International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
I. IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
4. Moral Law
6. Ritual Law
II. INTERMEDIATE LITERATURE
2. The Law
III. THE TEACHING OF CHRIST
1. The Baptist
2. Kingdom of God
3. Present and Future
5. Moral Progress
7. Person of Christ
2. Moral Progress
3. The Spirit
4. Mystical Union
V. THE REST OF THE NEW TESTAMENT: 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
(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 Deuteronomy 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 (Exodus 33:1-4), to know whom gives happiness (Isaiah 11:9 Habakkuk 2:14 Jeremiah 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 (Isaiah 1:26; Isaiah 4:3, 4; 32:1-8; 33:24 Jeremiah 31:33, 34 Ezekiel 36:25, 26 Zechariah 8 Daniel 9:24 Psalm 51:10-12). Good was found in the extension of Israel's good to the surrounding nations (Micah 4:1-4 Isaiah 2:2-4; Isaiah 45:5, 6 Zechariah 2:11; Zechariah 8:22, 23 Isaiah 60; Isaiah 66:19-21 Zechariah 14:16, 17, etc.), even to the extension of the legitimate sacrificial worship to the soil of Egypt (Isaiah 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 (Isaiah 65:17; Isaiah 66:22), and a share in the glories was not to be denied even to the dead (Isaiah 26:19 Daniel 12:2). And, among the people so glorified, God would dwell in person (Isaiah 60:19, 20 Zechariah 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 (Psalm 101, 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 (Psalm 115:17 Isaiah 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 (Joshua 7:26, etc.). And thus, naturally, salvation is from everything that raises that wrath, above all from sin (Ezekiel 36:25, 26, etc.).
(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 (2 Samuel 21:1-14), a king on his subjects (2 Samuel 24), or an unknown sinner could bring guilt on an entire community (Deuteronomy 21:1-9). (On the other hand, ten righteous would have saved Sodom (Genesis 18:32).) And the principle of personal responsibility was grasped but slowly. It is enunciated partly in Deuteronomy 24:16 (compare Jeremiah 31:29, 30), definitely in Ezekiel 14:12-20; Ezekiel 18; 33:1-20, and fairly consistently in the Psalms. But even Ezekiel still held that five-and-twenty could defile the whole nation (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, Amos 3:2 to Matthew 3:9). And yet even the prophets admit a real truth in the attitude, for, despite Israel's sins, eventual salvation is certain. Ezekiel 20 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 Isaiah 8:17, 18 Jeremiah 32:6-15, etc.).
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 (Isaiah 30:1-5), putting reliance in human skill (2 Chronicles 16:12), or forsaking Palestine through fear (Jeremiah 42). In Isaiah 26:20 entire passivity is demanded, and in 2 Kings 13:19 lukewarmness in executing an apparently meaningless command is rebuked.
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 (Deuteronomy 15:12), but the reckless use of the creditor's right is sharply condemned (Nehemiah 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" (Amos 5:15); "To do justly, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with thy God" (Micah 6:8). And the chief emphasis on the Law as written is found in the later books, especially Psalm 119 (compare Psalm 147:20).
(2) Certain breaches of the Law had no pardon, but were visited with death at once, even despite repentance and confession (Joshua 7). But for the most part it is promised that repentance will remove the guilt of the sin if the sin be forsaken (Ezekiel 18) or, in the case of a sin that would not be repeated, if contrition be felt (2 Samuel 12). Suffering played a part in salvation by bringing knowledge of sin to the conscience, the exile being the most important example (Ezekiel 36:31). But almost always it is assumed that the possibility of keeping the Law is in man's own power, Deuteronomy 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 (Jeremiah 31:31-34). So an outlook was opened to a future in which God would make the nation righteous (see references in 1, above).
(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 Leviticus 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 Leviticus 5:1; Leviticus 6:1-3, sins are included that could not be committed through mere negligence. And so such rules as Numbers 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 (Jeremiah 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 (Amos 5:21-24 Isaiah 22:13; compare Proverbs 7:14). Attempts were made to "strengthen" the sacrifices to Yahweh by the use of ethnic rites (Hosea 4:14 Isaiah 65:1-5), even with the extreme of human sacrifice (Jeremiah 7:31 Ezekiel 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 Psalm 66 and Psalm 118, 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 Zechariah 14:20, 21, where all of Jerusalem is so holy that not a pot would be unfit to use in the temple (compare Jeremiah 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) 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 Zechariah 9-14; Isaiah 24-27, 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 Matthew 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 (Psalms of Solomon; 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 Luke 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 (Luke 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 Romans 2). 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 (So of Three Children verses 3-22; Pr Man; Bar 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" (Mark 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 (Luke 22:30) and the patriarchs (Matthew 8:11). But otherwise-and again as usual-the current descriptions are used without comment, even when they rest on rather materialistic imagery (Luke 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 (Matthew 11:11 Luke 17:21 (?); the meaning of the latter verse is very dubious). Such men are "saved" already (Luke 19:9; Luke 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 (Luke 10:18; Luke 11:21).
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 (Matthew 10:5; Matthew 15:26, etc.). He admitted even that the position of the Jewish religious leaders rested on a real basis (Matthew 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 (Mark 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 Matthew 16:18; Matthew 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. Exodus 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 (Matthew 6:22), of the pure heart (Matthew 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 (Matthew 6:12; Matthew 18:35). They who omit natural works of mercy have no share in the kingdom (Matthew 25:31-46), for even idle words will be taken into account (Matthew 12:36), and the most precious possession that interferes with moral progress is to be sacrificed ruthlessly (Matthew 18:8, 9, etc.). Men are known by their fruits (Matthew 7:20); it is he that doeth the will of the Father that shall enter into the kingdom (Matthew 7:21), and the final ideal-which is likewise the goal-is becoming a son of the Father in moral likeness (Matthew 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 (Luke 11:20).
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 (Luke 12:32), the palsied man who receives remission of sins (Mark 2:5), Zaccheus who is said to have received salvation (Luke 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 Mark 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 Luke 18:15, while in Matthew 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 (Luke 18:9) and of the prodigal welcomed by the Father (Luke 15:20), both without intermediary. And it is perhaps not necessary to assume that all of those finding the strait gate (Matthew 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 (Mark 9:40 is irrelevant). Real knowledge of the Father is possible only through the unique knowledge of the Son (Luke 10:21, 22), and lack of faith in the Son forfeits all blessings (Mark 6:5, 6; Mark 9:23). Faith in Him brings instant forgiveness of sins (Mark 2:5), and love directed to Him is an indisputable sign that forgiveness has taken place (Luke 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 Mark 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 Mark 2:18, 19 (even without 2:20). That He could have viewed His death as void of significance for human salvation is simply inconceivable, and the ascription of Mark 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.
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