Wed, Mar 28, 2012
The Proclaimers of the Resurrection were asked to explore the word “salvation” in it’s original context of the Old and New Testament. From their research and understanding they were then asked to then reflect on Paul the Apostle’s work in Philippians 2:12 which encourages followers of Philippi to ‘work out their salvation.’
The following was written by Cadet Josh Howard.
““Salvation” is a complex notion. It does not necessarily have any specifically Christian reference.” Although this is true, the term “salvation” holds a prominent place at the centre of Christianity. This prominence can be better understood in reviewing the use of the term “salvation” throughout Scripture, investigating what people were being saved from in the Old and New Testament, and looking deeper at the words of Philippians 2:12.
“The writings of the Old Testament are the first powerful witness that God is the originator of our salvation. He is the God who saves.” Within the Old Testament, there are several Hebrew terms that can be interpreted as “salvation.” Below are three selected terms which show a variety of uses of salvation. Alongside these are the other meanings for the original Hebrew term.
The first term to examine is yĕshuw`ah, which can mean salvation, help, deliverance, health, saving, and welfare. A scriptural example of this term referring to salvation is found in Psalm 13:5 (NIV): “But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation.”
Another term used in the Old Testament is yasha`, which can be interpreted as salvation, deliver, avenging, rescue, safe, and victory. Isaiah 30:15 (NIV) uses this term in stating, “This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.”
A third term used in the Old Testament is tĕshuw`ah, which can mean salvation, deliverance, help, safety, victory.
2 Chronicles 6:41 uses this to state: “Now arise, LORD God, and come to your resting place, you and the ark of your might. May your priests, LORD God, be clothed with salvation, may your faithful people rejoice in your goodness.”
“The term salvation (with its associated word group) has become widely used in Christian theology to express the provision of God for our human situation of need and sin.” The writers of the New Testament used a variety of Greek terms to express the word “salvation,” including sózó, rhyomai and soteria.
The term sózó has been describe as a verb that, “… has three meanings in the NT: (1) “To rescue from danger and to restore to a former state of safety and well being”; (2) “to cause someone to become well again after having been sick”; (3) “to cause someone to experience divine salvation – ‘to save.’” A scriptural example of these three meanings are: (1) Matthew 8:25, where Jesus calms the storm when the disciples request his help; (2) Mark 5:34, where Jesus heals a sick woman; (3) Luke 18:18, where the rich ruler asks Jesus about entering the Kingdom of God.
Rhyomai, “…is used much less frequently, generally with reference to deliverance from extreme danger, such as death or falling into the hands of enemies.” The Lord’s Prayer shows a prime example of this term in use: “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13, NIV).
Sōtēria appears to be the most well-rounded term translated to mean “salvation”:
Much of the most frequent use of sōtēria and derivatives is for deliverance, preservation from all spiritual dangers, the bestowal of all religious blessings. Its alternative is destruction (Phil. 1:28), death (II Cor. 7:10), diving wrath (I Thess. 5:9); it is available to all (Titus 2:11), shared (Jude 3), eternal (Heb. 5:9). It is ascribed to Christ alone (Acts 4:12; Luke 19:10), “the pioneer of salvation,” and especially to his death (Heb. 2:10; Rom. 5:9-10)
Within these terms of the Old and New Testament are found both the historicity and true essence of Christianity. As these definitions reveal, salvation expressed an assortment of things in both the Old and New Testament. Within the Old Testament, the terms listed above place “salvation” alongside terms such as help, deliverance, health, saving and victory. With this in mind, it could be said that salvation in Old Testament terminology could be condensed to mean liberation (from sins, oppression, etc.) and healing (from physical illness).
The New Testament draws upon these meanings and enables “salvation” to mean so much more. The terms observed above reveal that salvation had developed to mean new things, such as healing (to the extent of healing a person back to life – John 11) and deliverance from extreme and eternal danger (i.e. John 3:16). The Salvation Army Handbook of Doctrine says, “By dying on the Cross, Jesus made the Atonement. The Father’s gift and the Son’s loving response bridged the separation between us and God. We are reconciled to God in Christ and our sins are forgiven” (129). Although salvation referred to many things in the New Testament, it is undeniable that the foremost meaning of salvation is seen in the resurrected Christ. Through the resurrection comes the eternal wellbeing of the soul which is commonly referred to in Christianity today as salvation. This is the ultimate Atonement, the salvation of humankind.
Philippians 4:12 accepts this dominant view of salvation. It also brings salvation into the present: “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” For someone new to the Christian faith to read this and see the phrase, “… continue to work out your salvation…” would cause much confusion. Many people understand the message of salvation as something that is accepted now and revealed at the end of physical life. Here, the author draws attention to the now of salvation.
My interpretation of this verse is that although salvation is the future reality for the person who has accepted Christ, there is still much work to be done. Take the example of a person who walks away from a life of bad habits (drinking, drug addictions, etc) and walks toward Christ. With acceptance of Jesus, salvation is present. The working out of their salvation comes in the avoidance of temptation, of finding the strength and support to not backslide into the turmoil that life once was. The Handbook speaks to the Christ’s Atonement, by which all people can be forgiven and in a right relationship with God. It is because of this that people have, “… new desires for inward purity and love for others. These desires are signs of the experience of new life, the spiritual transformation that we call regeneration.” These new desires are the inner working of the Holy Spirit, who stirs Christians as they continue to work out their salvation.
Through this word study, my personal understanding of salvation has broadened. As is common amongst many in the church, I have held the view of salvation as something that is available, but will not be actualized until earthly life ends and eternal life begins. Through this study, my eyes have been opened to the fact that I have Jesus’ salvation working in my life today: healing me, delivering me, and providing for me a means to victory for whatever I may face. I am humbly grateful that salvation is as much about the here-and-now as it is a reference to the life to come.
For Footnotes & Bibliography click here.
Cadet Josh Howard and his wife Tina (along with children Julian and Abigail) are a part of the Proclaimers of Resurrection session. Josh’s hair is getting longer these days and, some of us, are hoping for a re-enactment of the famous “afro” from his high school days. Not sure this would be a Salvation Army officer regulation hair cut though!!