Recently I had the opportunity to do a Q&A session with the youth group at North Ridge Church in Raleigh, NC. The students submitted a variety of excellent questions about God and his word. In this post, we’ll take a look at six of their questions: Do people that have never heard the gospel still go to hell? Why doesn’t God give non-believers who are searching more time to find Him? Why did the devil try and thwart God’s plan, even though He knew He never could? Do we know what happened to Zebedee after his sons dropped everything to follow Jesus? God can do anything, so why does he use angels? and Can you briefly explain the process it took to compile the Bible as we know it today?
However, before we look at their questions, we need to talk about a foundational issue: can we trust the Bible?
Can We Trust the Bible?
The Bible is our authoritative source for what we believe, so it is important that we can trust it. This means we should have a high view of Scripture: (1) it is inspired, that is, God led the writers of Scripture to write down his message; (2) it is revelation, that is, it is a word from God, God revealing himself to us, rather than merely a human message; (3) it is trustworthy, infallible, and inerrant, that is, God preserved the writers of Scripture from error when they wrote. Key passages: Hebrews 4:12: God’s word is living and active; it still speaks to us today; 2 Timothy 3:16–17: Scripture is God-breathed or inspired, and profitable for every good work. God’s promises are true and fulfilled at Jesus’ first and second coming (they are “yes and amen” in him).
English translations are excellent, but inspiration and inerrancy ultimately refers to the manuscripts in the original autographs in Greek and Hebrew: use translations wisely and compare several translations in key passages. We don’t have the original MSS but we do have a large amount of faithfully preserved copies; there are certainly variations which don’t affect major doctrines (variants) but we do have the original text: the science of textual criticism determines which reading is original based on various criteria such as which is the shorter reading, the harder reading, the reading that best explains how other readings originated, etc.
Question #1: Do people that have never heard the gospel still go to hell?
Yes. Everyone is born in sin and under God’s wrath (original sin, total depravity). The Bible says God is manifested through creation and in people’s conscience. If people respond to the light they have, God will reveal himself to them. Ultimately, only God knows people’s hearts and is the final judge. Often, people may have had opportunities to respond that we don’t know about.
Question #2: Why doesn’t God give non-believers who are searching more time to find Him?
Romans 2:4 says it is the patience and kindness of God that are designed to lead people to repentance. Scripture says God is slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness (Exodus 34:6; Psalms 103:8; 145:6). The main problem is not God’s lack of patience or kindness or lack of revelation but people’s sin and unbelief and unwillingness to repent and humble themselves in pride.
Question #3: Why did the devil try and thwart God’s plan, even though he knew he never could?
Because he is genuinely deceived. He really thought if he could only get Jesus crucified, that would be the end of that. He didn’t believe God would raise Jesus from the dead but he did. Satan is not omniscient; he is not omnipotent and limited in what he can do. He needs God’s permission to cause affliction (Job). He doesn’t know everything but is limited in knowledge; he is a creature. God sovereignly uses even Satan to accomplish his purposes, as we see supremely at the cross, which became an occasion where God revealed to us how much he loves us—he loves us so much that he was willing to send his one and only Son to die for us!
Question #4: Do we know what happened to Zebedee after his sons dropped everything to follow Jesus?
No. Did he hire replacements for his fishing business? Did he find another occupation? We don’t know. The Bible is sufficient for us in that it gives us essential information such as how we can be saved but it does not always satisfy our curiosity and is not exhaustive. Its primary purpose is to tell us how to get saved. There are lots of things I’d love to know that I don’t. Did Nicodemus ever come to believe? etc.
Question #5: God can do anything, so why does he use angels?
I don’t know; maybe kind of like we delegate certain tasks at work rather than doing everything ourselves maybe? He is God, so he has the right to create whatever he wants and to set up the universe whichever way he chooses. Why did God create mosquitoes? Or frogs? Or any number of creatures? For reasons of his own, God chose to create angels, though the Bible doesn’t record the creation of angels (we don’t need to know). What we do know is that God often does use intermediaries, such as Jesus his Son, or the Holy Spirit. Or preachers, pastors, and even ordinary believers such as you and I to be his witnesses.
Question #6: Can you briefly explain the process it took to compile the Bible as we know it today?
First, the biblical writers wrote a given book of Scripture under divine inspiration (2 Peter 1:19–21; 2 Timothy 3:16–17). Then, the books were collected and compiled: the fourfold Gospel (The Gospel according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), the Pauline letter collection (2 Peter 3:15–16; addressed to a given church, read in other churches). In the first couple centuries, the church recognized which were the books that bore the mark of divine inspiration (process of canonization): in this way, the canon was formed; in the case of the OT, the canon was probably already in place when Jesus walked the earth; in the case of the NT, the canon was finalized no later than AD 367 (Easter letter of Athanasius), though we have canonical lists (Muratorian Fragment, c. AD 180) and the writings of Church Fathers (Irenaeus, c. AD 180, refers to the four Gospels). The earliest manuscripts were written on papyrus; very early, Christians used the Codex (bound book) form to collect the biblical writings. The earliest New Testament manuscript is the John Rylands papyrus (p52) which contains parts of John 18:31–37 (Jesus before Pilate); the earliest New Testament codices are the Codex Sinaiticus (Hebrew aleph), Codex Alexandrinus (A), and Codex Vaticanus (B), all dating from the 4th-5th centuries. The first two are in the British Museum in London, the third one, of course, is in the Vatican in Rome. I’ve seen the first two!