The Universalism of the Bible

Dominik Markl, SJ

 Dominik Markl, SJ / Church Thought / 4 August 2020

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The Bible presents a universalistic vision of God and the world. The strength of its universalism has made it the most translated, most widely read book of all time. The main factors in its spread are the Jewish diaspora and the Christian missions around the world. The universalism of the Bible is reflected in the expansion of the Christian Churches, of which it is the founding document. Today there is an interreligious and ecumenical scholarly community that studies and spreads the Bible.[1]

Universalism in the Bible

“In the beginning God created heaven and earth,” says Genesis, so the Bible begins with a note of universalism. It states that all humanity has only one God and creator, and that all humanity after the Flood descended from Noah and his family: 70 nations, according to the table of peoples in chapter 10 of Genesis. The political implications of this concept cannot be overestimated. While the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians and Persians claimed that the protector gods of each nation would fight for their respective empires, the theologians of the Jewish people denied the existence of those gods. Instead, the one God of the universe chose Israel, the smallest of all peoples, as the crown jewel, preferring it to all the great nations (cf. Deut 7:6-8).

Israel therefore claims a special dignity and at the same time a priestly responsibility toward all other peoples (cf. Exod 19:5-6). Since this one God is worshipped above all in the Temple of Jerusalem, at the end of time all peoples will gather there (cf. Isa 2:2; 66:19-20). Numerous nations will become the People of God in Jerusalem (cf. Zech 2:15; 8:23-24), when the reign of the universal King of Peace begins (cf. Zech 9:9-10).

In addition to these universalistic visions, the Old Testament also contains particularistic tendencies. The special role of Israel is already evident in the promises made to Abraham, which are transmitted to his grandson, Jacob-Israel (cf. Gen 12-50), while the ancestors of other peoples are sometimes seen in a negative light (cf. Canaan in Gen 9:25; Moab in Gen 19:37; Edom in Gen 25:30). The promise of a land to Israel appears particularly problematic, since the task of destroying the Canaanites is linked to it (cf., for example, Deut 7). Many texts directed against other peoples can be understood as a reaction against their imperial power, under which the Israelites are forced to suffer (cf. the texts against Babylon: Jer 50-51; Ps 137). The fear of the foreigner is manifested in the post-exilic texts, which refer to the expulsion of wives and children of other ethnic groups (cf. Ezra 10).

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