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4 thoughts on “Open Questions”
In John 14:6, Jesus says “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Are we to believe this literally? That is, the only path to salvation is through Jesus? If so, what became of all the people who lived (and died) before Jesus? What does the Bible have to say about this?
Yes, as this is stated in various ways in Scripture, it is to be believed literally. Now, much has been written on how much has to be known about Jesus to consider that the person is going “through” Jesus.
Of course, no one who lived before Jesus came knew Him like we do now. But they did have prophecy. And Jews and “God-fearers” (those who basically believed but were not Jews) were looking forward to the Messiah. They believed God and His words. Paul tells us that Moses believed God and it was “counted to him for righteousness”. So they believed the amount of revelation that they did have. That was enough.
It’s tougher when talking about people who did not have even a basic knowledge of the Jewish writings. Even today we can argue that some have not heard anything about Christ. Paul gives us insight when he explains that no one who has seen the heavens or God’s design in nature have an excuse for rejecting God, because the heavens speak of His handiwork. Also the point is made a few times that God does not hold people accountable for aspects of the law that they do not know (other than universal conscience, such as the wrongness of murder, because everyone has that much revelation).
World evangelists have stories about people who have dreamed about Jesus even though they had never heard of him, or very little. God can reveal to people what He chooses, and He makes it clear that His elect will not be lost.
Paul also explains that God determined where and when people would live “so that they might come to God”. This is interesting to me, and suggests that people who don’t come to Christ to some extent, based upon what they know, have had sufficient revelation to make a choice. And those who die very early in life have not had such revelation and are not responsible for it — we have verses that suggest babies who die are in the Lord’s presence (note David’s response when God took his baby son.)
Ultimately, God knows who are His elect and makes sure they get enough. We can’t see beneath the surface, except in our own lives, as to just what they received and accepted or rejected. God looks on the heart as we cannot. And He is totally just. He won’t give someone an unfair disadvantage to then reject that person.
Bottom line: yes, take it literally, but consider that the person is responsible for whatever revelation about Jesus that God has provided. That will be quite different for some people who have little access to Scripture. To those to whom much is given, much is expected: we have much greater knowledge of Christ through Scripture, so we are expected to make a clear decision based on a full view of His character.
I know I made a number of Biblical references without looking them up: if you need references for any assertion, let me know. I hope this helps. It is certainly a tough topic!
Thanks for your detailed response! It would be great if you can provide some Biblical references as you mentioned. I have heard many theories on this topic but have never seen any direct reference to the Scripture. It seems that everybody has a different conviction on this topic but few are able to back their beliefs with any sort of evidence from the Bible.
This question has also partially addressed another question that has greatly troubled me; namely, if Jesus is the only path to salvation, what about the people who were born after Jesus died but had no way of knowing Him? For example, a native in some remote jungle or (as you mentioned) a small child or even someone with a mental illness? Any additional comments or Biblical references along these lines would be appreciated.
Thanks – Jim
I can see I’m going to need help! It takes awhile to do research. Again I must give a quick response to your last comment: God does not hold anyone accountable for revelation that they did not receive. But Paul explains that there is revelation that even those who never hear of Christ explicitly still receive, and God does hold them accountable to that. Here is a quick summary from one of the best on the subject: R. C. Sproul…