The Bible Thoughts Blog has become "Grace Abundant", exalting the grace and glory of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:17, The Bible).

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Does All Mean All?

The pastoral epistles contain a number of passages which clearly indicate that God desires the salvation of all men. The first one is found in the epistle of 1 Timothy.

I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time. (2:1-6)

This verse clearly states that God desires all men to be saved. The term "all" means "the totality of the person or things referred to" (W.E. Vine, Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, p21, Thomas Nelson 1985). Yet some would argue that "all men" means "all kinds of men" and not "all men". In other words, the phrase means "all men without distinction but not all men without exception". They reason that the verse "for kings and all who are in high places" means that various classes are in mind rather than each man alive. This is a strained interpretation. All men means all men, and the simple reason we are commanded to pray for "kings and all that in high places" is so that we may lead tranquil and godly lives, and that all men under their authority may get live tranquil and godly lives, because God wants all men to be saved. The reason for this desire for all men to be saved is that there is one mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ. Not one mediator for some men, but for man (i.e. the entire human race). Where the Bible says "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" it does NOT mean that all sorts of men have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. No Calvinist would dispute the plain meaning of "all" in that passage as it is not detrimental to their theological system. Later we find the truth repeated:

For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe. (4:10)

For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world (Titus 2:11-12)

There is a distinction in these verses between "all men" and "those who believe". If the Calvinistic interpretation of 1 Timothy 2v4 is correct then we should expect this passage to read as "God is the Saviour of all kinds of believers, especially those who believe". This is nonsense. Most Calvinists, however, do not interpret the passage this way. Whilst they would dispute the "Arminian" understanding of "all" in chapter 2v4, they default to the Arminian understanding here. Instead of redefining the term "all" in the latter passage, they redefine the word "Saviour". This latter word is understood to mean that God is the preserver of all men in that he provides them with temporal benefits like food and air to breathe, The preservation apparently does not include eternal salvation. This again is a selective translation which they do not apply to the same phrase in chapter 1 verse 1 "God our Saviour" and other verses such as "Our great God and saviour Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:13). A more honest approach is to allow the terms "all" and "Saviour" to mean what they say and to allow them to mean the same thing in each occurrence.


Skarlet said...

It is quite amazing how they use the word "all." When the Bible says that all have sinned, they take it to mean ALL have sinned. Everyone! When the Bible says that God is sovereign over the world, they take it to mean the whole entire world. However, when the Bible says that God loves the world or that Christ died for all, suddenly all means some. :) Amazing.

Chris said...


It's also interesting that when God says in Isaiah "I shall do ALL my pleasure", Calvinists insist that ALL means all and default to the Arminian understanding.

skeptik1010 said...

People misinterpret this ALL the time... its ALL about language.

If the word "all" can't take on a different meaning other than "every person living" how can you interpret this passage:

Romans 5:18
Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.

If you say this means all men living (or even unliving) you are obligated to say that all men living and dead will go to heaven and are justified before God; however, if you understand that all in this situation means jews and gentiles some sense of the passage can be made. So if you want to continue in faulty interpretation you can be consistent and call yourself a universalist.

Chris said...

John Calvins commentary on this passage puts it far better than I could:

"He makes this favor common to all, because it is propounded to all, and not because it is in reality extended to all; for though Christ suffered for the sins of the whole world, and is offered through God’s benignity indiscriminately to all, yet all do not receive him."

If you look at the surrounding verses - which you do not quote - you will see the plain meaning of all and there is no need to keep changing it to suit a theological presupposition.

If you look at the first part of the verse: Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon ALL men to condemnation - what does ALL mean in this verse?

"All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" - what does ALL mean in this verse? Why should it mean something different in 1 Timothy 2:4? This brings us back to the original point of my post.