A Universalist’s Response to “Exposing Universalism” by James B. De Young
In previous sessions we have seen the universality of God’s restoration, having reconciled all unto Himself by the blood of the cross of Christ. We saw that all who sinned, died and were condemned in Adam are made alive, justified and reunited to God in Christ – the Last Adam.
Another term which is universally applied to all of mankind in Scripture is “salvation.” Jesus is the “Savior of the world” (Jn 4:42). This was the declaration made by the Samaritans after listening to Jesus’ own words. The Samaritans understood what many fail to see to this very day. The Jews of that time thought that the Messiah would only be the Savior of Israel. Likewise, many within the Church today believe He is only the Savior of the Church - the elect firstfruits of this age. But these despised Samaritans seem to have been the first to really understand that Jesus is “indeed” the Savior of the whole world and not just the elect.
In spite of so many clear declarations of Scripture concerning the salvation of the whole world, Traditionalists limit salvation so as to only include those who are privileged to hear, perceive and respond to the gospel in this age. In order to do this, they must limit the words “all” and “world” every time they are used in reference to Christ’s work on the cross. De Young says concerning the word “all” in these contexts: “‘all’ really means ‘many’ or ‘all who believe’” (p.186). However, we have already seen that “all” always means “all” unless there is a qualifying statement in the context which limits “all.” For example, when Jesus said, “all who are weary and burdened,” or “all who are in the house” it is clearly limited to all within a subgroup of humanity. But in the absence of such limiting categorizations within the immediate context we normally understand that “all” means “all without exception.” However, the passages we are considering concerning the universal scope of Christ’s work upon the cross are so emphatically and specifically inclusive of “all” in the absolute sense of the word as to make any attempt to limit “all” to “some” irrational. Rather than interpreting the text, we end up manipulating the text, thereby invalidating the Scriptures in order to maintain our traditions.
In the same manner that he attempts to limit “all” to only mean “some” when referring to the scope of Christ’s redemptive work on the cross, De Young also seems to limit the term “world” in such a way as to only include those who believe and receive Christ in this life. He says:
“He gave himself in Christ, his unique Son, to reconcile the world to himself; and this purpose is accomplished for the ‘world’ that will believe and receive Christ.” p.239 (emphasis mine)
Here, commenting on 2Corinthians 5:18-21, he seeks to limit the reconciliation accomplished for the “world” so as to only include “the ‘world’ that will believe.” However, in the context it is clear that the reconciliation was accomplished for the whole world and not merely those who are privileged to hear and believe the gospel in this life. We see that the whole world was reconciled unto God at the cross and we as believers are only a subgroup of the world who have been called out and commissioned to make the good news of God’s accomplished reconciliatory work known to the rest of the world, calling upon all to correspond to God’s reconciliation by becoming reconciled unto God in their hearts.
While it is true that reconciliation will not be fully realized until all are reconciled unto God in their hearts, God has sworn by Himself that every knee will bow and every tongue will confess Jesus as Lord and will swear saying, “Surely in the Lord I have righteousness and strength.” (Phil 2:10-11; Isa 45:24). While not all have yet responded, Christ remains the propitiatory sacrifice which opened the way of reconciliation – not only for our sins (elect believers of this age) but for the sins of the “whole world” (1John 2:2). This is reiterated for us by Paul in no uncertain terms in 1Timothy 4:9-11 where he says:
“This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance. 10 For to this end we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe (pistôn “believers”). 11 These things command and teach.” (1Tim 4:9-11)
This is a very difficult verse for Partialists who insist that only the elect believers of this age will ever be saved. It clearly says that, although believers are saved in a special sense, God will nevertheless save all men and not just those who believe in this age.
In what sense is the salvation of those who are believers in this life special as compared with the rest? In every way! In the first place they have the privilege of being the firstfruits, taking part in the first resurrection which occurs at the Second Coming of Christ (Rev 20:5-6). They will then reign with Christ over the sheep of the nations for 1,000 years while the goats, who were not believers and did not aid Christ’s brethren in tribulation, must undergo eonian correction (kolasin aionion) in eonian fire (pur aionion) in hades along with the rest of the unbelieving dead (Matt 25:41,46).
When the thousand years are ended, death and hades will give up the dead for judgment and those not found written in the book of life at that time will be cast into the purifying Lake of Fire in order to undergo the second death which believers already submitted themselves to in life (John 12:25; Rev 2:11). The Lake of Fire, rightly understood, is not a literal lake of fire but rather the Refiner’s crucible. I explain this in more detail in my blog: “Sulfur, Salt and the Refiner’s Fire.” They will be judged each one “according to their works” receiving “their part” in the Lake of Fire. They will not get out “until” they have fulfilled their part. Some will receive “few lashes” and others “many lashes” but no one will receive eternal lashes (Luke 12:47-48). The end of the Lord is restoration – not eternal torture.
Therefore, while God finally saves all, blessed are those who undergo the second death to self and the flesh in this life and have part in the first resurrection. While it is true that all will ultimately be saved, who in their right mind would choose to forfeit the first resurrection, having to undergo eonian correction and the second death before finally being restored sometime after the age to come or the Millennium? God is the Savior of all men, but especially of believers.
De Young poses a couple of options to accepting this passage at face value. First, He attempts to argue that the word “especially” could be rendered as “namely” or “I mean,” thereby presenting Paul as pausing mid-sentence to clarify that he didn’t really mean to say that absolutely “all” would be saved but only those who believe. He says:
“the word for ‘especially’ may be better rendered ‘namely, I mean’; and this meaning fits with all its other occurrences in the Pastoral Epistles. Hence, the verse would read: the Savior of all people, namely of those who believe.’” p.172 (emphasis mine)
However, De Young is here attempting to force a meaning upon the word “especially” (Gr. malista) which is foreign to the real meaning of the word. The word malista is the superlative of mala which means “very.” For this reason, no Greek lexicon presents “namely” or “I mean” as alternate meanings for malista, since such a meaning is completely distinct.
Secondly, it is not true that “namely” or “I mean” can be made to fit the other occurrences of the word in Paul’s epistles or in any other of its occurrences in the New Testament. The word appears 12 times in the New Testament and 9 times in Paul’s epistles. In every instance it is obvious that the reading “namely” or “I mean” would alter the intended meaning. Here are just a few examples:
“As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially (“I mean?”) unto them who are of the household of faith.” (Gal 6:10)
- Clearly, he means “all men” but “especially” believers and not “namely,” since that would exclude “all men” except for believers.
“All the saints greet you, but especially (“I mean?”) those who are of Caesar's household.” (Phil 4:22)
- Why would he bother to say “all the saints” if he only meant those in one household?
“no longer as a slave but more than a slave — a beloved brother, especially (“I mean?”) to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.” (Philem 16)
- Was Onesimus, who was Philemon’s runaway slave, returning to Philemon, a beloved brother only to Paul and not to Philemon, or to both but especially to Paul, since he introduced him to the Lord in prison?
While one may be able to insert “I mean” instead of “especially” in some of the passages where malista occurs, it cannot be done without changing the intended meaning. De Young seems to recognize this and in a desperate attempt to make the passage say something less than the salvation of all, says:
“Alternately, the word ‘Savior’ may refer, not to personal salvation in a redemptive sense, but to Jesus Christ as the Lord of all, by forceful confession, parallel to Philippians 2:10,11.” p.215 (emphasis mine)
It should be obvious that He is not the “Savior” of someone whom He does not save but rather forces to call Him Savior before being cast away from His presence forever. And neither does Philippians 2:10-11 refer to a forced confession since Paul says that no one can call Jesus Lord except by the Holy Spirit (1Cor 12:3). Will the Holy Spirit enable the condemned to confess Him as Lord only to cast them away forever? Wouldn’t the revelation that Jesus is Lord and Savior result in one’s confession unto salvation?
That Paul meant to say that God was the Savior of all men, especially of believers rather than exclusively of believers is also made clear by Paul’s earlier reference to the universal scope of salvation in chapter two of the same epistle. He said:
“who desires all men to be saved and to come to the 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 a ransom FOR ALL, to be testified in due time.” (1Tim 2:4-6)
I establish in my book, “The Triumph of Mercy,” that God’s will for the salvation of all mankind referred to here is not merely a wish or a desire but is rather a determinative will which ultimately cannot be frustrated. Also, we see that, to that end, Jesus gave Himself a ransom for all, albeit not testified to and applied to all at once but to each individual in due time. At present we do “not yet” see all mankind as redeemed, but in “due time” we will all understand that all were redeemed at the cross. De Young’s statement, “God’s redemptive or salvific work must be limited to those who receive Christ” (p.186), will one day be shown to be only a half-truth, because all shall one day receive Him in the day of their visitation.
Another universal salvation passage which Traditionalists haven’t been able to reconcile with their belief that most will be eternally lost is John 12:32. Jesus said:
“And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.” (John 12:32)
There are several ways in which Traditionalists attempt to avoid the obvious conclusion of this verse. Here, the Calvinist translators for the New King James Version added the word “peoples” to “all,” enabling them to say that Jesus only meant that He would effectually draw some from all peoples or people groups unto Himself. The King James Version only adds “men,” to “all,” which is preferable since it would include all mankind, resulting in all being reunited in Christ in the end, in the dispensation of the fulness of the times (Eph 1:10). However, since this would imply universal salvation, many Traditionalists seek to diminish the efficacy of Christ’s drawing power.
De Young argues that the word “draw” (helkô) is not an effectual drawing but merely “the pull on a person’s inner life” (p.167) which can be resisted, and indeed, according to Traditionalists, will be successfully resisted by most until they die, at which time His drawing ministry forever ceases.
However, defining helkô as merely a resistible pull on one’s inner life fails to capture the true significance of the word. All of the eight occurrences of the word helkô in the New Testament speak of something or someone being drawn by a force greater than their/its ability to resist. Here are a few examples:
“Simon Peter went up and dragged the net to land, full of large fish, one hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not broken.” (John 21:11)
“… they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities.” (Acts 16:19)
“…. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts?” (James 2:6)
“Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest's servant, and cut off his right ear.” (John 18:10)
In every instance the force which is drawing is greater than the resistance of the person or object being drawn. There is one other instance where helkô is used referring to people who are seen to be drawn in an effectual and irresistible way, clearly resulting in salvation. Jesus said:
“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.45 …Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.” (John 6:44,45)
Most would understand this to be an effectual drawing or irresistible grace which without fail results in salvation since all who are drawn come to Him and will be raised up at the last day. Yet this is the same word helkô used to speak of Christ drawing all unto Himself in John 12:32. All of mankind are equally lost and in need of God’s effectual drawing and irresistible grace in order to be saved. And in His time God will remove the veil covering all people and not merely the elect of this age (Isa 25:6-8).
Jesus, as the Good Shepherd, came to seek out and save all those who are lost (Luke 19:10). Will Christ somehow settle for finding and saving only some of the lost? Jesus is very emphatic in stating that He will continue seeking until he has found the very last lost sheep:
“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?” (Luke 15:4)
In spite of this clear declaration that Jesus will continue seeking and saving until He finds the last lost sheep, De Young denies that Jesus actually meant that He would persist in seeking the lost until all are in the fold. He says:
“The idea…that the Seeker continues to seek until he finds… goes beyond the parable which only expresses the Lord’s intent or purpose.” p.181 (emphasis mine)
Does he mean to say by this that Christ will somehow not be able to accomplish His intent and purpose to find and save every lost sheep? I see in Jesus’ words a determination to continue seeking and saving until all have been drawn unto Himself and the last lost soul has been saved, confessing Him as Lord.
Jesus said that the thief of the sheep comes to rob, kill and destroy His sheep, but He came that His sheep might have life – a life that “super-abounds” (perissos) (John 10:10). This corresponds with Romans 5:15-21 where Paul uses cognates of the same word: (perisseuo, “super-abound” and huperperisseuo “super, super-abound), to describe the exceeding greatness of the universal reversal to that which was lost in Adam through the seduction of Satan - the thief of the sheep. In and through Christ - the Last Adam and the Good Shepherd, all who were lost in Adam will in the end be found and restored safe in His fold.
While Christ’s sheep of this age only consist of the elect firstfruits, Jesus said that He had other sheep who were not yet of His fold:
“And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.” (John 10:16)
Once the Good Shepherd has sought and found the last lost sheep, there will only be one flock because Jesus will have drawn all mankind unto Himself! This refers to “the residue of men” or “the rest of mankind” who will be reunited in Christ in the dispensation of the fullness of the times or the times of the restoration of all, which goes beyond what we are seeing in this present age, and begins when the Deliverer comes out of Zion and restores Israel:
“Now if their (Israel’s) fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness!... 15 For if their (Israel’s) being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?” (Rom 11:12,15)
“After this I will return and will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will set it up; 17 So that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, says the Lord who does all these things. 18 Known to God from eternity are all His works.” (Acts 15:16-18)
If Israel’s fall is bringing about the fullness of the elect Gentiles of this present age, how much more, says Paul, will their full restitution bring salvation to the rest of the Gentiles? Acts 15 prophecies of this time when Christ will return, and worship will be restored in Jerusalem “so that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord even all the Gentiles who are called by His Name.” And how many will be called by His name in the end? All – absolutely all will turn to the Lord in those days, as the Psalmist declares:
“All the ends of the world shall remember and turn to the Lord, and ALL THE FAMILIES of the nations shall worship before You.” (Psalm 22:27)
In Conclusion, while it must be emphasized that there is only one way back to the Father and there is only one name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (John 14:6; Acts 4:12), in the end all will have been drawn unto Christ, confessing Him as Lord. De Young misrepresents Biblical Universalism when he generalizes, saying: “By its very definition, ‘universalism’ reaches beyond any one way of salvation” p.251. This is not true. Conservative Evangelical Universalists firmly believe that Jesus is the only way. But they also believe that Jesus will successfully draw all unto Himself and will find and save even the last solitary lost sheep. We believe that Jesus will successfully accomplish what He came to do – He is truly the Savior of the world.
De Young asks: “Why is there such an infinite cost requiring the death of the incarnate Son if in the end all reach heaven anyway?” p.247. The answer to this question should be obvious. If He hadn’t given His life a ransom for all, taking away the sins of the world, not even the greatest saint could ever reach heaven, since we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God. But if He made propitiation for the whole world, and He is mighty to save, then why wouldn’t He seek out and save all?
De Young assumes that Jesus would eternally exclude some. While I consider the texts which seem to exclude some in my book, “The Triumph of Mercy,” and space doesn’t allow me enter into detail in this blog, I would like to consider just one more statement made by De Young. He mentions what he calls “an out group” in Matthew 7:21 which speaks of many who will be initially excluded from the kingdom, and then says:
“Thus universalism is more inclusive than Jesus is for he would exclude the Pharisees but universalism would include them.” p. 77
While exclusion from the kingdom is the subject of another session, the exclusion cannot be eternal since Jesus elsewhere indicates that even the Pharisees, who are initially excluded from the kingdom, will eventually enter it. Jesus said to them:
“Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God BEFORE YOU. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him; but tax collectors and harlots believed him; and when you saw it, you did not afterward relent and believe him.” (Matt 21:31-32)
Jesus here tells the Pharisees that the tax collectors and harlots will precede them into the kingdom of God. The word “before” is proago, which is defined in Strong’s as, “to precede in place or time.” Would Jesus tell the Pharisees that the tax collectors and harlots would enter the kingdom “before them” if in reality they would never enter into the kingdom of God at all? Is Jesus only the Savior of those who, like the tax collectors and harlots, believe within their lifetime, or is He the Savior of all, albeit especially of believers? He is indeed the Savior of the whole world, and in due time all will look to Him and be saved! (Isa 45:22).