Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


The New Testament and Universalism

posted by Scot McKnight

GregMacd.jpgRobin Parry’s major focus, in his book The Evangelical Universalist  , is a biblical case for universalism. He has a take on the Old Testament and then turns to macroscopic themes in the New Testament.

Here are his themes:
Jesus fulfills Israel’s calling in his own person.
Jesus’ death climaxes Israel’s exile.
Jesus’ resurrection climaxes Israel’s return from exile.
Jesus is the Second Adam.
Jesus reverses Adam’s curse in his death and resurrection and enables the restoration of humanity (Adamic humanity).
This restoration focuses on the church, but the church is a foretaste of the universal redemption to come. Thus, “all Israel will be saved” and the nations will flock to worship the Lamb on the throne.

A good example of these themes, a Second Adam text, is Romans 5:18-21:

5:18 Consequently, just as condemnation for all people came through one transgression, so too through the one righteous act came righteousness leading to life for all people. 5:19For just as through the disobedience of the one man many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of one man many will be made righteous. 5:20 Now the law came in so that the transgression may increase, but where sin increased, grace multiplied all the more, 5:21 so that just as sin reigned in death, so also grace will reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

As the First Adam brought sin “for all people” so the New Adam brought righteousness “for all people” (5:18). Thus, “Christ’s redemption is as wide as sin’s corruption” (79). 
Parry takes on the common view that the “all” who are justified are those who have faith and those who are in Christ and those who are the “many.” While I think “many” can be seen as “all” (it’s a Hebraism), Parry’s argument that the need for faith or in Christ refers to what may be the case for all someday is harder to show here. I’m with NT Wright here who says the “all people” refers to “Jews and Gentiles” but Parry argues that it also refers to each person in particular. I’m with him in seeing the universal redemptive impact of Jesus’ death and resurrection; his work undoes Adam’s work. Faith is necessary and Parry has to posit a post-mortem exercise of faith for his case to work.
Which also brings up the similar ideas in 1 Corinthians 15:

15:20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 15:21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead also came through a man. 15:22 For just as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive15:23 But each in his own order: Christ, the firstfruits; then when Christ comes, those who belong to him. 15:24 Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when he has brought to an end all rule and all authority and power. 15:25For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 15:26 The last enemy to be eliminated is death. 15:27 For he has put everything in subjection under his feet. But when it says “everything” has been put in subjection, it is clear that this does not include the one who put everything in subjection to him. 15:28 And when all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will be subjected to the one who subjected everything to him, so that God may be all in all.


What also needs to be observed here is that both sin and death are annihilated in this text. He closes this chp with extensive study of Rom 9–11 (“all Israel will be saved” means national Israel, though he is unconvinced this means every one in particular) and then the “every knee shall bow” text in Philippians. There he thinks we have another instance of redemptive universalism.


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josenmiami

posted December 31, 2009 at 12:12 am


I tend to agree with Parry. Robert Farrar Capon’s book, Parables of the Kingdom swung me around to the “Catholicity” of the gospel. When viewed in this light, the atonement really is good news …



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Gregory MacDonald

posted December 31, 2009 at 5:31 am


Scott
As you say, I do think that Paul is talking about the Jew and Gentile issue in Rom 1-5. So we’re agreed on that. But I think that his argument works by showing that all individuals are condemned in Adam and justified in Christ. Thus it is, he says, Jews as well as Gentiles who are sinners and Gentiles as well as Jews who can be justified. I think he is arguing that all individuals are sinners so Jews are sinners; and all individuals will be justified so Gentiles will be justified (but I have not studied the texts for a while now so I’d need to look again). So Paul’s primary interest in the context is not with demonstrating universalism but his argument strategy can (I think) legitimately be extended to point to universalism.
Same in 1 Cor 15: I don’t think he is interested in proving universalism but his claims have universalist implications (even if his immediate interest is in cashing out those claims in terms of their implications for the believers in Corinth).
In fact, I don’t think that Paul ever sets out to argue for universalism. Rather universalist ideas overflow from the cracks of arguments that have other foci. I think that his underlying theology is implicitly universalist and ‘begs’ to be extended in full-blown universalist directions.
Such an activity is not simply exegesis but a theological reflection on Pauline theology. I hope that if we spoke with Paul about the implications of his theological ideas he would agree with the way I have tried to draw out some of the implications.
So if you asked me whether Paul was a universalist I am not sure quite how I would answer it. I think I would feel safer to say that Paul is at very least implicitly universalist.
Robin



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Greg Carey

posted December 31, 2009 at 1:35 pm


Could it be that Paul had insights that outran his imagination? It seems likely with issues like authority and gender; why not the universalistic implications of his gospel?



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Brandon

posted December 31, 2009 at 4:51 pm


So excited to see this book being covered here! It was a challenging, delightful read a couple years ago, but I was too scared to discuss much of its implications with others. Looking forward to a good discussion…
I think where I landed after much meditation is that, if Parry’s molinism is a valid foundation, then universalism is likely true. Yet as an open-theist, I find the argument for universalism is much more difficult to maintain. How I now long to be a molinist, if only for universalism! (incidentally, are there any open-theist universalists out there?)



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Gregory MacDonald

posted January 1, 2010 at 9:41 am


Brandon
I did come across an open theist universalist (or at least one symathetic). He even constructed a very imaginative and thought-provoking case for universalism from his Open Theistic starting point. I am afraid that I forget his name (:-() but I am pretty sure that he knows Greg Boyd so you could ask GB.
Robin



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ScottL

posted January 2, 2010 at 5:01 am


I don’t think one can use Rom 5 to specifically teach evangelical universalism. The word ‘all’, used in places like Rom 5:18, is most likely not in reference to ‘every single person’. Why conclude such? Well, we continue reading in places like vs19 – ‘For as by the one man?s disobedience the MANY were made sinners, so by the one man?s obedience the MANY will be made righteous.’
Now, many a Calvinists might like to use vs19 to prove particular atonement, that Christ’s atoning sacrifice was only for the elect. Hence, Rom 5:19 refers to ‘many’, not ‘all’. A similar argument might try to be used with Rom 5:15. But this also ultimately doesn’t work because of the words in places like Rom 5:18, which refers to ‘all’. Both vs18 and vs19 seem to make it hard to teach particular atonement and evangelical universalism, at least from this specific passage.
In all, the main purpose of the passage is to show Christ’s superior work to Adam’s, how He faithfully made things right as the second Adam by His powerful death and resurrection. The purpose is not really to teach whether every individual or not receives the benefits of this work. Sure, we can read the passage to learn about who can/will receive the benefits. But Paul is not intricately trying to tell us whether only the ‘elect’ receive it (as the ‘many’) or if every individual past, present and future receive it (as the ‘all’). We just know this awesome work and its benefit is available to humanity.
Those are some thoughts I have on Rom 5, whether it’s used to teach evangelical universalism or particular atonement.



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Richard

posted January 2, 2010 at 11:19 am


@ScottL
So you would hold that the all is metaphoric hyperbole in both situations based on 5:19 using the word many? Doesn’t that then remove the foundation of a doctrine such as Original Sin or universal depravity of man/creation?
I agree that the passage’s emphasis is on affirming Christ’s work as superior to Adam’s fall.



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ScottL

posted January 2, 2010 at 12:13 pm


Richard, good question.
I think Rom 5 teaches about ‘original sin’ passed through Adam to all. But then we could try and pull out Rom 5:15 to say it only passed to some, since the word ‘many’ is used there. But I am not sure the words ‘many’ and ‘all’ are used to tell us so much specifics. Now, of course the argument would come – Well, you believe ALL were affected by Adam’s sin. Why can’t ALL be affected by Christ’s life-giving act as second Adam?
It’s a good question. I’m just not sure Rom 5 was written for us to major on the word ‘all’ to speak of evangelical universalism or major on the word ‘many’ to try and support particular atonement. As you and I agree, the purpose of the passage is the great work of the second Adam as compared to the terrible work of the first Adam.
We could try and use Rom 5:12-21 to teach either side, but, of course, we keep these in perspective of all of Scripture to see if either teaching stands up. I just think it a bit off to try and teach a particular doctrine from one passage. Obviously, maybe only one passage really touches on a particular topic. But with what is being discussed here, there seems to be a lot more in Scripture for consideration.
So, I don’t think we can argue in favour of either one with pointing to who Paul used the word ‘many’ or ‘all’. The other side could just point out that their doctrine is supported from the exact same text, since both words arise in the text. It just doesn’t seem to hold a great amount when both words are being used. Which way does one go? Do we emphasise MANY or ALL?



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TN

posted January 14, 2010 at 5:14 pm


Thank you for this interesting and helpful discussion. Here’s two points I’d like to share.
1) As Scot says, the word “many” is a Hebraism. In the Hebrew pointing of Isaiah 53:11 it comes out as “my righteous servant shall give justification to the many”. It is easy to see how “the many” can mean “the whole multitude”, “everyone”.
Mark 10:45 and (the very Jewish) Matt 20:28 say that Jesus “gave his life a ransom for many”. When Paul rewords this, he makes it: “gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Tim 2:6).
2) I’m glad Scot didn’t use the NIV when he quoted 1 Cor. 15:27-28. In the NIV it is not clear that the “subjection” of all things to Christ is the same word as the “subjection” of Christ to the Father, so that God be all in all.
Although the verbs “subject/be subjected” appear no less than six times in the two verses, the NIV seems to go out of its way to avoid the connection. The King James (AV) almost breaks the connection, but the NIV completely breaks the connection altogether. One wonders if the translators want to think of the subjection of all things to Christ as “ever-lasting punishment”, while Christ’s subjection to the Father is completely different, despite having the same verb.



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