What About Those Who Have Never Heard About Jesus?
No matter where we go or what subject we are speaking on, this question always seems to come up. Many times it is asked to relieve the individual of any personal responsibility to God.
It must be kept in mind, however, that the answer to this question does not determine whether Christianity is true or not. That matter has already been solved in Jesus Christ by His resurrection from the dead. The matter of authority has been solved once and for all, and this issue of those who haven’t heard is now merely a matter of interpretation.
The best way to deal with this question is to state certain truths that the Scripture make very plain. The Bible is very clear that no one can come to God except through Jesus Christ.
Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6, MLB). The only basis for forgiveness of sin and life everlasting is the way made by Jesus. Many people think this implies that those who have never heard about Jesus will be automatically damned. However, we do not know this is the case.
Although the Scriptures never explicitly teach that someone who has never heard of Jesus can be saved, we do believe that it infers this. We do believe that every person will have an opportunity to repent, and that God will not exclude anyone because he happened to be born at the wrong place and at the wrong time.
Jesus said, “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:17, KJV).
The Bible also reveals that no one has any excuse. “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19–20, RSV).
It is a fact that all of mankind can tell that a creator does exist, because His creation testifies to it. This testimony is universal. Although the people have enough information that God does exist, they become wilfully ignorant of the things of God because their hearts are evil.
The Bible teaches that the unbelieving individual is “holding down the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18, Lit. Trans). Moreover, the Scriptures relate that man is not seeking after God but actually running from Him. “There is none that seeketh after God” (Romans 3:11, KJV). Therefore, it is not a case of God refusing to get His Word to someone who is desperately searching for the truth.
We also know that it is God’s desire that none “should perish but that all should come to repentance” (II Peter 3:9, KJV). This indicates that God also cares for those persons who have not heard the gospel. He has demonstrated this by sending His Son to die in their place. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8, KJV).
The Bible teaches that God is going to judge the world fairly and righteously. “Because he hath appointed a day, in which he will judge the world in righteousness” (Acts 17:31, KJV). This means that when all the facts are in, God’s name will be vindicated and no one will be able to accuse Him of unfairness.
Even though we may not know how He is going to deal with these people specifically, we know that His judgment is going to be fair. Just this fact alone should satisfy anyone who wonders how God is going to deal with people who have never heard of Jesus Christ.
The Bible itself testifies to the fact that there are those who will hear and respond out of every people on the earth. “For you were killed, and have redeemed us to God by your blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation” (Revelation 5:9).
The Bible gives an example of a man who was in a situation not unlike many today. His name was Cornelius. He was a very religious man who was constantly praying to God. He had not heard of Jesus Christ, but he was honestly asking God to reveal Himself to him.
God answered the prayer of Cornelius, and sent the apostle Peter to him to give him the full story of Jesus. When Peter preached to him, Cornelius put his trust in Christ as his Savior. This example demonstrates that anyone who is sincerely desiring to know God will hear about Jesus.
There are people today, like Cornelius, who are praying the same prayer to know the true and living God, and they are being reached no matter where they might live. Simon Peter stated, “I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him” (Acts 10:34–35, KJV).
The Scriptures contain other examples of individuals who were accepted by God, even though their knowledge of Him was limited. Rahab, the prostitute, had only the smallest amount of knowledge of God, but the Bible refers to her as a woman of faith, and her actions were commended (Joshua 2:9; Hebrews 11:31).
Naaman, the Syrian, was granted peace with God because he exercised faith, even though he was living in the midst of a pagan culture (II Kings 5:15–19). Jonah, the prophet, was sent to Nineveh, a heathen society, and they repented at his preaching (Jonah 3:5).
No one will be condemned for not ever hearing of Jesus Christ. That person will be condemned for violating his own moral standard. “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; (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.
“For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;) In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel” (Romans 2:12–16, KJV).
Based on the above examples from Scripture, it can be seen that God will fairly judge all mankind and that no one can claim that he or she received an unfair hearing. Therefore, the people who ask this question should be very careful not to use this as an excuse for not coming to Christ.
What you think might happen or might not happen to someone else does not relieve your responsibility on Judgment Day. Although we might not be able to answer the question about those who haven’t heard to the satisfaction of everyone, there are certain things that the Bible has made clear.
One person put it this way, “Many things in the Bible I cannot understand; many things in the Bible I only think I understand; but there are many things in the Bible I cannot misunderstand” (Anonymous).
ADDITIONAL REFERENCE SOURCES
Josh McDowell, “Romans—The Revolutionary Revelation,” 8-Tape series, Liberation Tapes, P.O. Box 6044, Lubbock, Texas 79413
Don Stewart, “What’s Going To Happen to Those Who Haven’t Heard?” (tape) The Word for Today, P.O. Box 8000, Costa Mesa, CA 92626
R. C. Sproul, Objections Answered, G/L Publications, Regal Books, 1978
Paul Little, How To Give Away Your Faith, Inter-Varsity Press, 1966
Norman Geisler, The Roots of Evil, Zondervan/Probe Ministries, 1978