Do people who have never heard the gospel go to Hell?
Many people understand the exclusive nature of the Gospel, that unless you believe in Jesus, you can’t go to heaven. That means that when the Gospel is preached , people have the opportunity and responsibility to receive the forgiveness that is offered through Jesus Christ, who is the only way to get to the Father (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).
Sooner or later, this absolute claim raises questions about those who have never heard of Jesus. What about the Papuan chieftain, isolated in the thickest jungle, who never heard? For that matter, what about the mentally handicapped who cannot understand? How can God be fair if some people never get a chance to respond?
It is important to note that no one goes to hell because they never heard the gospel. They go to hell for their own sins and rebellion against a Holy God. Every human being, apart from Adam, Eve and Jesus, is born a sinner, with deep-seated inclinations to revolt against God’s righteous rule. Everyone has the law of God written upon their hearts and will be judged on their deeds (Romans 2:15, II Corinthians 5:10). Every human being is at enmity against God and cannot please Him (Romans 8:8). Even the smallest personal sins automatically revoke admission into heaven (Romans 3:23, James 2:10).
Given our sinful condition, humans don’t really want God to be fair. Humans need God to be merciful. The biblical term for fairness is justice. The justice of God is a reflection of His holy character. This justice directs His anger against human wickedness. If God is to be “fair”, he must judge every sinner in the world for their sin and promptly execute them as they deserve. A “fair” God is not a good thing for sinful human beings (Ephesians 2:3)
God is not obligated to save anyone. The fact that He saves some is evidence of his mercy. His decision to save some out of a vast population of unworthy sinners is an act of sovereign choice and pure grace (Ephesians 1:11).
When referring the future judgment, the Bible implies that humans will be judged according to the light they had and not according to the revelation they did not receive. Jesus said that “to whom much is given, much is required” (Luke 12:48). Those who were given more revelation, will be held more accountable. So there are degrees of punishment and differing levels of suffering for the lost (Matthew 11:21-24; Romans 1:18ff; 2:12ff; Luke 12:47-48).
So the individual who never heard the Gospel will die in his sins, but will suffer less punishment than the person who had the opportunity to hear the Gospel and still rejected it. In any event, both will die for the sins that they committed during their lives.