Theological Inclusivists Cannot Deal with Romans 2:12

Theological inclusivism is the belief that people can be saved apart from conscious faith in Christ or without believing the gospel message. The work of missionaries is not absolutely essential for salvation in this view.  While there are many passages that address this issue: (Rom 1:18-25; 10:13-18; 1 Cor 1:21; Eph 2:12; 2 Thess 2:13-14; 1 John 5:5; 2 John 1:9), the strongest passage in all of Scripture is Romans 2:12: “For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.” Here we have an explicit statement that all without access to the Torah or God’s Word will perish – there are no exceptions.

Those who sin without the law are the pagan Gentiles of Romans 1 who do not have special revelation while those who have sinned under the law are Jews who possess the Torah from God. Paul says that all of those who sin without possessing the special revelation of the law will perish. His logic is inescapable. If a person does not have special revelation, they will perish without it. Not having access to special revelation does not excuse a person from the judgment of God even though they are judged on the basis of the revelation they have received through general revelation.  They have enough knowledge to be condemned (Rom 1:20-23), but not enough knowledge to be saved (Rom 10:13-18). This is why it is essential that the church supports world missions through prayer, sacrificial financial giving, and sending missionaries. God will judge churches and pastors for their lack of contribution to the Great Commission.

In all of the writings I have read from inclusivists, only Terrance Tiessen makes an attempt to answer the exclusivist argument based on Romans 2:12. He recognizes that this verse is a problem for his position so he turns it around and instead makes it an argument in favor of inclusivism: “Those who do not have Scripture will not be judged according to Scripture.” But Paul is not denying that those without the law will be judged when he says that they will all perish. The fact that the standard upon which they are judged is not Scripture does not negate the final outcome of that judgment – perishing for all of them. He does not say they “will not be judged,” but that they “will perish.” The Greek term for “perish” here is from apollumi which means to be destroyed. A close parallel is John 11:50: “It is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” Paul has damnation in view here, not merely dying. It is self-evident that everyone will perish in the sense that all die. But Romans 2:12 occurs in the context of salvation and what a person must do to be saved from the perspective of the law. Verse 10 mentions “glory and honor and peace” (salvation) for anyone who could hypothetically keep the law perfectly in contrast to God’s “wrath and fury” coming upon the disobedient (2:8-9). Perishing in verse 12 is contrasted with to “be justified” in verse 13 to describe someone who could be justified by perfectly keeping the law. The point of the verse is that if a person wants to be justified by the law, they have to actually keep the law, not just possess it or hear it as the Jews did. This is further evidence that “the law” in verse 12 is the special revelation given to the Jewish people which pagans do not have.

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