Douglas Hamp posted this question on Facebook:
In your opinion: how much good theology/Christology to I need to get to heaven and how much bad theology/Christology can I have and still make it? Note: Christology what is what one believes/teaches about Yeshua. Thus, how much must I (properly) understand / believe / teach to be saved? Consider, do I need to understand and believe in the virgin birth, the Yeshua’s divinity, the hypostatic union etc.?
I am not saying that those things aren’t true or that they don’t matter, but how much must I understand those things to be saved? Is it possible to be saved while having an incomplete or even wrong understanding of the key doctrines? If so, can Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, be saved?
I think this is a good question that needs to be further broken down for a thorough examination.
Understanding particular doctrines is not so much at issue as the heart of the individual who places His trust in God and the degree to which he submits.
To start with, I’d like to examine an example of somebody who was saved through faith, without any level of knowledge; the thief on the cross.
This man did have knowledge of Jesus’ divinity and Lordship:
39 And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us.
40 But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation?
41 And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss.
42 And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.
Here we have the basic element necessary for salvation; repentance. He was also aware that what he had done was wrong in God’s eyes which implies a knowledge of God’s standards.
We have to look to Scripture for examples of salvation without the knowledge that Jesus was God. Hebrews 11 details many who were saved by faith, who did not have the explicit knowledge that Jesus, or the Messiah, would be God. They simply believed, had faith in, the Word of God (which Jesus was anyway).
A point that is worthy of consideration is that Paul wrote this to Timothy:
2 Timothy 3:15
15 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
He asserts that Timothy has had the Holy Scriptures that would make him “wise unto salvation” since he was a child. There is no doubt in my mind that he is referring to the Tanakh.
Paul does refer to the book of Luke as Scripture when he says:
1 Timothy 5:18
18 For the scripture saith, thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward.
“Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn” is a reference to the Torah but “The labourer is worthy of his reward” (which he says comes from “Scripture”), comes from the book of Luke.
So depending on Timothy’s age, a case could be made both ways on whether Paul was referring to all of Scripture or just New Testament writings but I know where I’d put my money. I also think it’s interesting that he follows up the reference to “the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” with this verse:
2 Timothy 3:16
16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
Paul has also just spent a great deal of 2 Timothy 3 discussing those who reject Moses:
2 Timothy 3:7-8
7 Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.
8 Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith.
He also goes on in 2 Timothy 4:3 to say that a time will come when people reject Torah:
2 Timothy 4:3-4
3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;
4 And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.
Paul knows exactly what sound doctrine is, Biblically speaking:
2 For I give you good doctrine, forsake ye not my law.
He also makes several references to “the truth”:
142 Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and thy law is the truth.
The entire of 2 Timothy 3 and half of 2 Timothy 4 is an admonition to follow Torah, so the idea that 2 Timothy 3:15 is referring to anything else, would be ludicrous given the context.
All in all, I would conclude that Paul was saying that the Tanakh could make you “wise unto salvation” through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
Another point where I would seek to breakdown the question further is that, it is a very different question to ask whether somebody must have certain knowledge to be saved, to asking whether somebody can believe something false and be saved. For example asking ‘If I was unaware that Jesus was God, could I still be saved?’, would be very different to asking ‘If I believed that Jesus was a purple taco called Sam could I still be saved?’.
Regarding the Jehovah’s Witnesses and their false doctrine, Scripture tells us that false prophets can lead people away from YHVH:
5 And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death; because he hath spoken to turn you away from the Lord your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed you out of the house of bondage, to thrust thee out of the way which the Lord thy God commanded thee to walk in. So shalt thou put the evil away from the midst of thee.
We have the Word of God, so it is incumbent upon us to seek out the truth of what it says. We know that angels can sin and so they are not eligible to pay the price of a sinless substitutionary atonement. We are also told explicitly, in several places in Scripture, that Jesus is God.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe in prophets who have prophesied things which have not come to pass. YHVH takes a dim view of such things:
20 But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.
21 And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the Lord hath not spoken?
22 When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.
The crux of the matter to me is realising that YHVH is sovereign and it is Him that salvation is dependent on. We cannot do anything to guarantee salvation for ourselves. We cannot say that if you follow a prescribed procedure, you will definitely be saved. All we can do is acknowledge that we are saved by faith and act faithfully to YHVH and His word and know that He is faithful and just.
All we can really say is that YHVH knows those who are His and no man can snatch them out of His hand. He has foreknowledge and all we can do is make sure that our heart is always to seek truth; otherwise we are led astray.
Regarding this, we can only be deceived by what it is in our hearts to want to be deceived by. The adversary has no power other than that which we give to him. He leads us away by preying on our own failings and evil desires:
13 Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:
14 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.
The characteristics that all who received salvation throughout Scripture had were repentance and faith in the Word of God. This posits a question about the larger context of this inquiry which is ‘What does Scripture tell us about salvation generally?’
Regarding salvation generally (I know this is outside of the scope of the original question but if you will indulge me I’ll give my opinion because I think that it is indirectly relevant), the issue is not the same for each person because, as I will demonstrate, our level of culpability is directly correlative to our level of understanding.
1 Samuel 16:7
7 But the Lord said unto Samuel, Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.
10 I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.
1 Corinthians 4:5
5 Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.
A tool that is used to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart is how we respond to His Word.
12 For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
If we just blow off the Word of God or choose the desires of our flesh over it, then we are showing our heart towards the Word which John 1:1 tells us is God Himself.
YHVH’s judgement is dependent on other factors that should be examined too:
46 And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?
There are two obvious reasons for not doing what the Lord has said:
b) Not Knowing what He has said.
To deal with disobedience, we can see that such is not tolerated, if someone engages in it unrepentantly:
19 And it come to pass, when he heareth the words of this curse, that he bless himself in his heart, saying, I shall have peace, though I walk in the imagination of mine heart, to add drunkenness to thirst:
20 The Lord will not spare him, but then the anger of the Lord and his jealousy shall smoke against that man, and all the curses that are written in this book shall lie upon him, and the Lord shall blot out his name from under heaven.
So blessing yourself even though you are walking in stubborn disobedience results in your name being blotted out:
26 For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins,
Again “the truth” is Torah and sin is transgression of it (1 John 3:4). The word “wilfully” implies a stubborness. Another parallel to what Paul writes here is found in the Torah:
30 But the soul that doeth ought presumptuously, whether he be born in the land, or a stranger, the same reproacheth the Lord; and that soul shall be cut off from among his people.
31 Because he hath despised the word of the Lord, and hath broken his commandment, that soul shall utterly be cut off; his iniquity shall be upon him.
The Hebrew implies something that is done by thumbing your nose to the Torah’s authority. It is equated with despising the Word. We see here that acceptance of the Word is necessary for your iniquity to be forgiven.
A question that often arises, is “What is the unforgivable sin?” Since sin is transgression of the Torah, we must find “the unforgivable sin” somewhere in Torah. Wilful disobedience shows a lack of repentance and without repentance there can be no forgiveness. The sin is, literally, unforgivable.
We know that the previous Scriptures are not addressing repentant sin, from other verses such as these, however:
1 John 1:9
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 2:1
2 My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous:
If we repent, we are forgiven. YHVH knows that we are just dust and that we will fall. We can see that repentance has always led to forgiveness of sins throughout Scripture (Psalm 51):
21 But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die.
22 All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live.
23 Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord God: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?
Ignorance is a different matter and is dealt with indirectly and directly, in Scripture. It is dealt with indirectly, in that we know there are sections of the Torah that were procedures to deal with ignorant sin. We know that the sacrifices in the Torah pictured the atoning sacrifice of Jesus so we know that ignorant sin can be atoned for.
Ignorant sin is addressed directly, in Scripture, in the following places:
47 And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.
48 But HE THAT KNEW NOT, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.
So deliberate sin (that is repented for) will entail being beaten with many stripes and ignorant sin entails being beaten with few stripes. The level of culpability is dependant on knowledge. We are given this principle “unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required”. The wicked would, perhaps, see this as a reason to know less but the righteous would see this as a reason to know more and seek truth with all of their heart (Deuteronomy 6:5).
Those who did not know are mentioned elsewhere in Scripture:
12 If thou sayest, Behold, WE KNEW IT NOT; doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it? and he that keepeth thy soul, doth not he know it? and shall not he render to every man according to his works?
Again YHVH tries the heart and has this as His standard (what you did with what you had) rather than a prescribed level of knowledge.
There are passages that bear examination because they give us more insight into the relationship between knowledge and judgement:
21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
So we are plainly told that he who doesn’t do the Father’s will, will not enter the kingdom of heaven. It is therefore imperative that we know how Scripture defines the will of the Father:
8 I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.
22 Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?
23 And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
So those who work “iniquity” are told to depart from Him. The word for iniquity is ἀνομία (anomia) and its usage is given thusly in Strong’s:
the condition of without law
because ignorant of it
because of violating it
contempt and violation of law, iniquity, wickedness
So, we are told that those who are without Torah (who do not do the will of the Father) will not enter into the kingdom and will be told to depart from Jesus.
18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
So, we have two standards here, those who are without law who are told to depart and cannot enter the kingdom and those who accept law but break the least of the commandments, who are least in the kingdom.
I find this passage very, very interesting:
14 Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.
15 For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.
So, this is after the great white throne judgement, when those not found in the Lamb’s book of life are cast into the lake of fire; there are still those who are outside of the city. Whether these are the least in the kingdom or whether those outside are the ones told to depart from Him is not explicitly clear. I do believe that a proper exegesis of Scripture will reveal the answer though.
They are described as “dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters”. All of those terms are used in the Tanakh to describe those who reject Torah. As for “whosoever loveth and maketh a lie”, I would point out that “the truth” is Torah so this is another term for those who love sin over Torah. They are also contrasted with “they that do His commandments”.
Whether salvation depends on your obedience (obedience certainly demonstrates a higher level of faith (Romans 16:26)) is certainly debatable but I do not see the profit in this debate. The only ones interested in such a question are those who do not seek His righteousness. Either way, the general principle is that those who are more righteous and seek to know Him better will fare better.