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I've always found that in the Old Testament, 'salvation' refers more or less exclusively to temporal salvation, and not necessarily justification, whereas of course in the New Testament, it more often than not (if not exclusively) refers to justification and the translation from the state of being damned to being a child of God.

A pertinent, relevant example is when non-Catholics quote Mary's Magnificat as proof that she thought herself to be in need of forgiveness (i.e. in reaction to the Catholic doctrine of the immaculate conception and sinlessness of Mary), because—the argument goes—salvation pertains to salvation from sin:

Luke 1:46-55 (DRB) And Mary said:

My soul doth magnify the Lord. 47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. 48 Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid; for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. 49 Because he that is mighty, hath done great things to me; and holy is his name. 50 And his mercy is from generation unto generations, to them that fear him. 51 He hath shewed might in his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. 52 He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble. 53 He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away. 54 He hath received Israel his servant, being mindful of his mercy: 55 As he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed for ever.

The above of course seems to be an allusion to Psalm 40:16 (DRB):

Let all that seek thee rejoice and be glad in thee : and let such as love thy salvation say always : The Lord be magnified.

I see nothing about sins, but I hear a lot of echoing of the temporal salvation language found in the Old Testament—Mary, and this Song, was still in the Old Testament period, technically speaking.

Cf. Psalm 62.

Question

Does the Old Testament (always? ever?) use the word "salvation" in the New Testament sense of the word (salvation from sins and/or eternal damnation), such that the words of Mary (who lives on the cusp of the New Testament era) in Luke 1:46-47 necessitate she is speaking about salvation from sin necessarily, and not from something temporal?

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    This is a big ask because the structure of Greek vs Hebrew is so different - Hebrew virtually lacks true abstract nouns like anger, salvation and justification (despite the translators using them). I will be interested in the responses.
    – user25930
    May 24, 2019 at 23:50
  • I think he would be fine with LXX equivalents too May 25, 2019 at 3:12
  • I think the question could be made to be on-topic by dropping the request to systematise the OT's use of 'salvation', and instead focusing on Mary's statement, and asking what we can learn from the context of the OT for what Mary's statement meant.
    – curiousdannii
    Sep 7 at 11:34

3 Answers 3

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You ask about (1) how the word for 'salvation' is used (and hence, understood) in the Old Testament. Your comments indicate that you take the O.T. useage to mean temporal salvation and not salvation from sins, also that it is in the N.T. that the idea of salvation from sins is promoted. I take it that you do not seem to see the O.T. teaching salvation from sins (which would result in being saved eternally and spiritually.) You specifically ask for (2) examples in the O.T. where 'salvation' is used in the sense of being saved spiritually (as opposed to temporally).

(1) The overwhelming instances of the Hebrew words for 'salvation' or 'saved' (as in, 'to be saved from...') refer to temporal salvation from temporal dangers, especially death. I will not detail the various Hebrew words, nor give instances of them, for they are... overwhelming. There can be no argument but that, in the Hebrew scriptures, God's people were delivered by him from bondage in Egypt, saved to become a holy nation, a chosen priesthood, to declare forth his praises. That was the purpose of God's salvation for them, and only when they forgot that did they lapse into no longer experiencing the saving power (the salvation of) their God.

However, the idea of being saved from their sins is included in this salvation, for they knew that unforgiven sins were not tolerated by God, hence the sacrificial system in the temple, especially sacrifices for sins, both individually and nationally. There was an unbreakable link between the nation's views on salvation and God's forgiveness of their sins. For example, when Moses pleaded with God to forgive the nation's sin in worshipping a golden calf:

"But now, please, forgive their sin - but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written. The Lord replied to Moses, Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book." Exodus 32:32-33 N.I.V.

Consider other O.T. references to this "book" of names that God has. King David wrote about it. See Psalm 9:5 ('you have blotted out their name for ever and ever', which goes beyond the merely temporal.) See likewise Psalm 51:1 & 69:28. Further, Daniel was told of a future time, when all whose names were found written in the book would rise at the resurrection to everlasting life (Daniel 12:1-2). Powerfully, we are told of a time in the O.T. when those who feared the Lord and honoured his name were listened to by the Lord and a scroll of remembrance was written in his presence:

"They will be mine, says the Lord Almighty, in the day when I make up my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him. And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not." Malachi 3:16-18

This was with regard to the future "great and dreadful day of the Lord" that would involve all the nations. Where it speaks of "the righteous and the wicked", that clearly equates with those whose sins God has forgiven, and unforgiven sinners.

(2) Here are a few instances where 'salvation' is used in the O.T. in the sense of being saved spiritually:

Isaiah 49:3-13 where God appoints Israel to be his servant "to be a light to the Gentiles" for their salvation; they become "[God's] salvation to the ends of the earth." Although the Lord heard and helped Israel "in a day of salvation", he then gave Israel "as a covenant of the people, to establish the earth". Then phrases similar to Revelation 21:1-7 are promised for a future time. This promise goes way beyond Israel winning battles or any temporal situation to be saved from.

Isaiah 6:5-7 where Isaiah has a vision of God and cries out to be saved from certain death due to his lips being unclean, and dwelling among a people of unclean lips. A seraph takes a hot coal from the altar, touches his lips and says that now his iniquity is taken away, and his sin purged. This is not a temporal situation where Isaiah literally faced death, but a spiritual situation about eternal verities. God graciously saved him so that he could then be a divinely appointed prophet.

Isaiah 59:15-21 Again, another prophetic word about God bringing salvation by putting on righteousness as a breastplate, and salvation as a helmet, the garments of vengeance, and being cloaked in his own zeal. Yet this is not 'just' for Israel. It is a new covenant the Redeemer will make with those from east to west who turn from sin. The Spirit of the Lord will come upon them, and be with them for ever.

In summary: your point about the use of the word 'salvation' in the O.T. is valid, and it certainly takes on new meaning in the N.T. once the Son of God has supremely wrought salvation at the cross and the empty tomb. I do not go into modern understanding of the word 'justification' because there are lots of different views about that. Keeping it simple, this is just to examine O.T. use of 'salvation'. It wasn't until Jesus wrought salvation for repentant sinners that the matter of being justified opened up in the N.T. so, of course, the O.T. saints could not be expected to think of it in the same way the N.T. saints did. All you find in the O.T. are statements showing that no sinful human can stand justified before God. God makes it clear that only faith enables any human to stand before him, as did Abraham, as an outstanding example. But there was no developed theology of justification in the O.T. Indeed, Mary was on the cusp of a massive spiritual transition, so that if she had been recorded as singing a song of praise after Christ's ascension back to heaven, it might have indicated a fresh understanding and appreciation of a greater depth of God's salvation, in Christ.

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    Excellent answer Anne, thank you. "being saved from their sins is included in this salvation, for they knew that unforgiven sins were not tolerated by God . . . Where it speaks of "the righteous and the wicked", that clearly equates with those whose sins God has forgiven, and unforgiven sinners." 👍 Sep 2 at 19:06
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    "Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him". +1 Sep 2 at 19:28
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    Especially the last paragraph explains the progression in consistent continuity from OT to NT. I'm adding a supplemental answer that adds some thoughts, but is built on this without repeating.
    – Jesse
    Sep 6 at 23:52
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Is the word “salvation” ever used in the New Testament 'justification' sense in the Old Testament?

In writing 1 Corinthians 15:54-55, Paul was alluding to Hosea 13:14, the verse speaks of the abolition of death and the rendering of sheol/grave powerless. Rendering sheol/ grave powerless means the emptying by resurrection and bringing to life those there.

Sheol/grave , the place of the dead. (Genesis 37:35; Ecclesiastes 9:10)

Hosea 13:14 (NASB)

14 Shall I ransom them from the power of Sheol? Shall I redeem them from death? O Death, where are your thorns? O Sheol, where is your sting? Compassion will be hidden from My sight.

1 Corinthians 15:54-55 (NASB)

54 "But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

Faithful servants of God in line for resurrection:

The Sadducee did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, and to prove it ,they put a problematic question to Jesus about a woman being married seven times, they obviously believed that resurrection was unworkable.(Mark 12:20-23)

To show that they were are wrong ,Jesus said, by God making this declaration proved that there would be a resurrection of Abraham, Isaac ,Jacob and many others,Jesus said to the Sadducee:

Mark 12:26-27 (NASB)

26 "But regarding the fact that the dead rise again, have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the burning bush, how God spoke to him, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? 27 He is not the God [f]of the dead, but of the living; you are greatly mistaken.” (Exodus 3:2,6 Luke 20:38)

All Nations Blessed because of Abraham's Faith.

Because of Abraham's faith ,God made a covenant with him that all nations will be blessed by means of his seed, the primary seed (Galatians 3:16) was Jesus, who gave his life for mankind.

Genesis 22:18 (NASB)

18 In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.”

Abraham receives Isaac back form the dead ,in a figurative way.

Hebrews 11:17-19 (NRSV)

17 "By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac. He who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son, 18 of whom he had been told, “It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named for you.” 19 He considered the fact that God is able even to raise someone from the dead—and figuratively speaking, he did receive him back."

The Psalmist said the meek will inherit the earth, so did Jesus.

Psalm 37:11 (KJV)

11 "But the meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace."

Matthew 5:5 (KJV) 5 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

Conclusion.

The OT does speak of Salvation and the blessing of mankind,but it remained on Jesus, to shed light on the issue, through the preaching of the good news. Jesus said:

John 5:28-29 (NASB)

28 "Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, 29 and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment."

Jesus said that there will a resurrection of "those that did good deeds" or righteous.(Acts 24:15) The righteous we read in the Scriptures are men and women, like Moses, Sarah, Abraham,Noah, Ruth ,Esther, Isaac and many others, for those righteous men/women will be a resurrection to life.

Notes:

Resurrection of Judgement: People will be judged on their deeds following resurrection.( Rev.20:12)

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  • Thanks for your answer, but this doesn't answer my question. My question is about the use of the term salvation in the Old Testament. May 26, 2019 at 13:36
  • I searched the scriptures for salvation, redeemer, savior, ransom, but I could not find a word used in the same sense, as used in the NT. It is however implied in the verses and examples I used. May 26, 2019 at 13:50
  • That it is implied begs the question, though! May 26, 2019 at 18:34
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This question is very much on topic because it is not ultimately seeking a list of verses, but a kind of working definition of a word. Specifically, the question is about a seemingly dynamic/developing definition of a word, defined and understood by how it is used. While that requires multiple passages, the question is not seeking a list of verses, but an understanding of the word itself.

Building on the accepted answer, there are two hermeneutics we see demonstrated here:

  1. Progressive revelation (more clarity, not different meaning).
  2. A historical event that changed the game (Jesus brought a different thing).

1. Progressive revelation

The Bible gives more and more clarity about God and humanity and various themes as books unfold.

For example, whether or not there is only one God or whether there are many gods, but Yahweh is the only omnipotent "Most High". There is no such language bout "Only the Lord is God" until Isaiah, before that the language and pattern is to "worship the Lord only". Here are two example questions that explore this:

On another note, I personally use the progress of revelation as yet another reason to date Job between Noah and Abraham. Job understands God as an all-powerful, all-knowing, Creator, but not many details beyond that—nothing about keeping promises or helping the righteous or forgiving or such themes. Job's understanding of God is very much Genesis 1-10 or even Genesis 1-4. This question has also been asked frequently:

... While many scholars date Job between Noah and Abraham for many reasons about the nature of Job's life, the idea of "progressive revelation" is one more consideration I like to add to support the same conclusion.

2. Historical event: Jesus brings a new kind of salvation

We call it "justification" post Martin Luther (Sys Theo); the Bible would call it "atonement" (Bible Theo). I'll stay Biblical for the sake of being on topic.

"Atonement" in the Old Testament was not permanent, but required ongoing and recurring animal sacrifices, including Noah (Gen 8:20-22), Abraham (Gen 22:13), and Gideon (Jdg 6:25-28). Jesus's death was a sacrifice that ended the need for these ongoing sacrifices (Heb 9:12, 26-27) as part of the New Covenant (Lk 22:20) when the Temple curtain was ripped (Mt 27:51).

So, this doesn't so much change the detail-level in which the Bible describes themes, but something actually happens in history that changes.

Without a permanent atonement, the idea of "eternal-spiritual salvation" wasn't exactly as pleasant of a topic as it is with the "Good news for all people" (Lk 2:10).

Overlap

The pragmatic view of "salvation" in the Old Testament helps us to understand what "salvation" it self is, which Jesus even claims is part of his purpose, for which he is put out of his own Synagogue (Lk 4:18-21 cf Is 61:1). Salvation is, among other things, practical in addition to spiritual. Consider the paralyzed man Jesus healed when lowered through the roof early in Jesus's public ministry: "Your sins are forgiven... also... get up and walk." Jesus does not ignore the practical, temporal need for salvation, but he places it as a secondary priority to spiritual-eternal salvation—a salvation that can "save your sours" (Mk 2:1-12, Lk 5:18-25).

Knowing the kinds of real things that temporal-earthly "salvation" can save us from gives us an understanding of salvation's nature by example. In the Crucified Christ, we see that this kind of salvation also applies to spiritual matters, as Jesus told Nicodemus about spirit birthing spirit and flesh birthing flesh (Jn 3:6).

To use an analogy of sports leagues, Jesus definitely changes the game by taking the game up to a higher league ('mainly practical' to 'both practical and spiritual'), but it is still the same sport ('salvation').

Conclusion

We do have a factor of progressive revelation happening. But, the spiritual-eternal aspect of salvation of the NT wasn't just a different idea nor a disagreement, it was another arena of salvation that the OT was earnestly looking forward to (1 Pt 1:10-12).

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