What does “all” mean?

There is a subtle sleight of hand that Calvinists use when discussing the word “all” in the Scriptures. Specifically, this is in relation to their doctrine of Limited Atonement where Christ only died for the elect and did not die for those that God has chosen to be saved.

In response, let me suggest that “all” always means “all” but the context determines the scope. The word “all” may have two completely spheres in question.

For instance, in Romans 3:23 Paul writes:

“For all have sinnned fallen short of the glory of God.”

It is clear that in this context that Paul is not just talking about Christians but everyone. This is a true statement and it clearly universal in scope.

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” (2 Corinthians 5:14, 15 NIV)

Here is another text by Paul that claims the universality of Christ’s atonement because it is true that all died. Every single person who ever existed has experienced spiritual death because of Adam. Thus in the very same context, Paul juxtaposes the death of Christ for all against the truism that all died.

It was out of the “all” that the “those who live” would arise.

Paul also writes:
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:6 NIV)

Again, who are the ungodly? The entire world. Paul did not qualify it by saying the ungodly who were elect. Christ died for the ungodly which is everyone.

I have read of differing counts but several scholars have noted that for Calvinism to be true, you have to modify the meaning of all, everyone, etc. between 40-70 times in the New Testament to mean only the elect as opposed to a universal understanding when there is no qualifier to limit in scope.

For any student of the Bible, that kind of reading into the text should raise serious alarms.

The Despair of Calvinism

I had a chance to spend some time in a church that taught Calvinistic principles but at least had the grace to accept those who held other major views on sovereignty and election.

What I discovered is that after a time of focusing so much on the glory of God I began to lose my sense of the closeness and intimacy with God. Love for God was replaced by working to glorify God. Nothing wrong in seeking to glorify God but from my reading of the Scriptures, the greatest command is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. What God sought most, according to the answer of Jesus, is our love for Him. And it is out of this love that flows our service to others.

I felt that the Calvinist desire to ascribe everything to God made me feel that my Christianity was reduced to a works-based existence. I was constantly trying to curry the favor of God rather than rest in the fact that His favor is not based on my performance but upon my faith. Later, I would realize that the Calvinist’s focus on God’s glory stems from their understanding of God’s Sovereignty where the human is only an actor for a fully predetermined plan in every detail.

People who came to Jesus seeking to be justified and honored based on the observance of the Law always came up empty and short. Those who came to Jesus humbly, in faith, seeking for God to do something where all human efforts failed found forgiveness, mercy, and the grace of God.

I love God and I love honoring Him not only because He is transcendent, but also because He is near.