The Unknown God

Scripture is relatively vague about whether people who have not heard the gospel will be saved in the afterlife from eternal torment, et. al. “The Bible does not teach that God will judge a person for rejecting Christ if he has not heard of Christ.”[1] In contrast, “the Bible teaches clearly that God’s judgment is based on a person’s response to the truth he has received.”[2] In Acts 17:30, Luke quotes Paul saying, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.” However, this verse is relating solely to Paul preaching the gospel to Greeks in Athens regarding an altar referring to the unknown god. Paul was a great philosopher, who knew the legend pertaining to his monologue, which is documented in the historical account of Epimenides.[3] In this account, there had been a widespread plague in Greece, and they believed they had offended their gods, which resulted in them performing a plethora of sacrifices to thwart the plague. The sheep they let loose in their temple were supposed to lay next to a certain god, which they would then sacrifice them to appease the god, but instead, they laid down on a pasture adjacent to the temple. Confused, they felt there was another god whom they knew nothing of, had no face, etc., and in sacrificing the sheep accordingly, the plague presumably ceased and they erected an altar for the unknown god. However, Jesus, in Luke 10:8-16; cf. Matthew 13:10-16, makes it clear that hearing the gospel is predicated for the rejection of it thereof. Paul likewise asserts the same principles in Romans 2:14-15, which harkens back to the previous chapter, Romans 1:18-21, which presents the idea of general revelation, whereby “the one who responds obediently, God will send additional light.”[4]

Followers of God/Jesus Christ and their role in sharing the gospel are premised on who Jesus is, what He did, and how it is efficacious for us as Christians.  As bearers of God’s infallible truth, Christians are to present the gospel’s message of salvation as synonymous with the kingdom of God[5] and its progressive nature in soteriological and eschatological terms. Not only is Jesus Christ God incarnate, but His plan for threefold salvation (justification, sanctification and glorification) is fundamental in understanding the purpose of the Great Commission, in that various people groups will respond to this verifiable truth. Jesus abolished sin (Hebrews 9:26; cf. Romans 6:6; 1 Corinthians 15:24-26; 2 Timothy 1:10; Hebrews 2:14, etc.) and although people continue to sin, Christians are blessed with an ongoing sanctification process (Hebrews 10:14) which will inevitably result in complete glorification (1 John 3:2).  Although the Trinitarian concept (John 1:1; etc.) may be foreign, and sometimes seemingly illogical to some, it is nonetheless a very Jewish concept in which the New Testament authors went to great lengths to establish this as a soteriological fact, and should be fundamental in the presentation of the gospel.  However, we must be careful not to descend into heresy when trying to describe it to others (i.e. modalism, et. al.).  Romans 10:9-17, specifically verse 13, where Paul correlates Jesus as the God of the Old Testament by referring to Joel 2:32.  Jesus Christ is Lord, Yahweh Incarnate, and calling upon His Name, is essential in the conversion from unbeliever to believer.  Christians are tasked with a great responsibility in plainly stating that sin results in death, “but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord,” (Romans 6:23b, ESV).


[1] Robertson McQuilkin, “Lost,” in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, ed. Ralph D. Winter, (Pasadena, William Carey Library, 2009).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Lawlor, H. J. “St. Paul’s Quotations from Epimenides.” The Irish Church Quarterly 9, no. 35 (1916): 186-187. doi:10.2307/30067644.

[4] McQuilkin.

[5] George Eldon Ladd, “The Gospel of the Kingdom,” in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, ed. Ralph D. Winter, (Pasadena, William Carey Library, 2009).

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