CLAIM: This verse seems to imply that we need to hear Jesus’ name in order to be forgiven. This would mean that billions of people on Earth will go to hell, because they never heard Jesus’ name. Is this the case?
RESPONSE: A number of observations can be made.
First, the context of this passage is directed towards those who had heard of Jesus, rather than those who hadn’t. In fact, the context deals with the stubbornness of religious people, who were rejecting Jesus’ message. The stubborn religious people knew Jesus’ name. That wasn’t the question. The question was whether they would believe in his name or not.
Second, when Peter says that we are saved through Jesus’ “name,” he is referring to his work –not his title. Today we will often pick up somebody else’s tab by saying, “Put his bill under my name.” This is the sense in which Peter is speaking. When he says that we are saved by Jesus’ name, he is referring to his power. In the same way, when Jesus said, “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it” (Jn. 14:14 NASB), he did not mean that we are supposed to end every prayer by saying, “In Jesus’ name…” He meant that, when we pray, we are calling upon his power to answer the prayer.
Third, for this reason, it is clear that we cannot come to God through another religion. When someone comes to faith in Christ through creation and conscience, they are not being forgiven apart from Jesus’ work on the Cross. Instead, they are being forgiven through his work on the Cross, even though they are ignorant to it.
Fourth, the Bible makes a case that we can come to faith through creation and conscience. For a well developed case for this, see my earlier article.