10 Bible verses where ‘all’ does not mean ‘all.’
“This is part 1 of a series of posts titled “Relearn the Bible.” These four blog posts are written to challenge notions of the Bible held by biblically illiterate Christians, who view it as a magical rule book void of human history, influence, & the need for careful interpretation.
The Bible can be hard and confusing. We can be stubborn and confused. The Bible is situated in a wide ranging spectrum of historical contexts and was written encompassing thousands of years of human culture, language, and history. We are often ignorant of any history that reaches beyond our own birth date and personal interests. Once you throw all of that into a blender, the concoction that comes out is enough to create hundreds of denominations and theological viewpoints… and indeed it does.
With the hope of clarifying the mess above, let’s take a closer look at one particular word/idea and the seemingly strange way it’s used in the Bible. What does the English word, all, as used in the Bible really mean? In Hebrew/Greek the more popular uses of this word are ‘kol’, ‘hapas’, and ‘ouchi’, among others. However, as nearly all people who read (and therefore interpret) the Bible do so outside of the original Hebrew/Greek, we shall only look at the English word “all.”
Here is an example of our contemporary usage of the word. If I tell you that I read ‘all of the Bible, you would expect that I indeed read every single page. Yet if I tell you that I read the Bible ‘all’ of the time, you would not expect that I literally spend every single moment of time reading. How can that be? Both are structured in a very similar way, in fact both include the same phrase: ‘all of the _____.’ The simplest answer is that the meaning of word “all” depends on a situational and contextual awareness of the whole passage.
I propose that sometimes all means all and sometimes all does not mean all. Sometimes it means ‘all that we know about’ not ‘all that are possible,’ or other times it is merely a vague reference to ‘many.’
Now this might make some of us unhappy, especially if we are used to using the word ‘all’ to prove our theological positions. For example the word ‘all’ is often as a deciding factor (“hard proof!”) in Calvinism vs Arminianism debates, and it causes no end to grief to tell someone that “all have sinned” truly refers to all, yet “God wants all to be saved” refers to elect only. I completely understand the frustration with that simplistic statement. And because of that, I want to leave the Calvinism and Arminian passages and ideas completely out of this discussion and look at other issues.