Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Universalism = InterpretationFail

It is awfully useful to observe how and where people go wrong in interpreting scripture.

If, say, a Universalist misappropriates a particular text to serve his cause, you can bet Calvinists, Amillennialists, Prosperity Gospel folks or whoever will use a similar bag of tricks to get where they want to go too.

In perusing Universalist websites for a previous post, I noticed many of them have this is common: they are fond of pointing to the word “all”, as though its employment in any context decisively proves their point. I suppose this preoccupation is easily understood, given the nature of their particular doctrinal aberration.

How can we go about making Scripture say whatever we’d like it to?

Let’s examine a couple of Universalist examples of verses in which the word “all” is used, and the Universalist arguments in their own words, to see how (or perhaps if) they got where they wanted to go:

A Ransom for All

First, an example of what we might call the “Blowing Smoke” school of interpretation.

The quote:
“Who gave himself a ransom for all.” (1 Timothy 2:6)
The Universalist explanation:
“The fact is that Jesus can lose no one. That is the greatest message you have ever heard. You can not save more than everyone, can you? And Jesus is not allowed to save less.”
When you don’t actually have a point or when your explanation has nothing to do with the verse you’re quoting, it may help to adorn it with superlatives, like: “That is the greatest message you have ever heard”.

Maybe, but I cannot find a single thing in the verse being quoted that relates to what follows, can you?

If I were a Universalist, I might find ways to try to use that verse to make my point. I could take the position, for instance, that “all” means “everybody in the whole world throughout all of history”. So, hypothetically, if the Lord Jesus ransomed all, then the ransom has been paid for everyone’s sin, and God must forgive everyone on that basis.

Of course, assuming that I’m a Universalist, that doesn’t get me where I want to go either, does it? Paying a ransom is simply one part of a transaction. The ransom also has to be accepted. The prisoner must also be freed.

What happens when those for whom the price has been paid don’t want redemption? That’s pretty much analogous to the situation the unsaved find themselves in, isn’t it. You tell them a ransom has been paid, and many just shrug.

Some don’t acknowledge the authority of the Judge.

Some deny they’re in jail.

Most think they can beat the charges and would prefer to make bail on their own.

Still, that’s the case I’d try to make from the phrase “a ransom for all”. But this writer doesn’t even bother doing that.

Instead, he makes four unrelated statements:

1.   “Jesus can lose no one” [true, assuming they are “his” in the first place, but not in any way related to the verse];

2.   “This is the greatest message you have ever heard” [unsubstantiated self-promotion];

3.   “You cannot save more than everyone, can you?” [again, true, but not on point]; and

4.   “Jesus is not allowed to save less” [I’d be awfully careful about telling God the Son what he’s ‘not allowed’, myself].

The poor verse never even has a chance to get a word in edgewise.

All Should Come to Repentance

Second, an excellent example of over-reliance on an English/Greek dictionary:

The quote:
“[The Lord is] … not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)
The Universalist explanation:
“The Greek word there for “willing” is boulomenoV (Boulomenos) and it means, to will deliberately, to have a purpose. The deliberate will of God is His purpose. Therefore, if His deliberate will is that no one should perish, His purpose must be for all to be saved.”
Sorry, but is not enough to look up the meaning of a Greek word in your dictionary. You need to observe how the word is used in Scripture if you want your argument to have any sort of intellectual heft or spiritual impact. If not, anyone who knows even a little Greek will have you for lunch.

And whether or not this Universalist has got his ducks in a row about the dictionary definition (I didn’t check), he’s all wet with respect to its actual Scriptural usage. From even a quick-and-dirty usage check, it is abundantly clear that boulomenoV, far from being a rock-solid indication of “purposed will”, more often than not simply denotes a preference:

·        When John says “I would rather not use paper and ink”, the words “would rather” translate boulomenoV.

·        When, writing about Diotrephes, John says “he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to”, the words “want to” translate boulomenoV.

·        When Luke records that “Paul wished to go in among the crowd”, the words “wished to” yet again translate boulomenoV.

Further, in two of the three cases (and many, if not most, of the recorded uses of boulomenoin the New Testament), the allegedly “purposed will” was, in fact, thwarted by circumstances, or re-thought by the person who “willed” it in the first place.

boulomenoV is certainly used — albeit very rarely — to describe “purposed will”. Romans 9:9 is a good example, where Paul puts words in the mouth of those who disagree with him and asks, “who can resist [God’s] will?” In that instance, his meaning is most certainly “purposed will”.

But you can’t get that from the Greek. You get it from context.

Now, we know where the Universalist wants to get to with this, of course. He just can’t get to it from Greek words. So he trots out the Greek anyway and hopes you won’t look for yourself. (I’m giving him credit for being smart but immoral here; it’s always possible he doesn’t even realize his argument is a non-starter.)

He could certainly try to make a case, if he wished, by insisting that God’s will is ALWAYS “purposed will” because he’s God. But he doesn’t, because if he did, he’d be a Calvinist as well as a Universalist. And of course, he’d have to prove that point from other Scriptures instead of relying on the quick fix of an appeal to a pseudo-authority.

And Speaking of Context …

This is why bringing up verses out of context as proof texts for deviant theology is often a horrible, horrible mistake. Bear in mind that I didn’t bring up 2 Peter 3:9, the Universalists did.

And now, have a look at the context of that verse.

Peter is talking about God’s judgement and how it appears to be delayed. In the last days, he says, “mockers” will say “Where is the promise of his coming?” 

This is where Peter tells us the Lord is “not willing” that any should perish.

How does this ‘unwillingness’ manifest itself? In removing the prospect of judgment entirely? No, Peter says it is demonstrated in patience. God gives every opportunity for men to accept his offer of salvation.

Because — and here’s your punch line — Peter says:
“… the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.”
Wait, “judgment and destruction of the ungodly”? That’s the exact opposite of what the Universalist is looking to prove, and it’s the theme of the entire chapter.

Frankly, if I were a Universalist, I’d avoid 2 Peter like the plague.

But that’s just me.

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