Friday, January 28, 2005

5. Gospels: Saved from what?

It is clear that “salvation” is a big theme in the New Testament. So it seems reasonable to investigate what we are saved from. In the Old Testament, the standard use of “saved” is probably to indicate Israel being saved from invading nations. That is clearly not an obvious meaning in the New Testament, so let us investigate the occurrences of the word “salvation” (and related words) and see what concepts it crops up in conjunction with. The following is an exhaustive list of Gospel passages that directly connect the word “salvation” or similar to something that people are “saved” from.

Mat 1:21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.

Mat 6:13 And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.

Mat 19:23-26 Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, "Then who can be saved?" 26 But Jesus looked at them and said, "For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible."

Mark 8:34-38 (same as Luke 9:23-25) He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."

Luke 1:68-79 "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. 69 He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, 70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, 71 that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. 72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, 73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us 74 that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. 78 By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, 79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace."

Luke 13:16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?"

Luke 19:8-10 Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “look, half of my possession, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” 9 Then Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost."

John 3:16-17 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17 Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

John 8:33-36 They answered him, "We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, "You will be made free'?" 34 Jesus answered them, "Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

John 12:46-47 I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness. 47 I do not judge anyone who hears my words and does not keep them, for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.

Acts 2:40 And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation."

Acts 5:31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.

Acts 13:36-39 For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, died, was laid beside his ancestors, and experienced corruption; 37 but he whom God raised up experienced no corruption. 38 Let it be known to you therefore, my brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you; 39 by this Jesus everyone who believes is set free from all those sins from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.

Acts 16:26-31 Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone's chains were unfastened.... 29 The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them outside and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They answered, "Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household."

Acts 26:17-18 I will rescue you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you 18 to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.'

Comments

We can divide the verses up into categories:

Salvation from...
Sins: Mat 1:21, Luke 1:77, John 1:29, John 8:33-36, Acts 5:31, Acts 13:36-39, Acts 26:18
Satan: Mat 6:13, Luke 13:16, Acts 26:18
Sickness: Luke 13:16
Into the Kingdom: Mat 19:23-26
“Save their life”: Mark 8:34-38, Luke 9:23-25, John 3:16
“from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us”: Luke 1:71, 1:74
“darkness and in the shadow of death”: Luke 1:79, John 12:46, Acts 26:18
War: Luke 1:79
Money: Luke 19:8-10
“this corrupt generation”: Acts 2:40
God's judgement (an earthquake): Acts 16:26-31
Gentiles: Acts 26:17

That is quite a lot of different things. Firstly of note is the fact that “sin” is easily the single most common thing that people are saved from, however it is clearly far from the only thing mentioned and itself occurs in less than half the references.

Let us therefore concentrate on the most lengthy descriptions of salvation:

Luke 1:68-79 "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. 69 He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, 70 as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, 71 that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. 72 Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, 73 the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us 74 that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, 75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.76 And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, 77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. 78 By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, 79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace."

John 8:33-36 They answered him, "We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, "You will be made free'?" 34 Jesus answered them, "Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35 The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36 So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.

Acts 26:17-18 I will rescue you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you 18 to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.'

The main idea expressed here is freedom:
from enemy nations (Luke 1:71,74)
from “darkness” (Luke 1:79; Acts 26:18)
from the power of Satan (Acts 26:18)
from the sin that was enslaving them (John 8:33)
forgiveness of sin (Luke 1:77; Acts 26:18)
for sanctification through faith (Acts 26:18)
in accordance with the covenant (Luke 1:72)
resulting in a change the lifestyle of Israel for the better (Luke 1:74-75, 79)

The main thrust of the thinking seems to be clear. Israel will be rescued from the threats and powers that enslave her by God acting through Christ according to his promises and leading Israel into a new time of prosperity. The Exodus from Egypt comes to mind as a parallel here and similar language is used in the Old Testament regarding that. This in turn leads to the possibility that what is being thought of here is the idea of Jewish liberation from Roman rule, tying into the political activism in Judea at the time and the Gospel's proclamation of the Kingdom.

However the ideas represented in the Gospels cannot all be fitted into a merely political agenda as they focus too on an internal healing of Israel (healing the sick, casting out demons) and not a merely political one. Rather than trying to pack the diverse gospel statements into the theme of political liberation, it would be better to place the political part of the renewal of Israel under the idea of the renewal of Israel as a whole. That is, Israel is going to be saved from its present situation into a time of renewal which will inevitably involve a political change too. This would all sound very nationalistic, very much Israel-only focused if not for the statements of Acts 26 that applies all the language of salvation to the Gentiles.

The language in the gospels seems very slavery-freedom oriented in theme. We have seen the words “slave” (John 8:33-36), “redeemed” (Luke 1:68), “set free” (Luke 13:16; Acts 13:39), “rescue” (Mat 6:13; Luke 1:74). And of course in other verses not listed above there is “ransom” (Mat 20:28; Mark 10:45) and “release [for] the captives” (Luke 4:18). This strongly suggests that there is a slavery-freedom motif connected with “salvation” which ought to be examined more closely later.

Conclusion: Salvation from what?

The occurance of the word “salvation” and similar words in the gospels correlates strongly with ideas regarding the setting free of Israel as a nation from forces both physical and spiritual that rule it. The most commonly referenced enslaving force is “sin”. There is also a strong correlation between the slavery-freedom language and that of salvation.

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