First Corinthians 15:22 is a favorite verse for univeralists:
For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive (1 Cor 15:22).
Universalists say that “all” in Adam is co-extensive with the “all” in Christ. Hence, since all of humanity died in Adam, so, too, all of humanity will be made alive in Christ (i.e., eternally saved).
Is that right?
Without giving a full explanation, let me very simply suggest two possible answers to the universalist that can explore on your own.
First Answer: Not Everyone Is in Christ
The first possible answer is to point out there is a difference between who is “in Adam” and who is “in Christ.” All of humanity is in Adam, but only believers are in Christ. Being in Christ is not an automatic status. For example, Paul spoke of a time before he was in Christ:
Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners, who are outstanding among the apostles, who also were in Christ before me (Rom 16:7).
So on this view, 1 Cor 15:22 is speaking of positional truth. Whoever is in Adam (i.e., all of humanity) gets death; and whoever is in Christ (i.e., believers), gets life. Paul is not teaching universalism, but the necessity of being in Christ to be saved. That is Dwight Hunt’s argument:
“Because mankind is in Adam, all of mankind die (both physically and spiritually). However, in Christ all who have believed in Him for eternal salvation shall be made alive (both physically and spiritually). Paul in this passage is referring only to the believers in the Church and not the unbelieving dead” (The Grace New Testament Commentary, 2:760).
Second Answer: Everyone Gets Resurrected
The universalist can reply that Paul was talking about effects, not positions. Paul referred to “in Christ all” (an effect) not to “all in Christ” (a position). Adam’s work had one effect—death for all; Christ’s had another—life for all. Hence, universalism.
What is the answer to that?
The second possible interpretation of 1 Cor 15:22 is that Paul is referring to the physical resurrection of all humanity, not to the eternal salvation of all. Here is Clarence Larkin’s explanation:
That the apostle means “physical death,” and “physical” resurrection here is clear, for it is the body, and not the spirit that he is discoursing about, and so the Universalist has no “proof text” here for the doctrine of “Universal Salvation.”
These passages clearly teach that there is to be a resurrection of “all the dead” (Larkin, Rightly Dividing the Word, pp. 139-140; cf. The Moody Bible Commentary, p. 1801).
In the next verses, Paul teaches that resurrection has an order. Christ is first (v 23a). Then the saints are raised at Christ’s coming before the Millennium (v 23b). Then there is the resurrection at “the end” (v 24) when wicked dead are raised after the Millennium to stand at the Great White Throne Judgment. All of humanity will be raised, but they will not all be given eternal life. Those are two different issues. The resurrection is for all. Eternal life is only for believers.
So those are two options to the universalist objection. Which is the right interpretation of 1 Cor 15:22? How do you understand that passage?