Sunday, July 10, 2005

'All' As Used By Biblical Writers

Modern set theory makes a big deal about things like 'all', 'every', and 'some' as very distinguished things. This used to confuse me when I studied passages like 2 Peter 3:9 which says “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (ESV) If the sacrifice of Christ is large enough for all mankind, then what does this passage mean. After extensive studies in the Greek, literally, I found that the word 'all' is used differently in ancient times than we use it today. We have a strict mathematical sense of the words 'some' and 'all' while it is in ancient times they were much more free about not explaining exceptions to the rules applied to the set we call 'all'. For instance when Philippians says “so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father,” it does not mean that Jesus himself will bow to himself. They felt no need to be that exacting.

A quote from by William Perkins, a puritan preacher, in his lectures on Bible interpretation and preaching:

“A general word may have a particular meaning and vice-versa. Thus 'all' may mean 'many', and 'many' may mean 'all' (as Augustine made clear). We see this frequently in Scripture (e.g. Gen. 33:11; Exodus 9:6; Deut. 28:64; 1 Kings 12:18; Jer. 8:6, 26:9; Matt. 4;23, 21:26; John 14:13, 1 Cor. 6:12; Phil 2:21). 'Nothing' may mean 'little' or 'small' (John 18:20; Acts 27:33). 'None' can be 'often' or 'long' (Jer. 8:6; 1 Cor. 2:8). 'Always' may mean 'often' or 'long' (Prov. 13:10; Luke 18:1, 24:53; John 18:29). 'Eternal' may mean 'a long time' if that suits the context best (e.g. Gen. 17:8; Lev. 25:46; Deut. 15:17; 1 Chron. 15:2; Isa. 34:6; Dan. 2:4; Jer. 25:9). 'Everywhere' can mean 'here and there' (Mark 16:20; Acts 17:30). A negative is often limited in its significance to one particular matter (e.g. in Psa 7:4; John 9:3). 'Not' may mean 'seldom', 'scarcely', or 'hardly' (1 Kings 15:5; Luke 2:37).”
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