Crucial Questions About Resurrection

Human Destiny

WE HAVE BEEN ASKED to reply to a recent book entitled CRUCIAL QUESTIONS ABOUT HELL.1 For the most part, the author simply makes a case for eternal punishment and Hell such as will appeal to and, we suppose, satisfy the so-called evangelical public. Will all who die in unbelief, including those who have never heard the gospel, experience the horrors of an orthodox Hell for all eternity? According to the author, they will indeed.

Remarkably, however, the writer only considers the vital scriptural points at issue in this controversy quite cursorily. For example, his treatment of 1 Corinthians 15:22 is not even two pages in length. But at its end, he concludes, “the second ‘all’ in these two texts [the other text being Romans 5:18] refers to all those who are in Christ, and that only includes those who believe” (p.58).

By this, he means to say that even though the apostle Paul declares that “all” shall be vivified, we are to understand the “all” to be only all those who accept Christ and believe during their present lifetime.

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Verse 22, however, informs us of no such thing! Instead, the purpose of verse 22 is to tell us why it is so that “through a man came death, [and] through a Man, also, comes the resurrection of the dead” (verse 21). The text explains that this is so, “for even as, in Adam, all are dying, thus also, in Christ, shall all be vivified” (verse 22). The antecedent, then, for “all” in both clauses of verse 22, is “man” (i.e., “human”), from the word “human” in both respective clauses of verse 21. Therefore, the elliptical noun to be supplied following “all” in both clauses of verse 22 (“in Adam, all . . .”, “in Christ, all . . .”) is “humans,” that is, “mankind.”

The theme which is in view throughout this entire section, to which Paul makes the extended reply of verses 20-28, is that of the universal forlornness of all mankind if there is no resurrection of the dead (cp vs.12,19). Further, it is in the context not merely of believers, but of all mankind (v.19), in which Paul declares that Christ is the Firstfruit of those who are reposing (v.21). “Repose” is the figure of euphemism by which, in gentleness, we make mention of the dead who are lying in their graves. Those who died in unbelief are lying in their graves quite as much as those who died in faith. Hence it is vain to claim that “the reposing” are confined to dead believers. Clearly, the expression comprises all the dead, not merely those of a certain class.

Let us rehearse again the theme that is in view and the considerations attending it. The overriding theme is the universal hopelessness of all mankind apart from resurrection. Yet the marvelous point to note is that while it is indeed the case that, considered in themselves, the dead are utterly hopeless, Christ is the Firstfruit (cp Acts 26:23) of a company which comprises all the dead! Christ, in vivified glory, is the Firstfruit of the “reposing,” that is, of the dead. “Firstfruit” speaks of the first fruit to ripen and be presented to God (cp Lev.23:10). If the firstfruit is holy, so are the rest (cf Rom.11:16). A tree bears only one kind of fruit (cp Matt.7:17,18; 12:33). The fruit that death’s tree, utterly powerless in itself, will nonetheless yet bear by the hand of the Almighty, finds its Exemplar in Christ’s glorious resurrection. “The reposing” are those who will yet constitute fruit for God such as is exampled in the victorious resurrection of Christ Himself.

Christ is the Firstfruit of those who are reposing, “for since, in fact, through a man came death, through a Man, also, comes the resurrection of the dead” (v.21). Notice, the subject is not the resurrection of some certain company among the dead; it is rather simply the resurrection of “the dead” (literally, the “standing up of dead ones”). It is the case that through a man came death, and that through a Man, also, comes the resurrection of the dead, “for even as, in Adam, all are dying, thus also, in Christ, shall all be vivified” (v.22).

The theme, the hopelessness of mankind apart from resurrection, is established in verses 12-19. The fact that Christ has been roused out from among those who are dead as the Firstfruit of the ones “having been reposed” (literal rendering), is declared in verse 20. In verses 21 and 22 Paul’s subject continues to be all mankind, which is made evident by the overall logical flow of the text. And, that this is and necessarily continues to be, the true range of his subject, is protected against all intelligent denial by the subject-maintaining causal conjunctions “for” at the beginning of both verses 21 and 22.

The fact is that the noun “human” appearing in both clauses of verse 21, constitutes the identification of the elliptical adjective “all” appearing in both clauses of verse 22. This makes the scope of the “all” in both clauses of verse 22, all mankind.

To claim that at least in the second “all” of verse 22 (the all who will be vivified), this refers not to all mankind but only to all who believe and even then only to all who believe during this life, is to do extreme violence both to the text and the context. The apostle Paul says no such thing; nor, certainly, does he say anything from which such a notion would follow. To the contrary, what he does say here precludes any such notion.

Rather, what actually follows from what Paul plainly declares, is that other passages of Scripture are being misinterpreted if from one’s understanding of other texts, one has concluded that only those who believe during this life will be saved.

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The author of CRITICAL QUESTIONS ABOUT HELL, freely acknowledges that “if the parallelism [in these two verses] were carried out absolutely, we would have to concede that every human being will experience a blessed resurrection at the end” (p.57). Such an admission is tantamount to saying that if such an “absolute” parallelism were the teaching of these texts, universal vivification would be true and eternal punishment would be false. This is a telling statement. He tacitly admits that such an understanding of these passages is certainly possible, even while insisting that it would be an incorrect interpretation.

The writer concedes that both passages employ parallelism, but denies that they employ what he conceives as “absolute” parallelism. Such a claim, however, is confused indeed; or rather it is simply nonsense. There is no such thing as “non-absolute” parallelism. Even as with figures of likeness (such as metaphor and type), thus also with the literary device termed parallelism, the likeness (or “parallel”) is always “absolute” in that respect which is under consideration. Otherwise, we would not have a parallel! Different entities, in all their respective particulars, obviously are not identical; no one supposes that they are. But in those specific things in which substantially different entities are alike, there is no such thing as non-absolute likeness or parallelism.

The reason why (“For,” 1 Cor.15:22a) “through a man came death” (v.21a), is because in Adam, all mankind are dying (v.22a). And, the reason why “through a Man also, comes the resurrection of the dead” (v.21b), is because, in Christ, all mankind shall be vivified (v.22b).

Notice: all mankind are dying; and, all mankind will be vivified. This is the primary revelation of this passage. Paul then goes on to tell us why both death and resurrection are a reality. Death, indeed, is a reality–“for . . . all are dying.” And, contrary to the claims of some of the Corinthians, the resurrection of the dead is a reality as well–“for . . . all shall be vivified.” If all shall have that glorious, immortal, and incorruptible life of which Christ is even now the Firstfruit (v.23), it certainly follows that all will live. And since all indeed will gloriously live–let the Corinthians say what they will–it follows as well that the dead will be “resurrected” (i.e., “stand up” in life from among the dead). Therefore, the claim made by some of the Corinthians that there is no resurrection of the dead (v.12), is wholly false.

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The primary question concerning both the first and the second clause of 1 Corinthians 15:22, is the scope of the word “all” in the phrases, “in Adam, all . . .”, and “in Christ, all . . . .” As we have already explained, the scope of the “all” in each of these clauses, is determined by the noun appearing in each clause’s corresponding clause in verse 21. In the case of both the“all” appearing in 1 Corinthians 15:22a and that in 22b, the antecedent noun in verse 21, is “man” or “human.” Hence it is simply a fact that the elliptical noun to be supplied to the adjective “all” in both clauses of 1 Corinthians 15:22, is “mankind.” The sense, then, of Paul’s words is that, “even as, in Adam, all [mankind] are dying, thus also, in Christ, shall all [mankind] be vivified.” In the wisdom of God, the revelation of this vital passage is made in such a way that all who are able to receive its truth may find assurance that they indeed have done so. And, in the wisdom of God, its truth is also declared in such a way that those to whom its enlightenment has not been given, may, in their own minds, justify their unbelief.

Many Scripture passages use the expression “in Christ” (or its equivalent) in what is termed the “locative” sense (e.g., Rom.8:1). Thus one is said to be located “in” Christ. Such a locative sense is not literal, however, but figurative. The literal idea of thus being “in Christ,” is identification with Christ. Those who are “in Christ,” belong to Christ; they are His, and have the closest possible association with Him. In those passages in which the subject is being “in Christ” (i.e., when the sense is, those who are “in Christ”), “in” is used not instrumentally, but locatively.

Conversely, other Scripture passages, use the phrase “in Christ” in what is known as the “instrumental” sense (e.g., Eph.2:5-7,10,13). The instrumental “in” is the equivalent of “by means of” (cp 1 Cor.15:21,22). For example, the instrumental “in” reveals how we are chosen (we are chosen “in Him”; Eph.1:4).

Usage determines sense. For example, when we read of those who came to be “in Christ” before Paul (Rom.16:7), it is evident that the locative sense is intended. And, just as surely, where we read of the covering that was remaining at the reading of the old covenant, and learn that this was so, “for only in Christ is it being nullified” (2 Cor.3:14), it is evident that the instrumental sense is meant. Indeed, the phrase, “in Christ is it being nullified,” is parallel to “in Christ, shall all be vivified.” “In Christ, shall all be vivified,” then, no more means “those who are in Christ shall be vivified,” than “in Christ is it being nullified,” means “those who are in Christ is it being nullified,” which, means nothing at all.

It should be noted that in 1 Corinthians 15:22, Paul does not say, “all in Adam” and “all in Christ,” but, “in Adam, all,” and “in Christ, all.” It is unconscionable to reverse the scriptural syntax as so many do when interpreting this passage. It is unconscionable as well, when the apostle’s words already express a clear thought as they stand, to revise his words so as to express a different clear thought than his clear thought.

If it is allowed (and it cannot fairly be denied) that the scope of the “all,” in each case, is “mankind,” some will then try to represent Paul as saying, “all [mankind] in Adam . . . ” and “all [mankind] in Christ . . . .” This they then “interpret” as “all mankind who are in Adam,” and “all mankind who are in Christ [today].” Then, concerning the latter clause, they finish their work of corruption by their consummate “interpretation,” “ [only] all mankind who are in Christ [today]”!

Their consciences having been cauterized, many consider themselves quite at liberty to set forth such “interpretations” as the very word of God. After reversing the syntax, and, quite unwarrantedly, adding the word “who” to each clause (not to mention after having added the words “only” and “today” to the second clause), many still have the audacity to represent such an “interpretation” as Paul’s true thought.

Such, however, is a gross misuse of the word “interpretation.” The province of exegesis (i.e., of legitimate interpretation), is to bring out what is actually present, to clarify what is actually said or entailed, even though it may not immediately be evident to all. Even as paraphrase may recast, exegesis may lead forth. Neither paraphrase nor exegesis, however, may change what has been declared into a non-equivalent declaration.

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We indeed need to discern what Paul has said, but we must realize that he has already spoken, saying what he meant, and meaning what he said. That is, his declarations already have meaning. We cannot give it to them; we can only note the meaning that they already possess.

When a declaration, as it stands, is already clear, we may not claim the presence of ellipsis, so as to warrant our additions. Any such “ellipsis” is not ellipsis at all, but corruption. Genuine ellipsis does not change the sense but makes explicit the sense that is already present, albeit in compressed form.

Nor may we change the scripture syntax when by so doing we change the scripture sense. The syntax we are considering is the syntax of these scriptural phrases in question in 1 Corinthians 15:22, “in Adam, all . . .”, and “in Christ, all . . . .” The words “in Adam” and “in Christ,” are prepositional phrases. Prepositional phrases may be used as adverbs or as adjectives. When we say, “in Christ, shall all be vivified,” we are using the words “in Christ” adverbially, so that “in Christ” modifies “vivified.” Such a construction answers the question how, or where, all shall be vivified. The sense is: “all [in this case, all mankind] shall be vivified, but they shall be vivified, in Christ [i.e., not otherwise or elsewhere].”

The non-scriptural construction, however, “all in Christ,” presents us with a different thought from that of the scriptural syntax, “in Christ, all.” And, as it is popularly understood, this non-scriptural syntax presents an unscriptural thought. In the construction, “all in Christ,” the phrase “in Christ” is used adjectivally, so that it modifies the adjective (used as a noun) “all.” In this case, the sense is that “the ‘in Christ’ all” are the “all” who shall be vivified.

Before we even attempt to judge the sense or scope of such a phrase, we must realize that such a phrase does not declare Paul’s idea. Whether or not, on other grounds, such a thought, in some sense, may be true, such a thought is not revealed here.

Actually, even with this construction, since the “all” in this text, regardless of syntax, is all mankind, and since, it is the secret of God’s will, in due time, to head up all in the Christ–whether those on the earth or those in the heavens–(Eph. 1:10), we could only legitimately identify “the ‘in Christ’ all” here as all mankind. Therefore, by any legitimate interpretation, even if the syntax is reversed, the vital sense will not be changed. The truth revealed in this passage can only be lost by (1) reversing the syntax of these key phrases so as to change Paul’s thought; (2) placing an illegitimate limitation on the word “all”; and (3) adding false notions to the text; namely, the spurious claim, contradicted by this very passage, that only those who are in Christ today will ever be saved.

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One who is familiar with the passages which declare that it is “in” Abram and “in” his seed that all nations shall be blessed (Gal.3:8; cp Gen.12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14), would naturally assume that Paul is speaking along similar lines here in 1 Corinthians 15:22, using the instrumental “in” in a parallel way. Let us note as well that it is that which in principle is “the blessing of Abraham,” which comes to the nations “in Christ Jesus” (Gal.3:14). Therefore, the words here, “in Christ Jesus,” must be understood in an instrumental (i.e., in a by-means-of) sense. Thus they speak of Christ as the One Who is God’s Chief Instrument.

The fact is that these texts which rehearse promises of blessing in Abram and in his seed, are texts which indisputably employ the instrumental “in.” In such passages of Scripture, both Abram and his seed are surely typical of Christ in His saving work on behalf of all. It is very likely, then, on this basis alone, that the sense of “in Christ, shall all be vivified,” is “by means of Christ,” shall all be vivified. It should be noted, however, that the only difference in 1 Corinthians 15:22 between an instrumental “in Christ” and a locative “in Christ,” is that the former sense reveals the means of the vivification of all, whereas the latter sense relates the sphere in which the vivification of all shall occur. The point is this: both senses affirm the vivification of all mankind, and preclude the traditional doctrine of eternal punishment.

It is (1) instrumentally “in,” (2) transmissionally “through,” and (3) objectively “because” of what Abram did in believing God that all nations shall enjoy blessing in the coming kingdom. (“In” is en, “through” is dia, and “because” is dia with the accusative [i.e., objective] case.) And, it is in, through (i.e., by means of), and because of what Christ did in His obedience to the death of the cross, that all mankind shall be vivified (1 Cor.15:22). In, through, and because of the obedience of Christ, this entire vast throng–all mankind–shall actually be constituted just, and, accordingly, be awarded “life’s justifying” as well (Rom.5:18,19).

The author’s claim that salvation is only for “all who are in Christ” (p.56) is misleading and ultimately false. It is true that, at present, the Scriptures only term those who are chosen (who, accordingly, are graciously granted to be believing) as being “in Christ.” But it is just as true that, in the distant future, all will come to be “in Christ,” for it is the secret of God’s will (in accord with His delight, which He purposed in Christ), to have an administration of the complement of the eras to head up all in the Christ (Eph.1:9,10). In that day, all–whether those on the earth or those in the heavens–will be in Christ together, for all will be “summed” up (or “headed” up) in Him.

It is true, in the nature of the case, that in an originative sense (as in “[Levi was] in the loins of his father,” Heb.7:10), all were once, in this respect, even locatively, “in Adam.” But–and this is by far the more important consideration–long before this and yet in a similar sense, all were first of all “in” Christ, “in Him [in Whom] is all created” (Col.1:16). So there is a sense in which all were once even locatively in Adam, and, far more gloriously, in Christ, even as a sense in which all will thus be in Christ at the consummation.

Indeed, men are estranged from Christ today, and indeed, most die in such a condition. But it is just as true–stated as a fact, with reference to all intelligent creatures–that in God’s own time, “in [Christ] the entire complement delights to dwell” (Col.1:19). “And [this is so for God delights] to reconcile all to Him (making peace through the blood of His cross), through Him, whether those on the earth or those in the heavens” (Col.1:20). How we long for that day, the goal of the universe, when God is All in all (1 Cor.15:28). It is the purpose of the eons which God makes in Christ Jesus our Lord (cf Eph.3:11).

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On page 57 of CRITICAL QUESTIONS ABOUT HELL, the author suggests that since in the words “all mankind” in Romans 5:18a (“for all mankind for condemnation”), Christ is not included, this shows that it is not unreasonable to claim that, in Romans 5:18b, in these same words, “all mankind,” neither are the vast majority of mankind included! That is, by the words “all mankind,” orthodoxy here wishes us to understand not, all mankind, but only a comparative few of mankind!

Surely no one who was not desperate to establish the teaching of eternal punishment would ever make such a claim. The fact is that the scope of the “all” in the phrase “all mankind” in Romans 5:18, is decided by the “all mankind” into whom death passed through as a result of Adam’s sin (Rom.5:12). Christ alone is excepted. Therefore, it is Adam and all his descendants who are in view, in both clauses, in Romans 5:18, in the words “all mankind.”

The author observes, concerning various verses in 1 Corinthians 15 which are in near proximity to verse 22, “that [according to these texts] it is those who are in Christ or belong to Christ who are raised.” He then says (p.58), “Surely, then, we must conclude that when [the apostle Paul] says, ‘. . . in Christ all will be made alive’ he means that it is those who belong to Christ’s race–that is, those ‘in Christ’–who will be resurrected.”

But what kind of logic is this? Will not all who are in the tombs be resurrected (John 5:28,29)? When the thousand years are past, will not the rest of the dead be roused (Rev.20:5)? Besides, since no doubt the author would not actually claim that only a few will even be so much as resurrected at all, it is confusing to speak as if he were defending such a proposition. In any case, the question is not whether all will be resurrected (at some point, for some purpose), but whether, ultimately, all will be vivified. This is because while resurrection may or may not include vivification, vivification, in the nature of the case, entails resurrection, while at the same time transcending it.

The author wishes to suggest (pp.57,58) that since in various statements in proximity to verse 22 which are doubtlessly somehow related to it, only those who are presently God’s people are in view, it follows that in the extended passage at issue (verses 22-28), only God’s people as well are in view. The author is an intelligent man, and, we suppose, is rarely guilty of such fallacious assertions in everyday life. Were it not that he is under the sway of orthodoxy, no doubt he would not make such irrational claims.

On page 57, the writer goes on to say that it is “those in Christ, unlike unbelievers, [who alone] will experience the resurrection.” Here he wrongly employs the words, scriptural in themselves, “the resurrection,” as a denominative, as if their reference here were to eternal life as opposed to eternal Hell. He then asks us to see verses 19, 31, 32, and 58 as proof of the validity of his claim that only those who die in faith will be saved. None of these verses, however, support his claim. He reasons as if it follows that since neither passage A, B, or C address a certain subject, neither does passage D consider that subject.

Also on page 57, the writer claims still further that in these passages at issue (Romans 5:18,19; 1 Corinthians 15:22-28), “Paul is talking about two races of humans. The first is Adam’s race. It includes all those who sin and are thus under condemnation. The second is Christ’s race. They are the people who are ‘in Christ’–that is, those who through faith have received salvation.”

This claim about “two races” is merely, by way of diversion, step one in an attempt to justify the claim that the all who are dying in Adam are not the same all who will be made alive in Christ. It is a standard claim of church antiquity, which this writer by no means introduces but simply rehearses. But if “group A” were a different company than “group B,” it would hardly need to be proved that those comprised in the second “all” were a different “all” than the first “all.” This, however, is what is at issue. Such a claim is to be proved, not merely pleaded for through circular reasoning, by means of some foolish subterfuge about a plurality of “races.”

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For the reasons I have rehearsed earlier in this exposition, we may be certain that the only race in view in these texts is the human race. In both passages (Romans 5:18,19; 1 Corinthians 15:21,22), and in each case, both in that which comes to be through Adam and in that which is achieved through Christ, all mankind are affected. The condemnation of death and dying which befall all mankind through the disobedience of the one man, Adam, is put in parallel to vivification and life’s justifying which God grants to all mankind through the obedience of the One, Jesus Christ. Even as the one apportionment, thus also the other. One is the work of Adam; the other is the work of Christ. Both Adam and Christ affect all the rest.

In these matters of justification and vivification, which form the heart of true soteriology and eschatology, neither our sins nor our virtues have any place whatever. All is due to Christ. Nonetheless, since orthodoxy, in its Arminian form, cannot abide that salvation is truly in grace and through the unaided work of Christ, and, in its Calvinistic form, cannot believe that Christ, salvifically, died for all, orthodoxy simply has no room for the truth.

The writer insists that the “all” who shall be vivified and constituted just–in a word, that the “all” who shall be saved–are confined to those who are “in Christ” during this present lifetime. All the rest (which is the vast majority of the human race) will have to burn in “Hell” for all eternity, being subjected to abject misery of unspeakable proportions, without any hope of relief or reclamation. Otherwise, orthodoxy must be wrong–and that can never be!

The author of CRITICAL QUESTIONS ABOUT HELL, like countless other believers, has simply been given over to a foolish and blasphemous myth. How we thank God that he will not have to believe it “forever and ever”! In light of the words of Paul, however, as well as the testimony of history, no doubt only a few such ones will be granted a realization of the truth on this theme during their present lifetime. Though contrary to God’s will, good and well pleasing and perfect, such delusion is in accord with what must be (cf Rom. 8:26). We may be sure as well that it is in accord with God’s wisdom and will yet eventuate in His glory (cf Rom.11:36).

Let us not expect others to understand, much less accept, our teaching. We may be happily surprised when a few of them do so, but let us not expect this to occur. May we ourselves, however, clearly understand why we believe what we believe; and let us be certain that our reasons for our faith are sound and conclusive.

Let us rejoice that those who presently oppose, one day will believe the truth. We may be sure that they will do so, for He Who is operating all in accord with the counsel of His will, wills that all mankind be saved and come into a realization of the truth (Eph.1:11; 1 Tim.2:4).

James Coram

1. Ajith Fernando, 1991; Crossway Books: Wheaton Illinois, ISBN 0-89107-762-6.

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