Does All Really Mean All?
Often, those who wish to cast doubt on the view that God will save all people will claim that the biblical passages that refer to the salvation of all people only refer to “all types” or “all groups” of people. The most immediately obvious problem with such a claim is that the passages do not actually say “all types of people,” but instead say “all people.” Certainly, the authors could have made it clear that they were referring only to a select few representatives of each group, if that was actually what they meant. But they did not, because that is not what they meant. Let’s look at a few verses and take them for what they actually say, assuming that the biblical writers were competent and precise in their use of language, rather than assuming they meant to say something else.
1 Timothy 4:10-11
For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. Command and teach these things.
There is no evidence that Paul means “all types of people” in this passage. The phrase “Savior of all people” is “Sōtēr pantōn anthrōpōn” (Σωτὴρ πάντων ἀνθρώπων). It is rightly translated as the “Savior of all people” or the “Savior of all mankind” and there is no indication that it is only referring to some members of specific groups. In fact, the verse itself contradicts such a notion because it says He is the “Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” This undeniably confirms that Paul is speaking of God as the Savior of both believers and unbelievers when he says “all people.” Especially means in a special sense, not exclusively. This clearly refers to the fact that believers are experiencing the reality of God’s reconciliation and sanctification from sin presently, and that we will receive promises as heirs to the kingdom. As Romans 8:17 states, “now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” It is clear that one of the special benefits of believing in Christ is the reward of reigning with Him.
2 Timothy 2:10-13
The saying is trustworthy, for:
If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
if we endure, we will also reign with him;
if we deny him, he also will deny us;
if we are faithless, he remains faithful—
for he cannot deny himself.
Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection !
Trusting in Christ allows us to “die with Him” so that we can “live with Him,” and to endure so that we can “reign with Him.” This is certainly one key reason why He is the Savior of both believers and unbelievers, but especially of believers. Those who believe are the elect, not in the sense of being the only ones to experience salvation, but in the sense of being chosen to reign with Christ and bring others into His kingdom. Believers are meant to be leaders that point others to God, and therefore serve a special role in God’s plan of redemption. As believers who endure, we will also experience the first resurrection (a special benefit), making us blessed and holy.
It is also important to notice that the basis for our blessing in Christ is not the result of our good works and faithfulness, but rather because of His faithfulness. Notice that “if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.” It is in God’s very nature to be faithful, even to those who are not faithful to him. It is central to His character. Although He may deny us our places as rulers in His kingdom if we deny Him, He will remain faithful to all because that is who He is, the Savior of all people, even the faithless, rebellious, and unbelieving. Our salvation rests entirely on His love and grace, and we can trust that He will be true to His promises to save.
Jews and Gentiles
Now, some would argue that certain passages that discuss the redemption of all people are referring to two types of people as groups: Jews and Gentiles. In other words, they will say that God doesn’t save all individuals, but rather only some individuals of both groups. While there is much discussion of Jews and Gentiles in the Bible, this does not change the fact that “all” refers to the individual members of these groups if the grammar is understood correctly. We will see why shortly, but let’s first take a look at some of the verses that opponents try to discount.
Romans 3:23-25a (ESV)
For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.
In some versions, the “all” is repeated so that it states “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (NIV). In the original Greek, the word translated as “all” is pantes, and it only occurs once. Now, some will attempt to say that this therefore means that only some are justified freely, but this betrays a lack of understanding of grammar. The reason why “all” is used only once is because both clauses are referring back to the same “all” as their subject. The same “all” that have sinned is the “all” that are freely justified. In other words, if you insist Romans 3:23 means that everybody has sinned, you are grammatically and logically bound to admit that everybody is freely justified by his grace as a gift. It is rather curious that virtually every tract that is used to convince people that they are sinners omits the good news that they are freely justified by Christ (even though this clause is part of the same sentence and uses the same subject). How can it be argued that such a presentation is not a distortion of the gospel message Paul is presenting?
The passage is clear that the “all” who have sinned, are the same “all” who are justified. This is one primary reason why people who wish to hold to the doctrine of eternal conscious torment then argue that “all” actually means just “some” from “all” groups (i.e. Jews and Gentiles). This same misguided reasoning is used to discount the following verse:
Romans 11:32 (ESV)
For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.
To be sure, Paul is discussing Jews and Gentiles in both Romans 3 and Romans 11, but it is worth noting that all people fall into one of those two categories (Gentile simply means not Jewish). It is grammatically clear, however, that he is speaking of individuals (not of groups), when he says “all.” This is clear because in Greek “adjectives always agree in case, gender, and number with the noun they modify” (Palmer). This is a grammar rule. If Paul were referring to Jews and Gentiles as groups, he should have used the adjective “both” rather than “all.” This can be illustrated rather simply.
Consider the following examples:
1. “There are two teams, each with ten players. They both went out to pizza after the game.”
Who is being referred to in this sentence by the word both?
It is clearly referring to both teams. In such a case it is not mandatory that all of the individuals from both teams went to pizza, though we would generally assume that most or all were present. But in this sentence we know that he is referring to the two teams because the word both is used when we want to denote two of something, and there are two teams.
Now consider the following example:
2. “There are two teams, each with ten players. They all went out to pizza after the game.”
Who is being referred to in this sentence by the word all?
It is clearly referring to all of the individual players on the teams. It does not refer to “all” of the teams because there are only two teams. Saying that “all” means “some of the players from all of the teams” is simply incorrect and distorts the plain meaning of the sentence. “All” means all of the players that comprise the teams.
In the same way, when Paul is speaking of two groups (Jews and Gentiles), but then says that “all” are justified and that mercy is shown to “all,” he is referring to all of the members of those two groups of people (i.e. everybody on earth). If he wanted to refer to the two groups generically, he should have said “both are freely justified” and that “God consigned both to disobedience, that he may have mercy on both.” But he didn’t because he didn’t want to.
In case the concept that the word “both” should be used when referring to two nouns is still unclear, let’s look at one more example to show this to be the case:
“There were two kids. They all went to the store.”
Does that sound right to you? It shouldn’t. The word “all” implies more than two, so it sound like there must be more than two kids being discussed. Since we are only discussing two kids, however, we would rightly say that “both” went to the store.
Now, it is an established rule of Greek grammar that adjectives must agree in number with the nouns they modify. It might, however, be asserted that perhaps there is no word for “both” in Greek, so Paul had to use “all.” But this is false. Greek does have a word for “both” and it is used in the Bible appropriately when describing two nouns. The word is amphoteroi (ἀμφότεροι) and you can see it used in the Bible in multiple instances to mean “both” here: Englishman’s Concordance . At this same resource there are several other inflections (forms) of the word as well that are shown to the right. So, it is quite clear that the Biblical writers were familiar with the word “both” and that they knew how to use it when they wanted to denote two groups. Paul himself uses it multiple times in the following passage to denote two groups, so he clearly knew the word and its meaning:
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both (amphotera/ἀμφότερα) one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both (amphoterous /ἀμφοτέρους) to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both (amphoteroi /ἀμφότεροι) have access in one Spirit to the Father.
Here Paul is clearly referring to the two groups (Jews and Gentiles) being made into one body of believers. In context, those who were “far off” were the Gentiles and those who “were near” were the Jews. Now, in this context it is not mandatory that Paul be referring to all individuals that make up these two groups. Conversely, it is not mandatory that he is referring to only some members of each group either. He is referring to two groups of people and it is simply not clear how many members of each group he is referring to. So, both Jews and Gentiles can be united in Christ and all hostility between these groups should be abolished due to the cross. Peace was preached to both groups.
But in verses like Romans 3:23-25 and Romans 11:32 that we discussed above, he doesn’t refer to both groups but rather to “all.” When he says that “all have sinned,” he is clearly making the claim that every person has sinned, whether Jew or Gentile. If you agree with this, then you logically must admit that every person is “justified by his grace as a gift.” If you agree that all people have been disobedient to God, you must admit that the purpose of this disobedience is so that God could “have mercy on all” of those who have been disobedient.
And it must be admitted, if we read the biblical texts honestly (without the bias that eternal damnation is foundational), that the biblical writers make it extremely clear that Jesus’ atoning sacrifice paid for the sins of the entire world. Notice again that Romans 3 says that all “are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood.” This same language is used in the following verse, and it is undeniable that this propitiation (atoning sacrifice) is for everyone:
1 John 2:2
He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world .
Therefore, if we believe that there is consistency in the biblical message, it is clear that when Paul refers to “all” sinning and being freely justified by the redemptive propitiation of Christ, that he is in agreement with John and is referring to the whole world. Christ’s atoning sacrifice truly paid for the sins of every single person.
This is why 1 Timothy 2:6 states that Christ “gave himself as a ransom for all.”
It is why John 4:42 and 1 John 4:14 refer to Jesus as the “Savior of the world” and why 1 Timothy 4:10 refers to Him as the “Savior of all people.”
It is also why Jesus Himself stated that His purpose was “to save the world” (John 12:47, see also John 3:17), and why Paul claims that God’s purpose was to “unite all things” in Christ and “reconcile to himself all things” through Him (Ephesians 1:10 and Colossians 1:20).
The fact that such claims are made repeatedly in many different books of the Bible is a good clue that we should take them seriously. Perhaps the biblical writers actually meant what they said. This is certainly a thought that is at least worth considering!
All People are Clearly Being Discussed
Furthermore, it is plain from many other passages that the biblical authors are discussing the entirety of humanity. Consider for example, the following verse that is comparing the entrance of sin and condemnation into humanity by Adam to the justification and life brought by Christ.
Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.
This verse is making a very clear, straightforward claim that Christ’s act of righteousness (his atoning sacrifice and resurrection) results in “justification and life for all men.” Just as Adam’s failure led to condemnation for everyone, Christ’s act of love leads to justification and life for everyone. If we assert that all are condemned, we must be honest and assert that all will by justified and given life in Christ. Paul makes this very apparent. And if we look at the context of this verse, he doesn’t just equate Adam’s sin to Christ’s redemption, but rather makes it abundantly clear that Christ’s work is far greater in its power to save than Adam’s failure ever was for condemnation:
But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
There are several very important observations that must be made if we read this passage carefully. First, it must be noted that the free gift of God’s grace has abounded “much more” than the results of Adam’s trespass. His grace is far greater! In fact, we see that the increase of sin results in a superior increase in God’s grace, for as “sin increased, grace abounded all the more.” The results of mankind’s disobedience are no match for the power of God’s boundless grace! There is no contest: His grace wins!
A second important observation from this passage is that Paul is equating the “many” to “all.” He has clarified that the many that were made sinners are the many that will be made righteous, and that when he says “many” he is referring to “all men.” It is undeniable that Paul is doing this because he is making the claim that the many were made sinners. None of us are sinless wonders. Not a single person on earth. We have all sinned, but thank God that His grace and mercy are far more powerful than our weaknesses and rebellion.
Some may attempt to argue that his use of the term “many” means that he is not actually referring to “all” men, but this is nonsense. All of humanity is very many people. It is obvious that you can refer to all of humanity as “many” people. You cannot, however, say that “many” is a restrictive term that negates Paul’s claim that Christ’s “act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men” because it doesn’t. “Many” has no cap, no upper limit.
Let’s make this clear. Imagine that the total population of humans that have lived on earth is 100 billion people. Does that qualify as many? Of course it does. What if many more billions of people live on earth as human history continues? Would this cease to be many people? Of course not. Many has no upper limit.
What if, however, only ten percent of these people receive justification and life? Can Paul rightly claim that Christ’s sacrifice “leads to justification and life for all men?” Of course not! Ten percent is not all men! It is only a small fraction of men. Likewise, it is apparent that the word “many” does not modify the word “all” so that it means “less than all.” Instead, the word “all” clarifies what is meant by the word “many.” When Paul says that many were made sinners, he is claiming that all were made sinners. When he says that many will be made righteous, he means that all will be made righteous. We may not be righteous yet, but we will be. God isn’t done with us yet. All of us comprise the multitude that is undergoing the process of transformation from sinful to righteous, albeit not all at the same rate or same time.
This is why Titus 2:11-12 says that “the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age...” God’s grace is saving all people and training all of us. Notice that this is an ongoing process. God is bringing salvation and training us. But, as any teacher or coach knows, people don’t all learn at the same rate. Some people learn very slowly, but the process will continue until all people experience His salvation, even if this must occur through judgment after death. God does not give up on His children. His love never ends.
The comprehensive nature of God’s saving grace is also attested to by the following verses.
1 Corinthians 15:20-22 (ESV)
But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.
Once again we see that Paul is clearly claiming that all people will be made alive in Christ, just as all people die in Adam. By connecting Adam to Christ in this way, he is undoubtedly referring to all people. The same “all” that die in Adam are made alive in Christ.
Now, some will attempt to argue that the second clause only means “all who are in Christ” will be made alive. But this is a misunderstanding of the plain meaning of the verse. It does not say, all “who are” in Christ will be made alive, but rather that “in Christ shall all be made alive.” Christ is the means by which all shall be made alive, for all will be made alive in Him. Just as Adam’s sinful nature was imputed to us through no fault of our own, Christ’s life will also be imputed to us through no work of our own. His life is a free gift. Christ’s work of love completely overrides the power of death and defeats it. This is why 1 Corinthians 15:54 says that “death is swallowed up in victory” and that it is "the last enemy to be destroyed" (1 Corinthians 15:26). Christ is completely victorious over death and leaves no one in it. Instead he fulfills His stated mission “to save the world” (John 12:47). All will be made alive in Christ! The Bible guarantees it!
Why then do we doubt this truth so much? Could it be that we have fallen prey to the same trap of religiosity and tradition that snared the religious leaders at the time of Christ? Are we so married to theology, that we, like the Sadducees, refuse to believe that God is able to bring the dead to life? This is how Jesus answered them in Matthew 22:29: “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.” Has tradition blinded us to the truth of God’s amazing plan to redeem all of Creation? Is he powerful enough to accomplish His will to bring all to repentance, to make those dead in sin alive in Him? I believe that the Scriptures are clear that He has the power and desire to truly be the Savior of the world. For this reason, we can put our faith in Him without reservation.
The Faith Condition
Yet, even with all of this scriptual evidence, there is one thing that tends to confuse many people. Namely, it is that in some verses, faith (or belief) seems to be necessary in order to be saved. Indeed, it is necessary to have faith and trust in Christ in order to experience His salvation. For example, in Romans 3:25, it says that the grace and redemption that is in Christ is "to be received by faith." But there is nowhere in the Bible that states that faith has an expiration date.
Instead, we have a great deal of biblical evidence that God's love and pursuit of humanity will not end. We see that Christ has the keys to death and Hades (Revelation 1:18), and that nothing can separate us from the love of God, not even death (Romans 8:37-39). We see that God swears by Himself that every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to His glory (Isaiah 45:22-24, Philippians 2:9-11, Romans 14:11). We are assured that God wills to save all people, that He is able to accomplish anything, that He will reconcile and unite all in Christ, and that His salvation will reach to the ends of the earth (too many Bible verses to cite here!).
It is prophesied that "every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea" will worship Christ (Revelation 5:13) and that the gates to the New Jerusalem are never shut (Revelation 21:25). Instead, after the judgment of the lake of fire has taken place Christ states that He is "making all things new" (Revelation 21:5). Redemption is an ongoing process. He is making all new, even after judgment. And after this we see this process continue as Christ and the church beckon those outside the city to come and take the "water of life" (Revelation 22:17).
God's love does not end. His purpose will not fail. All will believe and trust in Christ for salvation, as God swears. Do we have the faith to take Him at His word?Previous Chapter Next Chapter