Once again this issue has cropped up. When I published my paper in our Vol. 25, p. 153 I thought I had put the matter on a fairly sound basis; but now I am not so sure that the position is so lucid and secure as I supposed, for some of my conclusions are altogether out of harmony with another writer in a recent article. A reconsideration is therefore imperative.
While discussing another matter, this writer had occasion to refer to Eph 4:15, 16 and to examine the usage of ta panta literally, the all things. He contends that panta means all things, without limitation or reserve, whereas ta panta must refer to some specific "all." Let us test that conclusion.
The first occurrence of the all is Mark 4:11, literally, "yet, to those outside, in parables the all is occurring." Now here there is no previous occurrences of all in the Lord's words as quoted; and the first occurrence going backwards is Mark 4:1, "the entire throng." So we have no choice but to read in v. 11, "the whole" or even "everything."
Next is Rom. 8:32. Here "the all" (which, we must keep in mind, is neuter plural) is preceded by "all" pantOn, which is masculine or neuter according to context. Here it must be masculine; so we have to go back to panta in v. 28. Obviously, then, "the all" refers to "all" in v. 28; and so the meaning must be that God is granting the whole, the whole lot, of the things just recited in vv. 28-32 (see Vol. 25, p. 154). Of this, the above writer says that "panta without the article is unlimited, panta with the article is restricted to the realm of redeeming grace." Both these are questionable. It would be better and more accurate to say of the first that "panta without the article is limited only by its context." Take, for instance, the first two occurrences in Romans: "through Whom we obtained grace and apostleship into faith-obedience among all the Gentiles" (1:5). Here there is no limit; but in 1:6, 7 we read "among whom are you also, eligible of Jesus Christ, to all who are in Rome, beloved of God, eligible saints." In this the "all" is limited to those in Rome who are beloved of God, eligible saints, but absolutely unlimited within that category. As for the second assertion, why bring in "the realm of redeeming grace"? Plainly the whole of the things recited in vv. 28-32 are meant, and faith leaves it at that.
Next comes Rom. 11:36, which is adequately dealt with in Vol. 25, p. 155, and with which the above writer appears to agree; but then he moves to v. 32 which twice has "the all" as masculine plural, not the neuter "ta panta." Here the Greek clearly means all the persons referred to in vv. 25-32. He suggests reading "them all" but that might be made out to exclude the "you" and "yours" in vv. 30, 31; so I suggest that "all these" is better. Then he moves back to Rom. 9:5 and says that here "God is over all without limitation or reserve"; but to this I must demur: the subject is Israelites, not all mankind, still less the whole universe, as his words might easily be read to imply.
The purpose of this reference to Romans 9 presently shows itself, for he now writes of Rom. 9:6: "Paul uses all without the article with the same discrimination, 'For they are not all Israel (pantes without the article) which are of Israel,' the 'seed' were called 'in Isaac' (Rom. 9:6, 7). We must therefore read the words 'And so all Israel shall be saved' (Rom. 11:26) in the light of Rom. 9:6, 7. The "all" that are to be saved being those who were 'In Isaac'—a type and shadow of the greater company of the saved at the end."
This is astonishingly obscure. I think it must mean that the "all" in Rom. 11:26 are only the ones who "are Israel" in Rom. 9:6 and not the others who are "the children of the flesh" in 9:8. If not, I cannot even guess what it does mean. It certainly seems to mean that "all" in Rom. 9:5-7 is "without limitation and reserve" but that "all" in 11:26 is not. Why this should be escapes me!
That such an idea is not only groundless but inadmissible is readily seen by just looking at the tenses of the verbs. The Greek equivalents of "are" in Rom. 9:6-8 are either actually or by implication eisin, present tense; but in Rom. 11:25 we read that "callousness, from part, to Israel has come to be." gegonen, perfect tense; and in 11:26, "all Israel shall be saved," sOthEsetai, future tense, as also are the other two verbs in that verse. What is true of "Israel" and "not all Israel" now will not be true when the Rescuer will be turning irreverence from Jacob.
Turning now, as the writer does, to Ephesians, we may well agree with him that "all" in 1:3, 8 "do not come within the scope of this inquiry." He notes that we read "ta panta" in 1:10, but he ignores it in 1:11 and leaves the matter at that. Yet they are crucial. What are "the all" that are headed up and operated? Nothing whatever is specified, so we have no option but to say or imply "the universe." No limit is placed on "all," which occurs twice, in 1:22; but 1:23 is a different matter. I believe Rotherham gets nearest to the right rendering by adding "Him" and treating the Middle in a reflexive sense by adding "Himself," thus: "the fulness of Him Who the all things in all is for Himself filling up." Perhaps it might be more clearly rendered this way: "the fulness of Him Who is filling up on His own account the all things, in all."
Yet the above writer continues: "and He is the One who fills ta panta, that special company in all, without limit and reserve." The only thing to say is that I fail utterly to understand how "the all" can be "a special company." Furthermore, there follows a similar obscure assertion: "The creation of 'all things' ta panta of Ephesians 3:9 is limited, because it is directly associated with the Mystery which has been hid in God." I wish he had explained how he reached this remarkable conclusion! Concerning all these points, my remarks in Vol. 26, pp. 156-7 do not appear to be even touched, let alone shaken.
On the other hand, all in Eph. 4:6 is rightly regarded as universal within its context, because the subject is already limited to "the unity of the spirit."
Col. 3:11 has given translators a great deal of trouble. The subject is stripping off the old humanity and putting on the young humanity. In the young humanity there are no distinctions. Christ is the whole—everything. Christ is in all. In Him all is renewing into full knowledge. So we may read: "but the whole, and in all: Christ."
To sum up. The word all without the article has no limitation or reserve within whatever context it is found. The all means all these where two or more items are stated; but where this is not so it must be rendered as universal so far as context allows.
This discussion affords an excellent example of the unwisdom of going outside a context by importing extraneous ideas. Invariably that makes complex what is simple, and incomprehensible anything that is at all complicated in itself. Nevertheless, it is very encouraging to see so much interest taken in an important and rather difficult problem; and we must be grateful for this latest attempt to solve it, though it has not proved altogether successful.
R.B.W. Last updated 10.10.2008