The Catholic Church
“15 “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? 17 So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So then, you will know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7)
Our Lord warned us about false prophets, a warning we should take very seriously. The false prophets of the Old Testament would twist God’s word, or claim God said something He did not. Similarly, today’s false prophets do the same. One issue that has been around for a while is how will God save the Jews, His people Israel. There are those who falsely claim that God has saved the Jews and we do not need to evangelize to them. An example is a well known mega-church pastor who teaches such falsehoods. In an interview in the Houston Chronicle, he said this about Israel:
“The Jewish people have a relationship to God through the law of God as given through Moses. I believe that every Gentile person can only come to God through the cross of Christ. I believe that every Jewish person who lives in the light of the Torah, which is the word of God, has a relationship with God and will come to redemption. The law of Moses is sufficient enough to bring a person into the knowledge of God until God gives him a greater revelation. And God has not. Trying to convert Jews is a waste of time. The Jewish person who has his roots in Judaism is not going to convert to Christianity. There is no form of Christian evangelism that has failed so miserably as evangelizing the Jewish people. They (already) have a faith structure. Everyone else, whether Buddhist or Baha'i, needs to believe in Jesus. But not Jews. Jews already have a covenant with God that has never been replaced by Christianity.”
This teaching is clearly un-Biblical and therefore false. Such is the fruit of false teachers. Not surprisingly, the Catholic church teaches almost the identical falsehoods about Israel. We should expect this, since it’s the same enemy behind each of these false teachers.
In December, 2015 the Catholic church published a report called “THE GIFTS AND THE CALLING OF GOD ARE IRREVOCABLE: A REFLECTION ON THEOLOGICAL QUESTIONS PERTAINING TO CATHOLIC–JEWISH RELATIONS ON THE OCCASION OF THE 50TH ANNIVERSARY OF "NOSTRA AETATE" (NO.4)”. The report discusses several things about Catholic-Jewish relations, but most importantly, they discuss how they believe the Jews will be saved. The way the Catholic church views the Jewish people is confused at best. While the report says some things about the Jews that are accurate from a Biblical perspective, they have it completely wrong on the most important thing, not only for Jews, but for all people: salvation. As we’ll see below, the Catholic church is a false teacher, just like others who teach falsely about Jewish salvation, as we saw above.
The Catholic report was written on the 50th anniversary of something the Vatican wrote at Vatican II about the Jewish people. Part of the reason for that document, and this one as well in my view, was to help repair the Catholic church’s generally bad historical treatment of Jews. Sadly, many Jews even today are against Christianity due to things the Catholic church did to the Jewish people, not realizing that Catholicism is not true Christianity.
Nonetheless, as mentioned above, the report does get some things correct. Yet, they confuse other things about Israel. A good example is the following paragraph:
“The Church is called the new people of God (cf. "Nostra aetate", No.4) but not in the sense that the people of God of Israel has ceased to exist. The Church "was prepared in a remarkable way throughout the history of the people of Israel and by means of the Old Covenant" ("Lumen gentium", 2). The Church does not replace the people of God of Israel, since as the community founded on Christ it represents in him the fulfilment of the promises made to Israel. This does not mean that Israel, not having achieved such a fulfilment, can no longer be considered to be the people of God. "Although the Church is the new people of God, the Jews should not be presented as rejected or accursed by God, as if this followed from the Holy Scriptures" ("Nostra aetate", No.4).”
Scripture does not call the church the “new people of God”. There is only "people of God" in God’s plan of redemption, and all are saved solely by faith in Christ. Consider for example, Abel. Hebrews 11:4 says Abel was righteous “by faith”; clearly, Abel lived well before God brought forth the people of Israel. Likewise, Noah found favor with God (Genesis 6:8), again by faith (Hebrews 11:7). Indeed, all through human history, God has built His church by divinely electing those whom He has given faith to believe in Him. This includes all who lived before Israel, certain people of Israel, as well as Gentiles.
However, they do get it right when they say the church does not replace Israel. The fundamental flaw in their logic, ironically, is that they separate how God will save the church and Israel the nation. They do this by referring to Romans 11:29, which in context says:
“25 For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; 26 and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.” 27 “This is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins.” 28 From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; 29 for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so these also now have been disobedient, that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy. 32 For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all.” (my emphasis added)
It’s true that God has promised to save “all Israel”, and one day He will (see our Revelation study for details). But, this does not mean that God will save or has saved every Jewish person that has ever lived. Consider Ishmael, Esau, and Judas. These did not receive God’s promise of salvation. Although they refer to Paul’s teaching in Romans 9-11 as the basis for this report, the Catholic church ignores the explanation Paul gives in Romans 9.
We have Romans 9-11 because Paul had to explain the situation of God’s people Israel. Up through Romans 8, Paul had talked about how salvation is by faith and not works, and how salvation is permanent. Given this teaching, the (implied) questions Paul raises are, “If what you said is true that salvation cannot be lost because of God’s promises, then what about the Jews? God made promises to the Jews, yet most of the nation rejected their Messiah. Did God change His mind about His promises to the Jews?”
To answer that, Paul begins Romans 9 by explaining that, “6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; 7 nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “through Isaac your descendants will be named.” 8 That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.” He then gives examples of Jews God did and did not choose for salvation (Isaac not Ishmael; Jacob not Esau). Therefore, we see that God’s promises were not to all physical Israel. They were to spiritual Israel, those upon whom God would show mercy (Romans 9:15).
Indeed, God has always had a remnant He preserved. A great example of this is found in Elijah in 1 Kings 19: “14 Then he said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the sons of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars and killed Your prophets with the sword. And I alone am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.” Here is Elijah, running for his life, thinking he alone is the only believer left on earth, with no believing Jews remaining. Yet the Lord answers him: “18 Yet I will leave 7,000 in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal and every mouth that has not kissed him.” There were always unbelieving Jews, but God always preserved a remnant of believers. So again, not all physical Israel is the true, spiritual Israel.
But, God will, one day, save all physical Israel. Indeed, this is a promise He made to the fathers of Israel, and His gifts and calling are irrevocable. This will occur in the last days, at the end of tribulation, when He pours out His Spirit on all the Jews alive at that time and they all call on the name of the Lord, at which point Jesus will return. They will not be saved by the Old Covenant. Rather, they will all call on Jesus by faith. Again, you can learn about this in our Revelation study.
Despite the fact that God will one day save all Israel, the Catholic church gets this confused with physical Israel now. Their view is that Jews will be saved by the Mosaic Covenant. For example, they say,
“Whoever observes the Torah has life in its fullness (cf. Pirqe Avot II, 7). By observing the Torah the Jew receives a share in communion with God. In this regard, Pope Francis has stated: "The Christian confessions find their unity in Christ; Judaism finds its unity in the Torah. Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the Word of God made flesh in the world; for Jews the Word of God is present above all in the Torah. Both faith traditions find their foundation in the One God, the God of the Covenant, who reveals himself through his Word. In seeking a right attitude towards God, Christians turn to Christ as the fount of new life, and Jews to the teaching of the Torah." (Address to members of the International Council of Christians and Jews, 30 June 2015).”
This sounds very similar to the mega-church pastor’s false teaching as shown above. It is obviously false, as it directly contradicts Scripture. The Torah refers to the Old Testament. In John 5, Jesus says this to the Jews: “39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; 40 and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.” Clearly, there is only one way to have life, and that is by coming to Jesus. Yet the Catholic church is teaching here that Jews are saved by Torah observance.
In Romans 3 we read: “19 Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; 20 because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.” No one, Jew or Gentile, will have communion with God by works of the Law. That is because no one can obey the Law. The Law gives us knowledge of our sin. The Law was given as a tutor to lead us to Christ (Galatians 3:24). Communion with God can only come by faith in Christ. Indeed, Romans 3 goes on to say: “21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction.” Righteousness can only be obtained by faith in Christ, never by following the Law.
Demonstrating confusion that can only come from a false teacher, the report goes on to try to say that there is only one path of salvation, and that is through Christ. To reconcile this contradiction with the paragraph above, they try to equate the Jew’s view of the Torah with Christ:
“Therefore there are not two paths to salvation according to the expression "Jews hold to the Torah, Christians hold to Christ". Christian faith proclaims that Christ’s work of salvation is universal and involves all mankind. God’s word is one single and undivided reality which takes concrete form in each respective historical context. In this sense, Christians affirm that Jesus Christ can be considered as ‘the living Torah of God’. Torah and Christ are the Word of God, his revelation for us human beings as testimony of his boundless love. For Christians, the pre-existence of Christ as the Word and Son of the Father is a fundamental doctrine, and according to rabbinical tradition the Torah and the name of the Messiah exist already before creation (cf. Genesis Rabbah 1,1)… In the rabbinical literature, however, we find the identification of the Torah with Moses. Against this background, Christ as the ‘new Moses’ can be connected with the Torah. Torah and Christ are the locus of the presence of God in the world as this presence is experienced in the respective worship communities. The Hebrew dabar means word and event at the same time – and thus one may reach the conclusion that the word of the Torah may be open for the Christ event.”
Confusing, no? Again, Jesus our Lord did not see things this way. In John 8, we read:
“33 They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You will become free’?” 34 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin. 35 The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. 36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are Abraham’s descendants; yet you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. 38 I speak the things which I have seen with My Father; therefore you also do the things which you heard from your father…44 You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 But because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me. 46 Which one of you convicts Me of sin? If I speak truth, why do you not believe Me? 47 He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God.”
Just as Paul said in Romans 9, being descended physically from Abraham does not guarantee a person salvation. Jesus makes clear that these unbelieving Jews are of their father – the devil! Furthermore, Jesus says that these Jews do not hear God’s word (the Torah at that time), because they are not of God. Therefore, being a physical Jew and observing the Torah do not make a person a child of God; in fact, just the opposite. Becoming a child of God is done through a supernatural act by God alone, when He causes a person to be born again and is given faith to believe in His Son.
Their confusion gets even worse. In paragraph 35 of the report (not repeated here for its length), the Catholic church essentially says that there is only one path to salvation and that is Christ. Yet in paragraph 36, they say:
“From the Christian confession that there can be only one path to salvation, however, it does not in any way follow that the Jews are excluded from God’s salvation because they do not believe in Jesus Christ as the Messiah of Israel and the Son of God. Such a claim would find no support in the soteriological understanding of Saint Paul, who in the Letter to the Romans not only gives expression to his conviction that there can be no breach in the history of salvation, but that salvation comes from the Jews (cf. also Jn 4:22)… That the Jews are participants in God’s salvation is theologically unquestionable, but how that can be possible without confessing Christ explicitly, is and remains an unfathomable divine mystery.”
Actually, this is no mystery whatsoever. Once again, this is in direct contradiction to Scripture, which is what we would expect to see from a false teacher. Consider John 3: “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” This really can’t be stated any clearer, can it? No one can be saved, Jew or Gentile, apart from faith in Jesus Christ.
What about Paul in Romans, to which they refer? Romans 10 says, “1 Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. 2 For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. 3 For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes… 9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. 11 For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; 13 for “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
Over and over, Scripture makes clear that there is but one way of salvation, for both Jews and Greeks (i.e., Gentiles, or non-Jews), and that is by faith in Christ. This faith must be confessed, which comes from a heart belief, such that whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. Yet the Catholic church falsely claims that “it does not in any way follow that the Jews are excluded from God’s salvation because they do not believe in Jesus Christ as the Messiah of Israel and the Son of God.” It does follow, not only for Jews but also for Greeks.
The Catholic church’s main confusion appears to be centered on their belief that God has not revoked the Old Covenant with the Jews. Although they do not explicitly state what they mean by Old Covenant, from the report it seems clear that they mean the Mosaic Law. But, as shown above, the Mosaic Law never guaranteed salvation unless you obeyed it perfectly. And we know that it was given not for obedience (for God knew the Jews could not obey it, nor anyone for that matter); rather, God gave it to show us our sin, and as a tutor to lead us to Christ (see above).
Now, because of their faulty view of this covenant not being revoked, the Catholic church believes that all Jews will be saved. Therefore, they teach that there is no need to evangelize to the Jews:
“The Church is therefore obliged to view evangelisation to Jews, who believe in the one God, in a different manner from that to people of other religions and world views. In concrete terms this means that the Catholic Church neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews. While there is a principled rejection of an institutional Jewish mission, Christians are nonetheless called to bear witness to their faith in Jesus Christ also to Jews, although they should do so in a humble and sensitive manner, acknowledging that Jews are bearers of God’s Word, and particularly in view of the great tragedy of the Shoah.”
Again, very similar to the mega-church pastor’s false teaching above. Yet, Scripture knows of no such thing as not evangelizing the Jews. If what both of these false teachers say is true, then why did Jesus say “you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth”? (Acts 1:8) Why did the apostles witness to Jews (e.g., Acts 2)? Why did Paul go to the Jew first in each town he visited? (Romans 1:16, Acts 17) We are commanded to share the gospel with all peoples, including the Jews, because “there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4)
The fruit of a false teacher is teaching that contradicts the word of God. As we have seen here regarding the salvation of Israel, the Catholic church has false teaching that strives to not share the gospel with the Jewish people. Rather than listen to this wolf in sheep’s clothing, let’s share the gospel not only with the Jews, but with Catholics also. They desperately need to hear it, as do all peoples.