Salvation of non Jews before the New Covenant


Many people ask-where did the Old Testament saints go when they died, before Jesus came, or “how do people who dont hear of Jesus go to heaven”. I have a very similar question, something that’s been confusing me for a while by now.

Animal sacrifice, which people in the Old Testament used to forgive them of their sins, was not revealed to the non Jews, or people who didnt live in Israel and werent a part of the Old Covenant. And the Old Testament Jews didnt evangelize people like Christians do today.

Were people who lived outside the Holy Land all doomed to hell, because they werent born in the right place and time? Basically, was there salvation for people before the New Covenant, but outside the Old Covenant?

The Bible does imply that non Jews in the pre-New Covenant era could repent. It says that the Caananites knew of God’s power but rejected him-implying if they repented, God would have given them a chance of having a relationship with him, and probably even salvation. Rahab is an example of that.

I had a conversation with somebody at church regarding this issue. He said God could have allowed people into Heaven based on their honest belief in God-like for example, the native americans who believed in the great spirit. But by that logic, Christians shouldnt evanglize others, because even people who arent Christians go to heaven. My theory is this-God deals with humanity differently under the New Covenant than in the Old Covenant. In the days before the New Covenant, God didnt judge peoples salvation as to whether or not they believed in the future messiah. There were other ways he did.

         So how did He save them without the Holy Spirit regenerating them? Remember, Christ is the wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:24), and His wisdom has been available from the beginning of creation. By wisdom the LORD laid the earth's foundations (Prov 3:19). Jesus is the one who laid the earth’s foundations. Through him all things were made (John 1:3). Jesus, prior to His birth, existed in the form of the wisdom of God. When someone “found Jesus” they found “wisdom.” This wisdom enabled people to live righteous lives, just as the Holy Spirit gives us this ability. People’s noble lives proved that they had touched Christ in some way, or should I say, Christ touched them in some way.
        The book of Proverbs is the book of Wisdom. I want you to notice that Solomon wrote nearly all the Proverbs, however, the last two chapters were written by two other men: Agur and King Lemuel. Search Israel’s biblical genealogy and you will notice that these two men are not mentioned in the Bible. A closer look at their names reveals that they were Gentiles and not Jews. How did Gentiles have a part in writing the Old Testament? Simple: wisdom is all inclusive. It belongs to all people who desire it.
        Agur wrote: “I have not learned wisdom, nor have I knowledge of the Holy One.” (Prov 30:3) This was his humble way of saying that he did not know God in the same way as the Jews. Then he adds: “Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and the name of his son?” (Prov 30:4)
        He did not know the name of God’s son, yet he had wisdom—enough that God would place his words in the Word of God. This shows you that non-Jews were saved outside of the Jewish system of sacrifices.
        When I look in the past before Christ was born, I discover many religious leaders and philosophers that had the wisdom of God, and so I conclude that they were saved by Christ.
        Consider Buddha: he lived 500 hundred years before Christ, yet he was enlightened by wisdom. Look at his eight-fold path and you will recognize much of the Sermon on the Mount. How did he get such truth before Christ was born? He received this truth simply because Christ came to him in the form of wisdom. Don’t misunderstand me: Buddha cannot save; only Christ can. I do not believe today's Buddhists are saved; only that if Buddha were alive today, he would be a Christian. The point is that I believe Christ saved Buddha and the evidence of his salvation was his wisdom. (Of course, only the Lord knows each heart, and He is the final Judge.)
        We could say this about some philosophers like Aristotle and Plato. They often showed the spark of wisdom that could only come from Christ. In fact the early church fathers used their writings to confirm the truth of the gospel, and that was one way the western world accepted the gospel.
        For those who want a clearer scripture to prove that non Jews were saved prior to Christ, then consider the words of our Lord: "The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon's wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here." (Matt 12:42) Jesus plainly considered the Queen of Sheba to be saved, or else how could she judge the generation of Christ? What was the evidence that she was saved? She came to hear the wisdom of God spoken through Solomon. There is no evidence in Scripture or in history to suggest that the queen ever became a Jew. Her hunger for wisdom confirmed her acceptance of Christ.
        In conclusion, people prior to the birth of Christ were saved through Him by His wisdom. They were not saved in the sense of being born again and filled with the Spirit, but they were saved with the meaning of being forgiven by God. They did not enter heaven upon their death, because the way for heaven was not made available until Christ ascension, however they were in paradise (see Luke 16:19-31). During Christ ascension they were then carried into heaven with Him.  That is where they are today—in heaven with Christ.


I think you need to remember that God has revealed things to us.

He revealed himself to the ancient Jews, and then through his Son Jesus Christ.

He has told us that salvation is through baptism and following Jesus.

This we are assured in. This is what is known for certain.

The rest is speculation, an appeal to God’s Justice. It is not revealed truth but a hope.

So we have a hope for the salvation of those who did not know of Christ. We can hope that those ignorant find salvation by trusting in God as he is revealed to them in their hearts.

But, we should evangelize fervently because the ONLY known way of salvation is through Christ.

Dont rely on the hope the church teaches of as if it is a certain fact…it is not.


St Paul tells us that the Gentiles are judged by the law written in their hearts.

Lumen Gentium at Vatican II tells us that there are those not visibly connected to the Church that Christ founded who are in the bosom of the Lord.

The revelation only reveals to us the ordinary means of salvation. It is for us to accept and to live that revelation.

What God does outside of that is known only to Him. Questions about unbaptized infants, people who never hear the Gospel, and so on are really not answerable directly from the revelation we have been given.



If salvation is only through Christ, are you saying that all of the people who lived before Jesus and didnt live in the nation of israel were the Old Covenant was revealed to them, went to hell? The Bible actually does state in Proverbs that some non Jews had wisdom about God (I can post the specific verse if you want me to), but it doesnt say that their sins were forgiven.


We cannot know one way or another.

We do know that the Jews who atoned to the one God were following his plan of salvation.

We also know that God greatly condemned repeatedly the idolatry of that time. Noah and his family the sole survivors of the flood, made a covenant with God. So it seems many cultures after this rejected this covenant.

Their individual fates are not known, nor recorded for us to know. It is between God and them.

I see know reason why someone righteous outside of Israel who followed God would not find salvation.

But again, this is speculative and hopeful. Certainty lies in the ark of the church.


But Jesus told Nicodemus that you have to be born again to see the kingdom of God. How exactly did the people living in Israel in the times before Jesus (including the OT saints) have been born again, if they had no idea about Jesus’s death on the cross, but they still went to Heaven? I’m talking about people like Moses, Abraham, and even the ordinary people living in Israel in the OT-NT time periods.

The Bible says Jonah preached (I think even outside of Israel) to lead people to God, but I’m not sure if he told them about the Messiah dying to forgive them for their sins, or not.


The righteous of old did not go to heaven when they died. They went to Sheol/hades. They went to the place of the dead, and waited in “Abrahams bosom” until Christ died for them.

The New Testament and the apostles creed record a Jesus as going to preach the good news to them before the resurrection.

Heaven was then opened up to them.

Jesus came and brought a new covenant that he shared with Nicodemus.

It is perfectly fine for God to change how salvation works as history moves along.


Maybe we should read the entire Old Testament again to find out.


How could the New Covenant have existed when Jesus was talking to Nicodemus, if Jesus didnt die on the cross until later on, and the Old Covenant laws which God (Jesus) ordained to Israel, were still in effect at the time?


There was a transition period of course. Jesus was preaching about the new covenant for three years before he died on the cross. He was preaching and teaching to Jews and Samaritans, and even Romans.

Ultimately everyone is judged on their choices in this world, and judged on their pursuit of God and righteousness, their love for God and neighbor. Whether they were Pre Old testament law, during the old testament law, or christians today, it doesn’t matter.

Even Christian doctrine has developed a ton in the last 2000 years, that doesn’t meant the first century christians were not able to be saved, it just means that we have developed our understanding more.

The old testament covenant is fulfilled with the new covenant. It shouldn’t be viewed as separate things. It should be viewed as a continuation with a change in it.

Catholicism is the fulfillment of Judaism, fulfillment, not replacement of the old covenant.

As such, it is completely in line with the old law, but fulfilled and made better in Christ.


After Jesus died on the cross, were the Old Covenant and its laws still in existence and being enforced in the land of Israel? One of my friends from church told me Jesus destroyed the law when the temple was destroyed, but the New Testament says that Steven was stoned, so I assume the Old Covenant legal penalties were still in effect in Israel even after Jesus died.


The old covenant is still enforced by orthodox Jews today!

It did not just disappear, but Christianity was born at that time.

Jesus did not destroy the law, he fulfilled it. Even after Jesus Ascended, the early Christians considered themselves Jews and observed Jewish feasts and sabbath. IT was not until Peter had a vision sent by God later that they did away with Kosher and stopped observing a lot of the old law.


How can you say Jesus didnt destroy the Old Law, when Jesus replaced the Old Testament’s commands to punish sinners with capital punishment, with forgiveness and restoration, like what he did with the woman who commited adultrey?


I guess I take him at his word…:shrug:

Matt 5:17

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.”


But why was Jesus against the crowd stoning the woman who committed adultery, if he wasnt against the law of Moses?


The law of Moses was a gift of God. It was what mankind needed at that time. Jesus fulfilled it. It means the principals remain but the practice changes.


If the practices of the law of Moses werent needed in the time past Jesus, why did the Jews still enforce it even past Jesus’s death? The Bible says that the Old Covenant became obsolete after Jesus’s death, so why was it still in existence in the 40 yr time period between Jesus’s death on the cross and the Jewish Diaspora in 70 AD?


Because they were in disobedience to God. Most Jews did not become Christians. They held to their old customs and traditions.

Imagine yourself in their shoes…you would probably do the same thing. Further, they would still be practicing the old law if their temple was not destroyed and they weren’t scattered throughout the land.

Orthodox Jews today, want their land and temple back so they can have the law practiced like it was before.


Which temple are you talking about-the first temple (which was destroyed after Jesus died), or the 2nd temple, which was destroyed in 70AD around the time of the diaspora?


The first temple was destroyed hundreds of years before Christ. It was rebuilt by the Jews who returned from Exile to Babylon. It can be read about in detail in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. The second temple built at this time around 400BC was destroyed in 70AD. The temple was not destroyed in any way around the time of Jesus.

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