What About Those Who Have Not Heard?

I’d like to answer the argument against biblical Christianity that goes something like this:

If faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to God, then what about those who have not heard about Jesus? Aren’t all religions the same, and aren’t there many ways to God? Christians should not be so dogmatic and arrogant about their faith.

In answering, I will give biblical data that shows both the intentions of God and his pattern of action regarding the matter, as well as briefly refer to historical phenomena and appearances happening today.

Establishing Intent

  • Christians hold that God has given 2 accounts of himself — Creation and the Bible — the latter of which records His having visited humanity once by Jesus Christ. One is around humanity every day. The other (in this day of information technology) is not far from anyone. In both nature and the Bible, God expects everyone to examine Him. He even invites humanity on several occasions and in various ways to put him to the test (Mal. 3:10). What is more, when any beauty or blessing can be observed in nature (ex. rain, color, life, love), one’s natural response ought to be thankfulness (Rom. 1-2).
  • To begin, Christians hold that God created mankind with innate capacity to know God (Gen. 1-2). The likeness that mankind bears to God (Imago Dei) is also that which allows mankind the capability to relate with God. Tragically, this image was tainted and twisted in mankind, and mankind was separated, or experienced a spiritual death in nature. Hence, the need for spiritual regeneration through Christ in the first place (John 3).
  • Next, reflect on the fact God taught the very ones who brought sin into the world how He planned to atone for their wrongdoing (Gen. 3). The method which God taught concerning atonement was deliberate, because it would serve as the typology (symbolism) of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice as the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world (John 1-2). The point I make here is redemption was in the mind of God from the beginning; and if he taught his plan of atonement to those responsible for bringing sin into the world, then he was giving that first pair the remedy not only for themselves but for all who would follow in their line of descendants. In so doing, God reached out to all. Mankind does not seek God with effectiveness; God seeks mankind (Romans 3:11). Furthermore, he made a prophecy (Gen. 3:15), which describes the undoing of the “Old Serpent” by a “Woman’s Seed.” So, since by mankind came death [upon all mankind], then by mankind (the person of Jesus Christ) would come the resurrection from the dead” [made available to all mankind] (1 Cor. 15:21). God was mindful not of the part but of the whole race of mankind. An unlimited provision of atonement is the only way God can be seen as fair and equitable to his own promises.
  • Witness the Abrahamic covenant (Gen. 12; 15; & 17), which states that in the descendants promised to Abraham (particularly in a singular “offspring”–Gal. 3–Jesus Christ), all nations (ethnicities) of the earth would be blessed, including all Gentiles (non-ethnic Israelites). Isaiah 49:5-6 progresses this Messianic promise with even more descriptive language to include “all the ends of the earth.” Again, God’s intent to include all humanity in his provision of atonement is clear.
  • Consider also that many Old Testament accounts provide record of God’s welcoming non-Israelites into the circle of the redeemed and actually allowing them a part in the genealogy leading to Christ (Matthew 1; Luke 3:23-38). This proves that those of nations besides Israel would have a blood tie to the Messiah, setting the precedent that the promise of redemption is for whoever believes, bringing them from the designation of “common” to “uncommon,” from “profane” to “holy.” Those who place faith in God through his prescribed Lamb are brought into the lineage of the redeemed, no matter their physical or ethnic lineage, their location or station.
  • God plainly declares his intent in passages like John 3, where the Bible reads, “God sent not his son into the world to condemn the world but that the world through him might be saved;” And, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only darling son, that whoever should believe in him might not perish but have eternal life.” This is the broadest sort of invitation made by God Himself. It cannot get any clearer or “louder” or more genuine.
  • Bridging into the life of Christ, we see the Lord Jesus offering himself as bread to anyone who is hungry (John 6:35), as drink to anyone who thirsts (John 4:14; 7:37-39). He also mentions that besides being sent for the sheep fold of Israel (Matthew 10:5-6, 15:24), he is the Shepherd to those of another fold that will hear his voice and follow him (John 10:16). If Jews are a fold in themselves, then Gentiles are the other fold which Christ intends to gather and make into one entity with believing Israelites (Eph. 2:14).
Noticing the Pattern of Action 
(how God gets the Gospel of Jesus to those who desire it…and to even those who don’t.)
  • Biblical Christians hold that all people everywhere have an intuitive knowledge of the Creator God of the Bible (Acts 17:29; Rom. 1:20). It is self-evident in the world’s complexity and simplicity, in its majesty and beauty, in its calculability and natural law, in the functionality and inter-relation of all things; it is evident in living things, growing things–in the fine tuning of the earth to sustain life like no other place in the universe can.
  • Since every person is the offspring of God poetically speaking, Acts 17:22-31 (i.e. the one from whom we receive life to enter the world), and since Jesus–the Light–was foretold and has come and has been proclaimed ever since, then through Jesus God gives light to every person that enters the world (John 1:9).
  • God designs the life’s circumstances of each individual (time of birth, birthplace, ethnicity), so that “finding God” is made easiest for that person, should the person seek God (Acts 17:22-31), all with the intent that mankind is the only fitting dwelling place of God, as opposed to idols and man-made temples. [for the Athenian history leading up to the Acts 17 account, please read Eternity in their Hearts on Google reads for free]

Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

  • God’s normal working is to give more light to those who follow the light they have (Luke 8:18). There are only 2optionsregarding “light” (truth, Acts  17:32):
    • Follow it — Acts 14:17; Ps. 19:1-6
    • Suppress it — John 3:19; Romans 1:16-23 [If one or many suppress the truth, then what they have is taken away, according to Jesus. The dividing line for condemnation is that judgement comes on those who suppress the truth (reject Light), whether that is the light of Creation or the light of the Gospel of Jesus. Those who reject the first book of witness (nature) also reject the second book by default.]
  • God sends more light many times through a human missionary to those who desire it (and sometimes even to those who don’t). — Joshua 2:8-11; Matthew 28:19, Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8, 8:25-26, 10, 13:1-3, 14:20, 15:3, 22:21, 28:28, Galatians 2:2

I do not have the space here to write all of the many historical Christian missionary accounts that record a messenger’s having been sent to someone (or even a people group) which either had been desiring knowledge of the Son of God or had prior knowledge of the Creator God before a Christian was sent to them.   Here are a few accounts:

Some people & cultures have rejected the light they had, and so, their light was taken away.

As Ravi Zacharias of Oxford University said in his most recent address to 500,000+ (broadcast from the Mormon Tabernacle): “It is possible for one man to lead millions into untold evil.” [see the broadcast here] The Inca Empire is an example of this grim truth. The Inca Emperor Pachacuti [or, Pachacutec], 1438-1471 A.D. is famed for having led the Incas through their golden age. He built Machu-Pichu and many cities and walled defenses. Now, the Incas were sun worshipers. But, due to a Collection of Hymns, historians note that there was a great shift in Pachacuti’s religious beliefs. The great emperor began to be troubled about sun worship.

If the sun is god, then why doesn’t it have freedom of course? If it is above all, then why does it keep regular hours like a day laborer? If the god is so powerful, why can it be eclipsed by a cloud?

It was at this time that Pachacuti claimed to have been given a dream from his deceased father, who told him to worship Viracocha (see also here), who was the creator God of the Inca forefathers, then forgotten. Wanting to obey the dream and his own thoughts, the emperor gathered a counsel of the sun priests: (gathered from hymns) and stated –

Inti cannot be universal, if he cannot give light to some while withholding it from others; he cannot be perfect if he cannot remain at ease, resting; he cannot be all-powerful if the smallest cloud may cover him.

But, the answer of the sun priests was not favorable. Pachacuti received opposition, and ultimately, he backed down by making a compromise. He determined to keep this truth about the creator God for the upper class and let the people go on in their worship of the sun. Sadly, the conquistadors came not long after, killing the upper class and whatever remnant of truth along with them. Pachacuti suppressed the truth out of unrighteous motives.

Many cultures, such as the ancient Babylonians, the ancient Greeks, the Native Americans, and Australian Aborigines have legend of a catastrophic flood, as the Christian Bible describes. Other groups read about the Son of God in the stars. But, the biblical Christian would say that whereas some cultures kept the truth and followed the light they had, other cultures did not.

However, some cultures HAVE followed the light they had:

**1795 – As the British first began trade with Burma/Myanmar, the Karen people had a prophecy which they held dear. They sought the first white man, whom they called “The White Brother.” It was foretold them that the one who was supposed to come would bring a lost book, which would deliver them from all that oppresses them. The Karen people say the author of the book is Y’wah, the Creator God. A British Lt. Colonel Michael Symes writes down the account of the Karen’s inquiry in a book titled “An Account of Embassy to the Kingdom of Ava in the year 1795.” 11 years later, in America (1809) at Andover Theological Seminary, that account is read by Adoniram Judson; and, in Feb. 1810 Adoniram Judson sails for Rangoon, Burma. The Karen people become the highest (per capita) Christian ethnicity in Myanmar.

**The Santal, a tribal group of people just north of Calcutta, once worshipped spirits and the sun. However, when a Norwegian missionary, Lars Skrefsrud, came to them in 1867, proclaiming the one, true God and His Son, Jesus Christ, 1000’s believed on account of remembering that their forefathers had taught them about Thakur Jiu, the genuine God. “What this stranger is saying must mean that Thakur Jiu has not forgotten us after all this time!” said they, “Our forefathers knew him long ago… He is not to be seen with fleshly eyes but he sees all. He has created all things; he has set everything in its place, and he nourishes all, great and small.” “Almost before Lars knew what was happening, he found himself with thousands of inquirers on his hands, begging to know how they could be reconciled to Thakur Jiu through Jesus Christ” (Helpings for the Heart, George E. Vandeman, pp. 62, 63)

  • Appearances to someone before providing a Gospel account giver / Bible — John 20:26ff; Acts 9

What about today? I have listened to 1st hand accounts of what I am about to tell you. For those who do not have a Bible or who do not know a Christian witness or who live in a country hostile to Christianity, Jesus and/or angels appear to them. Like Jesus Christ appeared to doubting Thomas in the disciples’ room, and just as the Lord appeared to the Apostle Paul (Saul) on the road to Damascus, the Lord Jesus can appear and is reported to be appearing to many today… the names of whom cannot be disclosed here due to their being inside regions hostile to Christianity.

Perhaps this is why Christ chooses to appear to them; they cannot otherwise hear of Jesus. That being said, no one can stop God, and Jesus’ being fully God and fully man means he may indeed appear to any member of mankind anywhere and proclaim himself. Furthermore, the man Saul (before he became the Apostle Paul) was vehemently opposed to Christ, due to sincere but severe spiritual blindness. Even so, many Islamists (and others who are violently opposed to Christ) are seeing Christ. God made Paul see through the appearing of Jesus Christ and sent him to Ananias (who was informed by God of Saul’s coming), and who is to say that Jesus is not doing the same today? In the many accounts I have heard, the appearance of Jesus or an angel has always physically led the person to a Christian or has preceded a Christian’s coming to the person. Either way, the appearances are like a “primer” for the individual, so that the Gospel can be told and subsequently received. This was the case for Paul (Acts 9), Cornelius (Acts 10), and those of Macedonia (Acts. 16:9).

  • God provides an open, standing invitation to those who do have access to the Bible/Christians [and those who don’t]. For those who are in 1st world, Christian-friendly countries and are enveloped in the “information age,” they have access to the Bible at the touch of a computer or device or at the flip of a page or at the church down the street. Therefore, it is their responsibility to seek God, since God has given them the gift of a life in which finding him is easily accessible. Mankind is responsible to God, and God is faithful to mankind. But God is not responsible to mankind, as if he is below mankind — Revelation 5:9; 22:17


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