In August 2021, the news agency Reuters (‘roy-ters’) reported on tension between Pope Francis of the Catholic Church and some of Israel’s top Jewish religious leaders. In a homily before a general audience, it seems Pope Francis had taught that the Law of Moses does not give life. Though the news report doesn’t say which Scripture the Pope was using, it does say the passage was by Paul.
The Jewish authorities got wind of this and they seem to understand the teaching well enough…
One subject-matter expert Reuters dug up put it this way…
Yes, and since the Jewish Messiah has come already, the Jewish observance of the Torah should be devalued—by the Jewish people themselves.
Likely the Pope was teaching out of Galatians 3, where Paul—a devout Jewish Pharisee in his own right—very clearly teaches that the purpose of the Law was to bring conviction of sin.
10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
After a couple weeks, the Vatican responded! And—by the headline—it looked promising!
The article summarizes the offending event for anyone joining the fray midstream and quickly gets to the Vatican’s response:
What?! How could the truth of the Jewish Messiah not have any bearing on today’s Jews? And then, there is this momentary glimmer of hope when the Vatican affirms, “the abiding Christian conviction is that Jesus Christ is the new way of salvation.” Yes! Right! But then the Vatican goes limp again, affirming that somehow the Torah remains a “’way of salvation for the Jews’”. This lie does violence to our Jewish brothers and sisters still under the Law.
But the Vatican Jewish public relations office takes it a step further…
Here the Vatican tries to distance themselves from the controversy by distancing themselves from teachings of Paul and indeed, from the entire canon of the New Testament. This is ecumenical relativism at its finest! This is saying well, “This belief is right for us, but your belief is right for you; Jesus is truth for us, but the Law can be truth for you.” This is spineless. This is wrong. Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life for all humanity. No man comes to the Father but through Him. There is no other way.
Even more, this phrase “within the historical context of a given era” is a weak attempt by the Vatican to try and further insulate itself from offending Jewish sensibilities by pointing at the passage of time as one of the factors they consider relevant. If the truth of the Gospel decayed over time, we could have written off the entire Bible by now; after all, it’s been 2,000 years!
More from Galatians 3:
21 Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. 22 But the Scripture [as in, the Torah, the Law] imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
So you see, family, there is no life under the Law; Pope Francis was right. Romans 7:6 says, “But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” The Law was a shadow; it taught the conviction of sin and pointed to the future reality of grace under the Jewish Messiah. We know from the 70-week prophecy in the book of Daniel that the Messiah had to come before the destruction of the second temple. Modern-day Jews who continue to cling to the Law simply remain in its shadow, just as they did 2,000 years ago. This is not a “teaching of contempt” but a “call to the light”.
The Vatican missed a worldwide opportunity to point out the truth of the Jewish Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, to our Jewish brothers and sisters. As followers of Christ, let us never shrink back from sharing the truth of the Gospel, but let us always do it with compassion and love.