Sunday, March 27, 2011

Does "all" Really Mean ALL? (1)

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.  1 Corinthians 15:22

Here's one of those controversial "does all really mean all?" verses.  Just looking at it, it's easy to come to a conclusion.  If all who ever lived die in Adam - and this is true - then all who ever lived will be made alive in Christ.  Right?  Not so fast.  What do you mean, Steve?  Aren't you changing the scope of the word "all" right in the middle of a sentence?  Well, this is obviously a proof-text for universalism, and Arminians will claim that of course only those "all" who choose Christ will be made alive, and Calvinists will claim that of course only those "all" for whom Christ died from the foundations of the world will be made alive.

But the key to all of the "all" verses (and yes, I do mean ALL!), and the other similar verses like the "any" verse, is not to ask the question "does all really mean all?"  The key is to ask, "all of WHAT?"  Because the word "all" - just like any other word - has a context.  And the context doesn't always mean that "all" should mean "all" of everything.  Sometimes it means merely "all" of something.  Let me give an example.  Let's say there was a party and everybody was (or all were) there.  Was everybody there?  Was the Queen of England there?  Was every last plumber from Fiji there?  No, because the context is a sales associates party in Walla Walla, Washington, we would come to see that everybody who is somebody in sales in Walla Walla was the group of people who were there.  And this is why we could say, "everybody was there!"  Everybody of the Walla Walla sales area, that is.  The context is understood.  Contexts create limitations on their contents.  So it is with bible language, and why anybody could expect otherwise is a really good question.

So back to the 1 Corinthians verse.  The verse above is in a context.  The context is mainly the chapter, 1 Corinthians 15.  The word "all" has a context.  We need to ask, "all of what?"  Starting in verse 1, we immediately see to whom Paul is speaking: believers.  Now I make known to you, brethren [believers], the gospel which I preached to you [believers], which also you [believers] received, in which also you [believers] stand...  Then we can go through the rest of the passage and see that all the references Paul makes in his arguments are to believers in Christ:

After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren [believers] at one time, most of whom [believers] remain until now, but some [believers] have fallen asleep;  v 6

For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your [believers'] faith is worthless; you [believers] are still in your sins.  Then those [believers] also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.  If we [believers] have hoped in Christ in this life only, we [believers] are of all men most to be pitied. vv 16-19

But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those [believers] who are asleep.  For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead.  vv 20-21

And now here's where I think special attention should be given.  Although it is true that "all" men who ever lived die in Adam, it is also true that all believers who ever lived die in Adam.  I think all of the believers is what Paul means in both halves of this verse.  Let's look at the verse in question with regard to believers:

For as in Adam all [believers] die, so also in Christ all [believers] will be made alive.  v 22

And finally:

But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those [believers] who are Christ's at His coming  v 23

In this context, I think it is clear that the words "all" in verse 22 mean "all" of the believers and not "all" who ever lived, believers and non-believers alike.  It would be strange for Paul to change the scope of "all" in the first part of just one verse and make it stand apart from the rest of the passage in making his point.  In conclusion I think it is safe to say that 1 Cor. 15:22 cannot be used as a proof text for universalism, Arminianism or Calvinism.  It doesn't deny them specifically, but it just doesn't prove them.  Figuring out the context of the passage and keeping it as constant as the author does is quite helpful in interpreting the passage.

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