Start with this post, if you want the Bible basics. It will boil things down and clarify them. Key Hebrew and Greek words, too.
Don’t be intimidated, but we have to begin with a quick a nontechnical rundown of the Hebrew and Greek words.
Two nouns in Hebrew: yeshuah (used 78 times) means “salvation, deliverance, and Savior.” We get the name Yeshua or Joshua or Jesus from this word.
Another noun is teshuah (used 34 times) and means “salvation, deliverance, and victory,” as in a battle, with the Lord’s help (Judg. 15:18; 1 Sam. 19:5; 2 Sam. 23:10, 12; 1 Kings 13:7). No need to trust in horses because victory belongs to the Lord (Pss. 33:17; 146:3). Only the Lord can be our Savior (Is. 45:17; Jer. 3:23).
Three verbs in Hebrew: yasha (184 times) is often translated as “save, rescue, deliver.” It signifies rescuing or saving or delivering people from danger (Exod. 14:30; Num. 10:9; Judg. 2:16, 18) or personal enemies (Ps. 3:7; 54:1; 109:26) or sickness (Ps. 18:27; 107:19). Sometimes it is used in a spiritual sense—as in saving the soul (Jer. 23:6; Is. 45:17), though the case can be made this is also a physical salvation too.
Another verb is malat (used 94 times), and it also means “to be delivered, recued, or saved.” The best verse is Joel 2:32: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” because the NT authors pick up on it (Acts 2:21; Rom. 10:13).
The final verb is naṣal (pronounced nah-tsahl, the -ts- is like bits). And it can mean “recover,” as in possessions (Judg. 11:26). In most instances it is “to be rescue and delivered,” which only God performs (Exod. 3:7-8 Ps. 7:1; 25:20; 31:15; 59:1; 71:2).
In Greek, which is the language of the NT, the noun is sōtēria (pronounced soh-tay-ree-ah and used 16 times), which we will explore, below.
The whole sō family of words is built on the noun sōs, which means “safe, sound, alive and well, in good case” (condition); of things: “sound, whole, safe”; of events: safe, sure, certain” (Liddell and Scott).
The verb is sōzō (pronounced soh-zoh and 106 times), which means “save, rescue, heal” in a variety of contexts, but mostly it is used of saving the soul. We will look at this too, in this post.
Another rarer verb is diasōzō (pronounced de-ah-soh-zoh) and used 6 times) and the prefix means “through.” Here are the verses: Mark 14:36; Luke 7:3; Acts 23:24; 27:43-44; 28:1, 4; 1 Pet. 3:20. It means what the regular verb does, but often to be rescued through and up to the very end, like Paul’s ship landing on Malta through the storm Acts 27:43-44; 28:1, 4.
At the link under SOURCES, look for Mounce.
Now let’s look at some key, representative verses, more deeply.
1.. “Save” means bodily healing.
In Mark 6:56 Jesus and the twelve crossed over the lake of Galilee and landed at Gennesaret. When he went into villages and towns or countryside, people placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let him touch the edge of the cloak. Everyone who did was “healed,” that is, saved.
Mark 10:52 teaches us that blind Bartimaeus called out to Jesus to have mercy on him. But many rebuked him and told him to be quiet. He called out even more loudly. Jesus summoned him. Bartimaeus threw off his cloak and jumped up and went to him. Then Jesus asked a question: “What do you want me to do for you?” He gave the obvious answer: “Rabbi, I want to see.” “Go. Your faith has healed [saved] you.” Jesus’s questions are never useless or needless. They always serve a purpose. In this case he got Bartimaeus to speak out exactly what his desire was—not for money, as a beggar. Not for food. Not for a general blessing. All that other Rabbis could give him. But he asked for the impossible—his sight. Other rabbis could not likely give him that.
In Acts 14:9, Paul and Barnabas were in Lystra and saw a lame man, who had his condition since birth. It was not an injury at the job, which would heal naturally with time. “He heard Paul speaking, who fixed his gaze on him, and seeing he had faith to be saved, said with a loud voice, ‘Get up on your feet, upright!’ He jumped up and walked” (Acts 14:9-10).
Bodily healing flows in and through salvation, and salvation flows out of the cross. Some object to this by deploying a comparison. They believe that everyone who prays for their soul’s salvation is saved, but not everyone who prays for bodily healing is healed. Therefore, the soul’s salvation is in the atonement, but bodily salvation is not. But the comparison breaks down quickly. Not everyone who receives the Word of God and says he is saved actually is. The parable of the soils (or sower) teaches us that (Matt. 13:3-8; 18-23 // Mark 4:3-8, 14-20 // Luke 8:5-8, 11:15).
See the post Atonement: Bible Basics
2.. “Save” means to rescue from danger.
In Dan. 6:27 King Darius of Babylon celebrated Daniel’s rescue from the lions’ den.
Matt. 8:25 says that Jesus and the twelve got in a boat to go across the Lake of Galilee, and a storm whipped up. They cried out for him to save them, and he calmed the storm.
In Luke 23:39, one of the criminals who hung on the cross sneered at Jesus. If he really was the Messiah, he should save himself. The crowds and the rulers mocked in the same way. Just before then Jesus prayed the great prayer of forgiveness: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing” (v. 34).
In Acts 27:20 and Acts 27:31, Paul, Aristarchus, and Luke were voyaging on a ship to Rome, but the ship got caught in a storm, and they needed God to save or rescue them.
Heb. 5:7 says that Jesus offered up tears and fervent cries so that the Father would save him from the cross, but he submitted reverently.
God sees how the world was made. The natural world proceeds along by secondary causes, and sometimes it can harm us. He wants you to have faith in him, to see you through. Then the world of humans has a moral side to it. When wickedness rules, so does injustice. God will see you through.
3.. “Save” means to rescue from political oppression.
Salvation from oppression in Egypt
Ex. 14:13 and Ex. 14:30 teach that Moses and the children of Israel were standing on the shore of the Red Sea, and the Egyptians were barreling down on them. The Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me. Tell the Israelites to move on Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water!” God saved them from the armies.
Ps. 106:8-11 recounts the same story: God saved them through the Red Sea and from the Egyptians.
Politics can go awry. Certain men believe they are doing the world a favor when they control our lives. But God wants political liberty, so people can worship as they will. God does not want slavery. People must be free to keep the fruit of their labor and not hand it over to an overlord.
Salvation from Canaanites
Judg. 3:9 tells us that the Israelites cried out to the Lord because the king of Aram Naharaim subjected them for eight years. God raised up Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother. The Spirit of the Lord came on him and he became a judge and went to war. He was called a deliverer.
Judg. 3:15-21 says that Ehud was raised up to be Israel’s deliverer.
In Judg. 8:22 the Israelites were grateful to Gideon because he rescued or saved them from the Midianites.
In 2 Kings 14:27, Jeroboam became king in Samaria and reigned for forty-one years. He did evil in God’s sight, but the Lord took pity on Israel’s bitter weeping from their suffering from their enemies, and rescued them through the hands of Jeroboam.
Sometimes nations can invade or bother another one. When the nations have wicked practices, they must be stopped, and the victims must be delivered.
4.. “Save” means deliverance from sin.
Ps. 39:8 David cries out that the Lord would save him from his transgressions. Yes, even the OT is concerned with salvation from sins. Usually, however, it says salvation rescues the people of Israel.
5.. Salvation comes through the Messiah.
Jer. 23:5-6 says that God will raise up the Branch of Jesse, father of King David, and the Branch was Jesus.
Ezek. 37:23 promises that the Lord will save Israel from their backsliding.
In the days of the Messiah Jesus’s arrival, Judah could have been saved and Israel would have lived in safety. However, there was a twist to the political salvation. Jesus spoke a more personal message: salvation from sins and disease and unrighteousness between neighbors. But the Jewish leaders rejected him, so they did not live in safety politically. They did not have the right vision for safety and salvation, regardless of political oppression.
The good news, however, is that individual Jews who received him as their Messiah enjoyed eternal salvation in their souls, though not salvation from oppressive Romans. God lifted their sights higher to worldwide salvation for all of humanity, which is much better than a first-century and geo-political problem to be solved.
6.. In the New Testament, it is wonderful that God saves us from our past, present and future sins.
In Eph. 2:5-8, when we lived out in the world system and living like mammals with souls, obeying our mammal instincts (2 Pet. 2:12-22), we deserved God’s justice-wrath-judgment. But he saved us out of our transgressions. He saved us in his grace and through our faith, which is God’s gift in the first place.
In 2 Tim. 1:9-10, while Paul was in prison in Rome, things were not going well in Ephesus, and Paul reminds Timothy that God called them (and us) from their past lives and saved them (and us) to live a holy life. This grace was given before the beginning of time, but is now revealed through the appearing of the Savior.
In Tit. 3:3-5, people in their past were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures and malice and hate. Then the Savior appeared with God’s kindness and love. He saved us.
So in those three passages, God lifts us out of our past, forgives our past sins, and launches us into a new life in Christ.
1 Cor. 1:18 says that the message of the cross is foolish to those who are perishing (present tense), but the power of God for those being saved (present tense). Salvation sustains us each day.
In 2 Cor. 2:15 Paul (and all followers of Jesus) are like a pleasing aroma from God, for those who are being saved (present tense) and equally for those who are perishing (present tense). We are supposed to “smell like” God’s grace and love. Then people who say the aroma stinks perish. But those who are being saved say that it smells wonderful.
In those two verses, it is not as if we have to respond to an altar call every Sunday and pray to receive Jesus Christ in our hearts all over again. That’s immature. But it simply means that God has attached the salvation lifeline to us, which feeds us all the way to the day we die and enter heaven.
Rom. 5:9-10 says that, first, we shall be saved (future tense) from God’s justice-wrath-judgment because we have been justified by his blood through Christ. Second, while we were enemies of God, he still loved us enough to reconcile us to him through the death of his Son. Therefore we shall be saved through this life. So this last clause means that we are being saved through this life, and we will see Jesus when we die because we shall be saved all the way through.
1 Pet. 1:4-5 teaches that we have an inheritance waiting for us in heaven. Now how do we get there and claim it? Through faith, we are shielded by God’s power until a future salvation is revealed. How can salvation be in the future? We are currently sustained by salvation, but we will be finally saved in the “last time,” when Christ Jesus is revealed (v. 7). It is about his second coming. That’s when our salvation is complete.
How does this post help me know God better through salvation?
God loves you! He sees your plight. You mess up all the time, in big or small ways. You listen to your mammal nature too often (2 Pet. 2:12-22). Your impulses and passions. Your self-will. You seal your own doom, because your nature can’t help it, except on occasion when you do right things.
Now God wants to rescue you mainly from yourself. He intends to lift you out of your own nature and put his new nature in you. This happens when you surrender to him and receive Jesus Christ and allow his Spirit to fill you. Now you have an intimate relationship with him, and he will lead you on paths of righteousness and right living. Only then can you be truly happy, because goodness satisfies you at the end of a moral problem, for example. You successfully allow Christ to shine through you, and people are blessed, and so are you.
A final note:
There is a movement going around the charismatic world call the sōzō, in which a man can get words of knowledge at will, by practice, and then the man sits across the table from a stranger and prophesies wonderful things. I believe in words of knowledge, but this artificial arrangement, in the name of outreach, looks forced and comes close to psychic mind-reading. One has to be careful about gingering up prophetic gifts in forced situations, when the prophetic person and the receiver sit across the table from each other and the prophetic person feels compelled to get words from the Lord.
In my own life, God has sovereignly moved on my heart without pressure to perform and has given me words from the Lord. But I don’t feel compelled to get words. It was just a momentary gift, needed for the moment. This movement and training manual looks like another charismatic fad and goes to extremes. For every mile of road there are two miles of ditch. Don’t go into the extreme edge of the road and run into a ditch.
Keep it biblical, people of God.
What Does ‘Salvation’ Mean?