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Acts 19:10 NASB

This took place for two years, so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.

Does the use of “all” here mean “every person”? Or does it mean that people in Asia generally heard the word of the Lord? How do we hermeneutically understand the use of words like “all” and “every” (Greek πάντας) in the Bible, or at least in Acts?

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    Mark 1:5 mentions "all" of Judea and Jerusalem going to Jesus to be baptized. I also wonder if this meant every person. Commented Dec 6, 2021 at 21:57
  • It means literally like the knowledge was divinely transplanted on every single man under Asia's border. What do you think?
    – Michael16
    Commented Jan 4 at 12:25

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This is a rhetorical figure called synecdoche, designating "all" for a part of the population, but implying that such a part was very numerous.

Synecdoche of the Whole for the Part in the Bible

Gn 6:17 Now behold, I Myself am bringing the flood of water upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which there is the breath of life, from under heaven; everything that is on the earth shall perish.

All flesh, for most of it except those that went into the Ark.

Exodus 8:17 They did so; and Aaron extended his hand with his staff and struck the dust of the earth, and there were gnats on every person and animal. All the dust of the earth turned into gnats through all the land of Egypt.

All the dust of the earth, by a large part of the dust; all of Egypt, for the most part

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The first important point to establish would be what Paul understood constituted 'Asia'. That name only applied in the 4th century to certain, and particular, parts of the north-western peninsula of the Asiatic continent.

We today know that continent to be vast in size, incorporating what we now call Europe, plus the sub-continent of India, and going north and east into the Arctic circle. We could doubt what Acts 19:10 says due to a misconception that what we know constitutes the vast continent of Asia corresponded to Paul's understanding.

This means that it is first necessary to find out what Paul took to mean "Asia", a word that occurs 21 times in the New Testament, most of those being in the book of Acts. Here is a knowledgeable explanation:

"[Asia] is also called Anatolia, although the latter term is more correctly used for a particular portion. "Asia Minor" was the theatre of the earliest remarkable events recorded in profane history; as the Argonautic expedition, the Trojan war... the conquest of the Persians, the overthrow of their empire by Alexander, and the settlement in this part of Asia by his successors. It subsequently fell under the Roman sway, and suffered severely in after-ages in the wars of the Saracens, Turks, Tartars etc. It is also intimately connected with the early history of Christianity, and the first Christian churches were planted here. Its chief political divisions in ancient times were Bithynia, Cappadocia, Caria, Cilicia, Galatia, Lydia, Lycaonia and Isauria, Lycia, Mysia, Pamphylia, Paphiagonia, Phyrgia, Pisidia, and Pontius." Analytical Concordance to the Bible, Robert Young, p.57, Lutterworth Press, 8th edition, revised 1939

That list of political divisions would be what the apostle Paul understood to be Asia. So, the question needs to focus on whether he meant "all" of the people in those areas had heard the word of the Lord, when he wrote that verse.

Given the explosive spread of the gospel following Christ's resurrection, persecution particularly causing Christians to flee far and wide (and which persecution got well under way in Paul's lifetime), he would not just be thinking of his own gospel-spreading preaching, but he would know reports from all over the place with other Christians carrying out Christ's commission to take the good news into the world, spreading out from Jerusalem.

Further, Paul said that this preaching of the word of the Lord Jesus was not done secretly, "in a corner". It was done openly, publicly and fearlessly. See Acts 26:26 where Paul stated that. Even king Agrippa already knew the gospel message prior to Paul making his defence before him.

This is the sense in which we should take the verse in question. If the total population of those ancient parts of Asia was (let's say) 1 million adult people, it does not mean that every single one of them had heard with their own ears some Christian or other explaining the gospel of Christ to them, personally. It does mean that all means available at that time had resulted in all of those areas having Christianity, and the person of (the risen) Jesus Christ made publicly known. This is the "general" sense intended, I would answer, which has to go hand-in-glove with the restricted understanding of the extent of Asia.

As for the Greek word for “all” in the verse in question, it is the plural “all”, from the Greek ‘pas’, meaning “all, any, every”. It is not the other Greek words that mean “multitude; all together; the whole; how much/many/great/long; all together; or, as many as".

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I would say "both Jews and Greeks" describes it. And as we read on to 12 great miracles happened that likely made much news, so perhaps indeed it really was all, every head of household in that area likely heard of Paul and his message and miracles.

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The author of Acts tends to exaggerate, part of his style (hyperbole).

2:5 Jews of every nation under the heavens.

2:44 All who believed lived together

4:47 having favor with the whole people

9:35 All the inhabitants of Lydda and Sharon who saw him turned to the Lord

13:44 on the coming sabbath almost all the town (gather to the synagogue, must have been a big one)

19:10 so that all the inhabitants of Asia, Jews and Greeks alike, heard about the word of the Lord.

19:27 she whom all Asia and the whole world worship

21:21 that you teach all the Jews who live among Gentiles to abandon Moses

25:24 He it is about whom the whole Jewish community has appealed to me, both here and in Jerusalem

26:20 to all the country of Judea (Paul's teaching mission)

So things should not be taken literally, but a point was being made: a lot.

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2 Timothy 3:16

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

Also

1 Corinthians 10:11

Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.

From these scriptures, we can clearly see that the scriptures were written for our exhortation, for our lecture, and wholly for instruction in righteousness.

Therefore understanding the use of ‘all’, if it were just for all who truly heard the word of God and took heed to it, or all who were just hearers and not doers or peradventure all of Asia. It does not edify, what edifies is that people hear the word of God.

Acts 19:8-9

And he went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God. But when divers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus.

God is telling us here that the disciple of Christ departed from the persons who spake evil of the right path, and was concerned with bringing more souls to Christ, and this happened in the space of two years (not hours, days, or weeks) which is a long time, and this allowed persons from Asia both Jews and Greeks to hear the word of God. During this time, God the Father our Lord Jesus Christ wrought special miracles by the hands of Paul.

The scripture is written for instruction in righteousness, it is written to us for admonition unto righteousness.

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