Friday, December 19, 2008

"All doesn't always mean "all."

Back in July, while on my across-America bike ride, I read a short inspirational letter. It started with the first verse of Genesis 3. “Did God really say?” These are the words of the serpent casting doubt into the mind of Eve about what God had told Adam and her. Then the writer quickly moves to the Gospel story of a boy whose father brings him to Jesus for healing. The man asks “if” Jesus can help. Jesus says,

All things are possible for one who believes. ~ Mark 9:23

Our writer, trying to be helpful and encouraging says, “All means all.” And we should never let Satan tell us otherwise. All things are possible for the believer.

The well-meaning writer arrived at an overstated conclusion through a mistaken notion of how to do word study because…

“All” does not always mean “all.”

Our writer’s method of word study was to go to Strong’s Concordance and simply looking at the definition found there. If you know Strong’s it is very limited in it’s lexical entries. Just looking at those definitions is not good Bible Study. In translation and word study, we use a concordance to see where and how words are used in the Bible. This gives us a range of meanings. Then we use the context of the Bible to determine which meaning to use. The Greek word "pas" (or all) found in the text, can also mean “each,” “every,” “everyone,” everything” “whole,” “all things.” In the NIV the translators chose the word “everything” to translate pas in Mark 9:23 (in contrast his our writer’s version). And what is more, one translated word does not give the full meaning meant in a text.

“All” does not always mean “all.”

After Strong’s, good word study would include looking in a Bible Dictionary or taking a look at a Greek Lexicon like Brown, Driver Briggs. Then good word study would take a look at a theological dictionary like Colin Brown’s New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology. There we find some other ways to think about the word "pas."   Then we look at all the verses in the Bible containing our word, thanks to our concordance, and see how the word is used. Then we decide which meaning fits our verse.

But just looking at the lexical entry in Strong’s is not good Bible study and does not yield the meaning of a word or the meaning of the text that contains it. And as we will find, “All does not mean all.” And this goes for the Hebrew word col as well.

Why is this so important to me? This past March, my father died of pancreatic cancer. Like nearly all Christians do, I prayed that he would be healed. But like 97% of everyone who is stricken by this cancer, he died in the first year after the diagnosis.

But the Word says that [it is the LORD] “who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases,” (Psalms 103.3) But all, does not always mean all. God only heals 3% of all pancreatic cancer patients. Steve Jobs of Apple fame is one of them. But he is rare. The rest like my father die of the disease and within the first year. People die of disease all the time. Sometimes, all means all and sometimes it doesn’t.

Here are some other examples of when all does not mean all.

“I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish.” Genesis 6.17

“All” didn’t mean “all,” Noah’s family and all the animals and fish were not destroyed by the flood.

“You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you.” Genesis 6.19

The fish were not included in all living creatures.

“But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” John 14.26

The Spirit teaches all things, but not everything. Man cannot contain all knowledge because he is finite. Therefore all cannot mean all. But it can mean everything that we were meant to know: the totality of what God’s will for us is and not an iota more.

“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all — how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” Romans 8.32

Does this mean he will give everything we desire or everything that exists? No, he gives us all things that we were destined for. We do not get all things? All does not mean all.

“To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.” 1Corinthians 9.22

Does Paul become a murderer, a thief, or a prostitute? No he does not become all things. He becomes everything that God might intend for him to become. All does not mean all.

“For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.” Colossians 1.16

God did not create sin. God did not create angels that were fallen. God did not create sinful man. Man became sinful, but God did not create him that way. He did create everything and all things that he intended to create…the fullness of his intention. But “all things” does not mean “all things.”

“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4.13

Here “all” translates pas. Paul does not mean we can do everything. God is not going to make me brain surgeon over night. He has not made me a wonderful preacher like (put the name of your favorite preacher here). No, we cannot do everything. But we can do all that God intends for us to do to bring him glory.

It is a hermeneutical error to look up a word in a concordance and cite its definition as the meaning for every like word like it. We have to look at how the word is used in order to arrive at the meaning of the text. It is a hermeneutical fallacy to impose the lexical meaning of a word on all incidences of the same word in the Bible. Every word takes on the nuance of the immediate context.

“All” often needs to be understood as a general promise that is not meant to be exhaustive in fulfillment. Even with God all things are not possible. God cannot go against his own nature. He cannot go against his character. God cannot sin. He cannot do all things. “All” does not always mean “all.”

So when we look at Mark 9:23, what is Jesus getting at?

The story is about a man who brings his boy to Jesus. The boy is stricken with a condition like epilepsy. But the condition comes from an evil spirit living in the boy. The man already brought the boy to Jesus’ disciples but they could not heal the boy. The man Jesus asks for help in the conditional. Jesus says, “If you can? Everything is possible for him who believes.” Jesus then proceeds to cast out the demon and heal the boy. This is completely possible for Jesus. And we believe in him because he can. We also believe Jesus when he says “Everything is possible for him who believes.” But evidently everything is not possible for someone who believes. In this case, prayer was necessary to express belief. So, all does not mean all. We cannot do everything. But we can do everything that the Lord empowers us to do for his glory.

I can do everything, and all things that God intends and wills for me. I can stand against what the world says is not possible. All things that God wants me to do I can do.

We can do all kinds of things, but not everything. God does not heal all our diseases. He does heal all classes of disease, and every disease until the one he allows to kill us.

This mighty assurance of Jesus is meant for us to take heart that when Jesus asks us to do something, we can do it, because he is right there with us giving us the power and his will to do it.

“All” does not always mean “all.” But we can do all things that come from faith in Jesus.


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At 6:51 AM, Anonymous Kris said...

Dear Mr. Luedtke, My husband entered glory on October 15, 2008 after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on May 20th that same year. Our church and many others fasted and prayed for his healing claiming many scriptures of healing. I had so many questions for God when he passed away, and am still studying His word. I am not angry with God, I still believe he heals today. But in this circumstance, it was not meant to be. I miss him but I know that I and our daughters will see him again. May you and your family continue to be blessed.

At 8:27 AM, Blogger Paul Luedtke said...

Dear Kris, I am so sorry to hear of your loss. My father went to be with the Lord on March 1, 2008. So it is coming up on one year. I am moved to tears by your story. Like you, I am not angry with God. I also know that God heals today. But questions remain. I'm just glad we had time with him before he died. May you fine comfort and wholeness in our God of all comfort. (1 Cor 1)


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