What About Those Who Have Not Heard? (Part One)

The question is often asked, “will those who have never heard the gospel be saved?” We want this to be true because it seems so compassionate and loving. Yet as Christians we must look past our feelings and to the Bible for answers. What we find may not be pleasant, but Scripture is always our authority in religious matters (1 Corinthians 4:6; 2 Timothy 3:16,17).
Paul wrote in Romans 10:17, “So then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God” (NKJV). Accordingly we ask, if someone has not heard the gospel or have a Bible then how can they be saved?
One writer asks, “Placing people in Hell because they have not heard the Gospel (and thus have not accepted it) is viewed as profoundly immoral. It is reminiscent of some of the Spanish Conquistadors who would enter a Native town, give a speech in Latin demanding that the people become Christians and lay down their weapons. The townspeople would be given an hour to make up their minds, the Conquistadors would then exterminate the townspeople (men, women, and children) for not acting on the demands. Not knowing Latin, the Natives hadn’t the foggiest idea what the soldiers were asking of them. If we view this type of act by humans as completely immoral, how could we expect it of an all-loving God whose ethical standard is conceived as being so much higher than ours?”/1
This teaching sounds good until we look more carefully into God’s word and see the implications of this doctrine. Then we are faced with conclusions that present some serious problems for all of us.
This argument has been somewhat diluted by the worldwide explosion in information technology. Gospel preaching is heard throughout much of the world on radio, television, and short wave broadcasts. Bibles have been translated into most languages on earth. Around the globe, missionaries work spreading the good news in print and in person.
Admittedly, we do not find a passage in Scripture that says explicitly that those who have never heard or read the gospel will be eternally lost. Yet there is ample information in Scripture to answer this question.
When Scripture explicitly commands us to do something, it excludes anything else. Phil Sanders illustrates this principle: “When I ordered some new shoes recently, I gave them the exact color, size, and style of shoe I wanted. I never thought about giving a number of prohibitions with my order. The specifics I gave ruled out every other color, size, and style. That’s the way business works. You tell them what you want, and they give you what you ask for. If the order comes back wrong, you send it back or cancel the order. It is as simple as that.”
When Scripture tells us that we are saved by faith (John 3:16), it means those who do not have faith are lost. When Scripture tells us that we must hear the Word in order to have faith and be saved, then it excludes those who have not heard. Otherwise, Scripture would be ten thousand pages long because it would have to tell us everything that we should not do rather than telling us what we should do. For example, eating the Lord’s Supper on Sunday means we do not eat it on any other day (Acts 20:7). It is a simple concept that we use every day.
These principles help us as we prepare to answer this question from the Word of God.
/ 1. http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_savn.htm

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Richard lives in Florence, Alabama and is married to Deirdre. They have three daughters. He is an avid reader, devoted writer and lover of history and research. He is the author of "The Most Important Question" and is working on more books.

One thought on “What About Those Who Have Not Heard? (Part One)

  1. This is something that sincerely bothers me. I thought God was a God of love, a just God, a fair God. How can condemning an ignorant, uninformed person in any way be considered just? If YOU were that ignorant, uninformed person, do you really think eternal punishment is what YOU should receive? In modern times, yes, there are many forms of communication and the Gospel is more easily spread to the most remote corners of the world. However, there have been many centuries of thousands of people who have lived in remote areas such as the Amazon, Africa, and Native Americans, who did not seem to have any way of knowing the God’s Word. It is not that we should hope for people to remain ignorant and avoid teaching them the truth so that they can be “saved”. The question is, is it within the realm of possibility for God to have mercy on individuals based on their unique circumstances? Does it make sense for people in those unique situations, in which they were completely unaware of God’s commands, to be punished for not obeying them?

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