Christ‟s command to preach the gospel to“every creature.” Paul writes:“…the gospel, which you have heard which was preached to every creature under heaven. Jesus said to preach the gospel to every creature; Paul said it was done. To the Church of Rome, Paul writes.... So then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. But I say, have they not heard? Yes indeed; “Their sounds has gone out to all the earth. And their word to the ends of the world. (Romans 10:17:18) Jesus commands to preach the gospel in all the world. Paul said it was done.
Paul, thirty one years later, proclaimed the conditions of the gospel were fulfilled (remember, this is not Paul’s opinion, this inspired writ, ie., God’s opinion). So how do we biblically explain this? How could the apostles have reached the whole world in a little over 30 years from the time they were commissioned? They did not have radio or television, they usually walked, rode donkeys, or perhaps horses at best. Have we also been traditionally taught wrong on this issue as well?
The answer is simple: We cannot apply our modern assumptions to scripture. The key to understanding any passages of Scripture has always been a good grasp of the culture, language, and the historical setting in which it was originally written. We have traditionally misunderstood the Greek word oikoumene which has been translated “world” in many English versions of the Bible. Because of our modern culture when most Christians see the word world, used in scripture they assume it means the whole planet earth. However, Jesus, Paul and others in the first century meant something much less.
If they were referring to the globe, then Paul‟s claims are outrageous and ridiculous. However, Jesus and Paul’s use of the word world was not the globe, we call planet earth, it was the Roman Empire. When Jesus commands to preach the gospel to the whole world, he was not speaking about a global perspective of people living over 2,000 years into the future. He was talking about the Roman Empire.
Is there any scripture to back up such a claim? Yes indeed. The primary rule of hermeneutics is to let (Scripture interpret Scripture). This manner of speaking and language was not new in the first century. Notice the accusation that is brought against Paul and Silas when they preached in Thessalonica: “These men who have (upset the world) have come here also” (Acts 17:6). They upset their know world, not the whole planet earth Paul was accused again before Felix:“… we have found this man a real pest and a fellow who stirs up dissension among (all the Jews throughout the world)…” (Acts 24:5). It might be suggested that such accusations were exaggerated; however, they are consistent with Paul‟s own claims in his letters. He freely admitted that he had preached “throughout the whole world.”
Let's look at more evidence in scripture. Elsewhere, the apostle Paul stated that the faith of the Christians in Rome was being “(proclaimed throughout the whole world)” (Romans 1:8).
In Act 19:27 we read, "So not only is this trade of ours in danger of falling into disrepute, but also the temple of the great goddess Diana may be despised, and her magnificence destroyed, whom all Asia (and the world worship)." Diana of the Ephesians (Acts 19:24-37), as known from many statues of her image and as depicted on coins. However, no one thought she was worshiped by the whole world.
And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit that there should be great (dearth throughout all the world): which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar. (Acts 11:28, KJV) (This was fulfilled during the reign of Claudius Caesar the word is the Roman empire)
The New International Version reads, One of them named Agabus stood up in one of the meetings and predicted by the Spirit that a great famine was coming upon the entire Roman world. (Acts 11:28, NLT) Are you starting to get the culture, language, and historical picture?
Extra-biblical sources reflect the same limited world view. And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that (all the world should be taxed) (Luke 2:1, KJV) The NASB renders “all the world” “the inhabited earth.” Luke, considered the Roman Empire to be“the world” as well. Again, we cannot apply our modern assumptions about the world to scripture.
Is there any evidence of this manner of speaking in the Old Testament ? Yes indeed there is. The Old Testament continually used the word world to refer to something much less than the entire globe. Five centuries earlier, Daniel predicted the appearance of the Greco-Macedonian Empire saying it would “rule over all the earth” (Dan. 2:39). Nobody had the idea the Greeks would rule the whole planet. Back in Genesis we read of a famine that covered “all the earth” (Gen. 41:57). This did not include the whole planet either, only the known world of that time.
It is imperative that we understand what Jesus and his apostles really meant when they used the term world if we expect to understand what they were predicting. The preaching of the gospel“throughout the whole world” was supposed to be fulfilled within one generation of Christ‟s earthly ministry (Matt. 24:14, 34), and we should not be surprised to discover that it was. There is no need to require a modern fulfillment.
Paul, thirty one years later, proclaimed the conditions were fulfilled. What happened a few short years after Paul said those words? The end came! The spring of A.D. 67 marked the beginning of a 3½-year period of tribulation unlike anything the Jews had ever known. Roman armies invaded Palestine from the north and began burning town after town, either killing the inhabitants or selling them into slavery. Finally, in the summer of A.D. 70, Jewish animal sacrifices ceased and the Temple was completely destroyed. The “last days of the Old Covenant”came to an end. That was“the end” Jesus was talking about in (Matthew 24:14).
No matter what our old traditions assume about “the word world.” Their world was the Roman Empire, and as far as Paul was concerned, the gospel had been preached to that world by 64 A.D.
Since the gospel was preached in all the world the end of the Old Covenant world or age followed soon after. This kind of language in scripture should not come as a surprise because older people who come to America use this kind of language all the time. Older people who come to America from other countries after spending some time here sometimes say I miss the old word. They are not talking about the whole world or global. They are talking about their world in the sense of their old country.