The Strongest Argument For Universalism In 1 Corinthians 15:20-28 -- By: Andrew Wilson

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 59:4 (Dec 2016)
Article: The Strongest Argument For Universalism In 1 Corinthians 15:20-28
Author: Andrew Wilson


The Strongest Argument For Universalism
In 1 Corinthians 15:20-28

Andrew Wilson1

Abstract: Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 15:22 that ἐν τῷ Χριστῷ πάντες ζῳοποιηθήσονται has frequently prompted the suggestion that Paul is a universalist: that is, Paul teaches here that all humans will, eventually, be reconciled to God and raised with Christ. However, despite being the most well-known argument, this is actually only one of four indications that Paul holds to universalism in this paragraph, to which interpreters have attributed different levels of weight—and arguably, it is not even the strongest. In this paper we will briefly summarise and critique three of them, and then engage in more detail with the most compelling argument, namely that the defeat of death makes it hard to imagine an unresurrected humanity continuing into eternity.

Key Words: universalism, Paul, eschatology, salvation, resurrection, defeat of death, 1 Corinthians

Paul’s statement in 1 Cor 15:22 that ἐν τῷ Χριστῷ πάντες ζῳοποιηθήσονται has, along with the similar statement in Rom 5:18, frequently prompted the suggestion that Paul is a universalist. That is, Paul’s use of πάντες here indicates that he believes (or, for those interpreters who believe he is inconsistent, that he at least teaches here) that all humans will, eventually, be reconciled to God and raised with Christ. However, despite being the most well-known argument, this is actually only one of four indications that Paul holds to universalism in this paragraph, to which interpreters have attributed different levels of weight—and arguably, it is not even the strongest. In this paper we will briefly summarize and critique three of them, and then engage with the most compelling argument in more detail.

We may summarize the four arguments as follows. (1) Paul says that “all will be made alive” in Christ, just as all die in Adam. The fact that, for Paul, the scope of death in Adam is universal indicates that, in this particular text, the scope of being raised with Christ is as well.2 (2) Paul explains that Christ is raised first, then “those who belong to Christ,” and then τὸ τέλος, which has been interpreted

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