I recently learned that St. Augustine held an extremely literal view of a particular verse in Romans...

Romans 10:14 (NLT)

 14 But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?

Apparently, Augustine taught that deaf people (without today's cochlear implants) wouldn't be able to be saved merely because they wouldn't be able to hear people telling them about the Gospel. This raises the following question:

How literally should this verse be interpreted?
  • 2
    I think you should ask your source to state his source, St. Augustine talks a lot about the deaf, but mainly in connection with himself, see for yourself: newadvent.org/utility/…
    – Peter Turner
    Sep 15, 2011 at 19:38

4 Answers 4


The letters to the seven churches in Revelation have a recurring theme, "he who has ears, let him hear" - and yet they were written letters!

Literally believing a deaf person cannot be saved, I believe with the larger context of scripture, is wrong.

The bible was written - yes, if you had been born deaf, you may have only been minimally literate 2000 years ago. However, there were also many cases of folks becoming deaf with age, who earlier were not, and who were still at least somewhat literate.

Likewise, in the introduction of Revelation a blessing is pronounced upon the reader and the hearer.

The message of the gospel does not require hearing, it requires being delivered, processed, understood, affirmed, and believed-in.

  • 1
    Many (most?) of these times, the letters were written to churches and read aloud to the people. Not that this goes against what you're saying, by any means. But I thought I'd point that out.
    – Richard
    Sep 19, 2011 at 12:59
  • @Richard - good sidebar :)
    – warren
    Sep 19, 2011 at 15:42

Matthew 11:13-15 (NIV)
For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. Whoever has ears, let them hear.

Here's the trick with reading the bible and considering things in context: You have to keep in mind the time that the bible was written!

Two thousand years ago if a person was deaf, they were deaf. There was nothing that could be done about it: no sign language, no cochlear implants, minimal literacy.

Being deaf back then was a completely debilitating state.

However with "modern" innovations like literacy and sign language, we can actually communicate with people who may not be able to actually hear.

So when we read verses like the one in the question or the one at the top of this answer, they are very literal--for that day and age. However, today we are able to communicate with deaf people as easily as I'm communicating with you right now.

Should we take it literally? Yes and No

The concept is "if someone can hear, they should listen and learn". In today's modern age (ya know, the past few hundred years), there is no reason that deafness excludes someone from salvation.

Just as you, right now, are not hearing my voice (I'm not even speaking!), so you do not need to "hear" literally to be saved.

  • 2
  • @hammar From your link "The recorded history of sign language in Western societies extends from the 16th century". There's no doubt that they had ways to communicate. (And I almost went into detail there.) However, trying to communicate "salvation" or "justification" through gestures would be an enormous task (not impossible, just difficult).
    – Richard
    Sep 19, 2011 at 12:58
  • I was referring to the part where it says "One of the earliest written records of a signed language occurred in the fifth century BC."
    – hammar
    Sep 19, 2011 at 13:44
  • Why did you delete my comment? Notice the quote says BC.
    – hammar
    Sep 19, 2011 at 14:27
  • @hammar Aah, I see. Good call.
    – Richard
    Sep 19, 2011 at 14:28

Claim: Augustine taught that deaf people (without today's cochlear implants) wouldn't be able to be saved merely because they wouldn't be able to hear people telling them about the Gospel.

The claim is just false.

Granted, Augustine did call deafness a "hindrance to faith" -- but in the sense of making faith difficult, but not entirely preventing it. Remarkably Augustine saw the potential of deaf people to learn and thus receive faith. In De quantitate animae liber unus, chapter 18, he notes the ability of deaf people to communicate by signs, and indicates that the signs pertain to the soul just as speech.

Source: Van Cleve, J.V., Crouch, B.A. A place of their own: creating the deaf community in America. p. 4-6.

As for the verse, common sense is a good guideline for interpretation, unless someone can show a new reason to take it ultra-literally. You can "hear" about someone by reading their letter, right?


You can take that verse as literally as you want, so long as you understand what all of the words mean. I believe that the key to it all is "unless someone tells them?"

Tell by definition means to:

give a full account of; to narrate; to make know; to communicate; to give instructions.

So if you can do that to a deaf person, then Scripture stands firm. You must always understand the Scripture and not always use it for quote mining.

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