March 7, 2011 — 10:46

Author: Keith DeRose  Category: Afterlife  Comments: 54

AIRLINE OFFICIAL: All the passengers survived the crash.
REPORTER: Do you mean that all of the passengers survived in the “all without exception” sense of ‘all’, or in the “a great many” or “all without distinction” sense?
A: All I meant was that all of them survived in one of those last two senses you mention. I didn’t mean they all survived in the “all without exception” sense of ‘all’. And unfortunately, several passengers did die.
R: Oh.
RELATIVE: I was so excited when I heard on the news that “all the passengers had survived”! “Henry’s alive!” I called out. Imagine my disappointment when I learned that the news report was using the “a great many” / “all without distinction” sense of ‘all’, and that in fact several passengers had died! Now I’m left wondering about poor Henry.
A: I wonder how the students in our town’s high school did on the big state test? How did the underclassmen do? How did the seniors do? I can’t wait to find out!
B: I was just at the high school and heard the news on that: All the students passed the test.
A: Really? Even that Johnny kid from down the block? I wouldn’t have thought he could possibly pass.
B: He did fail.
A: But didn’t you say that all the students passed?
B: I meant that all passed in the “a great many” / “‘all’ without distinction” sense of ‘all’. I didn’t mean that each and every one of them passed.
A: Oh.
There are many ways by which non-universalists try to evade the universalist implications of the New Testament passages typically cited as teaching universalism (like those presented in section 2 of my on-line defense of universalism). Sadly, one of the most common is to claim that ‘all’ (and its Greek equivalent) does not always mean “all without exception”, but has some other, weaker sense, and to urge that the passages are only saying that all will be saved in one of these weaker senses of “all”…

(Other evasive maneuvers are (a) to point out (correctly) that phrases like “all Ns” or “all the Ns” are to be understood as being about a contextually limited domain of Ns, and so needn’t be about all the Ns in the universe, and then to urge (and here’s where I think these would-be evaders go wrong) that the seemingly universalist statements in the New Testament are to be understood as asserting only that all (without exception) of the people *in some contextually limited domain* that falls short of encompassing all humans on our planet will be saved, or (b) to claim that the statements in question are to be understood as hyperbolic. Neither of these is very promising, in my opinion, but I bring them up here just to say that both of them are to be distinguished from the evasive maneuver that I’m currently discussing.)
What are these alleged weaker senses of ‘all’? Sometimes it is alleged that ‘all’ can mean something like “a great many”. Even more often (at least in my experience), it’s claimed that ‘all’ has both an “all without exception” and an “all without distinction” sense, and that the universalist passages are to be read in the latter, weaker way. I’m not entirely clear about what that “all without distinction” sense is supposed to be – I think that varies a bit from evader to evader. But some seem to hold that when used in this way, ‘all’ means something like “some from each group” (and a common suggestion for the universalist passages is that they should be understood as saying that some from each nation will be saved, another suggestion is that the relevant groups here are just Jews vs. Gentiles). For others, it seems to mean something a bit more: Not just that some from each group will be saved, but also that every person, regardless of which group she’s in, has a chance. And there are other alleged weak senses of ‘all’ one will hear about in attempts to evade the universalist passages. While for me, these are mostly attempts I encounter in discussion (often on-line discussion), here’s one quick example from the published work of a very serious scholar (which, for all I know, may be the source of the comments I often hear in discussion): About Romans 11:32, the end of which he renders, “that he may have mercy upon all”, F.F. Bruce writes: “That is, on all without distinction rather than all without exception” (The Letter of Paul to the Romans: An Introduction and Commentary, Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1985; p. 211).
But ‘all’ doesn’t have any of these alleged weak senses! If it did, what would block the examples I give at the top of this post? I take it as fairly obvious that those are outrageous misuses of ‘all’, and we surely don’t want to plunk the universalist passages into the same category. (In addition to the above cases, consider my example of slippery political character, in the second paragraph of section 3 of my on-line defense of universalism.) We can construe the above situations such that it would be significant news that a great many passengers survived, and that a great many of the students passed, or that some passengers or students from each of the contextually relevant groups of passengers/students (domestic vs. international passengers, freshmen/sophomores/juniors/seniors, perhaps) survived/passed. Thus, the users of ‘all’ in the above would be presenting relevant and significant news if they were using ‘all’ in the alleged weak sense. But these uses are still clearly wrong. So if ‘all’ has these weaker senses, why can’t it seem to mean any of them in these examples, where they would allow the speaker to be presenting important and conversationally relevant information?
“It’s all about context!”, I’ll be told (as I know from a great deal of experience). I’m neglecting the importance of context to meaning, I’m often lectured. Well, look, nobody has to sell me on the importance of context to meaning. The problem is, there doesn’t seem to be any feature of the context of the New Testament passages in question that can come to the rescue of our would-be evaders here, at least that I can see. Sadly, most of those who appeal to context at this point don’t have anything specific in mind in terms of what features of the context of the universalist passages are relevant here and how they are operating on the meaning of claims being made. They seem surprised to be asked just how they think differences in context are operating here. Bare appeals to context seem to be mostly used as a generic, get-out-of-trouble-free card. But some have something to say at this point, and the best story I’ve been able to discern here is that the universalist passages occur in contexts where a division people into various groups is contextually very salient. It can then be claimed that the “all without distinction” sense of ‘all’ makes sense where there is such a salient division in place, and not where there is no such salient division of the Ns into relevant categories.
Now, one may wonder whether a division of people into groups really is so contextually salient in the universalist passages. But it really doesn’t matter. Because, look, you can make such a division of passengers or students into groups as contextually salient as you want in the above dialogues (and I started doing that a bit by putting some talk of underclassmen vs. seniors in the dialogue about the students) and it just doesn’t matter — at all: those are still outrageous misuses of ‘all’, as I trust all will still be able sense once we’ve made the relevant changes to the dialogues. That context-sensitive dog just won’t hunt.
Now, this has all been about ‘all’ in English. But my sources (and they’re very good!) tell me the Greek is like the English in the relevant ways, so far as they can see. And also those who have tried these evasive maneuvers have seemed to think they’re valid in English as well as in New Testament Greek. So, absent some reason to think these evaders are more discerning here about Greek than they are about English, I remain skeptical.

  • I’m not sure you can dismiss the contextual issue so lightly, at least for English; all the contexts provided in your dialogues are cases where there is a clear and precise contrastive expectation: precisely what everyone wants to know in all three cases is whether there are any exceptions, so using ‘all’ in a non-exceptive sense would in such a context be missing the point entirely.
    But there are at least dialects of English in which ‘all’ can be used even where the contrast is left vague or open. My first thought on reading the argument was that it was a very Yankee argument to make: no one could seriously make it who was exposed on a regularly basis to the distinction between “y’all” and “all y’all,” a distinction that often carries over, albeit fuzzily (for lack of a clear convention of representation), into uses of “all” not involving the second person pronoun. Saying “All y’all will be rewarded” would be non-exceptive but “Y’all will be rewarded” permits (although it doesn’t guarantee) exceptions, simply requiring that it will be true of enough of the group that one can regard it as a feature of the group overall. That certain bastions in the South are not the only place this occurs is suggested by common expressions like “Each and every one” or “All and each,” both of which would be otiose if exceptive uses of the corresponding expressions never actually occurred.

    March 7, 2011 — 11:34
  • all the contexts provided in your dialogues are cases where there is a clear and precise contrastive expectation: precisely what everyone wants to know in all three cases is whether there are any exceptions,
    I don’t think this is going to work, Brandon. I don’t see why one would have to read the speakers’ interests/expectations in my examples the way you are (and any more than one would take Paul’s [universalist passages tend to be Pauline] or the reader’s interests in salvation to be for everyone). But we don’t have to hash this out over the examples as they stand. Just alter the context of the ‘all’ statement. Make it as clear and as explicit as you want that the interest is *not* in whether there are any exceptions at all, but only in something weaker. The result, I think, is *still* an outrageous misuse of ‘all’:
    A1: I wonder how the students in our town’s high school did on the big state test? As you know, I, like you, don’t really care for the students, so I generally don’t care how well they did [and certainly don’t care one way or the other whether every single one of them passed]. But if quite a few of them passed, and at least some from each class passed — some freshmen, some sophmores, some juniors, and some seniors — then I win my bet with Claire, as you know. So I wonder: How did the freshmen do, the sophmores, the juniors, the seniors? I can’t wait to find out!
    B2: I was just at the high school and looked over the results. All the students passed the test.
    A3: Wow. All of them? I never would have expected that Johnny kid from down the block to pass!
    B4: He did fail.
    A5: But didn’t you say that all the students passed?
    B6: I meant that all passed in the “a great many” / “‘all’ without distinction” sense of ‘all’ — the sense that you made so salient with your opening remark. I certainly didn’t mean that each and every one of them passed. Why would you even think that?
    A7: Oh.
    (I put part of A’s opening line in brackets, so you can consider the example with and also w/o that part. It really makes it explicit that there is no interest here in whether each & every student passed, but some might worry that it makes the each & every sense salient. Try the example either way. Try it other ways. What we need for the form of evasion under consideration to have a chance is one where the use of ‘all’ seems ok in context.)
    Here the key ‘all’ statement in B2 occurs in a context, set by A1, where it’s about as clear as one can make it that the interests/expectations are not as you allege. Still, that seems an outrageous misuse of ‘all’. At least to this Yankee. (Though I did do some of my growing up in Georgia & can still “all y’all” pretty well.) But I doubt this is gonna fly in Dixie, either.

    March 7, 2011 — 12:30
  • I fully agree that “all is all,” but we can read all differently without compromising the integrity of the word. It is my understanding that “all” is on the other side of having met the condition of belief. That is, no one will be denied if he seeks; salvation is sufficient to accommodate all who will come. But all will not come.
    John 1:12 clarifies this nicely:
    “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”
    Here we see the word all used again, but insofar as it relates to the capacity to accept believers. All who believe will be embraced.
    At a party, there is enough cake for all. That does not mean all will, in fact, eat cake.

    March 7, 2011 — 13:41
  • Keith DeRose

    Benjamin: I don’t see how your suggestion helps with the universalist passages. They don’t say “all who seek” or “all who come”. I realize you must see this, but I guess I should just say I don’t see how anything you suggest in your first paragraph really helps with those passages. John 1:12 is great, but I don’t see that it “clarifies” the alleged universalist passages in a non-universalist direction. First, it states a sufficient condition for something very good (perhaps salvation), without (at least explicitly) laying down any necessary conditions. But even if you take a necessary condition to be somehow suggested, the universalist who, like me, accepts “fervent exclusivism” would still have no problem at all (at least that I can see) with that passage: We think you do have to believe/accept to be saved. It’s a requirement. Believing/coming *is* a necessary condition, according us. So we’re good with the likes of John 1:12, even taking a very broad view of what might be suggested by it. We also believe, based on the universalist passages, that all will be saved. We accept them all. We’re very accepting folk.
    (See my Appendix on Free Will & Universalism — Appendix B of my on-line defense [ http://pantheon.yale.edu/~kd47/univ.htm#B ] — for my use of “exclusivism”, “strong exclusivism”, and “fervent exclusivism”. I guess the points I make above could be made as well by the strong exclusivist universalist who doesn’t go all the way to fervent exclusivism. But perhaps more importantly, see section 6 “Universalism and Strong Exclusivism [ http://pantheon.yale.edu/~kd47/univ.htm#6. ]) for how one can put universalism together with strong exclusivism (which requires explicit acceptance for salvation) and thereby do right by both the universalist and the exclusivist passages in the NT.)

    March 7, 2011 — 14:04
  • This analogy *may* help (but, then again, maybe not!). Suppose I’ve said, and you’ve accepted, that to pass a test, Ms. Johnson’s students have to score at least 65. That requirement is still hanging very saliently in the coversational air when I state, “All Ms. Johnson’s students passed.” I take it (and I assume all will sense that this is right) that the conclusion to draw, supposing I’m being truthful, is that all the students scored at least 65 and passed. It would be a mistake (as I’m assuming all will sense here) to reason: “Well, when he said they all passed, he was speaking very saliently against a backdrop in which it was accepted that only those who score at least 65 pass. That nicely clarifies his statement that ‘all passed’! I should interpret him as only saying that all those who scored at least 65 passed.” However clear & salient it may be that only those who believe/accept/whatever are saved, that doesn’t mean we should understand the alleged universalist passages in the weak way you seem to be suggesting.

    March 7, 2011 — 14:32
  • Here’s a way of defending a non-universalist reading of the ‘all’ passages:
    1) The bible does not contradict itself and all (no exception sense) of its teachings are correct.
    2) Taking the Bible as a whole, the more consistent teaching seems to be that there is a “remnant” or that not everyone is saved.
    3) Therefore, something about the context or meaning of ‘all’ must explain why these uses of ‘all’ were appropriate without meaning that there no exceptions.
    I’m guessing that something like the above is motivating brute appeals to context. I’m inclined to think if you endorse 1, both universalists and non-universalists have to explain away certain passages.

    March 7, 2011 — 17:43
  • Keith,
    I don’t see how any of your suggested changes make any difference whatsoever to the main implicatures here: if I ask how well people are doing, giving me an ambiguous answer that I could in context take to be stronger than you really mean it is not clear communication: the question itself constrains how much tolerance for exceptions can be in whatever I happen to say. And that’s all you’re really building on here: in certain contexts, using ‘all’ in an exception-permissive way will be more ambiguous than anyone really expects. Now this still leaves open the universalist argument as a possibility — it could well be that all the relevant cases are cases like this. But it does not warrant general claims about English, and in particular we cannot conclude from it that ‘all’ is always used in English in such a way as not to allow exceptions.
    As I mentioned elsewhere, there are clear cases of ‘all’ in at least some dialects that are much more permissive than you are suggesting; and common expressions like “each and every” or “one and all” and the like show that as a matter of practice people aren’t always confident that words like “all” and “every” will be taken as exceptionless. That would be strange if they could, in fact, be counted on to be exceptionless.
    Moreover, things are slippery in another way. Since what counts as ‘all’ is domain-specific, there are trivial cases where we use the term ‘all’ in contexts explicitly allowing exceptions: for instance:
    A: “I want to set Tommy aside for the moment, because he’s an unusual case.”
    B: “OK. Given that, how are your students doing?”
    A: “My students are all doing exceptionally well.”
    Now this is naturally taken as an exceptionless ‘all’; but it is so because the domain has been deliberately rigged around the exceptions. Now compare:
    A: “My students are all doing exceptionally well.”
    B: “Even Tommy?”
    A: “Well, you can’t really count him because he’s an unusual case.”
    Here the only reason we know about the domain rigging is the further questioning. Now compare:
    A: “My students are all doing exceptionally well.”
    B: “Every single one?”
    A: “Well, no, but close enough. You know how it is.”
    Here’s an explicitly exception-permissive use. And I don’t see anything about this that makes it more unlikely for someone to say it than the others.

    March 7, 2011 — 18:35
  • Chris: I suspect you are right, at least about a lot of cases of brute appeals to context: All they really have in mind is what you suggest. But if that’s what the non-universalist line of reconciliation comes to — that in some way or other that they can’t begin to explain it must be something about the contexts — then I would suggest it’s time to try out another line of reconciling the passages! This is especially so if, as I claim in the defense, there’s a way of doing so that really does do justice to all the passages.

    March 7, 2011 — 19:06
  • ben w.

    “That context-sensitive dog just won’t hunt.”
    I think it will, in the right context. Not in your examples, granted. Let’s try another one…
    January 1869, looking towards the ratification of the 15th Ammendment (no one can be denied voting rights b/c of race):
    A: Isn’t it great, that once this is ratified, ALL will have full voting rights?
    B: That is great! Justice will roll down from the mountains! It will be a sight to see all those 8-year-olds and British expats voting in the next election!
    A: Wait wait… there are still some qualifications here…
    B: But you said “ALL”!?
    A: Yes, and in this conversation, I obviously meant “all America citizens, over the age of 18. All “without distinction according to race”, not all “without any exceptions.””
    B: oh…. and what about women?
    A: of course NOT women!!
    I haven’t inspected every verse in your defense of universalism, this is just an example that seems to confirm that it’s completely legitimate to use “all” in a way that maintains (possibly unexpressed) qualifications.

    March 7, 2011 — 19:08
  • Keith DeRose

    I don’t see how any of your suggested changes make any difference whatsoever to the main implicatures here
    Brandon: The changes I suggested were directly responsive to your suggestion & should cover what implicatures might be generated in the way you suggest. You suggested:
    all the contexts provided in your dialogues are cases where there is a clear and precise contrastive expectation: precisely what everyone wants to know in all three cases is whether there are any exceptions
    So, what could be more relevant to that suggestion to try the case out with a modification such that that contrastive expectation isn’t present in the slightest?
    You may have some other line of evasion in mind that I’m not understanding here.
    But about each of the dialogues in your latest comment, I’m strongly inclined to say that A’s key ‘all’-statement is just plain false, either because A is forgetting about Tommy, neglecting to account for him, and/or exaggerating. But we presumably don’t want to issue such a verdict about the alleged universalist passages in the NT.
    Recall also that I’m not here dealing with attempted evasions that try to get some people out of the domain of the ‘all’ statement, but only with those that claim that ‘all’ has a sense which allows for exceptions even within the contextually relevant dodmain.

    March 7, 2011 — 19:20
  • Here’s an additional thought. Think about this case:
    Sometimes my wife and I will get irritated with one another and say something like “You always…” It’s tempting to respond to such statements by identifying the one time we did or didn’t do the behaviour in question. When cooler heads prevail, we both know that this response doesn’t address the real worry being expressed by “You always…” accusations. In other words, it’s clear to all parties that the exceptionless ‘always’ is not in play (or, if you prefer, at the pragmatic level, it’s clear that the speaker did not intend the semantic content of the exceptionless ‘always’). It’s clear to all parties that the ‘always’ accusation is an instance of speaking loosely, an instance of exaggerating to make a point.
    Here’s a suggestion as to what the key difference is between this case and your scenarios: the speaker in my case knows that the intended audience knows there are exceptions, and is, therefore, in position to tell that the speaker is exaggerating or whatever. What makes your cases sound so bizarre is that the speaker knows that the intended audience is not in position to know that there are exceptions and is, therefore, likely to be misled by a non-exceptionless (and, in my opinion, non-literal) sense of “all”.
    Here, then, is a half-step toward the sort of explanation needed by the non-universalist: the speaker in the ‘all’ passages knew that the intended audience knew that there were exceptions and, therefore, was in position to tell he was speaking loosely. (If you take a certain view of the Bible, you might say that the intended audience of scripture is everyone. But there is clearly a sense in which the intended audience of, say, Romans were a specific group of people in Rome a long time ago.)
    PS- I do do like your defense of universalism paper, even though I’m not fully persuaded by it.

    March 7, 2011 — 19:29
  • Ben W: Your example is a very interesting one, but note that the key statement is not of the form “all Ns” or “all the Ns”, but rather doesn’t make explicit what the relevant noun is:
    All will have full voting rights
    In this regard, your ‘all’-statement is like I Cor. 15:22 (“all shall be made alive,” w/o specifying: all whats?) and Rom. 11:32, but unlike my favorite, Rom. 5: 18 (“all men”).
    So I don’t think you have a case where exceptions are allowed, but where we have to understand the implicit noun or noun phrase in a certain way. For note that while your ‘all’-statement sounds fine & seems true as you have it (b/c, I think, there are noun-phrases we can plug into it to make it true, even where no exceptions are allowed), it would seem to turn false if a noun were made explicit, and it were a noun that applied to the supposed exceptions (like the very young). So, for instance, if what A said were “All people will have full voting rights”, she’d just be mistaken — her statement would no longer seem right. Likewise if she said “All adult humans…”, in a case where we’re imagining female adult humans would not have those rights.
    So, so far as I can see, nothing here shows that phrases like “All Ns” or “All the Ns” can allow for exceptions (within the contextually relevant domain of Ns). So nothing here helps with Rom. 5:18 (about which verse I hope to have another verse soon).
    As for the likes of I Cor. 15:22 and Rom. 11:32, what we would need is a suggestion (other than all people, which I take to be, roughly at least, the natural reading) for what the implicit more limited noun or noun phrase might be such that some people would not be encompassed by that phrase. And in the case of I Cor. 15:22, unless we’re going to tolerate a change in content in such a closely linked pair of uses of ‘all’, we need a suggestion (other than all people) that makes sense of both parts of that claim: what class of things is such that it’s being said that all (each & every one) of them died in Adam, but all of them shall be made alive in Christ? I say it’s all (each & every) non-divine humans on Earth (to be a bit less rough about it) — which is how I generally understand such unspecified statements in the NT which seem to be about people, like “For all have sinned.”

    March 7, 2011 — 20:04
  • David Parker

    How far do you think “all” extends in this passage?
    And you will be hated by all on account of my name. But the one who endures (hypomeinas | ὑπομείνας | aor act ptcp nom sg masc) to the end, this one will be saved.
    Matthew 10:22

    March 7, 2011 — 20:05
  • Chris T.: Remember, I’m not here addressing attempted evasions that claim the passages are hyperbolic or exaggerations.

    March 7, 2011 — 20:06
  • David: Your example (at least in translation, which is all I’ve looked at) is one that leaves implicit what class of things it’s talking about when it says that everything in that class will hate the people being addressed. So there are presumably ways of filling that relevant class in on which the claim can be plausibly enough attributed to Jesus as something he believed and was intending to communicate. Something like the people in the region (at the time in question) who are not aligned with them, maybe? I don’t know; my heart’s not in the task.
    B/c for various reasons I’m inclined to take that statement as an exaggeration. (But I hesitate to broach the whole, huge topic of exaggeration — something I think we find a lot of in the gospels [and *I’m* not exaggerating, there], but should be quite hesitant to claim is in play in the straight teaching of doctrine in an epistle, absent some fairly clear cues. But that’s a big topic….)
    How do you understand the verse?

    March 7, 2011 — 20:48
  • Without going further into how I think about exaggeration in the gospels, it might be worth mentioning here that one of the reasons I don’t use John 12:32 (which is often cited as a universalist passage) is that, while I don’t take that verse to be an exaggeration, I take the hypothesis that it is an exaggeration to be lively enough to weaken its power in a case for universalism.

    March 7, 2011 — 21:06
  • Hey Keith,
    I’m not sure I’ve got a refined grip on the relationship between all the positions mentioned, so I’m not sure which ones are under attack and which ones are not. In any event, I meant my remarks to be a general strategy, not limited to the pure exaggeration or hyperbole remarks. Let me try to make that clearer.
    Once one realizes that the speaker is speaking loosely, she still needs to figure out what the person intends to say. Sometimes the utterance may be pure exaggeration or hyperbole; sometimes identifying the speaker’s (pragmatic) meaning may be more complicated. Suppose there are two shared background beliefs between the speaker and audience, and the speaker and audience recognize that these beliefs are shared: (i) those wicked people who just died aren’t going to be saved and (ii) God cares about all cultures. If the speaker says “God saves all people” in that context, it would be natural for the audience to think that the speaker means “God saves without distinction” or “God saves a great many from a wide variety of cultures and time periods.”

    March 7, 2011 — 21:32
  • Kraig

    The uses of “all” in your examples are certainly objectionable, but maybe that is because the restricted domain is not obvious from the context. There may be uses of all that restrict the quantification in obvious ways that are not objectionable. For example, if you ask me to invest in your business, and I answer, “all my money is tied up in other investments right now,” I doubt that you would be confused, or that you would think that I lied, if I went on to pay for my lunch with cash. Likely, you would just take the scope of my use of all to range over cash amounts of the relevant size, or over cash amounts over and above what is set aside for regular expenditures.

    March 7, 2011 — 22:53
  • Kraig

    I’d like to add that, it seems to me, some sort of restricted scope is demanded in the verses that you cite, even on a universalist reading. For example, when we read that “in Adam all die,” I take it we are not to think that the angels died in Adam, or that God died in Adam, or that chairs died in Adam. As soon as we see that some sort of restricted scope is demanded – even on a universalist reading – then it seems less objectionable to restrict the scope in ways that are suggested by traditional teachings regarding hell.

    March 7, 2011 — 23:03
  • Hey Kraig,
    I think it is interesting that the case you raise, if anything, seems to support universalism. In the Adam case you raise, it looks like the scope is all HUMANS died (which I assume you agree with). When you get to the contrast with Christ (all are raised in christ) it is natural use the same scope. So, if anything, that restriction supports universalism. I know that this doesn’t address your main point.
    Your main point was that, even universalists must restict scope, so the problem is more manageable for the non-universalist. I think Keith’s issue isn’t so much that non-universalists must restrict scope; I think it is that there are no natural or plausible restrictions of scope that fit the non-universalist readings of the passages. So I don’t think the non-universalist gets any help.

    March 7, 2011 — 23:38
  • Kraig

    That seems right. I was just trying to make the point that we often restrict the scope of all in uncontroversial ways, and that universalists and non-universalists alike do so. But maybe that was obvious.
    I wonder what people think of this sentence:
    For as all students failed through laziness, so also all students shall pass through hard work.
    Do we think that the person who makes the above claim is committed to all students passing? I tend to think that the most natural reading is that all of the students who pass will do so because they worked hard. Suppose my local school had a meeting for the parents of students who failed a state test with the intent of preparing for the upcoming retest. I doubt I would take the claim as a prediction that all students would pass the upcoming test, but as commentary about what those who want to pass need to do.

    March 8, 2011 — 1:28
  • Keith, I am in agreement with you there, but I also take the same position (implicit class denoted by the context) on all of the universalist proof-texts. For me, universalism has more philosophical appeal than Biblical, but I’ll throw another counterexample out there:
    Romans 5:18 “Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men.”
    Here, all clearly means all with exception. Jesus is a member of the class of “all men” yet Jesus was not condemned in sense that Paul is speaking of here. (This is an old Charles Hodge chestnut.)

    March 8, 2011 — 6:08
  • Ted Poston

    Just a quick comment: one common use of a restricted quantifier is with spatial locations. E.g., ‘Everyone is quiet’ [in the room]. ‘All the beer is gone’ [in the fridge]. On the corporate view of salvation (e.g., Barth’s view, I think) there’s a natural reading of the ‘all’ passages. ‘All will be saved’ [in Christ]. This doesn’t seem to strain use of ‘all’ in those passages. Do you talk about the corporate view in your universalism paper? One nice aspect of the corporate view is that its consistent with universalism and non-universalism. If you conjoin the corporate view with the kind of view C.S. Lewis sketches *The Great Divorce* then you get a view that upholds the integrity of human choice and yet is consistent with universalism.

    March 8, 2011 — 8:00
  • Ted: I don’t understand Barth well at all, but I take the views of the sort you’re describing, in which human freedom plays a central role, very important (given my own commitment to the importance of human freedom to these matters), but also extremely tricky. First, I think it’s safe to say that a significant percentage (though it’s very unsafe to go much beyond this) of those who classify themselves outside of universalism (or at least hope not to be classified as universalists) by saying things about human freedom do so because they’re in situations where they face various pressures not to be universalists. This seems to be one of the main shelters used by “underground universalists” [ http://pantheon.yale.edu/~kd47/GOTT-6-08-06.htm ]. I must quickly add that the “significant percentage” here may well be considerably less than half the relevant Christians [those who say they’re not universalists whose explanations for why not are based largely on thoughts about human freedom], and it’s not at all a safe or good inference to conclude someone is using this shelter to deflect pressure in particular cases, even cases where you know the person faces significant pressure. And, second, once someone starts worrying about human freedom, it often becomes difficult to say whether some of the positions involved should be counted as universalist. For instance in my appendix on universalism and freedom [ http://pantheon.yale.edu/~kd47/univ.htm#B ] I consider a position on which one holds that God just keeps trying to freely win everyone over, and that, given God’s amazing powers of persuasion (even while not overriding freedom) and the immense amount of time God has to work with, it is OVERWHELEMINGLY probable that all will be (freely) saved. But there is still, on the view in question, a VANISHINGLY tiny chance that there might be some forever hold-outs. Is *this* universalism? What I wishy-washily say: “If one takes this option, I think one can still be counted as a universalist. After all, you believe it is overwhelmingly probable that all will be saved, and in contested theological matters, …we can’t expect to reach beyond that level of certainty anyway. (Indeed, due to the usual causes — human fallibility on such tough questions — we’re not even going to get up to that level of certainty, nor even close to it, on this or any other tough matter, anyway.) But this does seem to compromise on universalism a bit, because one is not only admitting that one could (of course!) be wrong about the matter in question, but also that according to the position one holds (however firmly or tentatively), there is some (VANISHINGLY small, but still existent) *objective* chance that not all will be saved. Not even God knows absolutely for certain that all will be saved.” So I guess that’s classifying the view in question as “kinda universalism.” I count it (for the reason given above), but can certainly understand someone else not counting it (for the contrary reason also above). Then you get people who aren’t talking at all about likelihoods, but what they say is consistent with above hard-to-classify view, and then that interacts with the question of the extent to which they’re not talking about such things b/c they haven’t considered the question vs. they’re genuinely agonostic about the matter vs. they’re seeking to avoid trouble. For my part, while I’m quite open to the hard-to-classify kinda universalist view described above, I lean toward a different way of putting a universalist-like position together with thoughts about human freedom which is more solidly within the universalist camp.
    I agree with the general point about how spatial locations are often used to set the scope of quantifiers. But I don’t think they provide a good non-universalist reading of the relevant passages — in general, but esp. wrt Romans 5:18.

    March 8, 2011 — 9:32
  • Keith DeRose

    I might add that in discussion (like at church, or something), one will often run into this funny situation: Someone is being Mr. or Ms. super-incompatibilist (real freedom is incompatible not only with predetermination, but also with Divine foreknowledge; indeed, with fore-truth: It just couldn’t be true now that all will accept if the acceptance must be free & in some cases hasn’t happened yet) while trying to make trouble for universalism (or in some cases, trying hard not to be classified as a universalist), but it turns out when you ask that they think God somehow had no problem foreknowing their own free choice for Him. So when the discussion veers off into issues of human freedom, it’s often a good idea to, sooner rather than later, find out whether the person you’re talking with thinks God foreknows free choices made on this side of the grave. If so, you can often skip this whole kinda-bad-faith attempt to stir up trouble for universalism. (I might add: I tend toward super-incompatibilism myself, so these are genuine worries for me.)
    If I might be allowed to paint with a very broad brush for a minute (& wear this shoe only if it fits! — and try not to let it fit!): It’s funny: If you start talking about open theism, esp. if you use that label for it, then, b/c open theism is very much on the danger list of the guarders of “Christian Radio Orthodoxy,” then many theological conservatives will react like the world is coming to an end; but if you’re talking universalism, then they themselves (though not under this label) will often play the role of the open theist, supposing God couldn’t possibly know what one will freely do (at least when it comes to post-mortem choices), at least insofar as playing that role helps to combat/resist universalism, which is also on the enemies list. It’s kinder & therefore advisable (though a lot less fun) to cut this off at the beginning, rather than to let it go on for a while before pointing out to their horror that, say, “You know, that open theism of yours is really quite controversial.”

    March 8, 2011 — 9:50
  • Keith DeRose

    Hey, David: I thought Adam’s trespass did lead to condemnation for Christ. I thought the line was Christ did not sin, but became sin, and was condemned — and Adam was no innocent bystander in this. And I’ve thought it was precise because he was here using the “all men” formulation (with the class being made explicit, and being a class Christ is in) that Paul had to pick something to say about all the members of that class that would apply to Christ as well.

    March 8, 2011 — 10:26
  • Keith DeRose

    Just to be clear about some of the argumentative strategy being employed…
    About the folks holding out for there being (at least) a sense of ‘all the Ns’ that allows for exceptions, I don’t know just what you think ‘all’ does mean. (That’s ok, of course.) So what I suggest in general (& this is left an an exercise for the reader, to applied to whatever weaker sense of ‘all’ you think exists) is to test whether one of these alleged weaker senses exists by taking a scenario where folks don’t have theological pressure to rule one way or the other, like the scenarios I use above [There’s really nothing special about my examples; they’re not cleverly devised to militate against weak readings of ‘all’ (I don’t know if I could be that clever); in particular, they are definitely not cases where there’s any special over-riding interest only in the matter of whether each & every of the Ns, w/o exception, Vd, but are cases where it can also be very valuable information that someone might well be very interested in having that, say, a great many of the Ns Vd; they’re just what you come up with when you innocently try to create an ordinary situation of one speaker informing another about how many of the Ns Vd, and then start tweaking them to test various claims], and tweak them to make the ‘all’ statement occur in a context which is specifically doctored to call for the alleged weak reading of ‘all’ being tested for as strongly as possible. If it can’t be summoned even by such a context, that’s about the best evidence one could hope for that the alleged sense just doesn’t exist. So, to give just one example of applying this methodology: take the hypothesis that ‘all the Ns’ often means ‘a great many of the Ns’ (allowing for exceptions). Then go way out of your way to create a context which calls as strongly as possible for such a reading of the ‘all’ statement in a case of straight information-giving where nobody has theological (or other theoretical) pressure to rule one way or another. So, for instance, add this to A’s opening line in our dialogue about the test:
    A: What I care about, and all I care about, and all I care even to discuss, is that a great many of the students passed. Beyond that, I don’t care at all. So, do you know anything about the results of the test?
    B: Yes, I was just at the high school and looked over the results. All the students passed.
    Even here, if some students failed, that’s a wrong use of ‘all’, as I trust everyone can sense (and can be displayed by letting the dialogue continue in a way like at the top of this post). Though A is making it about as clear as possible that all she cares about [Uh-oh: unless *that* just means: a great deal of what she cares about! :) ] is whether a great many of the students passed, if B goes beyond that (which is what she surely seems to be doing) and volunteers that all the students passed (& we often give more info than we’re asked to, esp. if it’s very easy to do so; ‘all’ being so quick and easy to say, it’s often easier, when all the Ns Vd, to just give that stronger piece of information, rather than wordily giving weaker info), she’s using ‘all’ wrongly if there are exceptions (like Johnny from down the block).

    March 8, 2011 — 11:06
  • Keith,
    Back up a few verses:
    12 “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…”
    Paul is referring to the same class when he mentions all (who sin) and all (who are condemned). I don’t see an exegetical reason for including Jesus in this class.
    Sure, he was condemned…but not in the way Paul has in mind. Jesus didn’t sin, and he didn’t inherit Adam’s original sin like all other men did. (Sidenote: some believe that the virgin birth allowed Jesus to bypass inheriting sin from a biological father. Not exactly an undisputed theological premise!)
    I think there is also merit in questioning why the people who Paul originally addressed in his letters misinterpreted his intentions. Perhap, given their Jewish background this wasn’t possible? Maybe this was intented by God to allow the church to expand and grow under exclusivism, only later to figure out what the text really meant? I’m just speculating, but I want to be careful to avoid Whiggishness. :-)
    Anyways, I won’t belabor the point too much. Enjoyed your article. If you haven’t checked out Eric Reitan’s book, Is God A Delusion?: A Reply to Religion’s Cultured Despisers, I would highly recommend it. He lays out a case for universalism that doesn’t rely on scripture.

    March 8, 2011 — 12:17
  • Keith DeRose

    –Have to be away from this for a while. Hope to be able to check back in in a few days. -KDR —

    March 8, 2011 — 12:25
  • Keith DeRose

    After saying I was leaving, I noticed a comment from David Parker (now appearing above) that was already in but awaiting approval. (I don’t know why some comments just appear, while others wait for approval.) So, now that’s up. David: What I thought was important was that Paul would think Jesus was condemned, even if via a very different route than us, so that he could be thinking this was something that applied to all men, including Christ. But that’s a very good point you make about v. 12.
    Now I think I really am gone.
    I guess I’ll leave the comments on — though that will mean only those who comments don’t need approval will appear for a while. (Though I *think* you might have to just log in to skip the approval step.) Keep it civil.

    March 8, 2011 — 13:04
  • Ted Poston

    Keith: It sounds like we have very similar views. Re the “In Christ” qualification: here’s a dilemma. Either your view reads “All are saved” as ‘All are saved’ [in Christ] or ‘All are saved’ simpliciter. If the latter then it’s a form of universalism that faces some very tough questions about human freedom. If the former then you can handle the freedom problem (like you do above). But then it looks like you need to retract a bit on the unrestricted ‘all’. One of the features I like about the corporate view of salvation is that there are no restrictions on who can be in Christ. Everyone can. And hopefully everyone will.

    March 8, 2011 — 14:58
  • Keith,
    I don’t know if I could be that clever); in particular, they are definitely not cases where there’s any special over-riding interest only in the matter of whether each & every of the Ns, w/o exception, Vd, but are cases where it can also be very valuable information that someone might well be very interested in having that, say, a great many of the Ns Vd
    Yes, but they are also cases where the value of the exceptive option would in virtually every ordinary case lie almost entirely in knowing exactly how many exceptions there are — statistics, deaths, and the like.
    I don’t think there’s any huge mystery in what ‘all’ means in exceptive cases: it means that the term is taken either without exception or sufficiently close enough for whatever practical purposes are at hand at the moment. How much this will be found will be an entirely an empirical fact about the language in question. And certainly in English there seem to be positive reasons for thinking that it exists, even if the non-exceptive use is the default. The only alternative to thinking this is to do what you suggest– dismiss each and all of the many obvious exceptions to the nonexceptive ‘all’ as being, as you say, false, forgetful, or hyperbolic. If we can do that then we can say that all (non-exceptive!) uses of ‘all’ in English are non-exceptive. Otherwise, what you’re saying is false, or forgetful, or hyperbolic. 😉
    But I see nothing that would both be plausible and make it so that all the apparent exceptions are merely apparent.

    March 9, 2011 — 12:11
  • Sorry, my comment above should not have said that the value lies in knowing exactly how many exceptions there are, but that the value is affected by whether or not we definitely know there are exceptions — if a question about deaths or statistics or the like is asked, it usually does matter whether there are exceptions or not. But it doesn’t follow from this that every case is like this.

    March 9, 2011 — 12:17
  • Keith DeRose

    If the latter then it’s a form of universalism that faces some very tough questions about human freedom. If the former then you can handle the freedom problem (like you do above).
    Ted: I don’t find the questions so tough – even though I try an extremely strong view on freedom, which would make the questions tough if any stance would. In fact, the picture that results is one I like a bit better than the one sketched above (which you seem to like, & I’m fine with, too, though I don’t like it as much as the more outright universalist position).

    March 10, 2011 — 7:47
  • Keith DeRose

    Yes, but they are also cases where the value of the exceptive option would in virtually every ordinary case lie almost entirely in knowing exactly how many exceptions there are — statistics, deaths, and the like. I don’t think there’s any huge mystery in what ‘all’ means in exceptive cases: it means that the term is taken either without exception or sufficiently close enough for whatever practical purposes are at hand at the moment…. Sorry, my comment above should not have said that the value lies in knowing exactly how many exceptions there are, but that the value is affected by whether or not we definitely know there are exceptions.
    My cases don’t to me seem special in having the feature you’re pointing to here to any degree greater than normal cases in which we’re wondering how many of the Ns Vd. Nor do they seem to have it any more than the alleged universalist passages in the NT. (& at any rate, if I’m somehow wrong about that, my methodology is going to have us test your suggestion by changing my cases precisely so that they’ll lack the feature you’re pointing to, and so, if anything, have that feature less than the NT passages do. So the rest of this paragraph is a bit beside the argumentative point, but still…) When readers are being told about the fates of humankind and how a great fate is available, one things they’ll naturally wonder is how many folks will be granted that. It would be good news that some will, better that most will, better still that almost all will, and best of all perhaps that absolutely all will. Likewise, when we hear of an airplane crash or a big test, even if we’re wondering about other things as well (what caused it?, etc.), we’ll be interested in how many of the Ns Vd, and lots of different answers would constitute (bad or good, in varying degrees) news on this matter. I’m just not seeing how the feature you’re pointing to in some special way comes in on some of these cases but not others, militating toward an especially strong reading of ‘all’.
    The reading of ‘all’ you suggest (the disjunctive all w/o exception *or* suff. close to that for current purposes) can be tested in the way I suggested. That’s one of the “weak” senses that allows for exceptions, so to create a context that as strongly as possible calls for that reading (as opposed to the strong reading that demands no exceptions), we tweak A’s opening line something like this:
    A: I wonder how that test at the high school turned out? Specifically, what I’m interested in is whether there are at most just a few failures, so that, even if there may have been a failure here or there, the results will be close enough, for current purposes, to having each and every student pass.
    B: All the students passed.
    You no doubt can guess how I think this pans out.

    March 10, 2011 — 8:08
  • I am no NT scholar. I am not a universalist for the simple reason that I take the Church’s interpretation of the text as normative, and the Church’s interpretation has historically not been universalist. I also think that a lot of these passages just plain sound different if the speaker and listener jointly take it as obvious that many will be damned, as the Christian tradition by and large does.
    The following situation seems to me to be quite possible (I am not saying it is ever actual): The reading of a set of texts of Scripture that is the most likely given all the relevant philological and textual evidence–maybe even given evidence elsewhere in Scripture–is in fact an incorrect reading. It can be coherent to accept the inerrance of Scripture (in the Vatican II sense that everything asserted by the authors in the text is true) and at the same time accept a reading of a set of texts that given the philological and textual evidence is less likely to be true than some other reading, doing so for instance on the basis of science or Christian tradition. (Of course if one accepts a strong version of sola scriptura or of the perspicuity of Scripture, things might be different, but neither doctrine is perspicuously taught in Scripture.)
    With the above qualifications, here are some thoughts.
    I wonder whether Greek might not allow the following usage sometimes. “All are Gs because H” meaning (x)(Gx → (Gx because H)).
    In English, normally, we’d say “All Gs are Gs because H”, but when it is going to be obvious to the listener that not all are Gs, I could kind of (but maybe not quite) see saying something like “All are Gs because H”. This might apply to 1 Cor 15:22 and Rom 5:18, either just to the Christ parts of it or to both parts of it. In regard to the asymmetric reading of those texts, I think sometimes in Scripture the authors use verbal parallelism even when there isn’t logical parallelism.
    I have to say that I find the “some from each group” reading pretty implausible.
    Perhaps a better move for us anti-universalists, though, would be to emphasize what Christ’s work does for the damned. The damned do partake of the resurrection of the body, and having a body–even if it is a body in physical pain–is intrinsically valuable. They will be made alive. Moreover, we should emphasize hell as itself connected with divine mercy and love, perhaps because hell at the same time respects the gift of freedom in this life while yet arresting a downward moral trajectory in a way in which the damned do not deserve to have to arrested.
    As for the making of peace, and maybe even reconciliation, one might emphasize two ways in which the knee can bend to Christ: willingly and joyously in worship, and reluctantly and fearfully as a conquered enemy recognizing defeat. Both kinds of bending of the knee are valuable. It is better to bend the knee in the way of defeat than not at all. There is peace of the joyous and open-hearted sort, and there is the peace of “pacification”, and both of them can be better than war.
    Personally, I have also speculated that those in hell improve morally asymptotically–never reaching virtue, but becoming gradually less vicious, and thus suffering the less. I’ve never found anybody who found this kind of asymptotic universalism plausible, and this fact lowers my credence in it. It would give a neat account of the difference between purgatory and hell, though: both involve moral improvement, but in hell it is never actually completed.
    As for good news, if one takes the Augustinian line that existence is always good (and I think there is good philosophical reason to take that line; e.g., finite existence is participation in God), the mere news that nobody is going to cease to exist is very good news indeed.

    March 10, 2011 — 10:07
  • “do not deserve to have to arrested” should be “do not deserve to have it arrested”

    March 10, 2011 — 10:07
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    Perhaps I can contribute something on the issue of the original Greek.
    Some of the strongest universalist language in the NT (such as Luke 3:6 All mankind will see God’s salvation, or John 12:32 When I am lifted up, I will draw all men to myself, or Romans 5:18 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 to all men) the word “all” in the original Greek is some grammatical form of the word “pan”, which in my judgment has an even stronger universalist meaning than the English word “all”. For example “to pan” (i.e. “the all”) denotes everything there is, the cosmos.
    As for John 1:12 (which Benjamin introduces as a counterexample) “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” is a slightly misleading translation, precisely because it uses the English word “all”. In the original Greek the corresponding word used is “osoi” which means “those” or “the ones”. Thus the correct translation I think should be “Those who received him, to those he gave the power to become children of God, etc”.
    I checked on the web and here are some of better known translations of the beginning of John 1:12:
    – Yet to all who did receive him (New International Version)
    – But as many as received Him (New American Bible)
    – But as many as received him (King James Version)
    – But whoever did want him (The Message)
    – But to all who received him (New Revised Standard Version)
    In my judgment the KJV and NAB are the better translations.
    One way or the other the fact remains that nobody would understand John 1:12 in the original Greek as being universalist but neither as excluding universalism (for it does not say “only to those who received Him”). Whereas Luke 3:6, John 12:32, and Romans 5:18 have a clear universalist sense I think.
    Incidentally, the semantics of Romans 5:18 make its universalist sense especially clear. I wonder how non-universalists (or should I say “hellists”) deal with it.

    March 11, 2011 — 16:34
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    You write: “But there is still, on the view in question, a VANISHINGLY tiny chance that there might be some forever hold-outs.”
    Let’s simplify matters and consider the tossing of a fair coin. Now consider the following two propositions:
    A: No matter how often you toss the coin there will always be a tiny chance that heads will never come up.
    B: If you keep tossing the coin it is certain that at some point heads will come up.
    A and B appear to contradict each other, but both are in fact true. The difference between the two is that proposition A entails some limitation in time, while B doesn’t. A effectively says: give me any particular number of tries and I will tell you what the tiny probability is that heads will not come up. Proposition B on the contrary embraces eternity. It effectively says: if you have eternity at your disposal (and God does) then at some point the coin will turn up heads.
    I trust you can see the analogy with what you were discussing above. Literal universalism is thus compatible with freedom.

    March 11, 2011 — 16:48
  • Alexander Pruss

    Mr. Georgoudis:
    Lk 3:6 doesn’t imply that all will partake of the salvation. It only says that all flesh will see it. In Jn 12:32, the text does not say that all will actually successfully get to Christ, but only that he will pull them towards (“pros”) himself. (There are probably some people whom Keith draws towards (“pros”) universalism but who do not actually become universalists. :-) )

    March 11, 2011 — 21:25
  • Alexander Pruss

    I withdraw the speculation that the pains of hell decrease asymptotically. Such a view has apparently been condemned (non-definitively) by the Holy Office in 1893.

    March 11, 2011 — 22:01
  • Keith DeRose

    Thanks, Dianelos. My favorite universalist passages are Pauline; I tend not to find the passages usually cited from the gospels nearly as strong. Some of them are maybe in the end best understood in a universalist way. Maybe, for example, Luke 3:6 — though it’s extremely tricky, at least to my thinking (in part b/c it’s a quotation from Isaiah, which opens up some questions about Luke’s [I by “Luke” I simply mean the author of that book, whoever it is!] own meaning). Alex is right that this verse doesn’t say that all will partake of the salvation, only that they will see it. If it said all will partake of it, that of course would be much better — though I’m sure we’d in that case be hearing about some special weak sense of “partake” that, though it seems very shy in general, we’re rational to assume is in play in a context where it’s already obvious that universalism must be false, or *something* :) I imagine there are out there somewhere some serious studies of such uses of the relevant phrase. In English, such phrases seem kinda thick in a way — and tricky — and I imagine the same would be the case for NT Greek. I mean, just what do we mean when we assure someone who’s very down on their luck, “You will see happiness again soon, my friend.” Suppose I tell my friend that, and then walk with him to his car and see him off, and we don’t see each other again for a long time. Upon meeting again, he reminds me of what I said (though he doesn’t have to, since it’s in the forefront of my mind already), and reports that happiness still hasn’t found him. As I understand these things, my assurance has turned out to be wrong. It won’t do to explain, “All I said was that you’d *see* happiness again soon. And you did. Indeed, as we walked to your car right after I said that to you, we passed several people whom we knew, and they were *very* happy, as we knew. Didn’t you see them? And your sister and father, whom you’re in frequent contact with, have both been very happy at times.” On the other hand, if I (in a momentary fit of over-optimism) predict to a friend of about the same age as me, “We will see America eventually take a humane stance toward its homeless,” all that seems required is that the event happen in our lifetime, and that we be aware of it. Much seems to depend on the object of such seeings, and what exactly is being said seems extremely variable with context. How to understand the likes of “You will see God’s salvation,” or, to get to the verse in question, “All people will see God’s salvation,” is, well, very tricky. Mostly, I’d think, one would have to find, or, failing that, do some serious study of the uses of such phrases in the biblical & surrounding literature. But I do have one suggestion to add: In trying to discern the meaning of such things, it can be very helpful to consider denials of them. What would be meant by saying “You will not see God’s salvation,” or “Many will not see God’s salvation”? My sense is that the former could be true even if the person being addressed will observe others (and even close loved ones) being saved by God, and the latter could be true even if everyone will observe others being saved by God. That doesn’t settle anything, but it would be a helpful consideration to take into account, I’d think.

    March 12, 2011 — 10:15
  • Keith DeRose

    I agree that “Literal universalism is … compatible with freedom,” but I don’t go for your way of reconciling them, Dianelos. As important background, we should note that given what seem to be majority views (& clear majorities, at that), there is simply no problem at all here, nothing to resolve: Even if one must freely accept God to be saved, there would just be no problem with it being true ahead of time that you’ll freely do this, or God foreknowing this truth, and then revealing it to us, according to the compatibilisms that dominate both current analytic philosophy and traditional historical Christian theology. There is only even a tension to be resolved here on extreme, zealous views on the implications of freedom. But since I personally tend toward such extreme, zealous views, this is an issue for me. And within that framework, where we’re assuming such extreme, zealous views so that we have a tension to resolve here, I think that (in the relevant sense) the *possibility* that some will resist forever is enough to cause the problem, and that where freedom is required, that possibility (in the relevant sense) does exist. So, while I’m fine with a solution to these issues that’s at least much like what you’re proposing, and do think it’s at least kinda universalistic, and at any rate, seems like it should make most universalists pretty happy, I don’t think you’re getting full-grade “literal universalism” (if I understand what you mean there, as I think I do) in this way.

    March 12, 2011 — 10:46
  • Keith DeRose

    Alex: I understand your explanations about Christian tradition to be largely you’re being upfront about the limits of where you personally can go on these issues — which is good for us to know. But I should say something about how you seem to bring such thoughts in to the context of Paul’s claims. It seems to me very problematic to think this is a context in which “speaker and listener jointly take it as obvious that many will be damned, as the Christian tradition by and large does.” We probably have very different views of the place of universalism within Christian tradition. That’s of course a very complicated tale — and it plays out in significantly different ways in the East vs. West. But if we’re now considering Christian tradition not as a limit or consideration for our own views (though it may also be that), but as evidence about the mindset of the writer and readers of these epistles, then it’s (if anything) the very early portion of the Christian tradition that would be most relevant, and given the prevalence of universalism in the early church (the exact extent of which is controversial, but that it was considerable seems not to be), I don’t see any support from this source for claims about what would be “obvious” to the original audience of these epistles.

    March 12, 2011 — 11:10
  • Keith DeRose

    …and in the parallel situation you can make it as obvious as you please to speaker and hearers alike that some passengers died, and here, where nobody has any theological axes to grind, I think we can all sense that “All of the passengers survived the crash” is wrong. (As it becomes very obvious that some passengers died, that becomes *weird and* wrong.)
    In general, I think it is right that we often use the fact that the “surface” (in some good sense of that) interpretation of what we’re saying would render it obviously false (obvious to both speaker & audience) to help press into service a different reading. And this I think can be and often is successfully used to help put into play hyperbolic, sarcastic, etc. uses of ‘all’ claims. But it doesn’t look like alleged “weak” uses of ‘all’ like ‘almost all’ or ‘a great many’, etc. (if that’s suggestion: that was, after all, supposed to be the topic here) can be pressed into service in that way.

    March 12, 2011 — 12:54
  • Alexander Pruss

    I wrote: “I withdraw the speculation that the pains of hell decrease asymptotically. Such a view has apparently been condemned (non-definitively) by the Holy Office in 1893.”
    After further research, it’s less clear to me what view has exactly been condemned. Mivart wrote an article where he argued that the folks in hell were happy, and even happier than on earth. The article was condemned in general terms as far as I can tell, and I do not know if there were any specifics in regard to the condemnation, so I may have been hasty in my comment.

    March 12, 2011 — 13:35
  • Alexander Pruss

    “given the prevalence of universalism in the early church (the exact extent of which is controversial, but that it was considerable seems not to be)”
    I don’t know the history on this doctrine. But my usual reference for such things is Jurgens who in his three volume The Faith of the Early Fathers has nice selections of Church Fathers on doctrinally important topics. In the cumulative doctrinal index he lists entry numbers of the texts that that take a stand on a given doctrine, typically indicating with parentheses those take a stand that disagrees with the eventual Catholic view. The index lists about 39 texts under “The punishment of the damned is eternal”, with only one in parentheses (a text where Jerome suggests that while non-believers suffer in hell, there is mercy for the Christians).
    That’s not fully representative, however, since Jurgens does have a separate entry for “Origenism, in regard to the final apokatastasis”, which lists twelve texts, half of them from Origen himself. Interestingly, he lists no texts prior to Origen himself (while lots of the authors supporting the eternity of the punishment of the damned are prior to Origen: Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp, the author of the Letter to Diognetus, Clement, Justin Martyr, Theophilus of Antioch, etc.) The authors other than Origen that he cites under apokatastasis are Gregory Nazianzus who inclines in that direction but does not commit himself, Gregory of Nyssa who does sound like he commits himself to apokatastasis, and Jerome who denies that he is an “Origenist” but allows for clemency for all Christians.
    Also, one of the major controversies in the early church was whether Christians who denied Christ and/or worshiped false gods and repented could be re-admitted to the sacraments. The hard-line position was that they could not. The eventually prevailing position was that they could. I don’t think this controversy would have been as hot as it was if there were a common view that everyone will in the end be saved.

    March 13, 2011 — 15:33
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    Alexander and Keith:
    Clearly the simplest interpretation of Luke 3:6 is a universalist one, but perhaps the simplest interpretation does not convey what the author of that verse intended to assert. So what is the alternative understanding which better conveys the author’s intent? I can’t find it reasonable to believe, or even to suspect, that what the author wanted to convey is that all people will see salvation, but many (or most) of them will see it on their way to damnation, i.e. only see others being saved. Especially not given the context of the passage:
    Prepare the way of the LORD;
    Make His paths straight.
    Every valley shall be filled
    And every mountain and hill brought low;
    The crooked places shall be made straight
    And the rough ways smooth;
    And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

    On the contrary, it seems plausible to me that by copying theses verses from Isaiah Luke wanted to convey that the promise of universal salvation and indeed of the apokatastasis of all creation was already announced in the OT, and identified with God’s way (which of course according to Christianity was realized in Christ).
    Similarly, when the author of John 12:32 writes “When I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself” I find it unreasonable to suspect that what he (or perhaps she) meant was “When I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself, but will fail to bring them all to myself.”
    Now I agree that when trying to understand the meaning of an author one must not only study the text but also the respective zeitgeist (while keeping in mind that Christianity was a revolutionary idea in more ways than one). On the other hand when evaluating the official interpretation of the texts one must also examine what might have motivated the respective officials. Most importantly though I think that one must interpret the texts holistically, both in the spirit of the whole of the good message, and in relation to theism’s fundamental understanding of God as that than which nothing greater can be conceived. Personally I can’t wrap my mind around the idea that an eternal hellish existence for a large part of created persons does not represent an eternal and thus definitive failure of creation. Neither can I conceive that the One who teaches us to forgive our enemies will fail to forgive His/Her own children. Nor that the One who teaches us longsuffering love will fail to draw us all back to His/Her bosom.

    March 14, 2011 — 9:28
  • Alexander Pruss

    My feeling is that the original understanding of the Isaiah passage was that all nations would see Israel‘s salvation, not that they would all see their own salvation. Likewise, then, with Israel extended to be the New Israel, we should not read the text as saying that everyone will see their own salvation.
    I am far from sure that longsuffering love requires that God should forgive those who choose not to be forgiven (Wolterstorff has some interesting stuff on how one cannot forgive those who choose not to accept forgiveness; I think he goes too far, but has some helpful insights on the way). There could be a regretful love that accepts the beloved’s ultimate unwillingness to be reconciled with.

    March 14, 2011 — 9:45
  • Keith DeRose

    I did my own amateur looking into universalism in the early church quite a few years ago. Since then, it looks like a lot of material has been put up at the CCEL web site [http://www.ccel.org] that might be relevant. It may now be possible to gather together a lot of good evidence bearing on this question in the form of links to material (with a considerable amount of primary texts, in English translation) available free on-line to all, but I haven’t put in the time needed to do this. Insofar as many Christians seem to want to be in part guided by what the early Church thought about this matter, and insofar as (no doubt, because of that fairly common desire) there seems to be a lot of quite slanted (in both directions) material on that on-line, this could be a very helpful service. (Similar points would apply to other hotly contested theological issues, where folks on both sides of current debates seem to be casting hopeful eyes toward the Church fathers.) My own heart isn’t really into this task, because tradition doesn’t play a very heavy role for me.
    But if anyone knows of a good history of universalism in the early Christian church that’s helpful on this matter (perhaps embedded within some broader history), especially (because I could then link to it for others) if it’s on-line in an open access form, I would love to hear about it. In a light, non-professional way, I’ve read a considerable amount about the history of universalism, much of it useful in various ways — but little of it much help on this issue. Morwenna Ludlow’s “Universalism in the History of Christianity,” for example (& I use it b/c it’s handy, being in a book I have on the shelf right here at home), follows a typical path in her section on “The Early Church”: You get analysis of the views of the stars of the early universalist show, Origen and Gregory, with little, other than the mention of a few of the usual suspects on either side, in terms of information about how widely accepted or tolerated the view is during their time and the time right after them, though you get the idea that at least the view was at least fairly well tolerated by their contemporaries, because we read about “the first concerted opposition to Origenism” not coming until “late in the fourth century,” and that initial opposition not being directly aimed at the universalism per se, but at associated views in the theology of Origen (so that Gregory seemed to be fine). When we then move into Augustine’s opposition, things seem really to have changed quite drastically (in a short time), because Augustine seems (judging from his own words) to be freaking out, in a particularly influential way, about any view that stops short of everlasting torment. (Of course, it may be that universalists are the deniers of everlasting punishment that were prominent in Augustine’s mind when he wrote, so that, while he seems to be painting with a broader brush, it’s really the universalists he has in mind. Note in connection with this, though, that we have Augustine’s own testimony that there are “very many” in the camp of these deniers of everlasting punishment: “It is quite in vain, then, that some – indeed very many – yield to merely human feelings and deplore the notion of the eternal punishment of the damned and their interminable and perpetual misery. They do not believe that such things will be. Not that they would go counter to divine Scripture—but, yielding to their own human feelings, they soften what seems harsh.”) Then, when we reach the middle of the sixth century, things really seem to go to hell (!), though in complicated ways (complications involving just what is being condemned: universalism itself or associated stuff), but I think it’s safe to say at least that at that time the situation turns rather dire for would-be Christian universalists.
    And that’s basically the story I’ve read in other places, all of which encourages at least in me the view that early enough on, universalism was not at all out-of-bounds, nor does there seem to be any “of course” about its denial. But that could be wrong, and these histories aren’t really geared toward answering the questions we’re interested in here. So I’d be very interested in histories that are better geared toward such questions, and do a good job of addressing them.
    I mean, I know about, for instance, J.W. Hanson’s Universalism: The Prevailing Doctrine of the Christian Church During Its First Five Hundred Years, which the universalist Tentmaker site makes freely available here: http://www.tentmaker.org/books/Prevailing.html . The title tells you a lot about the conclusions Hanson reaches! But in addition to being quite dated (1899), in what seems a bad way, my own admittedly brief look into the matter left me suspicious that Hanson was a bit eager to reach positive conclusions about the place of universalism in the early church – to the point that I ended up taking the book mostly to be useful as a set of leads, needing to checked out, about where one might well look to find evidence of universalism in the early church. (That said, many of those leads I was able to look into did seem to be checking out pretty well.)

    March 14, 2011 — 12:52
  • Alexander Pruss

    This is interesting. So, the picture I get from Jurgens and your post is that there was a some universalism around between the third and fifth centuries, inclusive.
    In regard to period of the first through fifth centuries, Jurgens seems pretty thorough in his coverage, and although his purposes in general are to support Catholic teaching, he routinely includes interesting texts that disagree with Catholic teaching. Jurgens, as I said, doesn’t list any pro-universalist texts prior to the third century, and lists lots of texts prior to the third century apparently talking of eternal punishment. (Hanson’s reading of “aionios” will dispute these texts, but Bauer’s 2nd ed. NT lexicon does translate this as “eternal”.)
    My quick browse through the early part of Hanson (thanks for the link!) finds no citations of clearly universalist texts prior to the third century. (I think his best bet would be to push even harder than he does on the texts about the descent into sheol. But in the end, I do not think this would succeed–I think it’s not unreasonable to take those texts as being about the redemption of only some of the dead.)
    Personally, I do not remember meeting any universalism in any of the texts from “the Apostolic Fathers” that I’ve read (but when I was reading the Apostolic Fathers, I wasn’t looking for evidence regarding universalism).
    If one is looking at tradition not as authoritative but as an aid to figuring out the views of Paul, then the first and second century texts will be of greater weight than the third century texts.

    March 14, 2011 — 20:01
  • Keith DeRose

    Hanson has a whole study on “aionios”, that I remember finding very helpful because of all its many examples, here:

    March 14, 2011 — 23:30
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    Sorry for insisting on this, but I am curious. Do you find it reasonable to hold that what the authors of Luke 3:6 and John 12:32 had in mind was “All people will see salvation, but many (or most) of them will see it happening to others while they are on their way to damnation” and “When I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself, but will fail to bring many (or most) of them to myself”?
    Also the idea that the damned choose their fate makes no sense to me. For example, how exactly does an atheist choose “not to be forgiven”?
    (Belatedly I found a very good online resource for comparing many different translations of the Bible, see for example http://bible.cc/john/1-12.htm )

    March 15, 2011 — 3:37
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    I think there is an internal tension in Christianity: On the one hand everybody agrees that God is unlimited in perfection, a Creator of pure, self-transcending, untiring, and unfailing love for all creation. And on the other hand according to the dominant official teaching God’s interaction with us is very limited and mostly indirect (mainly via the written word and tradition), which strikes me as a failure of faith at best or as self-serving at worse. Jesus in the Gospels says the very opposite in parables such as about the one lost coin or the one lost sheep in Luke 15. Plainly the first clearly universalist texts of Christianity are first century to be found in the Pauline letters and the Gospels.

    March 15, 2011 — 3:40