7. What about people that have never heard the Gospel?
Will people from some unknown tribe in South America, isolated
from the rest of the world, go to Hell because they had never
heard the Gospel?
Condemnation is the consequence of being a descendant
of Adam (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:22). As for those who have never
heard, remember that if nothing else, they are responsible for
the light that they have from general revelation (cf. Psalm 19,
Consider the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man. The Rich
Man imagined that if someone rose from the dead, that would be
enough to convince his brothers. Abraham's response was that
his brothers had the Bible; if they wouldn't listen to that, then
they wouldn't listen to a dead man who rose from the dead. Likewise,
for those who don't have access to the Gospel message in the Bible,
they do have the message of general revelation. If they don't
listen to that, then what obligation has God to give them anything
A secondary point to consider, is to wonder precisely
how much is necessary in order for salvation to occur? That is,
how good an understanding of matters is necessary? Hebrews 11:32ff
lists Jephthah as a man of faith, along with David. Yet, if we
look back at his story in Judges 11-12 we discover that he was
not a strict monotheist -- he recognized the existence of other
gods (Judges 11:23-24) and when the Spirit of God came upon him
he made a stupid vow that he kept by sacrificing his own daughter
as a burnt offering (Judges 11:29-40).
God has revealed himself progressively to the human race,
and the clearest of understandings does not seem to be a prerequisite
for salvation. After all, salvation is not by good works (or
good belief, in that sense), but rather by grace, which is a gift
of God. (Ephesians 2:8-10) Salvation, then, is something God
does, and it is his responsibility to accomplish it.
Salvation is available and is accomplished through the
Son. There is no other way.
One thing to realize is that as salvation is available
by only one means, it has always been the same and always will
be the same, past, present and future. Jesus is the only way
to the Father; the people of the Old Testament were not saved
by keeping the Law, they were saved by putting their faith in
Christ. The same would obtain for the person in Booga Booga
Land. How can that be, you wonder? Is the God of the Old Testament
the Father or the Son?
Most Christians have the notion that the person
of God in the Old Testament is the Father and that the Son rarely
appears, if at all. The exact opposite is the truth, however.
The person of God in the Old Testament is usually the Son. The
Father is primarily revealed in the New Testament, not in the
Old Testament. See Matthew 11:27:
"No one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom
the Son chooses to reveal him.
See also John 14:6:
"I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the
Father but by me."
The God of the Old Testament is primarily the Son. Consider:
No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at
the Father's side, has made him known. (John 1:18)
No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only
he has seen the Father. (John 6:46)
John 1:18 and 6:46 explicitly state that no one has ever
seen God, and yet several times in the Old Testament people did
Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel
went up and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something
like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself.
But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites;
they saw God, and they ate and drank. (Exodus 24:9-11)
When the angel of Yahweh did not show himself again to
Manoah and his wife, Manoah realized that it was the angel of
"We are doomed to die!" he said to his wife.
"We have seen God!"
But his wife answered, "If Yahweh had meant to kill
us, he would not
have accepted a burnt offering and grain offering from our hands,
nor shown us all these things or now told us this." (Judges
Then Job replied to Yahweh:
"I know that you can do all things;
no plan of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, `Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?'
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.
You said, `Listen now, and I will speak;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.'
My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes." (Job 42:1-6)
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated
on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled
the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With
two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their
feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to
one another: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the
whole earth is full of his glory."
At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds
shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
"Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For
I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean
lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty."
Yahweh appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre
while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of
the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby.
When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to
meet them and bowed low to the ground....
"Where is your wife Sarah?" they asked him.
"There, in the tent," he said. Then Yahweh
said, "I will surely return
to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have
Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which
was behind him....
When the men got up to leave, they looked down toward
Sodom, and Abraham walked along with them to see them on their
way. Then Yahweh said, "Shall I hide from Abraham what
I am about to do? (Genesis 18:1-2, 9-10, 16-17)
If people in the Old Testament were seeing God, and yet
John claims that no one saw him, then there is an obvious question:
who was it they were seeing and calling God? There is really
only one possible solution, and that comes from the doctrine of
the Trinity. The people of the Old Testament who saw God were
seeing God the Son rather than God the Father.
This solution becomes inescapable when one considers some
other passages and concepts.
Notice that John has consiously patterned John 1:1-2 after
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.
Through him all things were made; without him nothing
was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was
the light of men. (John 1:1-4)
In case there were any doubts, it is through the Son (verse
3) that the universe was created; yet Genesis 1:1 tells us that
"God" made it.
So who is the God of the Old Testament who created the
universe? The Bible is clear: it is the Son. Notice Colossians
For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and
brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have
redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible
God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were
created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible,
whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things
were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and
in him all things hold together.
Consider, too, that the even the nature of salvation requires
that the God of the Old Testament be the Son. Peter reports:
...then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by
of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised
the dead, that this man stands before you healed. He is
"the stone you builders rejected,
which has become the capstone."
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other
name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."
And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'
That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord,"
and believe in
your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and
it is with
your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture
"Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame."
For there is no
difference between Jew and Gentile-the same Lord is Lord of all
richly blesses all who call on him, for, "Everyone who calls
on the name
of the Lord will be saved." Romans 10:9-13
The New Testament writers quote from the Old Testament,
telling people to call upon the name of the Lord, meaning Jesus,
in order to be saved. Clearly, they felt that Yahweh in the Old
Testament, is the same as Jesus in their day. Look at the passage
in Joel that they were quoting from:
And everyone who calls on the name of Yahweh will be saved; for
on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as Yahweh
has said, among the survivors whom Yahweh calls. (Joel 2:32)
Therefore the God of the Old Testament is principally
the Son, and it is principally the Son that they interracted with.
Sometimes the terms God or Yahweh may also apply to the Trinity
as a whole or to the Father, as in the prophesies regarding the
first coming of Jesus (cf. Isaiah 53 for instance; see also Deut.
32:6 and Mal. 2:10 where God is called "father"; also
Isaiah 9:6 in a prophesy relating to the Son). In John 5:39
Yahweh again equals Jesus.
Thus, I would suggest that any interaction with God by
human beings is going to be through the Son. And I would suggest
that faith in the Son is the only possible way a person can be
saved. Since the Bible assures us that God is merciful and loving,
as well as just, we can trust that his decisions on the matter
of salvation are good.
An intersting book on the subject of "those who have
not heard", is Eternity in Their Heart, by Don Richardson,
published by Regal Press.
Regarding the Age of Accountability issue, whether of those who
have not heard or those who are too young to understand:
Question: Is There an Age of Accountability?
A popular doctrine in evangelical Christian circles is
the belief that all children below a certain age, usually called
"the age of accountability" - that is, the age at which
time they can make decisions of right and wrong - are automatically
guaranteed heaven because of God's grace. This doctrine has served
well to comfort bereaved parents who have lost a baby either through
miscarriage before birth, or through accident or disease following
birth. There is but one passage, an Old Testament passage, which
is used in support of this teaching: 2 Samuel 12:23.
But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring
him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.
The traditional doctrine of the "age of accountability"
suffers from several major problems.
1. Imputed sin
The first problem to be faced by the doctrine of the "age
of accountability" is the issue of human depravity. Human
beings are sinful and guilty before God, not just because of their
own personal sin, but because of what is technically called "imputed
sin". To impute something means to give to someone something
that may or may not be theirs. Christ's righteousness is "imputed"
to us by grace. It is unearned. We are simply declared righteous
in him. In the same way, sin comes to us. Look at what Paul wrote
in Romans 5:12-14:
Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man,
and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men,
because all sinned -for before the law was given, sin was in the
world, but sin is not taken into account when there is no law.
Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time
of Moses, even over those who did no sin by breaking a command
as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come.
Look at 1 Corinthians 15:22:
For as in Adam all die, so in Christ will all be made
From the moment of conception, human beings are sinners.
Notice Psalm 51:5:
Surely I have been a sinner from birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Or consider, please, Job 25:4:
How can a man be righteous before God?
How can one born of woman be pure?
It must be concluded that even the unborn are sinful in
2. Method of Salvation
A second problem that faces the "age of accountability"
is consistency with the way salvation is obtained. Look at the
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other
name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved (Acts
Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the
life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John
For it is by grace you have been saved, though faith -
and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works,
so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only
Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal
life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn
the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes
in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned
already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and
only Son (John 3:16-18).
How is it that a fetus or baby is going to "believe"
or "have faith"?
The method of obtaining salvation hardly seems consistent with
the idea of an "age of accountability".
3. Eternal Security
The final problem faced by the doctrine of the "age
of accountability" is in reconciling the impossibility of
losing one's salvation with the idea that, until a certain age,
all children are under the grace of God and will be saved if they
die. But, once they commit the unpardonable sin of reaching the
age of say, six, their salvation simply vanishes? How can this
possibly be reconciled with John 10:28-29?
I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish;
no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given
them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of
my Father's hand.
If someone has been saved, they have eternal life and
can never perish. How can that truth be made to fit with the
traditional doctrine of "the age of accountability"?
And 2 Samuel 12:23? The popular interpretation of the
verse is that David is thinking in terms of the after life: the
child is in heaven, and some day I will be there also. However,
does such an interpretation make sense in the light of the three
objections raised above? An alternate interpretation might make
better sense of the text in 2 Samuel, both in dealing with the
objections, and in fitting ancient Israelite thought. All David
was saying, was "the baby has died, and someday, I will too."
"Dust you are, and to dust you will return." I
believe that the doctrine of the age of accountability is inconsistent
with what the Bible has to say about the human condition, and
with what it says about the method of receiving salvation. In
the final analysis, I believe the traditional doctrine is little
more than wishful thinking - whistling in the dark - with no scriptural
Still, it must be acknowledged that the question of what
happens to babies who die is not an issue that the Bible addresses
specifically. A lack of dogmatism on the issue is probably the
most practical, particularly since it is an area beyond human
Copyright © Quartz Hill School of Theology.
All Rights Reserved.