Some argue that "throughout the whole world" here is best interpreted as an
indication of the universal offer of the gospel to all nations, i.e. outside the confines of the Jewish community.
This is possible since the literal meaning of the word for "world" here is "the inhabited area," and often indicated simply the Roman Empire or the known world.1,2
Two verses in particular are often used as evidence of this alternative interpretation. Colossians 1:5–6 reads:
Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, 6 which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing (ESV)
Colossians 1:23 is even more clear:
if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister. (NKJV)
Paul's language here and elsewhere (cf. Romans 1:8, Romans 10:18) is seen by some to be a confirmation of the words of Jesus, that the gospel had spread "universally" during the apostolic age.
Preterist J. Stuart Russell also sees a parallel passage in Matthew 10:23:
Truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
This he sees as consistent with Matthew 24:14, and argues that 10:23 refers to evangelizing Israel just as 24:14 refers to evangelizing the Roman empire. He concludes:
The wide diffusion of the gospel, both in the land of Israel and throughout the Roman empire, is sufficient to justify the prediction of our Lord [in Matthew 24:14].3
References and notes
- R. T. France, The Gospel According to Matthew
- Many commentators take the passage this way, including Albert Barnes, People's New Testament, John Wesley, and Thomas Coke. Wayne Grudem mentions this understanding as a possibility in his Systematic Theology, 1101–2.
- The Parousia, 71