It’s absolutely true that the word ALL in the Bible doesn’t always mean ALL as in the entire world and 100% of the population even if it says ALL MEN, but it’s equally true that we don’t get to choose whether or not the word really means ALL ourselves. Sometimes ALL actually means ALL and the entire world and it’s the context that decides which one it is and not our own personal preferences. Maybe this is rather-self-evident but there are some people seem to reason:
“Since I can prove that ALL and ALL MEN do not always mean the whole world or all of the population of the earth, then I get to choose when ALL means ALL myself and I can do this as I see fit”.
They might not be aware of that they are reasoning in this way, but it’s common that especially reformed believers try to refute the verses which say that Jesus died for ALL (which is painfully clear in the Bible), by suggesting that “all doesn’t always mean all“, and this shows that they feel they can save their doctrine of Limited Atonement by narrowing down the word ALL to a certain group of people even though the context itself doesn’t call for this procedure. Yes, sometimes ALL means a certain group of people but not always, and again, we cannot determine this simply by resorting to personal preferences. That would be nothing else but picking and choosing, and you would end up with the invisible rule “ALL means ALL except when it doesn’t fit the reformed doctrine because then it means ALL of a certain group”.
The saying among reformed believers is that when Jesus died for ALL it means “Jesus died for some of every kind of people from ALL tribes, languages, people and nations”. And/or that it refers to ALL classes and conditions of people, and to all sorts of human beings without any distinction or exception. That is a convenient understanding if one wants to maintain that TULIP (calvinism) is what the Bible teaches, but if they get to choose this translation of the word ALL, do I get to do the same whenever I don’t like that ALL means ALL as in every individual? What if I for instance don’t like that ALL people have sinned as Romans 3:23 seems to suggest.
Romans 3:23 For ALL have sinned, and come short of the glory of God
Do I get to interpret the above verse as “some from all tribes, languages, people and nations have sinned”? No, because then reformed believers might say “NO! It says ALL, and ALL means ALL! Don’t twist the verse and make it say something it doesn’t say! ALL is what it is!” It’s rather unfair that only the reformed believers get to use the “some out of every tribe-idea” but no others.
Rom. 5:12 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and DEATH by sin; and so death passed upon all men, FOR that all have sinned
My claim is that babies cannot sin and Rom 5:12 doesn’t say that all people who have ever lived have sinned (which you can read more about in this blog article). We already know that Jesus has not sinned so this means that ALL couldn’t possibly mean the entire world with him included. (Jesus mother Mary was related to Adam and Eve just like the rest of us and she would have given Jesus a piece of her nature as well.) What qualifies “all men” can be read in the context, and Paul is talking about individuals who have become enemies of God (v. 10) but how could babies possibly be enemies of God? Especially babies who are unborn? That is impossible, and Paul’s aim is not to convey that babies can be guilty of sin and rebellion. He is talking about “men”, and that could mean 1) men 2) men and women, or 3) all mankind. We can’t decide to jump to No 3 and suggest it must mean every individual, at the same time as we refuse to do this in other verses which very clearly show that it means exactly that. That, again, is picking and choosing depending on our own preferences. All people who have the ability to sin have chosen to sin, except Jesus.
Romans 5:18 Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.
The above verse is interesting because here reformed readers would like to interpret the first “all men” as ALL individuals who have ever lived (so ALL means ALL), but the second “all men” they prefer to interpret as “SOME men” namely the elect – despite that the verse contains a clear parallel where Adam is compared with Jesus and where the two “all men” MUST be understood in the same way. You can’t understand it one way in the first half of the sentence and in another way in the second half! Moreover, if ALL are automatically condemned through Adam then ALL must be automatically justified through Jesus, but that would lead to universalism which we know is not true. So the condemnation and the justification could not come about automatically, but they are dependant on whether a person disobeys or obeys, as the next verse says:
19 For as by one man‘s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.
Reformed believers often read the above verse as though it says “ALL were made sinners” by one man and “MANY be made righteous“, but it says MANY in BOTH cases.
Examples where ALL couldn’t possibly mean the entire world
If a child comes home to his mother and says “I had my sweater on backwards in school today, and everyone laughed at me”, then his mother obviously wouldn’t ask her son “Do you mean to tell me that everyone in the entire world laughed at you?” Clearly the mother would understand who “everyone” is in this case, and we usually have no problem at all to understand who ALL and EVERYONE are when we speak to people on a daily basis or when we read the newspaper. Why then is there such a risk for misunderstandings when we read the Bible? Is the Bible not clear enough and is God the author of confusion? There will be a platform for misunderstandings if we insist on reading the Bible through a doctrine-filter that we have made up ourselves, and if we really want to avoid the notion that Jesus died for all as in every individual who has ever lived, then we might subconsciously try to change verses which declare that this is exactly what Jesus has done for us, in a way that suit our own theology. It’s almost like some christians believe they can escape the “horrible” idea that Jesus actually laid down his life for every single person if they can only find examples where ALL doesn’t mean ALL. Anyway, here are some examples where ALL doesn’t mean “every single person”, but it’s also rather obvious by the context so not confusing at all.
Mark 1:5 And there went out unto him ALL the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were ALL baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins.
John 8:2 And early in the morning he came again into the temple, and ALL the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them.
Acts 22:15 For thou [Paul] shalt be his witness unto ALL MEN of what thou hast seen and heard.
Matthew 10:22 And ye shall be hated of ALL MEN for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.
John 3:26 And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and ALL MEN come to him.
Matthew 21:26 But if we shall say, Of men; we fear the people; for ALL hold John as a prophet.
2 Corinthians 3:2 Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of ALL MEN
Romans 12:17 Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of ALL MEN.18 If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with ALL MEN.
Romans 16:19 For your obedience is come abroad unto ALL MEN. I am glad therefore on your behalf: but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil.
Acts 21:28 Crying out, Men of Israel, help: This is the man, that teacheth ALL MEN EVERY WHERE against the people, and the law, and this place: and further brought Greeks also into the temple, and hath polluted this holy place.
2 Timothy 3:9 But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto ALL MEN, as their’s also was.
2 Timothy 4:16 At my first answer no man stood with me, but ALL MEN forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge.
1 Timothy 2:1 I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for ALL MEN
3 John 1:12 Demetrius hath good report of ALL MEN, and of the truth itself: yea, and we also bear record; and ye know that our record is true.
Acts 4:21 So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding nothing how they might punish them, because of the people: for ALL MEN glorified God for that which was done.
Acts 2:45 And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to ALL MEN, as every man had need.
John 11:48 If we let him thus alone, ALL MEN will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation.
There ARE cases where ALL means every single person, and this is also rather clear in the Bible.
Hebrews 12:23 To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of ALL, and to the spirits of just men made perfect
Acts 17:25 Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to ALL life, and breath, and all things 26 And hath made of one blood ALL nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation
Acts 1:24 And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of ALL MEN, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen,
John 2:24 But Jesus did not commit himself unto them, because he knew ALL MEN
1 Corinthians 7:7 For I would that ALL MEN were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.
Should we be kind and honor ALL MEN (everyone) or just some? Perhaps we should be kind and gentle only to those we like? I vote for that we should be pleasant to ALL men – whoever we might encounter.
1 Peter 2:17 Honour ALL MEN. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.
Hebrews 12:14 Follow peace with ALL MEN, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:
Titus 3:2 To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto ALL MEN.
Galatians 6:10 As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto ALL MEN, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.
2 Timothy 2:24 And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto ALL MEN, apt to teach, patient,
1 Thessalonians 3:12 And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward ALL MEN, even as we do toward you
1 Thessalonians 5:14 Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward ALL MEN.15 See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to ALL MEN.
So if people agree with me that the Paul and Peter above try to convey that we should be kind and gentle to everyone, then this section can remain under the topic ALL means ALL – as in every individual
Verses which are in dispute by those who don’t accept that Jesus died for everyone (leading to that reformed believers feel they get to use the “died for some out of every tribe-card” for these verses)
Did Jesus die for ALL? The Bible is clear that he did this in numerous ways:
He died for ALL (1 Tim. 2:6).
He died for ALL MEN (Rom. 5:18; 1 Tim. 4:10).
He died for US ALL, for ALL OF US (Isa. 53:6).
He died for the UNGODLY (Rom. 5:6).
He died for CHRIST-DENIERS (2 Peter 2:1).
He died for SINNERS (Rom. 5:8).
He died for EVERY MAN (Heb. 2:9).
He died for MANY (Matthew 20:28).
He died for the WORLD (John 6:33,51; John 1:29 and John 3:16).
He died for the WHOLE WORLD (1 John 2:2).
He died for the WHOLE NATION of Israel (John 11:50-51).
He died for the CHURCH (Eph. 5:25).
He died for His SHEEP (John 10:11).
He died for ME (Gal. 2:20)
Here are some examples where we can read that Jesus died for ALL – or ALL MEN.
James 1:5 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to ALL MEN liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that ANY should perish, but that ALL should come to repentance.
Acts 17:30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth ALL MEN EVERY WHERE to repent:31 Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the WORLD in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto ALL MEN, in that he hath raised him from the dead.
Titus 2:11 For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to ALL MEN,
John 1:7 The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that ALL MEN through him might believe.
1 Timothy 4:10 For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of ALL MEN, specially of those that believe.
1 Timothy 2:4 Who will have ALL MEN to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.
Philippians 4:5 Let your moderation be known unto ALL MEN. The Lord is at hand.
Ephesians 3:8 Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ;9 And to make ALL MEN see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ:
John 12:32 And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw ALL MEN unto me.
John 5:22 For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son:23 That ALL MEN should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him.
Paul seems to believe that he (Paul) can save some people (naturally through Jesus) if he becomes weak for the weak. If Paul was reformed he would know that he can’t change the outcome of anything for anyone and that all things were written in stone before the foundation of the world.
1 Corinthians 9:22 To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some
We have a big King with a big heart, and Jesus Christ did not shut the door for anyone but died for the whole world. Why then are not all saved? Because some refuse to seek God and come to him to get life. God’s will does not always happen.
John 5:40 And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.