1 Samuel 3:14 and Universalism

by Matt Slick
2/12/15

There are a variety of views within universalism. Some hold that all humans will be saved but not all angels. Other Universalists maintain that all of the angelic realm will be saved while some say all will be saved except the devil. But, for those who say that all people will eventually be saved because the atoning sacrifice of Christ paid for every individual, the following verse in 1 Samuel 3:14 is relevant. Let's check it out.

“Therefore I have sworn to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever," (1 Sam. 3:14).

1 Samuel 3:14 says the iniquity Eli's house will never being atoned for.  If this is true, it would mean that universalism is proven false since Eli's house could not be saved without a sin sacrifice.  But, universalists believe everyone will be atoned for and thus saved.  So this verse cannot mean that Eli's house will never be atoned for.  It must mean something else.  Let's examine some of the universalist responses to this verse.

The word "forever" means "age" and does not mean "eternal"

First of all, words mean what they mean in context.  The Hebrew word for "forever" used in the text is "olam."  Universalists typically say that "olam" means a long period of time.  Therefore, they say that 1 Samuel 3:14 is restricted to the Old Testament time and does not include the sacrifice of Christ. But if that is the case, where is the evidence to demonstrate that the "long period of time" is what God meant in the context?  In other words, just saying that it means a long period of time, doesn't make it so.  Furthermore, are the Hebrew scholars who translate the word into the English "forever" all wrong?  Universalists would have to say yes.  Here are 20 versions of the verse.

  1. ASV, "not be expiated with sacrifice nor offering for ever."
  2. AV1873, "not be purged with sacrifice nor offering for ever."
  3. DARBY, "not be expiated with sacrifice or oblation for ever."
  4. ESV, "not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.”
  5. GNT, "no sacrifice or offering will ever be able to remove"
  6. GOD'S WORD, "No offering or sacrifice will ever be able"
  7. HCSB, "never be wiped out by either sacrifice or offering.”
  8. KJV, "not be purged with sacrifice nor offering for ever."
  9. MESSAGE, "can never be wiped out"
  10. NASB, “not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.”
  11. NCV, "will never be removed"
  12. NET, "never be forgiven by sacrifice or by grain offering.’”
  13. NIV, "will never be atoned for"
  14. NIV84, "never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.'"
  15. NKJV, "not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever.”
  16. NLT, "will never be forgiven"
  17. NRSV, "not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.”
  18. RSV, "not be expiated by sacrifice or offering for ever"
  19. TNIV, "will never be atoned for"
  20. YLT, "not atoned for, by sacrifice, and by offering—unto the age"

Typically, universalists will only quote the YLT because it can be used to support their position.  They dismiss all the others and say that the Hebrew scholars are biased and wrong.  Of course, the universalists claim that they are not.  Alright, let's analyze their responses and see if they hold up.

Olam in 1 Sam. 3:14 only refers to Old Testament period

Some Universalists say that the verse refers to the Old Testament sacrificial system and did not include the sacrifice of Jesus. Therefore, Jesus' sacrifice ultimately atoned for them because the Old Testament sacrificial system is what it was talking about, not the New Testament sacrifice of Christ. 

But this does not work because Jesus was crucified according to Old Testament law in the Old Testament system. This means his sacrifice is included in the period of the Old Testament, the Old Testament covenant. Jesus was sacrificed according to the Law.  He was the Lamb (Exodus 12:3 and John 1:29). He was the blood atonement (Lev. 17:11 and Heb. 9:14). Only the priest makes atonement (Lev. 4:20) and Jesus was a high priest after the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 6:20; 7:23-24). The sacrifice had to be without blemish (Deut. 17:1) and Jesus was without blemish (Heb. 9:14). The sacrifice was offered on the Passover (Exodus 12:11-13) and Jesus was crucified on the Passover (John 19:14-15).

Furthermore, the New Testament covenant period did not begin until the death of Christ.

  • Hebrews 8:13, "When He said, 'A new covenant,' He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear."
  • Hebrews 9:15-16, "For this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that, since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance. 16 For where a covenant is, there must of necessity be the death of the one who made it."

So, saying that 1 Samuel 3:14 only refers to the Old Testament covenant period does not work.

1 Samuel only refers to animal sacrifices and not Jesus' sacrifice according to Heb. 10:4

Universalists often cite Hebrews 10:4 which says that the blood of bulls and goats cannot cleanse of sin.  But if this is so, then they are still referring of the Old Testament covenant which is addressed to the previous response. Nevertheless...

  1. If the animal sacrifices are the only ones meant and not the sacrifice of Christ, then why would God threaten them with with not having a sacrifice that doesn't work in the first place? It makes more sense to threaten Eli by saying the iniquities of his house will “not be atoned for by sacrifice or offering forever”, and not just a short period of time that only relates to animal sacrifices.
  2. If the animal sacrifices are the only ones meant and not the sacrifice of Christ, then why single out Eli's household for this threat? Will the animal sacrifices never atone for Eli's house, but they will atone for other people's households? How can that be so in light of Heb. 10:4 which says the blood of bulls and goats does not take away sin?
  3. If the animal sacrifices are the only ones meant and not the sacrifice of Christ, then where is this separation designated in this context?  Just saying it is so doesn't make it so.

Conclusion

Universalists presuppose that everyone will be saved and then interpret Scripture's in light of that assumption. But, 1 Samuel 3:14 stands in opposition to their position.  For them, this verse cannot possibly mean that Eli's house will never be atoned for by any sacrifice, including that of Christ. Therefore, they must reinterpret it. But, this means that the Bibles listed above are incorrect.

If Universalist wants to hold his position and maintain that everyone will eventually be saved, then let him deal with 1 Samuel 3:14.

 
 

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.