1. General

2. Individualism

3. Faith

4. Moral Law

5. Sacrifices

6. Ritual Law


1. General

2. The Law


1. The Baptist

2. Kingdom of God

3. Present and Future

4. Individualism

5. Moral Progress

6. Forgiveness

7. Person of Christ

8. Notes


1. General

2. Moral Progress

3. The Spirit

4. Mystical Union

5. Forgiveness

6. Atonement

7. Summary

8. Notes


1. John

2. Hebrews

3. Peter

4. Summary


In English Versions of the Bible the words "salvation" "save," are not technical theological terms, but denote simply "deliverance," in almost any sense the latter word can have. In systematic theology, however, "salvation" denotes the whole process by which man is delivered from all that would prevent his attaining to the highest good that God has prepared for him. Or, by a transferred sense, "salvation" denotes the actual enjoyment of that good. So, while these technical senses are often associated with the Greek or Hebrew words translated "save," etc., yet they are still more often used in connection with other words or represented only by the general sense of a passage. And so a collection of the original terms for "save," etc., is of value only for the student doing minute detailed work, while it is the purpose of the present article to present a general view of the Biblical doctrine of salvation.

I. In the Old Testament

Topical Bible outline for "Salvation."

1. General:

(1) As long as revelation had not raised the veil that separates this life from the next, the Israelite thought of his highest good as long life in a prosperous Palestine, as described most typically in De 28:1-14. But a definite religious idea was present also, for the "land of milk and honey," even under angelic protection, was worthless without access to God (Ex 33:1-4), to know whom gives happiness (Isa 11:9; Hab 2:14; Jer 31:34). Such a concept is normal for most of the Old Testament, but there are several significant enlargements of it. That Israel should receive God's characteristic of righteousness is a part of the ideal (Isa 1:26; 4:3-4; 32:1-8; 33:24; Jer 31:33-34; Eze 36:25-26; Zec 8:1-23; Da 9:24; Ps 51:10-12). Good was found in the extension of Israel's good to the surrounding nations (Mic 4:1-4; Isa 2:2-4; 45:5-6; Zec 2:11; 8:22-23; Isa 60:1-22; 66:19-21; Zec 14:16-17, etc.), even to the extension of the legitimate sacrificial worship to the soil of Egypt (Isa 19:19-22). Palestine was insufficient for the enjoyment of God's gifts, and a new heaven and a new earth were to be received (Isa 65:17; 66:22), and a share in the glories was not to be denied even to the dead (Isa 26:19; Da 12:2). And, among the people so glorified, God would dwell in person (Isa 60:19-20; Zec 2:10-12). (2) Salvation, then, means deliverance from all that interferes with the enjoyment of these blessings. So it takes countless forms--deliverance from natural plagues, from internal dissensions, from external enemies, or from the subjugation of conquerors (the exile, particularly). As far as enemies constitute the threatening danger, the prayer for deliverance is often based on their evil character (Ps 101:1-8, etc.). But for the individual all these evils are summed up in the word "death," which was thought to terminate all relation to God and all possibility of enjoying His blessings (Ps 115:17; Isa 38:18, etc.). And so "death" became established as the antinomy to "salvation," and in this sense the word has persisted, although the equation "loss of salvation = physical death" has long been transcended. But death and its attendant evils are worked by God's wrath, and so it is from this wrath that salvation is sought (Jos 7:26, etc.). And thus, naturally, salvation is from everything that raises that wrath, above all from sin (Eze 36:25-26, etc.).

See a list of verses on SALVATION in the Bible.

2. Individualism:

(1) At first the "unit of salvation" was the nation (less prominently the family), i.e. a man though righteous could lose salvation through the faults of others. A father could bring a curse on his children (2Sa 21:1-14), a king on his subjects (2Sa 24:1-25), or an unknown sinner could bring guilt on an entire community (De 21:1-9). (On the other hand, ten righteous would have saved Sodom (Ge 18:32).) And the principle of personal responsibility was grasped but slowly. It is enunciated partly in De 24:16 (compare Jer 31:29-30), definitely in Eze 14:12-20; 18:1-32; 33:1-20, and fairly consistently in the Psalms. But even Ezekiel still held that five-and-twenty could defile the whole nation (Eze 8:16), and he had not the premises for resolving the problem--that temporal disasters need not mean the loss of salvation. (2) But even when it was realized that a man lost salvation through his own fault, the converse did not follow. Salvation came, not by the man's mere merit, but because the man belonged to a nation peculiarly chosen by God. God had made a covenant with Israel and His fidelity insured salvation: the salvation comes from God because of His promise or (in other words) because of His name. Indeed, the great failing of the people was to trust too blindly to this promise, an attitude denounced continually by the prophets throughout (from, say, Am 3:2 to Mt 3:9). And yet even the prophets admit a real truth in the attitude, for, despite Israel's sins, eventual salvation is certain. Eze 20:1-49 states this baldly: there has been nothing good in Israel and there is nothing good in her at the prophet's own day, but, notwithstanding, God will give her restoration (compare Isa 8:17-18; Jer 32:6-15, etc.).

See the definition of salvation in the KJV Dictionary

3. Faith:

Hence, of the human conditions, whole-hearted trust in God is the most important. (Belief in God is, of course, never argued in the Bible.) Inconsistent with such trust are, for instance, seeking aid from other nations (Isa 30:1-5), putting reliance in human skill (2Ch 16:12), or forsaking Palestine through fear (Jer 42:1-22). In Isa 26:20 entire passivity is demanded, and in 2Ki 13:19 lukewarmness in executing an apparently meaningless command is rebuked.

See also the McClintock and Strong Biblical Cyclopedia.

4. Moral Law:

(1) Next in importance is the attainment of a moral standard, expressed normally in the various codes of the Law. But fulfillment of the letter of the commandment was by no means all that was required. For instance, the Law permitted the selling of a debtor into slavery (De 15:12), but the reckless use of the creditor's right is sharply condemned (Ne 5:1-13). The prophets are never weary of giving short formulas that will exclude such supralegalism and reduce conduct to a pure motive: "Hate the evil, and love the good, and establish justice in the gate" (Am 5:15); "To do justly, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with thy God" (Mic 6:8). And the chief emphasis on the Law as written is found in the later books, especially Ps 119:1-176 (compare Ps 147:20). (2) Certain breaches of the Law had no pardon, but were visited with death at once, even despite repentance and confession (Jos 7:1-26). But for the most part it is promised that repentance will remove the guilt of the sin if the sin be forsaken (Eze 18:1-32) or, in the case of a sin that would not be repeated, if contrition be felt (2Sa 12:1-31). Suffering played a part in salvation by bringing knowledge of sin to the conscience, the exile being the most important example (Eze 36:31). But almost always it is assumed that the possibility of keeping the Law is in man's own power, De 30:11-14 stating this explicitly, while the Wisdom Books equate virtue with learning. Consequently, an immense advance was made when man felt the need of God's help to keep the Law, the need of the inscription of the Laws on the heart (Jer 31:31-34). So an outlook was opened to a future in which God would make the nation righteous (see references in 1, above).

5. Sacrifices:

(1) The acceptance of repentance as expiating past sins was an act of God's mercy. And so His mercy instituted other and additional means of expiation, most notably that of the sacrifices. But a theology of sacrifice is conspicuously absent from the whole Old Testament, for Le 17:11 is too incidental and too obscure to be any exception. The Christian (or very late Jewish) interpretations of the ritual laws lack all solidity of exegetical foundation, despite their one-time prevalence. Nor is the study of origins of much help for the meaning attached to the rites by the Jews in historic times. General ideas of offering, of self-denial, of propitiation of wrath, and of entering into communion with God assuredly existed. But in the advanced stages of the religion there is no evidence that sacrifices were thought to produce their effect because of any of these things, but solely because God had commanded the sacrifices. (2) Most sins required a sacrifice as part of the act of repentance, although in case of injury done the neighbor, only after reparation had been made. It is not quite true that for conscious sins no sacrifices were appointed, for in Le 5:1; 6:1-3, sins are included that could not be committed through mere negligence. And so such rules as Nu 15:30-31 must not be construed too rigorously. (3) Sacrifices as means of salvation are taught chiefly by Ezekiel, while at the rebuilding of the temple (Haggai, Zechariah) and the depression that followed (Malachi), they were much in the foreground, but the pre-exilic prophets have little to say about their positive value (Jer 7:22 is the nadir). Indeed, in preexilic times the danger was the exaltation of sacrifice at the expense of morality, especially with the peace offering, which could be turned into a drunken revel (Am 5:21-24; Isa 22:13; compare Pr 7:14). Attempts were made to "strengthen" the sacrifices to Yahweh by the use of ethnic rites (Ho 4:14; Isa 65:1-5), even with the extreme of human sacrifice (Jer 7:31; Eze 20:26). But insistence on the strict centralization of worship and increasing emphasis laid on the sin and trespass offerings did away with the worst of the abuses. And many of the Psalms, especially Ps 66:1-20 and Ps 118:1-29, give beautiful evidence of the devotion that could be nourished by the sacrificial rites.

6. Ritual Law:

Of the other means of salvation the ritual law (not always sharply distinguishable from the moral law) bulks rather large in the legislation, but is not prominent in the prophets. Requisite to salvation was the abstention from certain acts, articles of food, etc., such abstinence seeming to lie at the background of the term "holiness." But a ritual breach was often a matter of moral duty (burying the dead, etc.), and, for such breaches, ritual means of purification are provided and the matter dropped. Evidently such things lay rather on the circumference of the religion, even to Ezekiel, with his anxious zeal against the least defilement. The highest ritual point is touched by Zec 14:20-21, where all of Jerusalem is so holy that not a pot would be unfit to use in the temple (compare Jer 31:38-40). Yet, even with this perfect holiness, sacrifices would still have a place as a means by which the holiness could be increased. Indeed, this more "positive" view of sacrifices was doubtless present from the first.

II. Intermediate Literature.

1. General:

(1) The great change, compared with the earlier period, is that the idea of God had become more transcendent. But this did not necessarily mean an increase in religious value, for there was a corresponding tendency to take God out of relation to the world by an intellectualizing process. This, when combined with the persistence of the older concept of salvation in this life only, resulted in an emptying of the religious instinct and in indifferentism. This tendency is well represented in Ecclesiastes, more acutely in Sirach, and in New Testament times it dominated the thought of the Sadducees. On the other hand the expansion of the idea of salvation to correspond with the higher conception of God broke through the limitations of this life and created the new literary form of apocalyptics, represented in the Old Testament especially by Zec 9:1-17 through Zec 14:1-21; Isa 24:1-23 through 27, and above all by Daniel. And in the intermediate literature all shades of thought between the two extremes are represented. But too much emphasis can hardly be laid on the fact that this intermediate teaching is in many regards simply faithful to the Old Testament. Almost anything that can be found in the Old Testament--with the important exception of the note of joyousness of Deuteronomy, etc.--can be found again here. (2) Of the conceptions of the highest good the lowest is the Epicureanism of Sirach. The highest is probably that of 2 Esdras 7:91-98 Revised Version: "To behold the face of him whom in their lifetime they served" the last touch of materialism being eliminated. Indeed, real materialism is notably absent in the period, even Enoch 10:17-19 being less exuberant than the fancies of such early Christian writers as Papias. Individualism is generally taken for granted, but that the opposite opinion was by no means dormant, even at a late period, is shown by Mt 3:9. The idea of a special privilege of Israel, however, of course pervades all the literature, Sibylline Oracles 5 and Jubilees being the most exclusive books and the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs, the most broad-hearted. In place of national privilege, though, is sometimes found the still less edifying feature of party privilege (Ps Sol; Enoch 94-105), the most offensive case being the assertion of Enoch 90:6-9 that the (inactive) Israel will be saved by the exertions of the "little lamb" Pharisees, before whom every knee shall bow in the Messianic kingdom.

2. The Law:

(1) The conceptions of the moral demands for salvation at times reach a very high level, especially in the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs (making every allowance for Christian interpolations). "The spirit of love worketh together with the law of God in long-suffering unto the salvation of men" (Test. Gad 4:7) is hardly unworthy of Paul, and even Jubilees can say, "Let each love his brother in mercy and justice, and let none wish the other evil" (Jub 36:8). But the great tendency is to view God's law merely as a series of written statutes, making no demands except those gained from a rigid construing of the letter. In Lu 10:29, "Who is my neighbor?" is a real question--if he is not my neighbor I need not love him! So duties not literally commanded were settled by utilitarian motives, as outside the domain of religion, and the unhealthy phenomenon of works of supererogation made its appearance (Lu 17:10). The writer of Wisdom can feel smugly assured of salvation, because idolatry had been abstained from (Wisd 15:4; contrast Paul's polemic in Ro 2:1-29). And discussions about "greatest commandments" caused character in its relation to religion to be forgotten. (2) As God's commands were viewed as statutes the distinction between the moral and the ritual was lost, and the ritual law attained enormous and familiar proportions. The beautiful story of Judith is designed chiefly to teach abstinence from ritually unclean food. And the most extreme case is in Jubilees 6:34-38--all of Israers woes come from keeping the feasts by the actual moon instead of by a correct (theoretical) moon (!). (3) Where self-complacency ceased and a strong moral sense was present, despair makes its appearance with extraordinary frequency. The period is the period of penitential prayers, with an undercurrent of doubt as to how far mercy can be expected (Song of Three Children verses 3-22; Pr Man; Baruch 3:1-8, etc.). "What profit is it unto us, if there be promised us an immortal time, whereas we have done the works that bring death?" (2 Esdras 7:119 the Revised Version (British and American)). The vast majority of men are lost (2 Esdras 9:16) and must be forgotten (2 Esdras 8:55), and Ezra can trust for his own salvation only by a special revelation (7:77 the Revised Version (British and American)). So, evidently, Paul's pre-Christian experience was no unique occurrence. (4) Important for the New Testament background is the extreme lack of prominence of the sacrifices. They are never given a theological interpretation (except in Philo, where they cease to be sacrifices). Indeed, in Sirach 35 they are explicitly said to be devotions for the righteous only, apparently prized only as an inheritance from the past and "because of the commandment" (Sirach 35:5; yet compare 38:11). When the temple was destroyed and the sacrifices ceased, Judaism went on its way almost unaffected, showing that the sacrifices meant nothing essential to the people. And, even in earlier times, the Essenes rejected sacrifices altogether, without losing thereby their recognition as Jews.

III. The Teaching of Christ.

1. The Baptist:

The Baptist proclaimed authoritatively the near advent of the kingdom of God, preceded by a Messianic judgment that would bring fire for the wicked and the Holy Spirit for the righteous. Simple but incisive moral teaching and warning against trusting in national privileges, with baptism as an outward token of repentance, were to prepare men to face this judgment securely. But we have no data to determine how much farther (if any) the Baptist conceived his teaching to lead.

2. Kingdom of God:

It was in the full heat of this eschatological revival that the Baptist had fanned, that Christ began to teach, and He also began with the eschatological phrase, "The kingdom of God is at hand." Consequently, His teaching must have been taken at once in an eschatological sense, and it is rather futile to attempt to limit such implications to passages where modern eschatological phrases are used unambiguously. "The kingdom of God is at hand" had the inseparable connotation "Judgment is at hand," and in this context, "Repent ye" (Mr 1:15) must mean "lest ye be judged." Hence, our Lord's teaching about salvation had primarily a future content: positively, admission into the kingdom of God, and negatively, deliverance from the preceding judgment. So the kingdom of God is the "highest good" of Christ's teaching but, with His usual reserve, He has little to say about its externals. Man's nature is to be perfectly adapted to his spiritual environment (see RESURRECTION), and man is to be with Christ (Lu 22:30) and the patriarchs (Mt 8:11). But otherwise--and again as usual--the current descriptions are used without comment, even when they rest on rather materialistic imagery (Lu 22:16,30). Whatever the kingdom is, however, its meaning is most certainly not exhausted by a mere reformation of the present order of material things.

3. Present and Future:

But the fate of man at judgment depends on what man is before judgment, so that the practical problem is salvation from the conditions that will bring judgment; i.e. present and future salvation are inseparably connected, and any attempt to make rigid distinctions between the two results in logomachies. Occasionally even Christ speaks of the kingdom of God as present, in the sense that citizens of the future kingdom are living already on this earth (Mt 11:11; Lu 17:21(?); the meaning of the latter verse is very dubious). Such men are "saved" already (Lu 19:9; 7:50(?)), i.e. such men were delivered from the bad moral condition that was so extended that Satan could be said to hold sway over the world (Lu 10:18; 11:21).

4. Individualism:

That the individual was the unit in this deliverance needs no emphasis: Still, the divine privilege of the Jews was a reality and Christ's normal work was limited to them (Mt 10:5; 15:26, etc.). He admitted even that the position of the Jewish religious leaders rested on a real basis (Mt 23:3). But the "good tidings" were so framed that their extension to all men would have been inevitable, even had there not been an explicit command of Christ in this regard. On the other hand, while the message involved in every case strict individual choice, yet the individual who accepted it entered into social relations with the others who had so chosen. So salvation involved admission to a community of service (Mr 9:35, etc.). And in the latter part of Christ's ministry, He withdrew from the bulk of His disciples to devote Himself to the training of an inner circle of Twelve, an act explicable only on the assumption that these were to be the leaders of the others after He was taken away. Such passages as Mt 16:18; 18:17 merely corroborate this.

5. Moral Progress:

Of the conditions for the individual, the primary (belief in God being taken for granted) was a correct moral ideal. Exclusion from salvation came from the Pharisaic casuistry which had invented limits to righteousness. Ex 20:13 had never contemplated permitting angry thoughts if actual murder was avoided, and so on. In contrast is set the idea of character, of the single eye (Mt 6:22), of the pure heart (Mt 5:8). Only so can the spiritual house be built on a rock foundation. But the mere ideal is not enough; persistent effort toward it and a certain amount of progress are demanded imperatively. Only those who have learned to forgive can ask for forgiveness (Mt 6:12; 18:35). They who omit natural works of mercy have no share in the kingdom (Mt 25:31-46), for even idle words will be taken into account (Mt 12:36), and the most precious possession that interferes with moral progress is to be sacrificed ruthlessly (Mt 18:8-9, etc.). Men are known by their fruits (Mt 7:20); it is he that doeth the will of the Father that shall enter into the kingdom (Mt 7:21), and the final ideal--which is likewise the goal--is becoming a son of the Father in moral likeness (Mt 5:45). That this progress is due to God's aid is so intimately a part of Christ's teaching on the entire dependence of the soul on God that it receives little explicit mention, but Christ refers even His own miracles to the Father's power (Lu 11:20).

6. Forgiveness:

Moral effort, through God's aid, is an indispensable condition for salvation. But complete success in the moral struggle is not at all a condition, in the sense that moral perfection is required. For Christ's disciples, to whom the kingdom is promised (Lu 12:32), the palsied man who receives remission of sins (Mr 2:5), Zaccheus who is said to have received salvation (Lu 19:9), were far from being models of sinlessness. The element in the character that Christ teaches as making up for the lack of moral perfection is becoming "as a little child" (compare Mr 10:15). Now the point here is not credulousness (for belief is not under discussion), nor is it meekness (for children are notoriously not meek). And it most certainly is not the pure passivity of the newly born infant, for it is gratuitous to assume that only such infants were meant even in Lu 18:15, while in Mt 18:2 (where the child comes in answer to a call) this interpretation is excluded. Now, in the wider teaching of Christ the meaning is made clear enough. Salvation is for the poor in spirit, for those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for the prodigal knowing his wretchedness. It is for the penitent publican, while the self-satisfied Pharisee is rejected. A sense of need and a desire that God will give are the characteristics. A child does not argue that it has earned its father's benefits but looks to him in a feeling of dependence, with a readiness to do his bidding. So it is the soul that desires all of righteousness, strives toward it, knows that it falls short, and trusts in its Father for the rest, that is the savable soul.

7. Person of Christ:

Christ speaks of the pardon of the publican (Lu 18:9 ff) and of the prodigal welcomed by the Father (Lu 15:20), both without intermediary. And it is perhaps not necessary to assume that all of those finding the strait gate (Mt 7:14) were explicitly among Christ's disciples. But would Christ have admitted that anyone who had come to know Him and refused to obey Him would have been saved? To ask this question is to answer it in the negative (Mr 9:40 is irrelevant). Real knowledge of the Father is possible only through the unique knowledge of the Son (Lu 10:21-22), and lack of faith in the Son forfeits all blessings (Mr 6:5-6; 9:23). Faith in Him brings instant forgiveness of sins (Mr 2:5), and love directed to Him is an indisputable sign that forgiveness has taken place (Lu 7:47). But Christ thought of Himself as Messiah and, if the term "Messiah" is not to be emptied of its meaning, this made Him judge of the world (such verses as Mr 8:38 are hardly needed for direct evidence). And, since for Christ's consciousness an earthly judgeship is unthinkable, a transcendental judgeship is the sole alternative, corroborated by the use of the title Son of Man. But passage from simple humanity to the transcendental glory of the Son-of-Man Messiah involved a change hardly expressible except by death and resurrection. And the expectation of death was in Christ's mind from the first, as is seen by Mr 2:18-19 (even without Mr 2:20). That He could have viewed His death as void of significance for human salvation is simply inconceivable, and the ascription of Mr 10:45 to Pauline influence is in defiance of the facts. Nor is it credible that Christ conceived that in the interval between His death and His Parousia He would be out of relation to His own. To Him the unseen world was in the closest relation to the visible world, and His passage into glory would strengthen, not weaken, His power. So there is a complete justification of Mr 14:22-25: to Christ His death had a significance that could be paralleled only by the death of the Covenant victim in Ex 24:6-8, for by it an entirely new relation was established between God and man.

8. Notes:

(1) Salvation from physical evil was a very real part, however subordinate, of Christ's teaching (Mr 1:34, etc.). (2) Ascetic practices as a necessary element in salvation can hardly claim Christ's authority. It is too often forgotten that the Twelve were not Christ's only disciples. Certainly not all of the hundred and twenty of Ac 1:15 (compare Ac 1:21), nor of the five hundred of 1Co 15:6, were converted after the Passion. And they all certainly could not have left their homes to travel with Christ. So the demands made in the special case of the Twelve (still less in such an extremely special case as Mr 10:21) in no way represent Christ's normal practice, whatever readiness for self-sacrifice may have been asked of all. So the representations of Christ as ruthlessly exacting all from everyone are quite unwarranted by the facts. And it is well to remember that it is Mt 11:19 that contains the term of reproach that His adversaries gave Him.

IV. Paul.

Instead of laying primal stress on Paul's peculiar contributions to soteriology, it will be preferable to start from such Pauline passages as simply continue the explicit teaching of Christ. For it is largely due to the common reversal of this method that the present acute "Jesus-Paulus" controversy exists.

1. General:

That Paul expected the near advent of the kingdom of God with a judgment preceding, and that salvation meant to him primarily deliverance from this judgment, need not be argued. And, accordingly, emphasis is thrown sometimes on the future deliverance and sometimes on the present conditions for the deliverance (contrast Ro 5:9 and Ro 8:24), but the practical problem is the latter. More explicitly than in Christ's recorded teaching the nature and the blessings of the kingdom are described (see KINGDOM OF GOD), but the additional matter is without particular religious import. A certain privilege of the Jews appears (Ro 3:1-8; 9:1-33-Ro 11:1-36), but the practical content of the privilege seems to be eschatological only (Ro 11:26). Individual conversion is of course taken for granted, but the life after that becomes highly corporate.


2. Moral Progress:

(1) The moral ideal is distinctly that of character. Paul, indeed, is frequently obliged to give directions as to details, but the detailed directions are referred constantly to the underlying principle, Ro 14:1-23 or 1Co 8:1-13 being excellent examples of this, while "love is the fulfillment of the law" (Ro 13:10) is the summary. (2) Persistent moral effort is indispensable, and the new life absolutely must bring forth fruit to God (Ro 6:4; 13:12; Ga 5:24; Col 3:5; Eph 2:3; 4:17,22-32; Tit 2:11-14). Only by good conduct can one please God (1Th 4:1), and the works of even Christians are to be subjected to a searching test (1Co 3:13; 4:5; 2Co 5:10) in a judgment not to be faced without the most earnest striving (1Co 10:12; Php 2:12), not even by Paul himself (1Co 9:27; Php 3:12-14). And the possibility of condemnation because of a lack of moral attainment must not be permitted to leave the mind (1Co 3:17; Ga 5:21; compare Ro 8:12-13; 11:20; 1Co 10:12; Ga 6:7-9). Consequently, growth in actual righteousness is as vital in Paul's soteriology as it is in that teaching of Christ: Christians have "put off the old man with his doings" (Col 3:9).

3. The Spirit:

That this growth is God's work is, however, a point where Paul has expanded Christ's quiet assumption rather elaborately. In particular, what Christ had made the source of His own supernatural power--the Holy Spirit--is specified as the source of the power of the Christian's ordinary life, as well as of the more special endowments (see SPIRITUAL GIFTS). In the Spirit the Christian has received the blessing promised to Abraham (Ga 3:14); by it the deeds of the body can be put to death and all virtues flow into the soul (Ga 5:16-26), if a man walks according to it (1Co 6:19-20; 1Th 4:8). The palmary passage is Ro 7:1-25 through Ro 8:1-39. In Ro 7:1-25 Paul looks back with a shudder on his pre-Christian helplessness (it is naturally the extreme of exegetical perversity to argue that he dreaded not the sin itself but only God's penalty on sin). But the Spirit gives strength to put to death the deeds of the body (Ro 8:13), to disregard the things of the flesh (Ro 8:5), and to fulfill the ordinance of the Law (Ro 8:4). Such moral power is the test of Christianity: as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God (Ro 8:14).

4. Mystical Union:

This doctrine of the Spirit is simply that what Christ did on earth would be carried on with increased intensity after the Passion. That this work could be thought of out of relation to Christ, or that Christ Himself could have so thought of it (see above,III , 7) is incredible. So the exalted Christ appears as the source of moral and spiritual power ( Paul speaks even more of Christ's resurrection than of the Passion), the two sources (Christ and the Spirit) being very closely combined in 2Co 3:17; Ro 8:9; Ga 4:6. Our old man has been crucified, so putting an end to the bondage of sin, and we can prevent sin from reigning in our mortal bodies, for our burial into Christ's death was to enable us to walk in newness of life (Ro 6:2-14). The resurrection is a source of power, and through Christ's strength all things can be done (Php 4:13,10). Christ is the real center of the believer's personality (Ga 2:20); the man has become a new creature (2Co 5:17; compare Col 2:20; 3:3); we were joined to another that we might bring forth fruit to God (Ro 7:4). And by contact with the glory of the Lord we are transformed into the same image (2Co 3:18), the end being conformation to the image of the Son (Ro 8:30).

5. Forgiveness:

(1) This growth in actual holiness, then, is fundamental with Paul: "If any man hath not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his" (Ro 8:9). And the acquisition of strength through union with Christ is vitally connected with the remission of sins. In Ro 7:1-6 (compare Col 2:11-12), the mystical union with Christ makes His death ours (compare Col 3:3) and so removes us from the Law (compare Ro 10:4; 1Co 15:56), which has no relation to the dead. And by the life-giving power of this union the strength of sin is broken (Ro 6:6). (2) The condition in man that makes forgiveness possible Paul calls "faith"--a very complicated term. Its chief use, however, is in opposition to "works" (most clearly in Ro 9:30 through Ro 10:13). The Jews' "pursuit after righteousness"--the attempt to wring salvation from God as wages earned--was vain (Ro 10:13), and in contrast is the appeal to God, the conscious relinquishment of all claim (Ro 4:5). The soul looks trustingly for salvation to its Father, precisely the attitude of the "children" in the teaching of Christ. But no more than in the teaching of Christ is faith a purely passive virtue, for man must be "obedient" to it (Ro 1:5; 10:16; 1Th 2:13). And for the necessary presence of love in faith compare 1Co 13:2; Ga 5:6; Eph 3:17.

6. Atonement:

Because of faith--specifically, faith in Christ (except Ro 4:1-25; Ga 3:6)--God does not visit the penalties of sins on believers, but treats them as if they were righteous (Ro 5:1, etc.). But this is not because of a quality in the believer or in the faith, but because of an act that preceded any act of Christian faith, the death of Christ (not the cross, specifically, for Paul does not argue from the cross in all of Roman). Through this death God's mercy could be extended safely, while before this the exercise of that mercy had proved disastrous (Ro 3:25-26). And this death was a sacrifice (Ro 3:25, etc.). And it is certain that Paul conceived of this sacrifice as existing quite independently of its effect on any human being. But he has given us no data for a really complete sacrificial doctrine, a statement sufficiently proved by the hopeless variance of the interpretations that have been propounded. And that Paul ever constructed a theory of the operation of sacrifices must be doubted. There is none in the contemporary Jewish literature, there is none in the Old Testament, and there is none in the rest of the New Testament, not even in Hebrews. Apparently the rites were so familiar that sacrificial terminology was ready to hand and was used without particular reflection and without attempting to give it precise theological content. This is borne out by the ease with which in Ro 3:24-25 Paul passes from a ransom (redemption) illustration to a (quite discordant) propitation illustration. For further discussion see ATONEMENT; JUSTIFICATION. Here it is enough make a juridical theory constructed from Pauline implications and illustrations central in Christianity is to do exactly what Paul did not do.

7. Summary:

Summing up, there is a double line of thought in Paul: the remission of penalties through the atoning death of Christ and the destruction of the power of sin through strength flowing from Christ, the human element in both cases being faith. The question of the order of the steps is futile, for "to have faith," "to be in Christ," and "to have the Spirit" are convertible terms, i.e. in doctrinal phraseology, the beginnings of sanctification are simultaneous with justification. Attempts to unify the two lines of thought into a single theory cannot claim purely Biblical support. The "ethical" theory, which in its best form makes God's pardon depend on the fact that the sinner will be made holy (at least in the next world), introduces the fewest extraneous elements, but it says something that Paul does not say. On the other hand one may feel that considering Paul as a whole--to say nothing of the rest of the New Testament--the pure justification doctrine has bulked a little too large in our dogmatics. God's pardon for sin is an immensely important matter, but still more important is the new power of holiness.

8. Notes:

(1) Baptism presents another obstacle to a strict unifying of Pauline theology. A very much stronger sacramentarianism is admitted in Paul today than would have been accepted a generation ago, and such passages as Ro 6:1-7; Ga 3:27; Col 2:12 make it certain that he regarded baptism as conferring very real spiritual powers. But that he made a mechanical distinction between the blessings given then and those given at some other time must be doubted. (2) Salvation from the flesh (Ro 7:24) involves no metaphysical dualism, as "flesh" is the whole of the lower nature from which the power to holiness saves a man (Ro 8:13). Indeed, the body itself is an object of salvation (Ro 8:11; and see RESURRECTION). (3) Quite in the background lies the idea of salvation from physical evil (2Co 1:10, etc.). Such evils are real evils (1Co 11:30), but in God's hands they may become pure blessings (Ro 5:3; 2Co 12:7). (4) Salvation from sin after conversion is due to God's judging the man in terms of the acquired supernatural nature (Ro 8:14, etc.). Yet certain sins may destroy the union with Christ altogether (1Co 3:17, etc.), while others bring God's chastening judgment (1Co 11:30-32). Or proper chastisement may be inflicted by Paul himself (1Co 5:1-5; 1Ti 1:20) or by the congregation (Ga 6:1; 2Th 3:10-15; 2Co 2:6).

V. Rest of New Testament: Summary.

1. John:

(1) John had the task of presenting Christ to Gentiles, who were as unfamiliar with the technical meaning of such phrases as "kingdom of God" or "Son of Man" as is the world today, and to Gentiles who had instead a series of concepts unknown in Palestine. So a "translation of spiritual values" became necessary if the gospel were to make an immediate appeal, a translation accomplished so successfully that the Fourth Gospel has always been the most popular. The Synoptists, especially the extremely literal Mark, imperatively demand a historical commentary, while John has successfully avoided this necessity. (2) The "kingdom of God," as a phrase (3:3,5; compare 18:36), is replaced by "eternal life." This life is given in this world to the one who accepts Christ's teaching (5:24; 6:47), but its full realization will be in the "many mansions" of the Father's house (14:2), where the believer will be with Christ (17:24). A judgment of all men will precede the establishment of this glorified state (5:28,29), but the believer may face the judgment with equanimity (5:24). So the believer is delivered from a state of things so bad as expressible as a world under Satan's rule (12:31; 14:30; 16:11), a world in darkness (3:19), in ignorance of God (17:25), and in sin (8:21), all expressible in the one word "death" (5:24). (3) The Jews had real privilege in the reception of Christ's message (1:11; 4:22, etc.), but the extension of the good tidings to all men was inevitable (12:23,12, etc.). Belief in Christ is wholly a personal matter, but the believers enter a community of service (13:14), with the unity of the Father and Son as their ideal (17:21). (4) The nature of the moral ideal, reduced to the single word "love" (13:34; 15:12), is assumed as known and identified with "Christ's words" (5:24; 6:63, etc.), and the necessity of progress toward it as sharply pointed as in the Synoptists. The sinner is the servant of sin (8:34), a total change of character is needed (3:6), and the blessing is only on him who does Christ's commandments (13:17). This "doing" is the proof of love toward Christ (14:15,21); only by bearing fruit and more fruit can discipleship be maintained (15:1-6; compare 14:24), and, indeed, by bearing fruit men actually become Christ's disciples (15:8, Gr). The knowledge of Christ and of God that is eternal life (17:3) comes only through moral effort (7:17). In John the contrasts are colored so vividly that it would almost appear as if perfection were demanded. But he does not present even the apostles as models of sanctity (13:38; 16:32), and self-righteousness is condemned without compromise; the crowning sin is to say, "We see" (9:41). It is the Son who frees from sin (8:36), delivers from darkness (8:12; 12:46), and gives eternal life (11:25,26; compare 3:16; 5:24; 6:47). This emphasis on the divine side of the process is probably the reason for the omission of the terms "repent," "repentance," from the Gospel in favor of "faith" (6:29, especially), but this "faith" involves in turn human effort, for, without "abiding," faith is useless (8:30,31). (5) An advance on the Synoptists is found in the number of times Christ speaks of His death (3:14,15; 10:11,15; 12:24,32; 17:19) and in the greater emphasis laid on it, but no more than in the Synoptists is there any explanation of how the Atonement became effectual. A real advance consists in the prospect of Christ's work after His death, when, through the Paraclete (7:38,39; 14:16 ff), a hitherto unknown spiritual power would become available for the world. And spiritual power is due not only to a union of will with Christ but to mystical union with Him (15:1-9). See above,III , 7, for the relation of these thoughts to the synoptic teaching.

2. Hebrews:

(1) The emphasis of He is of course on the sacrificial work of Christ, but the Epistle makes practically no contribution to theology of sacrifice. The argument is this: The Old Testament sacrifices certainly had an efficacy; Christ's sacrifice fulfilled their types perfectly, therefore it had a perfect efficacy (Heb 9:13-14). This must have been a tremendously potent argument for He's own purpose, but it is of very little help to the modern theologian. (2) More than in Paul is emphasized the human training of Christ for His high-priestly work. Since He laid hold of the seed of Abraham (Heb 2:16), He learned by experience all that man had to suffer (Heb 2:17; 4:15; 5:8, etc.). In He the essence of the sacrifice lies not in the death but in what we call the ascension--the presentation of the blood in the heavenly tabernacle (Heb 9:11-14; see the commentaries). That the death was specifically on the cross (Heb 12:2 only) belonged to the stage of training and had no special significance in the sacrificial scheme. Christ's intercession for us in heaven receives more emphasis than in the rest of the New Testament (Heb 7:25).

3. Peter:

The one other distinct contribution to New Testament soteriology is made in 1 Peter's evaluation of the vicarious suffering of the "Servant" of Isa 53:1-12. What Christ did through His sufferings we may do in some degree through our sufferings; as His pains helped not only living mankind, but even departed sinners, so we may face persecution more happily with the thought that our pains are benefiting other men (1Pe 3:16-20). It is hardly possible that Peter thought of this comparison as conveying an exhaustive description of the Atonement (compare 1Pe 1:19), but that the comparison should be made at all is significant.

4. Summary:

(1) Salvation is both a present and a future matter for us. The full realization of all that God has in store will not be ours until the end of human history (if, indeed, there will not be opened infinite possibilities of eternal growth), but the enjoyment of these blessings depends on conditions fulfilled in us and by us now. But a foretaste of the blessings of forgiveness of sins and growth in holiness is given on this earth. The pardon depends on the fact of God's mercy through the death of Christ--a fact for religious experience but probably incapable of expression as a complete philosophical dogma. But strength comes from God through the glorified Christ (or through the Spirit), this vital union with God being a Christian fundamental. These two lines are in large degree independent, and the selection of the proportions profitable to a given soul is the task of the pastor. (2) That human effort is an essential in salvation is not to be denied in the face of all the New Testament evidence, especially Paul taken as a whole. And yet no one with the faintest conception of what religion means would think of coming before God to claim merit. Here the purely intellectual discussions of the subiect and its psychological course in the soul run in different channels, and "anti-synergistic" arguments are really based on attempts to petrify psychology experience into terms of pure dogma. (3) Still more true is this of attempts to describe mathematically the steps in salvation--the ordo salutis of the older dogmatics--for this differs with different souls. In particular, New Testament data are lacking for the development of the individual born of Christian parents in a Christian country. (4) Further, the social side of salvation is an essentially Christian doctrine and cannot be detached from the corporate life of the Christian church. Salvation from temporal evils is equally, if secondarily, Christian. Nationalism in salvation is at present much in the background. But it is as true today as it was in ancient Israel that the sins of a nation tend to harm the souls of even those who have not participated actively in those sins.


The literature of salvation is virtually the literature of theology (see under separate articles, ATONEMENT; JUSTIFICATION; SANCTIFICATION; PERSON OF CHRIST; JOHANNINE THEOLOGY; PAULINE THEOLOGY, etc.), but a few recent works may be mentioned. Indispensable are the works of Stevens, The Christian Doctrine of Salvation and The Pauline Theology. Garvie's Romans in the "New Century" series should be used as a supplement to any other commentary on Romans. The juridical theory has as its best defense in English Denney's The Death of Christ. The ethical theory is best presented in the works of DuBose, The Gospel in the Gospels, The Gospel according to Paul, and High-Priesthood and Sacrifice (Sanday's The Expositor reviews of the two former, reprinted in The Life of Christ in Recent Research, should be read in any case).

Burton Scott Easton

Bible Verses by Topic Nave's Bible Concordance McClintock and Strong Biblical Cyclopedia Online Bible KJV Dictionary

Scripture reference tagging and popups powered by VerseClick™.