Can you help me explain from the bible why the Church teaches that non-Christians may be saved, too?


A friend of mine belongs to a non-denominational church and asked me why the Catholic Church teaches that non-Christians have a chance at salvation.

Can you guys help me explain this belief from the bible? (the Catechism isn’t going to hold any weight with her).

She likes to use the verse "I am the way, the truth, and the life, nobody comes to the Father except through me’.

She likes verses…I’d appreciate as many you guys can give me (with some exegesis if you don’t mind since I’m not very good at this yet).

Thank you!


Perhaps these:
John 15:21-24 But all these things they will do to you for my name’s sake: because they know not him who sent me. If I had not come, and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. He that hateth me, hateth my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no other man hath done, they would not have sin… (this passage shows that one must “hear” the Word properly in order to be guilty)

Luke 12:47-48 That servant who knew his master’s will but did not make preparations nor act in accord with his will shall be beaten severely; and the servant who was ignorant of his master’s will but acted in a way deserving of a severe beating shall be beaten only lightly. Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more. (this passage shows how the degree to which someone knows the Truth is how he will be judged)

Exodus 22:21 You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt…If you do afflict them, and they cry out to Me, I will surely hear their cry; and My wrath will burn, and I will kill you with the sword… (this verse prefigures the protection of those innocently outside the faith…it at least shows God’s mercy extends t “outsiders”):smiley:


*Matthew 27:49-54 But the rest said, “Wait, let us see if Elijah comes to save him.” But Jesus cried out again in a loud voice, and gave up his spirit. And behold, the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth quaked, rocks were split, tombs were opened, and the bodies of many saints who had fallen asleep were raised. And coming forth from their tombs after his resurrection, they entered the holy city and appeared to many. The centurion and the men with him who were keeping watch over Jesus feared greatly when they saw the earthquake and all that was happening, and they said, “Truly, this was the Son of God!” *

These Saints could not have been Christians as Christianity had not yet existed


If I were you, I wouldn’t let your friend dictate the terms of the conversation with regards to this question. Because what she’s ultimately asking is, “Why don’t you Catholics believe in the Bible alone?”

Turn the tables on her and say/ask, “Do you want to know why Catholics believe that, or do you want to talk about why sola scriptura is in error?”

If she really wants to know why Catholics believe that, then remember these points and use them.

There are ultimately, very few Scriptures that can be used to support the Catholic belief, explicitly, but there aren’t any that deny it either. This is because the Catholic position is NOT universalism, which says that no matter what, everyone is “saved”. This is a common misconception of critics.

The Catholic position is, that if one has no possibility of encountering the Gospel message in this life, then they are only bound to the natural law inscribed in every heart. Besides, IMO, when your friend asks you the question she did, it’s apparent that she hasn’t thought of this question: “Well, if ‘belief in Jesus’ is an absolute requirement for entering the Kingdom, then what about babies that die before they have a chance to ‘choose’? Oh, there’s an ‘age of accountability’? Show me the ‘age of accountability’ in the Bible.”

The point is that your friend is making the common mistake of linking “belief” and “grace” inexorably. They are not inexorably bound however, and indeed this is the only, rational way we can claim God is “just”. God, being sovereign, can and does pick and choose whoever He wants. This “picking and choosing” is normally done through the Sacraments, where grace is infused in the recipient, however, while we are bound to the Sacraments, God is not bound to the Sacraments, and thus, can “save” anyone.

So, returning to the verse your friend likes, let’s examine it with the view above: John 14:6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

This is saying exactly what Catholics believe, that is, on occasion, God chooses to pour out the grace of His son even on those who have ever heard His Gospel. This however doesn’t mean that they “believe” in Him; this doesn’t even mean they are “guaranteed to be saved”, as that would violate the doctrine of free will. They simply profit from the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ just like anyone else who has been Baptized in the normal fashion. Put another way, the people have the grace sufficient, even though it isn’t readily apparent.

The most critical point to remember with your friend here is that no where in John 14:6 does the word “believe” appear. Thus, in that verse, God is not limited by man’s belief, AND THUS, that verse cannot be used to support a “Christians only” mentality.

The natural reply to the point above is, “Well how do you know then you are saved? If it’s just God choosing, how do you know?” Easy, by being a Catholic and receiving the Sacraments, the means by which God has revealed He WILL and DOES dispense His Grace, this is how anyone can know for certain they are on the PATH to salvation. This is why evangelization is so important too; because we can never know for certain that anyone else but a Catholic are on the path to salvation. And indeed, if we love someone, we want them to be on the path, don’t we?


No one goes to the Father except thru Jesus, this is quite true, however Moses, Henoch, Elias, are all in heaven even though they not only weren’t Christian but never heard the name of Jesus.

[] Gn 5, 24 And he walked with God, and was seen no more: because God took him.

[] 4 kings 2, 11 And as they went on, walking and talking together, behold a fiery chariot, and fiery horses parted them both asunder: and Elias went up by a whirlwind into heaven.

[] Mt 17, 3 And behold there appeared to them Moses and Elias talking with him.


Explain it this way.

If you find yourself in heaven you will be a member of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church Jesus founded. “Nobody comes to the Father **except through me” ** in ways only known to Jesus.

If you are fully aware of the Catholic Church and you obstinately turn away from it you then also turn away from Jesus who is the Church and your choice puts you in hell.


I believe this will help you:

For it is not those who hear the law who are just in the sight of God; it is those who keep it who will be declared just. When Gentiles who do not have the law keep it as by instinct, these men although without the law serve as a law for themselves. They show that the demands of the law are written in their hearts, Their conscience bears witness together with that law, and their thoughts will accuse or defend them on the day when, in accordance with the gospel I preach, God will pass judgment on the secrets of men through Christ Jesus. Romans 2:13-16

A person who has never heard of Jesus yet lives in accordance with the “law written on his heart” has a chance for salvation. Our conscience tells us that it would be unjust for such a man who through no fault of his own never heard of Christ, should go to hell. It is God’s wish that all men be saved. Even though he does not know Christ he is saved through Christ because his sacrifice was for ALL.


Wow, everyone. thank you so much. Please don’t stop just because I said “thank you” - I’m just very appreciative.


All Christians agree that Scripture says that salvation is due to the grace of God and the merits of Christ alone.

All Christians also agree that Scripture says that IF one has faith in Christ THEN one will be saved. There are disagreements as to what “fatih” is but that’s another topic.

Many Protestants add to that an ELSE statement: ELSE you burn. But I don’t agree that that’s what Scripture actually says.

Scripture says that everyone has some idea of God. And everyone does, even if that idea is nothing more than being able to distinguish between oneself and others and having some concept of right and wrong.

Scripture also says that even those who have never heard the gospel have no excuse, which means that God must make some sort of provision for those people because never having the opportunity to hear the gospel is a very good excuse for having never heard it. And Jesus said that He has other sheep who are “not of this fold”.

The Catholic Church teaches that “those who, through no fault of their own, do not know the Gospel of Christ or his Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience—those too may achieve eternal salvation”.

God gives everyone the grace and ability to make a freewill decision for or against him, at some time in their lives.


What does “except through me” mean? If a house is burning down and fireman rushes in and carries out an unconcious man, isn’t it true that the man was saved by the fireman? That he came out of the fire only through the fireman? Jesus’ salvic act was more powerful than your friend understands. Christ’s sacrifice is capable of saving all men.

Consider these:

This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth. For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as ransom for all. 1 Tim. 2:3-6

For this we toil and struggle, 4 because we have set our hope on the living God, who is the savior of all, especially of those who believe. 1 Tim. 4:10


That is a very powerful analogy that I’ve never heard before.


Can you tell me where the bible says this? I’m also confused - if the bible says they have no excuse, then why does your statement that I highlighted in red have to be the case? It sounds like God would be saying " there’s no excuse", but next he would be saying “never hearing it is a good excuse, though”.

Can you explain this a little more because I think you have a good point and I want to understand it.


One thing your friend needs to understand about John 14 is that this is part of the long teaching Jesus provided to his apostles after the Last Supper. It’s not found anywhere else, and there are many interesting things in it (including his comment about being the vine and they are the branches). At the end, he says that “Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father.” (John 16:25) and his disciples comment “Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech” (John 16:30) So in context with where this is occurring, it would appear that the apostles understood that Jesus had not been speaking literally prior to that (as they oft like to quote – he’s not really a vine), so why would she interpret “No one comes to the father except through me” literally when Jesus stated he had been speaking “figuratively”?


I’d ask her “Where does the bible says this teaching (or any teaching) of the Catholic Church has to be found in the bible? Please, book, chapter and verse.” After all, Jesus said in Mk 16:15-16 to listen to the Apostles, hear the Gospel, be baptized and you will be saved. And if you reject this oral Gospel you will be condemned. He didn’t say to read the bible and make up your own Gospel based on your personal guesswork of bible verses. Nor does the bible claim to have a record of this Gospel that Jesus commanded the Apostles to preach; therefore it must be extra-biblical.

Jesus didn’t tell the Apostles to go out and write. He told them to go out and preach the Gospel, “to teach them to observe all that I have commanded you” Mt 28:20. In Lk 24:47 Jesus told his Apostles “that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations”.

Notice how Jesus commanded the Apostles to evangelize by preaching, not handing out bibles. That’s because scripture does not interpret itself nor force its explanation on anyone. Nor is it written in teaching form as all catechisms are. It is written in narrative form as it is a record of salvation history, not a book systematically documenting the teachings and practice of the Catholic Church. Which is why your friend has gotten this idea of biblical support of teaching from men, not from the Gospel the Apostles preached.

Since Jesus was God he knew the best way to teach us was orally. He commanded the Apostles to teach the word of God the same way. St. Peter converted thousands by his preaching on Pentecost. Not by handing out bibles.

Sts Peter, Paul et al all preached the word of God. About 98% of the time the word of God or Gospel was mentioned by them it referred to the SPOKEN word of God, not the written word of God.

1 Thes 2:13 And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not asthe word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.
Ask her where does the Bible define itself. How does she know what books belong in the bible? There is no inspired canon. So why does she require biblical support for the teaching of non-Catholics being saved when she doesn’t require it for knowing what books are inspired?

And since she, apparently, is searching for the truth, ask her why she ignores 1 Tim 3:15 which refers to the Church as the pillar and foundation of truth, not the bible. (Though the written word of God in the bible can nourish and illumine the oral word of God the Apostles preached.)

If she really believes "I am the way, the truth, and the life, nobody comes to the Father except through me”, then she has to put her faith in Jesus, which means believing everything Jesus said, including hearing the Gospel as preached by the Apostles and their successor bishops in the only Christian Church that’s 2,000 years old. After all, the bible says faith comes through hearing, not reading the bible:

Lk 8:11,12 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard;

Acts 18:8 Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with all his household; and many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized.

Acts 19:5 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.

Gal 3:2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?


It means in part that when those who are not taught Christianity can answer the calling in their heart. If they answer that call they can enter heaven. Remember the Holy Spirit infuses the Law in their heart, and the Trinity is in play always. However it will not help the OP


Tom touched on this above, but the other question for your friend is how were those who lived before Christ saved? I don’t know any Christian group that says that all those in the OT are condemned.

So that means that either “No one comes to the Father except through me” is not literally true, or that there is another way to come to the Father through Jesus that is not dependent on knowledge of Christ. If this applies to people in the OT, why does it not apply to those born after Christ who also have no opportunity to know of him?


but next he would be saying “never hearing it is a good excuse, though”.

Can you explain this a little more because I think you have a good point and I want to understand it.Yeah, I tend to make odd cognitive leaps without explaining myself very well.

Romans 1:18-21 says “The wrath of God is indeed being revealed from heaven against every impiety and wickedness of those who suppress the truth by their wickedness. For what can be known about God is evident to them, because God made it evident to them. Ever since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes of eternal power and divinity have been able to be understood and perceived in what he has made. As a result, they have no excuse; for although they knew God they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks. Instead, they became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened.”

So here scripture explicitly says that one can know God by natural revelation, right? Someone who does evil can’t legitimately claim that he never knew about God, because God made sure through creation that everyone knows him. The passage doesn’t say that they’re wicked because they don’t know God, what it says is that they’re wicked because they know God well enough and they reject him anyway!

A Protestant might say that that level of knowledge is not salvific, that you can’t be saved if that’s the limit of your knowledge of God. But there are two problems with that viewpoint. First, that would mean that people are lost because God requires them to know what they cannot know, and they cannot know it because God didn’t allow them to know it. That would violate God’s perfect justice. Second, it would mean that one can only be saved through the attainment of information which is hidden to all but a select few, which is the core of the gnostic heresy.

If one has to have heard of Jesus in order to be saved, then never having had the opportunity to hear of him is a really good excuse for never having heard of him. But the bible specifically says that even these people have no excuse for rejecting God, because they did know about him and they rejected him anyway. What gets you into hell is rejecting God. If you don’t know about Jesus then you can’t very well be culpable for rejecting him, because you can only reject what you know about. God holds us accountable only for what we know, and not for what we cannot know.

And so the Church teaches that even these people may be saved (not that they will be saved, but only that they may be saved) through the merits of Christ, by means of which we do not know.

It’s really funny, hundreds of times I’ve heard rabidly anti-Catholic Protestants say that “a Catholic can be saved, but if they are it’s in spite of the Catholic Church”. Well, if the Catholic Church is a non-Christian church and Catholics aren’t Christians (as they believe) and yet we can still be saved inspite of the fact that we believe a false religion, then why in the world is it impossible for someone of a different non-Christian religion to be saved?

I still want to find a better way to explain what I’m thinking.


I am suprised that no one mentioned Jer 31:32-33 where the Lord said He will write the law on their hearts in the New Covenant. This means that we should know right from wrong as part of our nature that God gave us.


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