Take the 2-minute tour ×
Christianity Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for committed Christians, experts in Christianity and those interested in learning more. It's 100% free, no registration required.

The exact date isn't important but at some point about 2000 years ago Christ died on a cross. Since that point Christians everywhere have put their faith in Him. He claimed to be the Way, the Truth and the Life and that nobody could get to the Father except through faith in Him (John 14:6).

That's great for everybody since then, but how were people saved before that? There are many more years of history before that date than after. Was there a different savior for them? Did they just believe in God but not in Jesus?

In very broad strokes, what does Christianity say on this matter (general doctrine) and more specifically, are there differing views on this held by major branches of Christianity? If so, what is a summary of the different doctrinal positions?

share|improve this question
1  
Note that in light of what we've learned about constructive and not constructive questions here on S.SE, I've updated this to be less of a "truth" question and more of an inquiring about Christian doctrine. I'd love to see some answers that reflect this and give good background on what any differing views are, who they are held by, and if/how the majority view has been shaped/changed/understood through time. –  Caleb Nov 19 '12 at 14:54
2  
My reason for posting a bounty on this still stands and I'm willing to cough up for an "acceptable" answer. Previous bounty notice: There are answers here that I happen to think are "right" doctrinally, but none that I feel I can accept because none of them deal with all the issues raised in my question. This question calls for something that gives an overview of possible positions and gives some broad strokes of who holds what positions both now and historically. Mechanics of how the major position(s) are said to work would also be nice, but not strictly required to answer the question. –  Caleb Apr 20 '13 at 18:12
    
This is a truth question, isn't it? Shouldn't it be closed? –  Graviton Apr 8 at 9:31
    
@Graviton No it is not. Read the last paragraph. –  Caleb Apr 8 at 10:23

14 Answers 14

Who saved people before ~33AD?

Salvation is a function of faith.

Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.

It is our new life in Christ which obliterates our sin.

Ephesians 2:5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)

Colossians 2:13 And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;

Those with faith in the Old Testament times did not receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit;

Hebrews 11:39-40 And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.

There did seem to be a way to accrue righteousness through faith.

Hebrews 11:33 Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions,

James 2:23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.

We know that some of those in Israel will receive eternal life.

Daniel 12:2 And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

It may be that in contrast to us who have eternal life as the result of faith now, the Old Testament saints receive their eternal life at their resurrection.

John 5:24 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.

It may be that the reception of eternal life is the judicial act that blots out our sins. Christians receive it when they trust in Jesus and Old Testament saints receive it when they are resurrected. Either way it would still be Jesus.

There is a possibility regarding those who did not have the promises as Israel did. There is a general revelation of Jesus (the creator) in creation.

Romans 1:20 For 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:

The Bible says specifically that this revelation is sufficient to condemn those who reject it. However, we have no positive word if this revelation is sufficient to save any. It remains only a possibility.

share|improve this answer

The only source of all mercy

There is no ounce of mercy that Christ has not purchased with his death on the cross. If this were not the case, then why did Christ have to die? This is an issue of God’s justice: if mercy is the suspension of justice, how can God give mercy and yet be just? The answer is that Christ justly purchased mercy on the cross. But if there is some mercy apart from Christ, then God’s justice is impugned (for giving unwarranted mercy) and Christ’s sacrifice is for nothing.

Everything is mercy

Mercy – mercy is the suspension of justice. This means that every moment we are not punished by God for sin is an instance of mercy, and made possible by mercy. In other words, we would not be able to walk around or take a breath on earth, if Christ had not purchased mercy. (Even common grace was purchased by Christ.) This obviously includes the Old Testament period: the mercy that was credited to Old Testaments was mercy purchased by Christ.

Why did Old Testament laws work?

Christ’s death was not effective because of the sacrificial system; the sacrificial system was effective because of Christ’s death. It was Christ’s death that made the first clothes a cover for sin; it was Christ’s death that made Able’s sacrifice acceptable. Christ’s death was not effective because of the Passover lamb; the Passover lamb was effective because of Christ’s sacrifice, etc. The Old Testament did not work forwards to the New Testament; Christ’s sacrifice worked backwards through the Old.

Was this faith in Christ?

You might think it is impossible to have faith in a Christ that had not arrived but this is not altogether clear... It may be that the Old Testaments saints had faith in Christ – perhaps in some indirect way. Abraham had faith in the promise and it was credited to him as righteousness. What promise? The promise that his children would be as numerous as the stars. This promise was fulfilled through Christ reconciling sinners to himself. Indirectly, Abraham had faith in Christ. Other examples might be mentioned, but you get the idea.

share|improve this answer
1  
This is an okay answer, considering that the question is quite broad. Notice that it is from 2011 and actually should be closed by today's site standards (I actually submitted a close vote for it being too broad just now). I was following what you were saying until "Why did the OT laws work" section. Are you submitting that Christ's death worked retroactively? Do you think that is a general thing that majority Christian doctrine teaches? I think you need to back that up with some sources and scripture. I think the larger majority of Christians submit that God is simply merciful. –  fredsbend the Grinch Jun 29 at 1:51

Who saved people before 33AD?

John 1:1-3

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

2 The same was in the beginning with God.

3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

 

Colossians 1:13-17

13 Who has delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:

14 In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:

15 Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature:

16 For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him:

17 And he is before all things, and by him all things consist.

I believe Jesus Christ is the creator.

Genesis 18:2,3,23,33

2 And he lift up his eyes and looked, and lo, three men stood by him: and when he saw them, he ran to meet them from the tent door, and bowed himself toward the ground.

3 And said, My Lord, if now I have found favour in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee from thy servant:

23 And Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked?

33 And the Lord went his way, as soon as he had left communing with Abraham: and Abraham returned unto his place

 

Daniel 3:24-25

24 Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonished, and rose up in haste and spake and said unto his counsellors, Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire? They answered and said unto the king, True O king. He answered and said, Lo I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.

 

1 Timothy 2:5

For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.

I believe that Jesus Christ ministered to people in the old testament. All the saints in Hebrews 11, except Enoch are dead and in their graves. Enoch was translated to heaven.

Hebrews 11:16

16 But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.

 

Hebrews 12:22

But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem and to an innumerable company of angels,

 

Revelation 21:2

And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

 

Hebrews 11: 39-40

39 And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise:

40 God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.

 

1 Thessalonians 4:15-17

15 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.

16 For the Lord himself shall decend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:

17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.

I believe that all the saints that have died since time begin will be resurrected at the second coming of Jesus Christ. In Hebrews 11, verse 4, Abel begins the list of those who have died in Christ.

I would guess that ninety-nine per cent of all Christendom rejects this view. The truth of the bible is seldom embraced by the multitudes.

share|improve this answer

Who saved people before ~33AD? In most cases people were required to save themselves by applying the law. For example if someone was ignorant to you and poked out your eye, you where to reply with the same reaction, therefore saving you from future confrontation.

Still though even in those days God decided to come down and save the people. With Moses for example, the 10 plagues, splitting the water, the manna in the dessert, etc. And many man other times and places, God finds his glory in coming down and knocking people straight. One instance that I thought was really cool, is as follows:

2 Chronicles 14:2 - 16:12

The exact date isn't important but at some point about 2000 years ago Christ died on a cross. Since that point Christians everywhere have put their faith in Him. I feel that many have put the wrong kind of faith in him, and/or expressed it poorly, including myself.

He claimed to be the Way, the Truth and the Life and that nobody could get to the Father except through faith in Him (John 14:6). Yes, Yes he did.

That's great for everybody since then, but how were people saved before that? To points out how few will be really saved read (1 Peter 3:18-20). Also again Jesus himself states how few (Luke 13:23-24). Yet still, depending if this message is to those that have already died, or those that are spiritually dead I do not know but it is written:

For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit. (1 Peter 4:6)

So either the spirit of corpses can return to happiness, or the spirit of depressed one (which I favor) will return to happiness. For it is also said:

He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!" (Mark 12:27)

There are many more years of history before that date than after. Was there a different savior for them? No the Same God has been here to save us.

Did they just believe in God but not in Jesus? This is that same thing. So no.

In very broad strokes, what does Christianity say on this matter (general doctrine) and more specifically, are there differing views on this held by major branches of Christianity? If so, what is a summary of the different doctrinal positions? Catholics put their faith in the Eucharist and the prayers of Mary, baptists put their faith that Jesus died for them regardless of repentance, Some put their faith on both, Mormons put their faith in what they do, and Jehovah Witnesses put their faith in saying a name. These are all avenues of faith, and it is not a point of right or wrong or which faith is correct. It is that faith must grow to produce the fruits.

But who humbly accepts the truth, and does not reject the spirit?

“You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! (Acts 7:51)

Who knows how fearful the truth is to rest on you! Who gets severely angry when they learn the offensive truths! Why do they get angry? Because pride is in their heart, and they separate themselves from Love, and they can't believe what has happened, so they call for death. In the ignorance, they call themselves to the grave. Humility however, it has been said:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did. (1 John 2:6)

Otherwise we trip on the stone of truth and fall into depression and anger, then after tear apart what God has put together.

Clearly I say to you that the Kingdom of Heaven stares you in the face! And hard it is to enter without humility and faith that you are forgiven, and also faith that God will fight for you against the lie.

For in days of old Mom and Dad argued, and the children cried out for it to end. And the only thing that can save us, is the Jesus, his teachings, his way, and our change within.

For if you gain no understanding of the spirit while you are alive, how will you be able to use the spirit to reconstitute your body?

For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (Matthew 23:12)

Amen.

share|improve this answer

The same thing that saves them now: brotherly love and compassion.

It wasn't the death on the cross that saved us, at least not directly. Rather, Jesus's death was an example of the kind of suffering we should expect, and the dignity with which we should meet it, in the process of saving ourselves--but it is, and always has been, humanity which saves itself.

share|improve this answer

This post does not cite any references or sources. Please help improve this post by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed.

    
Can you please add some Biblical or other Christian references to support your claim that the cross does not directly save and is only an example? –  curiousdannii Jun 2 at 2:31

The New Testament frequently states that Jesus rose from the dead. This presumes that, yes, Jesus was fully dead at some point. Before Jesus, of course there wasn't a heaven, just a place of the dead referred to "Hades" or "hell" (as you acknowledge). As Jesus had died, he went there. Jesus preached the Gospel to the dead (1 Peter 4:6) and those that were saved rose and joined Jesus in heaven (Matthew 27:52).

Note that this is not necessarily the same as "hell" as we know it. The people here weren't damned. It was simply the place of the dead. "Abraham's Bosom", as it was called. It was distinctly a temporary place where the dead lay in waiting, and as such, is not eternal, as opposed to the eternal damnation of "hell" as we typically refer to today as Christians.

Here's a link that discusses this topic specifically with more references and depth: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P1R.HTM

share|improve this answer
    
This is the orthodox answer. Wish it would get more votes :< –  RiverC Sep 3 '11 at 19:08
    
+1 That Jesus descended to preach the gospel to those in Hades was pretty much universally believed in the first few centuries of Christianity –  Muhd Oct 21 '11 at 3:02
    
+1 This represents the oldest Christian teaching -- and most prevalent current teaching that I'm aware of! –  svidgen Nov 20 '12 at 23:37
    
It occurs to me though, as I jumped on iterationx for this, the catechism draws a distinction between hell (eternal) and "the bosom of Abraham" (not eternal). It may be a good distinction to edit into your answer. –  svidgen Nov 21 '12 at 6:43
    
@svidgen You are correct. I will see what I can do, here. Thanks! –  Ben Richards Nov 21 '12 at 15:21

The answer from aceinthehole is on the right track, but here is the key.

Hebrews 10:4 (NIV)

It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

@Caleb, you are definitely onto something, because this verse clearly tells us that nobody in the old testament was actually saved through the law.

Hebrews 10:1 (NIV)

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.

Nobody can deny that the law given in the old testament is based off of something other then God's nature. The law was only a shadow of Christ Himself, in which, all of the fullness of God dwelled.

Hebrews 10:5-6 (NIV)

Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:

“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased.

Here's the key to God's Vindication

Romans 3:25-26 (NIV)

God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

You see, the saints of the old testament were also saved through Faith in Christ and Love for God.

1 John 2:7

Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard.

2 John 1:6

And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.

The command to love was given to us from the old testament and is given to us again in the new testament. Remember Genesis, Hebrews, Romans and James where it talks about Abraham's great Faith in God? The law was not given to Abraham! Abraham was saved through Faith in God. And love for God, that Abraham would obey when he was commanded to sacrifice Isaac.

Abraham was saved through Faith and Love, just as we are today.

share|improve this answer
5  
There's a lot of things that you don't understand @Atheist. Like the fact that God knew Isaac would not be killed and the fact that God does not desire the sacrifice of children or humans. This was a test to see if Abraham loved God enough to obey even if it cost him his son. You have no idea what God is about and you have no desire to know either. If you begin to try and understand maybe some truth will be revealed to you, but if you continue to judge without understanding then your ignorance will continue to be unwelcome here. –  Jonathon Byrd Oct 9 '11 at 21:11
7  
I'm a software engineer that hobbies in semantics and philosophy in my spare time. I not only put logic and valid inference into practice on a daily basis, but I also study the process of logic. My faith is also not blind as my faith is secured by many, many things that testify of God. I worship a God that is a righteous judge who judges wicked men, through floods, war and many other forms of destruction. A form of perfect justice that you know nothing about. I know that there is a lesson to be learnt from the story of Abraham and I know that God would not ask that of me. –  Jonathon Byrd Oct 9 '11 at 21:48
1  
Minor note @user729, God is not commanding cannibalism in those passages, it is just being predicted. –  exxodus7 May 31 '13 at 19:35
2  
A little late in the game but God already promised Abraham that Isaac would be root of a great nation and he was testing Abraham's faith in that promise. He wanted to make sure Abraham trusted God and that God would make the promise a reality. We saw before that Abraham tried to make that promise come true himself by sleeping with Hagaar and having Ishmael. God was testing Abraham's faith by threatening to take away Isaac to see whether he trusted God to keep His promise or would he interfere again. –  Manny Fleurmond Jul 21 '13 at 5:28
2  
Also somewhat late. Reading the whole Bible in context, we learn from Hebrews that Abraham believed in faith that even if he slayed Isaac, God would raise Isaac from the dead in order to fulfill his promise - so strong was Abraham's faith. –  Lawrence Dol Feb 28 at 4:04

Since the fall of man, not that God revised and re-revised His plan of salvation over the ages for the fallen mankind. No. Salvation has always been the same—it is by God’s grace through faith which He planned right from the beginning to be achieved through the death of Christ. No one, either prior to the cross or since the cross, would ever be saved without that one pivotal event in the history of the world. Christ's death paid the penalty for past sins of Old Testament saints and future sins of New Testament saints.

The major difference is that before Christ’s earthly life, salvation was found in faith in the Lord. Adam and Eve, for example, had faith in God and fellowship with Him. Abraham trusted the Lord by faith. Genesis 15:6 tells us that Abraham believed God and that was enough for God to credit it to him for righteousness.

Hebrews 11 provides an entire chapter of people who followed the Lord by faith, not knowing the details of the Christ who would come.

The Old Testament sacrificial system did not take away sin, as Hebrews 10:1-10 clearly teaches. It did, however, point to the day when the Son of God would shed His blood for the sinful human race.

Hebrews 10:1(ESV)

For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near

Jesus was the fulfilment of the Old Testament sacrificial system, the one Savior who permanently restores relationship with God.

God's plan of salvation

God's requirement of what must be believed is based on the amount of revelation He has given mankind up to that time. Adam believed the promise God gave in Genesis 3:15 that the Seed of the woman would conquer Satan. Adam believed Him, and demonstrated it by the name he gave Eve Genesis 3:20 and the Lord indicated His acceptance immediately by covering them with coats of skin Genesis 3:21. At that point that is all Adam knew, but he believed it.

Abraham believed God according to the promises and new revelation God gave him in Genesis 12 and 15. Prior to Moses, no Scripture was written, but mankind was responsible for what God had revealed. Throughout the Old Testament, believers came to salvation because they believed that God would someday take care of their sin problem.

Late in His ministry, “Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life” (Matthew 16:21-22). At this Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. ‘Never, Lord!’ he said. ‘This shall never happen to you!’” Peter and the other disciples did not know the full truth, yet they were saved because they believed that God would take care of their sin problem. They didn't exactly know how He would accomplish that, any more than Adam, Abraham, Moses, or David knew how, but they believed God.

Today, we look back, believing that He has already taken care of our sins on the cross (John 3:16; Hebrews 9:28).

Prior to Jesus, salvation was based on faith in God and trust in His plan. Ultimately, it was still based on the death and resurrection of Christ, though God’s followers did not know exactly how that would look. Today, knowing that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose the third day (1 Corinthians 15:3-4), the content of our faith is a bit more specific. However, faith is still the requirement for salvation, the object of our faith is still God, and the completer of our salvation is still Jesus.

share|improve this answer
1  
This is an excellent entry delving into the truth of the matter (and a good match for the original version of the question), but it doesn't touch on the specifics of the question such as historical doctrines or different views held by different traditions (and thus not a great match for the current version). –  Caleb Apr 16 '13 at 11:31

Before the Cross, people were saved by obeying the law. Salvation meant being protected. Paul said those who obeyed the law died, but he didn't say they went to damnation.

Gal 3:21 For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. 22But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.

23Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed. 24So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. 25Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law

1) Did Paul say that those who believed in God prior to Christ go to hell? No.

2) Was there life for those believers prior to Christ's arrival? No (vv. 21-22).

3) What was it like before "this faith came" (v.23)? They were prisoners.

4) Why did God do this? That the law might lead those loyal believers to Christ, and at that time they would receive the "promised" life. They would be a new creation; they would have LIFE.

Gal 3:14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith ---->we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

This is the view in Eastern Catholic denominations. It can be summarised by stating that God saves those who live righteous lives which is manifested in one way by proclaiming His role in making it possible to live that righteous life. God's salvation power is vested in the Church, through baptism of its members, admitted on agreement with God's laws.

The Roman Catholic denominations believe that God saves those who obey His righteous requirements through the administration of baptism. It is baptism that enables agreement with God's laws, since in man there is no evidence of any good.

The Arminian view in Western Evangelical denominations follow the Eastern church closely, except that it teaches that men are unable to obey God because of the effects of the Fall. God's grace touches all men, but men must chose to believe what God requires and that He will provide the grace to obey those requirements.

The Calvinist view in the Evangelical West differs in claiming that God's grace touches only some. Those chosen will be given grace to believe and so will be saved, since it is belief that saves. God completes what He starts, giving grace to do good works. Monergism, God enabling belief, with no contribution from man, is what separates the two major Evangelical denominations.

share|improve this answer

According to traditional Catholic doctrine, no one. Righteous Old Testament people went to the Limbo of the Fathers. Then Jesus descended to that part of Hell, then he raised them from the dead, they were baptized, and then they went to Heaven.

1 Peter 3:18‐19‐ “Christ also died once for our sins… In which also coming he preached to those spirits that were in prison…”

Q: What is here meant by hell? A: Hell here means the Limbo of the holy Fathers, that is, the place where the souls of the just were detained, in expectation of redemption through Jesus Christ" Catechism of St. Pope Pius X, The Fifth Article of the Creed

share|improve this answer
2  
Thanks for this answer. Can you expand on it with some sources. This could use some Biblical evidence for where they GET that belief and also somewhere in their official statements where it states this? (Mind you I'm not arguing I think your right that this is what Catholic doctrine teaches, but it could be a much more useful answer with some backing.) –  Caleb Sep 8 '11 at 19:47
    
@iterationx "Limbo" is not the correct term here. "Abraham's bosom" would be more appropriate. –  Ignatius Theophorus Oct 8 '12 at 19:05
    
I'm not sure how to square the sentiment that "Then Jesus descended to that part of Hell and saved them" with the notion that they're in limbo and/or Abraham's bosom. Before I react further, are you referring to old Roman Catholic beliefs? Or are you referring to Traditionalist Catholics -- the folks who rejected Vatican-2 and subsequent encyclicals? –  svidgen Nov 20 '12 at 23:34
    
@svidgen What do you think Christ descended into Hell for then - if not to release the spirits from prison. He did not release the Damned. –  apocalypse_info_click_here Nov 21 '12 at 0:22
    
I'm not contesting, for the moment, the notion that Christ descended somewhere to raise the righteous. Your terms just aren't in agreement with each other. Was it hell or something else? Abraham's bosom, limbo, purgatory, etc.? –  svidgen Nov 21 '12 at 1:08

Forgiveness

Being "saved" is a Christian concept related to the forgiveness of sins. Prior to Christ, Salvation was being saved from Earthly (temporal) grief. So, the question, from a pre-Christ perspective, is more appropriately worded as "Who forgave sins before ~33AD?"

Like today, sin was forgiven through sacrifice and repentance. The people were not made perfect, but they were forgiven of their sin.

Sacrifice

For that, we look at Leviticus:

Leviticus 16:30 (NIV)
...because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the LORD, you will be clean from all your sins.

Who forgave sins? God did, of course.

However, it was the sacrifices made by the priest and provided by the sinner(s) that allows for the forgiveness.

  • Leviticus 16 outlines the Day of Atonement that God created to allow for the sins of the nation of Israel to be forgiven
  • Leviticus 4 outlines the offerings that must be made for the atonement of an individual's sin.

Repentance

Furthermore, without repentance, the sin was not forgiven:

1 Samuel 15:22
To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.

Also

Isaih 1:13
Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations— I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.

If there was no repentance, then the offerings were in vain. If the person/people continued to sin and simply threw an offering at it, claiming it would be forgiven, the offering was considered detestable and not accepted.

Summary

God set forth a very clear plan and path to allow for the forgiveness of sins. These sins could be forgiven on a personal level or on a national level.

However, these offerings had to be made repeatedly. Jesus came and made a perfect sacrifice that allowed for us to become perfect in Him:

Hebrews 10:14 (NIV)
For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

share|improve this answer
    
+1 I disagree, but the answer is well researched, argumented and written. –  dancek Sep 21 '11 at 23:36
    
+1, an interesting take –  Eric Dec 19 '11 at 22:39

Before Christ, people were saved by believing in God's promise of the Messiah who was to come, as we are saved by believing in the Messiah who has come.

Hebrews 11:39-40 (ESV)

And all these [Old Testament saints], though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

There is some speculation that because Jesus is the only way to the Father, OT saints were kept in a comfortable "holding place" (cf. Abraham's bosom in the parable of the rich man), and that when Jesus died he joined them and brought them with him to heaven

Eph. 4:7-10 (ESV)

But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, "When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men."

(In saying, "He ascended," what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)

share|improve this answer
    
What about all those whom haven't made contact with the christian believing world? i.e. indigenous north americans, chinese, etc. –  XAleXOwnZX Mar 19 at 5:37
    
@XAleXOwnZX, There's a question on it: christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/1763/… –  Pacerier Aug 1 at 11:47
    
@pacerier yikes, really wreak answers there –  XAleXOwnZX Aug 1 at 11:49
    
@XAleXOwnZX, Do feel free to comment on their answers, or open another question clarifying their wreakness and asking for a set of answers that qualify "x". –  Pacerier Aug 1 at 17:06

Jesus. The verses Romans 3:24,25 can give insight in this issue, there we read:

and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement,[a] through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished—

In 33CE Genesis 3:15 fulfilled (Galatians. 3:13, 16). But from the moment that God uttered that prophecy the ransom price was as good as paid from his viewpoint, for nothing can prevent God from fulfilling what he purposes. With that basis God could forgive the sins of people befor Jesus' death.

share|improve this answer
    
This is the first response I see that answers the question "Who?". Jesus (is the only one who) saves people. He speaks in the present tense, "No man comes to the father except through me," (Jn 14:6) and applies it to all people (past, present, and future). –  mojo Dec 27 '13 at 12:28

Here is a partial answer...

Matthew 27:52-53

52 and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; 53 and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.

Here we have "saints" rising up, who had already died. Presumably these are righteous Jewish people, who believed in God, and also believed that he would provide salvation to them though they had not yet seen Jesus.

John 20:29

Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

Some have speculated that this refers to people who came before Jesus.

share|improve this answer
    
Most Christian traditions have much more to say about this than a speculation on one NT verse. What concept of a savior was there in the OT? –  Caleb Sep 2 '11 at 20:26
    
Yes, certainly on more traditions, and and I don't know on the savior in the OT. Perhaps I should add a caveat "Partial Answer" ... –  aceinthehole Sep 2 '11 at 20:30
    
@Caleb: The concept of a Savior is deeply woven throughout the OT - the Jews called him "Messiah"; we now know him as Jesus. And Hebrews teaches us that faith in him who was to come is sufficient unto salvation. The work of the cross is not limited by our temporal experience. –  Lawrence Dol Feb 28 at 4:08

protected by Caleb Oct 6 '12 at 18:05

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.