Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, “If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews? We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. (Galatians 2:11-16)
How things have changed for Christians since the days of St Paul! Paul has to argue that no one is saved by keeping Torah for the law really can’t change people’s hearts and minds. What the law does is make clear the various ways in which we sin or fail God. But what is also true is that Gentiles can be saved without having to follow or even know Torah. Christianity in Paul’s day was still closely intertwined with Judaism. The first Christians sometimes had a difficult time seeing issues except through a Jewish lens.
Now, centuries after Christianity clearly separated itself from Judaism, there is an almost opposite problem – many Christians wonder if Jews who don’t believe in Christ can be saved at all. St Paul deals with a Church in which many doubted Gentiles could be saved. The religious world for Christians has changed radically, and so Christians have to be very wise in applying Scripture to modern problems as our current worldview is in some points opposite what the apostles faced. In other words, we have to interpret the Scriptures, not simply read them literally and apply them.
St Cyril of Alexandria lived in a world (5th Century) in which Judaism and Christianity were still intermixed on some levels and Christians were trying to distinguish themselves from the Jews. His writings are sometimes polemics against Jews as he endeavors to show how Christianity differs from Judaism. Yet, he also recognized that the Jews hold a special place in God’s plan for salvation (John 4:22 – “salvation is from the Jews”; see also Romans 3, 10-11). Cyril taught:
… the time came for the congregation and synagogue of the Jews to be sent away, and to be disinherited as the people of the promise. It is, however, also the case that in due course they will repent and be accepted. They will obtain mercy from the Father above, as they acknowledge the Saviour and Redeemer of all. This too, the Sacred Scripture reveals. (GLAPHYRA ON THE PENTATEUCH, Vol 1, p 150)