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What about the people who were born before Christ?
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins

Question: If Christ saved us, what about the people who were born before? Is God easier on them with how to get to heaven ("Jesus is the path to heaven")? 

Answer:  This question is dealt with in many places in the New Testament, but also in the Old Testament.

Faith, not Knowledge
Paul puts it in terms of the amount of "light" someone has received (read in Romans 2:12-16).  The point is how you respond to what you know -- believers respond with faith, non-believers reject the possibility.  The basis of salvation is faith, not knowledge.

Faith and Repentance
John the Baptizer's message, and Jesus' message, show that faith centers in repentance, that is, changing your way to follow the true way.  Faith is committing yourself to that better way.  We believe that we see God's love and purpose for us most clearly in Jesus.  But salvation at any time in history and in any place and in any state of knowledge is based on how fully one follows in faith what one knows.

Salvation is referred to in the Old Testament as a covenant relationship with God.  In David's Psalms, he expresses his deep faith relationship with the Creator God.

He speaks of God in terms of a deep awareness and close personal relationship with God, not just a loyal obedient servant following rules.  Sin is spoken of as the breaking of the covenant in some way that hinders the relationship.  This is the concept of sin in the Old Testament.

Faith Covenant
This personal faith covenant is the same, no matter how much one knows.  Those who have specifically heard the message about Jesus perhaps have a better chance to understand and believe.

But Jesus said those who seek find.  Those who are seeking, without having heard that specific message, just as clearly are honored by God, and their faith in him is the same saving faith as anyone's saving faith.

See the many examples in the gospels and Acts of those who were believing already when they heard about Jesus, like Cornelius's family (Acts 10).  There is only one way to be saved, and it is not by works or knowledge (gnosticism) but by faith (repentance and trust).

One Path
There is only one path.  Those who have found it have found Jesus, even if they do not yet understand just who he is.  God does not change his standards.  He is just and fair.  Salvation is always by faith, upon repentance.

Related Articles
[TXT] A Simple Theology of Religions
[TXT] The Exclusively Inclusive Gospel
[TXT] Names of God and Words for God:
         Thoughts on Beliefs and Usages
[TXT] Relationships Between the Religions
[review] When They Haven't Heard
[Review] Saved without the Overt Gospel? -- A Deep Analysis

For further Reading
The following are books I recommend on this topic.  I have written reviews of some on this site or Amazon.Com

Achtemeier, Paul J. and Elizabeth.  The Old Testament Roots of our Faith.  Philadelphia:  Fortress Press, 1981.  158p.
Cobb, John B., Jr.  Christ in a Pluralistic Age.  Philadelphia, Westminster Press, 1975.  287p.
Erickson, Millard J.  How Shall They Be Saved?  (Grand Rapids:  Baker, 1996.  278p.)
Fernandez Olmos, Margarite and Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert.  Creole Religions of the Caribbean:  An Introduction to Obeah and Espiritismo.  NY:  NY University Press, 2003.  251p.
Grant, Robert M.  Gods and the One God.  Philadelphia:  Westminster Press, 1986.  211p.
Moule, C.F.D.  The Origin of Christology.  Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 1977.  176p.
Ogden, Schubert M.  The Point of Christology.  Cambridge:  Harper and Row, 1982.  191p.
Piper, John.  Let the Nations Be Glad:  The Supremacy of God in Missions.  Grand Rapids:  Baker Books, 1993.  240p.
Tiessen, Terrance L.  Who Can Be Saved?:  Reassessing Salvation in Christ and World Religions.  Downers Grove, Illinois:  InterVarsity Press, 2004.  511p.
Spong, John Shelby.  Liberating the Gospels:  Reading the Gospels with Jewish Eyes.  San Francisco:  HarperSanFrancisco, 1997.  365p.


First written on an internet discussion list in March 2000
Posted on Thoughts and Resources March 2001
Last edited 25 December 2007

Copyright © 2001, 2006 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use. Other rights reserved.
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