I agree with all of the answers given: we Christians affirm that Yeshua (Jesus) has ALWAYS been the ONLY way to salvation. However, unknown to many Christians, many religious Jews, particularly those in Paul's day, believed, not in "works-based" salvation, but in "ethnic-based" salvation. Allow me to explain using a popular phrase found in Paul's letters.
“Works of the Law” (greek=ergon nomou) is one of the most challenging statements of Paul when read outside of the context of Paul’s 1st Century Jewish worldview. On the one hand, mere mechanical Law-keeping will NEVER save anyone, nor will sincere Law-keeping for that matter. The Torah (Law) was not given of God to provide salvation of the soul. However, it is a wonderful sanctification tool when used by the Holy Spirit. And it is a tool used to highlight and convict both regenerate and unregenerate men of sin. So on the theological level, it is true that keeping the Law does NOT save us. In fact, keeping the Torah has never saved anyone. However, the standard Christian theological discussions on “Law vs. Grace” often fail to grasp Paul’s 2000 year-old historical and sociological discussions about group membership and what this meant to many 1st Century Jews.
In Paul’s day, Isra'el sincerely, albeit incorrectly, believed that group affiliation is what mattered most in terms of corporate salvation—both in this life and in the life to come after one died. Belonging to (getting into and staying in) the family clan of Isra'el was the most important detail an individual person could focus on. In their segregated way of thinking, all of covenant Isra'el was comprised of Jewish people only, viz, every one in Isra'el was a Jew. If a non-Jew wanted to attain corporate salvation (both now and after they died), that person needed to legally convert to become a Jew first and thus join “Jewish Israel.”
Once they were legally recognized as Jewish, their place in the physical covenant was ostensibly maintained by keeping the Torah. This “group membership-imposed Torah observance” concept is termed “Covenantal Nomism.” Thus Paul’s term “works of the Law” is actually a sociological and technical phrase used to describe the historic Jewish-only policy that forbade Gentiles from joining Isra'el without going through a man-made conversion policy to become a Jew. In short, this policy suggests that the Torah was and is for Jews only. ”Works of the Law” was an ancient way of referring to “Jewish identity leading to covenant faithfulness.” For Jews in the 1st century, God was offering a simple package deal equation: Jewish-Isra'el+Torah-keeping=corporate salvation both in this life and in the life to come.
Obviously by now most Christians understand that this historic, theological, Jewish-only policy is at odds with the genuine gospel of God through his chosen Messiah Yeshua, a gospel taught from Genesis to Revelation. Using this more historically accurate way of interpreting Paul’s writings in the NT, we understand Paul to be opposing this 1st century inaccurate theological policy by saying to both Jews and Gentiles, “No one gets into Isra'el (is saved) merely by being or becoming Jewish and then stays in Isra'el by keeping Torah…”
How do we know this to be the proper interpretation of Paul’s writings? If we study the NT as an historical document alongside the other extant writings that have survived from the 1st Century Judaisms (the rabbinic commentaries, Talmud, etc.), as well as corroborate the theology of the OT in proper context, then we begin to get a more accurate picture of the pattern of theology of the 1st Century Jewish people and what we discover is that the Jewish concept of individual/group salvation cannot be easily caricatured by simplistic “merit theology” the way historic Christianity has traditionally characterized Jewish devotion to Torah.
I hope this background into religious Isra'el's social mindset has been helpful.
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