All Means All, and That Is
All It Means!
How often have we heard that when we try to explain the
Reformed faith to Arminians? It is a very common objection and a gross
misunderstanding of Scripture. It is even a misunderstanding of language
What do words such as "all," "every man," "the world," "whosoever"
mean in Scripture? The easiest and most reliable way is to start with
the axiom, "Scripture interprets Scripture" and allow the Bible to
explain itself. Much of this article consists of New Testament passages
interspersed with comments to bring out the meaning, or rather what is
not meant. Many of the passages speak for themselves.
"When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled and
all Jerusalem with him" (Matt.
2:3). Is it true that the entire population of Jerusalem knew about
the message brought by the Magi, or that they were "troubled" by it. Of
course not! It refers to the leaders of Jerusalem, and could very well
be the same "Jerusalem" mentioned in
Matthew 23:37 which did not want Christ to gather her children.
"Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judea, and all the region
about Jordan, and were baptized of him" (Matt.
3:5). Are we to imagine that Jesus baptized everybody? Were there no
exceptions? Surely we can reasonably assume that it would have been
impossible for the entire population of Judea to be baptized. See also
"And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake" (Matt.
10:22). Were the disciples hated by the people who lived in Africa, by people who had never heard of them? Obviously,
"all men" means many men here.
"And all the people were amazed and said, Is not this the son of
12:23). Was this universal. Forgetting even about other nations,
what about the scribes and Pharisees? Were they amazed, did they
believe that Jesus was the Son
of David? Not at all!
"And when he was come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved,
saying, Who is this?" (Matt.
21:10). Were the tiniest infants in Jerusalem moved?
"All hold John as a prophet" (Matt.
21:26). The Pharisees did not hold John as a prophet, the Romans and
Greeks did not either, so obviously the "all" here is not universal.
"Then answered all the people and said, His blood be on us and on
our children" (Matt.
27:25). Was the entire population of Jerusalem, never mind the Roman
empire, crowded into one courtyard to utter these terrible words? No!
But everybody of a strictly limited group is meant.
"And all the city was gathered together at the door" (Mark
1:33). Not every man, woman and child are meant.
"And when they had found him, they said unto him, all men seek for
1:37). This cannot be taken universally, since there were people in
China who were not seeking Him.
"And all men did marvel" (Mark
5:20). The Greeks, the Ethiopians, the people in North and South America were not marvelling at this time.
"And when he had called all the people unto him" (Mark
7:14). Not everybody is meant.
"All men mused in their hearts of John whether he were the Christ
or not" (Luke
3:15). "All men" here certainly cannot mean the entire human race.
The Portuguese were not musing.
"All the people will stone us for they be persuaded that John was
a prophet" (Luke
20:6). The Pharisees were concerned about a riot in the population,
not one which would involve every man, woman and child of the nation,
never mind a riot which would spread to all people of the earth!
"Behold the same baptizeth, and all men come unto him" (John
3:26). If all men absolutely really were coming to Him, there would have been
well nigh universal salvation. We know, of course, that relatively few were coming
to Christ, certainly not all men head-for-head. It was enough to worry
"All the people came unto him, and he sat down and taught them"
8:2). Not absolutely everybody is meant.
"If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him and the
Romans shall come and take away both our place and our nation" (John
11:48). If all men believed on Christ that would also include the
Romans, and the Pharisees themselves. Rather "all men" means a
significant number of converts, enough to attract the attention of the
Romans, something the Pharisees feared.
"Praising God and having favour with all men" (Acts
2:47). The early church was hated by many, and certainly did not
have the favour of absolutely all.
"Many of them which used curious arts brought their books and
burned them before all men" (Acts
19:19). "Before all men" means in public, it was a public display of
repentance, not a gathering of the population of the entire world to
witness a book burning!
"Diana, whom all Asia and the world worshippeth" (Acts
19:27). Not everybody on planet earth at that time worshipped Diana;
there were a multitude of idols worshipped all around the planet.
"This is the man that teacheth all men everywhere against the
21:28). Paul had not even reached every human being. What is meant is
that everywhere Paul travelled he taught the people the gospel.
"For you shall be his witness unto all men of what you have seen
and heard" (Acts
22:15). There will never be a time when every person head-for-head
will have heard the gospel. All men will hear, but not all men
"For your obedience is come abroad unto all men" (Rom.
16:19). Did the people in Tibet know about the obedience of the
church in Rome? Of course not!
We have seen, by allowing Scripture to speak for itself, that the
term "all men" does not mean "every individual on planet earth from Adam
until the end of time." Rather it means, all of a specific group or a
majority of a specific group or all kinds of people without
distinction. Some examples from everyday speech illustrate this. If a
family is preparing to go to the beach and the father (standing in the
garden, within earshot of the neighbours) shouts out, "Right, everybody
into the car!" do all the children in the neighbourhood jump into the
car and think they are included? No, everybody knows that the father
means only his family. Imagine that a teacher takes her class to the
museum. She tells her class, "OK, the bus is leaving at 5PM. I want
everybody on the bus at 5PM sharp. We don’t want anybody left behind."
Nobody interprets the teacher to mean, "I want the entire human race on
this bus, and I don’t want any of the entire human race to be left
behind." Such would be absurd! Yet that is the way Arminians wrest the
Scriptures, when they insist that all means the entire human
The other word misused by Arminians is "world." Again, the term is
taken (when it refers to the extent of God’s love or the extent of
Christ’s atonement) to mean the entire human race without exception. But
is that really what the Bible means?
"That all the world should be taxed" (Luke
2:1). The Emperor was not planning to tax all men, women and
children on planet earth. He meant to tax all adults with taxable assets
in the Roman empire.
"If thou do these things, show thyself to the world" (John
7:4). Christ’s brethren were not asking Him to reveal Himself to the
Celts or the Africans, but to the general populace of Jerusalem.
"Perceive ye how ye prevail nothing? Behold, the world is gone
after him" (John
12:19). The Pharisees themselves had not gone after Him, nor indeed
had the Russians, the Australians and people of many other places.
"These that have turned the world upside down are come hither
17:6). The Apostles’ labours had not caused the slightest stir in
Peru! They had caused a stir among Jews and Gentiles alike, wherever
they went, but not in "the world" in an absolute sense.
"That we should not be condemned with the world" (I
Cor 11:32). The world cannot mean "the entire population of mankind"
as obviously believers are not included.
"And all the world wondered after the beast and they worshipped
the dragon" (Rev.
13:3). Not every man head-for-head will do so for the saints won't
If the term "world" does not mean "every individual person in the
world" what does the term mean, and why does the Holy Spirit use it?
The New Testament was written to people who believed that God was the
God of the Jews only and that the Gentiles were accursed.
John 3:16 was spoken to a Pharisee who held that opinion. To correct
this error, the apostles and Christ used words such as "the world" and
"all men." In some texts the term is obviously "all of us" or all
believers or all the elect. That is especially true of
II Peter 3:9 where the qualifying phrase "longsuffering to us-ward"
is deliberately emphasized (cf. 1:1; 3:1, 8).
The New Testament is mainly a collection of letters written to
believers. The Bible is not written to unbelievers, so when we see words
such as "us," "we," "beloved," we should consider that believers are being
addressed, not the world at large.
"For I say through the grace of God given to me, to every man THAT
IS AMONG YOU, not to think more highly than he ought to think but to
think soberly, according as God has dealt to every man [among you] the
measure of faith" (Rom.
12:3). It should not be necessary to point out to Arminians, who claim this
means that all men in the world have faith, and that it is up to each
individual to use his "portion" aright, that this is not what
Paul is saying. He is addressing and talking about the church.
Again, "Whom [i.e., Jesus] we preach, warning every man, and teaching
every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ
1:28). The "every man" phrases are not universal here either. To say
so is absurd. Paul certainly never met "every man" in the world, and
could not teach and warn every man.
Arminians criticize Calvinists for "interpreting" the terms "world"
and "all men" for their own purposes. But what do the words
John 2:2), "taketh away sins" (John
1:29), "tasted death" (Heb.
2:9) and "Saviour" (John
Propitiation means to turn away the wrath of God by means of a
sacrifice. Jesus has propitiated the wrath of God and nobody for whom
Christ was propitiation can suffer the wrath of God. By latching on to "the
whole world" in
I John 2:2 the Arminian fails to understand the meaning of
propitiation. The Arminian believes that Christ can be the propitiation
for a sinner, and that God still retains His wrath and sends the objects
of that propitiatory sacrifice to hell!
A saviour is somebody who actually saves, not somebody who tries to
save, wants to save, makes people saveable if they will accept it. A
Saviour actually saves. The Arminian believes that Jesus is the "Saviour
of the world" (John
4:42) yet not all that world are saved!
Hebrews 2:9 says that Christ tasted death for every man. Yet, the
Arminian believes, that some sinners for whom Christ tasted death, must
drink the dregs of God’s wrath to all eternity. That is the portion of
the cup of the wicked (Ps. 11:6), not of the elect!
Christ is "the Lamb of God who taketh away
the sin of the world" (John
1:29), yet many of those sinners, says the Arminian, go to hell.
Evidently, then, Christ did not take away their sins, nor can it be said
that "God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself, not
imputing their trespasses unto them" (II
Cor. 5:19), if all men head for head (the Arminian understanding of
the "world") are meant. Many in the world will have their trespasses
imputed to them, and will perish in hell.
Words in Scripture have definite meanings, and it is evident that the
Arminians wrest the Scriptures in a vain attempt to make salvation
available to all. Let us contend for the truth of sovereign, particular,