"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)


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  • « Imitate Jesus | Main | "Save Yourselves" (Acts 2:40) »

    The word "all" is defined by its context - always!

    Back on February 1st, 2006, I posted an article here describing the use of the word "all" in scripture. The title of the article was "All Always Means All, right?" I've just visited the blog of my friend, Dr. James White at, and in an article there he lists a number of uses of the word "all" that clearly demonstrate that it is context that determines the meaning of the word. "All," quite simply, doesn't always mean "all." Here are the examples he quoted:

    Acts 5:34 But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while.

    Are we to interpret this as meaning that nobody disrespected Gamaliel...not even one? I don't think so. This is an obvious use of hyperbole.

    Acts 7:22 And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds.

    Does this mean that Moses knew everything the Egyptians knew, completely?... Would that be a true and correct interpretation of these words?

    Acts 9:21 And all who heard him were amazed and said, "Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?"

    Every single person said the exact same words? Really?

    Acts 9:35 And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord.

    Should we assume that every single person in Lydda and Sharon both saw Peter and converted? Not a single exception? Entire villages converted without a single unconverted person?

    Luke 14:29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him,

    Every single person who observes, without exception, will mock?

    Matthew 2:3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him;

    Every single person in Jerusalem was troubled? Including Anna and Simeon, for example?

    Matthew 3:5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him,

    Every single person in all of Judea, young and old, went out to John?

    Dr. White goes on. "Those are just a few examples that could be given. All is defined in its context. It can mean all extensively (Colossians 1), it can mean all of a particular group, at a particular time, etc. And yes, all can mean all the elect, if the context indicates it to be so. The same is obviously true of world, where you can find more than a dozen different uses of the term in John alone..."

    Posted by John Samson on August 23, 2006 01:31 PM


    Lack of proper hermeneutics, and in particular not looking at context, seems to be the foundation of heterodoxy.

    So Pastor John

    Am I to understand John 3:16 "For God so loved the world..." in context of who Jesus was speaking to?. Since he was speaking to Nicodemus, a Jew, who up until then mostly believed God exclusively loved Israel, to perhaps mean "God so loved the world..." that is, universally beyond the exclusive people's of Israel?

    So with your line or reasoning, that we must view things in context historically then the statement which is so often used to mean every single individual could actually mean that Jesus was trying to show Nicodemus that the promises of the gospel were not merely for the Jews, but people from every nation, tribe and tongue. Hmmmm that is something I may have to consider.


    I'm not Pastor John, but I wondered if I might try my luck at giving a short response to the question you posed.

    Firstly, it isn't even clear from the text that v16 is coming from Jesus'lips during his exchange with Nicodemus.

    Assuming that they are Jesus'words, however, I think it is clear from the context that the world to whom Jesus refers to isn't every single person, but whom He's addressed as those regenerated, or born again in the previous section (v3;5-8).

    And now you ask, are then only the Jews regenerated? Well, the word "world" includes Jews, but is certainly not limited to Jews.

    Israel and Jews were words used by both parties in this exchange, and the nation of Israel was also referred to, yet Jesus distinguished the full scope of the ones who will receive eternal life by using "world" as a catch-all phrase enveloping all "true Jews" (the lost sheep of Israel as well as believing Gentiles). If all the regenerated ones were to be Jews, He could've addressed that group as Jews, instead of introducing "world."

    Simply, the "world" that will receive eternal life are the ones who will be regenerated (v3;5-8).

    This seems like a good place for a Warfield quote (from God's Immeasurable Love, Biblical and Theological Studies, pg 516)...

    [world] is not here a term of extension so much as a term of intensity. Its primary connotation is ethical, and the point of its employment is not to suggest that the world is so big that it takes a great deal of love to embrace it all, but that the world is so bad that it takes a great kind of love to love it at all, and much more to love it as God has loved it when he gave his son for it...The passage was not intended to teach...that God loves all men alike...What it is intended to do is to arouse in our hearts a wondering sense of the marvel and mystery of the love of God for the sinful world - conceived here, not quantitatively but qualitatively...


    You may be interested in a short article I wrote on John 3:16 found on this blog here:

    As with the world "all," the word "world" has a number of different meanings, which we can define by the context in which it is found. As I was suggesting in the article, to simply take a rigid definition of world as meaning "each and every person who lives now, has ever lived and will ever live" will not fit each occurance of the word. In the John 3:16 passage you mentioned, the following verse, v. 17, speaks of God sending his Son into the "world" - and surely, this does not mean that the Son was sent into every person who has ever existed.

    I believe John 3:16 clearly teaches us that God's love for the world was seen by the Father's giving of the Son with the purpose that every one of those who believe in Him would not perish but have everlasting life.

    In this instance (John 3:16), I personally would not be too dogmatic concerning the exact meaning of "world." I am not sure how certain we can be regarding the exact meaning. It can be read a number of ways without violating the immediate context. Of course, I do not mean to suggest that each of the many theories are correct, but simply that unlike other biblical passages where the meaning of "world" can be easily determined, the John 3:16 text is not an open and shut case, in my opinion.

    Certainly, scripture is clear regarding the fact that not all will be saved. Some will end up perishing in the lake of fire. Yet the good news of John 3:16 is that all who do believe in Christ will not perish, but will instead have everlasting life. Thank God! What great and glorious news!

    Who is it who will believe?

    That's another question altogether... and one not answered by the John 3:16 text.

    Must my saving faith include my believing that Jesus died for my sins? If so, should my belief that Jesus died for my sins rest on Christ as revealed in Scripture alone, or must it also rest on my perception of the work of the Spirit in my heart? In other words, if Scripture only tells me that Jesus died for those who would believe he died for their sins, how can I come to believe I am one of them without relying on introspection or on extra-biblical revelation? Such reliance on truth outside of Scripture undermines the assurance of salvation not only of Arminians, but also of consistent Calvinists:

    John Owen and Charles Hodge struggled to provide answers to those questions:

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