Does “All” mean “All”?

I was typing a comment on a friend’s blog that ended up getting quite lengthy. I thought it might be more appropriate to post it here on my blog instead of clogging up his post with such a lengthy comment.

The comment is in relation to a post regarding Rob Bell’s latest book “Love Wins”. If you’ve paid any attention to the blogosphere in the last couple of months, you’re familiar with Bell’s book, or at least the controversy surrounding it. It’s an interesting discussion to have, and one that definitely needs a lot more civility all around. But, at any rate, my former college classmate has been blogging chapter-by-chapter through Bell’s book. We have discussed this a bit on Facebook and privately, and in response to his post on Chapter 6, I have responded with the following:

Thanks for addressing the 1 Cor 15 passage that I mentioned to you privately. But I want to take the exegesis even farther and resolve this “all” issue. Your exegesis says that the “all” is defined by the context to mean something other than “all”, which I think is not entirely accurate (although I can understand why you would think that). There are some problems with that conclusion.

1. Paul draws a very clear analogy through the use of the simile comparing death in Adam to life in Christ. To define the second “all” differently than the first loses the analogy. (2 Timothy 4:17 is, in my opinion, a red herring because here we have a very clear definition of “all” dying in Adam, so the passage defines the scope of “all” in that way.) More on this in a moment.

2. Your interpretation seems to rest on the idea that “enemies” are people. However, the passage does identify the enemies as dominion, authority and power. Then, he adds the “last enemy”: death.

So, let me tease out these two points a bit. If we start with the face value of the simile, we start with an understanding that the first “all” is the same as the second “all”. This is the common sense reading of the simile. He doesn’t say “As in Adam all die, so in Christ will some be made alive.” He says that in the very same way that Adam’s sin caused death, Christ provides life. In the first case, it was pervasive to the entire human race. Therefore, it would appear that logically, Paul is saying that Christ’s life is also pervasive. (And why not?! His sacrifice is certainly greater than the sin, no?)

But, you said that the second “all” is defined by the context as those who belong to Christ. Well, besides other passages that indicate that the Father has given all things to Christ, let’s look at the progression in the passage. First, Christ is raised, then those who belong to him, and then the end comes when he hands the kingdom over to his Father. But, before he hands it to his Father, he has to defeat his enemies.

As I’ve already pointed out, though, these “enemies” are not defined by the passage as those who do not belong to Christ. Instead, it defines them as systems of man and of the power of sin. Dominion, authority, power…ultimately death itself. The very curse of sin (death) is, itself, destroyed by Christ. How can there be continued death (torment in Hell) if death itself is destroyed? (One could also ask how “enemies” could be people if God tells us to love/forgive our enemies, and then does not do so himself. That would be a double-standard, would it not?)

You said, “What places all of God’s Creation under His authority and brings it all into unity in both heaven and earth is the final reward and punishment of humanity based on their faith in or rejection of Christ.” But this passage does not support your interpretation. It doesn’t mention punishment of humanity or faith or rejection, or any of the other things that you have placed on top of the passage. Not in the least.

The clearest interpretation, allowing the passage to speak for itself, actually supports the superlative. “All” means “all” each time it is used in the passage. “All” doesn’t mean “all” in the first half of a verse and “some” in the second half. And ultimately, “all” are made alive in Christ because ultimately he defeats the very enemy that keeps them separated from the Father, namely death. And so the progression is: Christ, then those who are asleep, then those who belong to Christ, and then Christ defeats the enemies that continue to separate the rest from Him, and “all” are made alive.

This remains consistent with much of Paul’s writing. For example, in Philippians 2 when he references “Every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” that is definitely superlative. And he does not qualify it as “Every knee/tongue belonging to those in Christ.” He simply says “Every knee/tongue”. There is no qualification of that superlative.

And it’s not limited to Paul. 1 John 2 goes even further in saying that the propitiation is not for our sins only, but for the sins of the whole world. Here, John draws a distinction between those who have believed and “the whole world”.

You can say that it is simply the possible scope, but that is not the clear reading. And the point becomes really moot if the meaning is “possible scope” and yet that scope never becomes realized. Why even bother addressing it, then? But John chooses to make a point of saying that it really is for the sins of the whole world.

I’ll draw this lengthy response to a close here, but I did want to point out the problems that I see with your exegesis of 1 Corinthians 15. You’ve started with the presupposition that the second “all” can’t possibly mean “all” and have therefore used that lens to interpret the rest of the passage. Exegesis should not start with a strong presupposition such as that.

One final quick note: Bell never endorses salvation through anything other than Jesus. He may offer some thoughts on what salvation through Jesus means, but he does not indicate that salvation (even if possible post-hell) comes through anything but faith. Your post indicates otherwise, and misrepresents Bell’s book in that regard.

Until next time,

steve :)

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5 Responses to Does “All” mean “All”?

  1. Steve

    I agree with all you’ve posted. Paul seems to have a cosmos encapsulating view of salvation whatever he meant by the term. The ‘all’ argument is clear to those who will take the Scriptures to mean what they say instead of reading our exclusivity into the text. A much more exciting God to follow than a ‘partial’ redeemer!

  2. George in AZ says:

    I’m not sure I agree with all you’ve written here. But, Steve, you argue so cogently. So it seems that even if I don’t agree you are right nevertheless. Please let us know if your friend responds.

    I miss your bloggings so much! (Yeah, so then why didn’t I subscribe….)

  3. Dylan, Thanks for your comment (and sorry for my delay in responding!) — I agree that it a ‘partial’ redeemer is not necessarily a very exciting prospect. More and more, I’m baffled by those who want to make absolutely certain that people end up in hell. It just seems odd to me that the notion of our Father actually succeeding in rescuing all of those who are bound in slavery to sin and to the evil one would upset people.

  4. George, good to hear from you, my brother! My friend has apparently chosen not to respond. In fact, even though I left a link to this on his post, I’m not certain that he even took the time to come read my response.

    I have no problem with you or anyone disagreeing with what I wrote here. I’m not entirely sure what you mean about me being right even if you disagree. Regarding cogent argument, please do keep in mind that one of my degrees is a B.S. degree ;) (a B.S. in Bible, no less!!)

  5. Brad Heath says:

    Great post. I was in a ‘non-denominational’ which in reality was a hyper-Calvinist meeting. The men’s study spent about 6 months on a study of the Doctrines of Grace where I learned the meaning of TULIP. I experienced very poor exigesis of scripture and what eisegesis was. 1 John 2:2 was really ‘believing world’ instead of ‘whole world”. Thanks for your discussion that reinforced ALL means ALL.