Hi, I’m Rick Conrad and this is What is Truth. Today I’m continuing my series: Unmisinterpreting the Bible, asking the question What does the word ‘All’ mean? We’ll have to deal with that as we take a look at a few verses that are used by Universalists to advance the attractive idea that all people will somehow be saved.
Let’s start with 1 Corinthians 15:22:
For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
Well that says that all shall be made alive. That means everybody gets saved. Right?
Before we decide, let’s look at another passage:
And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
Well here we have another verse and this one seems to say that not everyone will be saved. So now we’ve got to decide which verse we’ve understood correctly and which one we’ve misinterpreted. A really good starting point is to notice that while the Luke passage is clearly targeted at our current question – Jesus is literally answering a question about how many people will be saved – it’s not at all clear that Paul in 1 Corinthians 15 is trying to make a point about the number of people who are saved. The subject he’s dealing with in context, is whether there is such a thing as the resurrection of the dead.
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?
-1 Corinthians 15:12
But we still have to answer what it means, “in Christ shall all be made alive.” The key word here, as in all verses brought forward by universalists, is the word ‘all.’ Does the word ‘all’ mean all people in all times and all places? For the universalist it must – if the word has any other sense then this is not a universalist verse. Well, what else could it mean you might ask. A couple examples:
There was good food and fun music, and a great time was had by all.
Suppose you read this sentence somewhere. Would you think that ‘all’ means everybody in the world? No, it’s easy to see from context that ‘all’ is referring to everybody who was there.
Or what about Mark 1:5?
And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
Does this mean that every single inhabitant of Jerusalem was baptized by John? Common sense tells us that here ‘all’ means ‘a whole bunch.’
One more instructive example:
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil (παν πονηρον) against you falsely on my account.”
Here the Greek word for ‘all’, πας, is translated ‘all kinds of’, so παν πονηρον, literally ‘all evil,’ is translated in context ‘all kinds of evil.’ This is actually not that uncommon in the New Testament.
So with all that in mind, what’s the best way to understand 1 Corinthians 15:22? Turns out the answer’s been staring us in the face the whole time. It says, “In Christ shall all be made alive.” The all who are made alive are all who are in Christ.
Well how about Colossians 1:20?
For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
If Jesus is reconciling to himself all things, wouldn’t that mean everyone will be reconciled with Jesus? Well, if that’s what it means then it would also include Satan. But that’s not what it means. Notice where the ‘all things’ are. They’re on earth or in heaven. One day all of heaven and earth will be at peace with God. But there is another place someone might be besides on earth or in heaven, and he makes no mention of reconciliation there. Notice the same thing in Ephesians 1:10 – all things in heaven and on earth.
…as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
Now – compare that to Philippians 2:10.
…so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Here all does mean absolutely everyone. Every single person who has ever lived will one day acknowledge the lordship of Jesus Christ whether they welcome it or hate it, wherever they may be: in heaven, on earth and under the earth.
So how can we avoid misinterpreting Bible verses by taking the wrong meaning of difficult words? Once again, it’s very important that when we want to know the Bible’s teaching on a particular issue, we go first to the passages that are teaching about that issue. If we use isolated verses that are primarily focused on other topics, we run the risk of turning the author’s words to mean something he didn’t intend. We might not be comfortable with the meaning we find so clearly in passages like Luke 13, but if we’re going to call ourselves people of faith, we need to believe God and his sense of justice rather than what we may think is right.