Jesus clasps a person’s hands in his as they stand in front of a cross

Is Christian Universalism True?

  • By: Scott Stein
  • Aug 09, 2023

What is Christian Universalism?

Here’s how Rob Bell, a proponent of Christian Universalism, describes it:

At the heart of this perspective is the belief that, given enough time, everybody will turn to God and find themselves in the joy and peace of God’s presence. The love of God will melt every hard heart, and even the most “depraved sinners” will eventually give up their resistance and turn to God.

It sounds good, doesn’t it? It makes the gospel more attractive and takes away the threat of an eternal hell. It’s an idea we can buy into—it just makes sense that a good God would make the way for all people to be saved.

But is it true?

As I interact with people who are willing to alter, or just plain abandon beliefs held by the church for nearly two thousand years, what I so often find at the base of their reason is what they wish for and what seems “reasonable” to them. “Surely, a loving God would never, etc, etc.” Unfortunately, neither our wishing nor personal sensibilities determine what is true. Rather, it is God himself who is truth. And we come to know his truth by his Holy Spirit speaking through Scripture.

So, what does the Bible say?

Here are four Bible verses that seem to point to universalism. (Francis Chan’s book Erasing Hell is an excellent treatment of universalism and contemporary attempts to explain away hell. I would highly recommend it for further study.)

1 Corinthians 15:22 - For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

2 Corinthians 5:19 - That God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.

Colossians 1:19-20 - For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

1 Timothy 2:4 – [God] wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

Let’s focus on 1 Corinthians 15:22, which is most often used as Scriptural proof for universal salvation.

“All” Means All…Except When it Doesn’t?

In his book Love Wins, one of the ways Rob Bell builds his case for universal salvation is by appealing to verses like 1 Corinthians 15:22 and concluding that the “all” must refer to “all people”.2

There is a strong textual logic for reading vs. 22 this way. Since the parallel to the “all” made alive “in Christ” is the “all” who died “in Adam”, the natural reading is to take both as universal. After all, since the death that came to Adam was universal to all people, then it would seem strange to not read the parallel life that comes through Christ as a universal also.

However, there is another way of reading this passage. The universalist emphasizes the connection between the “all” and the outcome (i.e. “die” or “made alive”). But you could also read it with stress on the connection between the “all” and the qualifier (i.e. “in Adam” or “in Christ”). It’s hard to tell which way to read it in the NIV as presented above.

But what good is it if we can come to the same verse and read it in entirely different ways?

The answer is, it’s no good at all. And that’s why we need to do more than just find a single verse and read it. Any verse we read from the Bible must be read within its context, which is to say within the surrounding point or argument being made by the author.

Putting it “All” into Context

The specific issue Paul is addressing in 1 Corinthians 15 is a denial of the resurrection. This false belief led Corinthian Christians to doubt their faith and the gospel. And so, Paul addresses this false belief head-on by stating that if there is no resurrection then Christ hasn’t been resurrected either (15:13-14). And, that if Christ hasn’t been resurrected, “then your faith is useless, and you are still guilty of your sins”, and “in that case all who have died believing in Christ are lost!” (15:17-18) Did you catch that? If there’s no resurrection, then all who are “in Christ are lost!”

What is abundantly clear from the context of chapter 15 is that Paul’s main concern is giving believers the assurance they need for their final salvation at the resurrection. His argument stresses the confidence Christians should possess regarding their eternal state because of the fact of Jesus’ resurrection. In short, because Jesus is raised from the dead, their faith in Jesus is not misplaced. Rather, because they are in Christ, they too will be raised from the dead because Jesus, who is “the first fruits” will restore them to life when he returns.

Paul’s main concern is giving believers the assurance they need for their final salvation at the resurrection.

As Andrew Wilson observes: “there are strong contextual indications that Paul is entirely concerned with the future of believers in this chapter, rather than that of all human beings.” It would be very strange indeed then, given the context, if suddenly in vs. 22 Paul’s concern would shift from defusing this faith-destroying heresy regarding the resurrection in order to make an unrelated remark about the eternal destination of all people that would undermine everything he just said, only to turn back to his concern for the saints in Corinth for the remainder of the chapter and letter as a whole.

Context is King

In such a short article I could only deal with one text among many that are misused to justify a universal view of salvation. The purpose was to show how important it is to interpret Scriptures within their context. In the case of 1 Corinthians 15:22, the context constrains the meaning of “all” such that Paul can only be meaning that in Christ, all who are in Christ will be made alive. This fits the context of the chapter and is also consistent with the rest of Paul’s thoughts throughout 1 Corinthians as a whole.

The principle we’ve used for this specific example, however, should also be used when looking at the whole gospel. Universalism may be attractive in many ways, but it can only work by ignoring the larger context of the gospel which includes among many things the horror of our infinite offense in sin against God’s infinite holiness.

This is a theme we explore more fully in our podcast episode “Jesus Teaches on Hell (or Does He?)”, which is part of our Hard Teachings of Jesus series.


  1. Rob Bell, Love Wins, p. 107.
  2. Andrew Wilson, “The Strongest Argument for Universalism in 1 Corinthians 15:20-28”, JETS 59/4 (2016): 805-12.
  3. See 1:18; 3:17; 5:13; 6:9-10; 9:27; 10:1-12


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