Judaizers: “Proto-Catholics”? (Alleged Works-Salvation)

Judaizers: “Proto-Catholics”? (Alleged Works-Salvation) March 13, 2017


Saint Paul, by Philippe de Champagne (1602-1674) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]




The thought here that I respond to is that the Judaizers were non-Christian Jews who believed in salvation by works (aka Pelagianism). Anti-Catholics see a parallel between that and Catholics, whom they falsely portray as also believing in works-salvation. In fact, the Judaizers were Christians, as I have argued elsewhere, and both observant Jews and Catholics believe in salvation by grace through faith (just not by faith alone, as if works are only relegated to gratefulness and sanctification).

Thus, the traditional Protestant position (strongly tending towards anti-Catholicism as well as a certain “anti-Judaism”) in this regard of comparing Catholicism and the Judaizers is fallacious, since it is based on false premises. Both groups are deemed to be non-Christian, but in fact they are Christian groups.

Protestant apologist Jason Engwer was writing about whether a Catholic convert (in this case Francis Beckwith) can be saved. In that combox thread were these comments by Engwer and others:

Paul had reason to believe that they had accepted the true gospel previously, though, so he approaches them differently than he would approach a Judaizer who had never accepted the gospel. (12-13-09)

Do you think the Judaizers were orthodox as long as they “bent the knee at the name of Jesus”? (12-13-09)

Elsewhere, in his post, “Making the Judaizers Orthodox” (12-9-09), Jason wrote:

One argument I’ve seen is an appeal to 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, as if the passage demonstrates that a group can reject justification through faith alone, yet still be orthodox.

Evangelicals and Catholics disagree significantly over what “died for our sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3) means. As the book of Galatians illustrates, the adding of works to the gospel nullifies what Paul summarized in 1 Corinthians 15. As he puts it elsewhere in 1 Corinthians itself, the gospel involves the sufficiency of the crucified Christ (1 Corinthians 2:2). Paul defined that sufficiency in a way that made the inclusion of works as a means of attaining justification a denial of the sufficiency of Christ and His finished work. Any understanding of 1 Corinthians 15 that makes the Judaizers orthodox is problematic.

There were more comments along the same lines in the combox:

Steve Hays

. . . the parallel between the works-righteousness of the Judaizers and the works-righteousness of Rome. (12-9-09)

Jason Engwer

I was using the term “orthodox” in the sense of being correct on essentials. See the two posts I referenced in the Challies thread above for a further discussion of the degree to which the Judaizers’ gospel was wrong and, by implication, the degree to which the Catholic gospel is wrong. (12-10-09)

. . . Catholics and Orthodox aren’t Christian from a Biblical perspective, not just from a conservative Protestant perspective. (12-10-09)

. . . you question whether the Judaizers should even be considered a non-Christian group, . . . you act as if you don’t understand what people mean when they allow for individual Catholics to be saved while viewing Catholicism as a non-Christian group . . . (12-11-09)

Peter Pike

In other words, if you are to ask on an individual basis, is such-and-so Judaizer saved, then he very well could have been; but when you say “Were Judaizers as a group saved?” the answer is clearly no, as the Scripture Rhology quoted demonstrates.

The gospel of the Judaizers was a false gospel, and it would always be a false gospel even if some of its members believed in the real Gospel too. Those who believed what the Judaizers put forth would not have saving faith, but there are often people who identify themselves with a certain group without holding to all that that group maintains. (12-10-09)

Maybe there are some we don’t know the final destination on, but there’s plenty of Biblical evidence that gives us the ability to accurately judge most of their states right now. So I can talk to a Catholic, for example, and often tell fairly quickly whether he or she is a Christian in a false church, or lost. (12-10-09)


I imagine that many medieval RCs might have been saved precisely because they were ignorant rustics and did not know enough to be really corrupted by Romish additions to the gospel – additions that more knowledgeable city slickers would have known better. Such types would have just had childlike trust in Christ and His work.

My point is that “the only good Roman Catholic is a “bad” Roman Catholic”, a person who does not consistently believe all that his religion teaches. (12-13-09)

I then made the following comment on Steve Hays’ blog:

Several non-Catholic scholars, by the way, hold that the Judaizers were Christians, not Jews. For example:

A party of Christians in the early church who thought it was necessary that Gentile converts to Christianity should be circumcised and observe the Jewish law — in fact that they should become Jews in order to become Christians.

(The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, edited by J. D. Douglas, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1978, “Judaizers”, p. 554)

In the early Church a section of Jewish Christians who regarded the OT Levitical laws as still binding on Christians. They tried to enforce on the faithful such practices as circumcision and the distinction between clean and unclean meats. Their initial success brought upon them the strong opposition of St. Paul, much of whose writing was concerned with refuting their errors.

(The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, second edition, edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone, Oxford University Press, 1983, “Judaizers” [complete], p. 763)

Some Jewish Christians were so conservative that they demanded, in effect, that Gentiles had to become Jews in order to be true Christians. They insisted on circumcision and other Jewish legal requirements, and frowned on social contact with ‘unclean’ Gentiles. These ‘Judaizers’ appealed to the Jerusalem church . . . But Paul refused to tolerate any demands imposed on Gentile converts . . .

(Eerdmans Handbook to The History of Christianity, editor: Tim Dowley, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1977, “What the First Christians Believed,” by consulting editor David F. Wright, 97)


Steve Hays (in blue) replied (interaction follows):

The Judaizers were professing Christians, albeit Jewish-Christians or Messianic Jews. How do you think that identification undercuts Engwer’s point, exactly? Indeed, wouldn’t that reinforce the parallels between the Pauline anathemas and their application to Catholicism? (12-14-09)

It undercuts the attempted anti-Catholic polemical parallelism between Catholics and Judaizers, if you concede that the Judaizers were Christians, while our system is not. There goes your parallelism between the two. What fellowship hath darkness and light?

Fatally equivocal. “Christian” in what sense? Nominal Christians? Professing Christians? Or genuine Christians?

In fact, the Judaizers, like many heretics, not only make a profession of faith, but claimed to be the true believers. That’s the problem.

I’m not here to debate this question or anything else. I simply brought up a relevant point.

And while I’m here I’ll state that I don’t believe that the true Jewish faithful, even in the first century, believed they were saved by works, anymore than we Catholics do. Both charges are distortions of Protestant polemics. N. T. Wright and other Protestant scholars have argued this; no one need take my word on it. (12-14-09)

i) No one’s argument [is] that the “true Jewish faithful” believed they were saved by works. The argument, rather, is that a certain percentage of 2nd Temple Jews subscribed to works-righteousness.

ii) Needless to say, the New Perspective on Paul is hotly contested.

iii) If, for the sake of argument, you subscribe to the New Perspective on Paul, then that simply undercuts traditional Catholic theology in another direction.

Moreover, if the Judaizers are Christians, despite having a different understanding of the relationship of faith and works, or the Jewish Law and the New Covenant,

Same fatal equivocation.

then by the same token, Catholics should also still be considered Christians, since we believe in sola gratia as you do, but reject sola fide as an unbiblical innovation.

You don’t subscribe to sola gratia. You may bandy that slogan, but Catholic soteriology is synergistic. You affirm the necessity of grace, but you disaffirm the sufficiency of grace.

The fact remains that works are profoundly involved in the salvation (ultimately by grace) in some sense:

St. Paul’s Teaching on the Organic Relationship of Grace / Faith and Works / Action / Obedience (Collection of 50 Pauline Passages)

More “Catholic Verses” and Biblical Defenses of Catholicism: On Sanctification as Part of Salvation, and Merit and “Doing Something For Salvation”

The question at issue is not whether works are “involved” in “salvation” in “some sense”–all of which is hopelessly vague.

The question, rather, is whether works are justificatory. Salvation is a broader category than justification.

They are even central to the criteria of how God will decide who is saved and who isn’t, as I have proven from no less than 50 Bible passages:

Final Judgment in Scripture is Always Associated With Works And Never With Faith Alone

We interpret all this in a non-Pelagian fashion. We incorporate all of Scripture, not just our favorite pet verses. You guys simply ignore this data or act as if it is only in the realm of sanctification and has nothing whatever to do with salvation, which is absurdly simplistic and unrealistic in the face of the overwhelming data showing otherwise. (12-14-09)

Once again, you’re very sloppy with your use of categories. Both justification and salvation have “something to do with” salvation. This doesn’t mean sanctification contributes to justification.

* * *

Protestants don’t argue that we’re saved by faith alone, just that we’re justified by faith alone. Are you too ignorant to even know the difference?

You have said so. See ya. Have a great day.

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