Sometimes the Bible’s use of “all” and “world”
does not literally mean all people in the world.
A Review and Critique of Whomever He Wills – Part 2H
Matthew Barrett and Thomas Nettles, eds. Whomever He Wills: a Surprising Display of Sovereign Mercy (Cape Coral, FL: Founders Press, 2012), 401 pgs.
Schrock next addresses the issue of universal language in Scripture. This is a difficult hill to climb for Schrock and all proponents of particular redemption due to the fact that there are so many New Testament passages which on a straightforward reading affirm unlimited atonement. He fosters two arguments to help explain how the universal language of the New Testament supports definite atonement: the linguistic argument and the historical context of the apostles. Schrock begins by noting what all affirm: sometimes the Bible’s use of “all” and “world” does not literally mean all people in the world. He rightly reminds us that context is the key. He praises John Owen for his “attention to the text” in determining the author’s meaning. This is curious because Schrock seems oblivious to the many Calvinists, not to mention others, who have critiqued Owen for his failure in this very area. For example, as Neil Chambers demonstrated, in circular fashion Owen reads his conclusion back into the reasons for his conclusion (“A Critical Examination, 122). His procedure constantly begs the question. Furthermore, Schrock appears to miss the point that sometimes this universal language is stylized and hyperbolic in nature. His appeal to Matthew 3:5 is a case in point. The idea of limitation here is not “some of all kinds” of people, but rather that large groups are intended.
What Schrock and many others want to do is to use such stylized language in an attempt to norm all the non-stylized uses of “all” and “world.” His appeal to the concept of “all without distinction” is meaningless. When “all” is used in this way, all “all” means is all without any ethnic distinction. The use of this language is not meant to denote “some men of all kinds.” Merely appealing to the notion of “all men without distinction” does not preclude the idea of all men without limitation. “All men” often means everyone without any ethnic distinction.
Consider Schrock’s quote of Moses Stuart’s commentary on Hebrews 2:9. He rightly points out that Stuart does not adhere to limited atonement, but then wrongly concludes from Stuart’s point that in some cases the phrase “for all” or “for all men” means all without distinction; Jews as well as Gentiles. As I noted in Whosoever, it is not uncommon to find some Calvinists who affirm Christ died for all men to interpret the focus of some of these texts to indicate a focus on all without ethnic distinction. The error is concluding that therefore none of these texts means also “all without exception” or that there are no texts where “all” or “world” means “all without exception.” Schrock has already conceded that Stuart affirms unlimited atonement. Notice the conclusion Schrock draws from Stuart’s point: “Significantly, Stuart not only interprets the words of Hebrews 2:9 as a distributive (all without distinction), he principalizes his interpretation saying ‘the considerate interpreter, who understands the nature of the idiom, will never think of seeking, in expressions of this kind, proof of the final salvation of every individual of the human race’” (110). Schrock has made a significant error here in misreading what Stuart said. Notice carefully what Stuart concluded and what he did not conclude. He concluded that one cannot interpret this universal language as proof for universalism. He did not conclude that such language supports limited atonement. There is a world of difference between “universalism” and “universal atonement.” Stuart rejects the former even as he accepts the latter.
Schrock’s second argument concerning the use of universal language in Scripture is actually along the same lines as his previous argument. He attempts to show that “world” in the minds of the first century apostles was more an ethnic designation meaning not just Jews alone, but also Gentiles. As we have already said, this does not vitiate the significance of the universal language. If the focus of “world” means “without distinction as to Jew and Gentile,” then fine. In the culture of the apostles, all people in the world fell into one of those two classes. Again, this is no defeater for the interpretation of “all” and “world” in some contexts to mean “all unsaved people.” Schrock mentions John 3:16 again (112) stating that it is God’s intention to save Jew and Gentile alike. Does this mean God’s “love” in that verse only extends to the elect among Jews and Gentiles? It would appear that is Schrock’s interpretation.
There are many other universal passages in the New Testament that bear directly on the extent of the atonement. Schrock mentions some of these but declines to consider them due to “space considerations.” Fair enough. I had to limit myself to a consideration of only a few passages in my chapter on the extent of the atonement in Whosoever. But Schrock’s final statement in this section appears unwarranted, given the evidence: “. . . based on the work of others, it is believed that similar conclusions would be found in these New Testament texts” (113).
Schrock’s third part of his final section deals with the question of the universal offer of the gospel. He acknowledges that in the New Testament the offer of the gospel was made indiscriminately to all people without exception (114). He also acknowledges how this is a problem for those who hold to limited atonement. He neglects to inform his readers that a significant group of Calvinists reject the concept of the universal offer of the gospel. They are called “hyper-Calvinists.” See, for example, David Englesma’s book Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel: an Examination of the Well-Meant Gospel Offer. Notice in this section Schrock provides no definition of what the gospel offer is or entails. Notice also there is no affirmation that God desires the salvation of all men in His revealed will according to Reformed orthodoxy. This absence is telling.