Tuesday, December 06, 2022

What Does Your Proof Text Prove? (23)

The website universalsalvation.org was an outreach of the UK-based Christianworld Church headed by the late Tony Sharpe that published occasional posts promoting the doctrine of Universalism after Sharpe’s death from a failed heart surgery in June 2004 until some time in 2016. The website does not specifically credit the articles there to Sharpe, but they appear to represent his views on scripture.

Like many other defunct websites, we only find Universal Salvation in The Wayback Machine’s archives. I can think of several possible reasons it is no longer active: (1) the church disbanded; (2) the person who maintained the blog died, as will happen to us all at one point, and subsequently discovered his beliefs did not represent reality; or (3) the person who maintained the blog discovered his error in this life and deleted it (we can only hope).

Either way, we don’t need to caution anybody at Universal Salvation about proof-texting. The same cannot be said for its former readers.

Unsurprisingly, Universalists love the word “all”. They especially like Bible verses that use it, and appropriate them shamelessly to try to make their point that everyone everywhere will one day come to enjoy the benefits of salvation and an eternity in heaven. Just for fun, let’s examine a couple of Universal Salvation’s proof texts in which the word “all” is used, and the Universalist arguments in their own words, to see if they got where they wanted to go:

1/ Blowing Smoke (1 Timothy 2:6)

First, an example of what we might call the “Blowing Smoke” school of interpretation. Paul tells Timothy that Christ Jesus “gave himself a ransom for all”.

Now, If I Were Trying to Make This Argument …

If I were a Universalist, I might 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 history. If the Lord Jesus ransomed all, then he paid the ransom for all men, and God must forgive the entire human race on that basis.

Unfortunately, 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 and the prisoner 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 existence of the prison they are in. Some acknowledge a righteous Judge exists, but think they can beat the charges against them, and would prefer to argue their case before God than put their trust in Christ. As the Lord Jesus put it, only the sick need a physician. Likewise, only prisoners who know they are prisoners need to be ransomed.

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.

The Universalist Explanation

Instead, he makes four unrelated statements:

“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.”

Not one of these proves his case:

  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” [yes, but that doesn’t help those who don’t think they need it];
  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’].

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

2/ Missing the Point Entirely (2 Peter 3:9)

Second, Universal Salvation provides an excellent example of over-reliance on an English/Greek dictionary and complete inattention to context. The quote:

“[The Lord is] … not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.”

The interpretation:

“The Greek word there for ‘willing’ is βουλόμενος (Boulomenos) from βούλομαι (Boulomai) 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. And that is Universal Salvation.”

God’s Will and Universal Salvation

If you want your argument to have any sort of intellectual heft or spiritual impact, you need to observe how the writers of scripture use a word. If not, anyone who knows even a little Greek will have you for lunch. Looking up the meaning of a word in your Greek dictionary will not get the job done on its own. Even a quick-and-dirty usage check makes it abundantly clear that far from being a rock-solid indication of “purposed will”, more often than not βουλόμενος simply indicates a preference:

  • John says, “I would rather not use paper and ink.”
  • About Diotrephes, he says, “He refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to.”
  • Luke records that “Paul wished to go in among the crowd.”

All these are translations of βουλόμενος and mere indications of preference. Whether the people in question actually got their way is another story. Did John get to meet the “elect lady and her children” in person as he desired? We don’t know. Was Diotrephes ultimately successful in preventing his fellow believers from welcoming the brothers? We don’t know that either. Did Paul go in among the hostile crowd in Ephesus? No, his friends wisely prevented him. Likewise, in most of the recorded uses of βουλόμενος in the New Testament, the allegedly “purposed will” was ultimately thwarted by circumstances, or re-thought by the person who “willed” it in the first place.

βουλόμενος 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 reference and hopes you won’t look too closely. 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. Let’s have a look at the context of that verse. Peter is talking about God’s judgment 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, it is demonstrated through God’s unbelievable patience. He 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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