So if I’m right — and I’ll admit that the evidence is sparse — my understanding of Jewish salvation should fit well within Gal 3 and Rom 4, the two chapters in which Paul argues that salvation by faith in Jesus comes from God’s covenant with Abraham.
Galatians is likely the earliest of the Pauline epistles (some would argue for 1 Thessalonians). So we start there.
(Gal 3:5-6 ESV) 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith — 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?
The issue before Paul is whether Gentiles must become Jews, by circumcision, to be saved. He begins his argument in Gen 15:6. He says that our salvation is based on “hearing with faith” just as Abraham’s was. “Just as”? The Greek is kathos, and can mean “to the very same degree as.” It’s not the same as “similarly to.” It’s stronger than that.
(Gal 3:7-9 ESV) 7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
“Know then” is also strong. That which follows is important.
If we have faith, then we Gentiles are also “sons of Abraham.” We who have faith in Jesus have the same blessings as those who are genetically descended from Abraham. (And, of course, the Jews pre-Jesus were sons of Abraham. Paul’s point is that the Gentiles join the Jews in being sons of Abraham.)
After all, God’s promise to Abraham includes a promise to include the nations or Gentiles. Therefore, because Abraham was blessed for his faith, so shall Gentiles of faith. Gentiles are blessed “along with Abraham.”
In short, the gospel promised to Abraham was promised to one day include Gentiles. “Gentiles” doesn’t mean proselytes to Judaism. It’s “the nations” not “Israel, which might include some circumcised converts.” The core of the promise to Abraham was faith as sufficient, and so faith remains sufficient because the Abrahamic covenant remains in effect — from Abraham until now.
(Gal 3:10-12 ESV) 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.”
I take “works of the law” to mean “obedience to the Torah.” Paul’s point is not that none of the Torah should be obeyed, but that no one’s salvation can be based on Torah obedience. If you want to rely on Torah obedience for salvation, then you’re stuck with the requirement that you really and truly obey the whole thing — which no one can do.
Hence, Paul finds in the First Testament, “The righteous shall live by faith,” a quotation from Hab 2:4. But Hab is merely declaring as true what had always been true going back to Abraham. Indeed, there are numerous First Testament passages that speak of being saved by faith, as we covered a few weeks ago.
(Gal 3:13-14 ESV) 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.
“Christ redeemed us … so that … the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles.” One essential purpose of the cross was to allow the Gentiles in — to grant them repentance unto salvation.
“Us” likely refers to the Jews. Paul is saying that Jesus redeemed the Jews in order to bring in the Gentiles — so that the Jews (and Gentiles) could receive the Spirit promised by the prophets “through faith.”
(Gal 3:17 ESV) 17 This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void.
The Law of Moses came 430 years after Abraham. The Law did not void the promises made to Abraham. Therefore, the promise that the righteous would live by faith remained in place throughout the Mosaic age. Indeed, if that’s so, then the Jewish faithful were saved by faith from Abraham to Jesus.