I admire John Hobbins for attempting to build bridges with observant Jews, as is obviously his intention in this post and several other recent ones. Indeed his attempt has had some success, for the Jew David Guttmann has responded very positively.
Unfortunately I cannot give the same positive response. For John has made the same mistake, and a very serious one, as so many other Christians who have attempted dialogue with adherents of other religions. That is, in an attempt to find common ground with those other people, he has abandoned some of the basics of orthodox Christian teaching.
In John’s case, his error is made clear in the title of his post: Why Torah observance is rightly understood as a means of salvation. The problem is that in Christianity it is not – on any generally understood definition of Torah. John starts his post by claiming that
Most versions of Judaism and Christianity understand Torah as a means of salvation.
But, as I point out in my first comment, this is simply not true of any orthodox version of Christianity, Protestant, Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. This view that salvation can be gained by following any kind of rules of conduct was condemned by the early church as the Pelagian heresy, and is also clearly rejected by the apostle Paul. For whatever “Torah” means (a matter of debate in the comment thread), it must mean some kind of code of conduct, in John’s words “God-given and binding rules of behavior in a particular time and place”.
My first comment has led to a long exchange with John in which he clarifies his position. It seems that he holds that salvation is initially attained by grace, but that it is then necessary for Christians to obey some kind of law in order to avoid losing their salvation. This is the kind of position which the Galatians had fallen into, to which Paul reacts with his very strong words in Galatians 3:1-5 and 5:1-6 – and the even stronger words in 1:6-9 and 5:12 apparently for those who were teaching this false doctrine. So I am accusing John not of Pelagianism but of the Galatian heresy – and calling on him to repent of this false teaching.
John seeks to defend his position by claiming that Jesus raises rather than lowers the barrier of the law in Mark 10:17-27. My response to this summarises my position:
Yes, Jesus raises the bar for earning salvation by works much higher, so high that, in the very verses you referred me to, when the disciples asked “Who then can be saved?” he had to reply “With human beings this is impossible” (Mark 10:26-27). For it is only by God’s grace that anyone can be saved, and all the good things that anyone does, whether obeying the law or giving up everything for the sake of the kingdom, are completely unable to help anyone to earn salvation.
John has just made a brief comment claiming that this is “tendentious exegesis”, and promising to reply in greater detail later. I await what he has to say.