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.”
David Guzik’s Commentary on the Bible supports the declaration in John 14:6 that indicates Jesus Christ is the only way to God (or to 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 eternal salvation, 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.
In contrast with Guzik, most Bible commentaries make it clear that the two scripture verses cited above indicate that Jesus Christ is the only way to attain eternal life (i.e., eternal salvation).
Peter Pett’s Commentary on the Bible states with regard to John 14:6,
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).
We notice here Jesus’ claim to absolute uniqueness. It has been well said that He does not say, ‘I am one of many ways, I am an aspect of truth, I am a phase of life’. He tells us that He is uniquely THE way, the only way; He is uniquely THE truth, the fullness of truth; He is THE life, the source of life. All is centred [sic] in Him. He is pivotal. In the end it is He alone Who can make essentially real in us what truth is and Who can impart life to us. Others can be pointers and signposts. But they must point to Him. He is the final goal. Others can show the way, can impart truth, and can point to life outside of themselves. But He is the way to which they point, the truth imparted is summed up in Himself; He is the life to be received. All the emphasis is on Him.
That is why no one can come to the Father except through Him, for it is through what He is, and what He will do, that men are able to be forgiven, are enabled to be enlightened, and can receive eternal life. He is the complete and total solution. All other great teachers point away from themselves, aware of their own inadequacy. He points to Himself as the One Who is fully adequate. In this statement was a claim to a uniqueness that reveals true Godhood. To any but God such claims would have been both blasphemous and ridiculous.
It should be noted that ‘no one can come to the Father except by me’ applies to all ages from the beginning to the end. The Old Testament believers came to God through the way He revealed, through sacrifices. But these sacrifices looked forward to what was to come. It was because Jesus would come and offer Himself as a sacrifice that God could ‘pass over things done aforetime’ (Romans 3:25). If those who were not aware of the old revelation, yet responded to the revelation within their own consciences (Romans 2:14-16) and came to salvation, it was through Him that their salvation would come, even though they were unaware of it. If there are some relatively few who since Christ’s life on earth have responded to God in a saving way, without having heard the Good News fully, and there are probable examples of this, they too come through Him. For He is the source of all saving truth, whether revealed through nature or revealed through Scripture. And He is the source of all saving life. He is the One Who ministers it. Through Him alone comes salvation to the saved among mankind.
In reference to Acts 4:12, John Calvin’s Commentaries on the Bible opines,
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.
Also in reference to Acts 4:12, John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible declares,
[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:
[The statement “for there is none other name” refers to any] thing or person, be it ever so great, or whatever show of power and strength, of holiness and religion, it makes; as the name of kings, princes, and the great men in the world; or of ministers and preachers in the church; or even of Christians and believers, which may be only a name to live; none but the name of Jesus, his person, blood, and righteousness.
[Jesus Christ] has been freely given by his Father, as an instance of his matchless love to the world; and also freely given by himself, to be a sacrifice for the sins of his people; and is freely preached among men, as the only Saviour of them; for there is no other. . . .
God resolved in his purposes and decrees, in his council and covenant, upon the salvation of his chosen people; and he appointed his Son to be the salvation of them, and determined he would save them by him, and by no other, and in no other way; wherefore, whoever are saved, must be saved by him (see Hosea 1:7).
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. This is the honour of Christ’s name, that it is the only name whereby we must be saved, the only name we have to plead in all our addresses to God. This name is given. God has appointed it, and it is an inestimable benefit freely conferred upon us. It is given under heaven. Christ has not only a great name in heaven, but a great name under heaven for he has all power both in the upper and in the lower world. It is given among men, who need salvation, men who are ready to perish. We may be saved by his name, that name of his, The Lord our righteousness and we cannot be saved by any other. How far those may find favour with God who have not the knowledge of Christ, nor any actual faith in him, yet live up to the light they have, it is not our business to determine. But this we know, that whatever saving favour such may receive it is upon the account of Christ, and for his sake only so that still there is no salvation in any other.
Barnes’ Notes on the Whole Bible is another example of a commentary that 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.
The word “name” here is used to denote “the person himself” (i. e., There is no other being or person.) As we would say, there is no one who can save but Jesus Christ. The word “name” is often used in this sense. . . . That there is no other Saviour, or mediator between God and man, is abundantly taught in the New Testament. . . .
[S]alvation is to be obtained in “Christ alone,” and not in any patriarch, or prophet, or teacher, or king, or in any false Messiah.
There is no other way of salvation that is adapted to the great object contemplated, and therefore, if saved, it must be in this way and by this plan. The schemes of people‘s own devices are not adapted to the purpose, and therefore cannot save. The doctrine that people can be saved only by Jesus Christ is abundantly taught in the Scriptures. . . . [T]he Scriptures have not declared that great numbers of the pagan will be saved who have not the gospel. The contrary is more than implied in the New Testament (Romans 2:12).
Neither has the Scripture affirmed that all the pagan will certainly be cut off. It has been discovered by missionaries among the pagan that individuals have, in a remarkable way; been convinced of the folly of idolatry, and were seeking a better religion; that their minds were in a serious, thoughtful, inquiring state; and that they at once embraced the gospel when it was offered to them as exactly adapted to their state of mind, and as meeting their inquiries.
And in reference to John 14:6, Barnes 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 says that John 14:6 does not pertain 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.
Although Barnes and perhaps some other Bible commentaries indicate that John 14:6 pertains to prayer as well as to other matters – particularly, eternal salvation – none of the Bible commentaries that 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.
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. 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.
[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?”]
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 widely held belief of Christians 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.