All or Nothing! Part 1 – What does “all” really mean?

There are 7 messages in this All or Nothing Series. To access them all, please use the following links.
All or Nothing Part 1
All or Nothing Part 2
All or Nothing Part 3
All or Nothing Part 4
All or Nothing Part 5
All or Nothing Part 6
All or Nothing Part 7

Does “all” really mean “all”? – Do all things really work together for good?

(a) All really does mean all unless the context clearly supports otherwise.

Romans 8:28And we know that all things (pas) work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to {his} purpose.
And how do we know that this means “all things”? And what does “all things” mean?
all / all thingspas (all; all things; the whole; every; every kind of, all manner of)

Spurgeon is often quoted by calvinists in order to try and demonstrate that all, when used of people, rarely meant all persons. However, it must be noted that he was trying to argue for limited atonement (= Particular Redemption) and if all means “all persons without exception”, then limited atonement cannot stand.
… it is very rarely the “all” means all persons, taken individually. The words are generally used to signify that Christ has redeemed some of all sorts — some Jews, some Gentiles, some rich, some poor, and has not restricted His redemption to either Jew or Gentile …” (C.H. Spurgeon from a sermon on Particular Redemption)
However, that demands that “the whole world” in 1 John 2:2 means only Christians, which is untenable, a false teaching, in fact. Spurgeon also taught that a Christian had eternal life in some sense before he came to Christ for eternal life, and this is also clearly wrong. (As noted in his message “Free Will – A Slave”)

So let’s look at the use of pas (“all”) which, when used with anthropos (pas anthropos) means “all men” and thus has to mean exactly that unless other contextual information clearly shows otherwise.
Sometimes pas is translated as “all manner” or “all manner of”. When, in fact, is the use of “all kinds or manner of” warranted?

The Greek word pas is used 1243 times in various forms in the New Testament and is translated as all 748 times. It is translated as “all manner of” 10 times, and “all manner” 2 times.
Matthew 4:23And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people.
Matthew 5:11Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
Matthew 10:1And when he had called unto him his twelve disciples, he gave them power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease.
Matthew 12:31Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men.
Luke 11:42But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
Acts 10:12Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.
Romans 7:8But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead.
Revelation 18:12The merchandise of gold, and silver, and precious stones, and of pearls, and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet, and thyine wood, and all manner vessels of ivory, and all manner vessels of most precious wood, and of brass, and iron, and marble,
Revelation 21:19And the foundations of the wall of the city were garnished with all manner of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, a chalcedony; the fourth, an emerald;

In each case where it is translated as “all manner of” or “all manner”, the context clearly cannot support all as a total amount without exception. For example, all manner of sickness or disease could not possibly mean “all sicknesses” or “all diseases” because many illnesses are only found in certain localities (such as diseases carried by mosquitoes). Also, if all diseases were healed (Eg. Matthew 4:23), then no-one else would be sick anywhere. It can logically only mean all kinds of or all manner of diseases. Those who weren’t there on that day weren’t necessarily healed along with those who were there.

The same applies to all manner of sin or evil – it would be extremely unlikely to find every possible sin or evil in the one situation! “All manner of herbs” (that is, herbs grown in a pots, or vegetables) could not possibly mean every possible herb as not all will grow under the same conditions. Likewise, all manner of four-footed beasts couldn’t mean every possible species of beast found on the earth. And so on, the same for all manner of concupiscence (lust), ivory and precious wood vessels, and precious stones.

So the rule is clear: where it is logically possible for the word to mean literally all, the total amount, then this is to be taken as the most acceptable meaning. In fact, one of the rules for interpreting a Bible verse or passage is that where a literal or obvious meaning is acceptable (according to the context and Scriptural consistency), then this is most probably the correct meaning.

Interpret the Bible literally (or normally) allowing for normal use of figurative language. Take the plain meaning of the text at face value. (

The Bible should be understood literally whenever possible. (

The golden rule of interpretation is: “When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studies in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths, indicate clearly otherwise. God in revealing His Word neither intends nor permits the reader to be confused. He wants His children to understand.” [Dr. D. A. Waite, Ephesians, p. 10] (

The following indicates the origination of this rule.
Dr. David L. Cooper, the founder of The Biblical Research Society, was proficient in the Biblical languages. He studied Greek under Dr. A. T. Robertson.  Dr. Cooper is known for his “Golden Rule of Interpretation” which is as follows:
When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense; therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths indicate clearly otherwise.
[This rule was published regularly in Dr. Cooper’s monthly magazine, Biblical Research Monthly.]
A shortened form of the above rule goes like this:
If the plain sense makes good sense seek no other sense lest it result in nonsense.
The opponents of dispensationalism sometimes depart from the above rule, and although they might not want to admit it, they seem to follow this rule:
If the plain sense does not fit my theological system, then I will seek some other sense, lest I should end up agreeing with the dispensationalists! (

Therefore, if the word “all” (pas) can be interpreted to mean literally all, then this should be the most reasonable interpretation. Only seek to turn from this literal meaning of the word “all” if it does not make plain sense literally. So if nothing is added to the context to indicate a limitation on the extent of “all”, and if Scriptural consistency clearly accepts a literal interpretation of “all”, then it should be taken to mean all in totality, and not “all kinds of”, “all manner of”, “every sort of” etc. These latter may be used if it cannot literally mean “all” without exception.

(b) All things must work together for good for the genuine Christian who is walking reasonably according to God’s will.

So, getting back to Romans 8:28 – Some people say that “all” can only represent spiritual issues, while others maintain that it’s only when God acts on your behalf. This is much like the ones who claim that spiritual attack is rare and that if you claim to be under spiritual attack even just once a month or perhaps more often, then you are deluded! However, Paul strongly suggested that the battle was daily, or even constant.
Romans 8:36 –  As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.

So, does Romans 8:28 apply to all Christians or only when certain conditions are being met?
Consider the conditions first. To whom does it apply – 1/. To them that love God, and 2/. To those who are the called according to God’s purpose.

1/. This is clear – it must apply to only those who are genuine children of God, that is, genuine Christians as opposed to counterfeit ones (who comprise a significant proportion indeed, as genuine ones can come only through the Cross, and so many don’t these days). Only Christians can love God, for Romans 3:10-18 tells us that when we are alienated from God, we are haters of God! Strong words indeed. And that we can only love God because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).

2/. To those who are walking reasonably according to God’s will, or those who are part of the eternal purposes or will of God. Either way, it is to do with being involved with God’s will, and only then as a genuine child of God.

It does not necessarily apply to those who are not Christians, or even Christians who are not walking according to God’s will.

What does it mean though? It could mean that if we are doing a reasonable job of doing what God wants us to, then we can expect Him to provide our every need as per Matthew 6:33But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all (pas) these things shall be added unto you. This assumes that you are seeking God’s kingdom first and then all your provision will be met. However, what if you are not seeking God’s kingdom first etc? Do all things still work together for good? This is a grey area for most, as it isn’t spelled out clearly. It is quite possible that it still applies although it may well be in the form of discipline rather than blessings.

One area that can really be questioned as to whether Romans 8:28 is applicable is in situations where a person is so disobedient that he or she may be dis-fellowshipped from the church itself, as in 1 Corinthians 5:1-51It is reported commonly {that there is} fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife. 2And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you. 3For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, {concerning} him that hath so done this deed, 4In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, 5To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

Even then, though, it is easy to see that this extreme form of discipline may well be God still working things together for both His good and the person involved.

So when it says all things work together for good, then for the genuine Christian this has to mean literally all things. However, there’s one exception clause here – that it has to be talking about those things which God has the choice of, or those things that you allow God to have the choice of. You cannot seriously expect to stand in front of a speeding train and demand that God do that which is good? That’s your choice and therefore your responsibility. This therefore can logically only apply to those things that are reasonably beyond your ability to choose, or where you make a conscious decision to allow God the choice. This may be expressed as point 3/.

3/. All things working together for good can only apply to those influences on our lives that are either beyond our control or are otherwise uninfluenced by our decision-making in any way.

There are 7 messages in this All or Nothing Series. To access them all, please use the following links.

All or Nothing Part 1

All or Nothing Part 2

All or Nothing Part 3

All or Nothing Part 4

All or Nothing Part 5

All or Nothing Part 6

All or Nothing Part 7

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