A friend asked this insightful question:
You mentioned recently on a podcast that the word all does not always mean all in the New Testament.
That seems to fit your texts ok, but does that not dilute the value of some of the assurance statements where it says He forgives “all sin,” etc.? How would you know when the word all is absolute and when it is a generalization?
I can’t recall which verses I mentioned in the podcast. But here are some examples:
“When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him” (Matt 2:3). Most of the adults in Jerusalem were troubled.
“Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him” (Matt 3:5). Many people from Jerusalem, Judea, and the Jordan area went out to John the Baptist.
“Then His fame went throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all sick people who were afflicted with various diseases and torments, and those who were demon-possessed, epileptics, and paralytics; and He healed them” (Matt 4:24). They brought a lot of sick people for Jesus to heal.
Now let’s compare those verses with texts where I’d say that all clearly means all:
“I will pay you all [all I owe]” (Matt 18:26, 29).
“All these things I have kept from my youth” (Matt 19:20).
“All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night” (Matt 26:31).
“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23).
“…having forgiven you all trespasses” (Col 2:13).
“Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness…” (Jas 1:21).
“…be holy in all your conduct” (1 Pet 1:15).
By looking at the contexts in which the word all appears, we can discern when it refers to 100% and when it refers to a large number (many, most, etc.). In the former verses, clearly not all are intended. But in these latter verses, clearly all are intended.
In real estate there are said to be three keys: location, location, location.
The same is true in hermeneutics. The three keys in understanding God’s Word are location, location, location, or context, context, context. The context tells us what is intended.
Here is a rule of thumb for understanding the word all in the New Testament: Assume that all means 100% unless there is something in the context which suggests that 100% is not meant. When in doubt, ask your pastor, ask a mature Christian friend, consult a commentary, or meditate on it.
My point is that it is important that we realize that the word all in the New Testament does not always mean all. Of course, we use all the same way in English all the time. All anyone can do is complain. All politicians are liars. All anyone wants are freebies. All are against the President. All hate spinach. All white men are privileged elitists. All rich people are arrogant. All libertarians are pacifists. And so on. We often use the word to mean many or most. The listener can tell based on the context what the speaker means. The same applies to the New Testament uses of the word all.