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I've recently thought of an argument that might undermine Christianity but I'm not sure if I simply reinvented a super old argument that already has a refutation or it's a novel one (probably not), but I would like to know if there is any way to refute or counter it (there is also a possibility that I might just be confused about certain ideas or topics so that would also serve as an objection if I misunderstood something in the construction of the argument itself). The argument is as follows:

(1) It is possible to be saved without belief in Jesus

Proof of (1): When the Israelites left Egypt and embarked on the Exodus and the Joshua conquests, they had the Tabernacle as the sacred space. Then during the United Monarchy, they had the First Temple. However, there was a 71 year period of exile and Babylonian captivity where there was neither a Tabernacle nor the Temple. This is from 586 BC - 515 BC according to contemporary scholarly accounts.

Since God desires us all to be saved and there is nothing preventing Him from that, He would enable innocent people born during this period (keep in mind that the average lifespan was approximately 52 +/- 15.29 according to Griffin, 2008, which means that there would certainly be people who were born and died without ever having access to a traditional means of repenting and being saved and this is at a time when Jesus has not arrived yet) to repent and be saved if He is all good. Hence, since He is perfect and all-good and desires us to be saved, He would enable us to have an option to save ourselves even without the Holy Temple AND without a Tabernacle. The people who lived during this period as per the logic would have no more or less chance and ability to be saved than anyone born at a later date for God is not unfair and unjust, particularly to those who are innocent.

Supplementary Addition: In the 'Old Testament', no where does it say that sacrifice (including Jesus sacrificing himself on the cross) is the only way to atone for sins. It is not necessarily even the best way in every case.

Conclusion 1: If it's possible to be saved without belief in Jesus as per (1), then there is no reason to convert anyone to Christianity specifically.

(2): Because the Necessarily Existing Being (God), also known by terms such as Ipsum Esse Subsistens, Actus Purus, Unconditioned Reality, God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, etc. never does anything unnecessary or arbitrary for that would entail a definitional contradiction as well as a problem in the Divine essence, He would never develop Christianity to save us all for it is not necessary as per (1).

Proof of (2) (Minor Side Note:) I tried to put this into a single paragraph form though I could write 20 pages on this to properly show you how it would work. For anyone interested, watch this video to perhaps give you a better idea as to what this is about if you don't understand it. This is not essential to the argument so much as I am more concerned about (1), so I'd rather have that be the focus in the refutation than this, which I am confident and able to defend. But a super rough broken-down sketch would go as follows:

Since in the context of the Necessarily Existing Being, essence is identical to His existence, God cannot not exist. It also follows that since He is not contingent/dependent (as an existent), He cannot contain any composition and thus is Absolutely Divinely Simple (see different approaches as to how different Christian scholars tried to square the Trinity with this. As a side tip: avoid any Christian scholar who tries to do nonsense like deny that there is an existent which is Necessary). Also God since He is perfect and immaterial and thus not bound to time of physics, cannot undergo change. Since making arbitrary and unnecessary choice would either lead to internal contingency as He would have the ability to make a selection from choices or it would lead to external contingency (which would require essentially saying that things just popped up into existence, and would violate the principle of sufficient reason), neither of these options are possible. Hence it is not possible that God's choice is arbitrary in His divine essence. Any action which could possibly be arbitrary or unnecessary is not possible and can be understood as an irrational anthropomorphic projection on the behalf of the person. Moreover God's actions can never be arbitrary since the Divine essence cannot undergo change. Therefore, God would never arbitrarily or unnecessarily create Christianity as a means of having people save themselves if Christianity is unnecessary since people can be saved through other means.

Conclusion 2: If it's possible to be saved without belief in Jesus as per (1) and God does not arbitrarily do anything unless it would be an impossibility (logical impossibility, contradiction) for it to be otherwise as per (2), then it follows that Christianity is an impossibility.

I hope that everything is clear from this. I would really appreciate a thorough refutation. If I made any spelling mistakes, etc. also let me know because I just wanted to write this up quickly from my rough notes and then have it tested against different people to see what objections can be made.

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  • Have you read Dante?
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Nov 8, 2023 at 18:33
  • @PeterTurner I have not, though I've been wanting to read his Divine Comedy. Why do you ask? Is there anything useful in his writings that pertains to this argument?
    – setszu
    Commented Nov 8, 2023 at 19:03
  • We have problems from the start. God desires everyone to be saved: even Pharaoh, the "vessel for destruction"? Jews might not be saved w/o temple or tabernacle: why not? The sacrifices were for reconciliation, but they didn't have a doctrine of eternal salvation. Sacrifice not needed: Lev 17:11 and Heb 9:22 agree it is blood that atones, or w/o shedding blood, no remission of sins. I'll stop there, because we already see the argument is based on multiple shaky assumptions. Shore 'em up and you may have a stronger version.
    – Maverick
    Commented Nov 8, 2023 at 20:18
  • Conclusion 2 is based on the truth of Conclusion 1. Conclusion 1 is based on the truth of "It is possible to be saved without belief in Jesus". There is very little support given for that statement though. Provide some much strong proof than handwaving a specific example and this would be a much better question. Commented Nov 8, 2023 at 21:14
  • @RayButterworth Nonsense. What support do you want. A literal historical example which Christian scriptures support along with a description of God's characteristics and the implications of that, which are again, based on Christian scriptures, is not good enough "support" to you? The point of this is that even just this one single specific example can serve as a refutation.
    – setszu
    Commented Nov 8, 2023 at 22:07

5 Answers 5

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Part 1

If I understand correctly your two points, they can be worded as follows

  1. Because there was an Old Covenant, there is no need to be saved by confessing faith in Jesus Christ, and Christianity is unnecessary.
  2. Since God is infallible and perfect, doing nothing unnecessary, assuming that point 1 is true, then Christianity cannot have been created by God.

For reference, I will be using the ESV translation.

Following the logic you have presented, Christianity is either created by human means or Satanic means, and Jesus, its founder, is either insane, a liar, or Satan himself. Rather than attempt to restate what has already been stated well, C.S. Lewis in his book, "Mere Christianity", debunked that notion. You can see the relevant excerpts at Is C.S. Lewis’s Liar-Lord-or-Lunatic Argument Unsound?

As additional support, The Mathematical Probability that Jesus is the Christ has some helpful statistics about Jesus, who fulfilled many, many prophecies.

So, if we are starting from the angle that Jesus is God, then the answer becomes very simple,

John 14:1-7 ESV

1 1 Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 4 And you know the way to where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.

That is quite conclusive, so long as you take Jesus' word as God's word. If you don't, well, that's what the other parts of this answer is for.

Part 2

Jeremiah 14:20 ESV

We acknowledge our wickedness, O LORD, and the iniquity of our fathers, for we have sinned against you.

Job 15:14 ESV

What is man, that he can be pure? Or he who is born of a woman, that he can be righteous?"

From these verses, we find in the Old Testament that humanity needs to be atoned for, which God implements the sacrificial system in Leviticus to temporarily solve:

Leviticus 4:1-3 ESV

1 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, If anyone sins unintentionally in any of the Lord's commandments about things not to be done, and does any one of them, 3 if it is the anointed priest who sins, thus bringing guilt on the people, then he shall offer for the sin that he has committed a bull from the herd without blemish to the Lord for a sin offering.

The verses following Leviticus 4:1-3 go into further detail about the sacrifices necessary for atonement.

Yet, your question is actually well addressed in the book of Hebrews, which specifically talks about the Levitical law, and why Jesus was needed to save us:

Hebrews 7:11-28 ESV

11 Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? 12 For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. 13 For the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. 14 For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.

15 This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, 16 who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life. 17 For it is witnessed of him, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.”

18 For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness 19 (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.

20 And it was not without an oath. For those who formerly became priests were made such without an oath, 21 but this one was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to him: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever.’”

22 This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant.

23 The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 25 Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

26 For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. 27 He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. 28 For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.

On top of that,

Hebrews 9:11-28 ESV

11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. 16 For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. 17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. 18 Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. 19 For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” 21 And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. 22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

23 Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

And lastly,

Hebrews 10:1-18 ESV

1 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. 2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? 3 But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. 4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

5 Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; 6 in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. 7 Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”

8 When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), 9 then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. 10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

15 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, >sup>16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,”

17 then he adds,

“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

That should address your second point. As for your first, that will be addressed in the third and final part, which is thankfully not necessary to be very long.

Part 3

Hebrews 11:1-2 ESV

1 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2 For by it the people of old received their commendation.

This verse, along with the previous section, should address the first point.

Conclusion

  1. Jesus is the Christ (Part 1)
  2. Humans are separated from God, and need atonement (Part 2)
  3. Atonement can only come through blood
  4. Jesus died to provide that sacrifice eternally, for all who would receive it, past, present, and future (Part 2)
  5. Before the New Covenant, even before the Old, people were saved not necessarily by sacrifices, but by their faith in God. Now, however, is the New Covenant, which explicitly has put Jesus as the only Way, the only Truth, and the only Life, outside of which no one can reach the Father. I can't claim to know exactly how that works, but thems the words of God, so thems the truths.

Hope this helps. Pray about it, read the scripture, and seek the Holy Spirit's guidance and voice. If you still have questions, then feel free to ask; just don't exclude God from answering your questions, because He'll do a lot better job than anyone on this website can, me included. Plus, human reasoning won't always connect directly to God, or else faith wouldn't even be necessary. That's part of the reason why I find apologetics kind of a dead-end pursuit, but we do need to have a reason for the hope you have.

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OP: Since God desires us all to be saved and there is nothing preventing Him from that

God created us to choose, not for us to be forced.

But if you refuse to serve the LORD, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the LORD.” Jos 24:15

OP: In the 'Old Testament', no where does it say that sacrifice (including Jesus sacrificing himself on the cross) is the only way to atone for sins. It is not necessarily even the best way in every case.

Sacrifice is the only way to atone for sins. See Lev 16, 23, etc

And he shall make an atonement for the holy sanctuary, and he shall make an atonement for the tabernacle of the congregation, and for the altar, and he shall make an atonement for the priests, and for all the people of the congregation. And this shall be an everlasting statute unto you, to make an atonement for the children of Israel for all their sins once a year. And he did as the LORD commanded Moses. Lev 16:33-34

In the NT, we find God not pleased with those sacrifices, yet by Christ as sacrifice.

Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God. Above when he said, Sacrifice and offering and burnt offerings and offering for sin thou wouldest not, neither hadst pleasure therein; which are offered by the law; Then said he, Lo, I come to do thy will, O God. He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Heb 10:5-10

So, to answer the OP, the argument is refuted based on the facts that the premises are shown to be faulty, invalid, wrong.

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  • "God created us to choose, not for us to be forced." - What I meant by my statement was that there is nothing preventing God from giving equal capacity for the people in the Babylonian exile to choose to be saved. "Sacrifice is the only way to atone for sins" - this is simply factually incorrect. And your statement can be critiqued on several levels, firstly taking statements out of context but also ignoring other statements and understandings which contradict this. "In the NT, we find God not pleased with those sacrifices, yet by Christ as sacrifice." this is basically circular reasoning.
    – setszu
    Commented Nov 8, 2023 at 17:15
  • @setszu "there is nothing preventing God ...", except He had already laid out the terms in Exo, Deut, Lev. In the NT, same thing. You say "factually incorrect", yet have provided no proof of your opinions. You've built a strawman argument, asked people to tear it down, and when done, continue the attempt to prop it up. This is circular reasoning. In your last comment, clearly you have no understanding of Christianity.
    – SLM
    Commented Nov 9, 2023 at 16:07
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One possible way out of the dilemma would be to claim that the sacrifice of Jesus was necessary (therefore, that Christianity is necessary), while the conscious consent to the proposition that Christianity is true (i.e. belief in Christianity) is not (always) necessary. For example, on this view, a virtuous unreached person who concludes that God exists from nature (Romans 1:20) and thus worships Him on that basis, if they are saved, they would be saved by Jesus, even if they are not aware of this fact. They will be made aware of the fact after they are resurrected and meet for the first time their, so far unknown to them, Savior.

Another weak point in the argument is the following: "If it's possible to be saved without belief in Jesus as per (1), then there is no reason to convert anyone to Christianity specifically." What if salvation via conscious consent is more effective / probable? If salvation without explicit evangelization is possible but more unlikely, then engaging in explicit evangelization of the unreached would still be justified, if the goal is to maximize the number of saved individuals. One could conjecture that God created the best possible world, and the best possible world must therefore be one that includes explicit evangelization of the unreached, as this leads to more salvations than otherwise.

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Even if we grant that it is possible for someone to be saved without having faith in Jesus (which not all do, myself not included), this question would still confuse possibility with probability. Just because it is POSSIBLE for one to be saved who has never heard the gospel does not mean this is PROBABLE, or any sort of automatic guarantee. No man is without excuse. While divine revelation may not be known to every man, divine truth can be made known through the natural law, as Paul says in Romans 1:20:

“For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made. So people are without excuse.” (NET)

What then would need to be demonstrated is that there is a higher probability of God saving a person if he’s never heard the gospel than one who has. But since we cannot know either probability for certain, this is an impossible task.

Further, just because one could be saved without having faith in Christ does not mean this is equal or preferable to being saved by calling on Christ. As Paul says, the scriptures equip man for every good work (2nd Timothy 3:17), so it must be good to give man the scriptures. Further, from a sacramental perspective, the revelation of the gospel and participation in it grants further grace in the sacraments that could not be otherwise obtained.

Hopefully this helps!

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  • Thank you very much for your reply. However, would God not grand everyone an equal opportunity to save themselves regardless of the circumstances if He is just? From that it would follow that if there is even a possibility of being saved without Jesus, then there is an equal probability as well. Am I wrong? Also, I think I mentioned this in my question as well: "The people who lived during this period as per the logic would have no more or less chance and ability to be saved than anyone born at a later date for God is not unfair and unjust, particularly to those who are innocent."
    – setszu
    Commented Nov 7, 2023 at 23:13
  • "Even if we grant that it is possible for someone to be saved without having faith in Jesus (which not all do, myself not included)" - Can I ask for why this is? Why don't you grant that? This is the part that I am interested in, because it would undermine the actual argument I was making.
    – setszu
    Commented Nov 7, 2023 at 23:15
  • Oh I actually do grant that a person can be saved without faith in Christ in extreme circumstances. I’m just pointing out not everyone does grant that. My goal in the answer is to provide as my possible “escape routes” as possible. Sorry if I didn’t word myself well.
    – Luke Hill
    Commented Nov 7, 2023 at 23:23
  • Ah okay, no worries!
    – setszu
    Commented Nov 7, 2023 at 23:28
  • @setszu Out of curiosity, is my answer helpful? Do you understand the points I’m making in regards to possibility vs probability?
    – Luke Hill
    Commented Nov 8, 2023 at 0:38
-5

This question makes a significant assumption: that God is trying to save the world during this age.

Given the current state of the world, and the number of people in it that God has managed to recruit over the last two thousand years, one can only conclude that either:

  • God is doing a terrible job of saving the world.
  • God is not trying to save the world now.

Despite what many denominations teach, the Bible says that God really isn't fighting to save the world yet.

We know that Satan is the god of this age:

2 Corinthians 4:4 (NLT):
Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. …

We know that only those that are called can be saved, and only through Jesus:

Acts 2:38,39:
Each of you must repent of your sins and turn to God, and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. Then you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise is to you, and to your children, and even to the Gentiles — all who have been called by the Lord our God.

John 14:6:
Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.

We know that at the end of the age, only a relatively small number of people (the elect, the little flock) will have been saved:

Matthew 7:14:
… the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.

We know that God wants all people to be saved:

1 Timothy 2:3,4:
… God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth.

Forget about the Babylonian exile, consider the billions of people that lived in Asia, Africa, the Americas, etc. that could never have heard anything about God, much less salvation through Jesus. They were born, lived, and died without ever having a chance at salvation.

The fact is, the vast majority of people were never offered a chance of salvation.

Those saved during this age will be resurrected as immortal spirit beings when Christ returns, and will rule with him here on Earth for a thousand years. At the end of the Millennium, there will be a second general resurrection when billions of people will be resurrected to mortal physical bodies and given their first and only opportunity of salvation.

Revelation 20:4–6:
… [The elect] all came to life again, and they reigned with Christ for a thousand years.

This is the first resurrection.
(The rest of the dead did not come back to life until the thousand years had ended.)

Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. For them the second death holds no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him a thousand years.

That is when those that didn't believe in Jesus will have their chance to be educated and judged:

Revelation 20:12,13:
And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books. The sea gave up its dead, and death and the grave gave up their dead. And all were judged according to their deeds.

Note that it says "judged", not "condemned".
It is the great white throne judgment, not condemnation, when people will be given a chance to learn, understand, repent, and finally judged.

See also my answers to:

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