Examining Universalism III: The Universalist Thesis
(Act 13:44) Now on the coming sabbath almost the entire city was gathered to hear the word of the Lord.
(Act 13:45) Yet the Jews, perceiving the throngs, are filled with jealousy, and they contradicted the things spoken by Paul, blaspheming.”
(Act 13:46) Being bold, both Paul and Barnabas, say, “To you first was it necessary that the word of God be spoken. Yet, since, in fact, you are thrusting it away, and are judging yourselves not worthy of eonian life, lo! we are turning to the nations.”
(Act 13:47) For thus the Lord has directed us: I have appointed Thee for a light of the nations; for Thee to be for salvation as far as the limits of the earth.'”
(Act 13:48) Now on hearing this, the nations rejoiced and glorified the word of the Lord, and they believe, whoever were set for life eonian.”
(Act 13:49) Now the word of the Lord was carried through the whole country.
(Act 13:50) Yet the Jews spur on the reverent, respectable women, and the foremost ones of the city, and rouse up persecution for Paul and Barnabas, and they ejected them from their boundaries.”
(Act 13:51) Now they, shaking the dust off their feet against them, came to Iconium.”
(Act 13:52) And the disciples were filled with joy and holy spirit.
Previously in this chapter (vv. 15-43), Paul talks about how Jesus is the Savior and takes away sins through faith in Him. He explains this to the Jews in the synagogue on the Sabbath. The context in the surrounding verses (from vv. 44-52) is the Jews rising up against Paul and Barnabas for preaching the word of God to Gentiles. When Paul told the Jews that God had appointed this, to turn from bringing the word of God to the Jews and instead give it to the Gentiles, the Jews were incensed and threw Paul and Barnabas out of the area.. And so, I will put it before you, the reader, does this verse or the surrounding verses talk about final rejection and destruction of people due to their unbelief? (My answer is no, it does not.)
(Act 28:24) And these, indeed, were persuaded by what is said, yet others disbelieved.”
(Act 28:25) Now there being disagreements one with another, they were dismissed, Paul making one declaration, that, “Ideally the holy spirit speaks through Isaiah the prophet, to your fathers,
(Act 28:26) saying, ‘Go to this people and say, “In hearing, you will be hearing, and may by no means be understanding, And observing, you will be observing, and may by no means be perceiving,
(Act 28:27) For stoutened is the heart of this people, And with their ears heavily they hear, And with their eyes they squint, Lest at some time they may be perceiving with their eyes, And with their ears should be hearing, And with their heart may be understanding, And should be turning about, And I shall be healing them.'”
We just got done looking at the exact same reference from Isaiah that we saw in John 12. It is great that Paul shows that he was taught well and that he validated the Apostles’ teaching about what Jesus taught. Back to these verses, though, I have to say that once again there is absolutely no reference to final rejection and destruction of people due to their unbelief. This was probably a mistake by Packer to include it here. I will give him the benefit of the doubt.
(Rom 2:5) Yet, in accord with your hardness and unrepentant heart you are hoarding for yourself indignation in the day of indignation and revelation of the just judgment of God,
(Rom 2:6) Who will be paying each one in accord with his acts:
(Rom 2:7) to those, indeed, who by endurance in good acts are seeking glory and honor and incorruption, life eonian;”
(Rom 2:8) yet to those of faction and stubborn, indeed, as to the truth, yet persuaded to injustice, indignation and fury,
(Rom 2:9) affliction and distress, on every human soul which is effecting evil, both of the Jew first and of the Greek,
(Rom 2:10) yet glory and honor and peace to every worker of good, both to the Jew first, and to the Greek.”
(Rom 2:11) For there is no partiality with God,
(Rom 2:12) for whoever sinned without the law, without law also shall perish, and whoever sinned in law, through law will be judged.”
No argument from me here. I agree with Paul and I agree that God will judge those who are unbelievers, those who sin, those who are without the law. In verse 12 Paul uses the term apollumi, perish, to explain those who sin without the law. Here is the definition given by Strong for this word:
This is Strong’s number for the word “perish” G622
From G575(apo – my addition) and the base ofG3639 (olethros – ol’-eth-ros From ὄλλυμιollumi a primary word (to destroy; a prolonged form); ruin, that is, death, punishment: – destruction., my addition to the text); to destroy fully (reflexively to perish, or lose), literally or figuratively: – destroy, die, lose, mar, perish.
So, although Paul explains that those who sin without the law, those who are ignorant of God’s law (apparently then also of God Himself!), they will be destroyed, die, lose, be marred, or perish. However, Paul speaks of NO finality here at all. This is not a final judgment. There is certainly a judgment of the unrighteous, the sinner, but no specification of this judgment being a final judgment, nor of this “perishing” being a total destruction, as annihilationists believe.
We must be very careful when studying Scripture to not go beyond what is written, merely because it is what we have been taught. We have been taught many “inferences” in Scripture which point to many things that are not expressly stated. This leads to much ignorance of Scripture and division among God’s children. One quick example may help the reader. There is absolutely no verse in the Bible that talks about a pre-tribulational rapture of all believers. There is no verse that states the “Left Behind” situation made popular by dispensationalist teachers. It is derived through inference which is not necessarily true, and is in fact not true because it can not be supported in Scripture. This pre-trib rapture has led to much, if not most, of the Christian church looking for signs of the second coming of Christ and the pulpit crime of torturing people with the threat of being “left behind” at the rapture (or the first part of Christ’s second coming!). Many, as I have been, are told to get right with God now, before the rapture happens and you are left alone in the world with Satan and all the unbelievers. This is attached to the threat of eternal conscious torment in hell also and typically.
We must not only read what is in the text of Scripture and seek to understand what it meant to those originally written to, but not add to Scripture what was never intended to be there. We must acknowledge we have presuppositions about God’s Word and leave behind those presuppositions that deter us from understanding the text. So much of what the church today believes has come into existence over the last few hundred years. Universal salvation has been around and believed since the days shortly following Christ’s death and resurrection. More on this subject in the future.