2 Thessalonians: 1:9-10 (Available Light and Rom 2)

map of greeceThere are, of course, passages that the Available Light advocates argue from. I covered them in the Available Light series some time ago.

The most heavily relied upon passage, in my experience, is —

(Rom. 2:6-8 NET)  6 He will reward each one according to his works:  7 eternal life to those who by perseverance in good works seek glory and honor and immortality,  8 but wrath and anger to those who live in selfish ambition and do not obey the truth but follow unrighteousness. 

If Paul is speaking of those outside the Kingdom who’ve never heard the gospel, then these verses reads like a promise of works salvation for those people. And as soon as I say that, the problem with such a reading becomes manifest. The reason God gives us grace is that no one will be justified by works.

Second, it’s hardly obvious that this passage is limited to those who’ve never heard the gospel. V. 8 refers to those who “do not obey the truth,” which surely means those who do not believe in Jesus. And it seems to plainly include those who’ve heard the gospel and rejected it. (Regarding the meaning of “truth,” see this series.) So how do the same rules apply to those who’ve rejected the gospel, and those who’ve never heard the gospel?

Third, in Paul, “righteousness” generally refers to covenant faithfulness. See these posts:

The Cruciform God: Righteousness and Faith, Part 1

The New Perspective: The Righteousness of God

Thus, to be unrighteous is to violate the covenant — but God is in covenant relationship only with his children, Christians. (Technically, the unbelieving Jews are in covenant relationship but remain in exile due to their unbelief. Hence, God’s promises to them will be kept if they come to faith in Jesus.) You can’t breach a covenant you are not a party to. And only Jews and believing Gentiles meet this qualification.

Now, this is a New Perspective argument that our preachers and teachers are largely unfamiliar with, and so it’s not obvious to most readers. But it’s there.

Verse by verse

A note on hermeneutics

Now, I’m going to suggest a very different way of reading Romans 2 than what is found in most commentaries. The traditional readings are heavily biased by Medieval and Reformation theology — which brings the wrong questions to the table. The New Perspective on Paul, beginning with J. P. Sanders and built on by Richard Hays and N. T. Wright, urges that we read chapter 2 (and all of Paul) in light of the First Century Jewish worldview and expectations. So they begin with a historical investigation as to how the Jews of Paul’s day thought.

Not surprisingly, the historians find that First Century Jews thought in OT categories — not Reformation categories. They were steeped in the scriptures. And they knew these passages especially well because they speak of the coming of the Kingdom and the Messiah.

So Paul considered it sufficient to merely allude to these passages using familiar turns of phrase. He builds Rom 8, 12, and 13 on top of the OT revelations about the scriptures. He doesn’t create a new Spirit theology. He takes the existing theology taught by Moses and the Prophets and fleshes it out in light of the work of Jesus.

This results in a radically different interpretation of chapter 2, but it works far better than the traditional reading — which largely ignores the OT background and instead begins by trying to answer questions about faith and works raised by the Catholic Church’s sale of indulgences during the time of Luther and Calvin.

Indeed, the usual reading is that Paul sets up a straw man — the idea of being saved by obedience to the law — which is impossible. In fact, Paul says that salvation only comes by obedience — and obedience only comes by the indwelling Spirit. He’ll then explain in chapter 8 that the possession of the Spirit and allowing the Spirit to lead us satisfies “the law of the Spirit of life” or “the Torah of the Spirit of life” — the law that matters, the law as interpreted in light of the cross. And this, we are told, is “love one another” and “love your neighbor,” which takes us to back to very familiar territory — the very words of Jesus.

Notice that the OT prophecies (I’ll quote some but not all) say that the indwelling Spirit will produce obedience to the law. Paul takes that promise very seriously. We don’t. One reason is that we see “law” as being about rules for how to worship and organize a church rather than love. And the Spirit does not write “no missionary societies” on anyone’s heart. But if we were to follow the scriptures and take Paul and Jesus seriously about what laws matter, we’ll see that they’re the same laws the Spirit is busily writing on our hearts — the perfect law of love.

Rom 2:14-16

Here’s a highly abbreviated explanation. Notice that my interpretation is based on key OT passages about the Spirit. We try to interpret Paul without regard to the OT and so run astray routinely. Paul assumes that we know our Hebrew scriptures — and his arguments make much more sense and are much easier to follow if we are familiar especially with the OT passages on the Spirit (which we’ve covered many times).

(Rom. 2:14-16 NET) 14 For whenever the Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature the things required by the law, these who do not have the law are a law to themselves.  15 They show that the work of the law is written in their hearts, as their conscience bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or else defend them,  16 on the day when God will judge the secrets of human hearts, according to my gospel through Christ Jesus. 

Notice v. 15. It says that the Gentiles “do by nature the things required by the law” they show that “the work of the law is written in their hearts.” Paul is paraphrasing Jer 31:31ff, which prophesies that, under the new covenant, God’s Spirit (not mentioned directly but the reference is clear in light of other prophecies, some of which I quote below) will write God’s law on the hearts of his covenant family.

(Jer. 31:31-34 NET)  31 “Indeed, a time is coming,” says the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah.  32 It will not be like the old covenant that I made with their ancestors when I delivered them from Egypt. For they violated that covenant, even though I was like a faithful husband to them,” says the LORD.  

33 “But I will make a new covenant with the whole nation of Israel after I plant them back in the land,” says the LORD. “I will put my law within them and write it on their hearts and minds. I will be their God and they will be my people.  

34 “People will no longer need to teach their neighbors and relatives to know me. For all of them, from the least important to the most important, will know me,” says the LORD. “For I will forgive their sin and will no longer call to mind the wrong they have done.” 

Compare Eze 11:19-20.

So Paul is talking about people who have the Spirit. In fact, he’s previewing the first half of Rom 8. If you have the Spirit, God will write his laws on your heart and you’ll be obedient  — not sinless but in a state of grace and growing holiness.

Rom 2:26-29

He concludes the chapter with —

(Rom. 2:26-29 ESV) 26 So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision?  27 Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law.  28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical.  29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God. 

Again, Paul divides people between those whose hearts are circumcised by the Spirit (Deu 30:6; Rom 7:6) and those who don’t have the Spirit. Those with the Spirit are the ones whose hearts are circumcised by the Spirit and who keep the law.

Now, Paul is not saying that they keep Torah. Rather, he is looking at something deeper, which isn’t fully worked out until we get all the way to Rom 13 —

(Rom. 13:9-10 ESV) 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. 

See this post for a deeper look at this question. (It helps to think of chapters 1-3 as an executive summary of what follows. Paul states what he intends to prove, then he proves it. Chapter 2 is where he anticipates his conclusions about the Spirit before he’s made his full argument in chapters 7, 8, 12, and 13.)

Therefore, chapter 2 is about those who obey the law of the Spirit, who have circumcised hearts, as one class, and about those who may well be physically circumcised but whose hearts are not circumcised and so who fail to obey as the Spirit would move God’s people to obey.

Rom 2:5

(Rom. 2:5 ESV) 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. 

Who does Paul have in mind as having a “hard and impenitent heart”? Well, those who’ve not received the Spirit.

(Deut. 10:16 ESV) 16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn [LXX: “hardened”].

(Ezek. 36:26-27 ESV)  26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. 

Those without the Spirit have hardened, stone hearts. The OT routinely contrasts those with a hard heart with those who have the Spirit. Therefore, when in Rom 2:5 Paul refers to those with a “hard and impenitent heart,” he is speaking of those without the Spirit, whether they are Jew or Gentile.

Rom 2:6-13

(Rom. 2:6-13 ESV)  6 He will render to each one according to his works:  7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life;  8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.  9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek,  10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.  11 For God shows no partiality.  12 For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.  13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. 

Paul is setting up the rest of the chapter. He states the standard, but he subtly shifts the ground underneath the argument as he goes. Yes, to be saved, I must obey the law. But if I would recall Moses and the Prophets, the way God will bring about obedience to the law is by giving his Spirit (Deu 30:6 and several passages in Isa, Jer, and Eze). The new covenant promised by Jeremiah, and the Spirit who provides a heart of flesh in Ezekiel, will result in obedience to the law. Those with the Spirit are therefore the true circumcision and saved. Those without the Spirit are not.

The rest of Romans

If we take the Prophets seriously, then the obedient people are the people with the Spirit — a point Paul makes at the end of chapter 2 and then returns to in more detail in chapter 7 and then chapter 8.

But Paul doesn’t end his discussion of the law of the Spirit in chapter 8. Chapters 12 and 13 are also about how to live the law of the Spirit. These aren’t mere commands. They are what it means to be “transformed by the renewal of your mind.” And it’s Jeremiah in chapter 31 who promises a renewed mind by the Spirit for those under the new covenant!


Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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49 Responses to 2 Thessalonians: 1:9-10 (Available Light and Rom 2)

  1. Dwight says:

    Great study. We totally ignore that we should live by the Spirit, which will in turn lead us into good works, unless we quote from Gal.5, which points the same way. It is ironic that we often talk about being spiritual, but when it comes to being led by the Spirit we shy away from that, probably because it sounds Pentecostal.

  2. Gary says:

    Jay, you reject (and rightly so) Reformation theology in interpreting Romans 2 but you start out in your third paragraph raising the red herring of works salvation as a reason Paul cannot be talking about those who have never heard the Gospel of Christ. As soon as you do that of course your conclusion is set.

    No one will be saved by their works as good works have no power to save. That is not in issue at all. What we do learn in Romans 2 and Acts 10 is that good works are characteristic of those whom God in his grace chooses to save. God’s grace is mediated to each one through Jesus whether they have come to know Jesus yet or not. It is not necessary to be lost before knowing Christ and trusting in him for salvation. God is not a respecter of persons. Those who grow up in the West have no advantage over those who grow up in societies where the name of Jesus is rarely or never heard. Peter is quite clear that God accepts “in every nation” those who fear God, obviously according to their understanding, and who do what is right. Their salvation was accomplished by Christ just as it was for those who are privileged to already know Christ.

    It is not grace to restrict salvation to those who have a realistic opportunity in this life to trust in Christ for salvation. If that is the case God is indeed a respecter of persons as Americans would have far more opportunities to know Christ than would Saudis or North Koreans. Where would God’s grace be in those outcomes? That would effectively be the same as Calvinist predestination. The understanding you set forth conditions salvation on factors totally outside of a person’s control. In contrast Paul writes that each person will be judged according to their works- which are an indication of their hearts. Likewise Peter says that everyone who fears God and does what is right is accepted by God.

  3. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    To me, one key logical tipping point is the inability of the Available Light advocates to articulate a standard by which those who’ve never heard the gospel are saved or not saved.

    Either —

    1. All who’ve never heard the gospel are saved. In this case, it’s nothing but cruel to send missionaries!

    2. “Good people” who’ve never heard the gospel are saved. But this contradicts the notion that no one can be saved by works. That is, no one is good enough because all have fallen short of the glory of God.

    3. People of faith, but not faith in Jesus (of course), are saved. This is sheer 20th Century existentialism. There is nothing about faith in the abstract that is salvific. Salvation is found in faith in Jesus — which includes trust in Jesus and faithfulness to Jesus. The humanist arguments of the early 20th Century argue that generic faith — just believe in something! — saves because it allows us to escape the futility that reason leads us to. Obviously, Paul never taught any such thing. He certainly never set faith in Jesus in opposition to reason.

    There is another fatal flaw in the theory — God’s chosen people, the Jews, had faith. Contrary to much Reformation teaching, it’s clear that the First Century Jews understood that salvation was by faith. And there were Jews who did good works. Why did they need the gospel? Why did the apostles risk their lives to preach the gospel to saved people? Nothing in Acts hints that unbelieving Jews were saved before they were preached to. The apostles brought, not a mere upgrade in their relationship with God, but salvation (per Acts). So why all the life-risking missionary work if good Jews were already saved? And why not avoid persecution for being a Jesus follower by just continuing to do good works? What about the gospel made Jews risk being cast out the synagogue and lynched to follow Jesus?

    It is true that Peter said to Cornelius,

    (Acts 10:34-35 ESV) 34 So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

    But Peter said in the same sermon,

    (Acts 10:42-43 ESV) 42 And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. 43 To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

    Under your reading, this is superfluous — but this is the moment that Cornelius received the Spirit. Under your theory, Cornelius was already saved before Peter showed up.

    I agree that my understanding has superficial similarities to Calvinism — but those Calvinist verses are in the Bible for a reason. The fact is that the gospel hasn’t gone everywhere — and that God chose the time and place for Jesus and for his missionaries. He even set the timing for preaching to the Gentiles. Unbelievers have free will but free will isn’t much help if you’ve never heard the gospel — except that God’s punishment will be relative to merit — and so the free will choice to comply with the “moral law within” will result in less punishment. God will be no less than perfectly just.

    But I’m outside the traditional Reformation arguments because —

    1. I don’t believe that the damned burn in conscious torment in hell forever. I believe that no one is punished more than he truly deserves — and the punishment will be finite. It may even be trivial for those with no special revelation who comply with as much of God’s moral law as they know. Hence, there is no unfairness — unless you take the position that everyone deserves salvation. Salvation is a free gift of grace — and by definition undeserved. The only possible unfairness would be to be unfairly punished — and that just won’t happen. Many object to this thinking because they assume that God is going to be unjust — which is contrary to scripture and reveals a flawed understanding of God’s nature. This is not surprising in the Church of Christ context, where many of our central teachings assume an arbitrary, unfair God.

    2. Contrary to much Arminian teaching, I won’t pretend that everyone on the planet has had a chance to hear the gospel. Just not true. But God remains fair and just due to 1.

    3. I believe that people choose whether to respond to the gospel as a matter of free will — but I recognize that not everyone has that chance. That just seems realistic and honest to me.

    4. I believe that God’s solution to the problem is not a new theory of salvation but mission work — as Paul taught in Rom 10. God loves the world and wishes for it to be saved. But he’s not going to save other than based on faith in Jesus.

    (Jn. 3:18 ESV) 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

  4. Dwight says:

    Grace and mercy is impotent if salvation is had despite them and Jesus Isaid all about grace and mercy. God’s grace and mercy was shown through Jesus.

  5. Larry Cheek says:

    How do we reconcile Paul’s message here specifically verse 18? Do we assume that the inspiration that Paul has available is in error? Is it possible that it is our limited understanding of God’s abilities in distributing the message of the Gospel which has caused us draw conclusions different than Paul? Could Paul’s message be confirming that all the world had been exposed to the Gospel and many rejected it and replaced it with teachings that have been from the enemy, like the seed which was sown by the enemy? Just as man can be lead away from the Gospel today by teaching of men of other gods, objects and even earth lovers. The Word states that even nature was sufficient for man to come to God. Sometimes siblings of very worldly parents seek out God to replace the worldly in their lives.
    Rom 1:15-21 ESV So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. (16) For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (17) For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (18) For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (19) For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. (20) For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (21) For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

    Rom 10:14-18 ESV How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? (15) And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (16) But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” (17) So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (18) But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for “Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.”

    Is Paul’s statement untrue?

  6. Gary says:

    Jay, you set forth a false trichotomy. First, not all people are saved all the time. Scripture is clear that many will be lost. That’s another topic. The gist of it is that you believe that their being lost ends in annihilation and I believe it ends in reconciliation with God as all people finally come to God in Christ if not in this age then at the end of this age. I don’t rule out the possibility that some who continue in unbelief will be annihilated although it seems unlikely given that all those who have died in the sin that Adam brought into this world are said by Paul to be, ultimately, made alive in Christ. There is much obviously that we cannot now understand in detail. But it is never cruel to send missionaries. Salvation is not fire insurance. Salvation is the blessing of having been redeemed by one’s true and original Father. That knowledge is always good news. Are not missionaries proclaimers of God’s good news for us of Christ?

    Your second option/objection is, again, a red herring. Good works have no power to save. God in his sovereignty however has told us that he will judge all people according to their works and that he accepts all those in every nation who fear God and do what is right. If that’s salvation by works than so would be the requirement of repentance as a condition of salvation. God chooses to save the penitent and those who do good works. In both cases their salvation is made possible by the Gospel of Jesus Christ- whether they know it at the time or not.

    Third, people of faith are often the same people who fear God and who do what is right so this is really a restatement of your second option. I’ve long found intriguing the suggestion of C.S. Lewis that all religious faith and devotion in our world is ultimately counted as faith and devotion to the true God. I’m not sure he was entirely correct in that but his instincts were in the right direction. I do believe he was right in his belief that the door to Hell is only locked from the outside.

    Those who believe that God now accepts those who fear him and who do what is right may not have all the answers. But the trichotomy you set forth is not at all convincing.

    More later hopefully.

  7. Gary says:

    Correction: C.S. Lewis said that the door to Hell is only locked from the inside.

  8. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    If I understand the question correctly, you’re asking whether Paul spoke the truth when he wrote,

    (Rom. 10:18 ESV) 18 But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for “Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.”

    Paul is discussing the failure of the Jews to respond to the gospel. Even read very literally, his point (in context of the entire book) is that the Jews have heard the gospel and rejected it. Therefore, we only need to concern ourselves with the Western Hemisphere or Australia. The Jews, at the time, lived only the Roman Empire.

    Paul is quoting Psalm 19:4.

    (Ps. 19:1-6 ESV) The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. 2 Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. 3 There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. 4 Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun, 5 which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy. 6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

    Very similar to Paul’s argument in Rom 1 that God is revealed through his creation, the Psalmist declares that God may be known by viewing the heavens and the sky.

    Jewish NT Commentary

    Now, time for the commentators —

    Implied here is a kal v˒chomer argument (see Mt 6:30N) that if everyone in the world, including, of course, Gentiles, has had the kernel of the Gospel proclaimed by the heavens, so that anyone can respond by trusting in God; how much more should Israel, who have had the written Torah (3:2, 9:4; the same Psalm 19 calls the Torah “perfect, restoring the soul”), have paid attention and trusted! Sha’ul [Paul] made the same point at 1:19–20 (see also Ti 2:11).

    19 Thrust and parry continue. “Granted that they may have heard,” replies the opponent, “it still is not their fault that they have not come to faith in Yeshua. The sound waves may have struck their eardrums, But, I say, isn’t it rather that Israel didn’t understand the message they heard?” Sha’ul does not deny the possibility that Israel failed to understand, but he does not admit it as an acceptable excuse. Israel should have understood. The poetic parallelism of Deuteronomy 32:21 quoted in v. 19 implies another kal v˒chomer argument: If a non-nation, that is, a nation void of understanding, understood the message declared without words by the heavens (see v. 18), how much more should Israel have understood it from the written word of God! But the argument is even stronger, for Sha’ul quotes this passage to show that God predicted long ago that he would use precisely this circumstance to provoke you (Israel) to jealousy and make you angry; in fact, this jealousy becomes the very means of Israel’s deliverance (11:11, 14). The context of Deuteronomy 32:21, cited here, shows that God is using eye-for-eye justice with Israel—the rest of the verse says that because Israel has made God jealous and angry, therefore God will make Israel jealous and angry. But the final words of the poem reveal that in the end, God “will forgive his land and his people” (Deuteronomy 32:43).

    David H. Stern, Jewish New Testament Commentary: A Companion Volume to the Jewish New Testament, electronic ed., (Clarksville: Jewish New Testament Publications, 1996), Ro 10:18–19.

    Fascinating new commentary I bought recently. It correctly notes that, although Paul mentions the Gentiles, his real point is about the Jews (see 10:1-2). The question is how can it be that God’s own nation has, largely, rejected God himself, appearing among them as Jesus Messiah?

    Well, Paul cites Psalm 19:4 to reiterate the point made in Rom 1 that the Creation itself gives enough revelation of God to hold both Jews and Gentiles accountable for their sins. Therefore, the Jews, who have the Torah and the Prophets, are all the more accountable as they were told that the Messiah would come.

    “World” refers to where God’s general revelation by Creation has penetrated — which is the world. The Jews, of course, have the Torah wherever they may be.


    Jewish teachers often grappled with the question of whether Gentiles who had not heard the truth could be held responsible for it. They concluded that Gentiles could at least infer the oneness of God from creation and thus should avoid idolatry (see comment on Rom 1:19-20). The Gentiles may not have heard all of Christ’s message (10:17), but creation itself made them hear enough of it to be responsible for doing right. (Psalm 19:4 refers in context to the testimony of creation.) The Jewish Diaspora had more knowledge than the Gentiles had; having the law, they had every reason to believe, and word about Christ had already begun to penetrate most Jewish centers of the ancient world.

    Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament
    , Accordance electronic ed. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 435.

    Even NT Wright struggles to interpret this passage, but no commentator is greatly troubled by the reference to the entire world. The reference to the “world” is from Psa 19:4, and there refers to God’s general revelation in the Creation — which is certainly worldwide. And to the extent he has the Jews esp. in mind, they all have the Torah throughout the world.

  9. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Gary wrote,

    Jay, you set forth a false trichotomy.

    Then what is the fourth option that I overlooked? You seem to say “Rom 2:6,” but you’ve suggested how Rom 2:6 is not works salvation — which is the interpretation of countless commentators, the main exception being New Perspective commentators such as Wright who interpret it as I suggest in the main post. But read as an exception to the general rule requiring faith in Jesus, the passage is very much a works-salvation passage:

    (Rom. 2:6-10 ESV) 6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.

    If your reading is right, then it’s sure an odd place for Paul to say that people don’t need to believe in Jesus to be saved. Why insert such language in the flow of his argument? It just doesn’t fit.

    BTW, I don’t buy the argument that you can be saved by the power of the cross without faith in Jesus. When Jesus says that no one comes to the Father except by him, he is not saying that faith in Jesus is unnecessary and that he’ll save people who’ve never heard of him. After all,

    (Jn. 20:30-31 ESV) 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

    That’s what Jesus is saying — and the doctrine of the necessity of faith in Jesus fills the Gospel of John.

    But it is never cruel to send missionaries. Salvation is not fire insurance. Salvation is the blessing of having been redeemed by one’s true and original Father. That knowledge is always good news. Are not missionaries proclaimers of God’s good news for us of Christ?

    “Redeemed” refers to paying a price to release someone from slavery. If the person who never heard the gospel is already saved, then what is he redeemed from? To what was he enslaved?

    Of course, missionaries proclaim good news. That’s my very point. How is it good news if the missionary’s preaching causes many who were saved in their ignorance to now be lost? Why not leave them alone and let them be saved by Available Light? After all, many missionary works are ineffective, and many people hear the gospel and don’t accept it — perhaps because of poor communication skills by the missionary. If so, then all he’s done is damn people that had been saved.

    Good works have no power to save. God in his sovereignty however has told us that he will judge all people according to their works and that he accepts all those in every nation who fear God and do what is right. If that’s salvation by works than so would be the requirement of repentance as a condition of salvation.

    You make a category mistake. Repentance is not a good work. Repentance is a change of heart. In Acts, it’s largely used for changing from lack of faith in Jesus to faith in Jesus (read the sermons closely, beginning in Acts 2), but it can also mean to leave behind sin (which is, of course, included in “faith in Jesus”). Obviously, Christians must do both, but there is no work that must be done to gain salvation — because a change of heart is just not a work. Indeed, it’s a part of what it means to have faith. But you are insisting that people without faith can repent. Well, they can change, but they can’t become faithful to someone they don’t believe in. Hence, they cannot “repent” in the biblical sense of the term.

    Moreover, Rom 2:6 is plainly not speaking of repentance but of actually doing good works (see above). This is why so many commentators take Paul to be making a strawman argument to show that works salvation is impossible. (I think he’s setting up Rom 2:25-29).

    I’m familiar with Lewis’s arguments on hell. I disagree. Wishful thinking is not exegesis. The universalist position, like the Available Light position, has no explanation for Acts. Why did the apostles risk their lives to bring salvation to people who were going to be saved anyway?

    Paul described his mission, as given by Jesus directly to him, as follows:

    (Acts 26:16-18 ESV) 16 But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, 17 delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles– to whom I am sending you 18 to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’

    He was to bring to both Jews and Gentiles “forgiveness of sins” (meaning they needed their sins forgiven) and “a place among those who are sanctified by faith” in Jesus. That is, the same inheritance as the believing Jews. See —

    (Acts 20:32 ESV) 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

    The inheritance is, of course, the New Heavens and New Earth. (Torah speaks of the Promised Land as the Jews’ “inheritance.” The prophets anticipate the entry of the Gentiles into the Kingdom and so speak of the entire earth as being the inheritance — an earth that will be radically transformed by God into the NHNE (Isa 65 – 66). The NT continues this thought: “The meek shall inherit the earth.”) And this all implies that those who’ve not yet come to faith in Jesus have no such “place” or inheritance.

    In fact, Jesus charged Paul with rescuing Jews and Gentiles “from the power of Satan to God” by faith in Jesus. Meaning that those without faith are under the power of Satan. (Which is entirely consistent with the temptations of Jesus, where Satan claimed to rule all the kingdoms of the earth. This would not be true if many Gentiles were saved at this time by AL.)

    I think Jesus was quite serious in what he said to Paul, and that Paul in fact converted people from damnation to salvation, not from salvation to salvation.

    All of which goes back to: as soon as you attempt to precisely state who is lost and who is saved under the Available Light theory, the theory collapses.


  10. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    Fascinating homily posted by an Orthodox priest at https://theorthodoxlife.wordpress.com/2012/11/07/the-gates-of-hell-are-locked-from-the-inside/. You’ll enjoy.

    The Calvinist says, “God’s Sovereignty is so big and so powerful that human freedom, the freedom of the human person, is nothing. God wants this group of people to go to Hell, so they’re going to Hell, and there’s nothing they can do about it.”

    But aren’t the Universalists doing exactly the same thing? They’re saying, “The Sovereignty of God is so big that human freedom, the freedom of the human person, means nothing. I want you to go to Heaven, and so you’re going to Heaven. No matter what you want to do, you can’t do anything about it.”

    Hence he argues (along with CS Lewis) that the damned may repent post-Judgment Day and be released from hell. I disagree but I do agree with his analysis of Universalism and Calvinism — and to a degree with his analysis of Arminianism.

    I see the NT vocabulary of “death” and “destruction” for the damned to contradict any possibility of a post-Second Coming repentance. I agree that those in hell will be there by their choice to sin. I just can’t reconcile the words of Jesus, the teachings of Paul, and the Revelation of John with a second chance theology.

    Of course, Available Light is not second chance theology (which is what Lewis taught). It’s proposing a second means of salvation — separate from faith in Jesus. And this is part of my disagreement with the Orthodox POV. They propose a second chance based on a change of heart to be willing to forgive, etc. (His thoughts on forgiveness are very good, I think). But not based on faith in Jesus. Hence, he proposed a second chance based on works — which doesn’t fit the text at all.

    Now, a second chance based on faith in Jesus would at least be worth serious reflection. To enter the Messiah’s kingdom, you must submit to his rule. So this would be a coherent theory, at least. But even this would make nonsense of everything actually said in the NT about damnation.

    (Rom. 8:6-13 ESV) 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. 12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

    The penalty for not having the Spirit (a doctrine strangely absent from the Universalist and Orthodox positions) is “death.” Well, we all die, but we don’t all die eternally. Just as “life” in Rom 8 is eternal life, so “death” is eternal death. And if “eternal” means anything, it means you stay dead. Otherwise, it’s a contingent, temporary death.

    Thanks for pushing me to rethink all this. It’s deepened my own understanding of both my own views and the views of others.

  11. dwight says:

    (Rom. 2:6-10 ESV) “He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.”

    The context of all of Romans are the saints he is talkin to and the immediate context is those saints who are to do good by seeking “glory and honor and immortality” through not “self-seeking and disobedience of the truth and obeying unrighteousness”. The good works is seeking righteousness, Jesus, which was offered to the Jew first and then the Greek.
    Works can’t save you, unless you work towards Jesus, which isn’t talking about a physical task, but a task of repentance and faith. Jesus did the work of His Father, which was to build a Kingdom and church and body with a head (Christ), a structure which by the way you can’t physically see, even though you can see the members of the body.

    Second chance theology -isn’t this the point of the rich man and Lazarus, where the rich man says send them something that will impress and convince them and change their minds and Abraham says, “they have enough and they still reject it.”
    “Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’”

  12. Alabama John says:

    This sure makes God out a loser doesn’t it.

    God created man and could see all things, even the future, so He kicked the devil our of heaven and all his bad angels and now they are getting most of the men God created in His image.

    God put His image and spirit in man, all men, and according to our teaching the devil is sure winning by far all but a few throughout time of us humans.

    If we read the bible with God winning and defeating the devil for the souls of all men, many of the verses we quote, or skip over would have a different result.

    Its great to look at God as a winner of souls instead of creating, causing a losing game.

    Its time we quit going to funerals and looking down at kin folks and friends thinking according to our teaching and preaching here lays their body we loved but can’t stop crying since their soul is burning in hell, eternal torment.

    Lets think more on God winning this battle and in the end, the devil is destroyed and all his minions.

    It will definitely affect how we see scriptures and as a side benefit we will all be happier with our God we can love and look forward to seeing face to face for our judgment instead of fearing so while we dreading meeting.

  13. dwight says:

    AJ, I agree, but what this means is that we are not doing what spread the gospel in the times of Jesus and the apostles. God was won over Satan already, we just have to win the people.

  14. Larry Cheek says:

    Alabama John,
    You set up a good analogy in your statement.
    “God put His image and spirit in man, all men, and according to our teaching the devil is sure winning by far all but a few throughout time of us humans.”
    I understand that this Spirit that he placed in man in the creation is exactly what died when he (the man) sinned. All who have sinned died in the same manner, and remain dead unless they are born again, wherein God presents that man with a new Spirit, a new life one which will never again die in that manner. He will die physically, and will be resurrected to live eternally with Jesus. Therefore, anyone who has not been born again has no Spirit life from God. We could represent them as the walking dead, Satan’s servants. Members of Satan’s kingdom who will suffer the same future as Satan and his followers. Sounds terrible, but there is only two options in this (game) Christ’s or Satan’s.

    “If we read the bible with God winning and defeating the devil for the souls of all men, many of the verses we quote, or skip over would have a different result.”
    You pinned this, “God winning and defeating the devil for the souls of all men”, but that is not quite correct. It should be stated, God (Christ) by defeating Satan, gives sinful man who is a follower of Satan because of his sin, an opportunity to repent and be adopted into the Kingdom of Christ, the winner of the battle.

    “Its great to look at God as a winner of souls instead of creating, causing a losing game.”
    God did not create the losing game Satan and man did. God only wins the souls of men who chose his Son.

  15. Alabama John says:

    Larry, says “God only wins the souls of men who chose his Son.”
    That has not been near enough in the teachings we have espounded. Many recognize and worship the son but still are required to do or not do many things or be lost.
    The list in addition to Christ is long.
    Somehow we have missed something and God is far more merciful and full of grace for us humans than we think.
    Remember when Jesus was asked what must I do to be saved and His simple answer.
    If what we preach is true, when God made the decision of where to send us to be born and live on this earth for each human, we were sure blessed far above most for some reason or maybe it was just the luck of the draw which I reject.

  16. Gary says:

    Jay, regarding universalism there are various types. What I strongly lean towards is sometimes called Evangelical Universalism. I believe that God’s will that no one will perish will finally be realized but in such a way that free will is honored and that all who are finally saved, both in the OT and in the NT, are saved because of the life and death of Jesus Christ. I do not rule out the possibility that some who forever say no to God may be annihilated. I doubt that will be the case but it is possible. If it is the case I still think the vast majority of God’s children in Adam will still become his children through Christ.

    You reject universalism because of the texts of Scripture that you cannot reconcile with it. But what about the texts that cannot be reconciled with a rejection of universalism? Paul plainly writes to the Corinthians that all who die in Adam will be made alive in Christ. Several other such texts can be cited in support of universalism. They come up online on any blog or article advocating universalism. Many years ago I heard Walter Brueggemann say that some parts of Scripture are in tension with each other and that our task as interpreters is to negotiate the tension between them.

    I do not believe that God has limited his ability to show mercy in Scripture. We know that God made statements in the OT that he did not follow through on. We know that God has at times repented of his anger. Take what God said to Moses in his anger at the idolatrous Israelites- that he would destroy them and fulfill his promise to Abraham through the descendants of Moses. God didn’t say he was considering doing that. He said clearly that he would do it. Yet we know that he relented and the Messiah ended up coming as a descendant of Judah and not of Moses. We also know that God’s anger is only for a moment but that his mercy never ends. In many Churches of Christ the congregation frequently sings of God that his mercies never come to an end. Is it so unreasonable to believe what we sing?

    On the other hand is it reasonable to take our stand on the destruction of the lost passages and treat the universalism passages as window dressing? I believe that God’s mercy wins out in the end even if many must be lost after this life before they are finally saved.

  17. Gary says:

    Jay, I would like to offer some more thoughts about Cornelius. You ask why Peter would have bothered to share the Gospel with Cornelius if Cornelius was already saved. It’s clear to me that the conversion of Cornelius was of such importance to Peter (and to the author of Acts) because he appears to have been the first Gentile who was received into Christ’s Church without first becoming a Jew. The conversion of Cornelius marks the expansion in the early church of applying the Great Commission to Gentiles.

    In Acts 10:2 we find a Gentile who is devout, who fears God and prays and who helps the poor. Knowing that God judges all people according to their works upon what basis would we believe that Cornelius was lost? The Gospel had previously been restricted to Jews and to Gentile converts to Judaism. According to your view Cornelius and all other righteous Gentiles like him were lost without any possibility of being saved in the approximately twenty years between Pentecost and the events of Acts 10. If so there was no Gospel for them during that time. If you deny that Cornelius was already safe or saved you at the same time condemn every Gentile who died in that generation to being lost.
    Are you willing to make that affirmation?

    Your unspoken premise is that all who are converted to Christ must first be lost but I doubt you really believe that. Are there any eight or nine or ten year olds who have been baptized in your congregation? Do you really believe they were lost before their trusting in Christ for salvation?

    What about the thousands of converts on Pentecost in Acts 2? Were they all lost before their conversions to Christ? They were observant Jews observing Pentecost at the Temple. How could they have been lost? If you think about it I think you would agree that about 3,000 safe or saved Jews were baptized into Christ on that day. So it is not necessary for one to be lost first to become a disciple of Jesus Christ. If that was true as the Church began I don’t know when or how it has changed since.

    Once that is established it is clear that Cornelius was already safe in God. But the Gospel of Christ was still Good News for him just as it is for our own young children who become Christrans. Salvation in Christ is so much more than not being lost. Because of Christ we will live forever with our true Father. We receive the Holy Spirit as a gift as God’s assurance to us that all of his promises to his people are fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Cornelius had much to celebrate in every way when he came to know Jesus even though he was not lost. His salvation, like ours, was made possible because of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

  18. Larry Cheek says:

    Alabama John,
    Thanks for confirming that I believe what Christ said, “Joh 14:6 ESV Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Some of you are communicating that men who lived in the time before Christ were saved by their lives and actions which they lived before they died. But, Christ’s message takes in all the world or all humanity. Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Daniel, David and all who have ever lived come to God through Christ. Without Christ their sins were not cleansed. If that is not true than Jesus is only the savior of a portion of humanity. Without a savior, the only method of obtaining salvation would have been their own actions. This would be a works based salvation. Along those same lines no one or no group of people can worship someone or something other than God the Father of Jesus, or the Son Jesus and be saved by the actions Jesus provided.

  19. Larry Cheek says:

    You testify that those 3000 were already saved. What basis are you using? Notice Paul’s description.
    “They were observant Jews observing Pentecost at the Temple. How could they have been lost? If you think about it I think you would agree that about 3,000 safe or saved Jews were baptized into Christ on that day. ”
    Would you believe Paul?
    Rom 3:9-10 ESV What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, (10) as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one;

  20. Gary says:

    Larry, when did they become lost? Faithful Jews were saved under the Law of Moses through God’s grace of course. The Gospel of Christ was not proclaimed until Pentecost in Acts 2. Please tell me just when it was they lost their salvation and were lost? Did they wake up Pentecost morning lost? Was it the day before?

  21. Larry Cheek says:

    Are you really promoting that The Jews prior to Christ were saved before and without Christ’s sacrifice? Of course, the next comment would be if they were save then all in any other nation would have also have been saved when they attempted to live a life doing good.

  22. Alabama John says:

    I was referring to Mark 12:28-31. Jesus answered the scribes question:Which is the greatest commandment of all, with two: Lord first, neighbor second and ended with “There is none other commandment greater than these.”
    My how we have in many ways put so many other traditions and rules of the day and times in front and in judging made them far more greater.
    It was always in our many debates with denominational friends who also loved the Lord and their neighbor that our side believed we were heaven bound and considered them lost, headed for hell and we were pointing out why. They were trying to explain that we both loved God and our neighbor as Jesus said and all of us, both sides were going to be together in heaven.
    What a difference in attitude toward one another.

  23. Larry Cheek says:

    Alabama John,
    Just a few more verses down Jesus had another comment for those Scribes. Does he accuse them of not loving the Lord or their neighbors? Is it possible to love the Lord and your neighbor and still desire the things that Jesus mentioned? Other than devouring widows’ houses, is he accusing them of a lack of love?
    Mar 12:38-40 ESV And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces (39) and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, (40) who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

  24. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Gary asked,

    If you deny that Cornelius was already safe or saved you at the same time condemn every Gentile who died in that generation to being lost.
    Are you willing to make that affirmation?

    Would you affirm that every Gentile who died during that period was saved? That even serial killers and brutal dictators and torturers will receive immortality and enjoy eternity with God? Does that make better sense? That’s the justice of God?

    I think both theories are contrary to scripture and good sense — leaving us to consider a third possibility — that they were neither lost nor saved. They simply died. And the scriptures more than hint at this possibility. I’ve covered it several times in the past.

    The only other alternative I can think of is works salvation — which makes Israel, Jesus, and the cross pointless. So my best guess is that Gentiles pre-Pentecost (at least) died with no afterlife.


    (Acts 14:15-17 ESV) 15 “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. 16 In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. 17 Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”

    (Acts 17:30-31 ESV) 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

    Paul clearly says those who died pre-gospel weren’t damned, but he doesn’t say they were granted eternal life. If we reject the Platonic/pagan assumption that souls are innately immortal, then the possibility of annihilation (more precisely, expiration. There is nothing to annihilate if God hasn’t given immortality) makes pretty good sense.

    I think a close reading of Rom 5 demonstrates that the Gentiles pre-gospel died to never rise again.

    (Rom. 5:17 ESV) 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

    “Death” is spiritual death, as the redeemed continued to die a physical death even after believing in Jesus. The gospel rescues us from the Second Death/spiritual death — not physical death. Hence, those who died pre-gospel died spiritually when they died physically.

    This raises its own list of questions that I’ve covered before and it’s late. But this is the gist of my thinking.

  25. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Gary asked,

    Your unspoken premise is that all who are converted to Christ must first be lost but I doubt you really believe that. Are there any eight or nine or ten year olds who have been baptized in your congregation? Do you really believe they were lost before their trusting in Christ for salvation?

    Covered this in the comments several weeks ago. No, I believe no such thing. I believe you can’t be saved if you’re already saved. But “saved” assumes saved from something. The fate of children is an entirely different situation and not analogous to Gentiles pre-gospel. I mean, adults are responsible for their sins — as shown by Paul in Rom 1 -2. They are accountable.

    Children are not accountable. The OT refers to them as too young to know “good from evil,” referencing back to Gen 2 and 3. They are in a state of innocence, which is quite unlike the Gentiles — who aren’t innocent but have limited accountability solely by God’s good graces (see quotes from Acts in prior comments).

    Moreover, you avoid the point: if the Gentiles were saved in their ignorance, then why did Paul and other apostles and missionaries risk their lives to save them? The question isn’t whether they might be saved but whether there’s any reason to bother. I mean, Paul took stonings, lashings, shipwrecks — you know the risk — to preach gospel to and save Gentiles who, by your theory, were already saved. I didn’t say it’s impossible, just pointless. In fact, Paul may well have causes saved Gentiles to be damned by his preaching. The Greeks rejected the idea of resurrection as plainly absurd. They rejected the gospel Paul preached in Athens — and yet there were surely good people who were saved before his sermon.

  26. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Gary asked,

    In Acts 10:2 we find a Gentile who is devout, who fears God and prays and who helps the poor. Knowing that God judges all people according to their works upon what basis would we believe that Cornelius was lost?

    Of course he was not saved. He didn’t yet have faith in Jesus. When Peter preached Jesus, then Cornelius received the Spirit and was saved (And let’s please not repeat the comments re just what moment that happened. It’s been covered many times.)

    Death reigned from Adam until Jesus. The exception was for those in covenant relationship with God through Abraham. Cornelius was not a proselyte, and so he was not among the chosen, the elect, the children of God. Israel was in a privileged position going back to Abraham.

    Being not saved does not necessarily mean being lost pre-gospel. The third possibility is that he was neither damned to gehenna nor saved to the NHNE. Rather, when he died, he would have died with no second death and no resurrection.

    Paul announced on Mars Hill (prior comment) that God only “now” is calling Gentiles to repentance. Therefore, pre-gospel, God did not require Gentiles to enter the Kingdom to avoid damnation. In Rom 5, we’re told that the fate of the Gentiles pre-gospel is “death,” meaning spiritual death — but no punishment because repentance was not yet commanded.

    All that changed with Jesus. Just when and I how, I don’t know. Going to try for one more comment, and then I’m going to bed.

  27. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:

    Gary asked whether the thousands of converts on Pentecost were saved or damned before they believed in Jesus.

    Let me try to keep this simple. When the Kingdom came with power, it became essential for anyone to believe in Jesus to be saved. Read John’s gospel. It couldn’t be more clear – and he says it over and over and over.

    (Jn. 3:18 ESV) 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

    This was likely spoken to Cornelius — a good, moral Jews — by Jesus himself (translators differ on where the quotation ends and John’s own words begin. it’s the truth either way.)

    I’ve addressed why this is — best I can tell — in prior series. Maybe the one on atonement. But regardless of how well we understand this truth, this is the truth.

    One might argue that this rule only applies to those who’ve heard of Jesus, but the Jews at Pentecost had heard of Jesus. Indeed, the repentance that Peter called for wasn’t from a life of sin (these were moral people) but from unbelief. His sermon was all about “Jesus is the Messiah and Lord (meaning YHWH!!!) and the Jewish people have killed the Son of God due to their unbelief — and so they must turn from the unbelief to believe in Jesus as Lord (YHWH) and call on his name to receive remission of sins.

    Just so, in Rom 10:9, Paul says that we confess into salvation by confessing “Jesus is Lord” in a context where “Lord” refers to Joel 2:32, in which “Lord” means YHWH.

    So if we get past the moralizing and instead see that God was insisting that he be known through Jesus or not at all, we begin to see that, to God, he was demanding that the Jews see him in Jesus — because if God doesn’t look like Jesus to them, they’re worshiping the wrong god — an idol — putting them historically in the same place as the Jews just before Babylon destroyed Jerusalem. Hence, Rome would soon come as Babylon II and destroy the Temple because of the idolatry of the Jews — they believed in a deity called YHWH, but when the real YHWH showed up, they didn’t see God — and so they killed him.

    So,yes, they were lost. In exile. In desperate need of forgiveness. And about to suffer destruction on earth for worshiping the god of rebellion and violence rather than the God of peace found in Jesus.

    So, yes, we have good people being damned. It’s much more about who you worship than your morality — although your choice of deity will affect your morality in every way. But it starts with finding the true God in Jesus. There is no other place to find him. All else is idolatry. (N T Wright’s new book helps on some of these points, but I wouldn’t blame Wright for everything I’ve said.)

    I could go on, but it’s bed time.

    Thanks for pushing me to articulate this. Still working on some aspects of the teaching, and I’ve certainly not answered all questions (nor could I). But this gets us closer to the Truth, I think. It’s all about Jesus, and any doctrine that makes faith in Jesus unnecessary just has to be wrong.

  28. Alabama John says:

    no matter how terrible the scribes were, one just asked Jesus a simple question.
    What Jesus answered is my point. Jesus spoke the truth and Gods standing.
    How bad or good the asker of the question is, or was, before or after, or even at that time, doesn’t matter.

  29. Dwight says:

    John 14:6 ““I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
    and John 10:9 “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.”

    and Rom. 1:16 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.”

    and I Thess. 5:9 “For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ,”

    and 2 Tim.2:10 “Therefore I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.”

    and 2 Tim. 3:15 “and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus”

    and Titus 2 “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.”

    and Heb.5:9 “And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.”

    and John 5:24 “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. 25 Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live.”

    and John 6:40 “And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”

    I find these scriptures impossible to get around when it comes to being saved without Jesus after the day of Pentecost when Christ church was started.
    To deny these scriptures about Christ as the way and savior is to deny Christ and really to deny God.

  30. Gary says:

    Jay, I’m surprised that you believe that no Gentiles before Christ were saved or experienced an afterlife with God. Even the Jule Miller film strips taught that there was a Patriarchal Age in which righteous Gentiles could be saved. When we become more conservative than c.1965 Churches of Christ perhaps we need to do some reevaluation. Just to be clear, do you believe that Melchizedek, priest of the most high God, just died without experiencing an afterlife with God?

  31. Alabama John says:

    where I think we are differing is Jesus blood cleansed all men, those in the OT and those in the NT. The difference is those in the OT before his death, died in limbo, suspension, until Jesus died and then His blood reached back and cleansed them just as it did those in the NT that believed and died before He was crucified.
    Jesus blood shed for all humanity cleansed a lot of folks throughout time and continues to do so now and in time to come when he died and his blood was shed.

  32. Dwight says:

    Having to worry about something we have no control over results in some bad theology. There were certainly those who were faithful to God, but when Jesus came, in order to be faithful to God you had to be faithful to His son….Jesus. This is the lesson Paul learned. He considered himself faithful to God and yet rejected Jesus, until he learned that Jesus was God and an emissary of God the Father.
    AJ, I believe you are correct in how Jesus blood reached back as the final and complete sacrifice for sins. But all in all we must be concerned with what happened after Jesus died as the sacrifice the mercy and grace imparted through it.

  33. Gary says:

    Jay, what about Matthew 12:41 where Jesus prophesies that in the Judgement the penitent Ninevites will rise up and condemn the unresponsive Jews of Jesus’ day? The Ninevites will be at the Judgement. Thus they will be judged one way or the other. Jesus testifies to their repentance. Do you believe the Ninevites will still be lost- denied any afterlife with God? I’m not trying to be difficult. I’m just astonished about your belief regarding all OT Gentiles. Even Wayne Jackson in the Christian Courier holds out hope for the OT Gentiles who trusted in God but who never became Jews.

  34. DWight says:

    Matt.12:41-42 “The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here. 42 The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here.” is not prophecy.
    The argument is that the Ninevites and the even the Queen of the South (Sheba) of the past are more noble than the present generations of Israelites. because they repented when Jonah came through and sought wisdom, respectively. Many of the Jews during Jesus time thought they had God wrapped up and stopped seeking Him.

  35. Gary says:

    AJ, I agree with you. My understanding has always been that the redemption Christ brought about was efficacious both from that time until the present and from that time back to the beginning of humankind. I had never encountered before the belief that there was no salvation possible for Gentiles before Cornelius (unless of course they converted to Judaism). There was no distinction between Hebrews/Jews and Gentiles before Abraham so I’m not sure how such biblical characters as Enoch and Noah would be regarded by Jay. I cannot believe that God would have created so many millions of people (Gentiles) in his own image who would never have any opportunity to be with their Creator in the afterlife. That seems to almost reduce them to the status of glorified animals. How can that be reconciled with their having been created in God’s own image?

  36. Gary says:

    Dwight, how can you be so sure that Jesus didn’t really mean that the Ninevites would be present at the Judgement? If we can explain Jesus’ clear statements away so easily what else could be dismissed as rhetorical or as an illustration? Many conservative Christians seem uncomfortable with the Judgement scene Jesus describes in Matthew 25. That could just as easily be denied to be a prophecy. Where would it end? How would it be any different from those who understand the texts about Jesus’ resurrection to be figurative or metaphorical rather than literal?

  37. Alabama John says:

    WE talk about those throughout time, backward, today and forward, that never heard of Jesus as being lost for not being believers and obedient to Him.

    Lets change this thinking around to those who don’t understand about Jesus throughout time and even today and into the futures salvation.

    I’m speaking of the mentally handicapped. My opinion is they will be judged by God pointing to heaven or hell, right or left, according to their ability to understand and its less for some and more for others. This thinking by us on their ability to obey based on their ability to understand by each of their amount of Available Light is pretty much agreed on by everyone.

    That consideration holds true for those who were never given the opportunity to hear about our Gods son Jesus as they were also denied the mental opportunity to accept or deny our Jesus since they never heard of Him, so the same judgment will be given them as its given the mentally handicappeds Available Light.

    Keep in mind its for most of us these folks that died never hearing of Jesus are our far away from the middle east ancestors we are talking about burning in hell or happy in heaven. Its very personal!

  38. Larry Cheek says:

    Alabama John,
    Your statement, “Remember when Jesus was asked what must I do to be saved and His simple answer.”
    Jesus was asked that question several times, I don’t believe that you have the right to pick only one which supports your preconceived idea. Messages from Jesus where he directed these individuals to the Law are not applicable during The New Covenant. Jesus answered the questions in the setting of the OT or Covenant and they were true for that period of time.
    Read these and I believe that you were only applying your concept to Luk 10:25-28 ESV, but remember this is the covenant in which Jesus was living, it is not applicable into the New Covenant. Now in the New Covenant the only message with similarity is Act 16:30-34 ESV which requires a different action. You can also remember that Jesus told the Apostles, “whatever you bind on will be bound in heaven.” Their actions and instructions became the guide for this covenant.
    Mat 19:16-21 ESV And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” (17) And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” (18) He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, (19) Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (20) The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” (21) Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

    Mar 10:17-21 ESV And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (18) And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. (19) You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.'” (20) And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” (21) And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
    Luk 18:18-22 ESV And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (19) And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. (20) You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.'” (21) And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” (22) When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

    Luk 10:25-28 ESV And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (26) He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” (27) And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (28) And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

    Act 16:30-34 ESV Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (31) And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” (32) And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. (33) And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. (34) Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.

  39. Larry Cheek says:

    To All,
    Those who lived in the past and died prior to Christ all have had a chance to obey Christ!
    This scripture conveys that message.
    1Pe 3:18-20 ESV For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, (19) in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, (20) because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.
    I know that Jay has communicated that he limits those who were contacted to just to those from the days of Noah, and that it was the preaching that was done by Noah rather than Christ. But, the text is very plain that this was done by Jesus and it was his Spirit that preformed the action after his body died on the cross and that many of those who were dead lived again and were confirmed by a great body of believers.
    P.S. Notice that as Jesus died on the cross his,” flesh died but he was made alive in the spirit”.
    It is understandable that this body of humans were used as an example of the event because at this period of time there was the greatest amount of disgust about mankind by God, they were distanced further from God than any previous generations. The gulf was at its widest point between God and humans. God has bridged that gap in Jesus offering them an opportunity to accept His Son. Through this action by Jesus the fullness of the expression “Savior of the World”. Anything short of this he would only be Savior of a portion of the World. Jesus therefore can judge any and all of mankind who ever lived for not accepting him as Lord and Savior. All mankind has had freedom of choice.

  40. Alabama John says:

    I was just quoting Jesus. That man that asked that question was not privy to all those you quoted so he left with only what Jesus answered to his simple question.
    He was satisfied with it and so am I.
    Hope you will be teaching Jesus and his simple answer too. Can’t beat teaaching what came straight out of Jesus mouth.

  41. Dwight says:

    Gary, read the whole Matt.12:41-42 “The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here.” is not prophecy.
    Your argument would include Nineveh, which didn’t exist then and also the Queen of Sheba.
    He was also talking to “this generation”. Arguably wouldn’t they also rise up and judge all generations and condemn them.
    Besides we are told God will judge all. The statement of Matt.12 was meant to invoke a comparison between those who repented and sought God, even Gentiles, and the Jews that Jesus was speaking to that did not.
    The context of vs.41-42 is vs.39 “But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
    Jesus was the Jonah figure and he would die and be buried for three days within their lifetime in their generation.

    Larry, I would change your statement to “Those who lived in the past and died prior to Christ all have had a chance to obey God, but when Christ presented himself to follow God was to follow Christ!”, because God is the point, but Jesus often pointed out that to obey God meant accepting Him as the Son of God and savior. And to reject Jesus was to reject God.

  42. Gary says:

    An excellent and thoughtful article on these matters is “On Hell or Is Plato There?” by John Mark Reynolds that was published in First Things on October 4, 2010. He doesn’t give any hard and fast answers but he offers some poignant thoughts.

  43. Larry Cheek says:

    “Larry, I would change your statement to “Those who lived in the past and died prior to Christ all have had a chance to obey God, but when Christ presented himself to follow God was to follow Christ!”, because God is the point, but Jesus often pointed out that to obey God meant accepting Him as the Son of God and savior. And to reject Jesus was to reject God.”
    This is not untrue, but Jesus is to be the Savior of all humanity from Adam until the end of time, therefore his presenting himself to all who have died even the lost who had died physically, places the knowledge of him and the assurance of him being their judge on judgement day as he inspects the (Lamb’s book of life). All are to be judged according that listing, every eye and every knee which has seen and bowed will be sent into the future according to the record. Men who obeyed God prior to Christ who then rejected the promised Messiah would suffer the same fate as the Jews who have rejected Christ. In this way all of mankind are on an equal basis on judgement day. I believe that some on this blog have represented that the dead who are lost because they never obeyed God or Christ will just be dead and never be resurrected, but if that is true then only believers and followers will be there to be judged and evidently some of them would be the individuals being sent into the fiery furnace on judgement day. Evidently, there will be those there on that day whose names are not written in the Lamb’s book of life. Who would those be except the lost? Could they be there if they were not resurrected? Judgement on that day is described in a little more detail than just whether a name is in the book or not. But, think about it just a little, if your name is in the book are you not exempt from judgement because Christ has forgiven all your sins? You are not even subject to this judgement. Otherwise, Christ would be being judged, he would have to fail in his ability to be the intercessor of your failures for you to be judged.
    As I hear comments about those who lived in other time frames of this world as they obeyed God, God is said to be their savior. But, I also read that no man will come to God except through Christ, is this being said of only the living today, if it is than the Kingdom must not be a single kingdom, but two, one which God is in charge of that contains those believers from Adam to the establishment of The Church or Kingdom, we commonly call those church of Christ or Kingdom of Christ and then the second would be the body of these who are Christ’s, this Church or Kingdom.
    I believe that there is only one Kingdom the the Kingdom of Christ and all the saved are in that Kingdom now and even those from the creation of the earth until today are the Bride of Christ. Any human who has ever lived is either in the Kingdom of Christ or the kingdom of Satan. All in Christ will receive the same reward and all in Satan will receive the same punishment. O but you may speak of your concept of the unfairness. Man also thought this parable from our Lord was unfair. Notice Jesus explanation it does not only address the amount of pay but it addresses the amount of work and time. All of what man sees as a difference in value.
    Mat 20:1-16 ESV “For the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. (2) After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. (3) And going out about the third hour he saw others standing idle in the marketplace, (4) and to them he said, ‘You go into the vineyard too, and whatever is right I will give you.’ (5) So they went. Going out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour, he did the same. (6) And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing. And he said to them, ‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’ (7) They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You go into the vineyard too.’ (8) And when evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the laborers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last, up to the first.’ (9) And when those hired about the eleventh hour came, each of them received a denarius. (10) Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius. (11) And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, (12) saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ (13) But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? (14) Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. (15) Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ (16) So the last will be first, and the first last.”

  44. Larry Cheek says:

    Alabama John,
    You said.
    “He was satisfied with it and so am I.
    Hope you will be teaching Jesus and his simple answer too. Can’t beat teaaching what came straight out of Jesus mouth.”
    To that concept I will direct your attention.
    2Ti 2:15 ESV Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
    We are to “rightly handle (or in some translations [ divide] the word of truth”. As we do that we cannot redirect any message from Christ which directs an individual to follow the Law of the OT into a instruction for the same action to be followed to obtain salvation today. After Christ’s death and resurrection there was a new set of instructions delivered by his Apostles. Obeying the OT or OC teachings would no longer be acceptable for salvation. If it were than the Jews would not have been condemned for not accepting Jesus.

  45. Alabama John says:

    There will always be those that don’t obey exactly as we think they must, even those in the 27 different thinking and obeying coC. They are not all lost but will get a pass so to speak. Mentally handicapped, those in places where they don’t have full and proper access to the Good News.
    Those brought up believing what their respected elders taught them and still worshiping God in what we would call error. How is their erroneous worshiping heart looking to God is the real question.

    God throughout time, OT and NT, Adam to the end, will look at their hearts and judge them accordingly.

    We see God doing exactly that in Joshua 24:2 when he looked at the heart of a man and saw it was good who was in error worshiping idols, the moon out of his lack of available light knowledge of God. Even in his error, God saw him in his error which is a lesson all to itself, and still loved him in that error. That man was Abraham.

    If only we would see the love of God as our Father loves his children instead of the bad, mean God watching to catch us doing something wrong to send us to hell.

  46. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    I readily concede that God can save anyone he pleases on any terms he pleases. He can do more than he promises. Do I think he will? Not my place to say. Way above my paygrade. And speculating on what God might do beyond his promises is not a profitable endeavor, to my way of thinking.

    Regarding Nineveh, see my comments from a year ago: http://oneinjesus.info/2015/10/salvation-2-0-part-3-11-david-bentley-harts-god-creation-and-evil-part-8/#comment-159240 and http://oneinjesus.info/2015/10/salvation-2-0-part-3-11-david-bentley-harts-god-creation-and-evil-part-8/#comment-159214, http://oneinjesus.info/2015/10/salvation-2-0-part-3-11-david-bentley-harts-god-creation-and-evil-part-8/#comment-159215, and http://oneinjesus.info/2015/10/salvation-2-0-part-3-11-david-bentley-harts-god-creation-and-evil-part-8/#comment-159216. These are longish and I hate to repeat them here.

    I’m slowly working my way through NT Wright’s new book The Day the Revolution Began, and he works through Romans with fresh insights including esp. chapter 5, which speaks to the fate of Gentiles pre-Pentecost. Once I finish reading, I intend to post a series and we can take a fresh look in light to Wright’s teachings. I may be forced to rethink everything. It’s happened before plenty of times and could happen again. But health concerns are slowing my study. It may be a little while.

  47. dwight says:

    Larry, this is true, somewhat. I agree that Jesus is the savior, but we are also told that Jesus will return the Kingdom back to God at some point a the end days.
    There is much speculation to be had about who Jesus will accept and who he will not from our standpoint, that is beyond what we are told and beyond that we are whittling on God’s end of the stick so to speak.

  48. Larry Cheek says:

    I would believe that you are not in doubt who Jesus will accept from this time period. I believe that between Jesus and his Apostles instructions there would be no doubt who he will accept. In fact if we could not identify that, we could never be assured of salvation for ourselves, and of course we would not be able to teach others a positive message in directing them to The Savior. It is only when men distort the messages of the Apostles and even Jesus that any could be lead astray. We are warned of that very thing by both Jesus and his Apostles, those are identified as false teachers, preachers etc;. This is why it is so important for any disciple to test the message that is presented to them. Believing a false teacher can definitely cause you to lose your soul. Just like a man who would obtain the whole world can lose his soul.

  49. dwight says:

    Yes, I am not a believer in speculation when we have Jesus telling us that we must believe in Him and go through Him to reach God. We must teach that which Jesus taught and that which the apostles taught. Trying to reach beyond what we are told leads to assumptions and we all know what assumptions do.
    God is not vague and has never been vague.
    False teachers didn’t just teach false things, but things that lead away from Jesus…these were people who lead back to Judaism and the Law or back to the gods of the Gentiles or to self as the savior.

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