There are several definitions of the word “all”; it can be a pronoun, adverb or a noun. The one of interest for this discussion is the pronoun version: “used to refer to the whole quantity or extent of a particular group or thing” such as “all the people I met.” Some synonyms of interest include everyone, everybody, each person, and every person. In our conversation “all” can be a dangerous word and easily be overused or an exaggeration. If we are talking about people and use the word all, whatever we say applies to every person in the world. So, I’m not sure we can say too many things using “all”.
Since we can say very little about an entire population of people, or an entire lot of a product we use statistics to draw conclusions about the whole based on a sample of the people or product. Even though we can draw these conclusions, we know that not every person or product will conform to the conclusions we draw from the sample. If we add modifiers to the word all, we incur even more risk. For instance if I make a statement about “all white males….”, or “all black females…” (or any other similar statement) I have taken too much for granted with the statement. I obviously do not personally know all of the white males in the world so I have no idea that my statement is true. In fact, the probability that it is true is very very low. These kinds of statements are based on the sample of, in this case white males, that we have encountered and the issue is the size of the sample is too small to draw any kind of conclusions. But we do anyway and that becomes a “stereotype” that we assume to be true of all white males. The bottom line is we must be careful with the word “all”. Having said that and having read Paul’s letter to the Romans, I was a little taken aback at the number of times Paul used the word all or one of the synonyms mentioned above in this epistle. I think it’s worth looking at, but there’s a lot to see.
“Through Him and for His name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among ALL the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.” 1:5 Paul was God’s “chosen instrument” to carry His name before the Gentiles (Acts 9:15) and he is writing “To ALL in Rome who are loved by God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. 1:7 Since we know God loves everyone, Paul was writing to everyone in Rome. Next Paul thanks God for ALL of the Romans for their faith is being reported ALL over the world 1:8 and he makes sure they know he prays for them at ALL times 1:10.
Skipping ahead to verse 16 Paul says the “gospel is the power of God for the salvation of EVERYONE who believes”. In 18 “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against ALL the godlessness and wickedness of men…” and vs 29 “They have become filled with EVERY kind of wickedness, evil, greed, and depravity.”
That’s eight times in the first chapter alone that Paul uses “all” or one of the synonyms. In total, he uses the word or a synonym at least 64 times (depending on the translation) in this letter to the Romans so I won’t take the time to write every one of them out. Not all of the 64 are used in the definition of interest that we described above. For instance, he often asks a question and answers “not at all”. So what I’d like to do is limit the remainder of the discussion to the uses that I think are most pertinent and the ones we should consider carefully in our lives.
We’ll spend a couple of future posts on Paul’s use of the word all and its synonyms throughout the remainder of Romans.