A Universalist Looks at the New Testament: Hebrews 8 and 10

A Universalist Looks at the New Testament is a blog series showing that you can make a strong case from Scripture that all will be saved. I’m going through the New Testament and pointing out verses you might not have noticed if you simply assume that the Bible teaches that sinners will be tormented through all eternity.

I’m going to finish up the book of Hebrews by looking at verses in chapters 8 and 10. Chapter 8 is a relatively straightforward passage. It’s quoting Jeremiah 31 and talking about Israel. But if everyone in Israel will be saved, why not everyone on earth? It seems like an equal miracle to me. Here’s the passage:

This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel
after that time, declares the Lord.
I will put my laws in their minds
and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,
For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.

All of them will know the Lord, from the least of them to the greatest. It’s hard to imagine that happening here on earth.

Hebrews 12 is more difficult for a universalist. But before I type it out, notice that nothing is said about how long the punishment will last. Nothing about everlasting torment. It also seems to be talking to some extent about the judgment of believers. (“The Lord will judge his people.” They’re sanctified by his blood.) Here’s the passage, Hebrews 12:26-31 —

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Let me also note that instead of “raging fire,” the Concordant Literal New Testament translates that “fiery jealousy.”

As I’ve said many times, I believe in judgment — what I don’t believe is that the result of that judgment will be punishment without end. There will be punishment — or more accurately translated, correction. This passage suggests that some believers may also encounter judgment.

George MacDonald, the writer who first convinced me of universalism, likes to quote Hebrews 12:29 — “for our ‘God is a consuming fire.'” He suggests that all of us will encounter the purifying fire of God’s love. And that fire will burn away the impurities of sin in us, a refiner’s fire.

To the extent that sin has become entwined in our characters, become a part of who we are — to that extent is how much suffering we will experience when we encounter that fire.

Again, there’s nothing here that suggests that experience will never end.

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