Category Archives: Theology

All means all and that’s all all means but not always

I confess I was never familiar with the phrase “All means all and that’s all all means” until the last couple of years and while it certainly sounds good, especially as it is related to the Bible, is it an accurate statement?  You might need to go back and read the phrase again.  It’s simply stating that the word all means all and doesn’t mean anything else.  But is that always true? (pun intended)  Here’s what I mean.  Take the following examples:

  • “I got home late last night to find that someone had eaten all the cookies.”
  • “The mother told her child that she expected all the dishes to be washed.”
  • “There’s a guy in my office that talks about politics all the time.”

Each of these statements are true in their usage of the word all, however, even in our English language we know that there is an applied context in each example.  For instance, taken in a wooden literal sense that “all means all and that’s all all means”, we would be left to assume that in example 1, someone ate all the cookies that are in existence.  In the second example, every dish including those clean and shelved, the fine china, and the holiday ware should all be washed, in every person’s house, everywhere.  And finally, this statement, using all in the wooden literal sense, implies that the office person is incapable of talking about anything other than politics.

These might sound like far fetched examples, but that’s really what the statement “all means all and that’s all all means” is implying.  Instead, we know that the context of the statement in example one limits or confines “all the cookies” to either a particular package or all the cookies within possession at the home.  Secondly, the confining context of example two is that the mother is clearly implying that all the dirty dishes, or all of the dishes in the sink, are the ones to be washed.  Finally, in our third example, the context simply means that the office person excessively talks about politics, not exclusively, but rather in abundance.

So what does this have to do with the Bible?  Well, if we are not careful, a wooden reading of Scripture will leave us with a faulty interpretation, unless we let context define what is being said.  Let’s examine some usage of the word “all” to see if this common phrase “all means all…” is really true.

“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.” Luke 2:1 KJV Now, a wooden meaning of the word all here would lead us to believe that every single person in the world was to be taxed based on the decree from Caesar.  The problem with this reading is that every person was not under Roman rule.  Rome’s empire during the first century extended to much of the area surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, so it would be unreasonable to expect that Caesar would tax the Far East, a region over whom he had no control.  Instead, context allows us to realize that this tax sent out from Caesar was for all the Roman world.

“And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” Mark 1:5 Here we are given a picture of the ministry of John (the Baptist).  John was preparing the way for the Messiah by baptizing people as a symbol of their hearts preparation for the Gospel.  But again, if we were to take the word all here to mean literally every single individual man, woman, and child, then we would be led to believe that John was baptizing over 500,000 people, the conservative estimate of Judea alone during the first century.  Is that possible?  Certainly, all things are possible with God (Matthew 19:26, pun again), but was it likely?  Well, just a few short verses later we are informed that John is arrested (Mark 1:14).  Are we then to assume that the very same people who were repentant of their sins and who were publicly denouncing their association with Judaism for their desire to accept the coming Messiah had now arrested John?  Did this all include the Pharisees and Sadducees who would trouble and harass Jesus throughout His ministry, even to the point of His crucifiction?  Not likely. Instead, through the use of all, Mark is conveying a significantly large number of people who were going out to be baptized by John.

For similar usage of the word all, see: Mark 1:33, Mark 7:14, John 8:2, John 11:48, Acts 19:27 and all the rest.

These examples might seem basic and straightforward, but what about those where the wooden reading of all would significantly impact one’s view of what Scripture is saying.

“who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” 1 Timothy 2:4  This is a much debated passage on the true desire of God to have all people saved.  Some argue, “if this is God’s genuine desire, then why doesn’t He do it since He’s all powerful?”  Others say, “this passage shows that God has a genuine desire for all men to be saved, but He leaves the choice to them and eagerly waits their decision.”  In other words, leaving God powerless.  This debate aside, let’s look at this passage in context to see what it is saying.  In context, all is often defined by it’s nearest antecedent.  Or if we think back to our English grammar days, antecedent would simply be that word (noun) referenced later, often by a pronoun. (Example: I have not seen John. He is not here. – He is referring to the antecedent John).  When we apply this to  all in this passage, we run into some difficulty, but let’s see if we can trace it out.

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time. 7 For this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.” 1 Timothy 2:1-7

Note here in verse 1, Paul uses the same phrase, “all people” as the group to whom he is urging prayer.  Now, if we were to take our wooden use of the word all again, we might get started obeying Paul’s plea by picking up our local phone book and start praying for “all people”.  But that isn’t the case because Paul is going to define this for us in the following verse, “for kings and all who are in high positions”.  Paul has defined his group, “all people” as leadership, i.e. kings and those in high positions.”  In other words, he is instructing Timothy (and us) to pray for our leaders.  Keeping this in mind, we move to our verse, verse 4, and see the phrase “all people” again.  Having just seen this exact phrase first mentioned in verse 1 and defined in verse 2, we can surmise that Paul is stating God desires “all [kinds of] people” to be saved, which is not limited to those who aren’t in leadership.  God desires kings to be saved too.  Again, in this context we can conclude it’s saying God desires all people without distinction (kings, leaders, paupers, slaves, etc.) to be saved, but not necessarily all people without exception (i.e., every single individual person).  Does God desire all (every, single, individual) people to be saved? The argument cannot be made conclusively from this particular passage and maintain the context.  (However, for more on this debate see John Murray’s The Free Offer of the Gospel)

Finally, let’s look at a positive use of the word all, where it actually does mean all.  “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28  How can Christians be sure that this means all things?  What if we applied the same reading here as earlier and discovered that not everything is included in the all?  Surely that we leave us open to discouragement and despair, but is that the case?

“29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

Here, in verses 29-30 Paul grounds the assurance of “those who love God” and “those who are called according to his purpose” (this refers to the same group), in God’s foreknowing, predestining, calling, justifying, and glorifying of them.  In this “golden chain of redemption”, God is certainly showing that He has worked all things in relation to each of those links for the good of those who love Him.  But that is not all.  God continues to unfold this good in verse 31 (Romans 8:31- 39) and following and it looks something like this:

  • God is for us – who can be against us
  • He did not spare His own Son – But gave Him up for us all (the group defined as those who love God)
  • Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect – It is God who justifies
  • Who is to condemn – Christ Jesus died
    • More than that: raised and interceding for us (same group as earlier)
  • Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? – not tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, or sword.
  • He adds, not death/life, angels/rulers, things present/to come, powers, height/depth, nor anything in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Does this sound like a comprehensive all here?  Yes, I think so.  But again, context determined it.

So does “all mean all and that’s all all means”?  We’ll yes and no, depending on how the context defines all.   But rarely does all mean every single individual person without exception.  Perhaps this popular phrase would be more accurately represented by, “All means all when that’s all all means.”  Lord willing, I hope to write-up a post on an extremely surprising result when I applied this to a popular verse read in context.

Grace and peace!

The Nature and Necessity of Propitiation – 1 John 2:2

To view this series on 1 John, simply select 1 John from under Bible Study on the Categories drop down menu.


“1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. 1 John 2:1-2

“Has the word propitiation any place in your Christianity?”  That’s the question J.I. Packer poses in his classic work Knowing God.  Packer goes on to say, “In the faith of the New Testament it is central.  The love of God, the taking of human form by the Son, the meaning of the cross, Christ’s heavenly intercession, the way of salvation – all are to be explained in terms of it, as the passages quoted (Romans 3:21-26, Heb. 2:17, 1 John 2:1-2, 4:10) show, and any explanation from which the thought of propitiation is missing will be incomplete, and indeed actually misleading, by New Testament standards.”1 Simply put, propitiation is essential to understanding Jesus Christ’s death on the cross.  Its definition means to placate, pacify, appease, or conciliate “and it is this idea that is applied to the atonement accomplished by Christ”2 as we will see, His propitiation appeased or satisfied the wrath of God.  We come to this glorious truth in our study of 1 John.  Remember in our last lesson that we were introduced to propitiation in conjunction with Christ’s advocacy; in fact, along with His righteousness, we saw that propitiation comprised the basis of His advocacy.  Since it is such a grand subject of Christian salvation, it deserves individual attention.  Propitiation is oft misunderstood, overlooked, and even omitted in discussions of Christ’s death on the cross.  You may have realized this if you use an NIV or RSV Bible translation, to say nothing of the paraphrases, because they interpret propitiation as “sacrifice of atonement”, “expiation”, or whatever the translator feels best explains the idea.  Each of these is insufficient and in fact weakens the Gospel.  As Packer stated earlier, not only are they incomplete, but they are actually misleading.

In order to fully appreciate the nature of propitiation, we need to look at it first from a cultural standpoint, because it’s from this angle that the New Testament writers employ cultural language through the Greek word hilasmos, used only 2 times in the N.T. here and in 1 John 4:10, and its derivatives hilasterion, used in Rom. 3:25 and hilaskomai from Heb. 2:17 (see also Luke 18:13).  In his book, Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus, D.A. Carson provides helpful details on the pagan notion of propitiation.  “In ancient paganism, propitiation worked like this.  There were a lot of gods with various domains (god of the sea, god/goddess of fertility, god of speech, god of war, etc.) who were a bit whimsical and bad-tempered.  Your job was to make them propitious (i.e. favorable) toward you.  For example, if you wanted to take a sea voyage, you would make sure that the god of the sea, Neptune, was favorable by offering him a propitiating sacrifice in the hope that he would provide you with safe passage.  So the object of the propitiating sacrifice is the god himself, and the purpose is to make the god propitiatous.”  Here is where the biblical idea differs from the pagan notion, and it is a significant difference.  In It is Well, Mark Dever provides a quote by John Stott highlighting this difference.6 In it, Stott states, “It would be hard to exaggerate the differences between the pagan and the Christian views of propitiation.  In the pagan perspective, human beings try to placate their bad-tempered deities with their own paltry offerings.  According to the Christian revelation, God’s own great love propitiated his own holy wrath through the gift of his own dear Son, who took our place, bore our sin and died our death.  Thus God gave himself to save us from himself.”5 This is precisely what we see in our passage from 1 John 2:2, “He [Christ] is the propitiation for our sins.”  But there is something else we must realize.  Remember in our last post we briefly mentioned Christ’s role as believer’s High Priest.  In keeping with this role, He not only is the propitiation, but also makes the propitiation (Hebrews 2:17).  He is not only the lamb that is sacrificed, but is indeed the High Priest making the sacrifice.  Next we’ll see how this unfolds in Scripture to better understand the significance. 

The doctrine of propitiation is not something new, as in post New Testament terms, but instead is a prevalent theme in the Old Testament as well.  In fact, propitiation is the very foundation of the Levitical priest’s sacrificial system and through its foreshadowing of Christ’s atonement we are provided the greatest details into the meaning of the word.  In the Pillar New Testament Commentary on The Letters of First John, the author points out that our Greek word for propitiation, hilasmos, used exclusively in 1 John as we’ve noted, is actually found 6 times in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (its derivatives are used extensively).  Of significance is its use in Leviticus 25:9, as it refers to the Day of Atonement.  Relating propitiation to the Day of Atonement is not isolated to this passage as the PNTC points out, but it will allow us the opportunity to examine in detail the methods of the Old Testament high priest, so that we can better understand the work of Jesus Christ, as The High Priest.  For this, we need only to turn to Leviticus 16 as we see the Lord outlining the procedure for the Day of Atonement to Moses.

In this passage, the language of “mercy-seat” (vs. 2) is significant to developing the idea of propitiation, because it is the Greek word hilasterion; translated ‘propitiation’ in Romans 3:25 and ‘mercy seat’ in Hebrews 9:5.  This relation of terms serves to show how pervasive propitiation is in our passage and the Bible, as well as to help us ultimately understand that wrath and mercy meet at the cross.  The first thing we need to notice from this very descriptive passage is that Aaron, the high priest, needed to enter the holy place with a bull sacrificed for his own sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering (Lev 16:3;6).  Before he could even attempt to make a sacrifice for the people, he needed to first make one for himself.  Contrast this with Christ our High Priest from Hebrews 7:26-27 who had no need to offer a sacrifice for Himself because He was, “holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens.”  Next, Aaron was instructed to “take from the congregation of the people of Israel two male goats for a sin offering” (Lev 16:5).  It is significant that these sacrificial animals came from the people of Israel, as certainly the Bible tells us that Jesus Christ came from the people of Israel as well.  While the bull was an offering for Aaaon and his family, the two goats were to be set before the Lord, and Aaron was to cast lots over them; one for the Lord and the other for Azazel (there are disagreements over this meaning), or most commonly referred to as the ‘scapegoat’.  The goat for the Lord was to be sacrificed as a sin offering, while the scapegoat was to be released in the wilderness with the sins of the people confessed over it, “15 Then he shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with is blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat.  16 Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins.  And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleanness.”  (Lev 16:15-16) In these instructions to Aaron, by way of his brother Moses, Aaron was to make propitiation for the people of Israel. 

But what about the second goat?  We pick up on it in verse 20-22, “…he shall present the live goat.  And Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins.  And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of the man who is in readiness.  The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area, and he shall let the goat go free in the wilderness.”  On this Day of Atonement, as outlined for us in Leviticus, we see 2 fundamental actions that compose the nature of propitiation: 1a) The sacrifice of a goat for the sins of Israel (propitiation) 1b) The release of a goat, the scapegoat, with the sin of the people confessed on its head (expiation).  As the PNTC points out in its discussion of propitiation, “…the notion of atonement in the OT is best understood comprehensively to include both the cleansing and forgiveness of the sinner, and the turning away for God’s anger.  This in turn suggests that neither the idea expiation nor that of propitiation can be ruled out as possible meanings for hilasmos in 1 John 2:2 and 1 John 4:10.”7  In the Levitical Day of Atonement, we see a type and foreshadow of what was to come with Christ’s atonement.  As Hebrews 10:4 tells us, the blood of bulls and goats could not actually take away sins, only Christ can.  In His atonement, Jesus satisfied the wrath of the Father (propitiation) and offered cleansing and forgiveness (expiation) for the one who repents and turns to Him in faith.

Propitiation is necessary because man is a sinner who stands under the wrath of Holy God (Eph. 2:3).  But God, provided a propitiation for Himself, in the form of His Son, who willingly came to earth in the flesh, lived a perfect, holy, and sinless life and died on the cross making propitiation for all those who have and will believe (Rom. 3:24-25).  In this, Jesus Christ made the sacrifice of atonement and was the sacrifice of atonement.  The wrath of holy God was poured out on His Son, thus placating or satisfying His wrath for sinners who repent and place their faith in the Son of God (Rom. 5:9).  In doing so, the punishment for sinners was taken in Christ and the guilt of sin was removed as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12) and as we’ve seen cleansing and forgiveness is offered through the blood of Jesus (Ephesians 1:7, 1 John 1:7).

Believer, do you have any room for propitiation in your Christianity?  Is there anything that could bring you more comfort and joy than to know that the wrath of all holy God has been satisfied by Him lovingly sending His Son to be the propitiation for you? 

Unbeliever, do you realize your need for Christ to be your propitiation?  You stand condemned under the wrath of God.  But in His love, He sent forth His Son Jesus to be the propitiation “for the sins of the whole world.”  Repent of your sins and place your faith in Jesus.

  1. J.I. Packer Knowing God
  2. John Murray – Redemption Accomplished Redemption Applied
  3. D.A. Carson – Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus
  4. Dever and Lawrence: It is Well pg. 125
  5. Stott, Romans pg. 115.
  6. Kruse, PNTC The Letters of First John pg 75-76
  7. Ibid. pg 76

Disciple or Believer

This past weekend, I read a headline of a news feed that linked to an article written by Pastor Greg Laurie.  The title of that article was “Are you a Disciple?” and it immediately drew my attention because the headline read, “Greg Laurie says every disciple is a believer but it’s [not] always the other way around.”  I’m not familiar with Greg Laurie other than his involvement with James MacDonald’s Elephant Room #1, but it seems he’s a well-respected, influential leader within evangelicalism.  In that article, Laurie says the following: “Are you a disciple? Just because you are a Christian doesn’t necessarily mean that you are a disciple. Every disciple is a believer, but not every believer is a disciple.”

Unfortunately, this is a very common position in the evangelical church, but it is littered with problems, not the least of which is its unbiblical basis.  This view creates hierarchies within Christianity and says that everyone on the “inside” is a believer, but some elevate to a higher position of disciple.  This is inconsistent with the teaching of Scripture and inconsistent with the history of the Church.  Every believer is a disciple of Jesus Christ’s and certainly within Christianity there are those with greater gifts and more maturity, but it is not a hierarchy.  Individually, however, believers all make up parts of the same body.  Nominal Christianity and half-way believers are no believers at all.  The easy believism, easy path of back row Christianity that Pastor Laurie has delineated doesn’t exist, in the sense that it isn’t real Christianity.  In the Bible it is black and white; you are either a sheep or a goat, in light or in darkness, a child of God or a child of Satan, you are either in fellowship with God and other believers, or you’re not.  There is no gray area.  The logical conclusion of the view by those who hold to the disciple/believer distinction, is that a “mere believer” does not have to take his walk seriously.  He does not have to deny himself daily.  He does not mortify deeds of the flesh, has no desire to commit his life to Christ.  Holiness then becomes optional.  Contrast that weak, watered-down Christianity with the message of Jesus from Luke 14:25-33:

“25 Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26  “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33  So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.  34 Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?  35 It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile.  It is thrown away.  He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Luke 14:25-35

Pastor Laurie actually uses this same passage to prove his point, but it’s an incorrect interpretation.  Jesus isn’t speaking to believers and explaining to them how to reach the next level in discipleship.  He’s talking to unbelievers and explaining to them the cost of following Him, as a believer, so that they won’t be halfway, nominal Christians with false assurance who bring reproach on His name.  In the video below Pastor Steve Lawson preaches on the very same passage, but has quite a different interpretation.

Jesus makes it clear in the passage from Luke that there is a cost involved in following Him.  Not simply praying a prayer, walking an aisle, or signing a card, but a total commitment of your life to Him.  That’s what it means to believe and that’s discipleship.  The two cannot be separated.  Repent. Believe. Follow.