So, in this brief series of posts, I am looking at a number of issues raised in regards to the matter of salvation. Interestingly, it was a post by an atheist JH McKenna, on the Humanist Plus blog, which is titled, “If Christianity is True, Everyone Is Saved,” that caught my attention.
In the first part, I looked at nine arguments that are often used, by a lot of different people, both believers and non-believers, to try to argue for universal redemption over against particular redemption and salvation.
While there are a number of responses over the years that have been made in scholarly circles, this blog exists to bring those high and lofty ideas down to the masses and to try to make them simple enough to understand and defend.
So, with that out of the way, we look at this final argument.
[It] would be contrary to scripture that plainly says Jesus saves all people: ‘Jesus Christ is the Savior of all men, especially believers’ (1 Timothy 4:10). ‘As in Adam all men die, so in Christ all men shall be made alive’ (1 Corinthians 15:22). ‘As Adam’s sin led to the condemnation of all men, so the righteousness of Jesus leads to acquittal and life for all men’ (Romans 5:18).
First, Let’s unpack 1 Timothy 4:10. The person who raises this objection has to get around God’s act of electing particular persons for a task (Abraham, Moses, and even pagan kings), as well as a particular people (see my study on the book of Deuteronomy). Jesus’ own words in John 6, and even everyone’s favorite bible verse points out that only those who believe will not perish. If one agrees with that verse then they must concede that not everyone will believe and therefore those who do not believe will perish.
Similar to a previous objection, in the first post, this also one commits the proof-text fallacy. In the former instance, the person putting this forward often neglects to point out that this is the final phrase of a kind of proverbial saying that Paul is giving to his young disciple, the pastor of the church at Ephesus, Timothy. The New English Translation, interestingly, puts the saying in quotes, indicating that Paul is quoting someone. If one has a Bible with cross-references, the saying seems to be a construction of phrases from earlier epistles of Paul. The point being that Paul agrees with the saying, a saying that had evidently met with some popularity in the church, then goes on to say,
In fact this is why we work hard and struggle, because we have set our hope on the living God,…
Notice the justification for the “work” and the “struggle” is due to the fact that Paul and his fellows have, “set [their] hope on the living God.” If Paul really believed that everyone was already saved, why is he engaged in this? He has no reason to. Now, notice the phrase that is often stripped of its context,
[…] we have set our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of believers. -1 Timothy 4:10 (NET)
Alright, now notice what Paul does: he says that “the living God” is “the savior of all people” but then provides the qualifier of “especially…believers.” If Paul meant to mean “all men” as a reference to the entirety of humanity, then he would be contradicting his fellow apostle who argues that only a particular people would be saved, and even the Jesus that he proclaims argued. However, the qualification of the adverbial phrase limits the effect of salvation to all who believe, which is a kind of people. Therefore, for a universalist to use this he has to destroy the Bible.
Further, it’s a misrepresentation of the clear statement of the text because it says that God, “is the savior of all men”, and not that God, “saves all men”. These are two completely different statements, as Earl Rademacher, in his commentary on the passage, notes that the first part denotes that it,
…describes God as the One who gives life, breath, and existence to all.
while the qualifier,
…draws a contrast between God’s common grace to all and His special saving grace to those who trust Him as their Savior.
(Rademacher, Earl. The New King James Version Study Bible. Thomas Nelson, Inc. Nashville, TN. 2007.)
Well, what about 1 Corinthians 15:22, which says, “[…]as in Adam all men die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive”?
Again, what we have is an instance of proof-texting.
Note that the adjective that is translated as “all” is applied to two groups: those in Adam and those in Christ. In Paul’s reasoning and context, we have a contrast of sources: death in Adam and life in Christ. In Adam, in his disobedience, all die. In Christ, in his obedience, all live. The problem is that this passage has nothing to do with salvation. It’s about the resurrection. This is a supplementary argument to Paul’s discussion on that subject. In fact, Paul can only make this argument because of the resurrection of Christ, which is a sign of God accepting Christ’s sacrifice for sin, something that the writer of Hebrews says is only effective for those who draw near in faith. This means that only those who believe in Christ will receive life. The use of the preposition to distinguish those “in Adam” from those “in Christ” qualifies who the “all” is in each case.
We’ll, what about Romans 5:18?
First of all, about the closest translation of the text to what is quoted is the Easy-to-Read Version. What does that have to do with anything? Well, it’s a manipulative use of proof-texting. Again, Paul has Adam and Christ in view as contrasts to one another. The problem is that if we take it as implied by the person making the argument, it causes Paul to contradict himself because Paul has already, at the beginning of his Epistle to the Romans has established all those who are saved when he said,
[The] gospel [is] the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…(emphasis added)
Paul’s point is only those who believe are saved because only those who have been saved can believe. Now, you might wonder about those who have apostatized from the faith, but that’s a whole other topic.
The inherent problem with someone bringing up verses like these is that in order for the suppositions to be true, you just have to ignore the categories that the authors themselves establish and consistently use. It means that they cannot see the text as either consistent or coherent.
So, does everyone get saved? It ultimately depends on how one defines “everyone”.