Originally posted on 1 June 2008 and updated on 18 March 2010 and 11 March 2021
One of the growing dividing lines between “emerging church” and “traditional” evangelicals is their views on hell, eternal life/damnation and the doctrines that link to this (including original sin, God’s hatred of sinful humanity, what Christ’s death accomplished, atonement and so on). In other words, this is core doctrine stuff and worthy of full consideration.
Yet, most people’s vision of hell has more to do with Dante than the Bible. They take little account of the many different Biblical words that are all translated “hell” in our English Bibles. They take little account of the historical and cultural backdrop to the Biblical references. But, probably most significantly, they just don’t take account of the Bible itself.
I am certainly not going to attempt to deconstruct or construct a theology of hell here. Maybe some time in the future. You can certainly do some reading yourself (see some of the comments below), and especially the Wikipedia entry and http://www.tentmaker.org/
What I would like to do is just list some verses that raise some very real questions for me. Ever since my first formal studies of Biblical intepretation, the dangers of proof texting have been drummed into me. The danger is that you take a single verse (often, a single phrase from a single verse) without looking at the context. And then you make it say whatever you want it to say.
The contexts (for there are many) include the immediate literary context, the historical and cultural contexts, the context of the whole Bible, and the context of God’s self-revelation.
I don’t yet know what to do with these verses, but since there are so many of them, they must be considered in the debate. I don’t think the Bible teaches universalism. But, then, doesn’t God get what He wants in the end – and doesn’t He want everyone to be saved? And wouldn’t that be universalism?
And, besides, because there are so many, these can’t just be written off as proof texting. You read them. You decide.
1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard.
2 He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.
3 “About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing.
4 He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’
5 So they went. “He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing.
6 About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’
7 “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’
8 “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’
9 “The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius.
10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius.
11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner.
12 ‘These men who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’
13 “But he answered one of them, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius?
14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you.
15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
16 “For God so loved THE WORLD that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but TO SAVE THE WORLD through him.
14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me–
15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father– and I lay down my life for the sheep.
16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.
32 But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw ALL MEN to myself.”
19 Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord,
20 and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you– even Jesus.
21 He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore EVERYTHING, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.
12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned–
13 for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law.
14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.
15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!
16 Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.
17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.
18 Consequently, 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.
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.
20 The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more,
21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
26 And so ALL ISRAEL WILL BE SAVED, as it is written: “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob.
27 And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”
28 As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs,
29 for GOD’S GIFTS AND HIS CALL ARE IRREVOCABLE.
30 Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience,
31 so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you.
32 For God has bound ALL MEN over to disobedience so that he may have mercy ON THEM ALL.
1 Cor 15:20-26
20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.
22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ ALL WILL BE MADE ALIVE.
23 But each in his own turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.
24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.
25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.
26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
2 Cor 5:18-19
18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:
19 that God was reconciling THE WORLD to himself in Christ, NOT COUNTING MEN’S SINS AGAINST THEM. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus EVERY knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and EVERY tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
UPDATE ON 11 March 2021:
Most modern English translations have removed the word “gladly” from Philippians 2:10-11. It should read: “…that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should gladly confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
That word, “gladly” suggests that everyone will eventually turn to Christ willingly and joyfully proclaim that Christ is Lord. And since everyone who does so will be saved, it suggests that everyone will saved. The Greek word “exomologeō” is unambiguous and means“to acknowledge openly and joyfully“. There is no debate about this. But modern translations of the Bible downgrade it to simply “confess” because it suits the theology of sinners only begrudgingly acknowledging Jesus as Saviour and being cast away into eternal conscious torment because of it.
9 And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ,
10 to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment– to bring ALL THINGS in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.
16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.
17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.
19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him,
20 and through him to reconcile to himself ALL THINGS, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.
22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation–
23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to EVERY creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.
1 Tim 2:3-6
3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior,
4 who wants ALL MEN to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,
6 who gave himself as a ransom for ALL MEN — the testimony given in its proper time.
1 Tim 4:9-10
9 This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance
10 (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 OF THOSE WHO BELIEVE.
11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to ALL MEN.
9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death FOR EVERYONE.
10 In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.
2 Pet 3:9
9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, NOT WANTING ANYONE TO PERISH, but EVERYONE to come to repentance.
I John 2:2
2 He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but ALSO FOR THE SINS OF THE WHOLE WORLD.
“The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made. / All you have made will praise you, O LORD.”
And, then, have a look at this list of the Early Church Fathers’ quotes on this issue. It will make your eyes water.