All means all?


How many times I've heard an exuberant preacher thump the podium proclaiming "all means all!" This to prove various points such as...

  1. Material nature itself is tainted by wickedness. (This idea expresses a wrong view of the physical universe, that physical nature contains a spiritual component. All the philosophers made the same mistake.)
  2. The material nation of Israel will one day be reconstituted as in Old Testament times with priests, a temple, and animal sacrifices.
  3. Noah's flood was global.
  4. All have sinned (therefore Mary could not have been sinless).

Many passages in the Bible use the word "all" to mean "all of a kind". Unfortunately, Christians interpret the word "all" to refer to all of every kind when it suits them even when this is clearly not what the writer intended.

Some try to establish elaborate rules of grammar for determining when all means all and when all means some, this to place the word "all" in their target verses with the proper meaning. But it's all too tricky for me; the context of each verse is usually clear.


"All" means "some"

So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations; and from David until the carrying away into Babylon are fourteen generations; and from the carrying away into Babylon unto Christ are fourteen generations. (Matthew 1:17)

There are not 14 generations; there are gaps. Thus "all" means "some".

And Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people. (Matthew 9:35)

Does this really mean he didn't skip even a single village?

And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved. (Matthew 10:22)

This is clearly untrue if "all" means "every one without exception". It seems more likely that "all" means "some in each category of the many categories of people".

But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world. (Romans 10:18)

The nations of the far east never heard any of this. Therefore, the word "all" excludes them.

For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I am glad therefore on your behalf: but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil. (Romans 16:19)

I think Paul intends to say "most Christians" and uses the word "all" for this.

But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith. (Romans 16:26)

Even up until modern times there were nations that never heard the gospel.


"All" is interpreted to mean every last one, but it doesn't mean this

And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth. (Genesis 6:13)

Clearly the word "all" doesn't include every living creature — it at least excludes those animals and humans on the ark who were spared as well as fish that survived the flood. Are there others not on the ark that were also spared?

The phrase "all flesh" in verse 12 refers to humans so perhaps we should limit its meaning to that...

And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth. (Genesis 6:12)

But verses 19 and 7:21 includes animals in the phrase "all flesh"...

And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female. (Genesis 6:19)

And all flesh died that moved upon the earth, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of beast, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, and every man. (Genesis 7:21)

Clearly the word "all" doesn't mean "every one without exception".

Of fowls also of the air by sevens, the male and the female; to keep seed alive upon the face of all the earth. (Genesis 7:3)

Does this really mean not one single bird survived the flood except those on the ark. Some birds can float on the water. And those birds near the highest mountains would find dry land within a couple of months.


Noah's Flood

I find it remarkable the word "all" is not used when describing the flood waters. We should expect to see the word "all" if the flood was global...

For yet seven days, and I will cause it to rain upon the earth forty days and forty nights; and every living substance that I have made will I destroy from off the face of the earth. And it came to pass after seven days, that the waters of the flood were upon the earth. And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high hills, that were under the whole heaven, were covered. (Genesis 7:4,10,19)

The word "all" is only used of the hills.

And knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. (Matthew 24:39)

The word "all" refers to all those not paying attention to Noah's preaching.

Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by [through] water. (1 Peter 3:20)

This doesn't say that only eight people were saved; it merely says that everyone rejected Noah's teaching of salvation. It seems unjust God would destroy those who were too far away to have heard Noah's preaching.

And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person [and seven others], a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly. (2 Peter 2:5)

There is no reason to insist this verse means the entire world was flooded. None of the animals sinned since animals don't sin, so why were they killed? And why would the flood have to reach areas of the world uninhabited by humans?

For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished. (2 Peter 3:5,6)

The world overflowed with water and perished. Certainly the earth itself didn't perish, rather, the people perished. It wouldn't take a global flood for all the people in question to be destroyed.


Mary

The Catholic Church teaches Mary was conceived sinless, and I believe this. Critics of this view use the following two verses in support of their view...

For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned. (Romans 5:12)

In these verses the word "all" is usually interpreted as "every single one except for one" (Jesus being the sinless exception). They also use these to prove Mary was sinless. But if there is one exception to the word "all", why not two?

Certainly Mary is not deity such as Jesus. She was sinlesss only because he redeemed her of her sin nature in advance. This was fitting since the sinless Christ would live in her womb for 9 months.