Nebuchadnezzar and the Great Commission

And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.”

Mark 16:15

Jesus commanded His disciples to go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Preaching the gospel to the whole kosmos and to all ktisis would be a sign of the end of the age. Although they would see wars, persecution, earthquakes, and famine, it was the completion of this worldwide gospel mission that would be the key to knowing when the end would come.

This gospel of the shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.

Matthew 24:14

The Greek for the whole world here is holē tē oikoumenē. It is interesting that all the expressions above to talk about the gospel mission are later used by the disciples to affirm that the task was complete. In Colossians 1, for example, Paul wrote,

if indeed you continue in the firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister.

Colossians 1:23 (cf. Colossians 1:6)

The question that may come to a lot of readers’ minds is, “How could Paul say this when much of the world, such as the Americas, hadn’t received the gospel?” Excellent question. To answer, let’s talk about Nebuchadnezzar. In Daniel 2, Daniel told the king,

You, O king, are the king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, the strength and the glory; and wherever the sons of men dwell, or the beasts of the field, or the birds of the sky, He has given them into your hand and has caused you to rule over them all. You are the head of gold.

Daniel 2:37–38

Was Nebuchadnezzar literally the king over wherever the sons of men dwell? Below is a map of the empire from the Standard Bible Atlas.

Standard Bible Atlas. Cincinnati: Standard Publishing, 2006. Print.

So, obviously, Nebuchadnezzar wasn’t king over literally every single person in existence, but, to the Jewish people, he ruled over everything they knew. This statement, and other hyberboles Daniel employed to describe his reign, show us that when the Bible speaks about all the earth or all creation or all nations, there is a more limited understanding of these expressions than how we may use them today with our access to Google Earth, pictures of our world from space, and the Internet.

Here is another example.

it is you, O king; for you have become great and grown strong, and your majesty has become great and reached to the sky and your dominion to the end of the earth.

Daniel 4:22

Again we must ask what Daniel meant by to the end of the earth. Babylon wasn’t literally a worldwide empire, but its influence and reign was great.

When we read about the worldwide gospel mission and the completion of it by Paul and the other apostles, we shouldn’t be too shocked. We also shouldn’t feel obligated to come up with theories about Paul being beamed over to the Native Americans either. We have to learn how to read the Bible, and this means learning how the original reader thought and talked about Scripture.

Firday, we will take this principle and use it to interpret a few other passages in the New Testament which give some readers trouble.

2 Replies to “Nebuchadnezzar and the Great Commission

  1. Daniel has presented a classic example of hyperbole in the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s outreach to those in his realm. He correctly calls attention to “all the world” as being limited in scope. Through out the Scriptures, we encounter various forms of figurative language, which does not carry within its definition literalism. As we wait for Daniel’s next essay dealing with hyperbolic language. I encourage each reader to go back and reread this short essay, which is well crafted for insight.

  2. The phrase “all the world,” like so many other phrases, is hyperbolic in nature. In other words, the writers of Scripture frequently use exaggerated language to drive home a point. This illustration concerning Nebuchadnezzar is right on target. Daniel seeks to apply the basic rules of interpretation for any text. I recommend a book by Robert H. Stein–A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible: Playing by the Rules. Daniel, in this short essay, plays by the rules of common-sense interpretation.

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