I have a question that was raised, and I just don't know how to answer it biblically.  What about the native americans prior to Columbus and people who died having never heard the Gospel?  Are they instantly doomed, even though they never had the chance to believe? 
For starters let me set a background: Bible Scholars tell us that the estimated number of people that have lived on this earth since the time of Adam and Eve would approximate 51 Billion!  Now according to Jesus, the overwhelming number of those people were condemned to the fires of Hell, and only a "few" found the way to Heaven: "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."  [Matthew 7:13-14]
In these verses Jesus is telling us that at any one point in time, the "many" [multitude] are on the wide and broad road that leads to "destruction" [spiritual and eternal ruin = Hell].  And that only the "few" find the road to life [Heaven].  So, we can fully expect that the majority of the human race ends up in Hell, and the much smaller number make it to heaven. 
A look at a World Almanac will give a breakdown of the world religions.  They say, for example that about half of the world claims no belief at all [50% of the world = Hell], the next largest groups who claim a religion are the Buddhist, Hindus, and Muslims, all of which deny Christ as the way of eternal life which equals Hell.  Next you have Judaism, and all the false and liberal "Christian" religions (Catholics, Mormons, JW's, Liberal Presbyterians, Liberal Methodists, Liberal Lutherans, Liberal Baptists, etc.......).  These "Christians" religions have no true Gospel of Jesus by faith and faith alone.  What you finally get down to is a "small number" of true Christian churches (of various names) that are faithfully adhering to the true gospel and adoring Christ.  My educated guess is that less than 1% of the world, at any one time, is under the hearing of a true Gospel, and therefore have the opportunity to be saved. 
It may sound like a strange deduction, but I believe it is a close approximation, and would fit with Jesus' "few" finding Heaven, and the "Multitude" being condemned to Hell.  Taking the 51 Billion people that have lived on the earth so far, that would work out to 510,000,000 in Heaven, and 50,490,000,000 in Hell (so far).  Now, these numbers have to be adjusted for all the babies and others who died before the age of accountability, which would put a lot more in Heaven (God's mercy).
Now, all that leads into why anyone who never heard of Christ, God, the Bible, are still condemned to Hell.
In 1 Chronicles 28:9, there is a basic truth about God given, "If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will reject you forever."  The idea is that anyone who "honestly, with a sincere heart" seeks to know "who is out there" will find the truth about Christ.  Now that doesn't mean they are saved, for they must now act on that truth.  Sadly, most reject what they hear about Christ.  Also sad, is that many, many never seek to know Him, and therefore never hear the truth.
We see this vividly in Romans, "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities - his eternal power and divine nature - have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse."  [Romans 1:18-20]
That truth that was revealed to all men and women is God's glorious creation ("have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made").  The idea is that at some point in every man and woman's life, a time will come when they will realize, as they observe the creation around and within them, that "someone, or something" is out there, who made all of this.  They may not verbalize this, but they know it within themselves.  At this point they make a decision: one, they may say to themselves, "it is not important," and they go on their way condemned to hell forever, for they did not pursue God.  The other choice they might make, is to seek to find out about this "someone out there", in which case, God is obligated (by His promise in 1 Chron 28:9) to bring them the truth about Himself, which will always be the truth about Jesus Christ--the ONLY Mediator between God and man.  If they accept that truth, then they are saved and spend eternity in Heaven.  But if they reject that truth, then they are condemned forever.
It makes no difference, where they were located in the world--a pagan island, New York City, a Muslim home, the Middle Ages, an Indian tribe before Columbus--it doesn't matter, for all they had to do was to respond to the "natural revelation" (the creation) and God would have brought them the truth about Christ. 
In fact, the Bible promises us, that every man and woman is in the best location, and in the right generation to find Christ and make a profession:  "From one man God made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live, God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.  [Acts 17:27]
And the result is that men and women are without excuse on the Day of Judgment, because "since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. . . . . . .so that men are without excuse." Romans 1:19.
Bottomline, everyone, yes, everyone has had a chance to believe, no matter when then lived, or where.  They may be a devout Muslim, saying all their prayers, or a devout Jew, but they are still condemned to eternal Hell, because they did not come by faith and faith alone in Jesus Christ, who is the only Way and the only Truth and the only Life!

Added to Bible Bulletin Board's "Tony Capoccia's Questions and Answers" by:

Tony Capoccia
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