John Hobbins and the Galatian heresy

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.

0 thoughts on “John Hobbins and the Galatian heresy

  1. Yes, the pseudonymous authors of the Athanasian creed did hold that correct theological doctrine is a condition of salvation. I disagree; this is based on a misunderstanding of “faith” in terms of doctrines believed. But note that this is a matter of belief, not of works.

    As for

    Those who have done good will enter eternal life, those who have done evil will enter eternal fire.

    – this is clearly based on verses like Matthew 25:46, John 5:29, Romans 2:6-8 and Galatians 6:7-8. Paul resolves the apparent contradiction in Romans in the same way as Jesus does in Mark 10, by noting that in fact no human (except Jesus) is able to obey God well enough to earn eternal life, implying that it is available only to those to whom God gives it by grace alone.

  2. Peter,

    Many people believe that salvation comes by obeying a set of laws. Salvation comes by grace. Torah teaches people how to live for God’s glory but in the end it is God’s grace that brings salvation. Paul discusses this in the book of Romans. Paul said that obedience to commandments does not have the power to transform our sinful nature. As he wrote:” God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant. So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5:20-21).

    Claude Mariottini

  3. Pingback: Gentle Wisdom » Apostasy, backsliding, and perseverance of the saints

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