This post is an excerpt from the book review of Death of Death in the Death of Christ.
Owen’s Argument 2:
P1: If Christ death is for everyone, and saves those that believe, all should receive the invitation to believe
P2: Scripture teaches many die without having heard the Gospel
C1: Therefore, Christ’s death isn’t for everyone
Scriptures Owen uses to Defend His Argument
“for faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God,” Romans 10:17
“In Judah was God known, and his name was great in Israel; in Salem was his tabernacle, and his dwelling-place in Zion,” Psalm 76:1-2
“He showed his word unto Jacob, and his statutes and his judgments unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation: and as for his judgments, they have not known them,” Psalm 147:19-20
“Pour out thy fury upon the heathen that know thee not, and upon the families that call not upon thy name;” Jeremiah 10:25
“Without Christ, aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world.” Ephesians 2:12
And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden of the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; and when they were come over against Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia; and the Spirit of Jesus suffered them not; and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: There was a man of Macedonia standing, beseeching him, and saying, Come over into Macedonia, and help us. Acts 16:6-9
“he suffered all nations to walk in their own ways” Acts 14:16
P2 is false. The bible is silent on the issue. It is one thing to say we don’t know what happens to them, but another thing to say we do: they don’t hear and are condemned. Owen accepts the burden of proof that Scripture teaches that many don’t hear and are condemned. So, if there are reasonable alternative explanations of the texts Owen cites, his argument fails.
Romans 1:20-21 also address the subject:
20For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:
21Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
It says they did know God. So in some sense other nations knew God and in some sense they didn’t. It is true God gave Israel special revelation, but the revelation given to the whole world sufficed to leave them excuseless. Further, God’s intent for giving Israel special revelation was to provide greater revelation about Himself to the whole world.
But this passages would only prove Owen’s point if they taught other nations had no knowledge of God whatsoever. While it’s true God hasn’t done everything possible to save some people, He has done enough to leave them excuseless. Owen would leave them with the excuse that they didn’t know.
The passage in Ephesians 2 which states they used to be “without God in the world” is said of believers, not those who never heard. So it could be explained either with respect to time (I.E. you used to be without God) or more likely with respect to a saving relationship with God. Again, as Romans 1:20-21 proves, they knew God.
The Acts 16:6-9 quotation in which Paul was directed to go to Macedonia, but not Asia or Bythinia could easily mean God intended Paul to go there another time or for someone else to go there.The Acts 14:16 reference likely means, based on their rejection of the light God did give them, He didn’t reveal more to them. This is Paul’s point in Romans 1 and in the subsequent verse in Acts 14:17 where Paul talks about God’s creating all things and in the subsequent verse where Paul says:
“Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness”.
Since there are reasonable alternative explanations to the texts Owen cites, his argument fails.
Different Theories on the Unevangelized
Many people have put forward theories on those that don’t hear. Some say they have sufficient revelation through nature for salvation, others that if they don’t resist the revelation given, God will send them someone to explain more, others say God uses dreams, others (Molinist’s) might say God arranges things such that all who would believe are provided the Gospel, some say people have a “chat with Christ” the moment before they die.
The bottom line is we don’t know. But we have good reason to be hopeful. Christ said:
“many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 8:11)
And John 1:9 says:
That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.