Search for page by title (auto-completes)
Advanced search
Translate into

The Bible

OT Overview

NT Overview

OT Books

NT Books

OT History

NT History

OT Studies

Pentateuch Studies

History Books Studies

Studies in the Prophets

NT Studies

Studies in the Gospels

Acts and Letters Studies

Revelation Studies

Inductive Study

Types of Literature


Early Church

British Museum


Historical Documents

Life Questions

How to Preach


SBS Staff

Advanced Search
Search for word or phrase within each page
Search by OT book and chapter
Search by NT book and chapter

What about those who have never heard the Gospel?

Julian Spriggs M.A.

This is a question that is often asked by non-Christians to point out the apparent unfairness of the Christian Gospel. It may be a genuine question which we need to help them to answer, or it may just be their way of trying to trip up the Christians, or otherwise an excuse for them not believing. It is important that we are sensitive to their motives before we attempt to respond. It may also be a legitimate question believers may have, a question which may cause us to doubt our faith.

It is essentially a question about the justice and mercy of God. Is it fair or just that God would condemn someone to eternal punishment if they have never heard the Gospel of salvation? How can they be expected to respond to a Gospel message they have never heard?

Who are we talking about?

Before looking at the question in detail it is important to define the problem carefully. The question normally refers to two different groups of people. The first is those people who live in nations where the Gospel has not been preached (yet). These are the unreached peoples, who can be tribes living in the jungles of the Amazon, or those living in nations where another religion is dominant, like Saudi Arabia. The second group would include unborn children and children who die in early years of infancy, which some of the facts in this article will also apply to.

Some basic principles of the Gospel

We first need to understand the foundational principles of the Christian Gospel, as these are so often misunderstood on a popular level. For this question, the most important is that because of original sin, all human beings are born in a state of sin, and live sinful lives. As Paul wrote, “All have fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). Because of this, we all deserve God’s judgement, as God is a holy God and sin cannot come into his presence. The Christian Gospel is a wonderful message of God’s mercy, which says that guilty people can be proclaimed not-guilty, because Jesus took the punishment we rightly deserved, instead of us. We need to accept the fact that no one on the face of the earth deserves God’s mercy. Instead, the Gospel is a wonderful statement of grace, of God’s undeserved favour. This grace, made available through Jesus, demands a response of repentance and faith, which each person needs to make individually.

Some attempts to get round this problem

Through the centuries, a number of different ideas have been suggested as a way to solve this problem. One is universalism, the teaching that everyone will be saved in the end. This is particularly taught by liberal scholars. Universalism tends to over-emphasise the love of God at the expense of the justice of God, and leads to an unbiblical doctrine. Jesus made it clear that it is the narrow way that leads to life, “Enter through the narrow gate for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Mt 7:13-14). Jesus certainly did not teach universalism. Another is the idea of purgatory, taught in the Catholic church, which essentially says that there is opportunity after death for sins to be dealt with.

These doctrines are very dangerous and mislead thousands of people. It is only during this life that we have the opportunity to respond to the Gospel of salvation. Once we die, it is too late.

The need to preach the Gospel

The New Testament gives a great urgency to the preaching of the Gospel. Jesus gave his disciples the great commission to go to all nations and preach the Gospel (Mt 28:19). The preaching of the Gospel is therefore the job of the church and of the individual believers in it.

Through the centuries of church history, the preaching of the Gospel has been patchy. Sometimes the church has been active, at other times it was not so active. In many periods of history the church was making great efforts to reach the unreached with the Gospel, but the question remains, “What about those that died before the missionaries got there?”, and “What about those who are dying today, who have never heard the Gospel?”. How can God hold someone responsible if they have not heard about the way of salvation?

Who does this question apply to?

For non-Christians in the United Kingdom and most of the western world there is no real excuse. There are plenty of opportunities to hear the Gospel, if people want to hear it. There are an increasing number of evangelical churches, where the Gospel is preached and the Bible faithfully taught. The Bible is easily available in many languages. There is Christian radio and television, many Christian bookshops, and an ever-increasing quantity of material on the Internet, including the text of the Bible in many languages.

In non-western countries there are still many millions who cannot hear the Gospel. There is a barrier of language, where there is no Bible available in the local language. The are regions where no one has ever preached the Gospel, where there are unreached people with no believers. There may be cultural or political barriers, and particularly religious barriers, regions where Christian activity is forbidden.

What are some answers to this problem?

We need to distinguish the two types of revelation that the Bible teaches about. The first is specific revelation, and the second is general revelation.

Specific revelation

The foundation of the understanding of revelation is that God is unknowable because of human sin. Sin causes a barrier to come between a holy God, who cannot look on sin, and sinful mankind. For mankind to know God, God has to take the initiative and reveal who he is, his nature, character, and how to come into his presence. This is the story of the Bible. The Jews had the great privilege of receiving this special revelation of God, as his chosen people, described in the Old Testament. The calling of Israel was to know God, and they were given the responsibility to make him known to the nations, a calling they mostly failed to accomplish.

The church also has an even greater special revelation from God. The revelation of God was supremely given through Jesus. Thomas was told that, “To see me is to see the Father” (Jn 14:9). We now have a greater revelation of God than Israel did in the Old Testament. The church also has the privilege of knowing God through Jesus, and has the responsibility of making him known.

There is a great principle concerning revelation from God, that knowledge goes hand-in-hand with responsibility. The greater revelation we have been given, the greater accountability we have before God. The principle is that God judges people according to the revelation that has been given to them. As Christians, we are blessed in order to be a blessing. We are to pass onto others what we know, through being a witness to Christ. This accountability also applies to believers today. God will hold us individually accountable for the teaching we receive in church, and how we use it, how much we apply it our lives, and how much we pass it on to others.

General revelation

The second form of revelation is available to everyone, wherever they are living, and whenever they are living. It comes in a number of different ways. The first is that because God is the Creator, he has revealed himself through what he has made. This is taught consistently throughout the Bible, “The heavens are telling the glory of God, and firmament proclaims his handiwork.” (Ps 19:1). In his letter to the Romans, Paul explains why the Gentiles stand guilty before God, even if they did not have the law of Moses:
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse." (Rom 1:18-20).
Paul is stating that God has made the fact of his existence clear to all, through his creation. The implication is that if you look at the physical creation, you will see that there must be a Creator. Paul is claiming that all around the world people already have received a revelation of God through his creation, and therefore are accountable to God, and stand guilty before him if they reject that revelation.

So how do people find God this way?

This is the way I first came to believe in the existence of God. Through studying Biology at university, I came to the conclusion that living cells and the biochemical processes taking place within them are far to complex to have ever evolved by chance. From a scientific perspective, evolution was impossible, so there must be a Creator. A recent opinion poll taken in the U.K. gave the surprising results that many people also have come to a similar conclusion. Even after decades of deliberate evolutionary propaganda through the education system and media, only 48% of the population believed in evolution. By contrast, 17% believed in some sort of intelligent design, and 22% in some form of creationism.

Among many tribal peoples, even today, there are stories of a creator-god they no longer know. Paul used this idea when preaching in Athens to the Greek philosophers, when he told them about the “unknown god”, who was actually the Creator (Acts 17:22-31). In Lystra he spoke about this to the crowds trying to worship him and Barnabas:
“We are mortals just like you, and we bring you good news that you should turn from these worthless things (idols) to the living God who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to follow their own ways; yet he has not left himself without a witness in doing good - giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, and filling you with food, and your hearts with joy.” (Acts 14:15-17)
However, creation by itself is not enough to lead people to salvation. People need to hear the Gospel and respond to it.

Revelation through our conscience

Each human being has a basic inbuilt sense of moral right and wrong. This is the same in every culture and nation, all round the world. Even very young children have a basic sense of fairness, and are very quick to claim, “It is not fair!”. This gives a very strong evidence for the existence of God, which C.S. Lewis argued in his book, Mere Christianity.

All round the world, people naturally appeal to a common standard of behaviour which they expect others to obey, a moral standard found in all religions and all cultures. However, people often fail to practice the behaviour they expect from others, and attempt to make excuses. All over the world people know the Law of Nature, but break it. This law of human nature tells us what humans ought to do, but often do not do. This is a real law, which we did not invent, and know we ought to obey. The question is, “How did it get there?”. It must be inbuilt into the way we were created, it could not possibly have evolved by chance. Paul spoke about this in his letter to the Romans:
“When the Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts will accuse, or perhaps excuse them on the day when God will judge the secret thoughts of all.” (Rom 2:14-16)
He is stating that the requirements of the God’s law is already written on the hearts of all people, together with their conscience, which bears witness to God’s law. However the conscience is easily damaged, sin leads to greater sin, with fewer feelings of guilt.

God has not left himself without a witness

We see that God has revealed himself to the whole world in a variety of ways. One is through his creation, shown in the design of the universe. Another is in his ongoing care for the world, sending the rain, and the third is through the inbuilt sense of moral right and wrong and our consciences. All this shows God’s justice. He cannot blame us for what we do not know. Therefore people do know, at least enough to start seeking the truth.

What went wrong?

Why is it that so many people fail to respond to that revelation? According to Paul in Romans, they suppress the truth and turn to idolatry and immorality (Rom 1), and they ignore the conscience and reject the inbuilt moral law (Rom 2). Therefore they stand guilty. However, in the passage quoted above, Paul says this: “their thoughts may perhaps excuse them on the day of judgement.” (Rom 2:16). The implication is that Paul is leaving open the possibility that a person might just respond to the revelation they receive, listen to their conscience and obey the moral law written on their heart.

What are the conditions?

The condition is that we need to seek the truth, at whatever cost. Most people have pre-conceptions and presuppositions, and these can prevent us seeing the truth. If we believe there is no God, and construct our world-view on that basis, it is very difficult to change, so we tend to filter out and ignore the evidence. However, Jesus made a great promise to those who are seeking the truth:
“Ask, and it will be given to you; search and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Mt 7:7-8)
The conclusion to be drawn from this is if we are genuinely seeking the truth, we will find it, in Jesus. However, there will be a personal cost to finding the truth. It may cost us our reputation, or even our life, in some places around the world. At a minimum, finding the truth involves repentance, humbling ourselves, and unfortunately people are all too often not willing to do that.

The Bible

Pages which look at issues relevant to the whole Bible, such as the Canon of Scripture, as well as doctrinal and theological issues. There are also pages about the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha and 'lost books' of the Old Testament.

Also included are lists of the quotations of the OT in the NT, and passages of the OT quoted in the NT.

Why These 66 Books?
Books in the Hebrew Scriptures
Quotations in NT From OT
OT Passages Quoted in NT
History of the English Bible
Twelve Books of the Apocrypha
The Pseudepigrapha - False Writings
Lost Books Referenced in OT

Old Testament Overview

This is a series of six pages which give a historical overview through the Old Testament and the inter-testamental period, showing where each OT book fits into the history of Israel.

OT 1: Creation and Patriarchs
OT 2: Exodus and Wilderness
OT 3: Conquest and Monarchy
OT 4: Divided kingdom and Exile
OT 5: Return from Exile
OT 6: 400 Silent Years

New Testament Overview

This is a series of five pages which give a historical overview through the New Testament, focusing on the Ministry of Jesus, Paul's missionary journeys, and the later first century. Again, it shows where each book of the NT fits into the history of the first century.

NT 1: Life and Ministry of Jesus
NT 2: Birth of the Church
NT 3: Paul's Missionary Journeys
NT 4: Paul's Imprisonment
NT 5: John and Later NT

Introductions to Old Testament Books

This is an almost complete collection of introductions to each of the books in the Old Testament. Each contains information about the authorship, date, historical setting and main themes of the book.

Genesis Exodus Leviticus
Numbers Deuteronomy

Joshua Judges Ruth
1 & 2 Samuel 1 & 2 Kings Chronicles
Ezra & Nehemiah Esther

Job Psalms Proverbs

Isaiah Jeremiah Lamentations
Ezekiel Daniel

Hosea Joel Amos
Obadiah Jonah Micah
Nahum Habakkuk Zephaniah
Haggai Zechariah Malachi

Introductions to New Testament Books

This is a collection of introductions to each of the 27 books in the New Testament. Each contains information about the authorship, date, historical setting and main themes of the book.

Matthew's Gospel Mark's Gospel Luke's Gospel
John's Gospel

Book of Acts

Romans 1 Corinthians 2 Corinthians
Galatians Ephesians Philippians
Colossians 1 & 2 Thessalonians 1 Timothy
2 Timothy Titus Philemon

Hebrews James 1 Peter
2 Peter 1 John 2 & 3 John


Old Testament History

Information about the different nations surrounding Israel, and other articles concerning Old Testament history and the inter-testamental period.

Canaanite Religion
Israel's Enemies During the Conquest
Syria / Aram
The Assyrian Empire
Babylon and its History
The Persian Empire
The Greek Empire
The 400 Silent Years
The Ptolemies and Seleucids
Antiochus IV - Epiphanes

Old Testament Studies

A series of articles covering more general topics for OT studies. These include a list of the people named in the OT and confirmed by archaeology. There are also pages to convert the different units of measure in the OT, such as the talent, cubit and ephah into modern units.

More theological topics include warfare in the ancient world, the Holy Spirit in the OT, and types of Jesus in the OT.

OT People Confirmed by Archaeology
The Jewish Calendar
The Importance of Paradox
Talent Converter (weights)
Cubit Converter (lengths)
OT People Search
Ephah Converter (volumes)
Holy War in the Ancient World
The Holy Spirit in the OT
Types of Jesus in the OT

Studies in the Pentateuch (Gen - Deut)

A series of articles covering studies in the five books of Moses. Studies in the Book of Genesis look at the historical nature of the early chapters of Genesis, the Tower of Babel and the Table of the Nations.

There are also pages about covenants, the sacrifices and offerings, the Jewish festivals and the tabernacle, as well as the issue of tithing.

Are chapters 1-11 of Genesis historical?
Chronology of the Flood
Genealogies of the Patriarchs
Table of the Nations (Gen 10)
Tower of Babel (Gen 11:1-9)

Authorship of the Pentateuch
Chronology of the Wilderness Years
Names of God in the OT
Covenants in the OT
The Ten Commandments
The Tabernacle and its Theology
Sacrifices and Offerings
The Jewish Festivals
Balaam and Balak
Highlights from Deuteronomy
Overview of Deuteronomy

Studies in the Old Testament History Books (Josh - Esther)

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the history books. These include a list of the dates of the kings of Israel and Judah, a summary of the kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and studies of Solomon, Jeroboam and Josiah.

There are also pages describing some of the historical events of the period, including the Syro-Ephraimite War, and the Assyrian invasion of Judah in 701 BC.

Dates of the Kings of Judah and Israel
King Solomon
The Kings of Israel
King Jeroboam I of Israel
The Syro-Ephraimite War (735 BC)
Sennacherib's Invasion of Judah (701 BC)
King Josiah of Judah
Differences Between Kings and Chronicles
Chronology of the post-exilic period

Studies in the Old Testament Prophets (Is - Mal)

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the OT prophets. These include a page looking at the way the prophets look ahead into their future, a page looking at the question of whether Satan is a fallen angel, and a page studying the seventy weeks of Daniel.

There are also a series of pages giving a commentary through the text of two of the books:
Isaiah (13 pages) and Daniel (10 pages).

Prophets and the Future
The Call of Jeremiah (Jer 1)
The Fall of Satan? (Is 14, Ezek 28)
Daniel Commentary (10 pages)
Isaiah Commentary (13 pages)
Formation of the Book of Jeremiah

Daniel's Seventy Weeks (Dan 9:24-27)

New Testament Studies

A series of articles covering more general topics for NT studies. These include a list of the people in the NT confirmed by archaeology.

More theological topics include the Kingdom of God and the Coming of Christ.

NT People Confirmed by Archaeology
The Kingdom of God / Heaven
Parousia (Coming of Christ)
The Importance of Paradox

Studies in the Four Gospels (Matt - John)

A series of articles covering various studies in the four gospels. These include a list of the unique passages in each of the Synoptic Gospels and helpful information about the parables and how to interpret them.

Some articles look at the life and ministry of Jesus, including his genealogy, birth narratives, transfiguration, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and the seating arrangements at the Last Supper.

More theological topics include the teaching about the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete and whether John the Baptist fulfilled the predictions of the coming of Elijah.

Unique Passages in the Synoptic Gospels
The SynopticProblem
Genealogy of Jesus (Matt 1)
Birth Narratives of Jesus
Understanding the Parables
Peter's Confession and the Transfiguration
Was John the Baptist Elijah?
The Triumphal Entry
The Olivet Discourse (Mark 13)
Important themes in John's Gospel
John's Gospel Prologue (John 1)
Jesus Fulfilling Jewish Festivals
Reclining at Table at the Last Supper
The Holy Spirit as the Paraclete

Studies in the Book of Acts and the New Testament Letters

A series of articles covering various studies in the Book of Acts and the Letters, including Paul's letters. These include a page studying the messages given by the apostles in the Book of Acts, and the information about the financial collection that Paul made during his third missionary journey. More theological topics include Paul's teaching on Jesus as the last Adam, and descriptions of the church such as the body of Christ and the temple, as well as a look at redemption and the issue of fallen angels.

There are a series of pages giving a commentary through the text of five of the books:
Romans (7 pages), 1 Corinthians (7 pages), Galatians (3 pages), Philemon (1 page) and Hebrews (7 pages)

Apostolic Messages in the Book of Acts
Paul and His Apostleship
Collection for the Saints
The Church Described as a Temple
Church as the Body of Christ
Jesus as the Last Adam
Food Offered to Idols
Paul's Teaching on Headcoverings
Who are the Fallen Angels
The Meaning of Redemption
What is the Church?
Paul and the Greek Games

Romans Commentary (7 pages)

1 Corinthians Commentary (7 pages)

Galatians Commentary (3 pages)

Philemon Commentary (1 page)

Hebrews Commentary (7 pages)

Studies in the Book of Revelation

Articles containing studies and helpful information for the study of the Book of Revelation and topics concerning Eschatology (the study of end-times).

These include a description of the structure of the book, a comparison and contrast between the good and evil characters in the book and a list of the many allusions to the OT. For the seven churches, there is a page which gives links to their location on Google maps.

There is a page studying the important theme of Jesus as the Lamb, which forms the central theological truth of the book. There are pages looking at the major views of the Millennium, as well as the rapture and tribulation, as well as a list of dates of the second coming that have been mistakenly predicted through history.

There is also a series of ten pages giving a detailed commentry through the text of the Book of Revelation.

Introduction to the Book of Revelation
Characters Introduced in the Book
Structure of Revelation
List of Allusions to OT
The Description of Jesus as the Lamb
Virtual Seven Churches of Revelation
The Nero Redivius Myth
The Millennium (1000 years)
The Rapture and the Tribulation
Different Approaches to Revelation
Predicted Dates of the Second Coming

Revelation Commentary (10 pages)

How to do Inductive Bible Study

These are a series of pages giving practical help showing how to study the Bible inductively, by asking a series of simple questions. There are lists of observation and interpretation questions, as well as information about the structure and historical background of biblical books, as well as a list of the different types of figures of speech used in the Bible. There is also a page giving helpful tips on how to apply the Scriptures personally.

How to Study the Bible Inductively
I. The Inductive Study Method
II. Observation Questions
III. Interpretation Questions
IV. Structure of Books
V. Determining the Historical background
VI. Identifying Figures of Speech
VII. Personal Application
VIII. Text Layout

Types of Literature in the Bible

These are a series of pages giving practical help showing how to study each of the different types of book in the Bible by appreciating the type of literature being used. These include historical narrative, law, wisdom, prophets, Gospels, Acts, letters and Revelation.

It is most important that when reading the Bible we are taking note of the type of literature we are reading. Each type needs to be considered and interpreted differently as they have different purposes.

How to Understand OT Narratives
How to Understand OT Law
Hebrew Poetry
OT Wisdom Literature
Understanding the OT Prophets
The Four Gospels
The Parables of Jesus
The Book of Acts
How to Understand the NT Letters
Studying End Times (Eschatology)
The Book of Revelation

Geography and Archaeology

These are a series of pages giving geographical and archaeological information relevant to the study of the Bible. There is a page where you can search for a particular geographical location and locate it on Google maps, as well as viewing photographs on other sites.

There are also pages with photographs from Ephesus and Corinth.

Search for Geographical Locations
Major Archaeological Sites in Israel
Archaeological Sites in Assyria, Babylon and Persia
Virtual Paul's Missionary Journeys
Virtual Seven Churches of Revelation
Photos of the City of Corinth
Photos of the City of Ephesus

Biblical Archaeology in Museums around the world

A page with a facility to search for artifacts held in museums around the world which have a connection with the Bible. These give information about each artifact, as well as links to the museum's collection website where available showing high resolution photographs of the artifact.

There is also page of photographs from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem of important artifacts.

Search Museums for Biblical Archaeology
Israel Museum Photos

Difficult Theological and Ethical Questions

These are a series of pages looking at some of the more difficult questions of Christian theology, including war, suffering, disappointment and what happens to those who have never heard the Gospel.

Christian Ethics
Never Heard the Gospel
Is there Ever a Just War?
Why Does God Allow Suffering
Handling Disappointment

How to Preach

These are a series of pages giving a practical step-by-step explanation of the process of preparing a message for preaching, and how to lead a small group Bible study.

What is Preaching?
I. Two Approaches to Preaching
II. Study a Passage for Preaching
III. Creating a Message Outline
IV. Making Preaching Relevant
V. Presentation and Public Speaking
VI. Preaching Feedback and Critique
Leading a Small Group Bible Study

Information for SBS staff members

Two pages particularly relevant for people serving as staff on the School of Biblical Studies (SBS) in YWAM. One gives helpful instruction about how to prepare to teach on a book in the SBS. The other gives a list of recommended topics which can be taught about for each book of the Bible.

Teaching on SBS Book Topics for SBS