Few matters have brought about more confusion than the meaning in Scripture of the word "all." In our Vol. 25, on p. 153, the meaning and usage of ta panta, the all, that is, all prefixed by the Article the in the Greek, was examined; but other matters remain to be cleared up. There is a verse (I. Peter 4:7) which is frequently quoted with intent to prove the idea (as one writer puts it) "that the event to end all events was near seemed certain to the Church of the Apostles." This writer added: "Rightly or wrongly, Christians of these later years have allowed this belief to fade into the background and do not easily conceive the end of all things as an event in time. Perhaps we have become so conditioned by scientific and historical modes of thought that we are almost unable to entertain the notions of a final culmination of history or of an order of reality not tractable by scientific method."
Writing of that sort, which appears every year round the season called by some churches "Advent," is hung on several pegs. One is the proclamation that "the Kingdom of the heavens is at hand" or, better "drawn near," which is supposed by some to include "the thought of the day when the present heaven and earth will be replaced by something entirely new" and, as this curious writer informs us, this would be "the last day of human life on earth." How such a crazy interpretation of John the baptist's words can seriously be put forward by anyone, presumably sane, is incomprehensible to any rational person.
The principal peg, however, is the Apostle Peter's statement (according to the A. V.) that "the end of all things is at hand" (I. Peter 4:7). Very convincing, till one looks at the Apostle's original words and finds that what he actually said was: "Now the consummation of all has drawn near." His words leading up to this had been about debauchery, profligacy and judgment; what follows it is an exhortation to be sane and sober before all (pantOn, of all) in both places. Here, pro, which governs the Genitive, is followed by pantOn; and with it means before in the sense of by way of superiority (here and in Luke 21:12; Col. 1:17; James 5:12). The first of these is particularly instructive, as in it the idea of sequence in time is at best secondary, if it is valid at all. So its sense is that the ill-treatment of the disciples will be a more important and significant matter than the wars and quakes. Similarly, Col. 1:17 does not refer to sequence in time, but in superiority and importance. This sense governs James 5:12, too. So I. Peter 4:7, 8 should be rendered, "Then be sane and be sober into prayers before all (other considerations), having the love among yourselves extended."
Now, in the face of the foregoing, how can any rational person contend that this passage is about a final completion and closure of everything? Yet this is how the highly-placed ecclesiastic in England has written of this theme.
What, then, does all without the Article (the) mean? The Grammars state that the omission of the Article marks indefiniteness, which can often be indicated by our Indefinite Article a. For example, we find in Matt. 12:42 "a queen of a south (land)," not "the queen of the south" as if the whole of the South were her realm. In Luke 2:12 "you will be finding a babe." In many passages, this suggestion is inadmissible, and it is best to avoid any article at all. Green cites four striking examples: "Acts 26:2, 7 'I am accused by Jews'—that they should bring such a charge being the wonderful feature in the case." Rom. 2:14, "For whenever Gentiles. . . by nature may be doing the things of the Law," not "the" Gentiles, as though the case were ordinary. Gal. 4:31, "we are not children of a bond maid, but of the free(woman)." Heb. 1:2, "God. . . talks to us in Son," i.e. in One possessing that character, in contradistinction to the prophets of former ages.
Nevertheless, none of these deal with "all," though they indicate the way we should approach this word. In the Singular Number, without the Article, it signifies every when qualifying a noun, but with the Article, the whole of. Thus, in Luke 4:13 we should read "every trial," that is, every form of trial. In II. Cor. 4:2, "toward every conscience of men," that is, every variety of human conscience; and in Eph. 3:15 "every father hood." The form with the Article occurs twice only (Green): Acts 20:18, "the whole time" (Rotherham, "the entire time"); I. Tim. 1:16, "that in me foremost Jesus Christ should be displaying the whole patience" (Rotherham, "(His) entire long-suffering").
What, then, of the singular all without a noun for it to qualify? The answer appears to be: every person, entity or thing implied in the immediate context or likely to come into mind. In the translation, above, of I. Peter 4:8 the meaning clearly is "all other considerations"; in v. 7 it means" all the sort of things I have been writing about." What it cannot mean is "the world" or "the universe." In Jude 15, "of all" occurs three times. The first indicates the sort of people he has just been writing about, the second qualifies "the irreverent" and the third "the hard words." The form occurs twice in III. John. In v. 2 it is about everything concerning Gaius and, in v. 12, all associated with Demetrius. Both are quite indefinite: there is no need to specify particulars.
James 2:10 furnishes an excellent example: "For anyone who the Law, whole, should be keeping; yet should be tripping in one thing, has become liable of all" or, as English idiom demands, "for all." Here the extent of the Law is irrelevant; the contrast is between one item of it and every item, quite irrespective of whether they add up to a hundred or a thousand.
When one applies ordinary common-sense to this, there is generally no real problem. The position was very different when we studied the usages of ta panta, the all things. Nevertheless a few difficulties remain. Can we rightly say in Heb. 1:2 that God appoints the Son heir of the universe? Would it not be better to avoid adding anything that can be described as our own ideas? I suggest it would be safer to say "heir of (the) whole" or "of all" and leave the precise scope of the phrase as indefinite as it is elsewhere; particularly as we find in v. 3 "the all", which can properly be rendered "the universe." Furthermore, can it be true to say that the "heir of the universe" can at the same time be "carrying on the universe?" There may be, there probably is, more in this passage than we have yet grasped, so we should be particularly careful how we handle it.
The form "of all "occurs also in Heb. 12:14 (with all); 12:23 (God, Judge of all); 13:25 (grace with all of you). Again, as regards the second of these, can we extend the words to mean that God is Judge of the universe? Surely not. Lastly, there is Heb. 4:4, literally, "God ceases in the day, the seventh, from all the works of His." Again, what works? His works referred to immediately before. We must not add to it the notion that everyone of His works everywhere else in the universe stopped too.
Up to now, in this paper, no account has been taken of usage of the form elsewhere. This is deliberate, for the main issue under discussion has been a passage in one of the General Epistles; but now we should look further.
The first occurrence is Matt. 10:22, literally; "And you will come to be suffering hatred under all." Here are two verbs, the first the future tense of the verb to be, the second the present participle Middle of the verb to hate. The first is the process that will be going on, the second the result for those on whom it acts. The preposition denotes the agent bringing about the process and result. Plainly, all here cannot mean the whole universe, but simply an undefined set of people, everyone who is in any way involved in what will happen.
Matt. 22:27 is very simple. "Subsequent to all" can refer only to the rest of the persons mentioned, a mere seven. Likewise Matt. 26:70 refers to all present, and no more. In Mark 9:35 all refers to the Twelve only, though it could be extended to all with similar desires. John 3:31 is another example of the indefiniteness of all without the Article. The Lord did not say "the all," thus perhaps specifying the universe, an idea right outside the scope of His words. The same applies to John 1O:39. Luke did not claim to have set out in His Gospel everything that happened. He wrote concerning all: it was a selection (Acts 1:1). The other occurrences in Acts present no problems.
Turning to Paul's Epistles, we must examine the occurrences of pantOn, of all, in order. Rom. 1:8, "all of you" (both Genitive plural masculine) is obviously limited to the people to whom Paul was writing. Others thus limited by their context are Rom. 4:11, 16; 8:32; 10:12; 12:17, 18; 15:33, etc. Where all is indefinite, there is no excuse for trying to make it infinite unless the context so demands. It would be absurd, for instance, to make Eph. 5:20 refer to the universe. In Col. 1:17 we see the contrast very plainly: "and He is before all, and the universe in Him has cohered." Here all is indefinite and can safely be left at that, whereas the all can only mean the universe.
A few call for further comment. In Rom. 9:5, while what is stated in the Prison Epistles is not denied, yet the rendering "the universe" would not be in keeping with the context. The fact that Christ is "over of all" (literally) should not be distorted by stretching it beyond what is actually said. So, also, in I. Cor. 4:13 Paul must not be made to describe himself as "the scum of the universe," as in the 1930 C.V. This was, happily, corrected in revision. In I. Thess. 4:6, care is needed in translation. Read; ". . . . because the Lord is avenger as regards all of these," as the Greek reads "of all of these." There is no "the" before "Avenger." In I. Tim. 2:6 read; "... the One giving Himself (as) Correspondent-Ransom over all." Here "all" plainly refers to "mankind." Similarly, I. Tim. 4:9 reads; "... that we have relied on God living, Who is Saviour of all mankind." It is worth noting, by the way, how much more vigorous these are when shorn of superfluous insertions of" the." It is a good rule with "the" to stick as closely to the Greek as English idiom can be made to permit.
A few examples of incorrect omission of the Article in some versions (there are many more) are worth citing; Matt. 5:15, "the lampstand"; 15:11, "the man" (twice), that is, any man, whoever he may be. Similarly, Matt. 18:17; Luke 10:7. Matt. 21:12, "the doves," that is, the customary offering of the poor; 23:24 "the gnat" and "the camel," presumably alluding to some fable or proverb; John 3:10, "Art thou the teacher of Israel?" The implication was that he was a very prominent teacher; 4:22, "the salvation"; 16:13, "the spirit of the truth"; II. Cor. 12:12, "signs of the apostle." This not only follows the Greek but exactly expresses the force of it; Gal. 5:6 "the righteous one." Green's Grammar, from which most of these were taken, cites many more; and there is wide scope for further study.
R.B.W. Last updated 10.10.2008