There was an interesting post at Scot McNight’s Jesus Creed blog on September 14, 2011 dealing with “universalism” in the New Testament. Basically McNight wanted to know why the texts speaking of “all” finding salvation in Christ were not taken as seriously as those texts dealing with salvation and hell, or if that was the case. His concern is not primarily with theological truth, but with exegetical considerations: why do we seem to value the literal sense of this one group of passages more than these other passages? It may be, however, that one cannot discuss exegetical questions without entering the realm of theological belief. How we interpret seems to reflect what we believe, so even in the posing of questions, certain choices, conclusions and decisions are made. I found the comments at the end of the post challenging in some cases and fascinating in others, as quite quickly it became clear, to me at any rate, that positions regarding Scripture, Tradition, the Church would inform one’s view of how to exegete the passages which McNight lists. Here is an excerpt from his piece:
On a flight recently I was reading a book about hell, and one of the chapters was devoted to examining the so-called “universalism” texts in Paul’s letters. Sometimes Paul says things like “As in Adam all die, so in Christ all are made alive.” The issue is how “all” that “all” is! What I observed is that the author focused on showing that the “all” didn’t really mean “all.” This, undoubtedly, is the traditional view in the church.
But it got me to pondering this question: Why do we use the judgment/hell texts to trump the “all” texts? Why don’t we use the “all” texts to trump the hell texts? This is a question about method today, and not a question about which one to believe. I’m curious what you think about the proper method: How do we know which group of texts has the priority? What criteria do we use to choose between the two?
After this, McNight lists a number of passages dealing with “universalism” and a number considering “hell/eternal damnation,” without analysis or discussion, just to put them before readers to ponder. I think this is an excellent lesson in interpretation and hermeneutics, as you will see in the responses to the post.
John W. Martens
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