Blatant Misrepresentation of Scripture
As I have carefully investigated the issue of salvation for all people versus the doctrine of hell, it has been quite fascinating to read arguments from the other side of the debate. Interestingly, a careful reading of these arguments is persuasive, but not in the way that their authors intend. Instead, they tend to convince me even more that the doctrine of hell is deceptive and biblically untenable. We will now look at some excerpts from a book that was recommended to me by a friend as one of the best defenses of the traditional doctrine. It is essentially a compilation of essays by various theologians. Unfortunately, misrepresentation of the biblical text seems to be pervasive in this work. Let’s look at an example.
Excerpt from Hell Under Fire, Chapter 4: Paul on Hell (Douglass J. Moo)
“If universalism were simply a modern cultural phenomenon with no basis in the biblical text, it would be easy to dismiss. But, in fact, several key texts in Scripture appear to provide initial support for the idea, and most of the texts are in Paul’s letters. We must deal with these texts to defend the doctrine of hell that we presented in the first part of this essay. For if Paul’s theological position is universalistic, hell has no ultimate place in his eschatological landscape. Universalism finds ostensible support in five key Pauline texts.”
If universalism were simply a modern cultural phenomenon with no basis in the biblical text, it would be easy to dismiss.
True, it would be easy to dismiss if it were simply a modern cultural phenomenon; the fact is that it isn’t.
But, in fact, several key texts in Scripture appear to provide initial support for the idea, and most of the texts are in Paul’s letters.
Mostly true, but “initial” support should be replaced by “strong” support to be accurate.
We must deal with these texts to defend the doctrine of hell that we presented in the first part of this essay.
Very true. In fact, if these texts cannot be explained adequately (and Biblically), the doctrine of eternal conscious torment is indefensible.
For if Paul’s theological position is universalistic, hell has no ultimate place in his eschatological landscape.
Bingo! The never-ending torture version of hell would have no place. Righteous judgment still does; purposeless eternal torment does not.
Universalism finds ostensible support in five key Pauline texts.
False, it is strongly supported in way more than five Pauline texts.
Although there are far more verses that strongly support the concept of universal reconciliation of all people in Paul’s writings (including 1 Timothy 4:10, Ephesians 1:7-10, Titus 2:11, Philippians 2:9-11, Romans 14:11, 2 Corinthians 5:14-21, and more), here are the ones that Moo lists: 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, Romans 5:18, Romans 11:26, 32, Colossians 1:20, and 1 Timothy 2:4.
In order to evaluate his approach, let’s look at how the author attempts to “deal with” one of the five biblical texts that he lists as possible support for the idea of universal salvation.
“The final text sometimes used to support universalism in Paul is 1 Timothy 2:4, with its famous claim that God “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” Universalists argue that an omnipotent God will surely accomplish what he “wishes.” If God wants all people to be saved, then all people will be saved—whether through faith in this life, through an encounter with Christ after death, or by some other means. The problem with this interpretation is that Paul teaches quite explicitly in this very letter—indeed, in the next verse—that faith, which Paul confines to this life and limits only to some people, is necessary for salvation (see also 1:16; 3:16; 4:10).” – Douglass Moo
Notice that Moo is claiming that Paul explicitly states three things in the very next verse after 1 Timothy 2:4:
1. Faith is necessary for salvation.
2. Faith is confined to this life.
3. Faith is limited to only some people.
Now let’s fact check the author to see if his claim is accurate by looking at 1 Timothy 2:5 (the very next verse). Here it is:
1 Timothy 2:5
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus
There it is. The very next verse. Does it say anything at all about faith being necessary for salvation, confined to this life, and limited to only some people? Does it say anything about faith at all?
The answer is no!
It doesn’t say anything at all about any of the things that the author claims are stated explicitly. It’s almost as if he’s counting on us being too lazy to look up the verses for ourselves. This, by itself, should be very concerning to you.
But perhaps he didn’t mean the very next verse. Maybe this was a typo or something, so in the interest of fairness let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and look up a bit more of the context.
1 Timothy 2:1-7
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth . For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time . For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
A careful reading of the context of 1 Timothy 2:4 actually reveals even more statements (that the author neglects to address) that are strongly supportive of salvation for all people. For example, Paul clearly states in 1 Timothy 2:6 that Christ Jesus “gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” This is yet another verse supportive of universal salvation that he chose to leave off his astonishingly incomplete list of five. Additionally, believers are exhorted to pray, intercede, and give thanks for all people. Finally, Paul clarifies that he was appointed as a preacher and apostle to share the message that Christ Jesus gave himself as a ransom for all.
The context does not, however, remotely hint at any of the points that Moo says are explicitly stated. This is quite bizarre. Why would the author say these things are explicitly stated when they are not stated (or even implied) at all?
There seem to be three primary possibilities for this:
1) He is making an honest mistake and is confused about the verses he is citing.
2) He is deliberately misleading you and assuming that you will not check his claims for accuracy.
3) He has been deceived and blinded to the meaning of the verse and is unwittingly passing on this deception.
I am not certain which of these is the case, but to give the author the benefit of the doubt, we should graciously check out the other verses that he cites to see if they say something about the points he is making. Let’s do that now. As a reminder, he cites 1 Timothy 1:16, 1 Timothy 3:16, and 1 Timothy 4:10 as purported supporting evidence. We will look at each of these in turn.
1 Timothy 1:16
But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.
In this verse we do see a connection between believing in Christ and receiving eternal life. So, we do see some implicit support for the necessity of faith in Christ to receive salvation. There is abundant Scriptural evidence elsewhere as well that faith and belief in Christ are necessary. This is not something I am disputing. In fact, I fully agree that Jesus is the “way the truth and the life” and that “no one comes to the Father except through [Him]” (John 14:6). As Romans 10:9 states, “if you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” The Bible simply states that this will occur for everyone when they bow their knees, confess with their tongues that Jesus Christ is Lord and admit that only in Him are righteousness and strength. So, I believe these verses are true, especially since God swears by Himself that they are (See Philippians 2:9-11, Romans 14:11, and Isaiah 45:22-24)!
So we see that the author is correct in asserting that faith in Christ is vital, although he could have chosen better verses to make this point. But his other two points, namely that faith is confined to this life and limited to only some people, still have no support in the verses that he cites. In fact, there are no verses that make these explicit claims anywhere in the Bible. None!
Instead, if we look at the immediate context of 1 Timothy 1:16, a very different picture emerges. To better understand this verse, we must look at the verse that immediately precedes it as well, as indicated by the fact that verse 1:16 begins with the conjunction “but.”
1 Timothy 1:15-16
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.
So what is the point of these verses? The clear aim is to declare that Christ came to save sinners. Not only that, He came to save even the worst of sinners. Paul is an example of this, showing God’s incredible mercy. Nobody is beyond His reach, not the addict, not the idolater, not the murderer, nobody. Do these verses in any way limit salvation to only some people? Of course not! They say the exact opposite. Saving faith is available for everyone, for everyone is a sinner that Christ came to save.
In fact, we are actually told quite explicitly that everyone will come to faith in Christ as Lord. I’ve already discussed these verses several times, but they bear repeating.
For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Romans 14:11 (ESV)
For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.”
“Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth;
For I am God, and there is no other.
“I have sworn by Myself,
The word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness
And will not turn back,
That to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance .
“They will say of Me, ‘Only in the Lord are righteousness and strength.’
Now those are explicit statements. Not only are they extremely clear, they are backed up by God swearing by Himself, so I think we can be very confident that they are trustworthy. Also, if you are an astute Bible student you will notice that three of these passages come from Paul’s writings (one from the book of Philippians and two from the book of Romans). It is rather curious, therefore, that the author does not acknowledge them as supportive of the Biblical belief that God’s plan is the ultimate salvation of all people through Christ. It is quite apparent that he did not carefully survey Paul’s writings as he misses many more verses as well. Instead, he seems to be, so far, content to simply misrepresent the ones he does cite.
Now, let’s return to Dr. Moo’s next verse that he views as supportive of his claims that faith is necessary, confined to this life, and limited to only some people.
1 Timothy 3:16
Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great:
He appeared in the flesh,
was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
was taken up in glory.
There isn’t really much to say about this verse as it is completely irrelevant to the claims that the author is making. It offers no support whatsoever that faith is necessary, confined to this life, or limited to only some people, which are the things that he says it states explicitly. Instead, the verse is saying that Christ is the person from whom true godliness comes, and then describes Christ poetically. I, of course, agree with Paul’s claims here; I just don’t see how anyone could honestly agree with Moo’s claim that this verse supports his thesis.
Now, let’s look at the final verse he cites. Why he cites it I will never understand, as it completely contradicts his argument.
1 Timothy 4:10
That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe.
This verse is making the clear claim that God is the Savior of all people. In the original Greek, “all people” is Pantōn anthrōpōn (πάντων ἀνθρώπων) which is rightly translated to “all people” or “all mankind.” Saying that this verse is supportive of the claim that faith is limited to only some people is obviously false; it says the exact opposite. Saying that this verse limits faith to only this life is also false; this is not discussed at all. So, we have seen that none of the verses cited by Douglass Moo support his claims.
Now, lest you erroneously conclude that the “especially of those who believe” clause is supportive of Moo’s claim, let’s examine what the word “especially” means. In the original Greek, by the way, the word is malista (μάλιστα) and it is correctly translated as “especially.” As a matter of first importance, “especially” does not ever mean “exclusively.” Instead, it means “in a special way.” A simple example may help to illustrate this fact. Let’s imagine I say the following:
“I like pizza, especially if it has a lot of toppings.”
It is clear to everyone who has an accurate understanding of the word “especially,” that I like pizza with a lot of toppings even more than pizza with few or no toppings. I like it in a special way. It is also clear that I am not saying that I only like pizza with a lot of toppings and pepperoni pizza disgusts me. I also like pepperoni, or plain cheese, or whatever.
In the same way, believers experience salvation in a special sense presently. We are saved from our slavery to sin, from the fear of death, and from the powers of darkness. And we are saved to righteousness, courage, and spiritual light. This does not in any way limit the clear statement that God is the “Savior of all people.” Instead it clarifies the fact that believers experience special benefits that come from knowing God and Jesus Christ, so we can experience eternal (aionios) life starting now. In fact, this knowledge of God and Christ is eternal (aionios) life, according to Jesus, as He states in John 17:3. Everyone will eventually know Him, as we have seen, and will then experience this eternal life, but believers are especially blessed to experience it now as well.
Douglass Moo’s claim that faith is limited to only some people and only to this life are not supported at all by the verses he cites. Remember, Moo himself said the following:
"We must deal with these texts to defend the doctrine of hell that we presented in the first part of this essay. For if Paul’s theological position is universalistic, hell has no ultimate place in his eschatological landscape."
Did he succeed in dealing with 1 Timothy 2:4 to contradict ultimate universal salvation in a compelling way using Scripture?
The clear answer is no, not at all. Not even close.
By his own criteria, failure to “deal with” these texts means that hell (at least of the eternal, purposeless variety) “has no ultimate place in his [Paul’s] eschatological landscape.” Therefore, according to Moo’s standards, we can reasonably conclude that such a hell does not, in fact, have any real place in Paul’s theology. Instead it is far more reasonable to take the verses under discussion in 1 Timothy 2 as clear statements that God really does desire “all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” and that he really did give himself “as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” Moreover, Paul further emphasizes the truth of his statement that Christ was a “ransom for all” when he says “I am telling the truth, I am not lying.”
Theologians would do well to follow Paul’s example in this regard. It is, however, obvious and undeniable that the verses cited by Moo miserably fail to support his thesis. Using verses in such a manner, whether intentionally or unintentionally, is deceptive and unbecoming of a Bible scholar. Unfortunately, this sort of tactic is shockingly common among those who wish to defend their tradition. We have already seen (in an earlier chapter of this work ), a well-known Bible scholar, J.I. Packer, do something similar. As a reminder, Packer (also writing in this same “scholarly” book, Hell Under Fire) cites half of 1 John 2:2 as part of his argument that God’s love is only for believers. He, as we saw, ignores the part that says that Christ’s atoning sacrifice for our sins is “not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” Again, this is a blatant misrepresentation of Scripture.
This should shock you. You should probably be angry. But most of all, you should carefully and critically read the Scriptures and the arguments being presented by anyone to make sure that they are sound and true. People will misrepresent Scripture. They always have and they always will (until all is made right, at least). I do not even want you to trust what I’m saying. Look into what is being said with all your mind, by examining the Greek and the whole counsel of Scripture, and the truth will become apparent. Don’t take my word for it, but for the sake of truth, don’t take theirs either, no matter how fancy their credentials seem.
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CitationsMorgan, Christopher W., and Robert A. Peterson. Hell under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment. Zondervan, 2004.