So I’m confused: who did Paul think would be saved?

So my “tweeting my way through the Bible” project (which you can follow at @UncredibleHallq on Twitter) is currently on Romans. This has reminded me of something that’s puzzled me for awhile: what on earth did Paul think about who would be saved?

Some time ago, I came across this discussion by Keith DeRose defending universalism (the view that everyone will be saved) from an evangelical perspective. He frames it in terms of what “the Bible” says, but mostly draws on Paul.

On the other hand, Romans chapter 9 seems to have some pretty strong support for the Calvinistic view that God has made up his mind to damn certain people in advance, among other things hinting that some people are “made for destruction” so God can demonstrate his wrath and power.

So which is it? I’m honestly not sure, and unfortunately even most of the “scholarly” discussions I could read of this issue are going to have a theological axe to grind. Is there anyone who can help me out here and suggest something by a Bart Ehrman or Gerd Lüdemann type?

  • Lea

    ANY person who is a true believer of the Son Jesus Christ and has stated their belief in him is saved. Romans 10:9 states, “That if you shall confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus, and shall believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you shall be saved”. Some people think being saved means not sinning, and that simply is not true. The bible states in Romans 3:23 “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory”. We serve a loving and forgiving God and when Jesus died on the cross and rose again, all of our sins were justified and forgiven, so we could be saved. According to John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. Isn’t that the best gift one could ever give you?!!! Just knowing that gives me peace and happiness daily.

    • Sagrav

      You know, it would be better if you God just avoided the whole ‘throw people into hell’ thing and just forgave everyone. Take me for example. I am only going to believe in something for which there is physical evidence. There is no physical evidence of God, so I don’t believe in him. According to those passages, I get tossed into a fire lake to suffer forever as a result. This is awful. I would do that to my worst enemy. Yet we are supposed to feel warm and fuzzy that God is willing to save those human beings who are gullible enough to believe in something in spite of all evidence to the contrary, and no one else?

    • josh

      I don’t need to live forever. Nor do I need someone to forgive me for whatever peccadilloes comprise my life and I certainly don’t need someone else to “die” for them. A much better gift would be, e.g., preventing the holocaust.

  • J. Quinton

    This might be a fringe position, but Romans probably wasn’t penned entirely by one author. Historically, the Marcionites were the first Christians to present Paul as an authority on matters concerning Christian faith, and the Marcionite version of Romans was shorter than the Catholic version (actually, the entire Pauline corpus in the Marcionite Bible was shorter… minus 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus since these probably hadn’t been written by the time Marcion compiled the first Christian Bible). The Catholics were forced to co-opt Paul to battle the Marcionites and added anti-Marcionite views in Paul’s letters. This is why we get conflicting views on salvation in Paul’s letters. So unfortunately, I don’t think any definitive answer will be forthcoming.

    • Chris Hallquist

      Yeah. I’ve heard this before, but I think the position of even most liberal/secular scholars is that the Catholic version of Paul is the original version, and it was Marcion who went and removed a bunch of stuff he didn’t like.

  • Bob Seidensticker

    … or maybe there’s no point in trying to harmonize this stuff because it’s just contradictory.

    Also keep in mind that our most reliable copies of Paul’s epistles are simply our earliest complete Bibles, which date from around 350. Who knows what happened to Paul’s story during that 300-year blackout period?

  • MM

    It’s interesting that DeRose pretty much throws Revelation out the window in it’s entirety because “it’s probably not literal” or whatever. Aside from the deeper implications this has for the bible’s veracity, I think it’s just a little too convenient for his argument. Even an honest “minimalist” approach to Revelation would need to accept that Jesus will rapture the faithful and condemn the wicked, particularly in light of parables such as the “sheep and the goats” story from Matthew 25.

    I also think that when Paul says “all”, he likely means “all who are appointed to believe.” Although I’m an atheist now, I was a Calvinist when I (sorta) believed, and my reading of Paul definitely reinforced that…particularly Romans 9, but also Ephesians 1 and others. Hell, even the story of Pharaoh gives one the impression that God was calling all the shots and Pharaoh was just a puppet in the whole story.

  • Lea

    You guys are really overthinking this. Salvation is simple, it only requires one to believe. I’m far from gullible, nor am I a Catholic. But, I believe because God’s presence is evident daily. God has kept me from dangers seen and unforseen. I am blessed daily. There is no explainable reason other than God’s goodness and mercy for why I’m in such a good position in life; he continues to place me in the right places at the right time; he brings great people into my life; and he is always moving mountains for me. I’m sorry that some of you choose to think of God as a mean and hateful figure; but that’s not his nature. He loves you, he loves all of us; he made us, we are his children. However, just like any parent; he chastizes his children if they disobey his commandments. And this is only done for our benefit; to teach us to do better.

    I remember when I was a little girl my mother would tell me to do something (usually things that I thought made no sense) and I would ask her why. She would look at me sternly and say “Because I said so!”, giving me no explanation at all. Of course I questioned her reasoning in my mind, but I did what I was told, often confused and many times never receiving any type of explanation. However; at the end of the day, my mother never made a decision that brought harm to me, enabled me, or made me a bad person; she always knew best and had my best interest at heart…just like our Father God. Unfortunately, hell is real and is for non-believers and the condemed. No one has to live enternity there, we all have a choice; believe in him and his Son Jesus Christ and you will be saved and have everlasting life.

    • Reverend Robbie

      So if something really awful were to happen in your life (and as a fellow human I wholeheartedly hope only good things happen for you), would you stop believing?

      If your evidence could support any claim imaginable, then you have no evidence. If your claim could be supported by all evidence imaginable, then you have made no claim.

    • Rain

      “God has kept me from dangers seen and unforseen. ”

      Lea is apparently even more blessed than Paul. Not only holier-than-thou, but holier-than-Paul. Not to mention holier-than-all-the-other unfortunate Bible heroes who fell on bad times. High five, I guess.

    • eric

      What you’re representing is the standard, mainstream, protestant position. But I think Chris was asking for a scholarly reference on how mainstream protestantism answers/responds to Calvinist unconditional election. Simply repeating the mainstream position doesn’t actually say how protestants deal with the ten or so NT passages that seem to point to a form of predestination in terms of who is saved.

    • Silentbob

      You make it sound like God is running a sort of protection racket.

      Worship him and God will save you from… God.

  • smidoz

    You’re asking for neutral sources, which I can’t give. Like everyone else, I do have an axe to grind for my point of view. I’d like to believe universalism, and DeRose gives a pretty good argument, but wanting to believe something because it’s a nice belief isn’t really helpful. I don’t like the docrtrine of a neverending Hell, but my dislike isn’t why I don’t believe it, it is why I find it strange the lengths to which people will go support it. He mentioned annihilism, and although it isn’t going to answer your question (unfortunately) I hope you’re willing to give me some leeway.

    I’m automatically when a doctrine is supported from the NT only, but I’m sure one can find universalist passages in the OT if one looks hard enough, it is something I will look out for when I blog through the Bible. Obadiah gives a very clear annihilist passage in verse 16, unless the proposal is that people pre-exist birth. This passage definitely refers to past actions, not a threat against future behaviour. So if we take it at the same face value that he seems to be taking the texts he uses, there is at least one group of people who will not exist eternally. Jesus’ reference to “the unforgivable sin” also becomes somewhat nonsensical in light on universalism. Putting aside arguments about what it means to blaspheme the Holy Spirit, one has to ask why Jesus would mention a sin that it would be impossible for even the most ardent religious critic to commit seems to be irrelevant and arbitrary. I haven’t done an extensive study, these just sprung to mind, but I do feel they offer good arguments against universalism. To be fair, DeRose was mainly rebutting the everlasting He’ll doctrine, and didn’t give much focus to the not so well supported annihilist doctrine.

    • Chris Hallquist

      My understanding is that the OT doesn’t say much of anything about the afterlife, hence why Jews don’t emphasize it and there were wildly divergent opinions on it in 1st century Judaism.

      Obadiah 16 doesn’t strike me as clearly referring to the afterlife at all. It seems very natural to read this as saying, “they will be so thoroughly wiped out that there will be no evidence on earth that they ever existed at all.”

      And anyway, I don’t operate under the assumption that Paul is consistent with the whole rest of the Bible.

      • smidoz

        Obviously Christians do believe that Paul is consistent with the rest of the Bible. DeRose actually touched on a problem, but seemed to fall into the same trap, interpreting some texts in the light of others, all texts should be examined in light of each other, it shouldn’t be a case of choosing the ones you like and going from their.

        Point taken about Obadiah, perhaps it meant no earthly trace, but that’s not a really worthwhile thing to mention, since it is a reasonably common condition for people to find themselves in after spending some time being dead. Being as if you never where implies complete non-existence.

        • The Other Weirdo

          So is that like when the Daleks conned the Doctor in an attempt to save the universe from him and ended up destroying the entirety of the universe, at all points in space and time simultaneously, erasing all of history(including themselves) in the process?

        • Ray

          “perhaps it meant no earthly trace, but that’s not a really worthwhile thing to mention, since it is a reasonably common condition for people to find themselves in after spending some time being dead.”

          People, maybe, but the passage refers to entire nations. (Never mind that the nations in question, Edom, and Philistia, DID leave traces of their existence — archaeological remains, and of course the Biblical text itself. Probably the sensible thing to do here is take the passage as hyperbole.)

  • MNb

    Half of your reaction is irrelevant for this thread, Lea. Anyhow: nice that your god has placed you in such a good position. Please go tell Elisabeth Fritzl and watch her facial expression. Then come back.

    “believe in him ….”
    How do you know? Refer to at least one Bible verse please.

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  • Paul Twohey

    A view not mentioned in the comments is that the “predestination” wasn’t of individuals, but that God predestined that salvation would be through Jesus and Christianity. While that doesn’t work with everything Paul said, it avoids the logical problem of why people would need to be converted if God already picked who was going to be “his” beforehand.

    I found an article that explains that view here:

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