Redemptive judgment in hell? Pt 3
This post needs to be read in light of the previous two in this series: part 1 and part 2. In the following I offer a quick critique of how some Universalists use/read Paul in relation to the question of redemptive judgment in hell.
The simple point to make in relation to the claims of redemptive judgment in Paul based on such texts as 1 Cor 3:11-15; 5:1-5 and 11:29-32 is that in the latter (11:29-32) Paul makes a division between a) the sort of redemptive judgment experienced by believers, and b) the condemnation experienced by nonbelievers.
'But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world' (1 Cor 11:32)
Paul, here, arguably makes a distinction between two judgments (cf. Schnabel, Der erste Brief des Paulus an die Korinther, 668-69). On the one hand the judgment of believers (paideuo,meqa) is educative and redemptive. The final part of 11:32, on the other hand, speaks of the condemnation and judgment of the world (katakriqw/menÅ), a theme Paul touches upon in 1 Cor 6:2 and well as Rom 3:6. Although there is some debate concerning the nature of the clause following the i[na the point made here is essentially untouched.
1 Cor 11:29-32 cannot, therefore, be appealed to as Pauline support of a redemptive judgment of unbelievers in hell. It will be noticed that the material in both 1 Cor 3 and 5 is evidence of redemptive judgment on believers. What is most surprising is Paul's confidence that the sinner mentioned in 1 Cor 5 will be saved on the day of the Lord (5:5). Many commentators import a 'hope' element into this verse to make it comply with their theology (Perhaps it is now more obvious why I cited 1 Cor 5:5 in critical dialogue with Chris VanLandingham's thesis, here).
Indeed, one can suspect a common thread in the undisputed Pauline corpus in terms of judgment when 1 Cor 15:23-24 is added to the mix. There Paul speaks of an eschatological order: Christ, the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. After this comes the end (15:24 – Paul here also speaks of the destruction of 'every ruler and every authority and power' – annihilation[?]). In 1 Cor 3:6 Paul speaks of believers judging the world. It would appear that Paul envisages a judgment of the world after that of believers. And this final judgment is the condemnation mentioned in 11:32. If this is correct then the inheriting of the kingdom of God is to be related to 1 Cor 15:24. To be remembered is that Paul envisages that there will be those who do not inherit the kingdom of God. This is the post redemptive judgment world condemnation exclusion from the kingdom of God (cf. 'Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived!' - 1 Cor 6:9; 'I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God' - Gal 5:21).
This division between the world, on the one hand, and believers, on the other is one Paul regularly employs, and does so with an eye on the eschaton. For example, 1 Cor 16:22 'Let anyone be accursed who has no love for the Lord. Our Lord, come!' (I prefer not to exclude an eschatological overtone in this Maranatha cry). Also noteworthy is Paul's rhetoric in 1 Thess 4. Some in the community had died and this had thrown many into confusion. Paul starts his argument with the following words:
'But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope' (1Thess 4:13).
There are those who 'have no hope'. The previous eschatological material in Paul would imply that this is more than a statement concerning the subjective state of certain individuals, and an objective matter relating to their destination (as also implied by Paul's continued talk of the hope of believers in relation to their destination). Believers, on the other hand, as Paul will continue to argue, have the hope of forever being with the Lord. The dead in Christ rise first, followed by those still left alive. It would appear that Paul's language in this passage should be taken to mean that Christ returns to skies of the earth and the believers rise up to meet the Lord. Then, the Lord returns to the earth with the believers to judge it. Then the business of judgment on those who 'have no hope' starts.
I realize that many Universalist will want to suggest a theological reading or objection at this or that point (and they may well be correct to do so. My point in these posts is to clarify the claims of some Universalists in relation to Paul and what Paul believed). Some may also want to reference passages in 1 Cor 15 and Rom 5 in support of their objection. However, if we are going to the Pauline texts attempting to use Paul in support of universalism or a more traditional or annihilationist reading then it needs to first be realizes one is then making a historical claim, an exegetical claim about how Paul is best understood. (Of course, some may claim that Rom 5:18-19 can be understood as authoritative without recourse to Paul's authorial intent. However, and first, I am reluctant to sweep the notion of authorial intent away – cf. Max Turner's article in Between Two Horizon's – and second, if one takes this route, one wonders how Paul's letters, and not just passages, are functioning as Scripture in this scenario – I will return to this point at another time) At this point I would argue that the brief outline I have sketched above concerning judgment in Paul is a plausible historical claim. For example, the Jewish groups that produced the documents found at the Dead Sea speak of the 'salvation' of the elect of the elect. Those who are safe are those 'in their group'. Those outside will suffer judgment and destruction. This is a pretty consistent picture throughout the texts. Paul fits very well against this backdrop and thus the Universalist is forced to make a reading on theological grounds that transcend and even subvert Paul's intent.
What all of this also shows us is that 2 Thess 1:8-9 is hardly the only problem text in Paul for Universalists.