Myths and misunderstandings about Christian Universalism

There are a lot of myths and misunderstandings (and sometimes even outright lies) told about Christian Universalism and Christian Universalists that I’ve encountered whenever the topic comes up, both in person and online. Whether it’s due to simple lack of study or due to willful ignorance, I can’t say for sure, but whenever the topic of anything even slightly related to UR (Universal Reconciliation) comes up, somebody invariably reveals that they don’t understand what it is we Unies (Christian Universalists) actually believe by quoting a variation of one or more of the many myths and misunderstandings I’m going to cover in this post, or by simply sharing a Bible verse or two they think we’ve never considered before (or are just ignoring).

Before I get into it, though, it seem that there’s something most Infernalists (believers in Everlasting Torment) and Annihilationists don’t seem to be aware of when it comes to Christian Universalism. The fact is that almost no Christian Universalist was brought up that way, but instead pretty much all of us came to believe this doctrine after much intense study of Scripture. Nearly every single one of us first believed strongly in either ET (Everlasting Torment) or CI (Conditional Immortality, aka Annihilationism), and didn’t change over to believing in UR without first studying what the Scriptures have to say about the topic, both deeply and prayerfully and at extreme length.

So, with that in mind, here are some of the various myths, misunderstandings, and even lies about Christian Universalism and Christian Universalists that I’ve read and heard many times:

  • How could 2,000 years of Church theologians be wrong about Universalism?

Universal Reconciliation was actually the prevailing soteriology within Christianity for its first 500 years! While Scripture and Christian doctrine was primarily recorded in Greek, UR remained the predominant belief. It wasn’t until the Bible and theology books became more Latin that Infernalism began to become popular, largely thanks to the Latin word “aeternus/aeternum” being used to mistranslate Greek words related to periods of time with a definite (even if unknown) end, which then caused “translators” of many modern Bibles we read today to make the same mistake as well.

  • Universalists don’t believe the Bible, or just cherry pick the verses they want to believe while ignoring the ones they dislike.

Christian Universalists believe every verse of Scripture. We aren’t just ignoring Bible verses we don’t like, or picking and choosing the verses we want to believe (yes, there are people who call themselves Universalists who do just cherry pick Scripture, but they’re not really Christian Universalists so much as just theological liberals). Many of us, myself included, are fundamentalists (inerrantists and literalists) when it comes to Scripture. It’s not that we don’t like the passages you want to use to prove we’re wrong; it’s simply that we interpret them differently than you do (it could also be that we realize some of the verses are mistranslated in certain versions of the Bible), just as you interpret the passages we believe prove UR differently than we do.

  • This passage of Scripture proves that Universalism is false.

The odds that the Bible verse you think is the one that will finally convince us that ET or CI is true hasn’t already been considered and understood by us are basically zero. It’s actually more likely that we’ve spent far more hours considering just that one passage alone than you’ve spent studying all of Scripture in your entire lifetime (I’m not bragging here; if you knew how many hours, and even years, that many of us have spent digging through Scripture to figure out whether UR might be true or not, you might think we were insane).

So, yes, we know that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, and that no one comes to the Father except by Him. And, yes, we’re aware of the narrow gate and that few enter it, and know about the sheep and the goats, the rich man and Lazarus, the lake of fire, the weeping and gnashing of teeth, the outer darkness, “the worms that dieth not and the fires that aren’t quenched,” and that “he that believeth not is condemned already.” Not only do we already know about all of these passages, we also agree with them completely, just as we do with every other verse in Scripture as well. We just happen to also believe that they might not be talking about exactly what you’ve assumed they’re talking about (or have been told they’re talking about by your religious leaders). Simply quoting those passages alone without also explaining why our own interpretations of said passages are wrong (as well as why the interpretations of each of the various passages we believe proves UR which we hold to are incorrect) won’t convince any of us of your current (and our previous) position because we’ve already spent far more time considering what they’re actually talking about than you likely have.

All this is not to say that we can’t be wrong. Perhaps we’ve completely misinterpreted all these passages and we were actually right back when we did believe in ET or CI, before we spent all those hours (or even years) studying the Scriptures to try to find the truth. But when someone tells you that they happen to believe in UR, please don’t insult them by simply sharing Bible verses you think they’ve never read or considered. If you want to prove us wrong, that’s fine, but first take the time to understand how it is we ourselves interpret those passages that we’re already very aware of. If you don’t, you’re wasting everybody’s time. If you really believe it’s important to prove UR wrong, go to the trouble of spending even a fraction of the time we ourselves have spent studying the topic so you can find out what it is we actually believe these passages mean. Only then could you possibly prove us wrong.

  • Universalists don’t believe in hell.

Okay, this one is actually partly true, because some Unies do and some Unies don’t. There are many “orthodox” Universalists who do believe that some “thing” or place called “hell” exists, although there are probably just as many understandings of what that “hell” actually is among those Unies as there are understandings of what “hell” is among traditionalists. But yes, there are also many Universalists (myself included) who believe in what most people refer to as “soul sleep,” who don’t believe a place called “hell” exists at all because we believe the dead are unconscious (we’re sometimes known as “Concordant” Universalists, and are different from the “orthodox” Universalists since we disregard tradition and go by Scripture alone) and instead believe that the word is a mistranslation of three different Greek words (and one Hebrew word). We all believe the lake of fire exists, however, even though there’s almost as much disagreement on what it is as there is on what “hell” is (please note: “hell” and the lake of fire can’t be the same thing since “hell” is said to be emptied and cast into the lake of fire in Revelation, at least in most English Bibles, and something can’t be cast into itself, so they’re obviously two different places or concepts).

  • If Universalism is true, why is that almost no churches teach it?

Speaking of the narrow gate, there’s no way a religion with as many followers as the traditional Christian religion has  — about a third of the human population of the planet — can possibly be the “narrow way” that few find, so a better question would be, “if everlasting torment in hell is true, why is it that almost all churches teach it?”

  • Universalists don’t take sin seriously.

I’d say we actually take sin more seriously than many traditionalists do, since we believe that God wants to completely remove all sin from existence, and that He indeed will.

  • Universalists believe in God’s love but forget His justice and wrath.

None of us have forgotten about the passages that talk about judgement or justice or God’s wrath. We just believe that an attribute like His wrath can never outweigh His essence, which is love. And we also believe completely in justice; we just don’t believe that justice requires everlasting torment. In fact, we’d say that we believe more in God’s justice than Infernalists do because we know that true justice could never mean never-ending torture.

Regardless, this argument could really be used against any Christian, since anyone who is saved is missing out on the same justice that traditionalists are afraid non-Christians might miss out on if UR is true, so it’s not really as helpful a point as they might think.

  • Jesus spoke more about hell than He did about heaven (alternately, Jesus spoke more about hell than anybody else did).

If you’re familiar with the original Greek text, you know that He never actually mentioned “hell” even once. But interestingly enough, if some of the more common translations of His quotes are correct, He was the first person to ever even hint at the idea that anyone might suffer forever in a place called “hell” (or is it the lake of fire? It can’t be both since they’re two different things), which means that for at least 4,000 years nobody — not even Israel, God’s chosen people — had any warning about everlasting torment in hell (or the lake of fire? Either way, the point stands). Yes, there is one passage in the book of Daniel that certain Bibles mistranslate as saying some will be resurrected to “everlasting contempt” but, aside from the fact that contempt and torture are two very different things, A) the Hebrew word mistakenly rendered as “everlasting” here is “olam” which is a word that refers to a period of time with a temporary duration, B) as we’ve also already covered, there’d never been a threat of a never-ending conscious punishment before this passage so there’s no good reason to assume it’s suddenly being proclaimed here centuries after the giving of the Mosaic law when no Israelite had ever heard of it before (for that matter, nobody prior to Israel was warned about it either; not even Adam and Eve were warned about it, much less anyone who lived from their time to the time Daniel was supposedly warned about it) and it isn’t even explaining who would be experiencing such a thing or why (or how to avoid it), and C) the passage is talking about physical resurrection on Earth anyway, not to spiritual existence in an afterlife realm while dead; the negative part of this passage is referring to those resurrected to life at the Great White Throne judgement before they’re killed again (which is why it’s called the second death) when their bodies are tossed into the lake of fire, at least from the “Concordant” perspective (“orthodox” Unies will interpret the lake of fire somewhat differently, but either way, everything else I said still stands).

  • Jesus came to save sinners from everlasting torment in Hell.

No, Jesus came to save sinners from sin and death, and death doesn’t mean “everlasting torment in hell.”

  • Universalists think that all roads lead to God.

No, we don’t. We believe that nobody comes to the Father except by Jesus Christ. We just also happen to believe that everyone eventually will come to the Father through Jesus Christ.

  • If Universalism is true then Jesus died in vain.

If Jesus didn’t die then nobody would be saved. That’s no different from saying, “if Infernalism is true then Jesus died in vain since some people will not go to hell.” Either way, we all believe it’s what Christ did that saves us.

  • Why should I believe this heretical doctrine you just came up with?

I don’t understand how anyone can say this when it’s been a belief by many Christians for some 2,000 years now, but somehow variations of this question or accusation is made time and again.

  • You’re trying to create your own religion.

Universalism is a soteriological position within Christendom, just like Calvinism and Arminianism are, and has been taught by many Christians for some 2,000 years, which means it can’t have anything to do with trying to create a new religion.

  • You think you’re a prophet and are adding to the Bible.

Seriously, some people have actually said this to me, seemingly under the impression that I came up with these interpretations of Scripture on my own, or even implying that I believe I was given new doctrines directly from God that I didn’t get from Scripture. Everything I believe about UR I learned from other Christians, and is based 100% on a Sola scriptura interpretation of Scripture. In addition, I happen to believe the gift of prophecy is currently paused, so I definitely couldn’t consider myself to be a prophet of any sort.

  • UR was condemned as a heresy at the Fifth Ecumenical Council.

No, it wasn’t: https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2020/05/31/did-the-fifth-ecumenical-council-condemn-universal-salvation/

Now, as a “Concordant” Universalist, I personally don’t hold any council other than the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 as authoritative, but regardless, it still wasn’t actually ever condemned as an official heresy.

  • If UR is true then something, something, Hitler.

Eventually, Godwin will always be proven right (yes, I know that’s not exactly Godwin’s Law, but I’m sure you get my drift). When discussing UR, somebody inevitably brings up Hitler in some way, and the answer to nearly all of their questions or points is almost always the same: Is your sin somehow less sinful than Hitler’s sin was? Are you somehow more deserving of salvation than him?

  • The justice of God demands a place like hell in which the wicked shall be eternally punished for their sins.

The justice of God demanded a perfect sacrifice for sin, and that sacrifice was Christ Jesus.

  • Universalism is not just. Do people like Hitler deserve the same thing that we Christians do?

Salvation isn’t something anyone deserves (if anyone deserved it, salvation wouldn’t be by grace). Nobody can earn justice or salvation by being good or avoiding bad or by choosing the right religion. If we could earn salvation by avoiding the sins Hitler committed, then salvation wouldn’t be by grace at all but would rather be by works. The fact that someone would even try to use this argument tells me they need to take some serious time to sit down and consider whether they have actually believed the Gospel themselves at all, and aren’t instead trying to earn salvation by works.

  • If Universalism is true, victims will have to live forever with their abusers/rapists/murderers/etc.

The apostle Paul’s victims from before he got saved are going to be in this position, as will the Christian victims of any other abuser or murderer who eventually gets saved, so this isn’t the strong argument one might think it is.

  • Universalists just want an excuse to sin.

If someone is a Christian Universalist then they’ve already believed the Good News (Gospel) that Christ died for our sins, was entombed, and was roused the third day, and has hence already been saved, so it makes no more sense to say this to a Unie than it does to any Christian.

  • There’s no point in believing in Universalism because, if it’s true, it doesn’t matter if you believe in it or not, since everyone will be saved.

From one perspective (the most narrow of perspectives), yes, that could be said to technically be true. But from a broader perspective there are still very good reasons to believe in it. For one thing, if it is true, isn’t it better to believe (and teach) the truth rather than a lie (especially since the Bible so heavily condemns false teachers who teach lies)?

But even beyond that, belief in this doctrine helps bring serious peace of mind that almost no Christians truly have (if you look at various Christian message boards online you’ll see post after post on a daily basis by people who are Christians yet are still terrified that they’re going to hell for eternity).

But from a “Concordant” theological perspective, there’s another really good reason to believe in Universal Reconciliation, and that’s the fact that only Universalists get to join the body of Christ according to this viewpoint. Now, the basis of this conclusion is a long discussion that I don’t have the space to get into here, but to put it really simply, if Universal Reconciliation is the outcome of Paul’s Gospel as explained in 1 Corinthians 15, not believing it means one hasn’t truly believed the Gospel of the grace of God in its entirety and hence have not been saved yet (relatively speaking, meaning they haven’t joined the body of Christ) and will miss out on the next two eons (the Millennium and the eon of the eons). Yes, everyone will eventually experience salvation by the consummation of the eons, but in the meantime they’re might miss out on a lot (including potentially reigning over celestial beings, along with the rest of the universe, for those eons). But even from an “orthodox” Universalist perspective, if you don’t believe the actual Gospel of the grace of God (which would include the fact that everyone will eventually be saved) and teach falsehoods, there’s a good chance you’ll end up in the lake of fire for a time, which likely won’t be pleasant.

  • Universalists are false teachers who are leading people into an eternal hell.

People who say this make us out to be more powerful than God. I mean, God apparently can’t save people if they don’t choose to be saved, according to most Christians, and it seems He can’t even convince most people to get saved because He didn’t make them smart enough or wise enough or righteous enough to choose the right belief, but somehow we have the power to convince people to believe something that will cause them to not get saved, and to go to hell for eternity instead. It’s also interesting that preaching the Good News that Christ died for our sins, was entombed, and was roused the third day (which is the Gospel we preach) is the message that’s leading these people into an eternal hell. I mean, if believing that message causes eternal damnation, think about how the apostle Paul is going to feel when he finds this out. Imagine the egg on his face at the Great White Throne Judgement when he’s told he taught a false gospel.

I’m not sure how the belief that Christ was successful and will complete His objective of saving everyone could possibly lead someone to hell (or is it the lake of fire?) for eternity, though. If someone believes that, they already believe the Good News that Christ died for our sins, was entombed, and was roused the third day, which means they’ve already been saved, which means it seems unlikely that they’re not going to heaven, so somebody will have to explain how someone believing the Christian Universalist message could possibly lead someone to hell (if it actually even exists) for eternity.

  • Universalism undermines evangelism.

Plenty of Unies (myself included) try to spread the Good News as much as possible, so from that perspective it definitely doesn’t undermine evangelism. However, I’m guessing the person who says this is implying that UR means there’s less urgency to preach the Gospel. Whether this is true or not comes down to what one means by evangelism, as well as whether “becoming a Christian” is really all that important in the first place, and, really, what the actual Gospel that saves us actually even is. From my own “Concordant” perspective, I see the idea of having to become a Christian in order to be saved as religion rather than Good News. To put it simply, I see religion as anything that teaches that God will only look kindly upon us if we believe and/or do the right things before we die. The Good News (Gospel) of the Uncircumcision (Galatians 2:7), on the other hand, is not a religion at all, but is instead the announcement of the end of religion (it’s a proclamation, not a proposition). Religion, to me (and to other “Concordant” believers in the body of Christ), consists of all the things (believing, behaving, worshipping, sacrificing) the religious think they have to do to get right with God, but no action or belief on our part can ever take away our sins or make us immortal. Thankfully, everything necessary for salvation from sin and death has already been done, once and for all, by Christ. The Good News is that Christ died (actually died, including ceasing to exist consciously) for our (meaning everybody’s) sins, was entombed, and was roused from the dead on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). This means that sin has been completely dealt with by Christ for everybody and, because of this, everyone (1 Corinthians 15:20-28) will eventually experience salvation and be resurrected (if they’re dead) and/or vivified (be made immortal) by the consummation (or end) of the eons (“God is the Saviour of all mankind…”); and if God has elected to give you the gift of faith to believe this Good News now, you’ve now joined the body of Christ and will experience a special, earlier salvation known as eonian life (“…especially of believers.” 1 Timothy 4:10), meaning you’ll have immortal life in heaven (or “the heavens,” which is really just outer space — Genesis 1:1) in a glorified body like Christ’s, where you’ll help reconcile celestial beings to God during the next two eons before the rest of humanity is also vivified (this last point is implied in Ephesians 1 and Colossians 1, among other places, and can be understood when one studies Scripture using systematic theology from a “Concordant” perspective). But in the meantime, while God calls members of the body of Christ to proclaim this Good News to those He calls us to proclaim it to, believing it isn’t essential to one’s ultimate salvation since our ultimate salvation was already taken care of some 2,000 years ago as I just covered, and God doesn’t intend to bring everyone to a knowledge of the truth in this lifetime anyway (while He’s saved everyone through Christ’s actions from an absolute perspective, He only elects certain people to be saved [from a relative perspective] and join the body of Christ — or to join the Israel of God instead, but that’s another topic — in this lifetime). So if someone doesn’t believe the Gospel, they won’t have the peace of mind that I have that God in Christ did indeed save them already, and they’ll also miss out on living through one or two future eons, but I’d also suggest that one’s concern that they might not become believers if they think the Gospel I just presented is true is actually less of a concern than one might think because, if they truly believe that they don’t have to become Christians simply because the above is true, not only have they already believed the actual Gospel (if they truly believe the above is true then they’ve already believed the Gospel) rather than the “gospel” the Christian religion teaches, but they’re now in the body of Christ as well. So, perhaps that does undermine “evangelism” from a traditional perspective, but not from the “Concordant” perspective I come at it from. I’m sure “orthodox” Unies have their own answer to that accusation as well, but that explains my answer.

  • Universalism undermines holy living.

No more-so than traditional Christian teachings about grace do.

  • The Hebrew word olam, as well as the singular Greek noun aión, plural noun aiónas, and adjective aiónios all mean forever or eternal or some variation thereof.

If these words mean what most people and Bible versions assume they do, they render Scripture contradictory, erroneous, and even nonsensical in many places. There are many more examples I could give you, but just to quickly demonstrate how these words can’t mean “everlasting” or “forever” instead of “a finite period of time,” if “olam“ means forever as the KJV (King James Version of the Bible) seems to imply it does, then slaves would have to live forever and could never die (or, if they did die, would have to remain as slaves for the rest of eternity after their physical resurrection if “olam” literally means “forever”), the Old Covenant could never come to an end (as, again, the KJV seems to tell us it won’t) and be replaced by the New Covenant (which it began to do when Christ died), and the land of Israel would have to be forsaken and desolate forever (as, again, the KJV appears to say it will be) rather than eventually become fruitful again (as the next verse says it will be, which shows that even the KJV translators must not have actually meant “forever” when they translated “olam” that way, unless they just weren’t paying attention, so it seems safe to say that a KJV-Onlyist who wants to remain consistent would have to interpret the “forever” passages figuratively and should actually believe in Universal Reconciliation). And if the Hebrew word translated as “forever” doesn’t actually mean “without end” or “eternal,” it stands to reason that the Greek words might not either, which is indeed the case, unless we want to believe there are three eternities, including a “past eternity” (even the KJV translators were smart enough to not render the word “aión” that way, but instead translated it as “before the world”) as well as a “present eternity“ and a “future eternity“ (which the KJV instead rendered as “this world” and “the world to come”), so these passages prove that the word doesn’t mean “forever” or “eternity” either, just like as the KJV’s rendering of “aiónios” as “since the world began” instead of “forever” does as well (so if anyone every tries to claim that “aiónios” absolutely means “forever” or “never-ending” or some other word or phrase that denotes eternity, just show them this verse which is all the proof one needs that it doesn’t since there isn’t a single version of the Bible [at least not one I’ve ever seen] that renders it as “forever” in this verse, and, in fact, most of them actually get close to its actual meaning of referring to eons or ages).

  • If aiónios doesn’t mean eternal then God will die.

The claim that when Paul called God “the eonian God” in his epistle to the Romans he must have actually been calling God “the everlasting God” because otherwise God would die is extremely misguided. As Martin Zender explained, “This verse isn’t trying to tell anyone that God lives forever. Everyone already knows God lives forever. Psalm 102:27 testified long ago that ‘His years shall have no end.’ It’s old news. The vital question is: Does God sit on high, removed from our struggles in time, or does He care what happens during the eons? He cares. Thus, He is the eonian God. This does not limit Him to the eons any more than ‘the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’ limits Him to those patriarchs.”

  • If the punishment isn’t eternal then we won’t have eternal life either.

Properly translated Scripture speaks of believers having “eonian life” (meaning life in a vivified/immortal body during the next two eons) rather than “eternal life” or “everlasting life,” but it also tells us we’ll be made immortal. So we know that when the eons come to an end we’ll still be alive forever, not because of any passage that speaks of “eternal life,” but rather because of passages that speak about our impending immortality.

  • God is a gentleman who won’t coerce people into salvation, or force anyone to go to heaven against their will.

I’ve yet to see that particular passage in Scripture. But regardless, this is a straw man argument that isn’t something any Universalist believes God will do anyway. We don’t believe God will force anyone to be saved against their will, but rather that He gives people the will to want to be saved in the first place.

 

The reason I wrote the above is so that traditionalists who read it can learn about (and stop sharing) their misunderstandings of UR, as well as so other Unies would have something to point traditionalists to in the future if they want to as well when they come across these myths and misunderstandings. And if you want to learn more about what it is we “Concordant” Christian Universalists believe, I wrote about it in depth in an eBook I wrote a few years ago, which is available for free here on this website.