Dear brother Jeffrey,
There is something that has puzzled me for a long time. It is the statement that the gospel has been preached in the whole world in the Apostles' day. I can't understand how this could be because the western hemisphere had not been discovered at that time. For example, how could the native Americans have heard the gospel? Everyone that I have asked about this says it means the world that they knew about at that time. But the Bible says the gospel has been preached to every creature.
I'm not trying to be contrary, but I sincerely want to more fully understand this. Thank you for your help.
Before Jerusalem would be destroyed, "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come" (Matthew 24:14). Paul stated this was accomplished prior to the destruction of Jerusalem.
- "But I say, have they not heard? Yes indeed: "Their sound has gone out to all the earth, And their words to the ends of the world"" (Romans 10:18).
- "Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith" (Romans 16:25-26).
- "Because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth" (Colossians 1:5-6).
- "If indeed you continue in the faith 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).
The phrase in Colossians 1:23 does not have to mean that every single individual in the world heard the gospel. We can say, "The President issued a proclamation to the nation" and understand that there are people in the nation who did not hear the President speak. We also naturally know that we are not including infants and small children.
What we can say is that the gospel message was designed to be taught to everyone. It was not limited to one nationality, as the Old Law was (Deuteronomy 4:6-8). The apostles were commissioned to see that this message reached all creation. "And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation"" (Mark 16:15). However, they did not personally teach everyone. The apostles taught in the first church located in Jerusalem. When persecution arose against Christians, they spread around the world. "Those who had been scattered went about preaching the word" (Acts 8:4). We can see a small sample of this when Paul taught in the school of Tyrannus. "This took place for two years, so that all who lived in Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks" (Acts 19:10). Everyone did not attend the school of Tyrannus; rather, the students Paul taught went out teaching others, who in turned taught others. "The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also" (II Timothy 2:2).
We tend to focus only on the apostles, but it through the geometric process of one Christian teaching many that the news of Christ would rapidly spread. There is no easy way to measure exactly how far the gospel spread in the first 40 years of the church outside what God told us in the Bible.
Another thing we should consider is that our views are not necessarily the understanding of people in the times of the Bible. In a phrase like "in all the world," we have to consider what the people at that time would have understood it to mean. For example, "It will come about at the end of seventy years that the LORD will visit Tyre. Then she will go back to her harlot's wages and will play the harlot with all the kingdoms on the face of the earth" (Isaiah 23:17). Here the intent of the prophecy is clear that Tyre was dealing with the kingdoms of the known world at that time, which did not the nations that existed on the other side of the earth. While not absolute proof, it does show that "all the kingdoms of the world" can refer to only the known world at that time. It is accepted that "whole world" was being used in this limited sense when Paul said, "First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world" (Romans 1:8). I doubt the Incas knew of Rome, let alone about the faith of Christians in that city; yet, the statement is true in the sense it was offered and understood.