Was St. Paul an Universalist?

Saint Paul did not speak of Hell in the same terms as the other Apostles did. A minority of both believers and non-believers see in St. Paul a door that could lead to a universalist interpretation of biblical soteriology. Some of the passages that seem to reinforce this recent development is the parts where he wishes the reconciliation of everything (e.g. Colossians 1:20). However, though he did not speak a lot about damnation in the same way other Holy Writings did, he is still clear about his interpretation when it comes to the fate of the wicked.

When we take a closer look, however, we see Paul may have believed in the now traditional Christian understanding of Hell. 2 Thessalonians 1:8-10 talks about ‘everlasting condemnation’ for those who do not know God and do not obey the Gospel. He prefers the use of words like ‘wrath of God’, and ‘condemnation’ to describe eschatological judgement.

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The interesting thing is that, unlike John, the Gospels and Peter, he never refers to the Lake of Fire, Gehenna or Tartarus. In a sense, his idea of ‘separation from God’ will later serve to update our spiritual understanding of these realms, where judgement unfolds.

A few point out that the fire of destruction that Paul sometimes talks about, may not really mean a fire of damnation, but a purging one. This is our opportunity as Catholics to confirm what we have been telling everyone for centuries about our doctrine of Purgatory! Without question, Paul does speak about the cleansing type of eschatological fire. Thatโ€™s why many Christians have historically found in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 an understanding of ‘refinement’ or ‘purgation’ of the Elect. The innegable connection to Zechariah 13:8-9, 14:1 suggests the Elect will be refined by the Lord in the Judgement Day. Even the Greek construction of the NT passage, when comparing it with the OT Septuagint version, is strikingly similar.

๐˜ˆ๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ ๐˜ ๐˜ธ๐˜ช๐˜ญ๐˜ญ ๐˜ฑ๐˜ถ๐˜ต ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ช๐˜ด ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ช๐˜ณ๐˜ฅ ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜ต๐˜ฐ ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐™›๐™ž๐™ง๐™š (ฯ€ฯ…ฯแฝธฯ‚), ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ ๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ๐˜ง๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฎ ๐˜ข๐˜ด ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ๐˜ง๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜ฆ๐˜ด ๐™จ๐™ž๐™ก๐™ซ๐™š๐™ง (แผ€ฯฮณแฝปฯฮนฮฟฮฝฮบฮฑแฝถ), ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ ๐™ฉ๐™š๐™จ๐™ฉ (ฮดฮฟฮบฮนฮผแฟถ) ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฎ ๐˜ข๐˜ด ๐™œ๐™ค๐™ก๐™™ (ฯ‡ฯฯ…ฯƒแฝทฮฟฮฝ) ๐˜ช๐˜ด ๐™ฉ๐™š๐™จ๐™ฉ๐™š๐™™ (แฝกฯ‚ฮดฮฟฮบฮนฮผแฝฑฮถฮตฯ„ฮฑฮน). ๐˜›๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ๐˜บ ๐˜ธ๐˜ช๐˜ญ๐˜ญ ๐˜ค๐˜ข๐˜ญ๐˜ญ ๐˜ถ๐˜ฑ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ ๐˜ฎ๐˜บ ๐˜ฏ๐˜ข๐˜ฎ๐˜ฆ, ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ ๐˜ ๐˜ธ๐˜ช๐˜ญ๐˜ญ ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ด๐˜ธ๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฎ. ๐˜ ๐˜ธ๐˜ช๐˜ญ๐˜ญ ๐˜ด๐˜ข๐˜บ, โ€˜๐˜›๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ๐˜บ ๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ฎ๐˜บ ๐˜ฑ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฑ๐˜ญ๐˜ฆโ€™; ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ๐˜บ ๐˜ธ๐˜ช๐˜ญ๐˜ญ ๐˜ด๐˜ข๐˜บ, โ€˜๐˜›๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜“๐˜–๐˜™๐˜‹ ๐˜ช๐˜ด ๐˜ฎ๐˜บ ๐˜Ž๐˜ฐ๐˜ฅ.โ€™ ๐˜‰๐˜ฆ๐˜ฉ๐˜ฐ๐˜ญ๐˜ฅ, ๐˜ข ๐™™๐™–๐™ฎ (แผกฮผแฝณฯฮฑฮน) ๐˜ช๐˜ด ๐˜ค๐˜ฐ๐˜ฎ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜จ ๐˜ง๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜“๐˜–๐˜™๐˜‹, ๐˜ธ๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฏ ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ด๐˜ฑ๐˜ฐ๐˜ช๐˜ญ ๐˜ต๐˜ข๐˜ฌ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฏ ๐˜ง๐˜ณ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฎ ๐˜บ๐˜ฐ๐˜ถ ๐˜ธ๐˜ช๐˜ญ๐˜ญ ๐˜ฃ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ฅ๐˜ช๐˜ท๐˜ช๐˜ฅ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฅ ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ ๐˜บ๐˜ฐ๐˜ถ๐˜ณ ๐˜ฎ๐˜ช๐˜ฅ๐˜ด๐˜ต. (Zechariah 13:9,14:1)

๐˜•๐˜ฐ๐˜ธ ๐˜ช๐˜ง ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜บ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ฃ๐˜ถ๐˜ช๐˜ญ๐˜ฅ๐˜ด ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ง๐˜ฐ๐˜ถ๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ๐˜ข๐˜ต๐˜ช๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ ๐˜ธ๐˜ช๐˜ต๐˜ฉ ๐™œ๐™ค๐™ก๐™™ (ฯ‡ฯฯ…ฯƒฯŒฮฝ), ๐™จ๐™ž๐™ก๐™ซ๐™š๐™ง (แผ„ฯฮณฯ…ฯฮฟฮฝ), ๐˜ฑ๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ๐˜ค๐˜ช๐˜ฐ๐˜ถ๐˜ด ๐˜ด๐˜ต๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜ฆ๐˜ด, ๐˜ธ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฅ, ๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜บ, ๐˜ด๐˜ต๐˜ณ๐˜ข๐˜ธโ€”๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ๐˜ช๐˜ณ ๐˜ธ๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ๐˜ฌ ๐˜ธ๐˜ช๐˜ญ๐˜ญ ๐˜ฃ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ด๐˜ฉ๐˜ฐ๐˜ธ๐˜ฏ ๐˜ง๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ ๐˜ธ๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ต ๐˜ช๐˜ต ๐˜ช๐˜ด, ๐˜ฃ๐˜ฆ๐˜ค๐˜ข๐˜ถ๐˜ด๐˜ฆ ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ฟ๐™–๐™ฎ (แผกฮผฮญฯฮฑ) ๐˜ธ๐˜ช๐˜ญ๐˜ญ ๐˜ฃ๐˜ณ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜จ ๐˜ช๐˜ต ๐˜ต๐˜ฐ ๐˜ญ๐˜ช๐˜จ๐˜ฉ๐˜ต. ๐˜๐˜ต ๐˜ธ๐˜ช๐˜ญ๐˜ญ ๐˜ฃ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ๐˜ท๐˜ฆ๐˜ข๐˜ญ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฅ ๐˜ธ๐˜ช๐˜ต๐˜ฉ ๐™›๐™ž๐™ง๐™š (ฯ€ฯ…ฯแฝถ), ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐™›๐™ž๐™ง๐™š (ฯ€แฟฆฯ) ๐˜ธ๐˜ช๐˜ญ๐˜ญ ๐™ฉ๐™š๐™จ๐™ฉ (ฮดฮฟฮบฮนฮผฮฌฯƒฮตฮน) ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ฒ๐˜ถ๐˜ข๐˜ญ๐˜ช๐˜ต๐˜บ ๐˜ฐ๐˜ง ๐˜ฆ๐˜ข๐˜ค๐˜ฉ ๐˜ฑ๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ๐˜ด๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ’๐˜ด ๐˜ธ๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ๐˜ฌ. ๐˜๐˜ง ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ธ๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ๐˜ฌ ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ต ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜บ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ฉ๐˜ข๐˜ด ๐˜ฃ๐˜ถ๐˜ช๐˜ญ๐˜ต ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ง๐˜ฐ๐˜ถ๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ๐˜ข๐˜ต๐˜ช๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ ๐˜ด๐˜ถ๐˜ณ๐˜ท๐˜ช๐˜ท๐˜ฆ๐˜ด, ๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ธ๐˜ช๐˜ญ๐˜ญ ๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ๐˜ค๐˜ฆ๐˜ช๐˜ท๐˜ฆ ๐˜ข ๐˜ณ๐˜ฆ๐˜ธ๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ฅ. ๐˜๐˜ง ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜บ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜ฆโ€™๐˜ด ๐˜ธ๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ๐˜ฌ ๐˜ช๐˜ด ๐˜ฃ๐˜ถ๐˜ณ๐˜ฏ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฅ ๐˜ถ๐˜ฑ, ๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ธ๐˜ช๐˜ญ๐˜ญ ๐˜ด๐˜ถ๐˜ง๐˜ง๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ ๐˜ญ๐˜ฐ๐˜ด๐˜ด, ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ฐ๐˜ถ๐˜จ๐˜ฉ ๐˜ฉ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ฉ๐˜ช๐˜ฎ๐˜ด๐˜ฆ๐˜ญ๐˜ง ๐˜ธ๐˜ช๐˜ญ๐˜ญ ๐˜ฃ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ด๐˜ข๐˜ท๐˜ฆ๐˜ฅ, ๐˜ฃ๐˜ถ๐˜ต ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜ญ๐˜บ ๐˜ข๐˜ด ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ณ๐˜ฐ๐˜ถ๐˜จ๐˜ฉ ๐™›๐™ž๐™ง๐™š (ฯ€ฯ…ฯฯŒฯ‚). (1 Corinthians 3:12-15)

The nature of the โ€˜Dayโ€™ Paul talks about can be understood as a day that โ€˜revealsโ€™ (แผ€ฯ€ฮฟฮบฮฑฮปฯฯ€ฯ„ฮตฯ„ฮฑฮน / apokalyptetai) many things. In this Day, the Lord as a refiner’s fire will cleanse His chosen ones (Malachi 3:2-3).
The second type of fire Paul speaks about, is a fire of vengeance (แผฮบฮดฮฏฮบฮทฯƒฮนฮฝ), which we read in 2 Thessalonians 1:8-10. Here he completes the thought on the nature of this day, when the โ€˜Lord Jesusโ€™ โ€˜comesโ€™ in โ€˜the majesty of his powerโ€™. Unbelievers and disobedient Christians are the object of this vengeance, awaiting โ€˜everlasting destructionโ€™ (แฝ„ฮปฮตฮธฯฮฟฮฝ ฮฑแผฐฯŽฮฝฮนฮฟฮฝ).

According to some sources, ๐˜–๐˜ญ๐˜ฆ๐˜ต๐˜ฉ๐˜ณ๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ (destruction) does not automatically entail โ€˜extinction/annihilationโ€™, rather it can be taken as โ€˜death/punishment/undoingโ€™. The fact ๐˜ข๐˜ช๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜ช๐˜ฐ๐˜ด can be accompanied by concepts like punishment (Mt 25:46 / ๐˜ฌ๐˜ฐ๐˜ญ๐˜ข๐˜ด๐˜ช๐˜ด ๐˜ข๐˜ช๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜ช๐˜ฐ๐˜ด) or life (๐˜ป๐˜ฐ๐˜ฆ ๐˜ข๐˜ช๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜ช๐˜ฐ๐˜ด), talks about its use as an adjective. Talking of extinction/annihilation in ‘everlasting’ terms would be misleading, since in a logical sense extermination happens only once, and ceases after the object is destroyed.

The evidence is clear: given these passages, Paul does not uphold an universalist position, where everyone will eventually be saved. Rather, he is constantly concerned to inform believers to attain salvation and avoid the wrath of God.

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