Soteriology – The Study of Salvation

And there is salvation [Grk. noun = σωτηρία soteria] in no one else; for there is no other name [other than Jesus] under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved [Grk. verb = σῴζω sozo]. (Acts 4:12)

Soteriology     The word soteriology comes from two Greek words: σωτήρ soter which means savior, deliverer, preserver[1] and λόγος logos, which means word, statement or speech, but in English means the study of.  Soteriology, then, is the study of salvation as it has been revealed in Scripture. The most common word for salvation in the Hebrew OT is יָשַׁע yasha (sometimes as יְשׁוּעָה yeshuah) which means “deliverance, rescue, salvation, also safety, [and] welfare.[2] Salvation in the OT was primarily physical, as one might be delivered from an enemy in battle or from a plague (2 Sam 22:3-4; 1 Ch 16:23, 35; Job 5:4, 11; Psa 3:6-8; 44:4-8; 85:7, 9; 89:26; Isa 17:10; 45:8; Mic 7:7). Charles Ryrie comments:

The most important Hebrew root word related to salvation in the Old Testament is yasha. Originally it meant to be roomy or broad in contrast to narrowness or oppression. Thus it signifies freedom from what binds or restricts, and it came to mean deliverance, liberation, or giving width and breadth to something…Faith was the necessary condition for salvation in the Old Testament as well as in the New. Abraham believed in the Lord, and the Lord counted it to him for righteousness (Gen 15:6).[3]

The NT writers primarily use the following Greek words:

  1. σῴζω sozo (verb) refers to the act of physical deliverance in some biblical passages (Matt 8:25; 14:30; Mark 13:20; Luke 6:9; John 11:12; Acts 27:20, 31), and spiritual deliverance in others (Luke 7:50; 19:10; John 12:47; 1 Cor 1:21; Tit 3:5). As to our spiritual deliverance, we are saved from the penalty of sin (Rom 5:16; 8:1, 33-34; Eph 2:8-9), the power of sin (Rom 6:11; Col 3:5), and ultimately the presence of sin (1 John 3:2, 5).
  2. σωτήρ soter (noun) means Savior, and refers to the agent of salvation, the one who rescues or delivers another from harm or danger (Luke 2:11; John 4:42; Acts 5:31; 13:23; Eph 5:23; Phil 3:20). This refers to the agent of salvation.
  3. σωτηρία soteria (noun) refers to the provision of salvation, rescue, or deliverance brought by another (Luke 1:69; 19:9; John 4:22; Acts 7:25; 13:26, 47; Rom 1:16; 2 Cor 1:6; 6:2; Eph 1:13; Phil 1:28; 2:12; 2 Tim 2:10; Heb 1:14; 9:28; 1 Pet 1:5, 9; 2 Pet 3:15).

Most often, when people think of salvation, they think of deliverance from the Lake of Fire and spending eternity in heaven. This is certainly taught, but is by far the minority usage of both the Hebrew and Greek words in the Bible. Lewis Sperry Chafer comments:

As to the meaning of the word salvation, the Old and New Testaments are much alike. The word communicates the thought of deliverance, safety, preservation, soundness, restoration, and healing; but though so wide a range of human experience is expressed by the word salvation, its specific, major use is to denote a work of God in behalf of man.[4]

The majority of usages of salvation in the NT refer to physical healing or deliverance from what injures, restricts, or threatens harm. For example, when Jesus was traveling between Samaria and Galilee, He healed ten men of leprosy (Luke 17:11-14), and when one of them returned to thank Jesus (Luke 17:15-16), He told the man, “your faith has made you well [σῴζω sozo]” (Luke 17:19). Here, the Greek verb refers to physical deliverance. On another occasion, when Jesus was approaching the city of Jericho, a blind man called out for Jesus to have mercy on him (Luke 18:35-41), and Jesus healed the man, saying, “Receive your sight; your faith has made you well [σῴζω sozo]” (Luke 18:42). Again, this refers to physical healing. An example of deliverance from physical danger is observed in the account where Jesus came to His disciples when they were on a stormy sea (Matt 14:22-27). When Peter saw Jesus walking on the water, he called out to the Lord and asked to come to Him (Matt 14:28-29). However, as Peter was walking on the water, He took his eyes off Jesus and began looking at the stormy wind, and “he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord, save me! [σῴζω sozo]’” (Matt 14:30). Peter was not asking for forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life; rather, he was asking Jesus to save him from physical harm as he sunk into the sea. And Jesus did save him (Matt 14:31).

What about spiritual deliverance? Spiritual deliverance means we are rescued from Satan’s power and domain, where we are all “held captive by him to do his will” (2 Tim 2:26). At the moment of faith in Christ, we are “rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:13-14). This deliverance means we are saved from the penalty of sin (Rom 5:16; 8:1, 33-34; Eph 2:8-9). But the Bible also teaches we are saved the power of sin (Rom 6:11; Col 3:5), and will ultimately from the presence of sin (1 John 3:2, 5). These concepts are sometimes referred to as our justification, sanctification and glorification. Justification-salvation means we are forever justified in God’s sight because Jesus died on the cross and paid the penalty for our sin (Mark 10:45; Heb 10:10-14) and imputes His righteousness to us (2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9). This justification comes “as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:24). In this case, God is “the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Rom 3:26). Because we are justified by God, we will never face condemnation (Rom 8:1). Our glorification-salvation means we are saved from the presence of sin, and this occurs when we leave this world and are forever located in heaven (1 Cor 15:50-53; 1 John 3:2, 5). I mention justification-salvation and glorification-salvation together because they are monergistic (a work of one), meaning God alone accomplishes both, completely apart from our efforts. Though our justification-salvation and glorification-salvation happen at a moment in time and are monergistic, our sanctification-salvation occurs over our lifetime and is synergistic (a work of two or more). Being synergistic, our sanctification-salvation means we must make good choices to learn His Word (2 Tim 2:15; 3:16-17), rely on the holy Spirit (Gal 5:16; Eph 5:18), walk in His will (Eph 2:10; 4:1-3; 5:8-10), and grow spiritually (Eph 4:11-16; 1 Pet 2:2). When we do this, we not only live the best life we can possibly live—one marked by truth, love and selflessness—we also store up for ourselves treasures in heaven which we will enjoy for all eternity (Matt 6:19-21).

So, how do we start this wonderful journey? We start by believing the gospel message that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4). We trust in Jesus who died in our place, “the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (1 Pet 3:18). When we trust in Christ as our Savior, we are forgiven all our sins (Eph 1:7; Col. 1:14), given eternal life (John 3:16; 10:27-28), and receive the righteousness of God as a free gift (Rom 5:17; 2 Cor 5:21; Phil 3:9). At this moment we have relational-peace with God (Rom 5:1). Once saved, we know our future is bright and that heaven is guaranteed as our final resting place (John 14:1-3; 1 Cor 15:50-54; 2 Cor 5:8). Lastly, God has “blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph 1:3), which means He has provided us with a portfolio of spiritual assets that enables us to live righteously for Him (Rom 6:11-14; Tit 2:11-14). This grace provision enables us to be saved from the power of sin. Won’t you start this wonderful journey by trusting in Christ as your Savior today?

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed., rev. and ed. Fredrick William Danker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 985.

[2] Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon, electronic ed. (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 2000), 447.

[3] Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Basic Theology (Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 1999), 321.

[4] Lewis S. Chafer, “Soteriology” Bibliotheca Sacra, 109 (1945): 11-12.

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