(Titus 2:11) Does this passage teach universalism?

CLAIM: Paul writes, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men” (Titus 2:11). Does this passage teach that everyone will be saved in the end?

RESPONSE: To make a claim about systematic theology (such as universalism), we need to consider the Bible’s full, systematic teaching on this subject. When we consider the Bible’s complete teaching on the fate of the lost, we find that sadly some people will freely choose to separate themselves from the love of God (see comments on Colossians 1:20). How should we understand this particular verse?

We can render this as salvation being for all men. This is the language of intent—not actuality. Paul’s use of the dative could render this as to all men,” or it could be rendered for all men.” The distinction is important. Hiebert comments, “The adjective rendered ‘that brings salvation’ (sōtērios) asserts its saving efficacy. The dative ‘to all men’ may equally be rendered ‘for all men,’ thus stressing the universality of the salvation provided. Salvation is available to all, but its saving effect is dependent on the personal response of faith.”[1] Consequently, Paul isn’t stating that all will be saved, but that “salvation is universally offered to all without exception.”[2]

Other theologians state that Jesus’ offer of salvation is potentially for all people, but it isn’t actualized for people until they receive it. That is, the Atonement is universal in its scope (1 Tim. 2:6; 1 Jn. 2:2), but it is not universal in its application or acceptance. Even five-point Calvinists agree that a person remains under God’s wrath (Eph. 2:3) until they receive Christ. Therefore, the person doesn’t experience the application of the Atonement until they receive it.

[1] D. Edmond Hiebert, “Titus,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians through Philemon, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 11 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 440.

[2] Thomas D. Lea and Hayne P. Griffin, 1, 2 Timothy, Titus, vol. 34, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 310.