What about those who have never heard?

by Paul Buller

There are certain common questions that get brought up again and again in the world of Apologetics. Why is there so much suffering? How can you claim your religion is the one true religion? And many others.

One of the perennial questions is, “what about those who have never heard about Jesus?” What follows is not so much an answer to the question, but my own not-quite-half-baked theories that I have been mulling for some time. Use the comment box to provide some feedback whether you agree or disagree.

Some background

The question stems from a few passages in the New Testament that cause folks a bit of concern. Here is a sampling.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
(Joh 14:6 ESV)

And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
(Act 4:12 ESV)

No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.
(1Jn 2:23 ESV)

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And there are others. The basic idea seems to be that there is an exclusive connection between Jesus and salvation. One cannot enter Heaven by any means other than Jesus. This is an inescapable fact of the Biblical data, so please understand that everything that follows fully embraces and supports this reality.

The basic point seems to go something like this:

All those who enter Heaven have received Jesus’ forgiveness.

It’s a pretty simple causal relationship, really. Entry into Heaven is exclusively found through the forgiveness that Jesus offers. If a person enters Heaven then it is guaranteed that Jesus reconciled them to the Father. But then the question becomes, “what conditions led to the forgiveness?” The Bible seems fairly clear on that too (from the above passages).

If a person asks Jesus for forgiveness, then Jesus will forgive.

And, of course, the opposite scenario.

If a person rejects Jesus’ offer of forgiveness, then Jesus will reject them.

But what I find interesting is the middle option; a person who neither asks for forgiveness nor explicitly rejects Jesus’ offer. This applies specifically to those who never even know about Jesus’ offer; how could they ask for, or reject, that which they are unaware of? What about them?

While some people would suggest the Bible is explicitly clear that they fall outside the grace of God, I am not so certain. First let’s consider this from a strictly logical perspective, using the above summary statements…

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