose), and we are expected as servants of God to be co-operating with Him in that work that He is working from the beginning to the end. If I’m not co-operating with God, then I am the one doing the sinning. As it is, when I try to evangelize the truth of the good news of God, I often not only have to foil past standard problems regarding the coherency of Christian theology, but just as often I have to try to convince the person I’m witnessing to that the hopelessness (and even the technical heresies) that they reject as taught to them by other evangelists, are not in fact the gospel truth. I would be far less hindered in my own evangelical efforts if Arms and Calvs (Protestant or otherwise) would stop insisting on such things!--and so misleading people who then reject Christianity (while perhaps, thank God, not rejecting Christ. Only the shadow of a monstrous Christ thrown up on the walls of their mind. I have no problem with sceptics rejecting a worship of Moloch or Darkseid the Destroyer, but I do have problems trying to convince them that I don’t worship such a creature! It isn’t my fault that they expect this. One of the ironic results, however, is that I also then have more difficulty trying to soberly discuss sin and punishment with them, too.)

To answer Objection 6: the Bible “clearly teaches” a lot of things about God, not all of which can be equally true as they stand. Among other things, the “Bible clearly teaches” universalism in numerous places, Old and New Testament both! However, this has never slowed Arm or Calv theologians from interpreting those passages in light of other verses, typically according to metaphysical principles (though just as typically unrecognized by them as such.) It isn’t about whether the testimony exists: it (at least apparently) does. The question is, what principles shall we use for interpretation, and are we applying those principles fairly and consistently? I’m an orthodox theologian; if we aren’t talking about the orthodox Trinity (with or without the filioque, though as for myself I strongly affirm it), then as theologians we have more preliminary matters to be discussing. I don’t usually bother discussing soteriology with dualists or deists or mere monotheists or Mormons or whatever--except insofar as what I believe to be the truth about salvation follows from the characteristics of God. If, on the other hand, we decide orthodox trinitarianism is true, then I suggest we proceed with our soteriology along that line and try not to contradict ourselves while doing so. (At which point I sometimes learn that my opponents don’t give a hoot about having a coherent theology, so long as they can keep affirming hopelessness. I could quote some scriptural prooftexts about that attitude; but then I would discover they’re quite happy to reinterpret scripture at that point, in order to protect themselves from punishment against uncharity...) In any case, I believe I do take the widest range of scripture into account.

Ob6b.) Of course, if the objection is simply about the Bible teaching that there is a hell and that it will not be empty, I affirm that the Bible teaches: a) that there is a hades; b) that eventually it will be emtpy (that’s what the resurrection of the evil as well as the good is about); c) that there is Gehenna; d) that it will not be empty; and even e) that in the most important possible way, not only will the eternal fire never be empty, but all of us will be in it together. Admittedly, if I didn’t care about being saved from my sins, I might be trying to get out of the fire of the Holy Spirit; but I do care, so I am not trying to escape it. Nor would I affirm that anyone does--that would be tantamount to cosmological dualism (not orthodox Christian theism). Nor do I affirm that there is a second everlasting fire--that would be tantamount to cos-du again. I am an orthodox theologian.

To answer Objection 7: this objection simply illustrates that the objector really has no concern about being saved from our sins and our sinning. In which case I can answer, that if you aren’t interested in that, God at least is; but you can try to have something else instead if you like. God will never give up trying to save you from sinning anyway, but you do have to repent of your sins and co-operate with Him. (I would say that no Christian theologian would be so silly as to make this objection, but I have to admit I’ve seen it occasionally!) The form of the objection, as it stands, would also seem to illustrate that the objector thinks salvation lies primarily in her own efforts after all (“why do we put all this effort into living the Christian life” etc.) If you don’t care to do justice and equity, those things which are intrinsic to God’s own life, and which He graciously gives us the ability to do as well, then don’t. But you won’t find me very sympathetic to your plight afterward! (Still hopeful, yes; but this illustrates why my hope for your salvation from sin is put primarily in God, not primarily in you, my objector. {g} My hope for myself as well.)

To answer Objection 8: as indicated above, I am a universalist precisely because I am a trinitarian theist. The “historic” link between modern universalism and unitarianism, derives mainly from orthodox theologians demanding (on no coherent grounds whatever) that hopelessness and orthodoxy go together inextricably. Rather than go to the difficulty of sussing out the truth of the matter, these universalists simply take the nominally orthodox word for it, and go on to chunk them as a package. There is a related historical link between a doctrine of hopelessness being ‘barbaric’ and ‘primitive’ (some truth to that) and trinitarianism being derided the same way (when it certainly isn’t barbaric anyway.) Blame Voltaire & Co. for that, not orthodox universalists.

Anyway, I hope this disquisition from a parallel theologian and fellow universalist will be useful. {g}

Jason Pratt

Rob G. Reid said...

"Greg" it is so nice to find you blogging. I have been fascinated by your book, and I have only had the opportunity to scan the contents page! However, I will read it in the coming weeks (I'm finishing a rather rough semester).

So, in reality, my comment has not substance other than I was very glad to find your blog and look forward to interacting with you in the future.

Gregory MacDonald said...

Jason, excuse my delay in replying. It took me a while to find the time to read the comment! :-)
It is a nuanced and helpful set of reflections. You must have pondered these issues long and hard. I find myself in agreement with a lot of what you say.
I must confess, however, that I find your claim in 6b that all of us will be in gehenna together forever more than odd. At face value it is just plain unbiblical. Have I misunderstood you?

Jason Pratt said...


Ah, but I didn’t say that all of us would be in Gehenna forever. I said, “[I]n the most important possible way, not only will the eternal fire never be empty, but all of us will be in it together.”

Gehenna is not the eternal fire. The everlasting unquenchable fire is the Holy Spirit. (Unless there is supposed to be more than one “eonian” or “everlasting”, in which case we’re actually affirming some kind of ontological dualism!--which unfortunately is very normal for theologians to do on this topic, even when they would otherwise deny ontological dualism elsewhere.) And Christ Himself avers that everyone will be salted by the unquenchable fire that burns in Gehenna; moreover that salting is ideal and that when we have salt in ourselves we will be at peace with one another.

He also teaches in the same place that we are the salt of the world, but that if the salt becomes unsalty it is fit only to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. “If salt becomes unsalty, with what will you season it!?” I take this to mean that if we who are taking the gospel to the world change the doctrine so that the fire, even in Gehenna, has nothing to do with salting (and thus bringing peace with one another), then that doctrine will be rightly rejected by men--and us along with it!

That part, in the middle of the saying, could be debateable. The portions around it, though, clearly refer in the first part to the purpose and scope of the fire in Gehenna; and in the last part, to the end result being aimed at in the salting by fire.

This can be found in GosMark 9:49-50; my vote for the most important overlooked verse in all the scriptures. When Jesus bothers to tell us what the fire in Gehenna is for, then we ought to be paying attention--but I routinely find commentators stopping flat at verse 48 as though the concluding two verses are of no consequence. (And I don’t find universalists paying much attention to them either, sad to say.)

To be fair, this might be because some kind of textual corruption is evident in the transmission of 49a; but the balance of the evidence points toward “For all will be salted with fire”. The other two options either keep this saying while appending a reference to Leviticus about how all sacrifices must be salted with salt, or in the latest cases merely replaces one phrase with the other.

The textual history of the verse is clear enough, however: the phrase about salting with fire makes topical connection to the preceding verses; while the phrase about sacrifices salted with salt would come completely out of nowhere topically, and doesn’t do much to explain the other phrase when combined together. (At best the combination tries to decouple “For all will be salted with fire” from the preceding references of Jesus to the famous passage at the end of Isaiah.) Some scribe wrote a gloss notation trying to guess what the phrase was about (because surely it couldn’t mean that the fire of Gehenna was hope of salvation from sin and peace among all men! {wry g}); some later scribe misunderstood the gloss to mean an accidental omission needing re-insertion; and then later scribes, given two sets of evidence and having to choose between them, decided to eliminate the phrase of hope (which admittedly ran against majority interpretation and official teaching) for a phrase of mere obscurity. {s}

Nevertheless, textual analysis indicates which phrase preceded the other variants; so either we take it, reinterpret it, or (more usually, in my experience) ignore it.

To this could be adduced the evidence at the end of RevJohn, where after the coming of the New Jerusalem (the gates of which shall never be closed), the Spirit enjoins us to keep on reaching out to those who love their sins, outside the city, so that they may wash freely in the river of life (that flows perpetually out the gate from under the throne) and so enter into the city to be healed by the leaves of the Tree. Those are the same people that were put into the lake of fire, back in the previous chapter. They aren’t sequestered off in some pocket dimension after hades is emptied (i.e. after the resurrection of the good and the evil); they’re still coming into the city, and we’re expected to go out and help them in, in cooperation with Christ and the Spirit. They’re in the Fire in one way; we’re in the Fire in another way; it’s still in the Spirit in either way; but the ongoing hope and evangel is their salvation from sin.

Thus, insofar as ‘Gehenna’ means cleaning from sin, we won’t all need cleaning from sin forever; but we will all certainly be in the everlasting Fire forever. (Surely you recall at least one of your namesakes preaching this!? Hint: initials were GMcD. {g})


PS: for a harmonization of Gospel elements connected to that Markan pericope, you might find this entry useful. I find Jesus to be quite explicit about what we can expect, if we insist on there being a point-of-no-return after which forgiveness must be impossible...

Gregory MacDonald said...


You will be pleased that I do discuss being salted with fire in Gehenna (Mk 9) in my book. Like you I argue that it suggests that Gehenna serves as one way of being purified although a way that Jesus warns people to avoid at all costs. There are FAR preferable ways to be purified that Gehenna.

I do not have the confidence that you have to identify this fire with the Spirit but it is an interesting and imaginative theological move on your part.



Jason Pratt said...

{{Like you I argue that it suggests that Gehenna serves as one way of being purified although a way that Jesus warns people to avoid at all costs.}}

Certainly; insofar as it is better to work with the fire than against it.

Now, I can easily understand the pericope leading into verse 49 to be warning against the punishment of Gehenna. Which is why I can agree with you quite readily in the remark I just quoted.

But, what then do you make of the consequential notion (introduced with a postpositive {gar}) in verse 49, about the scope and purpose of the fire? The verse is not "For some will be salted with fire."


Gregory MacDonald said...


see the book p. 150.



Jason Pratt said...

All right; on page 150 you state, regarding the purpose and scope indicated by the 'for' and the 'salting':

"Jesus clearly indicates by the use of the word 'for' (gar) that the comments about being salted with fire are intended as a fuller comment about verses 42-48, which clearly refer to the fires of Gehenna."

This doesn't explain why you think verses 49-50 are talking about two fires, though. In fact, your quote there was explicitly directed against Craig Evans' attempt to say that the purifying fire mentioned in 9:49 is a different fire from that mentioned in the previous verses.

Only one fire is mentioned, not two. And you agree with me on the same page that the saying of verse 49 does in fact apply to everyone. "Presumably if everyone [your own emphasis] must pass through the eschatological fire to enter the Kingdom [which you compare, rightly I think, with Matt 3:11], then Gehenna is only one mode of such purification and, clearly, the mode to avoid at all costs."

I have no problem agreeing with that--I said precisely as much a comment or two ago. {s} But then instead of talking about a mode to be avoided, you start talking about a fire to be avoided, in contrast to a merely colorful description of "the firey and ruthless road of avoiding sin".

But there's nothing about that in these verses. Everyone shall be salted by the fire. There is no avoiding the fire. We can either accept and co-operate with it (for as the Hebraist says, in relation to both God's active salvation of us from sin and the respect we should have for God, "for our God is a consuming fire"), or not--and not cooperating with God means being in Gehenna. The fire is salting either way.

(The only NT reference I can think of where one is exhorted to help others escape from the fire, is in the Jacobin epistle. Based on wide testimony elsewhere, though, I have to wonder whether he fully understood what he was exhorting about--assuming we accept the epistle as geniune at all, of course.)



James Goetz said...

Gregory, I'm happy to see that you truly embrace both Evangelicalism and Exclusive Universalism. I know nobody else with such a like mind. (My wife is close while she agrees with me that damnation of the lost dead may be conditional in some cases, and she says that my universalist views could be correct while she is undecided.) I visit some universalist forums, but I haven't found any with a commitment to the biblical analogy of faith. I appreciate reading your point of view.:)