Topic: For Many or For All?

Question: Jesus said "for you and for many". And every single translation of the Bible, the most liberal Catholic, the most periphrastic, sloppy, unliteral Protestant translations, all accurately record our Lord's words as being, "My Blood shall be shed for you and for many." Not a single one says "for you and for all." Not even the comic-strip Bible, says "for you and for all." They all say "for you and for many." For 2,000 years, the Latin text of this has read, pro vobis et pro multis, -- "multis" meaning "many."


The words in the Greek text for which "pro multis" are the Latin translation are "hoi pollon" which literally mean "the masses." It is not intended to mean "the many" in opposition to "all." In context it meant "the masses" as opposed to the "chosen few." The Greek Orthodox theologian Fr. Thomas Hopko agrees with the translation of "all" and he ought to know.

In my opinion, the Latin translation should more accurately be "pro multitudinibus." If you use "pro multis" you are limiting the extent of the atonement only to the elect and this is a Calvinist heresy that the Church has rightly condemned.

It is true that the Catechism of the Council of Trent argued for "pro multis" to mean "the many" and condemned the understanding of it as "for all." But there was an important context for that condemnation. We must distinguish between the extent of the atonement and its application. Some people in the 16th Century were saying that denying limited atonement necessitated that all men must be saved since the sovereign power of God cannot be resisted. The Tridentine Catechism was trying to deny that notion. It was arguing that the merits of Calvary are only applied to those who are elect. It never denied that they were potentially available to everyone.

In the modern age with better scholarship, it is apparent that Our Lord was not talking in the restrictive terms of election but in the more inclusive terms of the universal offer of salvation. I think that the modern translation of "for all" is more correct in NT context.

Art Sippo
The Catholic Legate