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1 Corinthians 15, the Resurrection in Christ, and the Filling of All Creation

Universalism in Paul, Pt 4

Abjan van Meerten
8 min readNov 18, 2023


For the previous part in this series, see ‘Romans 11 and the Plan of God’.

1 Corinthians 15

20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. 21 For since death came through a human, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human, 22 for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. 23 But each in its own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “All things are put in subjection,” it is plain that this does not include the one who put all things in subjection under him. 28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all.

In verses 21–22, Paul makes practically the same claims as in Romans 5, so I do not need to repeat those arguments (and rebuttals). The only thing that I want to emphasise here is that resurrection is inherently salvific for Paul, involving the liberation from the Adamic existence in slavery to Sin and Death and the deifying transformation of the embodied person into a glorious, immortal existence (see Rom 5–8, Gal 2–3, Phil 2–3, etc.). Those who are resurrected are saved; all will be resurrected; ergo, all will be saved.

Then, in the remainder of the passage, Paul makes a Messianic argument based on Psalm 8:6, with Christ being the ‘son of man’, the image of God, the true, deified human (‘Adam’) to whom all of creation is subjected (cf. Phil 3:21).

Paul ends by stating that God will be “all in all [Gk.: ta panta en pasin]”, arguably the favourite universalist text among the early church fathers. [1] Elsewhere, Paul (or his student) states something very similar, namely that in the new humanity “Christ is all and in all [Gk.: ta panta kai en pasin]” (Col 3:11). These two texts relate God/Christ to ‘all’ humans in two ways:

  • God will be all (in all): God will be everything for humans. They will be perfectly united with God and maximally participate in his divine life, and thus God will be everything they think and feel and will. As Origen phrases it, “[the rational mind] will no longer sense anything else apart from God; it will think God, see God, hold God; God will be the mode and measure of its every movement, and thus ‘God’ will be ‘all’ to it” (On First Principles, trans. John Behr [Oxford University Press 2017], 3.6.3.; all of 3.6. is relevant here).
  • God will be (all) in all: God will indwell all of creation (which thus reaches its telos as temple of God; cf. Eph 1:23; 4:10); there will be no corner of the world not filled by God’s holy presence. Since God is pure Goodness — or, in more biblical terms, a consuming fire — this ‘all’ which God fills cannot contain evil; ergo, there will be no more evil in the world. This includes both moral evil — sin, unbelief, disobedience, hatred of God, hatred of neighbour, etc. — and natural evil — corruption, mortality, pain, suffering, decay, etc. In the final telos (15:24), beyond all ages, [2] there will therefore be no more Hell, as there will be no more sinners to be sanctified and no more pain arising from purifying punishment.


There are two objections from infernalists and annihilations.

1. ‘Those Who Belong to Christ’

Firstly, in verse 23, Paul says that (only) “those who belong to Christ” will be made alive. Well, surely not everyone belongs to Christ? Only those who believe and are “baptised into Jesus Christ” (Rom 6:3) do so! And indeed, Paul seems to talk a lot of the time as if ‘Christ’ is a realm or a group to which there are ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’, believers and unbelievers, with two different destinies — respectively salvation and destruction (e.g. Phil 1:28; 3:19–21).

However, in other texts — arguably more theologically profound ones — Paul broadens the scope of ‘Christ’ to include all humanity (as in Rom 5, Eph 1 and Col 1). If we want to take both kinds of texts seriously, we should conclude that the present binary — which is there — is not ultimate (cf. here). Beneath the binary surface, reality is unified in Christ (cf. Eph 1:10). As the fathers saw, and Barth retrieved, the one eschatological elect people of God is (the body of) Christ, is the church, is humanity. [3]

Tom Greggs puts it in terms of penultimacy and ultimacy in a recent chapter on Barthian universalism (see Congdon [ed.], Varieties of Christian Universalism: Exploring Four Views [Baker 2023], ch. 3):

“Present-day Christian faith is not an ultimate decisive factor in and for the eschaton but [citing Barth] a ‘preliminary sign of the end’ … [which is] ‘the liberation of all men.’ The Christian is a penultimate sign of the ultimate, but the Christian cannot be understood as ultimately distinct or separate from the non-Christian. Faith must never be seen as ultimate … In [penultimacy] there is room for faith, just as in it there is room for the possibility of rejection, condemnation, and unbelief. But these things are not ultimate; the victory of Jesus Christ is ultimate. … [T]he penultimacy of human rejection cannot undo the ultimacy of God’s election…”

(Of course, I have written about election and the supposed condition of faith before, so I will not rehearse those arguments here.)

2. Subjection by Force or Destruction?

Secondly, when Paul talks about all powers being ‘subjected’ to Christ, this seems violent and militant. Paul even talks about the destruction of evil powers, in particular Death (v. 26). However, these powers are destroyed because they are evil, that is, alien and parasitic to God’s good creation (and, if they were originally part of God’s good creation, they will be only destroyed qua evil, but survive qua their good nature [4]).

Moreover, when it comes to the subjection of humans, which will happen to God’s glory (Phil 2:11), willingly submitting to God is morally good and unwillingly submitting is morally evil. But since we have already said that there will be no more moral evil, this precludes the ultimate subjection of humans against their will. In addition, Origen notes that, since the subjection of Christ to the Father, mentioned immediately after the subjection of all things to Christ, surely is good and salvific, it would be strange if the word ‘subject’ would change so radically in meaning within the same sentence. [5]

Finally, annihilationists could propose that ‘all’ will submit because all who don’t want to, will have been destroyed. However, according to Paul, “Death” will be “swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor 15:54), and what else could this mean except the resurrection (and thus salvation) of all? How could God achieve total victory over Death if the majority of humanity — or even just one human — would remain in its grasp for all eternity? If God is to be “all in all”, those ‘all’s must both mean really ‘all’ — otherwise evil will have won an eternal victory over God. God will make sure that evil will disappear in its totality, which means his good creation will be reunited to God in its totality. God wins — and he wins by his goodness. In Origen’s words:

“How the Saviour’s enemies are put by the Father as a stool for his feet, we ought to understand in a worthy way, according to God’s goodness. For we should not believe that God puts Christ’s enemies as a stool for his feet in the same way as enemies are put under the feet of the earthly kings [cf. Mark 10:42!], who exterminate them. Instead, God puts Christ’s enemies as a stool for his feet not for their destruction, but for their salvation . . . for all these, submission means salvation of the subjects.” (Comm. in Matth. S. 8, cited in Ramelli, “Christian Soteriology and Christian Platonism,” 318n12; boldface added)


[1] See Ilaria Ramelli, The Christian Doctrine of Apokatastasis: A Critical Assessment from the New Testament to Eriugena (Brill 2013), 168, and passim.

[2] Origen envisages a purgatory process that can last many aiones (‘ages’) but that will ultimately cease. This is because of the intrinsic intertwining of God’s justice and goodness, which prevents punishment from being purely retributive; there is always some goodness mixed in and working toward a ‘beyond’, i.e. a restoration.

[3] See Ramelli, Apokatastasis, 17, on Origen: “In the end, Christ will have back the Church; in the eschaton, this will coincide with the whole humanity, which was taken away at the beginning due to the fall”; also 133; 376; 416: “Throughout his In illud Gregory [of Nyssa] identifies the body of Christ with the whole of humanity, therefore also identifying the Church, which is the body of Christ, with all humanity at least in the perspective of the telos”; etc.

[4] Cf. Ramelli, Apokatastasis, e.g. 128: “If one does not stay away from sin, one will have to be purified from sin. The latter, qua evil, must be eliminated, whereas the rational being created by God, qua good, must remain. Clement shared the doctrine of the ontological non-subsistence of evil with Origen, Gregory Nyssen, Evagrius, and most Patristic supporters of the doctrine of universal restoration. The sinner is a human being and a creature of God. But sinning is in the act, not in the (rational) being, and, as a consequence, it is not a work of God.”

[5] Cf. Origen, On First Principles, trans. John Behr (Oxford 2018), 3.5.7., and its conclusion: “If, then, that subjection, by which the Son is said to be subject to the Father, is good and salvific, it is very logically and coherently concluded that the subjection also of enemies, which is said of the Son of God, is to be understood as something salvific and useful; so that, just as when the Son is said to be subjected to the Father, the perfect restoration of the whole creation is announced, so also when the enemies are said to be subjected to the Son of God, the salvation of the subjected and the restoration of the lost is understood in that”; 3.5.6–8 as a whole is worth the read.

Further Reading

  • Besides the sources referenced above, see Gregory of Nyssa, “In Illud, Tunc et ipse filius” (the translation of which is referenced here).
  • See also Ramelli, “Christian Soteriology and Christian Platonism: Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and the Biblical and Philosophical Basis of the Doctrine of Apokatastasis,” Vigiliae Christianae 61 (2007), 313–356.
  • Also, I myself have written about this text before, where I also cite Thomas Talbott and David Bentley Hart. For more regarding the supposed forced submission of humans, see my future article on Philippians 2.



Abjan van Meerten

Thoughts on the liberating theology of Paul and the universal love of God