Can Gentiles Be Saved?

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Jesus' broadminded approach resonates with contemporary sages who belonged to the School of Hillel. In their opinion, it is better to leave God-fearing Gentiles in their blessed state with only the necessity of the moral laws given to Noah.

In Jesus’ critique of certain Pharisees of his day, he singled out those who were overly zealous in seeking proselytes to the Jewish faith: “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you cross the sea and land to make a single proselyte and in the end create a child of hell” (Matt. 23:15). I would like to give brief attention to what I think was the thrust of Jesus’ statement, and to suggest that his view reflects a widely held Jewish sentiment in the first century, which also formed the cornerstone of Paul’s teaching regarding Gentiles and the Law.

In their zeal to convert Gentiles, these Pharisees ran the risk of creating a situation whereby the convert might in fact become a “child of hell.” Professor David Flusser, in his book, Jesus, suggests that Jesus’ view reflects that of other sages in the first century, and belongs to a debate regarding the place of Gentiles in the world to come. In an early Jewish source we hear just such a debate:

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Mosaic floor of a Roman villa in Tzippori (Sepphoris) destroyed in an earthquake in 363 C.E. The picture shows a party celebrating the god Dionysus. (Photo courtesy of Ilan Sharif via the PikiWiki - Israel free image collection project.)
Mosaic floor of a Roman villa in Tzippori (Sepphoris) destroyed in an earthquake in 363 C.E. The picture shows a party celebrating the god Dionysus. (Photo courtesy of Ilan Sharif via the PikiWiki – Israel free image collection project.)

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  • R. Steven Notley

    R. Steven Notley

    R. Steven Notley is professor of Biblical Studies at the New York City campus of Nyack College. A member and past director of the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research, Notley earned his Ph.D. in Comparative Religions at the Hebrew University (1993). He studied in Jerusalem…
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