“For the saving grace of God was revealed to all men,”
Though no translation is perfect, it is verses like these that makes me desire a more literal modern translation. Too many of the translations imply by their reading that the grace of God brings salvation to all men, but that is not what the text states. Instead, Paul is quite plainly stating that it is the saving grace of God that has appeared to all men (leaving men without excuse).
There are several things to unpack with respect to this verse, but let us begin with the wording itself. The Greek word σωτήριος (soterios) is the primary word up for debate when translating this passage. It is an adjectival form of σωτηρία (soteria), which means “salvation.” In the context of the passage then, σωτήριος (soterios), the adjective in nominative form, must modify χάρις (charis — grace), which is the noun also found in the nominative form (in English, we would call this the Subject) in this sentence (recognizing that the sentence continues beyond verse 11). The most natural reading, then, is “saving grace,” recognizing “grace” to be the noun in question and “saving” to be the adjective that modifies it. Some translations render this “grace that saves” or “grace that brings salvation,” which are legitimate translations, though are not as simple and straight-forward as they could be made to read.
The verb in question — the very heart of a Greek sentence — is ἐπιφαίνω (epiphaino), which means “to reveal,” though it is in the passive tense here, implying that the noun in the nominative position is being revealed. Thus, what is being revealed? It is not simply that the Grace of God is being revealed, but the saving grace of God is being revealed.
But, how has the saving grace of God been revealed to “all” men? Certainly even today we cannot honestly say that the Gospel has been taken to all people without exception. We can state, with the Apostle Paul, that all men are without excuse because the invisible attributes of God are seen in creation (Romans 1:19-20), but what about his saving grace? How has this been revealed to all men?
Part of this answer can be found in one more Greek word that is used in this verse. The adjective πᾶς (pas) is the word we translate as “all” when it comes to “all men.” Typically this word is not used to refer to all things without exception, but to all things belonging to a class of things. Paul has previously spoken of old men, old women, young men, young women, children, wives, husbands, slaves, masters, and church leaders…all kinds of people…and that is the point of this statement, that the saving grace of God has been revealed to all kinds of people — people from every class of people, or from every stage in life. The Gospel is not just for certain kinds of folks, it is for all people.
Isn’t it interesting how often our churches act as if the Gospel is only for certain types of people, though? People who are different or who have disabilities are sometimes made to feel excluded from the fellowship of the whole. People from different ethnic backgrounds often are not made to feel at home in the culture of the church and sometimes this is even seen with respect to people’s careers and educational backgrounds. The Apostle Paul, would say, for shame! There is no class of people to whom the Gospel does not apply; thus there must be no class of people that must be excluded from the preaching of the Word.
When I was in seminary, I had the privilege of serving both rural Mississippi congregations as well as serving as a chaplain for an inner-city rescue mission. In at least one of those churches there was at least one man who had been deeply involved with the Klu Klux Klan. Yet, he needed the Gospel as much as anyone else in that congregation. Also, there was at least one instance at the rescue mission where there was a Black Panther (I know for sure as he was quite belligerent to me and tried to intimidate me); he needed the Gospel too. As a pastor I’ve had the privilege with working with youth and people who were in the last years of a very long life (I have buried two centenarians in my ministry thus far). All need the Gospel. I have acquaintances who have multiple doctorate degrees and others who never completed elementary school. Both groups (and everyone in between) need the Gospel. Whether Jew or Gentile, slave or free, we need the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
One more note…can we say in any sense that all men have seen the saving grace of God and thus are without excuse? Truly, all men have seen the invisible attributes of God and have experienced the common grace of God in this life (common grace being the rain and the sun and the joys associated with life, not salvation). Yet, not all men have had the saving grace of God revealed to them for two reasons. First, the saving grace of God must always be revealed through the preaching of the Word (Romans 10:14-17). The preaching of the word has gone out to many places, but not to all places. That work is still left incomplete. Second, to genuinely hear (and thus have revealed to you) the saving grace of God, one must also have been regenerated by the work of the Holy Spirit. So no, it cannot be said that all mankind has had the saving grace of God revealed to them…yet, they are still without excuse because of general revelation in this world (again, that is Paul’s argument in Romans 1) and frankly, without excuse means without excuse.