Universalism Within Romans
18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.20 The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 21 so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Universalism is a theological concept that has been becoming more and more popular in Christian circles since the mid twentieth century. Its growing popularity is mainly due to the popular writings of theological giants such as Karl Barth and Paul Tillich, who have highly influenced both theologians and biblical scholars alike for the last fifty years. Since its Christian adoption with Origen, Universalism has been understood and presented as a doctrinal view of salvation, which emphasizes the all-encompassing love of God and the belief that all things will be reconciled to God.
In light of its growing popularity many individuals, including scholars and lay-people, claim that traces of this controversial view of salvation can be found in Paul’s Epistles—most notably in Romans 5:18-21. Consequently, making Paul a possible Universalist. Therefore, in this thematic essay I explore the basic understanding of Universalism in the first century Greco-Roman context as well as diverse interpretations of Romans 5—in order to determine if one can properly support such a claim beyond the interpretation of a secluded text, Romans 5:18-21.
The Emergence of Universalism
The formulation of Universalist thought can first be found in the theology of the Greek philosopher, Xenophanes. However it was the Greek writers and Stoics of the third century B.C.E that created the theoretical premise, which can bee found in both Greek and Roman schools of philosophy. By the late Hellenistic period, philosophical and political ideas converged, making Universalism a common thought in more than just the realm of philosophy. We can especially see this in the early first century where society was drenched in universalistic trends. These universalistic trends were still primarily influenced by the philosophical rationale provided by Stoicism and reinforced by middle Platonism (McLean & Aspell, Ancient Western Philosophy, 241). McLean and Aspell specifically discuss this in Ancient Western Philosophy, by stating that…
…within the changing political scene, there was a growing intellectual tension between the poles of universalism and individualism. This intellectual tension, and indeed a nascent universalism, permeated the Graeco-Roman world: The advance of the spirit of universalism was manifested in many ways: . . . Roman architectonic visions of...