Soteriology – The Study of Salvation

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

SoteriologyThe word soteriology comes from two Greek words: soter which means “savior, deliverer, perserver”[1] and logos, which in the Greek means statement or speech, but in English means the study of.  Soteriology is the biblical study of salvation. To be saved is to be delivered or rescued from danger. Throughout Scripture, salvation is both spiritual and physical. Deliverance is always by another, as people are helpless to rescue themselves.  The most common word for salvation in the Hebrew OT is yasha (sometimes as yeshuah>) which means “deliverance, rescue, salvation, also safety, [and] welfare.[2]  Salvation in the OT was primarily physical, as one might be delivered from his enemy in battle or from a plague (2 Sam. 22:3-4; 1 Chron. 16:23, 35; Job 5:4, 11; Ps. 3:6-8; 44:4-8; 85:7, 9; 89:26; Isa. 17:10; 45:8; Mic. 7:7).  

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 use the following Greek words:

  1. 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 other Scriptures (Luke 7:50; 19:10; John 12:47; 1 Cor. 1:21; Tit. 3:5; Heb. 7:25).  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. 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. 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). 

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]

     Why would God need to do a work of salvation “in behalf of man”? What’s the problem? What’s the danger? The problem is sin. The danger is eternal separation from God and punishment in the Lake of Fire. Sin is anything that goes against God’s holy character. Man creates sin. Man is his own worst enemy, is trapped by the sin he produces, and is helpless to remedy the problem of his own making (Rom. 5:6-10). Man did not start out sinful, but became sinful by an act of rebellion against God. God originally created mankind in His image and without sin (Gen. 1:26-27). However, Adam and Eve committed personal sin and subsequently corrupted the entire human race (Gen. 3:1-8; Rom. 3:23; 5:12; 1 Cor. 15:21-22). Men are sinners in three ways:

  1. By imputation of Adam’s sin (Rom. 5:12-21).[5]
  2. By nature (Ps. 51:5; Rom. 7:19-21; Eph. 2:3).
  3. By choice (1 Kings 8:46; Rom. 3:9-18).

       All of Adam’s descendants are born into this world spiritually dead in “trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1), and are by nature “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3), “separate from Christ…having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12), alienated from God (Col. 1:21), and “devoid of the Spirit” (Jude 1:19; cf. Rom. 8:9). We are contaminated by sin in every aspect of our being. Sin permeates our thoughts, feelings and volition (i.e. will). The sin nature resides in every one of us and negatively influences our relationships with other people, and most of all with God. Salvation is not based on any merit or worthiness in us (Rom. 3:21-26; 4:1-5), but is founded solely on God’s love, mercy and grace (John 3:16; Eph. 2:1-9; Tit. 3:5). God provides our salvation through the substitutionary atoning work of Jesus, who bore the penalty of all our sin on the cross and who gives us eternal life at the moment we trust Him as our Savior (Isa. 53; John 3:16; 10:28; 20:31; Rom. 3:21-26; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:9; 1 Peter 3:18; 1 John 2:2). All of us are “justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24).

In its broadest significance, the doctrine of Salvation includes every divine undertaking for the believer from his deliverance out of the lost estate to his final presentation in glory conformed to the image of Christ. Since the divine objective is thus all-inclusive, the theme is divided naturally into three tenses: (a) the Christian was saved when he believed (Luke 7:50; Acts 16:30, 31; 1 Cor 1:18; 2 Cor 2:15; Eph 2:8 R.V.; 2 Tim 1:9). This past-tense aspect of it is the essential and unchanging fact of salvation. At the moment of believing, the saved one is completely delivered from his lost estate, cleansed, forgiven, justified, born of God, clothed in the merit of Christ, freed from all condemnation, and safe for evermore. (b) The believer is being saved from the dominion of sin (Rom 6:1–14; 8:2 ; 2 Cor 3:18; Gal 2:20; 4:19 ; Phil 1:19; 2:12 ). In this second tense of salvation the believer is being divinely preserved and sanctified. (c) The believer is yet to be saved from the presence of sin when presented faultless in glory (Rom 13:11; 1 Thess 5:8; Heb 1:14; 9:28 ; 1 Pet 1:3–5; 1 John 3:1–3). To this may be added other passages which, each in turn, present all three tenses or aspects of salvation—1 Corinthians 1:30; Philippians 1:6, Ephesians 5:25–27; 1 Thessalonians 1:9–10; Titus 2:11–13.[6]

       We are saved by hearing God’s promises and believing Him to be true to His word, that He will provide forgiveness of sins, the imputation of righteousness, and the gift of eternal life to us who place our faith in Jesus as Savior (John 3:16; 6:28-29, 40; 20:31; Acts 16:30-31).  “All that is required of any man is to accept what God has provided in Christ. If a man by faith accepts the offer of life, he is born again of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit follows up the work begun in regeneration and perfects holiness in the believer.”[7]  Our salvation, beginning to end (i.e. regeneration,sanctification and glorification), is all the work of God for our benefit. We respond positively to the call and work of God in our lives, but even this is because God has moved our hearts to believe (John 6:44, 65; Acts 13:48; 16:13-14).

Soteriology Audio Lesson Part 1

Soteriology Audio Lesson Part 2

Dr. Steven R. Cook


[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.

[5] Here, the term imputation means that God credits or charges Adam’s original sin and its guilt to all his offspring.

[6] Lewis S. Chafer, “Soteriology” Bibliotheca Sacra, 109 (1945): 13.

[7] Henry Clarence Thiessen and Vernon D. Doerksen, Lectures in Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979), 204.

About Dr. Steven R. Cook

Dr. Steven R. Cook is a Christian educator. He is protestant, non-charismatic, and dispensational. Studies in the original languages of Scripture, ancient history, and systematic theology have been the foundation for Steven’s teaching and writing ministry. He has written several Christian books, dozens of articles on Christian theology, and recorded more than seven hundred hours of audio and video sermons. Steven currently serves as professor of Bible and Theology at Tyndale Theological Seminary, and hosts weekly Bible studies at his home in Texas.
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