By Rodney Pitts
After seeing the title of this article, many might be compelled to ask why I would write a lengthy article concerning this verse, especially considering how much has been written previously to this point. I will be the first to admit that this article will not be a “revelation” to most people, but it is my hope that the approach and information contained here might help dissolve some of the controversy and confusion that constantly surround this verse and divide brethren.
The verse under consideration, 2 Corinthians 9:13, reads as follows: “While, through the proof of this ministry, they glorify God for the obedience of your confession to the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal sharing with them and all men” (NKJV). The question involved in the text is whether the sharing with “all” mentioned at the last of this verse gives authority for the church to be involved in general benevolence, or benevolence designed to give relief to everyone, saint and sinner alike. One might be quick to point out that the text says that they gave to “all men,” but it must be remembered that the word “men” is italicized to show that it is not in the original text, and has been added by the translators. Thus, the answer to the problem lies not in the addition of the word “men,” but in the correct understanding of to whom the “all” refers.
In order to have a correct understanding of the word “all” in this verse, we need to first define it. All, or pantas in the Greek, is defined in two ways: (1) without the article it is “every, every kind or variety or whatever is mentioned or under consideration “, (2) with the article it is “the whole of the one thing referred to, one object, with the noun it means ‘all.’ In the plural it signifies the totality of the things referred to” (all emphasis mine, rbp) (Vine’s Expository Dictionary). Thus, the word does not mean “all men” or “all saints” or even “all sinners” for that matter; it is simply a word that means “all” of whatever is referred to in the context. This point is clearly seen in various verses. In Galatians 2:14 Paul was said to have rebuked Peter before “‘all.” Are we to believe that Paul took Peter and rebuked him in front of sinners in the world, or just in front of “all” the saints present? This same idea is seen in Paul’s admonition to rebuke those that sin before “all” (1 Tim. 5:20). Does the context allow us to believe that Paul was telling Timothy to rebuke erring Christians before saint and sinner alike? Surely from these verses we can see that the word all is limited by the context in which it is found. And, as we shall soon see, the “all” of 2 Corinthians 9:13 is limited by its context as well.
The second point that needs to be considered is the purpose of Paul’s writing of 2 Corinthians 8 and 9. A close look at these two chapters will reveal that Paul was writing this to encourage the Corinthians to be ready with their gift when he arrived. Paul had sent some brethren to help them get this gift together (8:6,16-18). And now in this letter he was also encouraging them to finish their work (8:8-11; 9:1-5). Paul explains to them how their gift would supply the needs of the saints and cause God to be praised (9:12). Paul then seeks to motivate them by stating that the “proof of this ministry” (i.e., their actual gift) would cause the saints to glorify God for the Corinthians’ obedience to their confession to the gospel of Christ and for their “liberal sharing with them and with all” (9:13).
Since it was the “administration of this service” and the “proof of this ministry” that would produce the thanksgiving among the saints at Jerusalem (2 Cor. 9:12-13), it is necessary to know what this “service” or “ministry” was. First of all, it is important here to note that “this ministry” was said to be a fellowship in 2 Corinthians 8:4. Thus, this work was a matter of joint participation between all involved. Secondly, the only other Bible knowledge concerning this work is that it was a collection for the needy saints at Jerusalem (Rom. 15:25,26,27,31). Paul told these same Corinthians in his first letter to get their collection ready for the saints in Jerusalem (1 Cor. 16:1-3). Even within the context of 2 Corinthians 8 land 9 Paul identifies that “this ministry” was for the relieving of the needy saints (2 Cor. 8:4; 9:1,12). Thus, if we are going to remain within the teaching and authority of the word of God, we must accept that “this ministry only dealt with the relieving of the needy saints.
With all this in mind, let us now see if we can determine who the “all” refers to in 2 Corinthians 9:13. Does the “all” refer to “all men” as some have suggested? If it does, then the word must be taken out of its context to get this meaning. Does it not seem strange that the saints in Jerusalem would praise God because the Corinthians were giving money to “all men” when “this ministry” that produced the praise was only said to be for the needy saints? Does it not also seem strange that the Jerusalem saints would praise God for the Corinthians’ liberal giving to “all men” when Paul is having to send this letter and these brethren just to get the Corinthians to fulfill their promise to help these needy saints? If Paul had to go to this much trouble to get these brethren to finish their work of helping their own brethren, why would we be inclined to say that they were helping “all men”? The fact of the matter is that nothing within the context even hints that the Corinthians were giving money to non-Christians.
It should also be pointed out that to make the “all” here in this passage refer to “all men” violates the grammatical rules of that adjective. Remember that the word was defined as “every, every kind or variety of whatever is mentioned or under consideration ” (emp. mine, rbp) (Vine’s). Since giving money to “all men,” or alien sinners, is not mentioned or under consideration here in this context, how can we rightfully say that the “all” here makes reference to sinners? Yet, it is sometimes argued that since the “them” within the passage must refer to saints, the “all” must refer to nonsaints. Yet, this misses the actual meaning of the word “them” and applies it farther than the context allows. It should actually be understood as “with them (saints in Jerusalem) and all (saints everywhere else).” This interpretation must be true since the “all” can only refer to something that is under consideration within the context, which is saints.
But, just as the context does not allow the “all” to refer to non-Christians, it would also be misusing this passage to make it say that the Corinthians gave money to all saints everywhere, because the whole work was only for the “saints in Jerusalem” (Rom. 15:25,26, et. al.). So, again we must seek to translate and understand the words of the passage within their context. If we translate the words haploted koinonia (translated as “liberal distribution” KJV), “liberal sharing” (NKJV) as “sincere, or single minded fellowship,” we have disposed of the problem. It should here be noted that this is a very legitimate translation and is held to be correct in Vine’s Expository Dictionary, Greek-English Dictionary of the N. T., by B.M. Newman; Arndt- Gingrich: A Greek-English Lexicon of the N. T.; and basically every commentary I have ever read. Thayer in his lexicon even emphasized the fact that the word koinonia refers to a spiritual fellowship, not just a distribution of goods, by stating that the word’s use here actually referred to a “proof positive of their (the Corinthian’s, rbp) fellowship” with the Jewish brethren. The reason that this translation eliminates the problem is that the whole project, or ministry, was called a fellowship (2 Cor. 8:4), and the Corinthian church could show their sincerity of fellowship to the whole brotherhood through their gift to their Jewish brethren in Jerusalem (i.e., if these Gentiles were willing to help their Jewish brethren, then the whole brotherhood would then know of and experience their fellowship). I believe Lenski made this point quite well when he stated:
Secondly, the saints are seen as glorifying God “also for the single-mindedness of (your) fellowship with them and with all,” i.e., all other saints. The word haplotes is used in the same sense as before (8:2; 9:11); it does not mean “liberality” or “liberal” (our versions) but, as already explained, “single-mindedness.” And koinonia means “fellowship” or “communion” as it did in 8:4 and not “contribution”: (R.V.) or “distribution” (AN.). Every thought of “contribution” is excluded by the phrases “with them and with all.” When we translate “liberality of the contribution for them (the saints) and for all,” the meaning is misleading, for the collection was taken up only for the saints in Jerusalem and not for all saints everywhere. Yet this idea is defended, it is said that this contribution to the saints at Jerusalem is as good as a contribution to all saints everywhere; by helping some really all are helped.
Paul is speaking about something that is far higher than “the liberality of the contribution.” The saints at Jerusalem are pictured as glorifying God “for the singlemindedness of (your) fellowship with them and with all,” i.e., for your spiritual fellowship and communion. It is this fellowship of the Corinthians which extends not only to those saints who are being helped at present but to all God’s saints, whether they are helped or not (Lenski, Interpretation of Second Corinthians, pp. 1185-1186).
It is interesting to note that Lenski never even men~ tions the idea that the “all” could refer to “all men,” or sinners. The context simply will not allow it. No other commentary that I have read gives this “all men” idea as an alternative interpretation. It just does not fit the context in which it is found.
From this material, I believe it can be seen that to understand the “all” of 2 Corinthians 9:13 to refer to “all men,” or sinners, is to wrest it from its context and to do violence to the grammatical rules that govern the usage of the word. It is my hope that this material has been accepted and considered within the light in which was written. May we all continue to study God’s word and seek to preach and practice only what is authorized therein.
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 19, pp. 586-587
October 5, 1989