False Argument #17: Bible Claims Those Who’ve Never Heard Of Jesus Go To Hell

Posted in Bible, Daylight Atheism, Faith, False Arguments, Logic, Religion, Thinking Critically on  | 4 minutes | 7 Comments →

For the past three days I've been spending way too much time on an atheist forum where over a dozen commenters have taken me strongly to task on this issue. Yet strangely, when asked for scriptural support, they offer nothing but the standard verses relating to salvation.

I agree that the Bible says Jesus is the only way to God. Does this mean that those who have never heard of Jesus go automatically to hell? My atheist opponents cry an emphatic yes.

But even a basic Bible education disproves this idea. If this interpretation is correct, then Moses, Isaac, Abraham, Daniel, Isaiah, David, Solomon and ALL of the other Old Testament figures would ALL be in hell, correct? Yet scripture clearly indicates otherwise, and each of these people lived and died before Jesus ever walked the Earth.

One commenter said,

The only way to heaven is through Jesus.

I believe that is a correct interpretation of scripture. I do not believe such entails that whoever has not heard of Jesus goes to hell. The commenter continued,

Those that don't accept Jesus have missed out on or passed up on the "only" way to salvation, as the Bible clearly states.

Again, I believe that is a correct interpretation of scripture, and this statement does not entail that those who have never heard of Jesus go to hell. Let's have a look at the gospel of John:

"Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life…" John 3:35-36

So clearly, hell results from rejecting Jesus, which is what we would expect in light of standard salvation verses, which state that salvation results from accepting Jesus, right?

Accept is defined by Merriam-Webster as:

1) To receive willingly;

2) To give admittance or approval to;

3) To recognize as true, believe;

4) To make a favorable response to;

5) To agree to undertake.

Acknowledgment of the concept, proposition or offer being accepted is a logical necessity in each of these definitions. How can one accept that which one has not been offered? How can one accept that which one does not know exists?

Reject is defined by Merriam-Webster as:

1) To refuse to accept, submit to, believe, or make use of; TypePad – Edit Post

2) To refuse to consider or grant, deny;

3) To refuse to recognize or give affection to (a person);

4) To discard as defective or useless; throw away.

Again, acknowledgment of the concept being rejected is a logical necessity in each of these definitions. How can one reject that which one has not been offered? How can one reject that which one does not know exists?

At best, the ignorant are in a category whose eternal destiny is unstated. Hence, we do not have grounds to presume they go to hell in my manner of exegesis, because as we've noted, the verses don't state anything explicit about the fate of the ignorant. So I'm saying nobody can say the ignorant go to hell, because scripture is silent on the issue. Not wanting to be accused of special pleading then, the reader is entirely justified to ask: "Well, cl, if scripture is silent on the ignorant, on what might you base your opinion that they possibly hear the gospel somehow?"

There are verses which clearly state that the preaching of the gospel is occurring elsewhere in reality, for example 1 Peter 3:18-19. When Jesus dies and spent three days under, there was preaching to 'spirits in prison' going on:

"For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison," (NASB)

Such doesn't undermine the Great Commission, and there's no need to introduce 'another way' besides Jesus, so to speak. Now, I am not asking you or anyone to accept this as proof that Jesus was preaching to the ignorant, either, because I simply don't have that much ground to stand either.


  1. jim


    By this logic, then, will all true atheists go to heaven, since one can’t accept what one doesn’t believe in, either?
    I think most apologists would answer you in this fashion concerning Moses and other OT saints, that they believed in God’s promise of an eventual messiah. Of course, once Jesus appeared as an historical personage (supposedly), the old system was replaced by positive belief in JC. Of course, there are probably a hundred variations of this doctrine, like so many others.

  2. 4Nfood


    No, my friend. Thou art wrong-o. People like the Hindus and a few groups now in the rainforest withe widespreading of materialism, if they die before they have the chance to accept Jesus, they will go to a place where the aborted babies go (they didn’t have a chance to accept Him, either, and live by His Laws), ergo, they go to a place where it’s not too hot, not too cold, if there ain’t nuthin to do, babies don’t do anything besides sleep anyway. God doesn’t wanna lose’m!!! They’ve committed no sin TO put’m in Hell. Love ya, man PS Dost thou knowest whot this means, my fair and just liege? IN HOC SIGNO + VINCES: Crux Sacre Sit Mihi Lux!

  3. cl



    By this logic, then, will all true atheists go to heaven, since one can’t accept what one doesn’t believe in, either?

    Well, it’s true that one can’t accept what one doesn’t believe in, but wouldn’t that just fall under the second category? As far as apologists and the ‘eventual messiah’ idea, it’s not really one that I’ve heard, but I’m pretty sure Moses and the rest of the OT lot didn’t get baptized, either.
    The judo article on your blog was good! Me likes.

  4. cl


    You know, I just thought of something; Even thought I believe this is a false argument, it’s not of the caliber that can really be proven. To be completely honest, this would be better described as an argument I disbelieve in. OTOH, stuff like, “Atheism caused the Holocaust” and “Macro and Microevolution are words made up by creationists” are easily provable as false arguments.

  5. cl


    Okay, how’s this for putting my foot in my mouth: I’m gonna retract the above comment. It all depends on the title of the post. The current title is not a claim I can prove false. However, “The Bible claims those who’ve never heard of Jesus go to hell,” now that is the caliber of claim I feel can be proven false.
    So, I’m changing the title damnit! :)

  6. Ritchie


    First of all I agree with you on one key point – the Bible itself does not DIRECTLY address the issue of whether those who were/are unaware of Jesus go to Hell. The question is not directly asked, and the matter is not directly stated. Therefore we must draw inferences on what the Bible does say.
    To support my case, I present the following passages:
    “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” (Mark 16:16)
    “Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” (John 3:5)
    “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” ( John 14:6-7)
    The first passage states two necessary conditions for salvation: baptism and faith. ‘Faith in what?’ would be a reasonable question. The verses immediately preceeding it show Jesus appearing to his disciples after his ressurection and berating them for not believing the rumours of his reappearance. He then tells them to go and preach the gospel. So ‘belief in the gospel’ seems the obvious answer.
    The second passage backs up the first, though the phrase ‘born of water and of the Spirit’ is more poetic and open to interpretation. I have heard at least one theologian assert that the ‘water’ meant the water of the womb! Nevertheless, it still seems to me that the passage is referring to baptism.
    The third passage is Jesus stating that he is the only way to come to the Lord. Perhaos this is aimed more at opposing faiths, but it does still seem to exclude atheists and ‘the ignorant’ also.
    Now let me consider the passage you cite:
    “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life…” John 3:35-36
    To be blunt, I don’t really see how it supports what you are claiming. It states the fate of those who actively accept Jesus and the fate of those who actively reject him. But it does not say anything about the fate of the ignorant.
    You extrapolate that because the ignorant have made no active rejection, they cannot share the fate of those who have. But the opposite must also be true, since they have made no positive acceptance either.
    You go on to reiterate that we cannot be sure of the Bible’s stance on the matter since it does not state it explicitly, and that is true. Neverless, it seems to be that the assertion that the ignorant are damned is better supported by scripture.

  7. I know this is an old post, but it struck my interest.

    What do you think the fate of someone should be who rejects God as God reveals HImself in nature?

    I think God reveals HImself quite clearly in the things He has made. I think that His existence is plain, but some people reject Him.

    Someone who rejects God Himself fares any better than someone who rejects Jesus.

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