Salvation July 10, 2012

The New Testament writers use two closely related Greek words for “salvation”: soteria and soterios . The former is common, used 45 times throughout the New Testament, mostly in the epistles. Soterios is used only a handful of times (Luke 2:30; 3:6; Acts 28:28; Ephesians 6:17; Titus 2:11).

My question: Why would it be used at all? One possibility is that it can be used substantively to refer to a Savior and not to the event or condition of “salvation.” That is how Simeon uses the word when he sings that the Lord has shown Him “Your salvation” (Luke 2:30).

But there is another possibility. Soterios is used frequently in the LXX to name the peace offering (Exodus 24:5; 32:6; Leviticus 3:1, 3, 6, 9; etc.). More than half of the over 100 uses of the word in the LXX refer to the peace offering. In these passages, the word is in a genitive phrase thusia , “sacrifice” or “offering,” but occasionally soterios is used by itself with the sense of “peace offering” (Leviticus 17:4; Numbers 6:14). Might the New Testament writers use the word with this sacrificial connotation? Let’s see if it works.

Luke 2:30: Simeon’s song; he says, “My eyes have seen Your peace offering.” Though nothing in the context requires us to invoke the peace offering, nothing forbids it and a few details might support it. Simeon sees Jesus in the temple . Just before describing Jesus as the “salvation” of God, he has spoken of having a peaceful departure (v. 29), and he goes on to say that the Lord has prepared His “salvation” in the presence of the Gentiles.

Luke 3:6: All flesh shall see the peace offering of God. This is part of the preaching of John the Baptist, and he quotes from Isaiah 40. Isaiah spoke of the “glory” of the Lord revealed to all flesh, but John paraphrases to refer to “salvation.” Nothing in either Isaiah or Luke demand that we think of a peace offering here, and it is not clear what it might add to John’s message.

Acts 28:28: Because the Jews have rejected the gospel, Paul announces that “the salvation of God is sent to the Gentiles.” The salvation is something that the Gentiles will “hear,” so in the first instance Paul is talking about the message of salvation contained in the gospel. But the notion of serving out a peace offering to the Gentiles also makes sense in the context. Because Jews reject their final offering and the final feast, God feeds Gentiles.

Ephesians 6:17: Take up the “helmet of peace offering,” Paul might say. That might fit the overall context, which draws in part on the passages that describe the garments and investiture of the priests. The “breastplate,” the girding of the loins, even the sword of the Spirit all evoke priestly and sacrificial scenery. The armor of God is for a warrior, but specifically a priestly warrior, sent out with the sword of the Spirit to make a great sacrifice of the nations to God. In that context, the notion that the head is equipped with altar fire makes some sense. It is a Pentecostal image; the helmet is the fiery tongue of the Spirit.

Titus 2:11: God’s grace, the peace offering has appeared to all men. Grace ( charis ) and salvation ( soterios ) are in apposition here: “God’s grace, that is, salvation . . . ” Again, there is nothing in the context that remands a sacrificial reading of the word, but nothing that excludes it.

All in all, a mainly negative conclusion: There is no clear evidence that the New Testament writers use soterios to mean “peace offering.” But the usage is common in the LXX, so it is possible that there is a sacrificial and liturgical background lurking even in passages where it is not overt.

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