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Does Everyone Get Saved in the End?

I return now, at last, to the question of why the Apocalypse of Peter, an account of Peter’s tour of the glories of heaven and the torments of hell, did not make it into the New Testament.  It was a fairly widely known book in the first couple of Christian centuries, was accepted by some church leaders as part of the Scriptures, seemed to support acceptable Christian views, and was said to have been written by Jesus’ apostle himself.  So why did it come to be excluded?  No one in the ancient church actually says, and so we have to come up with a hypothesis.  I have one, but it’s a bit complicated, which is why I’ve been putting off talking about it (I’ve been out of town for a couple of weeks, away from my books, and wanted to make sure I could access them before giving this a shot).

My thesis is that there are a couple of points of view in the book that were *eventually*, by the fourth century or so, seen to be problematic, and it is because of these that the book ended up not “making it”.   To explain the problem with the first point of view will require some background connected to acceptable understandings of eternal torment in the early Church.

Last year, starting March 29 (you can look these up), I had a short series of posts on the development of the Christian views of “purgatory,” the idea that after death, the moderately righteous would have to (or would be allowed to) pay for their sins by being punished temporarily.  That temporarily may have involved days, months, years, or aeons, but it was in any event “temporary.”  After that they would be allowed to enter into an eternal reward.  But first there was hell to pay.

The idea that after death people could pay for their sins by intense, but temporary brought forth another pressing question for some early Christian thinkers.  If that was true …

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Did We Exist Before We Were Born?
Introducing the Apocalypse of Peter



  1. tompicard
    tompicard  January 7, 2019

    Absent “universal salvation” every theology must implicitly consider God to be a loser.

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    godspell  January 7, 2019

    I like Origen’s way of looking at it, and I think his ideas have survived in modern Christianity. Essentially, there are always going to be some who reject the notion of eternal punishment. But, as you’ve pointed out, that wasn’t apparently Jesus’ idea. There would be a very brief moment of punishment for those who failed to enter the Kingdom–then utter destruction.

    We don’t know enough to be sure exactly what Jesus thought this meant. Are the souls of the ‘goats’ destroyed forever, along with their bodies? Since the Kingdom is situated in this world, not the afterlife, and it was only his duty to preach the coming of that Kingdom, to give as many as possible a chance to enter it (those who were already good would not need him to achieve it), it’s possible he never thought beyond that–may have felt that was a question the answer to which God had not revealed to him.

    If you could go back and discuss this with him, he might be open to the idea that God wastes nothing, that the soul itself can still be redeemed somehow, recycled, if you will. He does not seem to have believed in infinite unending punishment for a single lifetime of sin. But he did believe you only get one lifetime to get it right. He’s not a Hindu or a Buddhist. No Bodhisattvas for Jesus. I’m not sure he’d have appreciated the movie Groundhog Day (favorite of mine). For him, it might seem that if you get endless do-overs, the choices made in life become meaningless. You get plenty of chances for do-overs in a normal human lifetime.

    Origen is thinking in different terms than Jesus. Christianity is making inroads, and he can see a day when everyone is Christian (that hasn’t come anymore than the Kingdom has, but there are certainly many more Christians alive now than there were humans of any faith in his day). So his thinking is, if you will, expansionist, long-term. Jesus’ was exclusivist, short-term. Jesus wasn’t concerned with creating and expanding new institutions. Jesus was concerned with seeing a way to a world free of the corrupting influence of the goats. HIs solution is to separate them from the sheep.

  3. tompicard
    tompicard  January 7, 2019

    Also Paul’s recognition of Jesus as a replacement of Adam is maybe his greatest insight, that neither scholar nor most christians fully comprehend.

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    fishician  January 7, 2019

    In the pseudepigraphic Pastoral Epistles we see some hints of this: 1 Tim 4:10 “For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of ALL men, especially of believers.” Titus 2:11 “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to ALL men…” Do you think these verses were meant to indicate universal salvation, or that the writers weren’t trying to be so specific in these passages?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 8, 2019

      Yes, that “especially” is very interesting, isn’t it?!

  5. Avatar
    Apocryphile  January 7, 2019

    It’s pretty clear just from the above why Origen’s views on salvation were later deemed heretical – i.e. how can the devil himself be saved? Origen also believed in reincarnation, right? This would go a long way in explaining his view of eventual universal salvation.

  6. Avatar
    darren  January 7, 2019

    Your recent posts have engendered a question I don’t think I have asked: Q is, I believe, is likely the oldest source of information about Jesus. You have written about the low literacy rates in ancient Palestine –but as a travelling preacher, what is the likelihood that one (or more) of his supporters in communities where he preached was literate, and wrote down what he said to preserve it after he left? Seems at least possible, and that these writings could be at least one source of his words after his death. Has there been scholarship speculating (or ruling out) this possibility?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 8, 2019

      Q was written in Greek, so I think it’s unlikely it derives from lecture notes of some kind. In any event, I don’t know of any evidence of anyone writing down the words of itinerant preachers — in Palestine especially. Seems like the kind of thing we might do, possibly, but again, that’s thinking in modern terms.

  7. Avatar
    bamurray  January 7, 2019

    Interestingly enough (to me, at least), I first heard of Origen and his view in … a murder mystery! In “The Heretic’s Apprentice,” one of the Brother Cadfael series by “Ellis Peters” (Edith Pargeter), the apprentice of the title is being accused of heresy before the abbot of the 12th century Benedictine abbey of Shrewsbury. One of the accusations goes like this:

    “And then he said that there was a father of the Church once, in Alexandria, who held that in the end everyone would find salvation, even the fallen angels, even the devil himself.”

    In the shudder of unease that passed along the ranks of the brothers the abbot remarked simply: “So there was. His name was Origen. It was his theme that all things come from God, and will return to God. As I recall, it was an enemy of his who brought the devil into it, though I grant the implication is there.”

  8. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  January 7, 2019

    I am delighted to hear that, according to Origen, I will eventually make it. Good news indeed!

  9. Avatar
    Hon Wai  January 7, 2019

    It is a pity for Christendom that Origen’s universalistic soteriology did not hold sway after the Patristic period. Underpinning so much of the coercive proselytization in many episodes of Christian history, forced conversions, conflict between Protestants and Catholics, persecution of Anabaptists by both Protestants and Catholics, is the conviction that everyone will get only one chance of salvation dependent on holding the correct doctrines of faith. Had universalism been orthodoxy early on, modern Christian fundamentalism with its dark view of human nature and God was unlikely to have emerged.

  10. Avatar
    doug  January 7, 2019

    Regarding hell, Thomas Starr King, who had been both a Universalist minister and a Unitarian minister in the 19th century, said “Universalists believe that God is too good to damn people, and the Unitarians believe that people [since they are God’s creation] are too good to be damned by God.”

  11. Avatar
    Aion666  January 7, 2019

    Does Everyone Get Saved in The End?

    Which end are you referring to? The end of our life or the end of the paradox of perception, that Jesus alludes to when he gives his reason for teaching in parables?

    Are you absolutely certain that the term Apocalypse is all about ‘external’ reality and not the ‘internal’ reality of the human sense of Self?

    As a scholar of words, how much do you personally know about the structure and function of your own nervous system, Bart? A personal question asked from the perspective that we may need an interdisciplinary approach to understanding the validity of Jesus extraordinary prophecy of the world to come. A prophecy that may be about our taken for granted, paradox of perception. Do we perceive reality as it is or the mirror-like function of our conscious mind?

    In my personal experience and humble opinion, the encrypted wisdom of the New Testament can be better understood through the most recent revelations from 21st-century science, if we take the view that humanity’s destiny is unfolding in a way that was understood by wisdom teachers like Jesus.

    To paraphrase the Buddha; words are not reality, only experience reveals the nature of being.
    Joseph Cambell’s take on the problem of scripture interpretation was that knowing the words is not enough, we need to explore the experience the words allude to. Like, to the point of death experience of full-immersion baptism, which may trigger the hierarchical functioning of our nervous system. Which retains its mammalian evolutionary capacity to feign death, as a last ditch effort to preserve life.

    For anyone interested in the nature of reality within, I recommend searching the for: Yoga Therapy and Polyvagal Theory: The Convergence of Traditional Wisdom and Contemporary Neuroscience for Self-Regulation and Resilience

    I hope this comment is not considered off-topic, although I will understand if it is and does not pass the gate-keeper.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 8, 2019

      I mean “finally.” But I would say that your interesting observations about externals and internals would not have been made by the early Christians.

  12. Avatar
    Hume  January 7, 2019

    I see you’ve lost weight from your previous videos. Mediterranean diet has been working out! My wife and I have been getting into Plant-Based eating lately. How much coffee or tea do you drink per day? (Or could you do a post on your diet and exercise (maybe even weave it into the diet of Jesus!) Perhaps Jesus was overweight?


    • Bart
      Bart  January 8, 2019

      Yeah, I basically drink coffee all day long. As to Jesus, my sense is that not too many rural Galileans were overweight….

  13. Avatar
    Matt7  January 7, 2019

    Universal salvation makes sense if God loves his enemies as He insists we do.

  14. Avatar
    mcmemmo  January 8, 2019

    Modern theologians seeking to rehabilitate Origen argue that in his apokatastasis, he didn’t actually teach that the devil or the damned would return to grace. For example, in Chapter 3 of “Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved?” (Ignatius Press, 2014), Hans Urs von Balthasar makes this argument and cites the work of Henri de Lubac and Henri Crouzel to back it up.

    Here are two quotes from these scholars that he provides:

    “The opinion that Origen, in his apokatastasis, had taught a return to grace on the part of the devil and the damned is so widespread that it has become one of those truths that no one even thinks to verify. And yet, precise and sufficiently extensive inquiry into the question would show that it is not adequately justified.”
    – Henri de Lubac, “Tu m’as trompe, Seigneur”, in Recherches dans la foi (Beauchesne, 1979). p.68

    Henri Crouzel, probably the best contemporary authority on Origen, shows that the Alexandrian’s anthropology was essentially trichotomous: body-soul-pneuma, the last being the element in man that is oriented toward God. But, says Crouzel, “the damned man no longer has a pneuma. Accordingly, Origen seems to deny him any possibility of conversion, a strong argument against his apokatastasis as a return of the demons and the damned to God’s grace. The same notion is to be found already in Irenaeus”
    – (I am not sure what the source is for the quote by Henri Crouzel).

    Does what Origen actually taught matter to your hypothesis about why the Apocalypse of Peter didn’t make it into the canon, or is what his detractors believed he taught when the canon was being established more important?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 8, 2019

      He does seem to teach this view in De principiis (On First Principles). Modern theologians who want to absolve him of “heresy” tend to think he must not have done.

  15. Avatar
    Bewilderbeast  January 8, 2019

    Love the way John Chrysostom said “Which God forbid!” God is all-powerful, but he can’t actually forbid that! We just say “God forbid”, we don’t mean God must (or can? or will?) actually forbid it.

  16. Avatar
    mikezamjara  January 8, 2019

    Dr Ehrman. In “Misquoting Jesus” you talk about textual variants in the gospels and the letters of Paul but the boook of Revelation is not discussed much. How important are the textual variants in that book? another question I have is this. In your debates you find some historical facts in the canonical gospels but, do you think the non-canonical gospels have anything that can be considered historical facts? If so, Can you give an example?. Thank you.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 8, 2019

      Revelation has a very complicated and intriguing textual history. I know scholars who have devoted years of their lives to studying it! I’m not intimately familiar with it, I’m afraid, even though at one time I did look carefully at every major variant. Some are indeed quite interesting. (I’ve mentioned 616 versus 666 before on the blog, and there are a few others.)

  17. Avatar
    ksgm34  January 8, 2019

    Oh no, I inadvertently gave this post 3 stars by touching my phone screen in the wrong place! Wasn’t trying to vote but if I had would’ve given 5 and now I can’t change it, I’m so sorry!!

    • Bart
      Bart  January 8, 2019

      Like my students: ranking my course as a 1 when they surely must have meant 5!

  18. Avatar
    leesal  January 10, 2019

    In 1984 I wrote a tract “‘Eternal Punishment, Is It Really of God?” http://www.auburn.edu/~allenkc/etpunish.html
    The reaction by my fellow preachers was dramatic and vicious. In effect, I had to tell them their hell and damnation god was inept and incompetent. Needless to say, I was labeled a false prophet which eventually led to my leaving the ministry. PTL!!!

    You may find it of interest as it relates to the question of Ultimate Reconciliation.

    Best regards, Lee Salisbury


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