The history of the doctrine of universal salvation (or apokastastasis) is a remarkable one. Until the nineteenth century almost all Christian theologians taught the reality of eternal torment in hell. Here and there, outside the theological mainstream, were some who believed that the wicked would be finally annihilated (in its commonest form. this is the doctrine of ‘conditional immortality’).1 Even fewer were the advocates of universal salvation, though these few included same major theologians of the early church. Eternal punishment was firmly asserted in official creeds and confessions of the churches.2 It must have seemed as indispensable a part of universal Christian belief as the doctrines of the Trinity and the incarnation. Since 1800 this situation has entirely changed, and no traditional Christian doctrine has been so widely abandoned as that of eternal punishment.3 Its advocates among theologians today must be fewer than ever before. The alternative interpretation of hell as annihilation seems to have prevailed even among many of the more conservative theologians.4 Among the less conservative, universal salvation, either as hope or as dogma, is now so widely accepted that many theologians assume it virtually without argument.
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It is not the best that I have read from Bauckham, honestly. I haven’t written a history of it, but here are some early Christians – before Origen, who were leaning universalists.