What About Those Who Have Never Heard the Gospel?
I am going to take a one week break from my posts on Molinism and do what is basically a summary of some teaching I heard last week. Lately I have been listening to Arnold Fruchtenbaum’s study of the Minor Prophets during my commute to and from work. There is really some very good doctrine to be found in those books! In one of Dr. Fruchtenbaum’s lessons he discussed Hosea 4:6 which I found to be fascinating.
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.
Hosea 4:6 – KJV
Dr. Fruchtenbaum went out of his way in this passage to emphasize that Israel was being disciplined for a willful lack of knowledge of God. They had the opportunity to learn of God but they rejected the light they had so God didn’t give them any more. Israel is no exception when it comes to this kind of ignorance: those who live in the dark do so because they want to. Anyone who has never heard the gospel is ignorant because they don’t want to hear it not because God wants them to spend eternity in the lake of fire.
I suppose I am getting lazy in my middle age but rather than transcribe what Dr. Fruchtenbaum taught I decided to look for an online commentary that covered the same ground. Sure enough my old friend Matthew Henry connected the same dots as Dr. Fruchtenbaum:
Both priests and people rejected knowledge; and justly therefore will God reject them. The reason why the people did not learn, and the priests did not teach, was not because they had not the light, but because they hated it–not because they had not ways of coming to the knowledge of God and of communicating it, but because they had no heart to it; they rejected it. They desired not the knowledge of God’s ways, but put it from them, and shut their eyes against the light; and therefore “I will also reject thee; I will refuse to take cognizance of thee and to own thee; you will not know me, but bid me depart; I will therefore say, Depart from me, I know you not. Thou shalt be no priest to me.” 1. The priests shall be no longer admitted to the privileges, or employed in the services, of the priesthood, nor shall they ever be received again, as we find, Ezekiel 44:13. Note, Ministers that reject knowledge, that are grossly ignorant and scandalous, ought not to be owned as ministers; but that which they seem to have should be taken away, Luke 8:18. 2. The people shall be no longer as they have been, a kingdom of priests, a royal priesthood, Exodus 19:6. God’s people, by rejecting knowledge, forfeit their honour and profane their own crown.
Dr. Fruchtenbaum went on to make this a general principle that applies to all mankind throughout the ages and not just ancient Israel. He does this by tying in the concept of common grace as expounded in Romans chapter 1:
19 since what can be known about God is evident among them, because God has shown it to them.
20 For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse.
21 For though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became nonsense, and their senseless minds were darkened.
Romans 1:19-21 – KJV
Here is what René López has to say about this passage:
1:19-20. This “truth,” showing God’s existence through creation in v 18, cannot be denied because (dioti, is a “marker” used to indicate why something just stated can reasonably considered valid, BDAG, 251) what may be known of God is manifest. First, God made it crystal clear in (en) them before He visibly showed it to them. While the phrase to them captures the external evidence explained (with “For” gar) in v 20 that God makes plain of Himself through natural revelation (i.e., creation), the phrase in them refers to the knowledge about God that all humans possess inherently. That is, humans are not intrinsically atheist, agnostic, or devoid of moral knowledge (2:14-25). Discoveries of all civilizations show the opposite, for all of them give evidence to having a god-conscience by their cultic-worship-systems and rule of law.
Thus, God “may be known,” as v 19 indicates, through the creation of the world since His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made. What may be known are His eternal power and Godhead (theiotēs, means divinity). The phrase His eternal power, linked to theiotēs, refers to God’s creative activity that is properly associated with One having a divine nature (BDAG, 446). However, since “God is Spirit” (John 4:24), He reveals Himself to the physical eye and mind through creation. Even depraved mankind is without excuse because he possesses the physical and mental capacity to recognize God’s existence. Therefore, they are held responsible.
1:21. Paul explains the last clause, why humanity is “without excuse” in vv 21-23, by using the same conjunction “because” (dioti) as he did in v 19 (cf. dioti there for definition) to explain the last clause of v 18 (i.e. although humanity “suppress the truth” they “are without excuse”). Mankind has no excuse because they knew (gnontes) God. The aorist participle gnontes expresses mankind’s experience that precedes their future that precedes their failure to recognize Him and act accordingly. Hence one may render it as “having known God.” Nevertheless, they did not glorify Him as God, having been created for this very reason, nor were they thankful. But they became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Both verbs became futile (emataiōthēsan) and darkened (eskotisthē) are aorist passive, which phrase began with the strongest contrastive conjunction in the Greek but (all’). Paul uses the passive verbs to imply how God’s wrath allows sin to sink the sinner deeper, causing a spiritual stupor. Thus what causes this futility and darkness – that only God can remove – is sin that takes over and controls humanity if allowed to run its course (Gen 4:7; Acts 16:14; 2 Cor 4:1-4; Col 1:13).
Romans Unlocked – by René López
Everyone that has ever been born has seen the glory of God, they have seen the light. Those who take the light that they have been given and take it to heart will be given more light and those who reject the light they have been given will receive no more.
As an aside, it surprises me how often I begin to write on a topic and I “accidentally” stumble upon a web site that provides me with additional information that is really useful to me. This week’s example is this article that was posted just a couple of days ago: “Wise men still seek God.” The author makes a biblical case that, contra Calvinism, mankind can indeed seek God.
I don’t know if any of my readers will catch it but there is an implication in this teaching. What about people who die but were never able to comprehend the light they were given? The two most obvious examples of this are little babies and people who are born with a serious mental handicap. I strongly believe that people who die before they are able to comprehend the light we are given will spend eternity in heaven. This is called by the misleading title of the “age of accountability” (John MacArthur actually has a very good write-up on the topic here). After giving it some thought I suppose that the best way to phrase my belief is that a person has to actually reject the light they are given before they are condemned. I hope that makes sense.
If you do a web search on the “age of accountability” many of the articles you will find will be firmly against it. Most of it is neither here nor there to me. However, there was one web article I found where the author claimed that anyone who believes in the age of accountability must be alright with infanticide?! The reasoning given was that if the baby is going to heaven then go ahead and kill them now before they have a chance to understand and reject the gospel. Murder is never justified on such utilitarian grounds and I think that the author was trying to do what logicians call “reductio ad absurdum” which takes an illogical idea to it’s absurd conclusion. In this case it doesn’t work. I have no doubt that I will spend eternity with my Lord and savior in heaven but no one, including me, has a right to murder me.
Of course both sides in this debate let the rhetoric get out of hand. I used to read a now defunct blog where the author always referred to Calvinists as “baby damners” because they reject the age of accountability. The overwrought rhetoric is used by both sides.