This entry is part 75 of 101 in the series: Tough texts
- Genesis 1:26 – Why a plural name for God?
- Genesis 3 – traditional and revisionist readings
- Genesis 3:16b – ‘Your desire shall be for your husband’
- Genesis 5 – the ages of the antedeluvians
- Genesis 6:1f – ‘The sons of God’
- Genesis 6-8 – A worldwide flood?
- Genesis 12:3 – ‘I will bless those who bless you’
- Genesis 22 – “Abraham, kill your son”
- Exodus – Who hardened Pharaoh’s heart?
- Exodus 12:37 – How many Israelites left Egypt?
- Leviticus 19:18 “Love your neighbour as yourself”
- Joshua 6 – the fall of Jericho
- Joshua 10 – Joshua’s ‘long day’
- Judges 19:11-28 – The priest and the concubine
- 1 Samuel 16:14 – ‘An evil spirit from the Lord’
- 2 Sam 24:1, 1 Chron 21:1 – Who incited David?
- 1 Kings 20:30 – ‘The wall collapsed on 27,000 of them’
- Psalm 105:15 – ‘Touch not my anointed’
- Psalm 137:8f – ‘Happy is he who dashes your infants against the rocks’
- Isaiah 7:14/Matthew 1:23 – “The virgin will conceive”
- Daniel 7:13 – ‘Coming with the clouds of heaven’
- Jonah – history or fiction?
- Mt 1:1-17 and Lk 3:23-38 – the genealogies of Jesus
- Matthew 2:1 – ‘Magi from the east’
- Matthew 2:2 – The star of Bethlehem
- Matthew 2:8f – Can God speak through astrology?
- Matthew 2:23 – ‘Jesus would be called a Nazarene’
- Matthew 5:21f – Did Jesus reject the Old Testament?
- Matthew 7:16,20 – ‘You will recognise them by their fruit’
- Matthew 8:5/Luke 7:3 – Who asked Jesus to help?
- Matthew 8:5/Luke 7:7 – son? servant? male lover?
- Matthew 8:28 – Gadara or Gerasa?
- Matthew 10:23 – ‘Before the Son of Man comes’
- Matthew 11:12 – Forceful entry, or violent opposition, to the kingdom?
- Matthew 12:40 – Three days and three nights
- The Parable of the Sower – return from exile?
- Mt 15:21-28/Mk 7:24-30 – Jesus and the Canaanite woman
- Matthew 18:10 – What about ‘guardian angels’?
- Matthew 18:20 – ‘Where two or three are gathered…’
- Matthew 16:18 – Peter the rock?
- Matthew 21:7 – One animal or two?
- Mt 24:34/Mk 13:30 – ‘This generation will not pass away’
- Matthew 25:40 – ‘These brothers of mine’
- Matthew 27:46/Mark 15:34 – Jesus’ cry of dereliction
- Matthew 27:52f – Many bodies raised?
- Mark 1:41 – ‘Compassion’, or ‘anger/indignation’?
- Mark 2:25f – ‘When Abiathar was high priest’
- Mark 3:29; Luke 12:10 – The unpardonable sin
- Mark 4:31 – ‘The smallest of all the seeds’?
- Mark 6:45 – ‘To Bethsaida’
- Mark 12:41-44/Luke 21:1-4 – ‘The widow’s mite’
- Luke 2:1f – Quirinius and ‘the first registration’
- Luke 2 – Was Joseph from Nazareth, or Bethlehem?
- Luke 2:7 – ‘No room at the inn’
- Luke 2:8 – Shepherds: a despised class?
- Luke 4:16-19 – An incomplete quotation?
- Luke 7:2 – ‘Highly valued servant’ or ‘gay lover’?
- John 1:1 – ‘The Word was God’
- John 2:6 – symbol or history?
- John 2:12 – Did Mary bear other children?
- When did Jesus cleanse the Temple?
- John 3:16f – What is meant by ‘the world’?
- John 4:44 – ‘His own country’
- John 7:40-44 – Did John know about Jesus’ birthplace?
- John 7:53-8:11 – The woman caught in adultery
- John 14:6 – “No one comes to the Father except through me”
- John 14:12 – ‘Greater deeds’
- John 20:21 – “Just as the Father has sent me, I also send you.”
- John 21:11 – One hundred and fifty three fish
- Acts 5:1-11 – Ananias and Sapphira
- Acts 5:34-37 – a (minor) historical inaccuracy?
- Romans 1:5 – ‘The obedience of faith’
- Romans 1:18 – Wrath: personal or impersonal?
- Rom 3:22; Gal 2:16 – faith in, or faithfulness of Christ?
- Romans 5:18 – ‘Life for all?’
- Rom 7:24 – Who is the ‘wretched man’?
- Romans 11:26a – ‘And so all Israel will be saved’
- 1 Corinthians 14:34 – ‘Women should be silent in the churches’
- 1 Corinthians 15:28 – ‘The Son himself will be subjected to [God]’
- 1 Corinthians 15:29 – ‘Baptized for the dead’
- 1 Corinthians 15:44 – ‘Raised a spiritual body’
- 2 Corinthians 5:21 – ‘God made Christ to be sin for us’
- Galatians 3:17 – How much later?
- Galatians 3:28 – ‘Neither male nor female’
- Galatians 6:2 – ‘The law of Christ’
- Galatians 6:16 – The Israel of God
- Ephesians 1:10 – ‘The fullness of the times’
- Philippians 2:10 – ‘The name that is above every name’
- 1 Cor 11:3/Eph 5:23 – ‘Kephale’: ‘head’? ‘source’? ‘foremost’?
- Colossians 1:19f – Universal reconciliation?
- 1 Thessalonians 2:14f – ‘The Jews, who killed Jesus’
- 1 Timothy 2:4 – ‘God wants all people to be saved’
- 1 Timothy 2:11f – ‘I do not allow woman to teach or exercise authority over a man’
- 1 Timothy 4:10 – ‘The Saviour of all people’
- Hebrews 6:4-6 – Who are these people?
- Hebrews 12:1 – Who are these witnesses?
- 1 Peter 3:18-20 – Christ and the spirits in prison
- 2 Peter 3:9 – ‘The Lord wishes all to come to repentance’
- Jude 7 – ‘Unnatural desire’
- Revelation 7:4 – The 144,000
- Revelation 14:11 – ‘No rest day or night’
Some have taken Paul to be teaching universalism here. For Kasemann, ‘all-powerful grace is unthinkable without eschatological universalism.’
In The Lost Message of Paul (ch 19), Steve Chalke insists that, for Paul, ‘all people’ must mean ‘all people without exception’. The gift of life is co-extensive for ‘all men’ with the sentence of condemnation ‘for all men’. To interpret otherwise, he says, is not only ‘disingenuous’, but also renders Paul’s language incoherent. We think that Chalke’s summary rejection of alternative views, together with his dismissal of those who hold them as ‘disingenuous’ is irresponsible.
But it is easy to show that ‘all’, in Scripture, can often mean ‘all without distinction’, rather than ‘all without exception’. Andrew Wilson comments:
‘When Luke says that “all Asia heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19:10), he doesn’t mean that every individual in Turkey heard the gospel in two years; he means, rather, “the whole of Asia”, considered corporately, in the sense of “the word of the Lord was heard all over Asia.” Most commentators have argued that “all Israel will be saved” does not refer to every individual in Romans 11:26… The same is true in the Old Testament, actually – nobody thinks that “all Israel came to Shechem to make Rehoboam king” (1 Kings 12:1) is talking about every individual Israelite. It means, “people from all over Israel”, or “all types of Israelite”.’
Passages such as the present one ‘have been taken to imply that God will bring about the salvation of all people; since, however, salvation is by faith, what he will do is to cause all people finally to believe through some kind of postmortem persuasion and reformatory judgment.’ (Marshall, New Testament Theology). Marshall goes on the correctly point out that ‘the fatal difficulty with this interpretation is that there is not the slightest indication in the texts of any such action. The final judgment, with the issues of life or death, is never presented as other than final. The texts must be understood in some other way that does justice to the total context of Paul’s teaching.’ However, Marshall is on slightly shakier ground when he asserts that ‘the point of Romans 5 is much more to demonstrate by the analogy of all becoming sinners through Adam’s sin that all can be saved through the righteous action of one person, Jesus Christ; Romans 5:18 thus refers to what is potentially available for all, provided that they believe.’
‘Some would ground the hope of universal salvation on Paul’s statement, “Then as one man’s [Adam’s] trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s [Jesus Christ’s] act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men.” (Rom 5:18) One needs to take into account the full sweep of Paul’s teaching on sin and righteousness. All men do in fact share the consequences of Adam’s disobedience, namely, sin and death, but a person comes to share in the benefits of Christ’s saving work only on the basis of faith in him. This limitation of the second statement about “all men” (v 18) to the believing portion of mankind is not arbitrary exegesis. A parallel exists in the apostle’s teaching on resurrection. “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Cor 15:22) The following sentence limits those who will be made alive to those “who belong to Christ.” Nothing is said in the chapter about the resurrection of the unsaved. Nothing is said elsewhere in the NT to the effect that the resurrection of the unsaved will lead to eternal life.’ (Jn 5:28f) (E.F. Harrison, ISBE)
According to Kruse, ‘the “all people” of the latter part of the phrase is best understood to mean all who receive the gift of grace, whether they are Jews or Gentiles.’ Dunn adopts a similar view, as does Hendriksen (with more detailed discussion).
Longenecker translates v18f: ‘Consequently, just as through one trespass there has resulted condemnation for all people, so also through one act of righteousness there will result acquittal that brings life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of one will the many be made righteous.’
Longenecker comments: ‘The universalism of God’s grace, which has been made effective “through Jesus Christ our Lord,” has to do with what God has provided on behalf of all people. It does not, however, as seen in the future tense (“will be”) of the verbs (both expressed and implied) in 5:18–19 and the subjunctive mood (“may” or “might”) of the verb in 5:21, assure inevitability, but rather speaks of what God has graciously provided, to which people need to respond positively.’
Moo comments that a universalist interpretation of this text would require Paul to contradict himself on a rather fundamental point within this very letter, ‘for he affirms unequivocally that the reign of sin and death can be escaped only through the gospel of Jesus Christ.’ Moo thinks it possible that Paul is teaching here ‘that Christ’s work on the cross is of potential benefit to all people.’ He thinks it more likely that ‘the “all” in the second half of verse 18 refers to “all who are in Christ.” This interpretation meshes perfectly with Paul’s overall purpose in Romans 5:12-21. He seeks to assure believers of their ultimate salvation (see Rom 5:9-10) by reminding them that Christ has more than cancelled the damaging effects of Adam’s sin. All who belong to Adam are condemned. But all who belong to Christ can be absolutely certain of eternal life. Paul is not claiming that all people will be saved but, rather, that all believers will be saved.’ (Morgan, Christopher W. Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment (Kindle Locations 2319-2324). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.)
Stott explains that ‘life for all men’ cannot refer to absolutely everybody, because the two communities are related to Adam and Christ in different ways. We are ‘in Adam’ by birth, but we are ‘in Christ’ by new birth. The latter are defined in v17 as ‘those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace.’ Throughout Romans, Paul insists that justification is ‘by faith’, Rom 1:16f; 3:21ff; 4:1ff. Moreover, Paul is clear that on the last day God’s wrath will be poured out on self-seeking sinners, Rom 2:5,8,12. We conclude, therefore, that Paul’s ‘all’ here means ‘all without distinction’, rather than ‘all without exception’.
Nevertheless, as Stott also says, we have grounds for having confidence that the scope of Christ’s redeeming work, though not universal, will be very extensive. For Paul uses ‘kingdom’ language both of the reign of sin and of the reign of grace, and this leads us to think that the scope of the latter will be substantially comparable to that of the former. Then, Paul uses superlative language to describe the work of Christ. In important ways, the reign of grace will be greater – much greater – than that of sin. It will be like an ample harvest, or an overflowing river, or an abundance of reign. ‘Although Adam’s disobedience led to universal sin and death, there has been a lavish extravagance about the grace of Christ, in both quality and quantity, which was entirely absent from Adam and all his works.’ Then again, Paul goes out of his way to assert that the ‘gift’ is not like the ‘trespass’. He uses the language of a fortiori (how much more). And, whereas the death-penalty following the trespass was earned, eternal life in Christ is a free gift.
‘This is not necessarily to assert universal salvation, however. In verse 17 Paul spoke of “those who receive God’s grace and righteousness.” Salvation by grace is not salvation by fiat, much less coercion. Grace is only grace where it grants the other freedom to receive—or reject—Christ’s self-sacrifice for forgiveness at the cross.’ (Edwards)
Commenting on the ‘restorationist’ (or universalist) position, Hodge writes: ‘This is made to mean, that as all men are condemned for Adam’s offence, so all men are justified for the righteousness of Christ. The same interpretation is put upon the parallel passage in 1 Corinthians 15:22: “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” In both these passages, however, the “all” is necessarily limited by the context. It is the all who are in Adam, that die; and the all who are in Christ, that are made alive.’ (Systematic Theology, Vol 3, p871f)