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Mark 16:15,16 (ESV) says:

15 And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

Given that unreached pagans who die never hearing the gospel cannot meet verse 16's condition for salvation, and given that many passages of scripture make it very clear that no one can earn their salvation by way of merits, can we conclude that there is no hope of salvation for the unreached pagans?

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  • @Spirit Realm Investigator Is this question about "believes", "saved" or "condemned"? I am voting to close as this question invites a general discussion as to whether or not we contribute anything to our salvation. This would be rooted in opinions on freewill and whether a created thing can be autonomous from its Creator. – C. Stroud Jan 15 at 16:28
  • @C.Stroud I'm asking about the logical implications of verse 16 when applied to the particular case of unevangelized pagans. Unevangelized pagans who die never hearing the gospel by definition lacked a positive belief in Jesus and the gospel's salvation message, and of course, they never got a chance to get baptized either. However, given that belief in the gospel appears to be a necessary condition to be saved, does this rule out any possibility of salvation for unevangelized pagans? – Spirit Realm Investigator Jan 15 at 16:56
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C.S. Lewis has a nice expression with this regard: "I believe that nobody comes to Father but through Christ, but I do not know if only Christians come to Father through Christ".

In fact, what is it to be "saved"? It is to be fit to the Kingdom of Father and Jesus, which is one Kingdom; but who is fit to the Kingdom? Only those who live according to Christ's commandments, for, if you are a tough guy from a street subculture and avenge when wronged according to the terms of this subculture, how can you be a citizen of Heavenly Jerusalem, i.e. of Jesus' and Father's, and Holy Ghost's kingdom, in which only those live, who forgive each other? But who can forgive? Can man forgive by his own efforts alone? Were Romans stupid to coin a proverb "to err is human, to forgive - divine"? The Gospels teach similarly, that we cannot do those divine acts without Christ acting in us (John 15:5), which action is called "working of His Grace in us" and we co-acting with Him. Thus, it is our joint merit when we forgive, for divine grace cannot work automatically in us, unless we co-act with this grace, at least to a certain extent. Just think about a poet getting inspiration and writing a wonderful poem: is it only his Inspirer-Muse to be given merit, or also this poet who entertained this Muse and took pen and in pangs of creativity presented to the world the poem? The same in co-action of man with divine grace working in him. Thus, it is impossible to enter the Heavenly Kingdom without Jesus Christ acting in us and transforming us into new creations (1 Cor. 5:17), fit to the Kingdom.

Thus, no salvation whatsoever without Jesus Christ, be it known to all wrong-headed liberals who say heedlessly that "all religions are the same" and similar crap.

However, when Jesus establishes His disciples to preach His commandments to all nations, does He Himself care not for those pagans who were not reached by His apostles and could not be reached physically, simply because of distances and the level of communications and transportation? Just think: Paul preached in Thesaloniki, but could not go to, say, Larissa; were Thesalonikian pagans any better than Larissians? Or does Jesus love more Thesalonikians than Larissians? A stupid calumny on Jesus if we say this, for He created the entire humanity with the Father, and how can He not care for all? So, can we deny that He cares also for those people who were not reached by the Apostles? No, we can not, unless we cease to be not only Christians but even plain homo sapienses with healthy brains. And if He cares, He cares to what aim? To the aim of their salvation or something less? Of course to their salvation, for how can we belittle the extent of Jesus' care for mankind?! I leave open then the question how does Jesus care for all humans regardless their anything - religion, customs, agnosticism, atheism etc. - and in what mysterious ways does He treat them or judge them or forgive them. This, of course, does not mean that preaching is unnecessary since Jesus cares anyhow! No, and thousand times No! This will amount to a same stupidity as when a doctor who can help an ill person by his medical skills and medications would say: "Why should I use my medical skills, does not God care for him?" - Yes, God cares for him, but now He cares through your medical skills, as now God cares for pagans through your, apostles' preaching! But, if there is no doctor, will anybody hinder God to help the ill guy by His invisible agency? Before vaccines, could not God hear prayers of people in pandemic and stop it at will? This does not mean that I suggest prayers instead of vaccines, when the latter is available through science, for this will be already testing of God, which is sin.

I think, the working of Jesus in pagan cultures can well be evidenced in pagan literature and philosophy, in great wisdom of Greek writers and philosophers, - just read Plato, how could he have guessed all those great and wise things without divine help? Or read Lao Tzu, how could he come to those wonderful ideas without inspiration? I do not say that one can be saved by reading Plato or Lao Tzu, again No! For Plato and Lau Tzu themselves cannot be saved without Jesus. In fact, after the Incarnation Jesus taught all humanity already to a different and far surpassing level than any of the pagan greats, but the latter's great and truthful ideas were also from Jesus. When Homer celebrates in the last song of Iliad the forgiveness between arch-enemies, and what arch-enemies - of Achilles, a killer of the beloved son of Priam, with the very Priam who found in himself a divine power to forgive Achilles; yes, when Homer celebrates this, can he do it without Christ inspiring him? St Basil the Great did not think so, saying that Homer is a divinely inspired author and urging Christian youth to read him.

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  • @Downvoter O, dear Downvoter, o, my post's anonymous disliker! I have little care for the "-"-es or "+"-es, but I really care about discussions, for we can rub with Truth only through discussions, dialogue and dialectics, and what can be more pleasurable than rubbing with Truth! When I know that somebody has read my post and disliked it without discussing, it leaves me frustrated and ignorant: were my ideas disliked for their form, or contents, or both; fully, or partially etc. But it is your good pleasure to give at least a minimal feedback. If you choose not to, no probl. have a good day! – Levan Gigineishvili Jan 14 at 20:45
  • @Dottard Thanks for reading and estimating! I also liked your answer that indicated from the Bible passages the divine working in hearts and minds of pagans and anticipated you in expressing this liking with "+". And "cowardly" is perhaps a too strong word, for the rules of this site permit such anonymous downvotings, but I would rather call this indelicacy and bad manners. – Levan Gigineishvili Jan 15 at 8:40
  • +1 For Lewis quote. Don't have time to read the rest. – Constantthin Jan 15 at 10:31
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Textual Problem

There is a textual question about the longer ending of Mark which I will not discuss here other than to suggestion that its authenticity is questioned. See UBS5, etc.

Soteriological Problem

Let us remind ourselves that the basis for anyone's salvation is on the basis of Christ and Christ ALONE.

Acts 4:12 - Salvation exists in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.

Therefore, regardless of what conclusion we draw here about "pagans", all those saved, whoever they might be, are saved by the blood of the "Lamb". 1 Cor 5:7.

For the sake of the following discussion we will define “Pagan” as a person who is neither Christian nor Jew (without any suggestion of being pejorative). Then we ask the question, “Can pagans be saved, as pagans?” The Bible appears to answer affirmatively.

“For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.” Rom 2:14, 15. See also Ps 87:4-6.

Further, 1 John 4:7 claims that, “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.” More explicitly, John 1:9 and Rom 1:18-20 also suggest that all people receive some revelation of God and all are without excuse. See also Prov 4:18 and Luke 12:47, 48.

This is consistent with the non-exclusive attitude of the Israelites to membership of Israel. See “Israel” (Appendix below) to show that membership in Israel was voluntary and open to all.

In fact, the Bible contains numerous examples of pagans behaving like (or often better than) Jews and Christians and receiving divine information, visions and advising Jews and Christians.

  • Pharaoh rebukes Abram after a vision from God. Gen 12:17-20
  • Abimelech rebukes Abraham after a vision from God. Gen 20:3-6
  • Abimelech rebukes Isaac about Rebekah. Gen 26:8-11
  • King Necho of Egypt rebukes Josiah’s foolishness. 2 Chron 35:20-22
  • Jonah was the divine agent in saving the pagan city of Nineveh without the need for them becoming Jews. Jonah 3:4-10
  • The magi (“wise men”) of the east were avid students of Scripture. Matt 2:1, 2, 11, 12.
  • Several Roman Centurions were obviously saved. Matt 8:5-12, Luke 23:47, Acts 10:30-35. If the above is true, then the next question is: Why evangelize the pagans? The answer is very simple – there is great joy and contentment is knowing Christ and the assurance of His salvation Isa 25:9, 9:3, Ps 9:14, 13:5, 47:1, 27:6, Prov 10:28, John 16:22, Rom 5:2, 14:17, 15:13, Gal 5:22, 1 Peter 1:6, 8, 9, 4:13, 2 John 12, etc. That is, life is far better with Jesus (despite the hardships of the Gospel) than without Him.

Obviously, it is a different story for a pagan whom hears and then rejects the Gospel, but for one who never hears the story of Jesus, the Bible appears to suggest somehow God still has a way of positively influencing everyone's lives.

APPENDIX - Israel membership was voluntary

The Old Testament contains many examples of foreigners becoming part of Israel, indicating that the Israelite Covenant was open to all and was never exclusive. For example:

  • Abraham’s own household must have consisted of perhaps 2000 people just to be able to raise an army of 318 men to liberate Lot, Gen 14:14. Indeed, Abraham’s chief servant (from Damascus) was clearly a believer and very devout as shown in Gen 24.
  • When Jacob entered Egypt, his family numbered 75 people (Acts 7:14, Ex 1:5). Some of these were not direct descendants of Abraham such as the wives of the 12 patriarchs, notably Joseph’s own wife. 215 years and four generations later at the exodus, Israel’s army had over 600,000 men, excluding women and children, (Ex 12:37, Num 1:46, etc) suggesting a total population of several million people, requiring many additions. This included a significant mixed multitude (Ex 12:38) showing that Israel obviously consisted of many non-biological Jews had joined. (Note that it is biologically impossible for Israelite numbers to have grown from 75 to several million biologically without many outside additions.)
  • Moses married a Midianite (Ex 2:16-21) also known as a Cushite. Miriam and Aaron were severely reprimanded and punished for displaying racism (Num 12:1, 2)
  • Caleb, who represented and led the tribe of Judah was a Kennizite (Num 32:12).
  • Rahab was a Canaanite (Josh 2:1, 2, Matt 1:5)
  • Ruth was Moabite (Ruth 1:4 16, 17, Matt 1:5) – these last two make King David descended from foreigners (Ruth 4:13-16).
  • Uriah was a Hittite (2 Sam 11:3)
  • King David’s elite personal regiment was Gittite, Philistines (2 Sam 15:18-22, 1 Chron 18:17)
  • The Rechabites were Kenites (Jer 35:1-19)
  • Many other foreigners lived in Israel (1 Chron 22:2, 17, 2 Chron 30:25)
  • In Esther’s time “many of the people of the land became Jews” (Esther 8:17, 9:27)
  • Even in NT times, many Jewish synagogues were attended by godly gentiles converted to Judaism (Acts 13:16, 26, 16:14, 17:17)
  • Many Jewish proselytes came to worship in Jerusalem (John 20:20, Acts 2:9-11)
  • Jesus quotes Isa 56:7, “My house shall be a house of prayer for all nations”, Mark 11:17.
  • Further, biological Israelites could opt out of the covenant and be cut-off (Ex 30:33, 38, 31:14, Lev 7:20, 21, 25, 27).

Thus, it is abundantly clear that membership of Israel was always open to all and was voluntary.

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  • Is Rom 2:14,15 referring to Gentiles in general, or evangelized Gentiles specifically? (I didn't downvote btw.) – Spirit Realm Investigator Jan 14 at 2:08
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator - see BDAG for the meaning of "ethnos" (= Gentiles) which is basically, those who are foreigners to us, namely, non-christians in this case. See also Rom 3:29, 9:24, 15:10. The whole sense of Paul's argument here in Rom 2 is about those who have not heard the Gospel and do not know the Jewish law. – Dottard Jan 14 at 9:39
  • @SpiritRealmInvestigator - The idea contained in the Rom 2:14, 15 is one of C.S. Lewis's main areguements in his fist part of "Mere Christianity". – Dottard Jan 14 at 9:45
  • Dottard, so would you say that Rom 2:14,15 is defending a work-based or a faith-based salvation workaround for unevangelized pagans? If it's a work-based salvation, wouldn't that contradict all passages stating that salvation is through faith alone? If it's a faith-based salvation, faith in what? (Btw, I don't know why the downvotes, at least I haven't) – Spirit Realm Investigator Jan 14 at 17:41
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    @SpiritRealmInvestigator - definitely NOT. [This is another question as well] It is saying that (just like Eph 2:8-10) that works are the outcome of one's faith. We do good works because we are saved, not to get saved. – Dottard Jan 14 at 20:49
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Does Mark 16:16 rule out any possibility of salvation for unevangelized pagans?

Millions, perhaps billions of people around the world who died without knowing God will also be resurrected, they will also be given an opportunity to have their name written in the book of life. (Those resurrected Acts 24:15 will be judged according to their deeds after the resurrection ) John wrote:

Revelation 20:11-13 NASB

Judgment at the Throne of God

11 Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose [a]presence earth and heaven fled, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and [b]books were opened; and another [c]book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the [d]books, according to their deeds. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them; and they were judged, each one of them according to their deeds.

In the judgment scene at Revelation 20:11-15, during Christ’s Millennial Reign “the scroll/book of life” is shown as opened to receive additional names; scrolls of instruction are also opened.

Those who come back in the ‘resurrection of the unrighteous’ will thus have the opportunity of having their names written on “the scroll/book of life,” provided they obediently perform deeds that are in harmony with the scrolls of instruction. (Ac 24:15)

Of course, faithful servants of God who come back in the ‘resurrection of the righteous’ will already have their names in “the scroll of life.” By their loyal obedience to the divine instructions, they will keep their names in it.

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Mark 16:16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

Does Mark 16:16 rule out any possibility of salvation for unevangelized pagans?

Only if you ignore the rest of the Bible.

Exodus 33:19 "I will cause all My goodness to pass before you," the LORD replied, "and I will proclaim My name--the LORD--in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion."

James 2:13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Ultimately, judgment is up to God and God alone. Our responsibility is found in Mark 16:15:

He [Jesus] said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.

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