STUDIES ON THE WORD “ALL”
By Davis Huckabee
"ALL" is another good Bible word that is seriously misunderstood by many students of Scripture, for most people assume that it is a word that is totally unlimited, but such is not the case at all. Not only is it not unlimited in its meaning in some of its usages, it is not absolutely unlimited in any of its usages, and to think so, is to show a tragic ignorance of its grammatical usage.
Sadly many people are ruled more by cute little ditties that appeal to their blind prejudices than they are by infallible truth and the established laws of correct grammar that must always enter into any right understanding of Scripture. Some such people like to say that "All means all, and that is all that all means," as if this were part of the engravings in stone at Sinai. This is an asinine statement for one never defines any term by the term itself. It is meant to make seemingly foolish any departure from that which it is supposed to establish so that no one would dare dispute this statement.
This is not a matter of no consequence, for many people deceive themselves into believing that they are included in the occasional use of “all” in some of the texts that have to do with the atonement of Christ. They do so though they do not conform to the character of those for whom Christ is said to die. As we have said earlier many people play into the eager hands of “Universalists” - those that believe that everyone without exception, including even Satan, is going to be saved eventually. And they are easily overcome by them because they have imbibed an erroneous application of the words "all" or "world," both of which are generally clearly limited in their meanings.
Many people erroneously assume that "all" is consistently used of every human being without exception. That is, they use it in the absolute sense as allowing no exceptions. But, in doing so, they show an abysmal ignorance of both Greek and English grammar.
Grammatically "all" is used in only three ways: (1) as a pronoun, (2) as an adjective, or, (3) as an adverb. But in whichever way it is used it cannot stand alone, but refers to the part of speech that it defines or modifies, and by which it is limited. Hence, in any context, it is limited in its application to that noun, pronoun, verb, adjective or adverb that it modifies. Now it is readily acknowledged that the word that it modifies is not always expressed. Sometimes the word is only implied, and the context must determine what it is. But never does the word alone mean or refer to all mankind without exception unless the governing word does. But many make the very serious mistaken assumption that "all" automatically refers to all mankind in many contexts. In most instances in the Bible the context itself will show that this word is limited in its application to a distinct class of beings. We must always allow the context to interpret the application of any given word, for if we do not, we shall be guilty of "going beyond what is written," and therefore teaching falsehood.
This principle is most often violated in these last degenerate times when so many have departed from the faith of Baptists of the past, in regard to the extent of the atonement of Christ. This incorrect view was relatively unknown among Baptists until about two centuries ago when "evangelists" and "soul winners," both terms of rare usage in Scripture, came on the scene. These men seem to want to glorify themselves as great men of God when most of them are seriously defective on many of the elements of "The Faith that was once delivered to the saints" (Jude v3). This doctrinal compromise is often foretold as coming to pass in the last days before the Lord's return (2 Thess. 2:3; 1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 3:1-5; 4:3 -4; 2 Pet. 2:1-3; 1 John 4:1-6). So much so, in fact, that Jesus Himself questioned whether at His return He would even be able to find "the Faith" (Greek) on earth (Luke 18:8). These men of shallow understanding of doctrinal truth are mainly to blame for making the extent of the atonement more extensively than Scripture does. And their extensive influence over others because of the prominence that the doctrinally unsound religious world gives them has led many to accept their views without studying the Scriptures.
The question as to whom Jesus came to save is not hard to determine if we but let Scripture speak. The very first reference to Jesus' saving work (and first mentions are often the most defining) is in Matthew 1:21, which tells us why this One was to be called "Jesus." "For He shall save HIS people from their sins." That is clear enough, isn't it? Nor is this out of harmony with other passages on the subject. When the subject of the propitiation, a sacrifice made to God to appease His wrath and to reinstate people in His favor, a term that no one doubts has to do with the atonement, it is shown to be limited solely to believers (Rom. 3:24-26). None but believers have any part in this sacrifice that Jesus made for He is a propitiation only through faith.
And even clearer yet is the declaration that Peter was inspired to make as to the purpose for the Son of God being manifested to be the Redeemer in I Peter 1: 18-2 1. "Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers: but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times FOR YOU WHO BY HIM DO BELIEVE IN GOD..." For whom was He manifested as the Redeemer? For believers.
Not only so, but repeatedly John records that the Father gave to Jesus a distinct people to be redeemed and kept saved by Him. At least seven times in John alone reference is made to "those whom the Father hath given me." And though the Son of Man was given authority over all flesh, He was to redeem only those given to Him by the Father to be redeemed (John 17:2-3). And there are yet other texts that limit the redemptive work of the Son of God to the elect only.
Yea, and even that term that denotes substitution -" for"- which is sometimes associated with the word "all" - bears the same witness that it is not all mankind for whom He died, but rather all of the elect. Both the English "for" and the corresponding Greek huper have a two-fold signification: They mean first - in the place of another, which might be applicable to all mankind but for the other signification, this word means also for the benefit of another, yet no sinner that dies impenitent gets any benefit from Jesus' atonement. On the contrary his sorrow and suffering are intensified beyond imagination by his rejection. Let the honest Christian study any context where "all" is used of the Lord's redemption and he will find that it never refers to all mankind, but rather that the context limits it to the Lord's chosen people alone. It could not be otherwise, else we would find Jesus' redemptive work conflicting with His intercessory work, which is an integral part of it, for He Himself said that He does not pray for any but those given Him by the Father to redeem (John 17:9).
Much of the false doctrine concerning a general atonement and a universal salvation stem from the failure to understand the limited nature of the words "all" and "world." In the case of "all", the misunderstanding stems almost entirely from ignorance of the grammatical usage of the word, and the substitution in the place of proper usage of the word, of a preconceived meaning and application of the word. Always and without exception "all" modifies a noun, pronoun, verb, adjective or adverb, and is limited to that word, and it is never used with "men" in a salvation context.
Having said all this, it is also necessary to notice another way in which "all" is used in Scripture. Most people assume without reason that it is always used absolutely -- all without exception, but though it is sometimes so used, it is commonly used in a generic sense - all without distinction, that is, "all kinds." Many appearances of this word can only be understood in this sense, as in Matthew 3:5 where "all" cannot be understood in the absolute sense. See also John 11:47-53 where the "all" that would believe on Him could not be used in an absolute sense, for the Pharisees themselves were excepted. But the inspired comment on this shows that the "all" were the "children of God scattered abroad", the elect.
That this is generally the sense when redemption is in view is proven by what we read in Revelation 5:9. For there the redeemed are shown to be "all kinds”, not “all without exception”, for the redeemed are from "every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation" - all kinds of people. Conversely, Revelation 20:11-15 shows great multitudes of people that are eternally lost and the reason given is that their names were not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world (v. 15.Cf. Rev. 17:8).
This view of the redemption of the Saviour works no hindrance to the work of evangelism of those that correctly understand it, for the command is to "preach the Gospel to every creature" that we have opportunity to (Mark 16:15). It is the Holy Spirit's work alone to make application of the Gospel and enable one to believe it. But a correct view will hinder presumptuous sinners from thinking that they have a free pass into heaven regardless of how they live and however they may remain in unbelief. It is to be greatly feared that many people, by making the Lord's redemptive work broader than Scripture does, encourage sinners to continue in their unbelief on the presumption that Jesus died for them, when they give no evidence of being the ones for whom Jesus died. The universal statement of hope of everlasting life is given only to those that will believe on the Saviour. To all else there is the threat of the wrath of God.