Texts Espoused to Teach Universalism
The goal here is not to give an exhaustive commentary on each passage but merely to show that there are very viable interpretations that are faithful to the whole of Scripture and do not lead to universalism.
“Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.  By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.’”
In the LXX (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) απιστραϕητε is an imperative and means “turn around.” It has to do with changing ones beliefs and ways. It translates the Hebrew word (פָּנָה) meaning “turn” which is also in the imperative. So God here is not asking people to turn to Him, He’s commanding it. And it says that all people (from the farthest stretches of the earth) who turn to Him will be saved. But it implies that all who don’t turn to Him (in space in time before the Judgment) will not be saved. So we see precedence for “all” being saved here, that is, if any turn to the Lord from all over the earth they will be saved. Whosoever believes will be saved, Jew or Gentile. It was (in the OT and NT) an amazing thing for Paul for example that Gentiles can now be welcomed in (he called it a mystery). All the uncircumcised, the Egyptians that enslaved Israel, the Babylonians, all people that turn to the Lord (in space in time before the Judgment) will be saved. They will be saved from the terror of the Messiah’s Second Coming and the Final Destruction.
In the context, this passage would strike fear into the hearers, not comfort. This passage is saying, “repent and turn or else!” Further, v. 25 says “all the offspring of Israel shall be justified,” i.e. all those who have faith (see e.g. Rom. 2:28-29; 4:1-16; 9:6), not all without exception. “Yahweh’s speech ends with a prediction of destructive fire for those who do not submit to his reality and reign (Isa 47:14-15)… There is voluntary submission for some and involuntary submission for others.”
In the broader context of Scripture, we see what both Isaiah and Paul did in their “every knee shall bow” formula (Rom. 14:11; Phil. 2:9-11). They were picking those words up (with slight variation) from 1 Kings. We see Baal, who was connected to demonic activity (cf. 1 Cor. 10:20; Augustine’s City of God), had many people bow their knees. Yet, not all bowed to Baal and not all mouths confessed him (“kissed him”) (1 Kings 19:18 cf. Ps. 2:11-12; Hos. 13:2-4). However, all will, in contrast to Baal, bow and admit that God is God. Because God alone is God, “there is no other” (1 Kings 8:60 cf. e.g. v. 61; 18:21, 39-40).
Notice also that when Paul quotes from Isaiah 45 he clearly does not reference it to say that all will finally be in loving relationship with God. First, Paul says, “we will all stand before the judgment seat of God” (Rom. 14:10 cf. 2 Cor. 5:10: to receive what we have done in the body, whether good or evil). Then Paul says, “every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God” (Rom. 14:11). Then in verse 12, Paul says, “So then each of us will give an account of himself to God” (cf. e.g. Matt 12:36; 16:27). Paul is clearly not using the quotation to say all will be saved. No! He’s saying all will bow to be judged and give an account
Regarding the fact that every knee will bow and declare Jesus’ Lordship and that all things will be handed over to God, the Scriptures that teach us these things in no way mean or hint that all will finally be in loving relationship with God and freed from the eternal judgment of hell. We know from the Gospels and James that the demons themselves believed and knew Jesus to be the Lord and they trembled and confessed such but that in no way meant that they were in loving relationship with God the Father, it meant they were subjugated, under His sovereign reign.
For instance, Satan after being bound for a thousand years of judgment will then be released but we see he is not at all repentant but seeks to deceive the nations (Rev. 20:7-8; cf. Jude 6-7). There is no hope that after an aeon of judgment that he should repent. Thus he and his host are kept in hell where “they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (βασανισθήσονται ἡμέρας καὶ νυκτὸς εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων) (Rev. 20:10).
Universalists use the “bowing and reconciliation texts” (Acts 3:21; Rom. 5:18; 11:32; 1 Cor. 15:22-28; Phil. 2:10; Col. 1:20) to say that all people will finally be saved. However, there are other convincing ways to interpret these texts. Actually, it “was a familiar picture to residents of the ancient world: conquering kings and generals would return from battle with their prisoners of war who would be forced to bend their knees in subjection to the victor.” So, “bowing” then did not mean salvation, it meant subjugation. It meant you were conquered. It did not mean you were in good relations with the victor. When understood in this way it makes sense with everything else that we see in Scripture.
“Reconciliationism” also posits a viable explanation of the texts considered. Reconciliationism “pictures a final relationship between God and the totality of creation where the rift of sin is no longer.” Sin is no longer, not because all are finally saved as in universalism but because those in hell no longer sin. It does seem like “no passages teach ongoing sin in hell.” No sin in hell would make sense of the texts we have considered. There are better ways to interpret the “bowing and reconciliation texts” than by saying they support universalism. Looking at the cultural, textural, and larger biblical context we see that the texts do not communicate salvation but subjugation. Thus, the “bowing and reconciliation texts” do not lend credibility to universalism.
“And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”
What do Jesus’ words “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also,” mean? We see from the context that “fold” refers to the Jewish people. So “not of this fold” refers to Gentiles, those who are currently outside of the covenant community. So, this verse does not refer to the final salvation of all people.
“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”
Colin G. Kruse says,
“Jesus’ death on the cross would result in ‘all’ people being drawn to him. This does not mean that all people without exception would put their faith in him, for clearly some did not. It means people of all ethnic backgrounds would put their faith in him, one example of this being the Greeks seeking Jesus (20-22). A similar point is made in 10:16, where Jesus says, ‘I have other sheep that are not of this pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”
“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law.  Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.  And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification.  For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.  For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.  Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,  so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Paul is contrasting two different humanities, those in Adam and those in Christ. Paul is not so much talking about numerical values as about two very different results from the two representatives. For example in parallel statements Paul says “many” in one place (v. 15) and “all” in another place (v. 18) even though he is referring to the same thing, in one case death/condemnation in Adam (v. 15a, 18a) and in the other case grace/justification and life in Christ (15b, 18b). There are two different groups with two different results. What Paul is saying is that “Adam and Christ are analogous in that the status of all human beings depends on the work of Adam or of Christ” (Schreiner, Romans, 284). So, clearly, Paul is not talking about numerical values. He is contrasting something. He is saying the one group, the “all,” the “many,” that “receive… the free gift of righteousness” (v. 17) “much more have the grace of God” (v. 15).
Through one man, Adam, death reigned. Yet, all “those who receive the abundance of grace [through faith in Jesus which was understood to take place in life before the Final Judgment; cf. Rom. 10:8-17] and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:17). Paul is very consistent in developing his argument. Those who receive the abundance of grace are clearly qualified in Paul’s letter (Rom. 3:22: “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe”). Thus, we see that “all” does not refer to the same locus of people (see also “A Brief Exploration of Paul’s Use of ‘All.’”).
We see in Romans 5:1-11 that Christ is representing “us,” “we,” that is, believers.
“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
Thus, we will see that Christ represents His “all” (“us,” “we”) and Adam represents his “all.”
Paul is making a contrast between those in Adam and those in Christ. This is seen clearly when we look at the context. See Figure 1:
Douglas Moo says “Paul’s point is not so much that the groups affected by Christ and Adam, respectively, are coextensive, but that Christ affects those who are his just as certainly as Adam does those who are his… 1:16-4:25 makes it equally clear that only certain people derive the benefits from Christ’s death act of righteousness.”
Romans 5:17 says: In Adam = “death reigned.” In Christ those who “receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness” = “reign in life.” So the “all men/the many” in Adam = death and the “all men/the many” in Christ = life (v. 18-19 cf. 1 Cor. 15:22; there is a vast difference between the two humanities, one is in Adam and one is in Christ). The Apostle Paul is not making a numerical point. Paul is contrasting the two representatives all of humanity falls behind, either Adam or Christ. Paul is essentially saying what he says elsewhere, that all those in Adam die and all those in Christ live.
Notice also that, as Jonathan R. Pratt demonstrates, there is a necessary relationship between justification and spiritual fruit in Romans 5-8. The “all” whom God justifies in Christ are the “all” whom God begins transforming in this life. In other words, we see two groups in view throughout Romans, those in Adam who suppress the truth in unrighteousness and remain slaves of sin and die, and those in Christ who reap eternal life. The “all” who Paul refers to in 5:18b that are justified are the same people that (1) boast in hope, tribulation, and God (Rom. 5:2, 3, 11); (2) demonstrate love for God (5:5); (3) walk in newness of life (6:4); (4) are ashamed of past sin (6:21); (5) produce fruit leading to sanctification (6:22); (6) bear fruit to God (7:4); (7) serve in the newness of the Spirit (7:6); (8) walk according to the Spirit (8:4); (9) mind the things of the Spirit (8:4); (10) are led by the Spirit (8:14); (11) pray for God’s help (8:15); (12) groan for bodily redemption (8:23); (13) express love for God (8:28); and (14) are being conformed into the image of Christ (8:29).
So, clearly, it is not all people without exception that are justified. Rather, Paul is contrasting the two humanities, those in Adam and those in Christ. Those in Adam produce the fruits of the flesh whereas those in Adam produce the fruits of the Spirit. Those in Adam are clearly not willing to stand up for Christ’s name and thus God is not willing to stand up for theirs (see Matt. 10:32-33; Mk. 8:38; Lk. 12:8-9; Rom. 10:9; 2 Tim. 2:11-12; Rev. 3:5). However, those in Christ are willing to confess Christ publically no matter what it means. In fact, Paul says we must be willing to suffer for Christ. He says we are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him” (Rom. 8:17). Paul is saying that there is a real condition that must be met—and it takes place on earth!—for us to receive an inheritance with Christ.
2 Cor. 5:14-15
“For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died;  and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”
Charles Hodge explains that “Christ died for the all who died when he died.” To say it another way, Christ died for us who are controlled by Christ’s love. Christ died for those who no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised. Certainly, not all without exception are controlled by Christ’s love and live for Him but He died for all those that are controlled by their love Him and live for Him.
2 Cor. 5:19
“That is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”
“World” here does not mean everyone without exception, but everyone without distinction.
“For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,  and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”
I take this text to mean that “all things whether on earth or in heaven” will be reconciled to God soon. That is, there will be no rebel remnants. They will all be crushed below the Messiah’s feet. This is what we see in the OT and the NT. The Messiah brings peace/shalom through the destruction of the wicked unbelieving tyrants, not through their justification.
So in the future day when all the wicked are decisively defeated (think of the Rider on the white horse; cf. Rev. 19:11ff) there will be pervasive peace (“whether on earth or in heaven”). Yet, notice that Paul seems to intentionally leave “under the earth” out of this formula. So Christ the Lord is exalted above every name. Every knee bows to Him “in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Phil. 2:10). Thus Jesus is Lord of all without exception. Yet, peace only comes to those in the new heavens and the new earth. There are those in a different category that “bend the knee” and yet are “under the earth” and do not experience the peace of God. They are in a different category existentially. They are in “eternal punishment” (Matt. 25:46), “eternal destruction” (2 Thess. 1:9), “outer darkness” (Matt. 8:12) and do not experience peace.
“But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”
In the larger context of Hebrews, we see what “everyone” refers to. It refers to everyone who is “eagerly waiting for Him.” Hebrews 9:28 says, “Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him,” not all without exception. Actually, in Hebrews, there is a huge emphasis placed on the importance continuing in the faith even in the midst of suffering so that we can receive the promised reward and not the converse of eternal punishment (cf. 10:39). It is similar to what we see in Revelation, it is the one who conquers (implied: in space and time before the judgment) that will receive the reward (cf. e.g. Heb. 10:19-39; Rev. 2:10-11).
1 Pet. 3:18-22
“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,  in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison,  because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.  Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,  who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him.”
Luther said of this passage: “A more obscure passage perhaps than any other in the New Testament.” Yet some people try to construe 1 Peter 3:18-22 as teaching that there is a “second chance” after the Judgment. There are various honest exegeses of this text that do not lead us to a “second chance.” Whatever position we come to hold with this text we must let clear Scriptures interpret the more obscure Scriptures and we must not bring foreign ideas to Scripture into our interpretation.
There are other probable interpretations to consider. N. T. Wright says the passage most probably refers to “Christ’s proclamation to evil spirits that their power had been broken.” There is really nothing in Scripture that teaches that there is a “second chance” after the Judgment. The theory instead “must look outside the Bible for support.” And the book of Revelation makes it clear that we must not add to Scripture. The definitive word has already been given we cannot add to it or take away from it. Therefore if Revelation says that hell lasts forever and ever then we cannot say that it does not for that would be to take away from or add to it. Which if we do that it says we will receive the plagues described in it. We must also consider that there is textual warrant to say that Jesus was in paradise, i.e. heaven, after His death on the cross but there is no textual warrant to say that He went and preached in hell (Lk. 23:43).
Also, it is important to note that when it says “he went and proclaimed” it is in the past-tense. It refers to something that happened in the past, not to something that will happen in the future.
Thomas Schreiner says “the majority view among scholars today is that the text describes Christ’s proclamation of victory and judgment over evil angels… The point… is not that Christ descended into hell, but as in 3:22, his victory over evil angelic powers.” At the end of 1 Peter 3:22 it says “angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to Him” (cf. Col. 2:15).
Schreiner gives a few reasons why this interpretation is the best option. First, the word “spirits” seems to clearly refer to angels. Second, the idea that the evil spirits are in prison connects well with Satan’s imprisonment in Revelations 20:7. Third, Genesis 6:1-4 may provide the reason for the evil spirits’ imprisonment (cf. 1 Pet. 3:20; 2 Pet. 2:4).
Regarding 1 Peter 4:6 Schreiner says:
“The New Testament nowhere else envisions the possibility of repentance and salvation after death, quite the contrary (cf. Luke 16:26; Heb. 89:27)… The notion that all will respond positively to the gospel is ruled out by the rest of the New Testament, where the final judgment of the wicked is taught consistently (cf. Matt 25:31-46)… There is an insuperable problem contextually with this interpretation. In the entire letter Peter exhorted the readers to endure persecution, knowing that they have the future reward of eternal life. Even in this paragraph he presented that very argument, urging them to persevere because ‘God will judge those who are sinners’ (v. 5). It would make no sense at all if he were to shift gears suddenly and promise a second chance to those who have rejected the gospel during this life. If Peter were promising a second chance, the Petrine readers could not be faulted for concluding that they could deny the faith now and then embrace it after death. Apostasy, in any case, would not be the last word, for they would have another opportunity after death to believe the gospel. This interpretation should be rejected, then, because it veers away from the purpose of the entire letter and even contradicts the teaching of 4:1-6.
John Piper says:
“Probably one of the ways that the adversaries were maligning the Christians was by saying: ‘Ha! You say that you have such good news. You say that you escape judgment. You say your God is great and saves you and gives you joy. Well all we’ve got to say is: you are missing a lot of parties and you die just like everybody else. So if you die and go to the worms, and we die and go to the worms, we say, Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die!’ Peter’s armor against this slander and his fifth word to help us embrace suffering like Jesus is simply: The gospel was not preached to your dead Christian friends in vain. The reason the gospel was preached to those who have died is so that even though it looks like they have been judged like everybody else, they haven’t. They are alive in the spirit. They are with the Lord. And the sufferings that they experienced here are not worthy to be compared to the glory that has been revealed to them (Romans 8:17f.)” (cf. Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-3).
Consider also that the book of Revelation teaches us that it is those who “conquer” in space and time who can eat from the tree of life and who will not be touched by the second death (Rev. 2:7, 11). It’s the one who conquers on earth before the final judgment that has the “white stone” as admission to heaven (2:17). So, we see in Revelation that there is a clear and decisive end to the chance that people have to repent. The one who conquers is the one “who keeps my works until the end” (v. 26). It is those who conquer on earth before the coming of the Lord Jesus that will be dressed in white garments and have their names in the book of life (3:5).
We are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him” (Rom. 8:17). If we fail to follow the Lord in faith now, in this life, then it is clear we will not be glorified with Him in heaven. The basis of our reward or eternal ruin is based on a life of faith here.
1 Jn. 2:2
“He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.”
S. M Baugh says,
“John wanted to stress the contrast between himself as a member of the apostolic circle (cf. “our fellowship” v. 13) in conjunction with his readers (“even you [Gentiles]” 1:3), and any other group of people “far off, as many as the Lord our God should summon to himself” (Acts 2:39). The work of Christ is not restricted to Jesus, Greeks, or to any ethnic, social, or racial group. And God’s saving activity now is no longer restricted to a tiny nation in Palestine as it was under the old covenant. It extends throughout the whole world, wherever Christ’s people are to be found (Acts 18:10) and gathered in his one flock (John 10:16). That is John’s point, not that every individual who has ever lived or who will ever live has complete (or potential) propitiation of all their sins.”
“Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.”
The symbolism of the gates in the new creation never being shut does not mean that just anyone can come in. The symbolism means that there is no longer threat of violence. Because “nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (v. 27). In short, as we see from Genesis to Revelation, there is eternally two groups, those who are wicked and do not enter the gates of heaven and those who are in the Lamb’s book and do enter.
Again, this is by no means an exhaustive look at the verses that universalists use as proof-texts for their views. However, I believe we see that there are solid interpretations that do not lead to universalism. I think we see further that there are absolutely no verses that explicitly teach universalism. It is based merely on conjecture. And believe me, I have no personal vendetta that leads me to cherish the doctrine of eternal hell. In many ways, I would prefer it to not be true. But the clear teaching of Scripture leads me to believe that hell is forever.
 Gerald R. McDermott, “Will All Be Saved?” 242 in Themelios 38.2 (2013).
 This argument could be made in much greater detail.
 Satan’s host includes “the beast and the false prophet” (Rev. 20:10) but also includes anyone whose “name was not found written in the book of life” (v. 15). Satan and his seed will be thrown into the “lake of fire” with “Death” and “Hades” and this is the “second death” (v. 6, 14). Notice all the explicit things used to communicate the eternality of the Judgment. “Never can a person be more disastrously in death than when death itself will be deathless” (Augustine, The City of God, 13.12, 11).
 Gerald R. McDermott, “Will All Be Saved?” 242 in Themelios 38.2 (2013).
 Shawn Bawulski, “Reconciliationism, A Better View of Hell: Reconciliationism and Eternal Punishment” 138 in JETS 56/1 (2013).
 Ibid., 134.
 There is much to consider that we cannot discuss at length here. However, it is clear that there are various explanations of these texts that better fit the evidence than does universalism.
 Kruse, John, 268.
 “There exists a life-giving union between Christ and his own that is similar to, but more powerful than, the death-producing union between Adam and his own” (Douglas Moo, Romans, 318).
 John MacArthur says, “Paul’s primary teaching in these two verses [v.18-19] is that… God commanded Adam not to eat of the forbidden fruit, Adam disobeyed and brought death. When God sent His only begotten Son into the world to suffer and die, the Son obeyed and brought life” (MacArthur, Romans 1-8, 307).
 Cf. http://www.bunyanministries.org/expositions/romans/07_rom_resultant_gospel_ assurance.pdf.
 Moo, Romans, 343-4.
 Charles Hodge, Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, 136.
 N. T. Wright, “Towards A Biblical View of Universalism,” 55.
 Thomas R. Schreiner, 1,2 Peter, Jude, 185.
 “The word “prison” (phylake) is often used to denote the place where human beings are held on earth (e.g. Acts 5:19; 83: 2 Cor 6:5; 11:23), but the word is never used to denote the place of punishment for human beings after death. The term is used in Rev 20:7, however, for Satan’s confinement for one thousand years (cf. Rev 18:2). That the evil angels are imprisoned is clearly taught in Jewish tradition (1 Enoch 10:4; 15:8, 10; 18:12-14; 21:1-10; 67:7; 2 Enoch 7:1-3; 18:3; Jub. 5:6)” (Ibid., 187).
 Ibid., 207-08.
 John Piper, Arming Yourself with the Purpose to Suffer (sermon on 1 Peter 4:1-6), October 2, 1994.
 S. M Baugh, A First John Reader: Intermediate Greek Reading Notes and Grammar (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1999), 18.