Inclusivism (3): A false implication of Romans 10:8-17

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A common argument for religious exclusivism comes from Paul’s statements about hearing and believing in Romans 10. Here I will examine one argument for exclusivism in Romans 10:8-17 and the inclusivist response. The verses read as follows:

…But what does it say?
“The word is near you,
on your lips and in your heart”
(that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The Scripture says, “No one who believes in him will be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” But not all have obeyed the good news; for Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ.

A standard argument given is as follows:

1. Paul says “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
2. Saying that confession and belief are a necessary precondition for salvation imply that lack of confession and belief rules out salvation.
C. Therefore Paul rules out salvation for those who lack confession and belief.

Is this right? No. As the moderate Evangelical theologian John Sanders points out in his book “No Other Name”,

Some believe that Paul asserted the necessity of knowing about Christ for salvation when he said that “if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved” (10:9). But logically this means nothing more than that confession of Christ is one sure way to experience salvation: Paul does not say anything about what will happen to those who do not confess Christ because they have never heard of Christ. The text is logically similar to the condition statement “If it rains, then the sidewalk will be wet.” If the condition is fulfilled (if it rains), then the consequent will follow (the sidewalk will be wet). But we cannot with certainty say, “If it is not raining, the sidewalk will not be wet.” Someone may turn on a sprinkler, or there may be a pile of melting snow nearby–any number of thigns besides rain might make the sidewalk wet. It is sometimes argued that since all those who accept Christ are saved, it must follow that only those who know about and accept Christ are saved. But this is like arguing that since all Collies are dogs, all dogs must be collies. The argument is simply fallacious. We can be certain the text is telling us that hearing about and coming to know Jesus is one sure way to experience salvation, but we can be just as certain that the text is not explicitly telling us that all the unevangelized are damned.(p 67-8)

This is precisely the fallacy called “affirming the consequent”; Sanders illustrates it well when he gives the sidewalk/rain example. Saying “If p then q” and then affirming “q” does not imply “p”.

Sanders admits in a footnote that applying strict standards of linguistic precision to this text may be inappropriate, as some critics of this response have suggested. Paul might be saying that one can only be saved by believing in Christ explicitly. But the question he raises is one worth pondering: why think that Paul is saying that? We would have to assume that something more is going on behind the text than what the grammar indicates and requires. But is there any good reason to do that here?

There are other arguments for exclusivism from Romans 10, but they will have to wait for future posts. It seems that this one, though, is relatively unpersuasive.

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2 Responses to “Inclusivism (3): A false implication of Romans 10:8-17”

  1. Anonymous Says:

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  2. MG Says:

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