All does not necessarily mean all in the Bible. When, for example, Jesus says: “And I, when I ,1m lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself’ (John 12:32), it is obvious that all is not all. For millions of heathen have not even heard of Jesus, let alone been drawn to him. And many other millions who have heard of Jesus, rather than having been attracted by him, have been repelled at the very thought of him. Jesus may have meant one of two things: 1) All the elect will be drawn to him; or 2) All kinds of men—men from all nations—will be drawn to him. But one thing is clear: All men have not been drawn to him. All is not all.
In I Corinthians 15:22 Paul writes in seemingly universal terms when he says: “As in Adam all died, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” Superficially, it may seem that both airs are identical and refer to every person, past, present and future. But such a conclusion is erroneous and unbiblical.
Although the first all clearly refers to every person in the world,1 there are at least four reasons why the second all should be restricted to all those who are in Christ, that is, to all believers:
1) The Greek verb for to be made alive is never used of the wicked but always of the Christian or Christ (John 5:21; 6:63; Romans 4:17; 8:11; 1 Corinthians 15:36, 45; II Corinthians 3:6; Galatians 3:21; I Peter 3:18). Another verb, egeiresthai (to raise), is used of both believer and unbeliever.
2) All of chapter 15 deals with the glorious resurrection of the believer only.
3) If the second all referred to unbelievers as well as believers, then Paul would be saying that Christ is the firstfruits of unbelievers (15:20). But 15:23 indicates that Christ is the firstfruits of only believers.
4 ) The close parallel of Romans 5:12–21 2 indicates that Paul is restricting the second all to believers only.
Similarly, in II Corinthians 5:14–15 3 all does not mean all. In an eagerness to defend the doctrine of unlimited atonement, some have injudiciously appealed to this passage’s “One died for all.” At first blush, it would seem to teach that the design of Christ’s death was to make a substitutionary, sacrificial atonement for every man. On a more matured reflection, however, it is obvious that not only does it not teach unlimited atonement, but it clearly teaches the exact opposite, limited atonement.
There is no question among orthodox exegetes that Paul’s “One died for all” refers to the sacrificial death of Christ, whereby he paid the divine penalty for sin. The question on which there is some disagreement is: Whose sin? Did he actually satisfy divine justice for the sins of all men? or of all the elect, the saved?
Two considerations evidence that it was the latter. 1) Paul inseparably links the death of Christ with the death of “all” by the word “therefore.” He states that he has come to the conviction that “Christ died for all; therefore all died.” Because Christ died, all have died. There is an unbreakable correlation between the death of Christ and the death of “all.” Obviously the second “died” does not refer to the physical death of all men, for Christ’s death did not cause the physical death of all people. Adam’s sin did that. If the second “died” (“therefore all died”) refers to a spiritual death, then the second “all” cannot be taken comprehensively, meaning all people everywhere. For that would mean that every single person has died spiritually in Christ. Necessarily, then, the second “all” must be restricted to only those who have been crucified with Christ spiritually. And the correlation between the two “all”s”—between the two parts of the sentence—demands that the first “all” (“Christ died for all”) be taken in the same sense as the second one, namely, all those who are in Christ. In other words, Paul declares that since Christ died for all the elect, therefore all the elect died spiritually.
2) This conclusion is supported by the continuation of Paul’s thought in verse 15. As a result of Christ’s death, Paul says, many “no longer live unto themselves but unto Christ who for their sakes died and rose again.” The Bible never teaches that the unbeliever, one who rejects Christ, lives unto Christ and no longer lives to himself. Only the believer so lives. Yet Paul expressly restricts the effect of his death to only those who live for Christ. This is limited atonement. To take the “all” of verse 15 universally would be to teach that all men are spiritually alive, and that is an absurdity.
It is plain that when the Bible uses all, it does not always mean all. This is an important principle to keep in mind when we exegete other seemingly universalistic passages such as John 4:42; II Corinthians 5:19; I Timothy 2:6; 4:10; Hebrews 2:9; and 1 John 2:2. The three examples given here should be a guard against making too hasty conclusions about unlimited atonement.
1. Some would restrict even the first all to believers only (Lenski). The parallel in Romans 5:12 ff. would seem to exclude this.
2. “Therefore, as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin…For if by the trespass of the one, the many died, much more did the grace of God, and the gift by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abound unto the many…For if, by the trespass of the one, death reigned through the one; much more shall they that receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one, even Jesus Christ. So then as through one trespass the judgment came unto all men to condemnation; even so through one act of righteousness the free gift came unto all men to justification of life” (Rom. 5:12a, 15b, 17, 18).
3. “For the love of Christ constrains us, because we judge that one died for all; therefore all died. And he died for all that those who live should no longer live unto themselves, but unto him who for their sakes died and rose again.”
4. Paul is teaching here nothing else than what he wrote to the Romans. In the sixth chapter he teaches that the believer is united with Christ; united with him in the likeness of his death, and therefore in the likeness of his resurrection (6:5). “But if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him” (6:8). Likewise, in Galatians 2;20 Paul writes: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”