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At Matthew 26:27-28 (NRSVCE) we read:

Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins."

Those words of Jesus are reproduced in the Eucharistic celebration of the Catholic Church. My question is: Why did Jesus use the words "for many" instead of "for all"? What are the connotations, including references to the OT, which the Catholic Church attribute to the word "many" as used by Jesus at the Last Supper?

  • I believe there is a Vatican II document explaining that the meaning of ‘many’ here is essentially ‘all.’ I’m not sure though. Many post Vatican II translations of the words of consecration use the word ‘all’ too. – Joseph Hinkle Jul 7 '18 at 16:29
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    I'm interested in the answers to this question as I can point to figures in history who I have a hard time believing will be forgiven and/or saved. If we have free will, then part of that free will is the freedom to fail. Further, the Bible identifies unpardonable sins and it makes little sense to teach us about them if everyone/anyone can be saved from them (making them not unpardonable). Thus, "for many" makes perfect sense to me. – JBH Jul 7 '18 at 17:19
  • "I'm interested in the answers to this question as I can point to figures in history who I have a hard time believing will be forgiven and/or saved. " Are you asking about universal salvation? I don't see anything in the passage necessitating that He is speaking about the beneficiaries of the atonement. He could also be speaking about who the atonement is for, which is the whole world. If I'm correct about this, then "for all" is a valid interpretation, though a bad translation. – Joseph Hinkle Jul 7 '18 at 17:29
  • @JosephHinkle, I stumbled across your comment. If you want to alert another commentor in the chain, you need to use the @[name] format to make it happen. In a sense I am, and in a sense I'm not. I cann accept the translation as-is because it conforms with my beliefs, while shifting it to "all" begins to make me scratch my head. You're correct that the reference is not necessarily in terms of salvation (only for the purpose of forgiveness), but it still piques my interest, and I'm hoping for an answer. – JBH Jul 7 '18 at 20:49
  • @JBH well if you believe that Jesus meant that all men will be beneficiaries of His blood, then I think you would have to be a universalist. Now is a good time to be a universalist anyways, as it seems most Christians traditions have been moving in that direction for the past 100 years (and since the Reformation more generally). – Joseph Hinkle Jul 8 '18 at 17:28
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In his Commentary on St. Matthew's Gospel, St. Thomas Aquinas writes:

“He shall sprinkle,” meaning with His Blood, “many nations” (Is. 52, 15). For many, and for all, because if its sufficiency be considered, “He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world” (I Jn. 2, 2). But if we consider its effect, it only has its effect on those who are saved, and this is the fault of men.

Although He redeemed everyone, not everyone's sins are forgiven; some people are damned due to their own fault.

Remigius explains it this way (quoted in St. Thomas's Catena Aurea on Mt. 26):

And it is to be noted that He says not "For a few" nor "For all", but "For many"; because He came not to redeem a single nation, but many out of all nations.

  • "He redeemed everyone" is news to me, where in the Bible does it say that Christ redeemed everyone? The redemption asserted within Titus 2:14 sounds incompatible with "everyone" – AFL Dec 26 '18 at 9:08
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Having been taught that Jesus died on behalf of all people I have wrestled with a very closely related question: If Jesus died for everybody, why do the Scriptures report, "for many" (Mt 26:28) rather than, "for all"., particularly since this touches upon a doctrinal conflict that has divided the Church for centuries, a Church for whose unity Jesus Himself requested (Jn 17:21) and for whose life He died (Eph 5:25), namely, "why do many (not all) "Christian" churches teach "poured out for all", even though the English text reports Jesus seemingly limiting the beneficiaries of His shed blood: "for many", rather than "for all". I have examined the following hypothetical "explanations" for this apparent limitation within the English text:

1) The received (Greek) text was corrupted, before being translated into English.

2) The received (Greek) text has been mistranslated into English.

3) Jesus was mistakenly quoted by the apostles.

4) Jesus was quoted accurately, but misspoke, intending to say "for all", rather than, "for many".

5) Jesus considered "many" and "all" to be completely synonymous, therefore, completely interchangeable.

6) Subsequent Bible expositors and teachers have gone beyond what has actually been written.

These hypothetical explanations are briefly examined below:

1) Corrupted text is popular with those whose beliefs depend upon extra-Biblical sources of authority. However, this option lobotomizes the assurances of 1Tim 3:16 and 1Cor 14:33 and impugns God's ability to protect the essentials of His written Word, given to His people. Furthermore, a comparison of the oldest (least copied?) and the newest (most copied?) Greek manuscripts for this verse, .https://biblehub.com/text/matthew/26-28.htm, all agree "περὶ πολλῶν", literally "around many".

2) An examination of ~28 English translations at https://biblehub.com/matthew/26-28.htm reveal different rendering of the preposition, but unanimous agreement about the adjective, "many".

3) If Matthew misquoted Jesus, He apparently did it twice (Mt 20:28). as previously had Mark, also twice (Mk10:45; 14:24), and as others subsequently testified about Christ's atonement/redemption/ransom work (Rom 5:15,19, Heb 9:28,1Pet 3:19) Moreover, any misquotation would invalidate the authority of the God-breathed" text (1Tim 3:16), as well as, obliterate confident authority for reproof or correction and instruction in righteousness (1Tim 3:16). Furthermore, errors would invite private, "corrective" interpretations or translations, running afoul of 2Pet 1:20-21, regarding which word, neither God nor Holy Spirit can possibly lie or make mistakes (Rom 3:4, Jn 17:17).

4) Misspeaking is also unlikely. Jesus, God incarnate, who speaks only what the Father commands Him(Jn 12:49) can't lie or make mistakes either, nor could he be a sin-offering, without blemish.

5) Synonymy seems very unlikely. The adjectives,"all" (πάντα) and "many" (πολύς) are quite linguistically distinct in both English and Greek. "All" conveys an objective statement of inclusion (without exception) of each element of some context-defined set. It is completely silent about number. In contrast, "many" conveys a subjective statement of relative number (of some context-defined set), but is silent about inclusion or exclusion. Accordingly, "all" might mean anywhere from "one" to "many" , while "many" might refer only to "some". Furthermore,"πολύς, "many" is used 361 times in the GNT, giving ample opportunity to be contextually defined in an unambiguous manner. Moreover, synonymy would appear to also run afoul of other atonement/salvation-relevant assertions about the "many" (albeit limited) beneficiaries of Christ's salvation work (Is 53:11, Mt 7:13, Mt 8:11) as well as, those Scripture verses where "many" and "all" are distinguished within the same verse (36 times in the KJV), including, Mt 8:16,12:15, Lk 12:7; Jn 10:41; Heb 2:10; Jam 3:2). Moreover, the proper interpretation of Mt 26:28 needs to be consistent with atonement information provided elsewhere: "I lay down my life for the sheep" (Jn 10:15), hence, the beneficiaries of His shed blood (the redeemed, the propitiated, the reconciled, the ransomed, His brothers and sisters) are many, but not everyone, just like the "adopted children of God" are many but not everyone, and those "purchased... with Your blood, from out of every tribe...."(Rev 5:9) suggests that many, are selectively redeemed, but not all, nor everyone. Similarly, descriptions like "children of God, and "joints heirs" (Rom 8:17) are likely many (but not likely everyone), since, many (but not all) is a characteristic of the "children of God" (Rom 9:8). Lastly, both Titus 2:14 and 1Th 5:10 reveal reasons and purposes of His redemption gift of Himself, in a manner that unlikely benefits all. The same seems to be true for the "many' defined within Heb 9:28.

6) Misinterpretation seems most plausible . Church history is littered with distortions and heresies, from its beginning, until today: legalistic Judaizers (Gal 2:11-14, Gal 6:12), Arianism (AD-256), Pelagianism (AD-354), Semi-Pelagianism (AD-529) works-righteousness gospels, prosperity gospels, intermediary intercessors, with variations seemingly being attempted within every generation. Moreover, the particular selectivity of God's grace (Mt 22:14; Jn 17:2; Act 23:48, Rom 8:29) often encounters hostility from many (although not all), just as it did when Jesus reminded His Nazareth-listeners (Lk4:26) about the particular selectivity of God's grace toward only two Gentiles during two very stressful periods within Israel, prior to His dispersion of them, among the nations.

In conclusion, it seems far safer to trust that the the "King of kings and Lord of lords" (1Tim 6:15; Rev 17:14; Rev 19:16), Creator of the everything in heaven and earth (Col 1:16), including language, logic and meaning, the omniscient God incarnate, who is never the author of confusion (1Cor 14:33), meant exactly what He said and intended, nothing more and nothing less. This provides a bulwark against the confusion that results from misleading opinions and translations, and false teachings. The question arises and remains: what is, and who speaks the truth and whom shall we trust? I would suggest,"thy Logos-Word is Truth" (Jn 17:17) and, as such, it cannot contain any contradictions. Furthermore, the resolution of any apparent contradictions, can correct both faulty doctrines and misleading translations (like 1Tim2:6; Jn 3:16, 1Jn 2:2), and produce a deeper, more accurate understanding of God's Holy Word... for all, the many, willing to seek it.

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