Summary: Surely if there is a shred of evidence for the doctrine of universalism, it can be found in Paul. Good luck with that...
PAUL and UNIVERSALISM
14. Paul and Isaiah
With Paul we come to one who is used by both sides of the Universalism controversy for support. My sense is that the proof inclusivists have found is no proof at all. We begin with Paul's activities in the book of Acts.
Acts 13:47-48. It was in Antioch, in the present day land of Turkey, where Paul finally realized his call to go to Gentiles. The Jews consistently denied Paul's message and forced him to turn from them. He quotes from Isaiah to justify his action: "I have set you to be a light to the Gentiles that you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth."
Now that's a pretty sweeping statement. Very inclusive. But verse 48 narrows things down a bit. As a group, the Gentiles were glad that Paul's attention was turning their way. But it was only a percentage that actually believed and were saved, namely "as many as had been appointed to eternal life."
That all sounds very Calvinistic. Better to say it is Pauline, and from the Holy Spirit. I offer it as naked truth without explanation, as I would do with the invitation of John, "Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely." There are denominations formed on both of those statements. I'll join none of them, thank you, but continue to believe that somehow the sovereignty of God and the free will of man are part of the same scheme of things.
But clearly implied in it all is that there are some "whosoever won't" folks too, those not "ordained" to eternal life.
Not everyone will be saved.
Acts 17:27-32. Mars Hill. The pagan philosophers. The free preaching opportunity. Remember? Paul tries to speak the language of the Greek gurus of the day by describing a God who created all men with the same blood, and gave them all a desire to grope for God. (His word.) Paul says that those who seek Him will find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.
No, not far. But just far enough for a man to be lost if he tires of the search. Will all seek Him? Not implied here. Later he says God is commanding all to repent. Will all repent? Not implied here.
Judgment is to come, says the apostle. By a Man who was raised from the dead. Hearing of the resurrection, these Gentiles asked for another day to hear Paul. Implied: That day never came. In their wisdom they knew not God, and never shall.
If Paul is to be the one to proclaim universal salvation one day, he is certainly getting off to a bad start...
Acts 26:17-18. Once more the Gentiles (all the nations except Israel), via Isaiah, are singled out as Paul's ministry. They will be delivered from Satan's power, be forgiven, and receive an eternal inheritance.
But before the chapter is over we see at least one Gentile, Agrippa, who is not interested. His "almost" has become the subject of sorrowful song. Almost, but lost.
The discussion here merely states that Paul is to be sent to Gentiles to announce all the good things of God. Absolutely no mention is made of a universal acceptance of that message.
Acts 28:26-28. Jew and Gentile are contrasted in this final passage of Luke's history. The Jews reject Messiah, fulfilling Isaiah's words. But this salvation will be sent to the Gentiles, and they will hear it, says Paul!
But wait. Did all Jews reject Jesus? No. The apostles about whom Acts is written, certainly did not. The entire first church was Jewish! But by and large, Israel said no.
Did all Gentiles accept Jesus? No. A Gentile church was formed that far outstripped the Jewish church even in that century, and such has been the case until our present day. Paul's prophecy stands. But myriads of Gentiles have joined unbelieving Israel in their doom.
As we will see later in this study, the word "all" is not all it seems to be...
15. The universal condemnation of mankind
I found something dealing with the subject of Universalism - actually the opposite thereof - in 12 of the 16 chapters of Romans. Truly this gem of the apostle Paul is key to a proper understanding of God's eternal program.
Romans 1:5-6,8. Once more the word all catches our attention. Paul has been called to bring the message to all nations, that people among them might be called to obedience. But immediately the contrast: "... among whom you also (people of Rome, Italy) are the called of Jesus Christ."
Did every person in Italy hear and obey the call? Not then, not now. It's a simple fact, but it is important to keep in mind, that God calls His people from among all nations, but also that not all individuals in the nations respond.