The verb “to save” and the noun “salvation” mean “to save” or “to rescue” in the original Greek. That’s all it means. Semantically, the notion of rescue requires an indirect object (“saved from what?”), supplied either explicitly in the text, or understood from the context. The words “save / salvation”, however, became religiously loaded terms that it the minds of a lot of people, they are synonymous with most or all of the above:
- new birth
- receiving eternal life
- obtaining righteousness
- becoming justified
- becoming sanctified
- becoming glorified
- going to heaven
- going to paradise (whatever that means – paradise is simply “park” or “garden” in Greek (G3857 – παράδεισος / paradeisos))
- not going to hell (meaning either sheol / hades, or gehenna, or lake of fire, or some combination thereof, etc.)
- having a different relationship with death (whatever “death” means for the one speaking – loss of life, separation, going to hell, etc.)
- receiving eternal rewards
Incidentally, all of the above can’t possibly mean the same thing, since then why use all those different terms if they have the same meaning? Those are different concepts, and failure to study them out for yourself will simply leave you intellectually confused. You don’t want to be lifting proof verses out of context to prop up whatever doctrine may be popular it whatever circles while ignoring the rest.
Fortunately, there’s a better way of Scripture study – a contextual study, or the concordant method, as pertaining to vocabulary. This is how you acquire your vocabulary as a child. It requires more work on your part. In this study, I’ve done a lot of the work for you.
The prevalent popular usage of the concept of “salvation” seems to coincide with “avoiding hell and going to heaven” popular overarching framework of Christian thinking concerning God’s purpose for humanity. (This way of thinking is akin to a situation where your plan for your child’s life consists largely of avoiding federal prison, and of avoiding getting murdered. This is not a very good plan.)
Does that prevalent usage bear out scripturally? Let’s find out.
I will study the Greek verb G4982 σώζω (sózó) occurs in the New Testament portion of the Bible 106 times. The same semantic should apply to the noun form of the word – G4991 σωτηρία (sótéria) – deliverance, salvation, rescue. The words may be translated differently in your translations, so keep in mind that I am working with the inspired original text, and not with a translation.
I checked out the first 50 or so occurrences of that verb using a Greek concordance, using the 4 Gospels and the book of Acts. This should be a very good representative sampling of the usage. I will indicate what the word means, contextually, in a list that ranges from the most common use to the least common use:
– saving from the disease (Matt 9:21-22, used 3 times, Mark 5:23, 28, 34, Mark 6:56, Mark 10:52, Luke 7:50, Luke 8:48, Luke 8:50, Luke 17:19, Luke 18:42, John 11:12 (that was a misunderstanding by disciples), Acts 4:9, Acts 14:9)
– saving of Jesus from being on the cross – by implication, from physical death (Matt 27:40, 42 (twice), 49, Mark 15:30-31 (3 times), Luke 23:35 (twice), 37, 39)
– saving physical life, in the context of healing (Mark 3:4, Luke 6:9)
– from demonic oppression (Luke 8:36)
– saving life in general terms (Matt 16:25, Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24 (used twice), Luke 18:26)
– saving what was lost in general, without specifying what exactly it is (Matt 18:11, Luke 19:10)
– unspecified, in general terms as per parable (Luke 8:12)
– unspecified, in general terms (Acts 2:21, Acts 4:12, Acts 11:14, Acts 15:1, Acts 15:11, Acts 16:30-31)
– saving from drowning (Matt 8:25 – disciples, Matt 14:30 – Peter, Acts 27:20, Acts 27:31 – Paul)
– saving of the flesh (Matt 24:22, Mark 13:20)
– from physical death (Mark 13:13, Luke 9:56)
– unspecified (Matt 24:13 (A parallel account in Mark 13:13 provides more context, and makes clear that it’s talking about being saved from physical death), John 10:9)
– saving from persecution (Matt 10:22)
Things that explicitly have or may have eternal consequences
the following directly apply to present life as well, but I am being generous and throw these in to this category, to even out any potential biases:
– saved from condemnation, used of the world system (John 3:17, John 12:47)
– saving people from sins (Matt 1:21) (this applies to the present too, but I am being generous)
– saving from being outside the kingdom of God (Matt 19:25, Mark 10:26, Luke 13:23)
– from condemnation of whatever type (Mark 16:16 – God is not mentioned in connection with condemnation in this passage John 5:34)
General meanings pertaining to present life
– from perverse generation (Acts 2:40)
– from being on the cross in general – (John 12:27)
– unspecified (Acts 2:47 – judging by the use of Greek present tense, it pertained to their then-current life)
So now, you see that the concept of salvation has to do with an entire spectrum of things a person can be rescued from. Here’s the usage frequency of this representative sample:
Physical health – 16 times
General meanings – 14 times
Physical life – 12 times
Eternally consequent things – 8 times
Present life, other – 3 times
TOTAL: 53 times
Out of 53 mentions, only 8 of them are related to or imply eternal significance, and all of those 8 have a bearing on present life as well. Notice that none of these mentions directly state eternal life, or heaven, or paradise, or new birth, or justification, or glorification, or sanctification, or righteousness, or receiving eternal rewards.
I will also note here that “salvation” is quite simply a mismatching term to use to denote either new creation, or eternal life, or things like that. If you want to study up on those – well, then look up “new creation” and “eternal life”. Isn’t that simple?
So, next time someone asks you “Are you saved?” – a necessary answer to that should be “saved from what?”. Only then an informed discussion may potentially ensue.
Comments on: "What is “salvation”, according to the scriptures" (4)
For the past year I’ve been using Blue Letter Bible for word searches. I’ll search for a word and then go to Tools, click on the Greek and then hit search for all words in NT with that Greek word. Is this how you do word studies?
Incredible how many proof texts appear hahaha. *face palm*
I wish someone pulled me aside 15 years ago and showed me how to study the bible effectively.
Thanks for this. I’ll check the references and be keen to see what new things God shows me.
Yes, that’s a really good way to do word studies. Now mostly use a concordant method described here: http://scripture4all.org/help/isa2/Articles/The_Concordant_Method/The_Concordant_Method.htm . A true eye opener. You can quickly become a near scholar in your analysis with this method. You can install the ISA from that site, and once you do you will probably forget about feeding your dog and watering your plants for days! I will post one or two articles about deeper Bible study methods in the next few days, now that there’s some demand for this 🙂
Thanks heaps I’ll check that link out. Loving it. Question for you: Do you believe the second death is Annihilation and not a never ending torture chamber of fire? Or do you believe God will bring all people together at the end, believers or not?
I was taught ECT but am now leaning closer to Annihilation, but am still going through the Bible slowly. Just not seeing the eternal torment in the OT. It isn’t there. Paul never preached eternal torment in Acts. Peter neither. Not convinced that Lazarus was really hanging off Abraham’s boobs (and would you want to go to heaven if you’d be sitting on Abe’s lap?).
Anyway… interested in what your thoughts are and where your study has led you there.
Thanks for this exchange. It’s really good knowing other people questioning this stuff… and love God.
I see what you are saying. You’ve raised a number of interesting questions.
First, let me say this. I see one of the inefficiencies of the protestant reformation in that it was taking medieval Roman Catholicism as its central point, to which it added upgrades and applied patches. Quite a few one them were very significant, to be sure. However, a better approach would be to go back to the apostolic faith, and develop from there.
Now, we face a similar situation with this subject matter. Someone else predetermined our options for us. One is Eternal Conscious Torment. Another one is Annihilation. The third one is Universal Reconciliation. What’s interesting is that none of those terms appear in the Bible. Not one. So I would simply encourage anyone to refuse others define your terms for you. Words have a way of shaping out thinking. That’s why we don’t have pro-abortion, we have pro-choice. Same thing, but different words, and hence different perception of the issue.
Now, in my “death” series of posts, I’ve attempted to recover what the Scripture is talking about a great deal – and that is, life and death. I haven’t examined the word “life” yet, but I looked a the notion of “death” with a microscope. I need to do a series of posts about life. That one needs some serious research too.
So, “life and death” is the scriptural playing field. So, we need to keep ourselves constrained by these boundaries.