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There seems to be general consensus inside Christianity that in order to be saved, you must have faith, and that this faith has to be in Jesus Christ. Here is one verse sometimes cited for the necessity of having faith:

Hebrews 11:6 (ESV)
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

There is also another verse that seems to indicate that this faith only comes from hearing specifically about Jesus Christ:

Romans 10:17 (ESV)
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Isn't this kind of rough luck on your average illiterate jungle tribe without contact with the outside world? How is it fair of God to offer salvation only to a limited subset of people who happen to have access to this news? Are they to be dammed for something out of their control?

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closed as not constructive by Caleb Mar 12 '12 at 17:27

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I've always had a problem with the thought that those who didn't get a chance to hear about Christ were automatically condemned to Hell. Just doesn't seem fair. –  KronoS Sep 2 '11 at 12:55
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Yes, but as Dante was not a prophet nor an apostle, but a storyteller, those of us looking for canonical doctrine are likely to treat his work as something akin to fanfiction for the Bible. –  Mason Wheeler Sep 2 '11 at 16:09
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Those passages speak of rewards and faith, i see nothing mentioning salvation or hell –  Tyler Gillies Sep 3 '11 at 2:29
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where are we ever told God is "fair", and by whose definition other than His own? –  warren Sep 8 '11 at 19:53
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If people who never heard of jesus dont go to hell, then Christians better dont try and tell them about him Cause then the chance is high that they will go to hell afterwards. It only makes sense to evangelize if those ppl would otherwise go to hell. –  Johannes Schaub - litb Dec 20 '11 at 18:35

10 Answers 10

Jesus very clearly states that we are not permitted to answer your question:

Luke 6:37

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. >Forgive, and you will be forgiven."

And if we attempt to answer the question, we are forced to say who is in and who is out of Heaven, clearly a sin according to Jesus.

What Jesus meant by Hell, we have no idea other than it was eternal separation from God. He said the World was Satan's Kingdom, is this Hell? Is the only way out of this place to know Jesus? He said He was the Shepherd and the gate keeper. He also asked God to forgive those who put Him on a cross:

Luke 23:34 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Maybe we continue to get reincarnated until we do finally meet Him? Elijah was John the Baptist:

Mathew 17:10 - The disciples asked him, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that >Elijah must come first?”

11 Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. 12 But I tell >you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him >everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” >13 Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.

... it is all an un-seeable mystery.

But we absolutely must believe that God is perfectly good, and cares FAR more than any human ever could about every living thing. Thank God, Judgement is not up to us!

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Your application of Luke 6 is massively different than the interpretations of every tradition I knew of. What Christian doctrinal stance are you representing here? –  Caleb Mar 12 '12 at 17:34
    
None, is there a flaw in my logic? I actually don't follow institutionalized religion any more. Although at one time I was a member of a Baptist and then an Episcopalian church. –  Hammer Mar 12 '12 at 17:46

I think that to understand this issue, we need to question our base assumption of how salvation is "fair". We have a tendency to think about salvation like

Whoever doesn't believe in Christ will be damned

While that's true, it's a little misleading. We should think about it like

Whoever believes in Christ will be saved

The problem with the first one is that it implies that the default position is a belief in Christ, and that not believing in Christ is to stray from that default position - the punishment for which is damnation. But it's actually subtly different than that. The damned aren't exactly being punished for unbelief in Christ. More generally, they are being punished for sin.

Romans 3:23-24 (NASB)

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;

You see, the default position is not belief - it is damnation. We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We tend to think of salvation as a right, but salvation is a gift. It's not unfair for people to be damned - that's the fair part. That's getting what we deserve. The unfair part is that anyone is able to be saved at all. That's getting what we don't deserve.

If you think about damnation as punishment for not believing in Christ, then it makes sense to call it unfair. How can you be held accountable for something that you didn't know you were supposed to do? But that's not what we're being held accountable for. We're being held accountable for our sin (or rather, in Christ, we are not being held accountable for it).

If even one person in all of history were saved by grace from his/her just damnation, we should count that far more grace than the human race has any right to expect from God. So the fact that God has created a way (through the sacrifice of His own Son), for anyone who believes to be saved is incomprehensibly gracious.

And that is why evangelism is so important, as illustrated in Romans 10:14-15 (NASB)

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!”

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You said: " It's not unfair for people to be damned - that's the fair part. That's getting what we deserve. The unfair part is that anyone is able to be saved at all. That's getting what we don't deserve... " I instead think that when people are damned, that's getting what you want. I justify this By saying that Bill Wiese said that there's a Place for those who don't want to have anything to do with God, that is Hell. Also Charles Stanley said that it's rejection of the Son of God that makes you miss heaven. So I think you get damned, cause you wanted resist God, cause you wanted it. –  laovultai May 9 at 10:39
    
ref:(1st quote)[www.itbn.org: Gregory Dickow, Guest Bill Wiese "23 Minutes In Hell", 22:03-( min:sec)] & (2nd quote)[intouch.org/broadcast/this-week-on-tv: Search: Right thinking About Death And Resurrection, 49:34(min:sec)]. –  laovultai May 9 at 10:40
    
I think this is making a huuuuge assumption that those people who you think were damned would have rejected Jesus had they heard the Gospel preached to them. So Chinese people in the year 40 AD would have all rejected it, every single one, but Chinese people in 19th century accept it? What is your explanation for this phenomenon? If someone WOULD'VE accepted Jesus if they had heard the Gospel, but didn't hear it, then how do you say it's fair that they didn't hear it? After all it wasn't up to humans, they couldnt teleport and preach to the whole world right away. And what of people in 100BC? –  Gregory Magarshak May 21 at 16:30
    
Or are you saying that Christianity teaches that the majority of the world was born with absolutely no chance of being saved? So basically due to the way people were born, i.e. with original sin and no way to hear the gospel, their fate was already predetermined and this is what you call fair? Well, it's a strange concept of fairness. It's like if I create a robot whose program always makes it go in a corner, but then I punish this robot for going into the corner, with no chance of escaping this fate. Is this what Christianity teaches is the case with all humans who never heard the Gospel? –  Gregory Magarshak May 21 at 16:33

I like to think like these verses:

Rom 2:12-15 KJV For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law; (13) (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. (14) For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: (15) Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)

But how "rare" is someone to be salved like this?

Eze 14:20 KJV Though Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, as I live, saith the Lord GOD, they shall deliver neither son nor daughter; they shall but deliver their own souls by their righteousness.

...or...

Gen 5:24 KJV And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.

Even for "Salvation Rule", there are RARE exceptions (like the thief that wasn't baptized and was salved). Remember that word: RARE! Now, stand up and...

(...) Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.

Don't rely on exceptions!

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2 Corinthians 4:3 KJV:

But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost:

For a traditional Catholic perceptive you can see how the Popes have weighed in on this:

Pope Gregory XVI, Mirari Vos (# 13), Aug. 15, 1832: “With the admonition of the apostle that ‘there is one God, one faith, one baptism’ (Eph. 4:5) may those fear who contrive the notion that the safe harbor of salvation is open to persons of any religion whatever. They should consider the testimony of Christ Himself that ‘those who are not with Christ are against Him,’ (Lk. 11:23) and that they disperse unhappily who do not gather with Him. Therefore, ‘without a doubt, they will perish forever, unless they hold the Catholic faith whole and inviolate” (Athanasian Creed).

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I think a proper answer to this question requires that we (re-)examine many of the verses used to form the opinion "Faith in Jesus is necessary for salvation."

John 3:16:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

What it says: Anyone who believes in God's son will not perish.
What it doesn't say: Only those who believe will not perish.

John 14:6:

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.“

What it says: It is impossible to get to the Father, except by way of Jesus.
What it doesn't say: That understanding this, or knowing the name of Jesus is necessary to get to the Father.

Romans 6:23:

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

What it says: The gift of eternal life is made possible by/through Jesus.
What it doesn't say: Again, it doesn't say that understanding this is necessary to receive eternal life.

John 3:36:

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.

What it says: Whoever believes in God's son has eternal life; Whoever rejects God's son will not "see life."
What it doesn't say: It says nothing about those who have neither believed in God's son, nor rejected His son.

Luke 10:27:

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

What it says: Loving God and our neighbors is necessary to inherit eternal life.
What it doesn't say: Knowing the name of Christ, or understanding his work of salvation on the cross is necessary to inherit eternal life.

And in the dialog between Jesus and Peter, Jesus repeats the phrase "Feed my lambs," but never once talks about a requirement for understanding salvation.

So what I believe we're left with here is two solid truths:

  1. Those who believe in Christ (which requires knowing of him) are saved.
  2. Those who reject Christ (which also requires knowledge of him) are not saved.

There is a big gap between these, though. To help fill that gap, we can consider that we know many people were saved before Christ's coming. (see this question).

From this, we see that the requirement for salvation is not actually knowledge of Christ, but rather a faith in God to save us from ourselves. Prior to Christ's coming, nobody knew the mechanism of salvation; they only knew that God could save them, and their faith in Him to save them is what counted.

Adam and Eve didn't even know the term "messiah," they just knew of a (to them) vague promise for retribution against sin (see Genesis 3:15).

If Adam and Even can have faith in this promise, without knowing of Jesus, then surely anyone can.

We are even told in Ecclesiastes 3:11 that God has revealed Himself to all humanity:

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

A silly analogy

When I call my grandmother, who lives in Montana, I pick up the telephone, I dial her 10-digit phone number, I listen to a few ringing sounds, then I hear "Hello?"

I've worked in IT and telecommunications long enough that I understand the basics of how touch-tone dialing works, telephone switches, and even how microphones and speakers work in my handset and hers. One could easily make a statement such as:

The telephone switch at the CO in Denver is the way to call your grandmother. Nobody makes telephone calls to Montana, except through this switch.

... or ...

Whoever believes in the telephone switch will be able to make phone calls; but whoever rejects the telephone switch will be denied the ability to make phone calls.

I fall into the category of people who understand these telephone switches, and believe in them.

There is a far greater number of people, though, who have never even thought about a telephone switch. But they still pick up the telephone to call their grandmother, having faith that the call will go through.

Is knowledge of the telephone switch necessary? No. Is faith in the telephone switch necessary to make a phone call? Yes.

What is the evidence of this faith? People picking up the phone and dialing.

What is the evidence of faith in God? "Feed my sheep."

Any person can respond to the revelation of God they have experienced, and understand that they are imperfect and sinful, and that only God's forgiveness is sufficient for them to be "right with God."

I don't believe a knowledge of Christ, or understanding of His sacrifice, or even an understanding of the concept of "Heaven" or "eternal life" is necessary for someone to be saved. What is necessary is that a person recognize that they are powerless on their own to be right with God, and that only through God's gift of compassion and grace, can they experience that right communion with God.

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Yeowch. I wish I could have a long discussion in person about this view of salvation - but since I have +- 500 chars to comment here I will simply ask: Do you believe God means us to be in relationship with Him, and if so, would knowing His name be important? And secondly mention an out of context verse to you (though I believe in context it retains this meaning): Acts 4:12 NIV Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." –  Bork Blatt Sep 23 '11 at 10:19
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@BorkBlatt: Feel free to stop by chat any time to discuss this in greater detail. I'm often there. I do believe God means us to be in relationship with Him, but I don't believe knowing the name of His Son is requisite for this to occur. Also, I interpret Acts 4:12 much the same way I interpret John 14:6. "Name" in the Bible means person--at a time when names held much more significance than they do in modern Western culture. –  Flimzy Sep 23 '11 at 19:23
    
+1, interesting argument. –  Eric Dec 20 '11 at 16:37
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@Onlyheisgood.: I think your comments would be better in an answer of your own. You are adding a lot of your own interpretation which requires additional sources, and attention which cannot be given in comments. –  Flimzy Jun 24 at 20:41
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@Onlyheisgood. Please don't use the comment system to discuss issues or give counter-points to theological issues. If you think you can answer better, answer yourself. If you want to chat, please start there. The long series of verses and discussion you've dumped on a lot of answers recently is not an appropriate use of the comment system. –  Caleb Jun 25 at 13:20

I think it's important to first note that the bible teaches that everyone is convicted of sin, righteousness and judgement by the Holy Spirit (John 16:8). In other words, people have within them an intrinsic sense of whats right, wrong, and the fact that there is some ultimate accountability for the evil deeds they commit. Romans 1 and 2 indicate that people have a basic understanding that God exists simply by observing creation yet they suppress all these truths and exchange them for lies. Paul even mentions the gentiles who do not have the law yet do instinctually the things of the law who thereby become a law unto themselves, for it is the doer's of the law who are justified before God. Now, these scriptures convince me that God has equipped, even the person in a remote village with a knowledge of truth to which he can respond or reject. To a person who choses to embrace such a conviction God is not limited to people or even the internet when it comes to delivering the gospel, as was already stated.

Something I find to be very interesting is the general belief by certain Native American tribes that sense the existence of a single personal creator, and there responsibility to love one another and take care of the creation. Hopefully I am not sounding to strange, but I think that this is the result of that inner conviction that God has given to every person. I'd like to say that I am not advocating any kind of universalism, after all, the bible says about Jesus, that there is salvation in no one else (Acts 4:12). I do however believe that the bible teaches that God has equipped all men with the knowledge of Truth to which we can I either embrace or reject. Those who are willing to embrace and repent are God's beloved and God is not willing to allow any of them to perish but wants all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

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@Caleb, I am not sure what this answer is asserting in the end. If there is salvation in no one else, then are you saying that God has equipped all men with the knowledge of the Truth, and all those tribe members have rejected it since after all the only way to Heaven is through Jesus? And they had no idea about Jesus? I'm trying to make sense of what is said ... are you saying that this is fair to all the tribe members because they had a "basic understanding" of good and bad deeds, therefore accountability, but not the gospel? If you reject universalism, this is what you're saying right? –  Gregory Magarshak May 21 at 16:25
    
@GregoryMagarshak This is not my answer, I am not asserting anything here. I think you might be confused because at some point I edited it. –  Caleb May 21 at 19:12

Then there is the question of "What about people who died before Jesus was crucified.

I believe that the relevant standard is that everyone has to believe in God AS WAS REVEALED TO THEM.

For Christians, that means believing in Jesus. For people that never had a chance to know Jesus, that is believing in God, so far as he was revealed to them.

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Actually there are no two ways about it. Jesus was foretold in Genesis and faith in the Old Testament was a looking forward to the savior that would come, the same Jesus we believe in. The OT sacrificial laws were all to point to Christ so people could understand what he was going to do. –  Caleb Sep 2 '11 at 20:05
    
What about the people living before the books of the OT have been written? –  Sven Sep 3 '11 at 17:05
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@Sven: Long long before the books of the OT was written lived a man named Adam. He walked with God in the garden and God gave him specific instructions. When Adam fell and was separated from this close relationship, God promised that a savior would come from his offspring. The rest is history, but there was never a time when God left his people without instruction and what they needed to know. –  Caleb Sep 3 '11 at 20:55
    
This is addressed with this question: christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/1824/… –  Flimzy Sep 17 '11 at 21:36

At the heart of this question (and many similar ones) is another question: Is God fair?

If God requires acknowledgments of truths that people haven't had a chance to hear in order to be saved, then of course He is not fair.

If we begin with the assumption that God will never act unjustly or unfairly though, then we can assume that He will make Divine provision for everyone, including tribes in remote jungles, to respond to Christ. This provision does not need to be a human delivering a message, but can be angels, dreams, visions, or other unknown methods.

Look at the following quote from Jesus:

Joh 5:24-25 NIV "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. (25) I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.

What is meant by "the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God" can be understood different ways, but I think one of the ways we may possibly understand it is those who have died without the opportunity of receiving Christ will have that opportunity.

However God offers this choice to people, if you assume He is good and will always act justly, whatever He needs to do to accomplish this (He is God after all) He will do. Believing in God's essential goodness is in itself a mark of faith (as you quoted in your question):

Heb 11:6 NIV And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

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I like the start of this question, but I'd like to look more into the interpretation of "the dead" in this verse. It seems possible it is "spiritually dead". –  felideon Sep 9 '11 at 13:01
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@felideon - I agree that is certainly a possible reading of the verse. I haven't done enough study to prefer one position over the other. Either way is a miraculous intervention of God's grace though. My point in the answer is not about the exact mechanics of God's methods, merely to propose that we assume God will deal fairly with everyone no matter how He chooses to do so. –  Bork Blatt Sep 10 '11 at 19:46
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"If God requires acknowledgments of truths that people haven't had a chance to hear in order to be saved, then of course He is not fair." Remember Job? god cannot be unjust or not fair, because he is our creator. –  Phonics The Hedgehog Jan 11 '12 at 4:04
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@SonicTheHedgehog. What you're saying is "God is unfair but we're not allowed to call it unfair because Shut up that's why." This is not helpful. Redefining words to suit yourself is generally unhelpful. –  TRiG Mar 12 '12 at 17:37
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How does it not follow? Did you even read Romans 9:20 to 21? "But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’”[h] 21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?" –  Phonics The Hedgehog Mar 15 '12 at 2:54

No. See 1 Peter 3 and 4. Starting from the death of Jesus, the Gospel has been preached to the dead as well as the living.

1 Peter 4:6

For for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.

Bringing salvation to the dead who had passed away without being able to accept the Gospel was something that early Christians took very seriously. According to Paul, they even held baptisms on their behalf, which Paul apparently approves of and even uses as a supporting argument in favor of the Resurrection. (See 1 Corinthians 15:29, and the entire chapter for context.)

Also, a word of warning to anyone who might see this doctrine and think that this gives them license to not try to live the Gospel in this life because they'll end up getting a second chance once they're dead:

Galatians 6:7

Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

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Why all the downvotes with no explanation? –  Mason Wheeler Sep 2 '11 at 12:58
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because of secret combinations ;) –  JustinY Sep 2 '11 at 13:29
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I didn't downvote, but just wanted to offer another way of reading I Corinthians 15:29 which might be contributing to downvotes. Paul, speaking of the resurrection, is saying, "What's the point of being baptized in the first place if there is no resurrection?" See also verses 15-16. –  Bob Black Sep 2 '11 at 15:00
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@Caleb: The Hebrews passage simply states that you only live and die once. (No reincarnation.) And the one in Luke is specifically about a person who had "Moses and the prophets" and lived wickedly anyway, not someone who never had the chance to decide. Neither one contradicts the doctrine that everyone will have a chance at some point, and any interpretation that does, "orthodox" or not, denies that God is loving and just to all his children. –  Mason Wheeler Sep 3 '11 at 21:12
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@Caleb: Of course not, but God's judgment does not come after death; it comes after the resurrection. Why do you think that is? –  Mason Wheeler Sep 3 '11 at 23:18

They burn for all eternity, if you believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible.

There is some controversy here since many Christians would disagree with this.

I agree it is rough luck.

Yes, Evidently they are dammened for things out of their control. There are almost innumerable tragic deaths every day, and it fuels the passions of those of us that build systems that save lives and reduce suffering.

There are a few interesting articles about "what constitutes a good Christian" which may help with your question. There is information suggesting it may not be as simple and clear as "You must accept Jesus..."

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Can you back this up with doctrine from the bible? –  KronoS Sep 2 '11 at 12:58
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Mathew: "You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’[e] 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell." –  Jenny Thomson Sep 2 '11 at 13:34
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@Jenny: Yes, that's a Biblical doctrine, but it doesn't seem to be at all related to the fate of those who live and die without knowledge of the Gospel. –  Mason Wheeler Sep 2 '11 at 13:45
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Not even sure how that relates to your answer. Further, that's throwing out the "literal interpretation" of several other points from the Bible. –  RCIX Sep 2 '11 at 13:46
    
But that's a specific major sin. What about good people that don't commit major sins @Jenny ? –  KronoS Sep 2 '11 at 13:46

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