Can people who never hear about Jesus go to heaven?

What is sin and what is God’s remedy for sin:
Firstly we need to understand the nature of sin; how it manifest in the first place, how it is passed on, and what God’s remedy for sin is. These are important considerations if we want to adequately address the above question.

Sin entered the human race [and all creation] when Adam & Eve disobeyed and rebelled against God and ate of the forbidden fruit. The entire creation was changed under the curse of the fall, and the physical death of all living creatures started at this time. Additionally spiritual death [separation from God] entered the human race [Adam & Eve and all their descendants]. Spiritual death is passed from father to children – this is a blood curse and explains why Christ had to be born of a virgin so that, humanly speaking, He was born without the [blood] curse of sin. This is also why we see the importance of the shedding of blood, usually of an innocent lamb, on behalf of the sins of people in the Old Testament. The blood curse can only be removed through blood sacrifice.

Sin is only forgiven/remitted through the shedding of innocent blood on behalf of sinners:

Heb 9:22 And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission [of sin].

In the OT animal blood was shed as a covering [or downpayment] for sin. The priest/high priest officiated on behalf of the [Jewish] people. [And similarly with Abraham, *Cain & Abel, **Adam & Eve et al prior to the Jewish people.] But had to be repeated as it only covered past sin. This pictured the yet future “payment in full” when Christ died on the cross and shed His blood for ALL of humanity’s sin; past, present and future. In reality ALL sin of all people is paid on their behalf by Christ’s shed blood. To appropriate that forgiveness of sin (and therefore salvation) one has to believe that God/Christ has paid [will pay; OT saints] for our sin Himself.

We see this pictured in the OT when Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac in obedience:

Gen 22:6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together.
Gen 22:7 And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?
Gen 22:8 And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.

Note the phrase “God will provide himself a lamb”. This is actually a play on words. While God did indeed provide a lamb/ram for the sacrifice [instead of Isaac], this phrase ALSO reveals in a prophetic sense that “God Himself” will become that very lamb; Christ the Lamb of God whose shed blood is the all sufficient payment in full for sin [for those that believe on Him].

* Note: Cain & Abel:
Why did God accept Abel’s offering but reject Cain’s?

Gen 4:3 And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD.
Gen 4:4 And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering:
Gen 4:5 But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.

The answer is actually quite simple in light of what I’ve just outlined above:
Abel sacrificed an animal [remember Heb 9:22 “without shedding of blood is no remission”]; its blood covered his sin. Whereas Cain only brought fruit and vegetables; no blood, no remission of sin, therefore an unacceptable sacrifice/offering.

**Note Adam & Eve:
Even right back in the garden of Eden and immediatly following Adam and Eve’s sin and fall, God provided animal skins to “cover their shame [sin]”. Remember that prior to the fall there was no death. God providing animal skins to “cover” Adam and Eve reveals that God took the life of these animals – shed their blood – and while these coverings were to hide their physical nature, the shedding of innocent animal blood ALSO pictures God covering their sin and therefore their fallen spiritual state. These animals were perhaps the very first creatures to die following the fall, and picture future animal blood sacrifices for sin in the Old Testament, and the ultimate and final sacrifice [for sin] of Christ [the Lamb of God] on the cross in the new Testament.

Christ’s death and sacrifice on the cross:
Of course, after the once-for-all-time sacrifice through Christ’s shed blood was made, there was no longer any validity in sacrificing animals as a temporary payment for sin; full payment of the debt owed does away with the need of any further part payments.

The ONLY option which is left for someone wishing to have forgiveness of sin, and therefore that they become recipients of salvation and eternal life, is to place their faith upon Christ’s death on the cross that they might be PERMANENTLY washed of their sin [past, present and future] through His shed blood.

So in summary:
In the Old Testament sin was only covered through animal blood sacrifice on peoples’ behalf, and by these individuals having faith that God’s provision for sin remitted them of their PAST sin. Further blood sacrifices were required for future and subsequent sin. Animal sacrifice in the OT was only a downpayment for sin and pictured the payment-in-full which would occur when Christ [the Lamb of God] died on the cross. OT saints were ultimately forgiven of their sin [and received salvation] through Christ’s future death on the cross, and their faith in God’s [future] provision for their sin.

In the New Testament, after Christ’s death, those people who put ther faith in Christ’s shed blood for their sins [PAST, PRESENT and FUTURE] are washed clean from the curse of the fall, are made new creatures in Christ, and obtain salvation the instant they believe on God’s all sufficient sacrifice for sin. And while future sins are to be repented of, this in no way effects a person’s salvation. Although it may effect their rewards when, as believers, they stand before the judgement seat of Christ where their works following salvation are judged – they may be rewarded or suffer loss of reward. Their salvation is never in question though.

So back to the question, “Can people who never hear about Jesus go to heaven?”
Since Christ’s death there have existed no other methods of payment for sin, and therefore I believe scripture is clear that salvation and forgiveness of sin is NOT AVAILABLE to “people who never hear about Jesus”; who never hear the gospel of Christ, and therefore never believe on Christ for forgiveness of sin and salvation.
Any individuals who do not hear of Christ, though, will be held to lesser account than those who reject Him having heard the gospel:

Remember Rom 2:12:

“For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law;”

Similarly, sinners who die without hearing the gospel of Christ will likewise perish [suffer spiritual death] without having knowingly rejected Christ; they will still perish for their unforgiven sin but will suffer least/less in hell.

Disclaimer:
Those who truly seek God will find Him:

Mat 7:7 Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
Mat 7:8 For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

True seekers of God will be led by the Holy Spirit to Christ.
Today, for instance, if the testimony of creation and conscience leads one to seek after [the true] God, then the Holy Spirit’s job is to lead such an individual to where they can have the gospel of Christ presented to them. Their response to the gospel then determines their eternal destiny.

Discussing salvation [for us today] outside of Christ is both dangerous and misleading, and encourages people to put their faith where I believe scripture makes clear there is none.

[Note: I made the above comment on an ‘academic Christian’ blog. While some of the comments are sound [Sam Hight & Jonno1 for example], others, like with many academic ‘elites’, reason away the plain text of scripture IMHO. I will addend below subsequent responses I made as separate comments.]

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5 thoughts on “Can people who never hear about Jesus go to heaven?

  1. [Jonno1:] Well said Kris K.
    Another thought; putting mission aside for a moment, imagine a refugee who came to NZ being asked: “Do you believe in God?”. Answer: “Well, I recognise through creation that there must be a supreme being, so yes, I believe in god”. Next question: “Have you heard of Jesus Christ?”. “No, who is he?”. “Oh, never mind, forget that I asked”.
    OK, a bit of a stretch, but I’m sure you get my point!

    Indeed, Jonno.
    And I hope other Christians [& seekers of the true God] get the point of the following verses:

    2Jo 1:9 Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.

    Joh 14:6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
    Joh 14:7 If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him.
    Joh 14:8 Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us.
    Joh 14:9 Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?

  2. Matthew, thanks for your rebuttal.

    You said:

    “Kris, I think I have a basic grasp of the gospel but thanks for that.
    You assert that sacrifices in the Old Testament prefigure Christ’s death and that Christ’s death atones for sin past, present and future.”

    Well I’m glad someone does. Although reading some of the comments in this thread, and hearing people so adamantly stating that salvation is available to people [today] who don’t believe on Christ, was causing me some concern in this regard: It’s NOT the gospel I’m familar with.
    And that you query sacrifices in the OT prefiguring Christ’s death for ALL sin likewise also.

    I notice, too, that you didn’t mention the shed blood of Christ even once. Or pick up on the point I raised regarding:

    Heb 9:22 And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission [of sin].

    My understanding of the shed blood [of Christ] is pretty foundational to the gospel message, or do you disagree? How else are sins remitted, Matthew?

    And you state, regarding Romans 10:14-18, that:

    “Here in v 14 Paul asks how a person who has not heard of Christ can be saved. His answer is not to claim they cannot be; rather, he claims that the whole earth has heard the word of Christ and he cites Psalm 19 which refers to God’s natural revelation in nature. The implication here is quite clear: if a person responds in faith to this message then they have “called on the Lord” and hence can be saved.”

    Once again, I think you’re quite wrong in your understanding and the conclusions you draw.

    Lets have a look at Romans 10:14-18 and include vs 13 for, you know, context:

    Rom 10:13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
    Rom 10:14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?
    Rom 10:15 And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!
    Rom 10:16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report?
    Rom 10:17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
    Rom 10:18 But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world.

    Hmm, seems “call[ing] upon the name of the Lord” is pretty central to “be[ing] saved”. And the name of the Lord, in New Testament times, is “the Lord Jesus Christ”. While in OT times, as now, the testimony of creation speaks of God, this in no way diminishes the need today to respond directly to the gospel of Christ. Paul makes it clear that they only hear when someone preaches the gospel of Christ. Of course hearing is NOT enough, they must “obey” and “believe” on the gospel of Christ [the Lord] to be saved.

    If we accept your conclusion [quoted just above], Matthew, then one gets the impression that the Great Commission is unnecessary. And not only that, but Christ coming into the world, dieing on the cross, and shedding His blood [for the remission of sin] was also, similarly, unnecessary. Once again, not the gospel I’m familar with.

    And what do you make of the following:

    Mat 7:21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
    Mat 7:22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
    Mat 7:23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

    Seems to me that personally “knowing” the Lord Jesus Christ is central to the gospel message. And while these people, referred to above, believed themselves to be “in Christ”, it is quite clear they were not. How much less, then, can those who have never heard the gospel message know Christ personally; where knowing Christ is clearly pre-requisite to both salvation and entrance to heaven?

    Also, I think both your understanding of, and your conclusions regarding 2 John 1:9 and John 14:6-9 are quite wrong. Perhaps that’s because you don’t read them in the King James Version.

    Like I said earlier:
    Discussing salvation [for us today] outside of Christ is both dangerous and misleading, and encourages people to put their faith where I believe scripture makes clear there is none.

    I’ll leave you with it.

  3. Thanks for your reply, Carl.

    “Are they condemned simply because they have not heard of Jesus? I don’t believe God would be just if that were the case.”

    Once again, we can only go by scripture.
    We must consider how God has manifest Himself in the time we find ourselves – that being; POST the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, and after the Holy Spirit has been sent following Christ’s ascension. The same dynamic that operated PRIOR to the cross does not necessarily apply.

    Like I said above:

    True seekers of God [today] will be led by the Holy Spirit to Christ.
    Today, for instance, if the testimony of creation and conscience leads one to seek after [the true] God, then the Holy Spirit’s job is to lead such an individual to where they can have the gospel of Christ presented to them. Their response to the gospel then determines their eternal destiny.

    “Knowing Christ is, indeed, central to salvation. Hearing of His name is not.”

    I would argue that one of the FIRST things to support knowing someone is knowing what their name is. When we meet someone for the first time the first thing we do is introduce ourselves ie we exchange names. And just as OT Jews knew God by the name of Yahweh [YHWH] or Jehovah, NT Christians know their Lord and Saviour by the name of Jesus Christ. NT scripture usually directly links knowing the NAME of Jesus Chirst with knowing Him personally:

    Act 4:10 Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole.
    Act 4:12 Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

    Act 2:21 And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord [Jesus Christ] shall be saved.
    […]
    Act 2:36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.

    [See also Romans 10:13-18 which I quoted above]

    Even evil spirits know the name of Christ:

    Act 19:13 Then certain of the vagabond Jews, exorcists, took upon them to call over them which had evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, We adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preacheth.
    […]
    Act 19:15 And the evil spirit answered and said, Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are ye?

    Notice those who “are sanctified in Christ” are also “called to be saints” and are the same as those who “call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord”:

    1Co 1:2 Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:

    Likewise healing of the sick:

    Jam 5:14 Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:

    “Abraham was justified by faith, yet he had never heard of Jesus. He did, however, trust that God was going to provide redemption.”

    Indeed, but remember this is OT not POST the cross.

    “Through creation the gospel HAS BEEN PREACHED to every creature.”

    Not strictly correct, although taking Colosians 1:23 out of context one might think so:

    Col 1:23 If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister;

    To whom it was preached: To every creature under heaven (Col 1:23), that is, it was ordered to be preached to every creature, Mar 16:15:

    Mar 16:15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.

    It may be preached to every creature; for the gospel excludes none who do not exclude themselves. More or less it has been or will be preached to every nation, though many have sinned away the light of it and perhaps some have never yet enjoyed it.

    “My understanding of it is that God has revealed Himself in all creation, and being made in His image, we have a natural desire to be in communion with Him. We either embrace that desire and worship the Creator, or reject it by worshipping the created.”

    While creation indeed bears testimony to the Creator, don’t forget that in reality we [fallen mankind] bear the image of fallen Adam, NOT God. And our “natural desire” is to reject God and His offer of salvation – [Mt 7:13] “broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:”
    And, of course, the Lord Jesus Christ IS the Creator: [Joh 1:3] “All things were made by him [the Lord Jesus Chjrist]; and without him was not any thing made that was made.”

    “Knowing the name of Jesus, or that God sent his Son to die for us, is irrelevant in this case, because God knows the desires of their hearts. This is grace.”

    As I said above, to know Christ – to have relationship with Him – is to know His name. We ONLY have access to, and can know God [the Father] through personal relationship with God the Son; the Lord Jesus Christ:

    Joh 14:6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
    Joh 14:7 If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him.
    Joh 14:8 Philip saith unto him, Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us.
    Joh 14:9 Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?

    And God’s GRACE is ONLY available through personal relationship with. and therefore KNOWING, the Lord Jesus Christ.

    In fact God the Father has put so much stock in God the Son that He has committed all judgement to Him. That all men [who personally know Jesus Christ] should honour the Son:

    Joh 5:22 For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son:
    Joh 5:23 That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him.

    God’s GRACE is in fact only measured out to those who come to God on His terms; namely believing on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ:

    Joh 20:31 But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.

  4. Jeremy,

    “Some one please correct me if i am wrong, but i understand the phrase in the “there is no other name under heaven by which men can be saved” the word “name” could be interchanged with “person”. In the time and culture in which this was written a persons name and identity were considered so thoroughly linked as to be one and the same concept.”

    By jove, I think he’s got it!
    To know [or call upon] the name of Christ is to know Christ Himself – which is the point I have been making: Salvation is ONLY avalable to those who personally know and have relationship with Christ.

    Edit: Salvation is ONLY avalable to those who … come into personal relationship with Christ.

  5. Rosjier,

    [Rosjier] There are many things you said that do not make sense:
    First:
    Christ had to be born of a virgin.

    I do not believe Christ ‘had’ to do anything. Christ is God, and God is all-powerful.
    Either you do not believe that Christ is God, or you do not believe that God is all-powerful. Or there is something I am completely missing, please explain.

    So you deny the virgin birth of Christ was essential?! Especially in light of Him being humanly without sin?! This is pretty fundamental Christian doctrine. Will you next be questioning Christ’s sinlessness was essential and likewise His death on the cross?! I think you need to do some more Bible study.

    [Rosjier] Secondly Your Theology is backwards:
    “This is also why we see the importance of the shedding of blood”
    No it’s the other way around. First comes the incarnation, then He chose Mary, then the nation of Israel, then comes the fact that Jesus decided to die for our sins, and then He decided to prepare Israel for His coming sacrifice by asking them to sacrifice lambs.

    Are you for real?! And you call MY theology “backwards”.

    [Rosjier] Next:
    “To appropriate that forgiveness of sin (and therefore salvation) one has to believe that God/Christ has paid [will pay; OT saints] for our sin Himself.”
    Actually I would say.
    To appropriate that forgiveness of sin (and therefore salvation) one has to Repent and be Baptised.
    Belief that Christ has “paid for our sin” alone, will get no-one to heaven. Especially if they believe all they have to do is have that belief to be saved, and they don’t need to stop living in sin.

    Good grief!
    So, “[r]epent[ing] and be[ing] [b]aptised” but NOT [me:] “believ[ing] that Christ has paid for our sin Himself” will get you to heaven??? Once again, not the gospel I’m familair with.
    To “believe on Christ” includes the realisation that (1) one is a sinner, (2) that we cannot earn salvation, (3) that Christ is BOTH God AND a sinless man who died in our stead, and (4) that we must repent and receive Chirst as our Lord and Saviour.
    Once again, this is all pretty fundamental stuff.

    And by the way, WATER baptism ONLY pictures SPIRITUAL baptism which occurs the instance one receives Christ as Lord and Saviour:

    1Co 12:13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.

    Joh 1:26 John answered them, saying, I baptize with water: but there standeth one among you, whom ye know not; […]
    Joh 1:33 And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost.

    Eph 4:5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism,

    This SPIRIT BAPTISM is the same thing as being SEALED by the Holy Spirit; which occurs the INSTANT we believe upon Christ and BEFORE we are WATER baptised:

    2Co 1:22 Who hath also sealed us, and given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts.

    Eph 1:13 In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise,

    Eph 4:30 And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.

    [Break]

    [Rosjier] “Of course, after the once-for-all-time sacrifice through Christ’s shed blood was made, there was no longer any validity in sacrificing animals as a temporary payment for sin; full payment of the debt owed does away with the need of any further part payments.”

    It’s cool when people have nothing to back up their argument except by starting it with the word “Ofcourse”

    So you STILL practice animal sacrifice, Rosjier?!
    Nothing you can do, no sacrifice you can make, is EVER a substitute for Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. A filthy sinner can never EARN God’s favour through his good works:

    Isa 64:6 But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.

    Rom 4:6 Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works,

    Tit 3:5 Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us […]

    [Break]

    [Rosjier] “Any individuals who do not hear of Christ, though, will be held to lesser account than those who reject Him having heard the gospel”

    Does this mean they end up in a lesser hell?

    Well, not so much a “lesser hell”, but certainly a lesser punishment.
    Is there any other way to read Romans 2:12:

    For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law;

    Similarly, saints/Christians shall receive varing degrees of reward based on their faithfulness:

    2Co 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.

    1Co 3:12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;
    1Co 3:13 Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.
    1Co 3:14 If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.
    1Co 3:15 If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

    Note: these are future rewards a Christian will receive for what he does with his life AFTER receiving Christ as Lord and Saviour; for how faithfully he serves his master, and for the motives behind his service.

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