A friend and I were having a discussion of the Calvanism vs. Arminianism variety. One of us cited 1 Timothy 2:4:

This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved

While the other countered with Hebrews 9:28:

so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many

In attempting to resolve this, one of us noted that 'many' in the English language is not necessarily exclusionary, and can simply refer to a large quantity whilst being all-encompassing.

Is there any indication in the original Greek as to whether or not 'many' could be coerced to reconcile with 'all'?

(I recognize that juxtaposing these two verses in particular might be disingenuous - perhaps 1 John 2:2 would be a better fit)

  • My apologies if this question at its essence is too broad in scope for this site. Definitely not seeking a Calvanism vs Arminianism answer here, more seeking the specific context of 'many' in Hebrews 9:28.
    – Jack Guy
    Jan 19, 2017 at 3:51
  • Instead of apologizing, perhaps you should edit the post to include 1 John 2:2. Just don't remove the Hebrews passage because it has already been addressed.
    – user10231
    Jan 20, 2017 at 14:16
  • 1
    @WoundedEgo I wasn't suggesting 1 John 2:2 was a substitute for Hebrews 9:28 - I was suggesting it might be a better verse to contrast with 9:28. But since the question is ultimately about 9:28, I left Timothy 2:4 in.
    – Jack Guy
    Jan 20, 2017 at 16:27
  • I see. Well still, editing the text is better than commenting on it as the comments can be tossed into the bit-bucket at any time.
    – user10231
    Jan 20, 2017 at 16:36
  • What do you mean by "exclusionary"?
    – curiousdannii
    Jan 21, 2017 at 2:05

3 Answers 3



Is 'many' necessarily exclusionary?

No. The relevant bit of Heb 9:28 (NA-28 | ESV):

οὕτως καὶ ὁ Χριστὸς ἅπαξ προσενεχθεὶς εἰς τὸ πολλῶν ἀνενεγκεῖν ἁμαρτίας
so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many

The contrast is made between Christ's once offering (prospherō) and the many whose sin he has taken upon himself (anapherō). This once/many dyad is reinforced by the repetition of the root pherō in these two verbs.1 The emphasis is not on the lack of a form of the word πᾶς ("all", which would be a rather odd emphasis to go unstated in any case), but on the contrast between the singularity of the offering and the multiplicity of those whose sin was borne.2

It's also worth keeping in mind, as noted in just about every list of cross-references, that Heb 9:28 is a reference to Isa 53:12, LXX (Rahlfs | NETS):

διὰ τοῦτο αὐτὸς κληρονομήσει πολλοὺς
Therefore he shall inherit many,

καὶ τῶν ἰσχυρῶν μεριεῖ σκῦλα,
and he shall divide the spoils of the strong,

ἀνθ᾿ ὧν παρεδόθη εἰς θάνατον ἡ ψυχὴ αὐτοῦ,
because his soul was given over to death,

καὶ ἐν τοῖς ἀνόμοις ἐλογίσθη·
and he was reckoned among the lawless,

καὶ αὐτὸς ἁμαρτίας πολλῶν ἀνήνεγκεν
and he bore the sins of many,

καὶ διὰ τὰς ἁμαρτίας αὐτῶν παρεδόθη.
and because of their sins he was given over.

Here again, the idea is that one individual (on whom, see the preceding verses) shall inherit many and has borne the sins of many. The verse is silent on the issue of whether he has borne the sins of all; that's not the point.

1. Despite the fact that neither of them looks like pherō nor like each other, this connection would be obvious to the Greek reader.

2. See also: Heb. 2:10; Mk. 10:45, 14:24.

  • (-1) While it is useful to point out the link to Isaiah 53:12, you don't take into account that that verse speaks of a resurrected Messiah "carrying away" people's sins. This is an allusion to Yom Kippur: Lev 16:22 "And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness." The carrying and intercession mentioned are post-death (please re-read the passage).
    – user10231
    Jan 20, 2017 at 22:37
  • Thank you for the feedback, and you're of course free to DV, but 1) there does not appear to be a verbal reference from Hebrews to Lev 16:22. The Greek is quite different. 2) On the association of ἀναφέρω with "carrying away", I suppose you've seen BDAG, sv. ἀναφέρω, 4? It specifically refutes that supposed meaning. Not sure how you can fault the answer for not discussing something that's there neither in Hebrews nor in the Greek of Isaiah.
    – Susan
    Jan 23, 2017 at 3:42
  • 3) I have re-read the passage and admit I'm not certain what you mean about the relevance of "post-death" here. Are you indicating that this would tie Heb 9:28 with the Lev. passage but not Isa.? Isa 53:12 apparently presents no temporal sequence. (Death "happens" twice in that verse.) I've probably misunderstood some of what you've tried to compress into a comment. If so, please feel free to step into Biblical Hermeneutics Chat.
    – Susan
    Jan 23, 2017 at 3:42

The Greek cannot be coerced in the way you suggest. However:

The Church Fathers interpreted Hebrews 9:28 to mean not that Christ intended to not to take away the sins of all, but rather that not all accepted His salvation. "Why 'of many,' and not 'of all'?" asked John Chrysostom in the 4th century. "Because not all believed, For He died indeed for all, that is His part: for that death was a counterbalance against the destruction of all men. But He did not bear the sins of all men, because they were not willing" (Homily XVII on Hebrews).

I think only a tortured reading of Scripture could support an argument that Christ did not intend to save all men. The following would also have to be considered:

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29, RSV)

And he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)

And he died for all, that those who live might live no longer for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. (2 Corinthians 5:15)

For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe. (1 Timothy 4:10)

(Also, "sacrifice" is probably not the best translation in Hebrews 9:28. The Greek word is προσφέρω - prosfero - which is usually translated as "offer". The word for "sacrifice" is θύω - thuo - and is the word used a little later in 10:1ff. This introduces a slightly different shade of meaning perhaps.)

  • I'm not sure what the Homily is trying to say: "...He died indeed for all, that is His part: for that death was a counterbalance against the destruction of all men. But He did not bear the sins of all men...". IF he means that the death was not bearing people's sins, then kudos because it is the living goat only that carries off the sins of the People.
    – user10231
    Jan 20, 2017 at 14:21

All means all: [G3956-πᾶς] Many means many: [G4183-πολύς]

There is a difference between the two words, and however large many is, "some" are not included.

The reason for the exclusion of some is not a deficiency of the redemptive action of Jesus. His death was a once for all sacrifice for all sin; not just the sin of man but the sins of the entire world:

He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2 ESV)

The passage cited in Hebrews is speaking about the judgment of all and the salvation of many:

And just as it is destined for people to die once and after this comes the judgment, so also Christ, having been offered once so as to bear the sins of many, will appear for a second time without reference to sin to the ones eagerly-awaiting Him, for salvation. (Hebrews 9:27-28 DLNT)

Despite a redemptive that is a propitiation for all sin, a person must still believe in His name to obtain the eternal life that accompanies salvation:

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:13 ESV)

In the context of Hebrews, "all" men will be judged; "many" will eagerly await Him for salvation because they have believed in His Name. "Some" who rejected Him will not be waiting for His return.

  • Thanks for the response and clarification on context. I do disagree with 'however large many is, it is not all'. I could say, 'I gave cake to many people at my birthday party'. I could also say, 'I gave cake to all of the people at my birthday party'. They two are not contradictory - 'many' simply refers to a 'large but indefinite number'. I recognize that's outside a typical English usage of the term, however, I did wonder if the Greek could possibly contain the same nuanced usage.
    – Jack Guy
    Jan 19, 2017 at 6:48
  • (+1) despite the added words "without reference to" sin, which twists the meaning.
    – user10231
    Jan 20, 2017 at 22:39

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