Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Does ‘all’ mean ‘all’?

A few posts ago we looked at Romans 3:23-24 ('since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift'). The question addressed was. are 'all who have sinned' likewise all justified? If you remember, I stated that 'the "All" language could be used in Qumran in such a way that it didn't actually mean "all individual people"', and in this context referenced Gudrun Holtz. Since then I posted on Romans 11:26, 'all Israel will be saved' in which I noted an article that argues the 'all' doesn't quite mean 'all'.

Chrys Caragounis, Professor in New Testament Exegesis at Lund University, read our discussion relating to Romans 3:23-24 and kindly sent me his thoughts on the matter which I have uploaded here: Caragounis_Universal_Salvation.pdf. It is a single page pdf file, and I thought it best to leave it as such because of the variety of fonts.

I think he makes an important point, one which is rather strikingly obvious now he has pointed it out: 'all' doesn't always mean 'all' – though not on the basis of the use of כֹּל at Qumran, but on the flexible usage of πᾶσα, πᾶς, ὁλος, and ὁλη in Greek. Give his short note a read see what you think.


At 6/24/2008 10:36 PM, Anonymous Nick Norelli said...

I have to agree. I've always taken Romans 11:26 as a hyperbolic use of "all" -- kind of like if I were to say, "Chris, you missed a great party, everybody was there."

At 6/24/2008 11:18 PM, Anonymous Bob MacDonald said...

It's a free for all - read into it what you want.

Trouble is with the linear time schema in the majority view of salvation, what you end up with is useless no matter which reading you seem to want.

As in the psalms where I hope to make the point about the one, the many hasidim and the many rashaim - whether one thinks of Zion incorporated into the anointed and of course noting in the psalms as in the prophets and Romans the extension of the covenant to all nations - the reality of salvation - deliverance - victory etc is not a future only thingy but a present reality in covenant with the Most High. I am not able to comment on the theological differences but the experience of justice, mercy, presence and the intimation of completeness is very similar to the point of congruence between Christian and Jew - once you get away from perverse distortions of power politics in Christendom.

The meaning of one word is small change in comparison. (PS I tend toward the universalist myself - but that comes from following the poems of Christopher Smart - Jubilate Agno in particular)

At 6/25/2008 7:58 AM, Anonymous Opening_Doors said...

I am an interested Christian lay person who enjoys your blogs within the limits of my understanding of theology and without the competence to fully understand all the arguments. Another blog I follow is that of Gregory McDonald and I have posted on his blog suggesting that he comments on your post of 24th June. I think this would be helpful to people like me and others too.

At 6/25/2008 10:00 AM, Anonymous Mark Stevens said...

Why can't 'all' mean, 'all'?

At 6/25/2008 11:57 AM, Anonymous Terry said...

All very interesting. It reminded me of Jesus's comments that his blood is 'poured out for many' (Mt. 26:28; Mk. 14:24). How is the 'many' understood in these verses? Is limited atonement implied? Is the 'many' another exaggerated statement that could be stretched to refer to some 'elect', or even 'all'?

It seems to me that although pas, etc., could refer to 'many' in some contexts, it's the context itself which determines whether a particular occurrence means 'all' or 'many'; and this is surely a theological judgement rather than an interpretative one.

At 6/25/2008 1:20 PM, Anonymous Bob MacDonald said...

Re 'the many'; It has struck me that there is a movement from the one to the many in the psalms. The many comes to include the nations as well as Israel within the covenant. Such a movement is implied in Torah as well - where Moses says - what will the Egyptians think if you destroy Israel? God is working in Israel his anointed for the benefit of the whole world here symbolized by Egypt. The message is clearly in the prophets as well and summarized in that epistle of the Romans which is Paul's response to the faith of the goodness of God.

The tradition of individual 'salvation' is a different tack on this gift of God but has its roots first in the cost of discipleship - the covenant of circumcision (accomplished for the Gentiles in the death of Christ), and secondly in the individual laments and praises in the Psalms.

The invitations are open. Who's coming to the party? And how do we know there is one? The opening statement of the Bible is that creation is good. In the Psalms again (34) we are told that the Lord is good. So the party is on - how come life is so difficult for most people since all are invited? The consequence I take from this is that there is work to do - the tikkun olam as the Jews say - repairing the world. Others might think that fatalism or karma is an adequate 'explanation'. That may not lead to the same end - the caste system or resignation to God's will - whatever that is - seem to me to be contrary. Most importantly for me they do not seem to approach the personal (rather than individual) invitation to 'Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.'

At 6/25/2008 4:10 PM, Anonymous cssweatman said...

For me, the "all" (in 3.23-24) is associated with the idea of the remnant, which emerges in the first half ch. 11. The remaining half of ch. 11 reveals how it is that "all" (of the remnant) will be saved--i.e., by seeing the influx of the Gentiles, which is concert with the Abrahamic promise. This conglomeration of Jews and Gentiles becoming a part of the covenant community is what constitutes the "new Israel."

Therefore, it seems to me to be clear that "all" does not have to mean "all"; it can simply refer to the entirety of those who did accept the message of Paul's gospel (cf. Rom. 10.16), which happens to be a mixture of Jews and Gentiles. Thus, Paul could openly say: " 'All' of you--who have chosen to be in the Christ family--are saved; while 'all' of you--who have chosen otherwise--are not". The same logic appears in the heavenly court scene in Matthew 15.31-46.

At 6/25/2008 6:17 PM, Anonymous Jason Pratt said...

While I agree that 'all' could colloquially stand for many (if that's the context), just as 'many' could colloquially stand for 'all', the larger context (and contexts) have to be kept in mind.

Which is why I asked earlier, in the previous thread: how does Zoccali connect (or disconnect perhaps) the hope of the salvation of all Israel to those among Israel who have stumbled over the stumbling stone? (CSS in this thread gives an abbreviated attempt at answering in favor of the disconnection; but before I go into a more detailed narrative/topical analysis--which I could do at length--I want to know what Zoccali did with it. If anything.)


At 6/25/2008 6:50 PM, Anonymous Gregory MacDonald said...


For me the issue is simply this. 'All' in Greek, as in English, has only one meaning - namely, 'all' (i.e., all without exception). However, the context can qualify what 'all' refers to (e.g., all the people IN THE ROOM) and, of course, 'all' can be used hyperbolically. The NT clearly does this sometimes (as the short argument that you have made available shows well). But that has never been in dispute.

So the question boils down to this: When Paul says that 'all have sinned' does he mean 'each individual person has sinned' ('all' = literal) or 'most/very many individual persons have sinned' ('all' = hyperbolic)? He does seem to be talking about individual persons in this case.

In Rom 5 the question is 'Did all sin in Adam (all = literal) or did most/many (all = hyperbolic)?'

In Rom 11 the Q is 'Will every individual Israelite be saved ('all = literal') or will most of them be? (all = hyperbolic).'

For what it is worth here is my view:
Rom 3 - all = very likely literal (every individual has sinned)
Rom 5 - all = very likely literal (all individuals have sinned in Adam and are justified in Christ)
Rom 11 - all = possibly literal but it's a tough call. It could just as easily be hyperbolic. We know that the expression 'all Israel' could be used to refer to 'most of Israel'. Even so Paul would not mean less than 'most of Israel' (and he most certainlty was, in my view, speaking of ethnic Israel). And, as you know, I am a universalist so I think that every single Israelite will, in the end, be saved. But I would not dream of pinning that belief simply on one word in Rom 11.


At 6/25/2008 7:26 PM, Anonymous David W. Congdon said...

Gregory MacDonald's comment is important, because what was missing from the original point, Chris, is the use of "all" and "many" in Romans 5. I don't think there is any way of getting around the fact that here Paul means every single individual person. The entire logic of the passage depends upon that point. People try to soften it by looking to other passages, such as 1 Cor. 15, but these also fail.

In light of the clearly literal use of "all" in Rom. 5, I submit that we should read Rom. 11 in light of Rom. 5. If "all" in Rom. 11 only referred to those who personally accept Christ during their earthly lives, it would really subvert the scandalous, mysterious nature of the gospel that Paul is proclaiming. Why would Paul enter into doxological language at the end of this exposition if he's saying something so tame and comfortable?

I am afraid that some of these comments here betray an uneasiness with the scandal of the good news of Jesus Christ. There seems to be a desire to master the text in a way that keeps the text from being provocative and disturbing, from letting it place us under its judgment. I think we might do much better to hear its disruptive and gracious word in all its fullness.

At 6/25/2008 8:54 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Thanks for comments.
To clarify a couple of points:

1) Chrys also argued that "all" can mean "all". It simply depends on the context. The point is that "all" must not mean "all". It was flexible.

2) DW Congdon wrote: "I am afraid that some of these comments here betray an uneasiness with the scandal of the good news of Jesus Christ. There seems to be a desire to master the text in a way that keeps the text from being provocative and disturbing, from letting it place us under its judgment. I think we might do much better to hear its disruptive and gracious word in all its fullness. "

This is a lovely point, DW. I would only add, as one not convinced that Paul was himself a universalist, that the matter is not "uneasiness with the scandal of the good news" but a desire to remain biblical, despite the fact that much inside screams in the direction of what you claim is "uneasiness".

As much as I would love to be a universalist, and not merely a hopivist, I feel the "end of the story" which universalism provides is just too subversive to the whole story in light of the ultimate eschatological divisions detailed in both Paul and the teachings of Jesus. To adopt the subversive universalist story I would have liked to have had at least Jesus and Paul as clear universalists, and not merely make their difficult teachings somehow compatible with universalism. But I do not see that in scripture and as such cannot make it a dogma, even if it "hangs around" in the realm of hope.

Finally, I didn’t actually mean this post to be a universalist exposé, but simply to draw attention to the flexible usage of the Greek for ‘all’. I am quite convinced that the case for or against universalism must go much deeper than merely an exegetical remark about Rom 3, 5, or 11.

At 6/25/2008 8:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does the interpretation of "all" have much bearing on the broader meaning of the verse? Does any interpretation (eschatological turn vs. eventual culmination) depend on or favor a certain interpretation of "all"?


At 6/25/2008 8:59 PM, Anonymous Michael Barber said...


Great post. I really enjoy this stuff.

I've responded to this with a lengthy post. I'd love to get your thoughts.

God bless!

At 6/25/2008 9:31 PM, Anonymous Drew said...

All is qualified by Israel and so, the qualifier is the important piece here. What does Paul mean by Israel here? Those who are in the covenant ratified by God and those "grafted into" the covenant by Jesus.

If we read this as a Jew, the question of God being a universalist or not is irrelevant. The issue is how we are acting to realize the Kingdom of God now rooted in the promise of the gift of eschatological salvation.

This is an interesting question to sort out intellectually, but due to the unresolved tensions that Paul does not clean up for us, I tend to focus on what might have been the most important thing for Paul here and it would be a very pragmatic set of actions to produce the fruits of the eschatological Kingdom now..

At 6/25/2008 9:35 PM, Anonymous Drew said...

One more thing...

For Paul it seems clear that his eschatological vision was a fulfillment of the promise of salvation through the cosmic Christ before the end of his age as Jesus had said as well. So it seems that all refers to Jews at the time and gentiles who obeyed Christ. We would like to think Paul was thinking in eternal terms, but there is scant evidence that this is what he meant.

At 6/25/2008 11:46 PM, Anonymous Jeremy Priest said...

In connection with the Hosea passage cited in Rom. 9:25-26 it seems entirely possible that "all Israel" is referring to the other ten tribes. God would be supremely unfaithful if his promise to gather them is not fulfilled. Is God unfaithful?

The ten northern tribes have been scattered among the gentiles, and so (crudely put) to retrieve them the mission to the Gentiles must be carried out. I liked Michael Barber's post on this over at Singing In The Reign. Excellent, Michael.

At 6/25/2008 11:57 PM, Anonymous Brian said...

I agree all needs a context for us to know what it is meaning

even so it makes me think, "right, all does not mean all just as until does not mean until in the sense we know it (cf. Matt 1:25).

At 6/26/2008 12:02 AM, Anonymous Jason Pratt said...


I read Michael's post, too; and my exposition factored that into the narrative analysis. In short, there's more going on narratively in Rom 9-11 than a hope that God will manage to bring some members of the Ten Tribes home (physically and/or spiritually)--though that's included, too, of course.


At 6/26/2008 3:22 AM, Anonymous Jeremy Priest said...

Clearly, there's a lot happening in 9-11 and more clearly: I don't see all that is happening. I see that the overall question of grace and works of the law remains in 9-11. Yet, I think the answer to the question of what "all Israel" refers to is the complete Twelve Tribes. It doesnt' seem to be all individuals based on the "some of them" Paul refers to in 11:14.

I think Paul's argument in Rom. 9-11 illustrates a point to the Romans: nothing "will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus" (8:39). If the Romans were having difficulty because the Jews were rejecting the Gospel (cf. the expulsion from Rome over "Chrestus" in AD 49), how much more does Paul (a Jew) have "sorrow and unceasing anguish" in his heart (9:2) because "all Israel" has not been gathered in yet. Flowing from 8:39, Paul is saying, "Don't lose heart, don't give up on the Jews: God's love is so powerful--he's not only going to bring the Jews and Gentiles in, he's going to bring all Twelve Tribes back into the fold! Don't think you know everything: don't harden your heart towards the Jews, but renew your minds (cf. 12:2) because neither God's promise to you Gentiles in Christ, nor God's promises to Israel through the patriarchs will be thrwarted--all will be done through Christ."

On a Twelve Tribes note:
I think Paul's branch theory (11:13-24) might point in this direction: the many Gentiles represent a single "wild olive shoot" (11:18) and they are spoken of in the second person singular throughout, while Israel is spoken of in the plural and represented by a plurality of branches that "will be grafted in" (11:23). So, we might picture the many branches as 12+1 branches on the Olive tree (cf. Acts 2:8-10).

At 6/26/2008 6:45 AM, Anonymous Edward T. Babinski said...

Chris and others. Academic discussions are interesting, but who can discuss Paul as if it truly mattered what his metaphysical views were? Do we still live in a Pauline cosmos and believe that the cosmos is merely thousands of years old, and human beings existed since the very beginning? That the sun, moon "and the stars also" were made and set in the firmament above us, created to rule days and nights "on earth" and for signs and seasons "on earth?" That the world of animals was created for humans to name and rule over? That "sin and death" entered the whole cosmos via one man, and grace entered it via another? Does Paul make much sense other than in the pre-scientific view of the cosmos as outlined above?

While other things in Paul make even less sense like his other lines in Romans (that make me think the "eschatological miracle" explanation is the best):

The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is soon to be revealed to us...The whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now...We...groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body… knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed! The night is almost gone, and the day is at hand...The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.
- Romans 8:18,22-23; 13:11-12; 16:20


What about Paul's view that sin abounded via Adam but grace abounded all the more after Jesus?

"All the more?"

If Adam damned the entire human race without exception, and Jesus saves only a FEW, and even the saved continue to suffer and die for generations after his "savlation," then how can Paul speak about "grace abounding all the more?" Hyperbole? But it's downright laughable hyperbole. Think about it.

At 6/26/2008 6:47 AM, Anonymous Edward T. Babinski said...

What about Paul's view that sin abounded via Adam but grace abounded all the more after Jesus?

"All the more?"

If Adam damned the entire human race without exception, and Jesus saves only a FEW, and even the saved continue to suffer and die for generations after his "savlation," then how can Paul speak about "grace abounding all the more?" Hyperbole? But it's downright laughable hyperbole, logically speaking.

At 6/26/2008 3:14 PM, Anonymous Jason Pratt said...


At 11:14, Paul is talking about his own role in helping lead people to salvation. Would you seriously think Paul would claim that he would help lead all individual Jews to salvation!? Realistically, Paul himself can only reach some of them.

Nice ref-link to the expulsion of the Jews (temporarily) from Rome due to the ‘Chrestus’ riots, btw. {g}

I certainly don’t disagree with your paraphrase flowing from 8:39 either. But really, between the two of us, which of us is saying that God will either eventually give up on some of the Jews or never intended to save some of them in the first place? {s} (Unless you’re a universalist yourself, too, and I missed that?)

{{Israel is spoken of in the plural and represented by a plurality of branches that "will be grafted in" (11:23).}}

Entirely consonant with my narrative exegesis of the relevant chapters, as I mentioned above (at perhaps tedious length. {g}) If the 10 Tribes are being reffed (as I agreed, at length, was entirely probable), it’s for analogical purposes similar to the reference to the dissident majority of Israel in the time of Elijah, which is explicitly referred to by Paul in these same chapters. The specific charges against the rebellious portion of Israel, however, are that they have rejected God’s Messiah and/or are seeking to earn their place in the kingdom by works instead of trusting in God and His promises. I discussed this at great length, too, and I have yet to see you address the topic which is surely prevalent in these chapters.


{{who can discuss Paul as if it truly mattered what his metaphysical views were?}}

Well, obviously we can. If you can't, then don't discuss it (or facetiously ask for discussion either, as if you expect us to think you'd take such discussion seriously.)


At 6/26/2008 3:29 PM, Anonymous James Pate said...

Paul says in Romans 11 that, if the firstfruit is holy, then so is the whole lump. Doesn't that imply that he sees all Israel as all Israel, in Romans 11?

At 6/26/2008 5:38 PM, Anonymous Jason Pratt said...


In fairness, I would have to say the first-piece/root analogy in Rom 11:16 is supposed to refer to Christ, inasmuch as God Himself is the root of Israel. In theory a branch could be trimmed off and not grafted back in again; but the whole thrust of chapter 11 is that God intends to graft the original branches back in again.

What's more interesting to me, from a counter-Calvinistic standpoint (insofar as a statically determined elect/non-elect is supposed to be true), is that the language used by Paul in verse 7 is parallel to the language Calvinists typically appeal to back in chapter 9: the election, those who were chosen, obtained what Israel is seeking for, and the rest were hardened. So there's no hope for them, right?

Opps--wrong! The whole thrust of chapter 11 (even back through 9:25) is that Paul is still hoping for those who have been hardened. He fully expects God to save them, too, sooner or later; thus he declares strongly in 11:11 that these hardened ones who have stumbled didn't stumble so as to fall, and in verse 15 he declares that if their rejection (compare to language about Esau earlier in chp 9) be the reconciliation of the 'kosmos', what will their acceptance be but life from the dead!?



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