Glossary of Terms



Harper’s Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985),

article on "Salvation" written by Dr. John E. Alsup, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Austin, TX

You are strongly recommended to add to your library the excellent revised edition of Harper's Bible Dictionary titled, The Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, Revised Edition [book review], edited by Paul J. Achtemeier, with the Society of Biblical Literature (NY: Harper Collins, 1996). It is currently the best one-volume Bible dictionary in English, and it is available at Border's Books, Christian Science Reading Rooms,, or

salvation, a term that has lost much of its original meaning in current English usage. In part, this may be due to overuse in former times, compounded by popular but imprecise application among various religious groups. Because of this, it is important to exercise care in exploring its range of meaning for the biblical writers. It is an extremely important term in the Bible; thus, further neglect can only lead to considerable theological loss.

The term for salvation in the OT can connote, in keeping with its root meaning of ‘broadening’ or ‘enlarging,’ the creation of space in the community for life and conduct. More often than not, this is created with divine help, particularly in circumstances where God’s people face an adversary (e.g., Exod. 14:13-14, 30; 15:2; 1 Sam. 7:8; 2 Sam. 22:28; 1 Chron. 16:35; Neh. 9:27; Pss. 7:1; 17:7; 18:1-3; 54:1; 59:1-2; 106:43-48; 116:1-6; 118:5-14). God rescues and delivers from the situation of opposition and peril to one of recovered spaciousness, prosperity, and well-being. This meaning of the term is expanded to include deliverance from other forms of conflict, particularly in matters of the people’s relationship to God. Such a field of reference draws on other terms such as ‘redemption,’ ‘atonement,’ ‘reconciliation,’ ‘pardon,’ ‘expiation’ (cf. also ‘peace’ and ‘righteousness’). The goal of such deliverance is the establishment of God’s reign among his people and the other nations of the world (e.g., Isa. 49:25-26; 52:6-10; 55:1-5; Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:22-32; 37:23-28). Particularly the apocalyptic writings anticipate the arrival of this reign (e.g., Isa. 24-27).

The NT writers, apparently following the lead of Jesus himself, appropriate this specialized usage of salvation to designate the establishment of God’s end-time Reign. In doing so, they identify God’s intent to ‘save’/‘rescue’ (the meaning of the Greek root) with the person and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth (e.g., Luke 19:10; also 14:16-24; 15:3-10; 18:10-14; Matt. 10:6-8; 15:22-28; 18:12-14; 21:28-32). Jesus’ name comes from the Hebrew root meaning ‘salvation,’ and thus God the Savior and Jesus the Savior become (as in other ways) inextricably linked (e.g., Matt. 1:21; Luke 2:11; also John 4:42; Acts 5:31; 13:23; Phil. 3:20; 2 Tim. 1:10; Titus 1:4; 2:13; 3:6; 2 Pet. 1:1, 11; 2:20; 3:2, 18; 1 John 4:14).

The meaning of the term ‘gospel’ (‘good tidings’) is the essence of salvation (Rom. 1:16-17; 10:9-10). The traditions about Jesus record various accounts of Jesus’ acts of delivering people from forms of physical, spiritual/psychic, and demonic/cosmic bondage to a condition of restored wholeness and soundness (e.g., Mark 1:40-45; 2:1-12; 5:1-20, 34; 10:52; Luke 7:50; 17:19; John 9; 12:3-7). ‘Saved’ life is thereby seen in the context of a life that is ‘redeemed’ in relation to God, oneself, and others in community.

For these NT writers, the death and resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate focal moment for the dawn of salvation (e.g., 1 Cor. 15). Drawing on the sacrificial images and institutions of ancient Israel, early Christians associate Jesus’ death with that of the Passover lamb as ‘atonement’ (John 1:29, 36; 6:51; 1 Cor. 5:7; Heb. 9:24-26). The ‘on our behalf’ formula appropriates the efficacious significance of Jesus’ death for those who receive it by faith as a gift of grace (e.g., Mark 10:45; 1 Tim. 2:6; Titus 2:14; Mark 14:24 and parallels; 1 Cor. 15:3-7; Eph. 2:5, 8). It means ‘reconciliation’ (Rom. 5:1-11; 2 Cor. 5:18-20). It brings ‘regeneration’ and a new conscience/consciousness. It encompasses the whole cosmos (Rom. 8:19-23; Eph. 1:10; Col. 1:19-20). The resurrection points, moreover, not only to present significance (Rom. 13:11-14; 1 Cor. 15:1-2) but also to future deliverance from impending judgment and wrath (1 Thess. 1:9-10; also Mark 13 and parallels; Rom. 1:18-2:11; 5:9-11; Phil. 3:20; Titus 2:13).

The apocalyptic vision mentioned above (e.g., Isa. 24-27) is appropriated with certain qualifications to underscore the deliverance motif and that of life and well-being in the future Kingdom of God (e.g., Luke 13:28-30; 22:29-30; 23:43; 1 Cor. 2:9-10; 11:26; 1 Thess. 4:16-17; Rev. 21:1-22:5). Other traditions stress more the language of inheritance and the certainty of sharing the eternal life of Jesus’ resurrection (e.g., Rom. 8:12-17; 1 Thess. 5:9; Heb. 1:14; 5:9; 9:28; 1 Pet. 1:5, 9; also John 4:14; 7:37-38; 10:10). The emphasis remains throughout the NT on the exclusive nature of the connection between Jesus’ destiny and the promise of salvation (e.g., Acts 4:11-12; 5:31; Heb. 2:3). The consummation of salvation exceeds human ability to grasp it (1 Cor. 2:9-10); in the present, the gift of the Spirit is a foretaste of what is promised and hoped for (Rom. 8:23; 2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5; Eph. 1:14)


Topical index of terms
Edited for by Robert Nguyen Cramer
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