About Me

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Robin Parry is the husband of but one wife (Carol) and the father of the two most beautiful girls in the universe (Hannah and Jessica). He also has a lovely cat called Monty (who has only three legs). Living in the city of Worcester, UK, he works as an Editor for Wipf and Stock — a US-based theological publisher. Robin was a Sixth Form College teacher for 11 years and has worked in publishing since 2001 (2001–2010 for Paternoster and 2010– for W&S).

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

"The Biblical Cosmos" video promo

My youngest daughter Jess has very kindly created a short video promo for my latest book, The Biblical Cosmos. Thanks to Ellison for doing the voiceover.

The book is available from Wipf and Stock (for $21.60) or Amazon.com ($23.44)/Amazon.co.uk (£13.22) or anywhere worthy.


You can read a free sample of it here.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Christmas in universalist perspective—an Advent podast

The guys at Nomad Podcast asked if I'd record some thoughts on Christmas from a Christian universalist perspective. Must confess, my first thought was "Yikes! I don't have anything to say!" But then I thought, "well, why not!" So I did it. You can hear the recording here.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Eriugena on God's garments

Following my post on creation as God's garments, here is something from John Scotus Eriugena (823–877).
Indeed, the garment of the Word is visible creation, which preaches Him openly and manifests His beauty to us. The Holy Scriptures have also been made His garment, which contains the mysteries. 
(Commentarius in Sanctum Evangelium secundum Johannem I, xxix)

Eriugena distinguishes between the Incarnation of the Logos (Word) in Jesus, "by which He joined human nature to Himself in a unity of substance" and the quasi-incarnation of the Logos by which He is "rendered thick" and "visible" in both creation and Scripture.

So the Logos is "incarnate"

  • in creation, 
  • in Scripture, 
  • but most supremely in Jesus. 

For Eriugena, in order to stress the uniqueness of Jesus, the word "incarnation" is reserved for the final mode. The other modes are quasi incarnatum. (Eriugena also rightly consider the deification of human beings in the eschaton to be a quasi-incarnation of the Logos.)

Still, again we find this interesting metaphor of God revealed indirectly in the shape of his garments. So the garment image predates Thomas Carlyle. Indeed, I think  that it predates Eriugena, who was commenting on Maximus the Confessor. I'll need to check that out.

Arminians and Calvinists "battle" over Christmas carol

Christian philosopher and Arminian theologian Jerry Walls has rewritten a certain well-known carol to enable Calvinists to sing it without the stress of mental reservations. Here is Jerry's version.

Joy to the chosen! their Lord has come;
Let them receive their King;
Only their hearts prepare him room
For the others cannot sing
For the others cannot sing
For the others, the others cannot sing.

Note to the world: the Sovereign reigns
And men he does employ
Like fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Controls them as his toys
Controls them as his toys
Controls them, controls them as his toys!

So long let sin and sorrows grow
As murderers shall kill;
For he ordaineth everything
By his secret, hidden will
By his secret, hidden will
By his secret, his secret hidden will.

He rules the world by sovereign might
And makes the nations prove
The glories of omnipotence
And wonders of his wrath
And wonders of his wrath
And wonder, and wonder how this is love. 

Ho ho ho.

Jason Huff, a pastor from Greenwood, Indiana, has responded with a Calvinist rewrite for Arminians. Here is Jason's hymn.

Joy to the world . . . the Western world
The rest? Eh . . . not so much.
‘Cause everybody here
Gets several times to hear
But not those in Nepal
Because we dropped the ball
Our free will has stopped God from coming near.

Joy to the ones who get to choose
The Prime Directive states
To interfere
With free will is not dear
In fact, it’s really mean
For God to intervene
Except when we really, really want Him to.

Joy to the world, the choice is yours
God waits and waits and waits
He cannot do a thing
A puppet on a string
Until you make the call
Then He’ll give you it all
Unless you waver, then all bets are off.

Maybe each side has thoughtful points
Perhaps some truth to both
We do not understand
All bits of our God’s plan
Let’s not tie all our fate
To cantankerous debate
Join hands over Christ’s birth and celebrate!

Very funny.

I suggest that we draw from the insights of both and just stick with the universalist version:

Joy to the world! The Lord is come

Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare Him room
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven and nature sing
And heaven, and heaven and nature sing 

Joy to the world! The Saviour reigns
Let men their songs employ
While fields and floods
Rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy 

No more let sins and sorrows grow
Nor thorns infest the ground
He comes to make
His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found
Far as the curse is found
Far as, far as the curse is found

He rules the world with truth and grace
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness
And wonders of His love
And wonders of His love
And wonders and wonders of His love

Friday, 12 December 2014

Creation as the "living garment of God"

“Or what is Nature? Ha! Why do I not name thee God? Art not thou the ‘Garment of the Living God’? O Heavens, is it, in very deed, He, then, that ever speaks through thee; that lives and loves in thee, that lives and loves in me?” 
Thomas Carlyle, Sartor Restartus (New York: Frederick A. Stokes, 1893), p. 130.
In “The Knowledge of God the Creator” (Institutes I.V.1), Calvin offers the following comment on Psalm 104:
Therefore the prophet very aptly exclaims that he is "clad with light as with a garment" [Ps. 104: 2 p.]. It is as if he said: Thereafter the Lord began to show himself in the visible splendor of his apparel, ever since in the creation of the universe he brought forth those insignia whereby he shows his glory to us, whenever and wherever we cast our gaze."
Thanks to Thomas Hastings for these quotations (both taken from his excellent study on the twentieth-century Japanese evangelist and social reformer Kagawa Toyohiko—Pickwick, forthcoming). Here is Kagawa himself:
[S]omeone may ask this question: Are God and the universe one? And are God and human beings one? Pantheism takes that stand. But I am not a pantheist. I am an advocate of the Holy Spirit. No, beyond that I am one who rejoices in the Spirit-filled life.  
Is the child living in the womb identical to the mother? Although conceived in the mother, the child is a different person from the mother. The mother transcends the child. Still, the child is living in the mother. And the child comes from the mother. In like manner, the absolute God transcends human beings while embracing human beings, and human beings are created by God. 
We can think of the relation of God and the universe in the same way. The material world is not itself God. But God transcends it, dwells in it, and through it manifests himself. I wonder if it is not most appropriate to think of the material world as the garment of God.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

A Christmas carol rap song (God rest ye merry gentlemen)

I must confess—I think that this is good.
I am a bit of a sucker for rap (must be my name)

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Gregory of Nyssa on 1 Corinthians 15:28

I recently read Gregory of Nyssa's In Illud: Tunc et Ipse Filius. It is a short but fascinating piece on 1 Corinthians 15:28.

“Then the Son will be subjected to him who has subjected all things to himself.”

This was a text that some were using to argue that the Son cannot be equal in divinity to the Father, because he will be subjected to the Father.

Gregory's response, following Origen, is that the Son here is submitting to the Father as a human being; indeed, as the representative human being. As such, his submission to the Father is a submission to God on behalf of all humanity, nay, all creation. Creation submits in Christ's own submission. And so, when creation is subjected in Christ, God will be all in all.

I think that this is exactly right—not simply as a quirky-but-interesting later spin on the text. I think it is what Paul is getting at. 

Given that, it is perhaps not surprising that 1 Corinthians 15:28 was the most commonly appealed to text among the early Christian defenders of apokatastasis

Friday, 28 November 2014

Chernobyl today

Postcards from Pripyat, Chernobyl from Danny Cooke on Vimeo.

This amazing video shows the town of Pripyat, near Chernobyl

"Like the Dawn" by Oh Hellos

This video is a photography project by some YWAM students. I think it is great.

My thanks to Richard Dormandy for pointing me to this

Friday, 14 November 2014

Origen's orthodox Christology

It is often said that there were unhelpful subordinationist elements in Origen's Christology that blossomed in later Arianism. In other words, Origen's Christological legacy was found, in part, among the heretics.

I have long thought that this view was likely based on misunderstanding Origen—that terms he used were later picked up and used differently by some in Christological debates, and those later uses were then read back into Origen.

Anyway, yesterday I read a fascinating article that maintained that far from having subordinationist tendencies, Origen was a strong anti-subordinationist and that a line can be traced from his views into Nicene orthodoxy. His heirs were not the Arians, but defenders of Nicene orthodoxy—Athanasius and the Cappadocians in particular.

Its author even argues that the key creedal term homoousios (of one being with ...)—which was used by Origen of the Son's relation with the Father—may possibly have proposed by Constantine at Nicea on the advice of Eusebius (who got it from Origen). This is, of course, speculation. But it is interesting speculation.

The article is

Ilaria L. E. Ramelli, "Origen's Anti-Subordinationism and Its Heritage in the Nicene and Cappadocian Lines." Vigiliae Christianae 64 (2010) 1–29

Here is the abstract:
Nyssen’s arguments in In Illud: Tunc et Ipse Filius entirely derive from Origen (probably also passing through Marcellus of Ancyra and Eusebius). Origen’s influence, theoretical and exegetical, is evident in every passage, from the argumentative pillars down to the tiniest details of exegesis. Gregory’s close dependence on Origen in his anti-subordinationism, within his polemic against ‘Arianism,’ confirms that Origen was not the forerunner of ‘Arianism,’ as he was depicted in the Origenistic controversy and is often still regarded to be, but the main inspirer of the Cappadocians, especially Nyssen, in what became Trinitarian orthodoxy. Origen inspired Marcellus, who was anti-Arian, Eusebius, who in fact was no ‘Arian,’ Athanasius, the champion of anti-Arianism, and the Cappadocians. I argue extensively that Origen’s Trinitarian heritage is found, not in Arianism, but in Nyssen, Athanasius, Eusebius, and the Nicene-Constantinopolitan line, on the basis of a painstaking analysis of his works (always with attention to their reliability in relation to Greek original, translations, and fragments) and of Pamphilus, Eusebius, Athanasius, and other revealing testimonies, pagan and Christian. The origin of the homoousios formula is also investigated in this connection. Further interesting insights will emerge concerning Eusebius and his first report of what exactly happened at Nicaea.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Rethinking the Tower of Babel with Paul Penley

Looking ahead to ETS in San Diego made me think of the last time it was there (2007), and a paper that I heard on the tower of Babel. It was subsequently published in the ETS journal.

Paul T. Penley, “A Historical Reading of Genesis 11:1–9: The Sumerian Demise and Dispersion under the Ur III Dynasty.” JETS 50.4 (2007) 693–714

I reread the paper yesterday and was again impressed by it. The thesis is not new, but it is worth considering. In a nutshell, Penley is arguing that the Babel story is not some ahistorical primal event but a historical remembrance of cultural events that can be more or less identified. Crazy, huh! In fact, not crazy.

The story, he argues, is a summary of cultural shifts that took place over a period of two millennia! These have been compressed down into a representative story.

Penley’s thesis is that the story begins with an eastward migration in the Tigris-Euphrates basin (Gen 11:2), which matches the Ubaid period in the first half of the fourth millennium BC. This migration led to settlement in Mesopotamia and the development of urban cultures.

The tower was a ziggurat, one of the famous temples of Mesopotamia that were ritual mountains symbolically reaching down into the underworld and up to the heavens. The tower incident in Genesis 11 refers not to a single ziggurat connected with one particular city (e.g., Babylon, Ur, Uruk, Borsippa), but is representative of all the urban centers built around such artificial temple-mountains.

The story tells of the unity of the people and their ambitious building work. This links to the period of the Third Dynasty of Ur in the third millennium BC (c.2110–c.2000 BC). This was a period in which the land was united, great building projects were undertaken, and Sumerian was the common language. In some ways, a golden age.

However, this dynasty met its demise around 1960 BC with serious incursions into Sumer by Amorites from the Arabian desert, soon supplemented by attacks from the East by Elamites. The great unifying Sumerian culture fell, never to rise again. The unifying language was broken up too, with the introduction of new, alien languages. This, Penley sees in the climax of the biblical story with its confusion of languages, the halting of the building project, and the dispersion of the people.

This is not then a story about the origin of different languages in the world. It does not speak of “the whole earth” having one language, but of “the whole land” (eretz) having one language (11:2). This, thinks Penley, is the land of Sinar and the language is Sumerian. The focus is not global but local. Genesis is telling “a theologically charged historical summary of the rise and fall of Sumerian culture in Mesopotamia from the fourth to the third millennium BC” (p. 709).

For the author of Genesis, this was all preparation for the story of Abraham from Ur.

Interesting suggestion.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Was Athanasius a universalist?

When it comes to patristic universalists, everyone points to Origen and Gregory of Nyssa, and some folk point to various precursors and followers of Origen, but not many people seek to enlist St. Athanasius (d. 373). However, in her recent 900-page volume on apokatastasis, Ilaria Ramelli makes a pretty strong case that Athanasius was indeed a universalist.

She notes that he was a supporter and defender both of Origen and of certain of Origen's followers, including Palladius, Theognostus, and St. Anthony. She further demonstrates that Athanasius absorbed a range of theological and exegetical insights from Origen.

Consequently, one should perhaps not be surprised if it turned out that Origen's universalism was also taken on board by the great Anti-Arian saint. And so it appears. Ramelli surveys a range of texts in which Athanasius sees:

  • Christ's incarnation as having a salvific effect on all humanity 
  • Christ death for all as resulting in the salvation of all
  • That what God has called into existence should not perish (on the grounds that then God's work for it would be in vain)
For instance, [all refs in the book]
Flesh was taken up by the Logos to liberate all humans and resurrect all of them from the dead and ransom all of them from sin. 
The Logos became a human being for the sake of our salvation . . . in order to set free all beings in himself, to lead the cosmos to the Father and to pacify all beings in himself, in heaven and on earth.
. . . in himself he has liberated humanity from sin, completely and entirely, and has vivified it from the state of death . . . 
he delivered his own body to death on behalf of all . . . in order bring again to incorruptibility the human beings now doomed to corruption 
That corruption may disappear from all forever, thanks to the resurrection. . . . He has paid for all, in death, all that was owed. . . . He set right their neglectfulness, having rectified all human things by means of his power. 
Creatures, which are his work, should not be reduced to nothing by the deception of the devil. 
[Christ], who through his own power has restored the whole human nature
He handed his own body to death for the sake of all . . . in order to drive back to incorruptibility . . . human beings.
[Christ] has redeemed from death and liberated from hell all humanity.
He died for all . . . to abolish death with his blood . . . he has gained the whole humanity. 
the totality of the people has entered, so that every human be saved. 
He offered the sacrifice for all.
Our Saviour's death has liberated the world. By his wounds all of us have been healed
[In the cross there is] salvation of all humans in all places 
I am most certainly not an Athanasius scholar, but it certainly looks universalist! And given his Origenist sympathies, we'd need some good reasons to think it was not.

Now Athanasius did speak of the eschatological punishment of aionial fire. Presumably this is why people assume that he could not have been a universalist. However, Ramelli argues that Athanasius' use of this concept follows that of Origen. In other words, she argues that he makes a clear distinction between aidios (eternal) and aionios (age-long, or belonging to an age). Thus, future punishment is never spoken of as aidios (eternal), but only ever as aionios (belonging to the age to come). 

She further shows that—like Clement, Origen, and others—Athanasius had a notion of corrective punishment in the age to come. After citing the threat of eternal fire he reveals that its aim is "that these may revive, and those may correct themselves." Those who have been cursed by the Lord can have his mercy and will be inserted anew once they have abandoned their incredulity.

If Athanasius was indeed a universalist, this is not insignificant. It is easy in some quarters to dismiss Origen (often on the basis of misunderstanding him), but one cannot so easily dismiss Athanasius, the great defender of Nicene orthodoxy and the arch-opponent of Arius. If Ramelli is right, then universalism was not as marginal and fringe as it is sometimes claimed. 

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Joni Mitchell sings the book of Job

Here is the original version of "The Sire of Sorrow" (Job's sad song).

The orchestral version of the song on the Travelogue album (2002) is well worth a listen. It is a wonderful arrangement.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

The Biblical Cosmos: endorsements

Here are the endorsements for the book

“In this masterful exposition of the sacramental worldview of the Old Testament, Robin Parry explains why the ‘flat earth’ of ancient Israel continues to be of significance for Christians today. If you’re wondering how, with a modern cosmology, we can still believe that Jesus ascended into heaven, this book is a must-read. And if you figure the Old Testament is simply incompatible with the Christian Platonism of the Christian tradition, you just may be startled by the insights of this book.”
Hans Boersma, J. I Packer Professor of Theology, Regent College, Vancouver

“Delightful. Robin Parry takes the reader on a fascinating tour of biblical cosmology and theology. If you want to enter the minds of the biblical writers, this book will guide you with wit and sound learning.”
Gordon Wenham, Professor Emeritus of Old Testament, University of Gloucestershire, and Tutor in Old Testament, Trinity College Bristol, UK

“Parry expertly guides us through the strange biblical world of a flat earth at center of the cosmos, dragon-infested cosmic waters, a dome overhead, and abode of the dead below. But more than that, Parry invites us to accept this strange biblical world as is and to inhabit it, rather than conforming it to ours. In doing so, Parry opens up fresh ways of envisioning not only the biblical world, but Jesus and our own Christian faith.”
Peter Enns, Professor of Biblical Studies, Eastern University, Pennsylvania

“One of the great challenges for reading the Bible today is how to make sense of a biblical view of the world in our modern scientific era. In this book Robin Parry deftly and thoughtfully lays out the key issues as well as suggesting various ways in which we might begin to respond to them. This book is a must read for anyone serious about reading and making sense of the Bible today.”
Paula Gooder, Theologian in Residence, Bible Society, UK

“Robin Parry gives us what is both a fascinating survey of the cosmos as seen in Holy Scripture and a helpful guide to how Christians can best understand that biblical cosmology today. Thorough, lively, and thought-provoking, I warmly recommend it.”
Michael Ward, author of Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of
C. S. Lewis

“This book is simply stellar! What a fabulously helpful way to introduce the significance of the OT cosmology for today!”
Pleiades, open star cluster in the constellation of Taurus

Leviathan, mythical chaos monster

“This book is smokin’ hot! I wish I’d read this it when I was alive!”
Saint Augustine, important bishop and theologian bloke

"I feel so honored to have been asked to paint a picture for the cover of this great little travel guide. And to have Leviathan himself agree to pose for it was literally awesome."
Vincent Van Goch, artist

The Biblical Cosmos: back cover blurb and table of contents

For those of you who want to know a little more about the book, here is the back cover blurb.
Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of the Bible
When we read Scripture we often imagine that the world inhabited by the Bible’s characters was much the same as our own. We’d be wrong. The biblical world is an ancient world with a flat earth that stands at the center of the cosmos, and with a vast ocean in the sky, chaos dragons, mystical mountains, demonic deserts, an underground zone for the dead, stars that are sentient beings, and, if you travel upwards and through the doors in the solid dome of the sky, God’s heaven—the heart of the universe.
This book takes readers on a guided tour of the biblical cosmos with the goal of opening up the Bible in its ancient world. It then goes further and seeks to show how this very ancient biblical way of seeing the world is still revelatory and can speak God’s word afresh into our own modern worlds.
Robin A. Parry (the geeza wot wrote the book) is an editor at Wipf and Stock Publishers;
Hannah Parry (the lady wot illustrated the book) is an archaeology student

Table of Contents

Introduction: Welcome to the Biblical Cosmos

Part I: A Tour of the Biblical Earth
1. Joining the Flat Earth Society: The Big Picture 
2. Here Be Dragons! The Sea 
3. Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Land 
4. A Land Down Under: Sheol/Hades 

Part II: A Tour of the Biblical Heavens
5. Eyes in Their Stars: The Sky /
6. Brighter than a Thousand Suns: God’s Heaven /

Part III: The House of God: Temple and Cosmos
7. God’s in the House: The Temple and the Biblical Cosmos 
8. Christ’s in the House: Jesus and the Biblical Cosmos 

Part IV: Can We Inhabit the Biblical Cosmos?
9. How Can We Inhabit the Biblical Cosmos Today?
10. The Cosmic Temple Today
11. The Biblical Heavens Today
12. The Biblical Earth Today

Further Reading
Scripture Index

The new book is here: "The Biblical Cosmos"

So here is the illustrator (left) and the author (right) of a new book on biblical cosmography.

In the background the tree is clapping its hands in joy.

The book'll be available soon on Amazon and in sundry places. If you are in the USA, it is already available on the Wipf & Stock website.

The normal cost is $27, but there is a permanent 20% discount on the site, so the book is a mere $21.60 (about £13.50 for those of you who think in British monetary terms).

There are over sixty images in the book—maps, diagrams, and loads of cartoons.

More info to follow

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The mystery of the missing Banksy

Here is some graffiti by the famous British graffiti artist Banksy.
It appeared in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, one week before a parliamentary By-election in which the UK Independence Party was expected to do well. (It did do well, gaining its first ever MP.)

Here is what happened. After receiving some complaints from the public that the mural was "offensive and racist," the council had it destroyed.

That may have been a financial mistake—Banksy paintings are worth a fortune. Be that as it may, the mystery is this:
How could anyone find the artwork offensive for being racist when it is so OBVIOUSLY a critique of people with racist attitudes?!
What happened?

I have no idea.

Perhaps some people genuinely did not understand the point of the picture and got precisely the wrong end of the stick. Perhaps they complained. I can imagine that.

But in that case, you'd imagine that the Council would simply explain the point. Then the offended anti-racists would appreciate that the artist was actually playing on the same team as them. All would be well. Why did that not happen? I have no idea.

Perhaps the council themselves did not understand the point of the artwork.
Hmmmm .... Nope. I find that impossible to believe.

How about this one? Perhaps people with strong anti-immigration attitudes saw the artwork, understood it perfectly, and found it offensive. (Maybe they took offense at the implication that wanting stronger immigration policy is necessarily racist, or maybe they were racists and did not like being mocked.) Perhaps, they reasoned that if they explained the real reason for their taking offense the council would not take them seriously. Thus, in order to get it removed, they pretended to find it offensive on the grounds of its being racist.

I have no idea. It would be interesting to know one day.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

On praying for the damned

I was fairly recently in a church service in which the priest prayed for the soul of the deceased. The good evangelical next to me was somewhat surprised, as he could see no point in doing such a thing. Once someone has died their fate is fixed forever, he said—praying for them will make no difference.


I am currently reading Ilaria Ramelli's magnificent book The Christian Doctrine of Apokatastasis: A Critical Assessment from the New Testament to Eriugena (Leiden: Brill, 2013). It is the most thorough study of universalism in the early church ever undertaken (900 pages of it!).

Anyway, one of the things that struck me in the early part of the book was the recurring theme of the righteous praying for the damned with the result that the latter were rescued from hell.

First, the Apocalypse of Peter, probably from Alexandria in Egypt about 135 AD. In this text, which some early church leaders considered divinely inspired, sinners endure a period of suffering in the afterlife but will ultimately attain bliss thanks to the intercessions of the righteous. They will undergo "a beautiful baptism in salvation."
I will grant to my . . . elect all those whom they ask me to remove from punishment. And I shall grant them a beautiful baptism in salvation in the Acherusian Lake . . . a sharing of justification with my saints . . . . (Rainer fragment)
Chapter 14 has Christ declare to Peter that "You will have no more mercy on sinners than I do, for I was crucified because of them." Because of his mercy he will give them "life, glory, and kingdom without end." (However, lest sinners use this possibility of post-damnation salvation as an excuse to sin, they should not be told about it. This theme of not broadcasting the final salvific end of all to sinners is a theme found in Origen and other early texts.)

Second, we have the Coptic Apocalypse of Elijah (probably second or third century). Here the righteous contemplate the damned in their sufferings while the damned contemplate the bliss of the righteous . . . and then they "will take part in Grace. On that day the righteous will be granted that for which they have prayed." What the righteous have prayed for and what they receive is that those in eschatological punishment should "take part in Grace."

Third, Epistula Apostolorum, probably from Syria around the first half of the second century. Here the disciples are worried about the punishment of sinners in the age to come. Jesus commends them for their prayers for such sinners, and assured them that "I shall listen to the prayer of the just, which they utter for sinners."

Fourth, the widely-used  Oracula Sibyllina, Book 2 (around 150 AD), says:
And God, immortal and omnipotent, will grant another gift to these pious persons: when they ask him, he will grant them to save human beings from the fierce fire, and from the gnashing of teeth of the age to come, and will do so after pulling them out of the unquenchable flame and removing them, destining them, for the sake of his own elect, to the other life, that of the age to come, for immortals, in the Elysian Fields, where there are the long waves of the Acherusian Lake, imperishable, which has a deep bed. (2.330–38)
Fifth, the Odes of Solomon (second century AD) seems to speak of Christ breaking down the gates of hell and as rescuing all people from its clutches. Christ says,
I went on to all the prisoners, to liberate them, in order not to leave anyone enchained, or enchaining others. . . . I sowed my own fruits in their hearts, and I transformed them into myself: they received my blessing had had life. They have been gathered in me and are saved, because they have become my limbs, and I am their head" (17.8–14. Cf. ch. 42).
Sixth, in the Gospel of Nicodemus—a fourth century text that contains layers of material from much earlier—Christ has all the dead that had been bound in hell released from their prisons. He snatched all the dead from sin and Satan and death: "No dead is left with us: all those whom you [Satan] had gained with the tree of knowledge, you have now lost with the tree of the Cross."

Seventh, the Apocalypse of Paul (perhaps third century) envisages the postmortem repentance of sinners followed by a baptism in the Acherusian Lake (ch. 22). In ch. 24 those who cannot enter the New Jerusalem because of their haughtiness are finally allowed to enter, thanks to intercession.

As an aside, a whole bunch of texts speak of how God will eventually "have mercy on all" (e.g., the Life of Adam and Eve, Latin recension) or will "liberate everyone from the enslavement to Beliar" (the devil) (Testament of Zebulon 9.8)

Eighth, in the Acts of Paul and Thecla, the heroine and apostle (Thecla) prayed for a dead and lost woman called Falconilla. Her prayers were answered and the damned Falconilla was transferred to the place of rest of the righteous (3.28–29).

Ninth, the Passio Perpetuae et Felicitatis (c. 200 AD). Here the dead brother of Perpetua appears to her in a vision in a miserable condition. He had died at the age of seven and had not been baptized. His sister prays for him and he receives postmortem baptism and salvation.

That early Christians did not consider the fate of the dead to be sealed and unchangeable is further indicated also by the fact that offerings for the dead were made (as attested by Tertullian and Cyprian).

The above merely picks out a few items from a small part of Ramelli's massive study. What she demonstrates across the book as a whole is that the roots of universalism go back far earlier than is usually realized—it was not some "out of the blue" invention of Origen—and that universalism was far more widely spread across the early church than is usually realized.

My interest in this blog post is simply to suggest that many early Christians would not have shared our qualms about praying for the salvation of those in hell. Perhaps it is a practice that ought to be reintroduced.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

The Messiah—from Genesis to Revelation

Yet another fabulous animation from The Bible Project