Monday, May 19, 2014

Christian Universalism Refuted

Some of the universal salvation arguments put forward by scholars like Talbott and “MacDonald” (Robin Parry) are quite clever at dodging opposing proof texts.  It's not hard to see how people find their arguments so winsome.

You’re probably thinking, “But what about all those passages that speak of hell as eternal?”  Talbott and Parry would simply retort that they believe hell is eternal in a sense.  They believe that given an eternity everyone in hell would eventually come to regret their rebellion and wish for reconciliation with God.

Since God is love, isn’t it safe to assume He will grant repentant believers in hell their reconciliation? My answer is no and my reason is based in part on a weird text which almost always gets ignored.

Maybe the weirdest argument against Universalism in exegetical history:

An Egyptian deity with iconographic affinities with some the divinities
in Biblical apocalyptic texts
We need not speculate about how God might react in a situation in which a sinner in hell entreats God for forgiveness because the Bible itself records a case in which the ashamed enemies of God in hell entreat God’s forgiveness.

II Peter 2.1-10 and (Peter’s source) Jude 5-7 endorse the story from 1 Enoch about God’s imprisonment of angelic beings who slept with the daughters of men.  Jude quotes and mentions the book of Enoch by name in v.14.  I will not elaborate all the reasons these texts can only be faithfully interpreted as references to the Enoch event but will name two. [1]

Realizing that Peter has this worldview in mind explains one text that evangelicals are usually creeped out by and obfuscate: 1 Peter 3:14-22.  This passage pictures Jesus descending to the spirits in prison and preaching their defeat.  Peter is using a direct allusion to 1 Enoch in which the Watchers were imprisoned in the underword (ταρταρώσας.)

The author of Enoch gives a first person account of a visit he paid to these beings and how they were crying out for forgiveness.[2] Enoch records their petition to be released from their anguish and brings it before God. God emphatically denies it. Starting in chapter 14, Enoch goes and preaches to the Watchers their eternal defeat and imprisonment.[3]

It doesn't matter that I am quoting a non-inspired text.  It's obvious from Peter’s other mentions of the Enoch event in conjunction with the flood, the destruction of Sodom, and the rescue of Lot that he considers this idea in Enoch to be historical (II Peter 2:4-9).

The assumed historicity of these events is demanded because Peter lists them in defense of his argument in 2:3 that God’s “condemnation of wickedness is not idle.” Peter relates the story of Enoch’s preaching to the spirits imprisoned with Jesus’ resurrection and how, by being raised, Jesus was declaring also the defeat and eternal imprisonment of God’s enemies. 

So there exists divine beings condemned to eternal torment for their sins. They have entreated God for forgiveness and God has denied their request.  When Jesus defeated death, He (figuratively or literally) was declaring to them their eternal imprisonment in a like manner.

It is unwarranted to assume that God will simply free people from hell if they come to desire forgiveness.  In the only Biblical case in which we can observe God’s attitude in this exact situation, Peter implies He will not.  Notice Enoch’s absolute statements that their torment will be eternal and unending; that is the way ancient Jews parsed things.

Jude reflects his source Enoch when he speaks of their “eternal chains” (v.4).  Second-Temple Jews apparently didn’t have some mental allegiance blocking them from these types of affirmations about God.  The author is emphatic in his connection of this to the unsaved:  “Just as was true of those angels who did not keep their position…They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.” (Jude 1:7)


1) a) The Greek word translated “hell” in II Peter is not the expected Hades but the anomalous ταρταρώσας.  In almost every case this word appears it is in reference to the Greek myths about the fall of the Titians.  Jews used this special term which discussing the Watchers because they noticed its parallels with the Titan giants (for example, Josephus Ant. 1.73).  Peter has certainly borrowed his use of the word ταρταρώσας from Enoch.

b) In Jude 6-7 we know for grammatical reasons that Jude is ascribing sexual sin to the angels (note also, his mentioning of this in the context of Noah). The antecedent of τούτοις (masculine) should not be taken as “cites” πόλεις (feminine) in that passage because it would imply gender confusion.

2) 1 Enoch 13:3-6:
Then I went and spoke to them all together, and they were all afraid, and fear and trembling seized them. And they besought me to draw up a petition for them that they might find forgiveness, and to read their petition in the presence of the Lord of heaven. For from thenceforward they could not speak (with Him) nor lift up their eyes to heaven for shame of their sins for which they had been condemned.

3)   (v. 4-5)

I wrote out your petition, and in my vision it appeared thus, that your petition will not be granted unto you throughout all the days of eternity, and that judgment has been finally passed upon you: yea (your petition) will not be granted unto you. And from henceforth you shall not ascend into heaven unto all eternity.


  1. it doesn't occur to you that any deity who would create hell, only to send people there for a few minutes, to say nothing of eternity, is a psychotic monster? if you think god sent the unconverted Jews who died in Auschwitz to hell is a good thing, how can you condemn Auschwitz? (please tell you do condemn Auschwitz)

    1. Hell doesn't bother me because I'm on the other side of having taken a serious peek at my own sin. I'm not parroting dogma in this instance but reporting my intuitions gained from personal introspection. I find it much more unreasonable that God should care to save anyone, especially a cockroach like myself.

      Isn't it circular logic to presuppose your moral intuitions are veridical in order to critique the morality of a book which teaches your moral intuitions are severely damaged. If the Bible is speaking truth when it says your thoughts and heart are contorted wouldn't you *expect* it to offend your moral sensibilities regularly? If everything in its morality felt agreeable to you then you would know it isn't true in its assessment of humanity.

      Luke 13:
      There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

      As for Auschwitz, Biblical theology is filled with instances of God using wicked men to judge other wicked men. The actions of neither party is left uncondemned.

    2. The idea of eternal punishment is probably not the earliest idea held by the Israelites. They favored the view that death was the end and everyone went to the land of shades and shadows, sheol, except for a few heroes, like Enoch and Elijah. Kind of like the ancient Mesopotamian and ancient Greek views of the afterlife. The Persians were the ones who proposed a hellish place of punishment, though I am not sure even the Persian idea of punishments in the afterlife was eternal and without hope. After the Persians defeated the Babylonians and sent the Israelite exiles back home Isaiah declared the Persian king Cyrus to be a messiah, an anointed one of God, the only non-Hebrew messiah mentioned in the Bible. Then there's the inter-testamental period when Daniel, Enoch and other works were composed, and the authors during the inter-testamental period favored the view of eternal punishment. They also began naming both demons and angels in earnest. The New Testament writers, like the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls before them, inherited those inter-testamental notions. The idea of personal salvation and more people going to heaven (than just a few heroes) took hold, and the Sadducees with their "old time religion" idea of Sheol were fighting a losing battle against the Pharisees, and the apocalyptic sects like those that composed the Dead Sea Scrolls, who all agreed in eternal rewards and eternal punishments. Jesus and early Christians inherited that wave of new ideas and rode it for all they were worth.

      You should read a little book by Dalton, titled, Salvation and Damnation, which puts matters into pretty good perspective.

      My own view is that anyone seeking followers in the first century in Palestine would have gone with the idea of eternal rewards and punishments. Jesus was such a first century person. He went with it. You can call it the accommodation argument if you like. But in my opinion citing Jesus' words on hell does not prove that those are literally God's eternal plans any more than the words of Jesus prove that a literal Adam and Eve existed or that the tale of Jonah is historical.

      Second, It does not make rational or moral sense to me to lock people out of the wedding party or to cast them into a lake of fire after they have spent just a few decades out of eternity in a "fallen" cosmos. This "fallen" cosmos is everyone's first experience, a land of suffering, hardships, ignorance, miscommunication. And moreover, most people simply die in this cosmos. Half or more zygotes don't get born. That's a natural fact. And up till the mid-1700s when Buffon was taking notes, only about half of all children born reached the age of eight before dying. If those people go to heaven, then more than half of heaven will be filled with people who did nothing but die early in life to get there. Makes you wonder why Christians don't say yes to abortion itself if they believe that dying early ensures eternal heavenly bliss, and if you believe that getting to heaven is the most important thing.

    3. I think you are generally correct about the articulation of the doctrine through time, although, dating the Persian doctrines is recondite. It's worth pointing out that the Mesopotamian and Canaanite doctrines of that afterlife were very pessimistic. This is still far from us moderns. In ancient religions like Gilgamesh's account or the Homeric description everyone goes to a dismal hell with almost no exceptions. Enkidu's account is depressing and Achilles complains he would rather be a peasant on earth than king in the place. We assume everyone should go to heaven. They assumed everyone would go to hell. I find this chasm of assumptions between ancient and modern people quaint, and the modern position is so convenient I'm more skeptical of it.

      As for Jesus, I'm glad to concede scientific condescension in his teaching, but I've never been able to give into the idea that he would be theologically wrong or monkey around with theology. If I started tossing out what I don't find dulce in his theology or even the doctrines he culturally inherited, I wouldn't have much Bible left. I need the Bible to offend me every once in a while to assure me I really am separated by God by a mental mire of sin and that this gospel stuff isn't all just wish projection.

      Would you be willing to explain how you parse what theology in Jesus' teaching is literally true and what is rejectable? (Sorry, that's probably a bad description of your position. I'm trying.)

  2. If you understand time and eternity, perhaps you should pursue a career in theoretical physics. Seriously, I concur with you that obedience is vital. And how will we find the power to head and do without the work of God in the Anointed on our behalf and in us? Without hell, a reality not hard to imagine in our day of fear, human destruction, and global catastrophe, there would have been no work for God to accomplish, no hour that the Anointed could refer to.

    Still, is his work sufficient? Is it come to an end? Is death abolished? Or is it incomplete? God forbid! For the Scripture says, then I will be complete. (Psalm 19:14)
    Likewise from presumptions keep your servant back, that they may not govern in me. Then I will be complete.
    And I will be innocent of abundant transgression.
    Consider that there are two speaking in this verse: The I who is complete is the Anointed. The I who am innocent is ourselves in the Anointed. (And by all means, keep us from presumptions whether universal or not!)

    1. alas - for head read hear and marvel on the gift of language