What is Salvation?

Paul Derengowski, ThM


Salvation or to be saved are biblical expressions that are often tossed about with very little consideration of just what and who is involved when they are used.  This article will attempt to bring clarity to those expressions so that the next time the reader either contemplates his own salvation, or discusses the subject with someone, he will do so with precision.

There are nearly 400 verses in the Bible which speak on the subject of salvation; 246 in the Old Testament and 132 in the New Testament.  The biblical writers used 15 different words to express the English translation of “salvation” or “to save,” with yasha (140 times) and yeshuah (63) being the main Hebrew words and sozo (89) and soteria (42) being the Greek words.

The Old Testament Book of Psalms has the most references to yasha and yeshuah (104), while the authors of Luke-Acts (48) and Matthew (19) and Mark (18) cite sozo and soteria the most often in the New Testament.

Although “to save” or “salvation” or “savior” are the primary English translations of the preceding Hebrew and Greek words, other translations include “deliver” or “deliverance,” “help,” “victory,” “made,” “recover” and “recovery” to name just a few.

The idea of salvation or deliverance can cover both corporate and individual entities.  The former can be seen when King David praises Yahweh after having the ark of God brought to Jerusalem.  He instructs Asaph to write, “Then say, ‘Save us, O God of our salvation, and gather us and deliver us from the nations, to give thanks to Thy holy name, and glory in Thy praise” (1 Chr. 16:35).  The “us” pertains to the nation of Israel and “save” and “salvation” are both from the root for yasha, while “deliver” is derived from another frequently used Hebrew word to denote salvation or deliverance, and that is natsal.

Numerous references can be found in the OT where an individual is saved or cries out for salvation (yasha), especially in the Psalms.  Psalm 3:7 records David pleading with God to, “Arise, O Lord; save me, O my God!”

Similar pleas are made in 6:4; 7:1; 22:21; 31:2, 16; 44:6; 54:1; 55:16; 57:3; 59:2; 69:1; 71:2-3; 109:26; 119:94, 146; and 138:7.

Elsewhere the individual plea can be seen at 2 Sam. 22:3; Isa. 38:20; Jer. 17:14.

Even though in both corporate and individual instances where yasha and its cognates are used to denote salvation or deliverance, salvation is reserved for God’s chosen people Israel and typically, although not exclusively, implies a spiritual deliverance.

When one turns to the New Testament there is not so much of a corporate-spiritual salvation of the church as there is individual salvation of those who would become members of the church body.  This is probably due to the fact that when one turns from the Old Testament to the New, God is turning from how he deals with a race or nation to how is now going to deal with the world.  He turns from a very narrow relationship with a select few to a very broad relationship with a select many.

Jesus alludes to the individual aspect of salvation when he speaks of being born again with Nicodemas (Jn. 3:3-8) as well as the time he addressed a crowd of Jews at the Sea of Galilee.  His declaration that “No one can come to Me” in 6:44 and 6:65 both demonstrate that salvation is on an individual basis, but that ultimately God is the one orchestrating the decision-making.

In summary the concept of salvation, particularly as it relates to the spiritual condition, means to deliver someone from a dire state that the nation or individual could not do for itself or himself.  There are several terms for salvation in both Hebrew and Greek.  Each act of salvation, though, is achieved purely according to the gracious act of God which compels him to move in the behalf of those in need who cannot otherwise move in behalf of God.  In other words, unless God moves to redeem, the spiritually destitute remain in their lost condition.

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