If we read the latter part of this verse as it stands in most of the older versions, we are sure to land in a ditch. Thus, the King James version reads, "not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister." At once one might wonder why it says "was preached" when the verb in Greek is not a past tense, and why it says "am made" when the verb is a past tense.
This verse has been used as a lever to overthrow the fact I mentioned in verse 20, regarding the reconciliation of all on the earth and in the heavens. Many years ago it was affirmed that this gospel actually had been preached, but it was added that there was no certain knowledge that Paul reached Spain or Britain, and even if he did, the wildest stretch of imagination could not bring these words to mean more than a small percentage of its literal meaning. But was Paul the only person who could carry the Gospel to Spain or Britain?
Thus it was assumed that Paul was guilty of hyperbole in
averring that the whole creation had already heard the Gospel. He did not mean quite all that he said, any more
than he meant, in 1. Cor. 10:23, that "all things are lawful for me." Our Expositor apparently did not trouble to
examine the Greek text, or he might have learned that most versions omit the words "for me" twice in this verse, in
harmony with the oldest known manuscripts. The question was asked, could Paul "break the whole moral law, thieve,
murder and slander with impunity?" Here three important points have been overlooked. Paul does not come into the
matter. Most versions read "all things are lawful," or "all things are allowable." Secondly, although "all things"
(panta) is plural, its verb (exestin) is really singular, meaning "is lawful" or "is allowable." Now this would make the
meaning to be, "all things as a whole," or "all things in general." Thirdly, some translations indeed treat the
double statement, "All things are lawful" as a question, inferring that some of the Corinthians claimed that they could do as they liked, as though Paul was saying to them, "So you think everything is allowed to you; you can do as you like?" Thus, Moffatt reads:
'All things are lawful?' Yes, but not all are good for us.
'All things are lawful?' Yes, but not all are edifying.
But surely the foolish boast of a Corinthian is something very different from a Divine statement in Colossians 1:20. The Corinthian might brag about his liberties, claiming that he could do everything he wished. God, however, is making no brag in Col. 1:20. He will fulfil it literally.
It is not true to say that Paul stated that all creation had already heard the Gospel, or even that only a certain part of it had heard the Gospel. Had our Expositor taken a look at Wycliffe's version, he would have seen that the reading is not "was preached," but "is prechid," while Tyndale reads, "how that it is preached." It is quite true that modern versions have blindly followed the bad example of the King James Bible, but that has been due to the gross ignorance of scholars regarding the Greek Aorist verb. Aorists have generally been made to express action in the past, whereas they are indefinite as to time, and emphasize the fact rather than the act and its time. This was the prime sense in all primitive languages, including English, Greek and Latin.
The Concordant Version is thoroughly correct to read, at Col. 1:23, "which is being proclaimed in the entire creation." This refers to past, present and future. It was true in Paul's day, and it is still true now. And it would be quite true to claim that by the present time, it had been proclaimed throughout the entire creation under heaven. Probably Paul knew by revelation that his Gospel must be heralded in all the world before the present age terminates.
There is therefore no ground for saying that the all, who are to be reconciled to God, is any more of an exaggeration than is all the creation of verse 23. Both statements are literally true. There are no grounds for limiting the words "the all" (ta panta) in verse 20, or the words "the entire" (pasE tE) in verse 23. Other endeavours to demolish the plain sense of verse 20 by seeking to bring out a "dispensational" meaning proved quite abortive and led nowhere.
In case anyone might object that the Greek First Aorist Passive Participles ought to be rendered as pasts, I examined a considerable number of similar Passive forms in the Concordant Version, and found that the timeless sense shewn suited every occurrence perfectly.
As far back as the year 1888, Professor Burton of Chicago
University had maintained in his book, "New Testament Moods and Tenses" that
"The distinction of the Aorist Participle is not that it
expresses a different time-relation from that expressed
by the Present or Perfect, but that it conceives of the
action denoted by it, not as in progress (Present), nor
as an existing result (Perfect), but as a simple fact."
But these facts take a long time to seep through into the heads of some scholars. The traditions of grammar die hard.
Our Expositor sought also to limit the exact language of Acts 2:5-11, in order to minimize the scope of the Greek word for "all" or "every." Verse 5 says, literally, "Now there were, dwelling in Jerusalem, Jews, pious men, from every nation of those under the sky (or, heaven)." Then, in verses 9 to 11, there are named various peoples and lands, which, it has been coolly and rashly assumed, comprise the whole of the Nations referred to. But why should this be so? Whoever recorded the facts of verses 9 to 11 might only have been mentioning certain of the tongues which were spoken. It would have been tedious and quite unnecessary, to indicate perhaps a hundred different races or languages. One has no right to assume they were all named.
Josephus, in his "Wars of the Jews," Book 2, chapter 16, paragraph 4, quotes a very long speech by King Agrippa to the Jews, seeking to divert them from making war on the Romans. He says, "For there is not, upon the habitable earth, a populace which does not have an allotment of you." There was not a nation on the habitable earth which did not contain some Jews. Perhaps after all, King Agrippa and also Luke knew a bit better what was the state of the world in those days than we know about it now. Furthermore, we should keep in mind that the number of languages nineteen hundred years ago could not have been nearly as numerous as it is now.
A.T. Last updated 15.10.2005