1 Timothy 4:10 reads:

That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe. [NIV]

Is there any historical use of this text by known early adherents to Universalism?

(See also this parallel question about the origins of this verse.)

  • @depperm no not really; the older the reference the better.
    – David
    Jan 30, 2017 at 7:23
  • Closely related question: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/q/4590/36
    – Caleb
    Jan 30, 2017 at 7:39
  • "Is there any" questions are sometimes problematic. It might be better to ask for the earliest explicit use or interpretation of this verse by universalists.
    – curiousdannii
    Jan 30, 2017 at 14:36

2 Answers 2


At least three early adherents of apocatastasis refer to this passage. But not all their references to it are necessarily defenses of that particular doctrine. For example, Origen uses it to argue for the general love of God for his creation:

We both read and know that God loves all existing things, and loathes nothing which He has made, for He would not have created anything in hatred. [...] For He Himself is said to be the Saviour of all men, especially of them that believe; and His Christ to be the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world. (Against Celsus, 4.28)

Clement of Alexandria's Stromata is often cited to demonstrate his belief in universalism, and he quotes this verse in it:

And to speak comprehensively, all benefit appertaining to life, in its highest reason, proceeding from the Sovereign God, the Father who is over all, is consummated by the Son, who also on this account “is the Saviour of all men,” says the apostle, “but especially of those who believe.” (6.17)

He also quotes it in Exhortation to the Heathen, which may be the earliest reference to the verse by a universalist (c. 195):

You may, if you choose, purchase salvation, though of inestimable value, with your own resources, love and living faith, which will be reckoned a suitable price. This recompense God cheerfully accepts; “for we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, especially of those who believe.” (Chapter 9)

And finally, Gregory of Nyssa cites the verse in his argument for the trinity, "On 'Not Three Gods'":

And as the Saviour of all men, specially of them that believe, is spoken of by the Apostle as one, and no one from this phrase argues either that the Son does not save them who believe, or that salvation is given to those who receive it without the intervention of the Spirit; but God who is over all, is the Saviour of all, while the Son works salvation by means of the grace of the Spirit, and yet they are not on this account called in Scripture three Saviours

There's some debate over whether these three all believe in "universalism" as it is defined today. But these three authors are certainly among the most likely candidates for that label in the early church.

  • Excellent answer Nathaniel. I don't know why I had so much trouble finding an Origen quote.....@David this is definitely the best answer.
    – Cannabijoy
    Jan 30, 2017 at 16:37
  • @anonymouswho Thanks! Yours is definitely helpful too; noting Stromata 7.2 is certainly worthwhile. Jan 30, 2017 at 16:54
  • @anonymouswho fully agree! accepted answer. All good answers, good attention tomthisvquestion.
    – David
    Jan 30, 2017 at 23:54

If anyone in the biblical canon should be called a Universalist, it is most certainly Paul. This is understandable, since nobody at this time had ever heard of such a thing as an "eternal hell". Paul was very mystical, mixing the Hebrew Scriptures with Greek philosophy to explain his own idea of how this was to come about.

The oldest reference to 1 Timothy 4:10 seems to come from Clement of Alexandria (150-215 AD). In the Stromata, Clement says:

"And to speak comprehensively, all benefit appertaining to life, in its highest reason, proceeding from the Sovereign God, the Father who is over all, is consummated by the Son, who also on this account is the Saviour of all men, says the apostle, but especially of those who believe. 1 Timothy 4:10"- Stromata, Book VI, Chapter 17

Later in the Stromata, Clement alludes to this passage again:

"For either the Lord does not care for all men; and this is the case either because He is unable (which is not to be thought, for it would be a proof of weakness), or because He is unwilling, which is not the attribute of a good being. And He who for our sakes assumed flesh capable of suffering, is far from being luxuriously indolent. Or He does care for all, which is befitting for Him who has become Lord of all. For He is Saviour; not [the Saviour] of some, and of others not. But in proportion to the adaptation possessed by each, He has dispensed His beneficence both to Greeks and Barbarians, even to those of them that were predestinated, and in due time called, the faithful and elect....

...And how is He Saviour and Lord, if not the Saviour and Lord of all? But He is the Saviour of those who have believed, because of their wishing to know; and the Lord of those who have not believed, till, being enabled to confess him, they obtain the peculiar and appropriate boon which comes by Him." Stromata, Book VII, Chapter 2

That is all I can find for now. I'm trying to find works from Origen, but unfortunately most of his work was destroyed [Edit: Please see Nathaniel's answer]. So this may be the only surviving Universalist use of 1 Timothy 4:10 from the early church.

  • 1
    The idea of an eternal Hell predates Paul. It is spoken of by Isaiah and Daniel. Among the Gospels, it is found in Matthew and Mark. John speaks of it in Revelation, and Jude also speaks of it in his book, so it is not a peculiarity of Paul's. See blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/justintaylor/2011/10/04/… Jan 30, 2017 at 14:36
  • Thanks for the response @PaulChernoch. Neither the Hebrews nor the Greeks had a term to describe the philosophical idea of "eternal". This is based on a faulty translation of the Hebrew olam and the Greek aionios, which is simply the adjective form of aion- "age" . The idea that aionios means "eternal", or even that something eternal exist, is from various interpretations of Plato's Timaeus.
    – Cannabijoy
    Jan 30, 2017 at 14:57
  • 1
    Interesting. I did some searching and found an article which seems to support your view. I will have to think on it some. auburn.edu/~allenkc/eternityexplained.html Jan 30, 2017 at 17:03
  • @PaulChernoch Auburn is a great site. I used to visit this one a lot also...The Herald of God's Grace. If you'd like to learn more about how Platonism has affected Christianity, I recommend reading A History of the Corruptions of Christianity by Joseph Priestly.
    – Cannabijoy
    Jan 30, 2017 at 18:13

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