Most Christians believe that the only way a person can be assured of eternal salvation is to trust in Jesus Christ. Because of this belief by Christians, many, if not most, non-Christians regard Christians as narrow-minded.
In this article, we will focus primarily on John 14:6 and Acts 4:12, which are probably the two primary verses of scripture upon which Christians base their belief that trusting in Jesus Christ is the only way to have assurance of eternal salvation. [Note: When we quote Scripture in this article, we use the wording in the New King James Version of the Bible, except when we quote a non-biblical source that is using Scripture from a different version of the Bible.]
In John 14:6, Jesus Christ asserts, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
And, Acts 4:12 declares in reference to Jesus Christ, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
As reflected by the comments that follow, most Bible commentaries support the belief that these two scriptures indicate that Jesus Christ is the only way to attain eternal life (i.e., eternal salvation).
Commentary Regarding John 14:6
In reference to John 14:6, Barnes’ Notes on the Whole Bible indicates that accessing God’s throne by prayer, as well as entering God’s kingdom, can be done only through the merits of Jesus Christ. According to Barnes,
To come to the Father is to obtain his favor, to have access to his throne by prayer, and finally to enter his kingdom. No man can obtain any of these things except by the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ. By coming by him is meant coming in his name and depending on his merits. . . . We are sinful, and it is only by his merits that we can be pardoned.
However, John Calvin’s Commentaries on the Bible seems to believe with regard to the same scripture that it pertains only to being reconciled to God, not to prayer. Calvin says,
[Jesus] is the way, because he leads us to the Father, and he is the truth and the life, because in him we perceive the Father. As to calling on God, it may indeed be said, with truth, that no prayers are heard but through the intercession of Christ; but as Christ does not now speak about prayer, we ought simply to understand the meaning to be, that men contrive for themselves true labyrinths, whenever, after having forsaken Christ, they attempt to come to God.
David Guzik’s Commentary on the Bible expresses the belief that John 14:6 indicates Jesus Christ is the only way to God (i.e., the Father), but Guzik does not make clear exactly what is meant by the statement “No one comes to the Father except through Me,” which could refer to not only eternal salvation but also to prayer or perhaps something else. Guzik says,
Is Jesus the only way to God? An often-heard disagreement with Christianity is “Jesus and Christianity are fine, and it is great that you have a way to God. But I have my own way, and the Muslim has his, and the Buddhist has his. All roads lead to God if we are sincere in seeking Him.”
i. If a Christian objects to such a statement, they are often met with the reply, “What right do you have to send me to Hell just because I don’t believe in Jesus the way you do?”
ii. But the Bible tells us that Jesus is the only way to God. How can we say this? We begin with the basic truth that Jesus is at least a way to God. Was He a true or a false prophet? Was He at the very least an honest man? If Jesus is a true prophet – or at least an honest man – then what He said about Himself is true. Therefore, Jesus is the only way to God.
iii. Simply put, if Jesus is not the only way to God, then He is not any way to God. If there are many roads to God, then Jesus is not one of them, because He absolutely claimed there was only one road to God, and He Himself was that road. If Jesus is not the only way to God, then He was not a [sic] honest man; He was most certainly not a true prophet. He then would either be a madman or a lying devil. There is no middle ground available to us.
iv. Sometimes people object and say, “I believe Jesus was an honest man, and I believe He was a true prophet. But I don’t actually believe He said those things about Himself in the gospels. I believe Christians added those things in later on all by themselves.” But there is no objective reason for a person to make a distinction between “Jesus really said this” or “Jesus really didn’t say that.” We have no ancient texts showing us just the supposedly “true” sayings of Jesus. Any such distinction is based purely on subjective reasons. . . .
v. If it is all up to personal opinion – if we can determine what Jesus said or didn’t say on our own whims – then we can just throw out the gospels period. It really is an all-or-nothing deal. Either we take the words of Jesus as recorded by these historically reliable and accurate documents, or we throw it [sic] out all together.
And, with regard to the same scripture, Peter Pett’s Commentary on the Bible mentions salvation and reconciliation to God, but makes no mention of prayer. According to Pett,
These words of Jesus have filled a multitude of books, and rightly so, for they make Jesus totally central as the way to the Father. Compare Peter’s words, ‘neither is there salvation in any other, for there is no other Name under Heaven given among men by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12). This fact must not be under-emphasised [sic]. It is indicating that He is ‘THE Way’. He is the Way to the Father because through His offering of Himself He has opened up access to the Father (Ephesians 2:18; Ephesians 3:12), both as a result of His cleansing us and making us holy (1 Corinthians 6:11; Ephesians 5:26; Hebrews 10:14; 1 John 1:7), and as a result of Him clothing us in His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 5:17-19; Isaiah 61:10). It is through Him alone that we can be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:18-19). But He is also the Way in that He has brought us truth and life. He is thus saying the Way, firstly as the One Who has fully revealed truth both through His being, and through His life and His teaching, and secondly as the One Who imparts eternal life through His Spirit. In other words He is the way because full response to Him, His words, His self-revelation, His offering of eternal life through Himself as the source of that life, is the way to the Father. They who thus receive Him become the children of God and are born of God (John 1:12-13).
Commentary Regarding Acts 4:12
Barnes’ Notes on the Whole Bible supports the position that eternal salvation can be attained only through Jesus Christ. In reference to Acts 4:12, Barnes explains,
The word “salvation” properly denotes any “preservation,” or keeping anything in a “safe” state; a preserving from harm. It signifies, also, deliverance from any evil of body or mind; from pain, sickness, danger, etc. (Acts 7:25). But it is in the New Testament applied particularly to the work which the Messiah came to do, “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). This work refers primarily to a deliverance of the soul from sin (Matthew 1:21; Acts 5:31; Luke 4:18; Romans 8:21; Galatians 5:1). It then denotes, as a consequence of freedom from sin, freedom from all the ills to which sin exposes man, and the attainment of that perfect peace and joy which will be bestowed on the children of God in the heavens.
Likewise, with regard to the same scripture, John Calvin’s Commentaries on the Bible opines that Jesus Christ is the only way to obtain eternal salvation. Calvin declares,
We must consider this in all the benefits of God, to wit, that he [i.e., Jesus Christ] is the fountain of salvation. And he meant to prick and sting the priests with this sentence, when as he saith that there is salvation in none other save only in Christ, whom they went about to put quite out of remembrance.
Salvation . . . is in Christ alone, because God hath decreed that it should be so. For by name he meaneth the cause or mean, as if he should have said, forasmuch as salvation is in God’s power only, he will not have the same to be common to us by any other means than if we ask it of Christ alone.
Similarly, Adam Clarke Commentary asserts with regard to Acts 4:12,
No kind of healing, whether for body or soul, can come through any but him who is called Jesus.
Not only no other person, but no name except that divinely appointed one (Matthew 1:21) by which salvation from sin can be expected – none given under heaven – no other means ever devised by God himself for the salvation of a lost world. All other means were only subordinate, and referred to him, and had their efficacy from him alone. He was the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world; and no man ever came, or can come, to the Father but by him.
John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible declares in reference to the same scripture,
[The statement “neither is there salvation in any other” refers not to] corporeal healing, but spiritual and eternal salvation; the Syriac version renders it, neither is there . . . “redemption in any other”: Christ is the only Saviour and Redeemer, who was promised and prophesied of as such; who has saved and redeemed his people from the law, sin, and Satan; nor is salvation to be sought and hoped for from any other; not in a man’s self, nor in any other creature, angels or men; not in and by his own works, and legal righteousness; not by obedience to the law of Moses, moral or ceremonial; nor by the light of nature, much less by an observance of the traditions of the elders. . . .
And, Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Bible states with regard to Acts 4:12,
[T]here is no other religion in the world, no, not that delivered by Moses, by which salvation can be had for those that do not now come into this, at the preaching of it.”. . . Observe here, First, Our salvation is our chief concern, and that which ought to lie nearest to our hearts–our rescue from wrath and the curse, and our restoration to God’s favour and blessing. Secondly, Our salvation is not in ourselves, nor can be obtained by any merit or strength of our own we can destroy ourselves, but we cannot save ourselves. Thirdly, There are among men many names that pretend to be saving names, but really are not so many institutions in religion that pretend to settle a reconciliation and correspondence between God and man, but cannot do it. Fourthly, It is only by Christ and his name that those favours can be expected from God which are necessary to our salvation, and that our services can be accepted with God.
If, as we believe, the Bible is the primary means that God uses to communicate His will to mankind, it should be regarded as reliable in all of its teachings, especially in regard to who can expect to have eternal salvation. [For reasons to believe that the Bible is reliable, click on “Is the Bible Reliable?”]
John 14:6 and Acts 4:12 and most of the Bible commentaries on these two verses of scripture indicate that only people who have trusted in Jesus Christ can be certain of eternal salvation. Admittedly, several Bible commentaries indicate that there may be certain circumstances in which some people are granted eternal life by God without having trusted in Jesus Christ, but this is conjectural, not clearly supported in the Bible. [Note: The Appendix that follows briefly addresses the question of whether or not the Bible indicates that there is an alternative way to attain eternal salvation.]
Although some Bible commentaries indicate that John 14:6 pertains to prayer as well as to eternal salvation, none of the Bible commentaries we have consulted indicate that Jesus Christ was alluding only to prayer when He made the statements recorded in this verse. Furthermore, the second statement by Jesus in this verse that “No one comes to the Father except through Me” should be considered in the context of Jesus’ first statement in the verse that “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” which gives no inference that Jesus was referring to prayer when He indicated that He is the only intermediary to God.
Do Any Bible Scriptures Suggest an Alternative Way to Attain Eternal Salvation?
One Bible scripture that may seem to suggest an alternative way to attain eternal salvation is Luke 10:25-28. In this passage, an expert in the Old Testament Law asked Jesus Christ what was necessary for him to have eternal life. Jesus responded to this man that if he loved God with all his heart, soul, strength, and mind, and loved his neighbor as himself, he would have eternal life.
On the basis of this scripture, some people may conclude that anyone who loves God and his neighbor will have eternal salvation, without any need for them to trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior. Such a conclusion may seem reasonable on the basis of the belief that a number of people mentioned in the Old Testament (Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Elijah, etc.) went to heaven, despite the fact that they had no opportunity to trust in Jesus as their Savior, since He did not come to earth until centuries later. What these Old Testament people had in common was that they demonstrated love for God and faith (i.e., trust) in Him, although there were times when each of them failed in one or both regards.
There is no definite scriptural basis for believing that God would use similar criteria today to grant eternal salvation to someone who has never heard the gospel message. What Jesus Christ told the expert in the Law may have been valid for only people who lived and died before Jesus died on a cross as the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of mankind. Therefore, the only way a person can be certain that they have eternal salvation is by trusting in Jesus Christ as their Savior.
[For a discussion of how to be assured of eternal salvation, click on “What Must a Person Do to Be Assured of Eternal Salvation?”. And, for a discussion of whether or not God makes exceptions for people who don’t have opportunity to trust in Christ, click on “Does God Make Exceptions for People Who Don’t Have Opportunity to Trust in Christ?”]