How did people in the Old Testament get saved?

Question: : How are the Old Testament heroes in heaven? Who paid for King David’s sin and, if his sin was paid for somehow, can a good man in Africa who has never heard the Gospel also be in heaven?

Answer: Please read this article before this one. That will give you perspective on part of this question. For the rest, people mentioned in the Old Testament (heroes and non-heroes included) who believed the promise of God as it had been revealed to that point, were saved by the grace of God and their sins forgiven based on the anticipated atonement of Jesus Christ. Though they may have sacrificed an animal for their sin as God commanded, they were meant to realize that no animal can fairly be a substitute for my sin. Only I or another human being can die (or die in my place) for my sins (Hebrews 9:6-14).

Paul tells us in Romans 3:25-26 that God gave Jesus as an atoning sacrifice to demonstrate His justice in passing over sins committed previous to the coming of Christ. The forgiveness He was offering saints before the coming of Christ was based in the sacrifice Christ would make, so that God was just in forgiving sin before that. But each of those who were forgiven were believers. They were responding to the revelation God had given up to that point, whether the promise as it was stated in Genesis 3:15 or 12:1-3. The content of the promise was always being added to and expanded. But faith in that promise of God was always the means to receiving God’s salvation.

Today, the promise includes Jesus as the only mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5-6). We must come through him now, must believe in him as God’s provision for forgiveness.

Randall Johnson


5 thoughts on “How did people in the Old Testament get saved?

  1. Hebrew children in the Old Testament were born into God’s covenant, both male and female. Circumcision was the sign of this covenant for boys, but the sign was not what saved them. Faith saved them. Rejecting the sign, circumcision, for boys, either by the parents or later as an adult himself, was a sign of a lack of true faith, and therefore the child was “cut off” from God’s promises as clearly stated in Genesis chapter 17:

    “Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, 13 both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. 14 Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

    What was the purpose of this covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? God tells us in the beginning of this chapter of Genesis:

    “And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.”

    This covenant wasn’t just to establish a Jewish national identity or a promise of the inheritance of the land of Caanan, as some evangelicals want you to believe. In this covenant, God promises to be their God. Does God say here that he will be their God only if they make a “decision for God” when they are old enough to have the intelligence and maturity to decide for themselves? No! They are born into the covenant!

    If Jewish children grew up trusting in God and lived by faith, they then received eternal life when they died. If when they grew up, they rejected God, turned their back on God, and lived a life of willful sin, when they died, they suffered eternal damnation. Salvation was theirs to LOSE. There is no record anywhere in the Bible that Jewish children were required to make a one time “decision for God” upon reaching an “Age of Accountability” in order to be saved.

    Therefore Jewish infants who died, even before circumcision, were saved.

    The same is true today. Christian children are born into the covenant. They are saved by faith. It is not the act of baptism that saves, it is faith. The refusal to be baptized is a sign of a lack of true faith and may result in the child being “cut off” from God’s promise of eternal life, to suffer eternal damnation, as happened with the unfaithful Hebrew in the OT.

    Christ said, “He that believes and is baptized will be saved, but he that does not believe will be damned.”

    It is not the lack of baptism that damns, it is the lack of faith that damns.

    Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals
    An orthodox Lutheran blog

    • This does not take into consideration Paul’s contention in Romans 9 that not all Israelites are saved just by being in Abraham, and it does not take into account his argument throughout Romans that it is certainly not because they are circumcised. His whole point, as Martin Luther so ably explained, is that justification is only by faith. Perhaps you don’t like calling faith a decision, but it is exactly that. It is a decision to trust God’s promise and it results in righteousness being credited to the one who so believes. A baby cannot make that decision. Are there other grounds on which God allows infants into heaven? Quite likely, but don’t sacrifice the principle of justification by faith in so doing.

  2. Thank you for this article. I am certainly no theologian but one verse that answered the whole discussion for me is Hebrew 9,15!!
    Here it’s mentioned in a nutshell that the people in the old testament get saved through Jesus death (just like the people in the new covenant) if I understood it correctly. Therefore Jesus is the way to redemption for any person, regardless of ones birth date.

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