Jesus, the Jews and the path of Salvation

Jesus, the Jews and the path of Salvation

“Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father’; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham.” (Matt.3:9)

E.P. Sanders, in his seminal 1977 work, “Paul and Palestinian Judaism: A Comparison of Patterns of Religion”, submits a theory of “covenantal nomism”, and, in kind, a form of bilateral ecclesiology.

Essentially, and overly simply, the theory is that the Jewish people are in covenant status with God, and that this places them in a different category regarding the message of the gospel presented by the apostles. In effect, according to bilateral ecclesiology, there are two paths to salvation. One for the Gentile (Jesus), and another for the Jew (Jesus and/or covenant faithfulness in Torah).

This theory, further popularized by Mark Kinzer in his 2005 book “Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People”, challenges a traditional Christian understanding of soteriology, as revealed in the New Testament.

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This post will not be able to adequately deal with all the implications of this theory, or the positive influence that these author’s works have had on the state of relations between Christians and Jews. Nor will I seek to criticize either author. Particularly Rabbi Kinzer, who, probably more than any other person, is chiefly responsible for the recent move by the Roman Catholic Church to revisit Her relationship with the Jewish people, even going so far as reflecting an official bilateral ecclesial position in a recent document released by the Vatican. See Rabbi David Rosen’s comments on this development here: https://www.rabbidavidrosen.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Jewish-Vatican_Relations_-_-Opportunities_and_Problems_October_2011.pdf

The path to reconciliation between Judaism and Christianity must necessarily include concessions and statements which we may struggle to embraces, as well as huge amounts of respectful dialog. From a Christian standpoint, at least, it can be deeply unnerving to consider the implications of such theories. In light of how the gospel is apparently presented in the apostolic texts, in which only confession of and faith in Jesus Christ is offered as an acceptable path to reconciliation with God, we should take some time to question the validity of “covenental nomism”. Continue reading

What is the Goal of the Gospel?

What is the Goal of the Gospel?

“Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.” (Heb.10:38, KJV)

The writer of Hebrews states this as part of his argument for standing strong in faith in the face of growing persecution and uncertainty. He is quoting Habakkuk, and this is a rabbinic use of the verse.  The passage in Habakkuk reads like this:

“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith…”(Hab.2:4, Koren Jerusalem Bible)

The common perception in Christian theology is that “faith” is the opposite of “works”.  By extent, then, “grace” becomes the antithesis of “Law”.  This false dichotomy is the unfortunate result of the reductionist manner in which the gospel has been been proclaimed since the days of the Reformation generally, and the Great Awakening more particularly. (Of course, all of this has its roots in the Roman Catholic Church’s theological beat-down of Jewish practice in its developing doctrines of the early centuries, but that is the topic of a different conversation to be had at another time).

It is a firing-line style of preaching the message of salvation which places people upon an imaginary precipice, forcing the trembling sinner to choose between the engulfing flames of God’s wrath or the waiting, gentle arms of Jesus.  A romantic notion, no doubt, but nowhere near the actual gospel of Jesus and the apostles.

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this is how many people view the gospel

One of the results of this approach to the gospel message has been its increasing anti-semitic tone. You see, the Law was given to the Jews, but most Christians think that through his death and resurrection that Jesus has “fulfilled” the Law, thereby “cancelling” it.  Many Christians are sophisticated enough in the scriptures to at least recognize that the Law has not been cancelled, but nonetheless persist in believing that since Jesus “fulfilled” it, that it in effect has no power over the believer.  Subsequently, the Christian, in most Christian expressions, is taught to walk in the “spirit” of the Law, by obeying the Law of Love, taking Jesus’ exhortation to “love your neighbor” as the replacement commandment for all the minutia of Old Testament Law. Continue reading