I have an admission to make. A gazillion years ago when I was in high school, I was really into UFOs.
I was enthralled reading Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods, which put forth the hypothesis that the technologies and religions of many ancient civilizations were given to them by aliens who they welcomed as gods. Moreover, von Däniken asserted that we are all the descendants of these “galactic pioneers.”
A section of his book is devoted to claiming that portions of the Bible are accounts of alien visitations. Examples include Ezekiel's vision of angels and wheels, which von Däniken interprets as a description of a spaceship; the Ark of the Covenant, which he claims was a device intended for communication with aliens; and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, which he asserts was a nuclear explosion.
After high school, though, I quickly discarded von Däniken’s thinking in a way that Paul describes in one of his letters: “When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things” (1 Cor. 13:11).
But flash forward a few decades and, oh my, what a comeback some of von Däniken’s theories have made.
During the 2020 election, I laughed out loud when Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., made a campaign promise to disclose any secret government information about aliens. I had an incredulous look on my face when President Donald Trump made one of his final acts in office the ordering of a report from the director of national intelligence on “unidentified aerial phenomena,” which was released in June.
It seems that while I don’t take the idea of aliens seriously, plenty of other people do. Further, Christians are now revisiting discussions about the theological implications of extraterrestrial life. For example, if they exist, what impact does that have on God’s plan of salvation through Christ?
Did Jesus die for aliens?
Although admittedly a very offbeat question to ask, David Instone-Brewer wrote an article on this very subject a few months back for Premier Christianity Magazine. In it, he tackles a number of related subjects while dispelling conjectures some Christians have made over the years about alien life.
In the same way von Däniken imports his presuppositions into Scripture (i.e., eisegesis), some believers who hold that aliens exist radically misinterpret parts of the Bible to support their belief. For instance, some Christians contend that the “worlds” in Hebrews 11:3 refers to other planets with alien life, and that Jesus’ “other sheep” in John 10:16 represent ETs.
As Instone-Brewer rightly points out in his article, the biblical contexts make clear that the Hebrews verse refers to the universe and the section in John signifies gentile believers.
That said, if we’re forced to do so, let’s sober up for a moment to more seriously entertain the question of how alien life might impact our concept of salvation through Christ.
Apologist William Lane Craig says this: “I would say, frankly, that theologically I have no problem whatsoever with the idea that Christ may have experienced multiple incarnations – that he not only became a human being on this planet, but he could have become a Klingon on some other planet to save them if they fell into sin at all. It's also possible that there are planets with extraterrestrial intelligent life where people did not disobey God and therefore sin is not an issue for them and they don't need to have an incarnation and a redeemer. But if they do, I can't think of any theological reason why the Second Person of the Trinity could not have multiple incarnations.”
While that’s an interesting take on the subject, personally, I’m more drawn to the answer Instone-Brewer provides in his article: “Does the fact that Christ “died to sin once for all” (Rom. 6:10) mean that there can’t be sinners on other planets? Are other worlds either empty or full of good people? Or does it mean that Jesus died once as a human for all humans?
"We should avoid looking for hidden facts about the universe in the Bible," he added. "Whether it concerns life on other planets or other unknowns, we shouldn’t come to doctrinaire conclusions without a sound basis in the Bible. The Bible doesn’t attempt to tell us everything we want to know, but it does tell us with absolute certainty everything we need to know for salvation: the good news that Jesus died for all our sins and that God wants to forgive everyone who repents."
If I’m forced to theologically consider the question of aliens, then my opinion is that it is a more radical version of the “what about those who have never heard the Gospel?” issue. The answer is the same — the Judge of everything shall do what is right (Gen. 18:25) and, as C. S. Lewis wrote, “If you are worried about those on the outside, the most unreasonable thing you can do is to remain outside yourself.”
Robin Schumacher is an accomplished software executive and Christian apologist who has written many articles, authored and contributed to several Christian books, appeared on nationally syndicated radio programs, and presented at apologetic events. He holds a BS in Business, Master's in Christian apologetics and a Ph.D. in New Testament. His latest book is, A Confident Faith: Winning people to Christ with the apologetics of the Apostle Paul.