Thursday, December 1, 2011

Seven Billion & Counting

One of those questions that constantly comes up from both unbelievers and believers when discussing the Gospel is “what about all the people who never heard the Gospel?” Of particular interest to people seem to be those who lived before the time of Christ who would be logically precluded from hearing the Good News. Their fate cannot be tied to the evangelical impulse of the Church and so they would seem to be the perfect test case for discussing the implications of exclusive salvation through belief in the Gospel.

This is certainly a very good question and it deserves its own post one of these days. There would seem to be implications for all sorts of things tied up with it, not the least of which is the justice of God. Today, however, I want to point out something related to that question that is not at all intended as an answer. It is merely an observation that I find interesting and that I think the Church needs to think about with regard to its current responsibility. I am referring to population statistics. If we look at estimates on how many people have lived on planet earth we find that it is disproportionately weighted to a post Jesus world. In fact, it is disproportionately weighted to our own time. Someone may point out that there are many logical reasons why we would expect this to be the case but nevertheless it remains a fact. As someone who believes in meticulous providence and the fact that God has a specific purpose for every person who is born or dies I find this fact interesting.

Somewhere around the end of October of this year it is estimated that the current population of the earth exceeded the 7 billion mark. This is amazing considering the fact that as recently as the turn of this century we were hovering around 6 billion. That means that in the past 12 years the earth has added roughly the equivalent number of people as currently live in India. One out of every 7 people alive today were not here just 12 years ago.

What is even more astonishing is that according to most sources the population of the earth at the time of Christ was around 300 million people. That means that the whole world was populated by the number of people that now inhabit just the United States. The population growth rate has been dramatic since the first century and even more dramatic in the past 200 years.

Even using the above estimates that assume evolutionary timetables which would put the first humanoids around 200,000 years ago (much earlier than most Christians accept) the total number of people who had ever lived up until the time of Christ would be around 20 billion. In the last 2,000 years, however, that number has increased by at least another 36 billion people to over 56 billion total all time. So the fact is that the majority of people who have ever lived have lived in the past 2,000 years.  In fact 1 out of every 8 people who have ever lived is alive right now!

None of this answers the question we started with but it does bring up a few interesting points. God has established His Church and it has pleased Him that it should do its ministry in a time of maximum outreach potential. The New Testament was written at a time when Roman rule and Greek culture made it possible for the message to be distributed across a wide area quickly from a central geographic point. Various other factors came into play such that this message is beginning to be spread at a time prior to the majority of people living on earth. My intention isn’t to try and defend God with statistics (He doesn’t need me to do that). As I said, this isn’t supposed to be an answer for the question we started with. I do think, however, that we as Christians need to understand what the significance of these numbers are.  Jesus tells His disciples in John 4:35-36

“Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together.” (ESV)

We have the largest mission field in history. In a real sense there are huge parts of the planet that are not in a post-Christian world. The foundation has been laid for us and Holy Spirit continues to work. In places like China, India, and Brazil the professed conversion rate is astounding numbering in the tens of thousands each week and yet there are still so many who have never heard or do not understand the message of the Gospel. The question we began with is a legitimate theological question but on a practical level we need to more concerned about those who are still alive and have not heard the Good News. There is a lot of work to be done so that God may be glorified and He has continued to provide an opportunity for His Church to participate in His work. Today we have over 7 billion opportunities to do so… just something to think about. 


  1. Well then, I think we had better get busy. If Christ were to come back today or maybe tomorrow there's going to be a lot of people missing out on the good news.

  2. If we accept evolutionary thinking, religion is just an adaptation to one's environment that makes it easier to pass on his genes. There is no purpose or meaning to the universe.

    If we accept evolutionary thinking, there's no reason to even think about this topic.

  3. I suppose that you are right but I am not sure how this relates to the article?

    If you referencing my statement "Even using the above estimates that assume evolutionary timetables..." then let me clarify. First, this was the data that was available. I don't share the evolutionary assumptions. My point is that even if we take their data it makes my observation even more startling because it would reduce the aggregate number of people prior to Christ. The numbers after, however, are likely not to change much thus it is even more heavily weighted to our age.