What about those who've never heard the gospel?

by Matt Slick

This short dialogue raises a good question about those who have never heard the gospel.  The answer isn't all that easy.


Tim: You don't know me, but can I ask you a question?
Matt: You just asked one question.  So go ahead and ask another.
Tim:    :-) (all apologists are alike) How do people who have never even heard the name of Christ have a chance on going to heaven?
Matt: They don't.
Tim: Well now that doesn't sound fair.
Matt: Who said it is not fair?  What is fair?
Tim: God is a just God, and how is that justice?
Matt: What is fair for those who have sinned against God?
Tim: If they never have a chance to repent, how can they be judged?  They don't know any better.
span class="diagreen">Matt: You are right. He is just and since all people have sinned against him, it is just that they all go to hell, isn't it?  The Bible tells us that there is no other way to get to heaven other than through Jesus  Correct?
Tim: Correct.
Matt: The Bible tells us that we are by nature children of wrath (Eph. 2:3).  It tells us that there is none righteous, and it tells us that God is holy.  Would it be justice to say that those who did not hear of Christ are somehow excluded from the righteous judgment of God upon them for their sin? Would that be justice?  If that is so, then why the Jesus need to die? Why would it be that they must hear the gospel and come to Christ?
Tim: It also says that there will be people from "every tongue tribe and nation" in heaven, what happens if a tribe gets destroyed before the Bible can be translated into their language?
Matt: Remember, there were many people who have never heard of Jesus who lived on other continents.
Tim: Right, so how can they be in heaven?
Matt: Are you saying that it is fair that those who have never heard of Christ would get to heaven having never trusted in Him?
Tim: I'm not saying what is fair and is not right now.  I want to know how people from every tribe tongue and nation can be in heaven if say they have never heard the name of Christ before they die out
Matt: Actually, I think you have a good question, and I do not think I have a good answer
Tim: Wow
Matt: What?
Tim: Have I put a question in your mind? or doubt? or do you understand it and just not know how to explain it?
Matt: No doubt at all.  I think your question is a good one, and I don't think I have a great answer. If it is true that there will be tribes and nations from the whole world that will be in heaven, that would necessarily include those pre-existing the time of Christ.  Since they had never heard of Christ, how can they then be saved? Then again, it could be that the prophecy is dealing with the future relationship or maybe a generic one that the gospel would spread throughout all the world and that there would be salvation in all the nations.
Tim: If you're going that route, how was anyone before Christ saved?
Matt: Those who died in faith looking forward to the messiah were justified before God.  We see this in Romans 4:1-5 where Abraham was justified my faith even though he did not know the messiah.
Tim: I thought that was somewhere in James?
Matt: He had seen the day of Christ according to Jesus' own words in John 8:56-59. 
Tim: By the way, that's a great verse (the Romans one) to use on Mormons, but of course you would know that
Matt: -)
Tim: Because they always defer to the place in James where he says "I'll show you my faith by what I do . . ."
Matt: There are many good verses to use against the Mormons and their false doctrine. Romans three through five are great chapters regarding this.
Tim: True, but now we're off the topic
Matt: Yes, they do. What they fail to read is the context where James is speaking of those who "say" they have faith that have the works. The kind of faith that James is speaking on is the horizontal kind, that is, the kind that is from man-to-man. We are justified before men by our works.
Tim: and they fail to go back to Genesis and see that he was declared Righteous before he actually did anything
Matt: Romans speaks of the vertical kind of faith; that is, it is faith from man to God. We are justified before God by faith.
Matt: Correct.
Tim: Well, gotta go eat dinner.  Thanks for talking to me