In a document released by the Vatican called The Gifts and Calling of God are Irrevocable, the Catholic Church teaches that Jews do not need to believe the gospel in order to be saved:
“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.”
The same document also says that “the Catholic Church neither conducts nor supports any specific institutional mission work directed towards Jews.” But this is a complete repudiation of the gospel message which is “to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom 1:16). It is tantamount to saying that a person can know the gospel message, reject it, and still be saved. But what did Jesus say to the Jewish leaders in John 8? He said to them:
“I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (John 8:24).
“You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).
Jesus said, “unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” But the Catholic Church teaches that Jews don’t need to believe that Jesus is who he says he is to be saved from their sins. Jesus taught that to reject him is to reject the one who sent him (Luke 10:16). By rejecting Jesus, they have rejected the God of Israel.
John 3:18 says, “Whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” John 3:36 leaves no exceptions when it says that all who do not obey the Son will not see life: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” If a person does not believe in Jesus, he does not believe in Moses either since Moses wrote about Jesus (John 5:46). If a person does not come to Christ, it shows that God did not give him to the Son (John 6:37). It is only those who abide in the teaching of Christ who are his true disciples (John 8:31). If a person does not know or rejects the teaching of Christ, he cannot abide in them.
Those who do not believe in Jesus as the Messiah demonstrate that they are not part of the flock of Christ: “But you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:26-27). All of those who reject Christ will be judged on the last day: “The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day” (John 12:48). If a person does not know Christ, he does not have eternal life (John 17:3).
Paul did not believe that the Jews who rejected Jesus were saved and that is why he intentionally went to the synagogues to convert them to Jesus (Acts 9:20; 13:5, 14-15; 14:1; 17:1-2, 10-12, 17; 18:4, 19; 19:8-9). When the Jews rejected Jesus, Paul and Barnabas let them know that they were unworthy of eternal life:
“And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, ‘It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles’” (Acts 13:46).
Paul, in his letter to the Romans, prayed earnestly for the salvation of the Jews because he knew they were lost apart from faith in Christ:
“Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. . . . Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom 10:1-4, 9).
If Jewish people can be saved apart from faith in Christ, then why was Paul willing to go to hell if that would mean their salvation? As he lamented:
“I am speaking the truth in Christ – I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit – that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Rom 9:1-3).
Why would Paul want to be “accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers” if his Jewish brothers could be saved apart from embracing Christ? It is this very problem that gives rise to the question of how God is just to not save those who are Abraham’s descendants according to the flesh. Paul’s response makes no sense if he believes that a person is saved because he is a child of Abraham:
“This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring” (Rom 9:8).
That is, a person is not a true child of God because of physical descent, but by the sovereign choice of God resulting in salvation (Rom 9:14-16). According to Paul, those who reject the message of the cross are perishing: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor 1:18). The message of the cross is foolishness to Jews and Muslims. Both groups believe that God would never allow his Messiah to be crucified. Therefore, Jews deny that Jesus is the Messiah and Muslims deny that Jesus was crucified. But according to the author of Hebrews, those who neglect this message will not escape:
“For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard” (Heb 2:2-3).
According to Paul, “those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” will be condemned to hell for their sins:
“And to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. . . . In order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thess 1:7-10; 2:12).
Jesus is only “the source of eternal salvation” to those who obey him (Heb 5:9). That is why those who go back to Judaism after claiming to embrace Christianity will not be saved:
“If they then fall away, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned” (Heb 6:6-8).
Only those who confess the Son have the Father (1 John 2:23). Only those who confess Jesus are from God (1 John 4:3). Only those who listen to the apostolic message know God (1 John 4:6). Only those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God overcome the world (1 John 5:5). Only those who have the Son have life (1 John 5:12). Only those who abide in the teachings of Christ have God (2 John 1:9). To say otherwise is to deny the gospel and the message of the apostles.