OBJECTION #1: “Don’t people need to hear Jesus’ name in order to get into heaven?”

First, the New Testament affirms that Old Testament believers are in heaven –even though they did not hear about Jesus. The New Testament teaches that Old Testament believers will be in heaven (Rom. 4; Heb. 11). These people didn’t know the details about Jesus (1 Pet. 1:10-12), but they still had saving faith (Heb. 11:1, 6). Because it was impossible to know Jesus’ name, they were not judged for what they could not have known.[1]

Second, there are many Old Testament believers who come to faith apart from human agency. For example, Job was not associated with the Jewish people, but he believed in Yahweh. Melchiezedek (pronounced mel-KEYS-uh-deck) is said to be a “priest of God Most High.” And yet, Melchiezedek lived before the nation of Israel was even established –let alone the priestly line (Gen. 14:18). As we consider these two men, we have to ask ourselves: Could there be a modern Job or Melchiezedek living today? Is it possible that someone could come to faith in the one true God –even if they were never told about him? This definitely seems possible.

Third, the Bible makes a good case for infant salvation. Isaiah writes that there is an age before a child is able to “know to refuse the evil and choose the good” (Is. 7:16 NASB). The children of Israel were not held responsible for the sins of their parents during the Wandering, because they had “no knowledge of good or evil” (Deut. 1:39 NASB). They inherited the land –the blessing of God –because they were ignorant to the sins of their parents. Therefore, God didn’t punish them for what they could not have known. David said he would go to be with his infant baby, who had died (2 Sam. 12:23). David believed in an afterlife, and he thought that he was going to be with God after death (Ps. 16:10-11), and the New Testament authors claim that he is in heaven, too (Rom. 4:6-8). This demonstrates that his infant must be in heaven, too. In addition, Jesus implies that little children will be in heaven (Mk. 10:14; Mt. 18:3; 19:14), explaining that there were those who were “blind” to sin (Jn. 9:41). God doesn’t judge babies for what they couldn’t have known.[2]

Fourth, the Bible teaches that God has communicated himself to all people through creation and conscience. Solomon writes that God put “eternity in our hearts” (Eccl. 3:11). Paul writes that God has put a moral conscience inside of us (Rom. 1:19; 2:14-15) and a universal creation outside of us (Rom. 1:20). Paul said that people could infer the goodness of God from creation (Acts 14:15-17). From this universal knowledge (or general revelation), we are able to infer that there is a moral and personal creator, who is vastly greater than ourselves.[3]

Fifth, because of God’s universal knowledge through creation and conscience, someone is able to be forgiven by God –even though they have not heard of Jesus’ message. The author of Hebrews writes that there are two basic components to biblical faith. He writes, “And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that [1] God exists and that [2] he rewards those who sincerely seek him” (Heb. 11:6 NLT). Based on this definition of faith, it’s plausible to believe that people –without a specific knowledge of Jesus –can throw themselves on the mercy of God, trusting that “God exists” and that he “rewards those who sincerely seek him.” For instance, this is what the tax collector prayed, when he said, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” Jesus taught that this man would be “justified” before God (Lk. 18:13-14).

Paul explained that all people can “seek” God and “find” him, no matter where they are on Earth (Acts 17:27 NASB). In fact, Paul writes that this evidence is so powerful that it leaves us “without excuse” (Rom. 1:20 NASB). If it wasn’t possible for them to come to faith (because of geographical location), then this would be an excellent excuse! Why would God give people just enough knowledge to judge them? This doesn’t seem consistent with God’s character.

Sixth, many Christians throughout history have held this belief. For example, Justin Martyr in the 2nd century, John Calvin in the 16th century,[4] John Wesley in the 19th century, and C.S. Lewis in the last century all believed that God makes forgiveness possible for all people on Earth –even if they were unaware of Jesus’ work on the Cross.[5] These men could all be flat wrong, but this shows that many respected Christian thinkers viewed this position as entirely biblical.

Seventh, people in Western culture are not in a position to judge God on this issue. Just take one look at Western culture and ask yourself if we really care about people on the other side of Earth. We spend our money on endless entertainment, when much of the world rots to death on a dollar a day. We guzzle down bottled water that costs more per gallon than gasoline in a country that actually has drinkable tap water! We have 100 foot grocery aisles for pet food, while human beings are starving to death all over the world. Are we really in a position to judge God here? According to the Bible, it isn’t that we are going to judge God, but rather, he is going to judge us.

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[1] Fernando refers to modern day people as theologically before Christ, even though they are not chronologically before Christ. Fernando, Ajith. Sharing the Truth in Love: How to Relate to People of Other Faiths. Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House, 2001. 224.

[2] How old does someone need to be before God begins to judge them? Some Christians believe that the age is 20, because this is inferred from Numbers 14:29. The people under the age of 20 are not judged in this passage. I highly doubt this is right. I don’t think that the Bible gives us an age, because different people mature in different stages. It’s likely that the age of accountability is different for each person, dependent upon mental development and maturity.

[3] See also Psalm 97:6 and Job 12:7-9.

[4] This is stated in Calvin’s commentary on Rom. 10:14. Calvin writes, “The preached word alone… is the normal mode which the Lord has appointed for imparting His Word. If it is contended from this that God can instill a knowledge of Himself among men only by means of preaching, we shall deny that this was the meaning of the apostle.” Anderson, J. N. D. Christianity and World Religions: the Challenge of Pluralism. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity, 1984. 149.

[5] Lewis speculated in his book The Last Battle that people could come to faith through their pagan religion. He speculated that there were salvific aspects of all religions. In Mere Christianity, he writes, “There are people in other religions who are being led by God’s secret influence to concentrate on those parts of their religion which are in agreement with Christianity, and who thus belong to Christ without knowing it.” This is too far, and I strictly disagree. However, I do agree with him that they could come to God through general revelation. Fackre, Gabriel J., Ronald H. Nash, and John Sanders. What about Those Who Have Never Heard?: Three Views on the Destiny of the Unevangelized. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1995. 22.