Context and the Word ‘All’

by A. J. Harrop


If there is one word in the Bible which needs to be carefully dealt with, it is that little word ‘All’.

There is always the temptation to give it the widest possible meaning, and then to prove all sorts of queer things from its interpretation. One friend who wished to prove that John the Baptist baptised by sprinkling rather than by immersion, pointed to Matthew 3:5 where it says,‘Then went out unto him Jerusalem and ALL Judea and ALL the region round about Jordan, and were baptised of him’. Then he said that as there must have been at least five million people, John could not possibly have baptised them one at a time by immersion. He just sprinkled them with water as they went by.

His idea of the word ALL in that verse was every man, woman and child in all the towns and villages of Judea; not exactly what was meant, you may be sure. In Philippians 4:18 Paul says, ‘For I have ALL and abound’. Had he got all? I think there were a good many things we could point out that he did not have. We know what he meant, of course, from the context. So also in Acts 19:19: ‘Many of them also which used curious arts, brought their books together and burned them before ALL men’. What, before everybody in the world? How could they? In Job 4:14, Eliphaz the Temanite says, ‘Fear came upon me… which made ALL my bones shake’. What, all of them? Even the little ones in his toes? Well, of course, you know what he means, and that is just the point, it is the context that makes it clear.

I am moved to point out this little matter with regard to the word ALL because one correspondent has asked me to read Colossians 1:15–20, 1 Timothy 2:3–6 and 1 Corinthians 15:20–28, and says, ‘Do we believe?’ Well, I know what my correspondent wants us to believe when we read those passages, and that is that one day there will be restoration and reconciliation for Satan himself and the fallen angels, also for unrepentant sinners however gross they may have been. So we must look at these passages, because we have always understood that Satan and the fallen angels, and also unrepentant sinners would be destroyed in the lake of fire.

So now let us look at Colossians 1:15–20. In verse 16 it says, ‘For by Him were all things created’. Now, remembering what we said about the word ‘all’, we say to ourselves, ‘What is meant by the word “all” in this connection?’ Well, we are not left in any doubt, because verse 16 goes on to say, ‘things that are in heaven, and that are on earth, visible and invisible…’ Well, that seems to embrace most things, but wait a minute. We get similar words four verses lower down. Verse 20: ‘to reconcile all things… whether things in earth, or things in heaven.’ These things are to be reconciled ‘through the blood of His cross’, and we ‘who were sometime alienated and enemies… by wicked works’ are to be presented ‘holy and unblameable… in His sight’ – IF we continue, verse 23. So there is an IF about it.

Again, earlier in the chapter, verse 13 speaks of delivering us from the power of darkness. Is the ‘power of darkness’ included in the all things here? Can we have light and darkness at the same time? Then again, He made peace through the blood of His cross’ (verse 20). Now through that same cross, (2:14,15) we find that He ‘spoiled principalities and powers, He made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it’. Yes, there is reconciliation for us ‘through the blood of His cross’, but not reconciliation for them – the powers of darkness – over them, He triumphs. So we must be sure to get the meaning of the whole chapter, and not just a few verses. One fully recognises, of course, that when the powers of darkness – and any who may be consigned to the lake of fire – are completely destroyed, then – when the victory is complete – we shall see ‘all things in subjection under Him’, Hebrews 2:8.

Some suggest that if ‘All things were made by Him’, Colossians 1:16, then Satan, the fallen angels and sin itself, were made by Him. Oh no! We know what was made by Him, and that is a moral universe, not a mechanical one. He did not create robots, He created responsible beings – beings who could choose. Satan chose rebellion, and dragged down the fallen angels and sowed sin into the world. He and all his, and all the powers of darkness must be utterly destroyed before we see ‘all things in subjection under Him’.

The next passage is 1 Timothy 2:3–6. Again the little word ‘all’ comes along. Verse 4 says, ‘Who will have all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth’. Now in that verse the word we want to be sure of is the word ‘will’. In English it may mean ‘determine’ or only ‘wish’. Let us look at the Greek. The word used is thelei. In sixteen places I see it is translated ‘desires’ or ‘desirous’. The Greek words for ‘determine’ are bouleoumai, epilus or krino. So if we translated that verse, ‘Whose desire is to have all men to be saved’, we shall be more near the original meaning.

The last passage referred to is 1 Corinthians 15:20–28. It seems to me that this passage answers itself. One verse says, ‘The last enemy to be destroyed is death’. So you see, some enemies will meet with destruction, not reconciliation. When that has taken place, then we shall realise that ‘He hath put all things under His feet’, verse 27.

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Originally printed in The Babbler No. 10, March 1950 under the title “All”, and reprinted in Issue No. 54, April 1964.

One Response to “Context and the Word ‘All’”

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  1. michael monaghan says:

    It may have been Mr Welch who said ' if you are discussing anything from the Bible , have an 'open bible' to do so . 

    At a church I atended recently  , they had decided to remove all the bibles from the pews and have the texts of the preacher appear on a screen . Long ago , people paid to have those bibles placed in the pews ,but the new fashion it seems in many church gatherings is to do without the printed scriptures (unless you bring your own ) and rely on the screen or the preacherss verbal quote .

    My objection to such a move was that without the open bible to read the text ,  the context cannot be ascertained by all , and two things can happen ; the text can become a pretext , or a con – especially if a dubious doctrine like 'tithing' is intended to be be introduced .           michaelm

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