Bound up in the recent controversy over Rob Bell’s popularization of universal reconciliation is the New Testament term, apokatastasis. This word is found in Acts 3:21:
whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring (apokatastasis) all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago (Acts 3:21 ESV).
Orthodoxy defines this term in accordance with the context of the word in its passage, its book, and the broader context of the Bible’s history of the redemptive work of God. The ESV Study Bible, therefore, illuminates this usage of the word in the following way:
the time for restoring all the things looks forward to when Christ will return and his kingdom will be established on earth, and the earth itself will be renewed even beyond the more abundant and productive state it had before Adam and Eve’s fall (see note on Rom. 8:20–21).
Universalists like Origen and those who buy into his notion of universal reconciliation, however, prefer to read ancient Hellenistic philosophy into the term in order to wrest it from its biblical context. In Quodlibet Journal, an apparent proponent of Origen’s view, Edward Moore, writes in “Origen of Alexandria and apokatastasis: Some Notes on the Development of a Noble Notion“,
This term occurs in only a single New Testament passage; its provenance is not intrinsically Christian or even Jewish, but Hellenistic, and bound up with the cosmology and anthropology of the era–a system of belief which Origen, in his day, was obliged to undermine in the interest of Christian teaching.
In my humble opinion, Origen wasn’t terribly successful at undermining the Hellenistic associations of the word. It would be more accurate to conclude that what he actually did was reconcile the Bible’s usage with its prior usage by pagan Greek philosophers (that went on a lot in the ancient church, with greater and lesser degrees of success). Origen basically (and I do mean basic) believed in the pre-existence of absolutely free souls as springing originally from God, freely falling into our current state of relative goodness or its antithesis (see Moore’s article), being guided by the instructive providence of God to relearn how to embrace “the Good,” even if this means some time in hell under God’s pedagogical judgment until such a time in the distant future, in which that free soul ultimately embraces the Good and is finally reconciled, or returned to the deified state from which he fell. As I read the many reviews of Rob Bell’s book (here’s Kevin DeYoung’s review, for example) that are now all over the interwebs, I couldn’t help but recognize some of these themes as being reflected in their citations of Bell’s teaching. It was kind of creepy.
I wonder how long it’ll take for the rest of Origen’s views regarding apokatastasis to be released by HarperOne under Bell’s name.
Remember, students, “Rob Bellion is as the sin of witchcraft.”