As I understand it, professional theologians offer us three exits from a Biblical contradiction. (Actually, Luther offers a fourth, but I will deal with that later.)
The first exit is exegetical. We study passages of Scripture in their context, word by word in the original language, trying to ascertain the plain meaning as intended by the original writer and his intended readers. Perhaps there is a contradiction only because we have misunderstood the actual meaning of the text.
For example, in the apparent contradiction between universal salvation and unending torments, much of the exegetical discussion centers on two words - the word “all” and the word “eternal”.
Does the word “all” in the universalist passages (like Romans 5:18) really mean “all without exception?” Or can it mean something else, like “all of a particular kind” or “all without distinction”? On the other hand, in the passages about eternal judgment (like Matthew 25:46), does the Greek word for “eternal” really mean “without end?” Or does it mean “age enduring”, “pertaining to an age” or “from the Eternal One?”, thus opening the door to post-mortem redemption?
We dig a little deeper. Studying the immediate context, we find a second usage of the word “all” in the same passage of Romans 5:18. “through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all.” Since most agree that the first all means “all without exception,” it follows then that the second all would have the same meaning. The universalists appear to be on firm ground.
However, in the Matthew 25:46 passage, we find a similar parallelism with the use of the word eternal. “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Here it can be said that we know “eternal life” to be unending. And so it follows that eternal punishment would have the same meaning - torment without end. The traditionalists also seem to have exegetical support.
On and on it goes, from passage to passage, from word to word, we search for an exit. In this arcane world of exegesis, as fascinating as some of us might find it, we seem to be at the mercy of the scholars’ research and expertise. It seems we are the jury, weighing the evidence, judging which scholars make the most convincing case. But the evidence is technical and sometimes difficult to understand. And both sides seem sincere and credible. So what are we to do?
We need more evidence.
We look for another exit.