Thursday, June 26, 2008

Does 'All' Mean 'All'?

It's always amusing to see people arguing over whether "all" really means "all" in a particular biblical passage.

There's a nice demonstration here that in numerous and uncontroversial instances, the bible uses "all" to mean "lots" not "all".

I have long agreed with the New Perspective view that when Paul says "all" are sinners, he does not mean "all". Rather he means "some Jews and some Gentiles" (ie "various people of every nationality"). There are many good arguments for such a view, but one I had never seen, has been suggested by a reader of Chris' blog...

Paul writes "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" and immediately follows with "they are now justified by his grace as a gift" (Rom 3:23-24). So if "all" means "all" have sinned, then "they" are also "all" justified. So taking the (reasonable) assumption that Paul isn't teaching universal salvation, "all" in this passage doesn't mean "all".


Blogger Peter Kirk said...

Perhaps if you want to find out who Paul considers sinners, you should look at the passage in Romans in which he discusses this, 3:9-20, not to verse 23 which (although convenient for quoting out of context) is in fact a summary as part of his next argument, on justification. The main point is made in verse 9 and explained in verses 10-18 which seem to emphasise that here "all" really is "all", especially in verse 10: "None is righteous, no, not one" (RSV). Not much suggestion here that there might be exceptions.

Blogger don said...

Rom 5:12 "So then, just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all people because all sinned —"

This is but one of many other scriptures which clearly indicate all of mankind are sinners.

Paul clearly teaches Universal Salvation in Romans and in his other letters.

Consider the following ten items for rejecting the pagan myth commonly referred to as "hell", an Anglo-Saxon word which just means the unseen realm with no inherent negative connotation. The following are just a few of hundreds of scriptures which teach universal salvation.


10. No mention of this doctrine can be found anywhere in the first five books of the Old Testament, or the Torah, the Law of Moses. In Deuteronomy 28, for example, the nation of Israel is given a list of warnings and curses in the event of their disobedience, yet not one of them involves this notion of eternal punishment in hell. If it were true, don’t you think God should have warned them? (see Amos 3:7)

9. Likewise, God commissioned the apostle Paul to deliver the gospel (good news) to the Gentile nations, but Paul never once mentioned this concept of “hell” anywhere in his epistles. Question: If it was Paul’s responsibility to warn the Gentile nations of this dread prospect, then why didn’t he? [1]

8. Several noted historians and scholars have testified [2] that the whole thing was contrived as an attempt to discourage criminal activity among the masses. Take a good honest look around you. Does it appear to be working?

7. Smith’s Bible Dictionary tells us (page 119) that the word “hell” was unfortunately used by the (KJV) translators to represent the Hebrew word Sheol [3], which is found in the Old Testament a total of 65 times, and would have been better represented exclusively by “the grave” or “the pit.” For whatever reason, this word is rendered by the English word “grave” a total of 31 times, by the word “hell” a total of 31 times, and by the word “pit” a total of 3 times. Why do you suppose all of the inconsistencies?

6. Words like “hell” and “damn” have completely different meanings today than they once had. Anyone with a good dictionary can find that this is true. Look up the word “hell” in your dictionary and you will soon learn that this word was derived from the Old English/Old High German word helan, which means to conceal. Likewise, the word “damn” came from the Latin word damnare, or damnum, and was strictly a legal term meaning a loss, damage, or fine. Nothing even remotely resembling eternal punishment in fire is associated with these words in their original sense.

NOTE: An excellent example of how a word can quickly take on new meaning can be seen with the word “gay,” which formerly meant (exclusively) to “be happy, or merry.” It has only been within the past 30 years or so that this word has become associated with homosexuals and homosexual activity. Do you see how someone today could easily be mislead while reading a pre-1970’s book containing a statement about a man being gay?

5. The Greek word “apoleia,” which has been rendered several times by the English word “destruction” (Example: “broad is the way that leads to destruction – Matthew 7:13), in its original sense meant “to suffer loss, or ruin” and never implied eternal damnation. Quite to the contrary, for example, I Corinthians 3:15: “If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss, but he himself shall be saved!” [Please note that this idea of “loss” is consistent with the (original) Latin word damnare/damnum]

4. The Hebrew word “olam,” as well as the Greek word “aion,” once spoke exclusively of an indeterminate period of time, or an eon (age). Just as in the case of our previous example with the word “gay,” as time went by, these words also began to take on new meanings; in this case, the concept of endlessness, or eternity. Hence, the concept of “age-abiding” punishment (for the purpose of correction) was changed to mean “everlasting” punishment (without remedy). And this was done (admittedly!) as an attempt to keep the masses in fearful subjection to authority [2].

NOTE: By exerting a little study time in the Scriptures, it can easily be proven that the Hebrew word olam, as well as the Greek word aion, cannot represent the concept of endlessness, or God’s written word contradicts itself. [Be sure to read Five Questions Your Fundamentalist Pastor Will Not Be Able To Answer]

3. According to orthodox Christianity, the “lake of fire” is supposed to be the final abode of the wicked where there will be an eternity (without remedy) of weeping and gnashing of teeth. In Revelation 21:4, however, we are clearly told that “God shall wipe away ALL tears from their eyes!” Likewise, in Revelation 20:14 this lake of fire is also referred to as the “second death.” But once again, God’s precious word refutes the finality of this death: “And there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away.” (Revelation 21:4) The apostle Paul also testifies of this truth: “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” (I Corinthians 15:26) Whom will you choose to believe: God’s precious Word, or the misleading doctrines that are prevalent within orthodox Christianity? [Choose this day whom you will serve – Joshua 24:15]

2. God’s stated will for humanity is clear: “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, WHO WILL HAVE ALL MEN TO BE SAVED, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” (I Timothy 2:3,4) God also tells us that He is working all things according to the counsel of His will.” (Ephesians 1:11) And the prophet Isaiah makes it perfectly clear that [God’s] counsel shall stand, and [He] will do (or perform) ALL [His] pleasure! (Isaiah 46:10) Once again, whom are you going to believe?

And the number one reason to reconsider your belief in an eternal hell:

1.a) GOD IS LOVE! (I John 4:8) Like any good parent who loves their children, discipline is always for the purpose of correction. If your children got out of line, would you lock them up in your basement and torture them unmercifully for sadistic reasons? Of course not! Those who teach that our loving heavenly Father will do so do not know the heart of God. [4] Likewise, it would be the height of hypocrisy for God to command us to love and to forgive our enemies, while at the same time unmercifully torturing His enemies for all eternity.

1.b) LOVE NEVER FAILS! (I Corinthians 13:8) If just one precious soul were to perish apart from the love of God, then that would mean that either a) God doesn’t love that individual, or b) that somehow God’s love has failed in that particular instance. And I can assure you that it is a tragic error to believe that the Love of God will fail! For God IS Love, and Love NEVER fails!

Blogger Andrew said...

I have looked at 3:9-20 carefully in the past and it is one of the reasons I believe that Paul is not saying everyone is a sinner. There are two key points with regard to that passage:

1. In the original Old Testament context of six out of six of the catena of quotes he cites, the authors were comparing a finite group of righteous people to a finite group of unrighteous people. They were not suggesting in any way whatsoever that all humans to ever live were unrighteous. If Paul is interpreting them in such a way, he is butchering 6 out of 6 of his proof-texts!

Also, when read in such a way, many of the quotes word for word contradict other passages in the bible (eg "there is no one who seeks God" would contradict the many statements of "X set his heart to seek God".)

While Paul is obviously allowed to butcher his proof-texts if he wants, and quote texts that disagree with his view as if they were agreeing with it, I am inclined to favor any reasonable reading which has him not doing this type of thing over any reading which has him doing it.

2. The rhetorical context of the early part of Romans is set in opposition to a Jewish view set forth in Wisdom of Solomon - that God has elected the Jews as his people, gifted them with righteousness and made them incapable of sinning. Paul argues against this view, saying (among other things) that Jews are no more immune from sin than Gentiles. The point he is trying to prove is not that all individual are sinners. (If he is trying to prove that, the logic of his arguments fail abysmally as a lot of recent scholars have pointed out) Rather he is trying to prove that Jews are not special before God and haven't been granted special protection from sin.

Blogger don said...

I'm not following "some" of your logic, but I do believe that I follow "all" of Paul's logic.
Let's look at "some" of your statements for I do not disagree with "all" of your statements. Note my careful use of the words "some" and "all". I can not accept Paul not being careful with his choice of words as he was under the guidance of God as he wrote. The context here is "all" Jews and Gentiles which covers the race.

Since it is a fact that all (meaning all) of humanity are sinners, what Paul says in v. 23 is just a simple statement of fact. Thus I disagree with your following statement: "...I believe that Paul is not saying everyone is a sinner..."

I do agree with the following two statements you made: "...Jews are no more immune from sin than Gentiles..." and "...Jews are not special before God and haven't been granted special protection from sin.", which seem to be agreeing with the universality of sin among humans.

You seem to have such a strong bias against universal salvation that you are reaching a bit to prove your bias.

Something to consider about the New Testament authors pulling quotes from the OT, have you ever noticed that they commonly pull statements "out of context", which suggests that we are all challenged to analyze God's Word through spiritual eyes. As an example of what I am referring to look at the following.

Act 1:15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a gathering of about one hundred and twenty people) and said,
Act 1:16 "Brothers, the scripture had to be fulfilled that the Holy Spirit foretold through David concerning Judas — who became the guide for those who arrested Jesus —
Act 1:20 "For it is written in the book of Psalms, 'Let his house become deserted, and let there be no one to live in it,' and 'Let another take his position of responsibility.'
Note what Peter did when he pulled v. 20 from Psalms. He used the first part of Psalms 69:25 "May their camp become desolate, their tents uninhabited!" and the rest of his quote came from Psalm 109:8 "May his days be few! May another take his job!" The "context" of Psalm 69 involves David asking for protection from his enemies and the "context" of Psalm 109 is David calling for curses upon his enemies. I guess Peter did not understand proper exegesis by pulling things out of what appeared to be the context.

Blogger Andrew said...


I am sympathetic to the belief that everyone will eventually be saved, and I suppose I believe it myself. Note that I am a liberal, and so to what I personally believe is not always the same as what I think the early Christians believed.

It is clear to me, after my various studies on early Christianity, that the early Christians themselves did not hold to universalism. I am not particularly interested in debating this issue, as I do not consider the universalist case credible.

> Since it is a fact that all
> (meaning all) of humanity are
> sinners,

Since it should be clear to you that I disagree with this statement, I suggest that if you want me to believe it you present some sort of proof rather than simply stating that it's a fact. If all you mean is "everyone does something wrong now and again" then I have no issue with that, however this is not the normal use of the word "sinner" in Jewish and early Christian literature.

It is my informed view that the normal use of the word "sinners" among the Jews and early Christians referred not to everyone but only those they believed lived their lives on an ongoing basis in a way that was in opposition to God's will and commands. Hence the concept that all humanity were sinners would have been vehemently denied by the vast majority of Jews and early Christians.

Blogger don said...


First, I want you to share your mind with me relative to the two following statements that I am challenged to resolve.

“I am sympathetic to the belief that everyone will eventually be saved, and I suppose I believe it myself.”
“…I do not consider the universalist case credible.”

You suppose you believe it while finding it unbelievable, if I may summarized what I think you have stated.

I would like to know why you said, “I suppose I believe it myself”.

I would like to deal with that much for now, as I will get into the semantics of “sinner” shortly as well as the relevance of what we think the “early” Christians believed.

Blogger Philip said...

Perhaps Andrew meant that he personally tends to believe in universal salvation now, but does NOT believe in the proposition that the very early Christians also believed in universal salvation.

By the way, don, I liked your top 10, especially number one.

Blogger Rob B said...

Hi Andrew,

Thanks for the interesting post. In the past you have written a lot about the problems with penal substitution - as Hebrews is often used as a 'proof text' I was wondering if you might be interested in writing a post or two looking at the theme of Hebrews and why penal substitution is not what it is really about. What do you think?

Blogger kestrele said...

You missed some key punctuation in your analysis of this passage. Verse 23 is a parenthetical remark and isn't tied grammatically to verse 24 as you suggest. Rather, the "they" in verse 24 refers to the "all" in verse 22: "for all who believe."

Blogger don said...


Let's take a look at the context of this section of scripture. It is a reminder by Paul that Jew and Gentile, that's all of us, alike are under sin as clearly stated in v. 9.

Rom 3:1b "Therefore what advantage does the Jew have..."

Rom 3:9 "What then? Are we (Paul here means we Jews) better off? Certainly not, for we have already charged that Jews and Greeks alike are all under sin,"

Rom 3:20 For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin.
Rom 3:21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed —
Rom 3:22 namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction,
Rom 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Rom 3:24 But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.

The righteousness of God has been disclosed...for all who believe. This righteousness of God is disclosed or manifested to the believer. We believers are aware of the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. It is not manifested to the unbeliever until they become a believer.

Note that v.23 is reviewing what Paul has already stated in v. 9 that Jew and Gentile alike (all of us) are under sin. When Paul says that "there is no distinction", he is referring to a situation where some thought there was a distinction, especially Jews who thought they were not under sin like those "sinners", the Gentiles. The believing Gentile also is aware of the righteousness of God.

The "they" in v.24 has to refer to all Jews and Gentiles as the context would not allow any other association.

Kestrele, I of course don't know which version you are referencing as to what you see in punctuation, but it is helpful to be aware that in the originals there was no punctuation as any punctuation we see is of man and will vary from version to version which is why the student of the word needs to spend some time looking at the original languages and noting the overall context

Blogger kestrele said...


You are incorrect to say that Greek does not have punctuation--it certainly does. Perhaps you are thinking of verse numbers?

The "they" in v. 24 certainly isn't exclusive of either Jew or Gentile, as Paul had already made clear earlier in the passage. However, in terms of the grammatical flow of the passage, it applies to the "all" in v. 22 in its immediate meaning. So, we can understand that "all have sinned, yet those who believe are justified".

Blogger don said...


Thanks for your comments. I appreciate your attitude of being a truth-seeker. It is good for us to "sharpen each other as iron sharpens iron", which is one way we can keep each other "honest". It was good for you to challenge me as I don't want to post anything that can't be reasonably substantiated or at least have a good argument for.

Relative to punctuation in the original Greek of the New Testament, I went searching in my library and online as to where I had read about the lack of punctuation in the original NT manuscripts. Of course, the originals do not exist, but comparing what are among the earliest and considered the most reliable copies such as the Codex Alexandrinus, the Codex Sinaiticus, and the Codex Vaticanus, I found in "The Concordant Greek Text" on page 17, in the second paragraph beginning on the right-hand column the following which I quote "ACCENTS, BREATHING, PUNCTUATION,etc., are not inspired, hence have no place in the text." On this same page, it also points out that the text was in all caps (Uncials) and with no spacing.

You may be thinking of later or modern Greek or even Classical Greek, but here we are referring to the Greek used to write the New Testament.

What were you sources that indicated otherwise?

Concerning your statement "So, we can understand that "all have sinned, yet those who believe are justified".", I agree in the following sense:

Rom 5:10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

God has done His part in the reconciliation process. And each person as they come to belief, and the word teaches that all of humanity will come to believe that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God, will be reconciled back to God.

All is out of God and all will go back to God as God will be all in all.

Praise God!!!

Blogger Kalkas said...

If not all men have sinned, how should we understand 1 John 1:8: "if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us"? Moreover, if not all men have sinned, how do we explain that we all are mortal? Are we not all mortal because of the biblical fact "the wages of sin is death" (Rom 6:23)?

1 John 1:8 is a hidden nomological statement of human sinful nature if John categorically states that it is not a case that we have no sin (1 John 1:8). Why? Because he in effect states that *all* men and women have sin. Such categorical statement makes no sense if there is a possibility that there are some men or women without sin. Translated in modal terms, “it is not possible that there exists a human being lacking sin.” Consequently, we are dealing with a statement expressing a nomological necessity, a law-like observation of the fact that *all* have sin. If there is a law, then there is something in human nature that lead any man to have sin.

Can we offer a plausible alternative interpretation of Rom 3:23, 6:23 and 1 John 1:8 such that are not committed to the doctrine of hereditary depravity? I do find interesting the argument why we do not need to understand “all” in Rom 3:23 in the sense of the universal quantifier “all.” However, my main worry is 1 John 1:8. I am most sympathetic towards Pelagianism, but 1 John 1:8 gives me second thoughts.


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