I understand that there are different contexts and usages of saved. What is the meaning in this one?

But certain ones having come down from Judea were teaching the brothers, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you are not able to be saved [σῴζω]." Acts 15:1

4 Answers 4


The Greek verb σῴζω (sōzō) is translated as simply "save" the vast majority of the time, and sometimes "make whole" or "heal." The people using the term in this passage are Jewish Christians who came "from Judea to Antioch." The were teaching “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved."

Here's the problem with knowing what they meant by the term:

Today we tend to think of salvation in Pauline terms, involving components like repentance, faith, regeneration, justification, adoption, sanctification, and glorification. But the people who used the term "saved" here were opposed to Paul's doctrine of salvation, not to mention the categories developed by later Pauline theologians. Unfortunately little is said about what they taught beyond the fact that they emphasized the need to follow the Law of Moses to be a real Christian. So it may be presumed that, although they certainly believed in Jesus and the Gospel as they understood it, they differed from Paul in terms of the role of the Law in salvation.

In terms of the word "saved" itself we simply do not have enough information to distinguish between the way the word is used here and the way it is used elsewhere in Acts and in Christianity generally: "being rescued by God from the consequences of our wrongdoing [sin]." source

Conclusion: while the word "saved" in Acts 15:1 means the same thing that it means elsewhere in Acts, the underlying implications of the term suggest a doctrine of what Pauline Christians call "works righteousness," especially having to do with following Jewish laws and customs as an essential part of full reconciliation with God.


BDAG offers three basic meanings of the verb σῴζω and several sub-meanings:

  1. to preserve or rescue from natural dangers and afflictions, save, keep from harm, rescue
  • (a) save from death, Matt 14:30, 27:40, 42, 49, Mark 15:30, Luke 23:35, 37, 39, etc
  • (b) bring out safely, Jude 5, John 12:27, Heb 5:7, etc
  • (c) keep preserve, Matt 9:21, 22, Mark 5:23, 28, 34, 6:56, 10:52, Luke 8:36, 48, 17:19, 18:42, Acts 4:9, 14:9, etc
  1. to save or preserve from transcendent danger or destruction, save/preserve from eternal death, 1 Cor 1:21, 2 Tim 1:9, 4:18, Tit 3:5, James 4:2, Matt 1:21, 16:16, 18:11, Luke 19:10, John 12:47, 1 Tim 1:15, Heb 7:25, Acts 15:1, etc.
  2. Some verse below under both 1 & 2 above such as Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24, 56, Rom 9:27, 1 Cor 3:15, etc.

Thus, BDAG places the meaning of σῴζω is Acts 15:1 as #2 above - to attain eternal life and salvation.

  • The question of pre-Pauline doctrines of salvation fascinates me. In this case, did those who said "be saved" in Acts 15:1 think in terms of eternal life (salvation from death)? Or we they thinking in more general terms about the consequences of sin. I ask this because Paul's thoughts on the relation between sin and death are fundamental to us... but would these particular Christians be thinking as Paul did on the meaning of salvation? Aug 12 at 2:38
  • @DanFefferman - great question. First, no one thinks the same way and Paul certainly advanced the science of soteriology. However, I also note that Jesus frequently spoke of "eternal life", so the concept was not new in Acts 15.
    – Dottard
    Aug 12 at 3:02

Young's Analytical Concordance gives several meanings for the Greek words translated 'save', 'to save', 'saving', 'be saved'. There is 'diasozo', to bring safely through, as in Acts 27:43, "...the centurion, willing to save Paul...". It's not that.

Then there is 'sozo', to keep sound, as in John 12:27, "Father, save me from this hour..." and Acts 2:40, "Save yourselves from this untoward generation". It's not that.

Then there is 'sozo' meaning 'to make or keep safe, or sound' as in Acts 15:1, the verse in question. It is that. There is a sense of making something that will last, but the verse itself does not enlarge on being saved. What it does is give us the context in which 'sozo' is being employed.

There were men (Christians known as 'Judaizers') who wanted to insist on Gentile converts to Christianity being circumcised and so oblige themselves to keep all the law of Moses. They were the ones who made that statement - claiming the converts could not be saved unless they were circumcised. The whole 15th chapter needs to be studied to grasp what the debate was about.

In the New Testament, "...the word salvation is a religious term... any healing is a sign of the bestowal of salvation by Jesus. With Jesus, salvation has come to men. ... Man of himself can effect no salvation; even faith, conversion, baptism and constancy in earthly life acquire for him no 'right' to salvation, but are only its necessary presuppositions. Salvation is not restricted to particular groups, as in the OT and in Qumran..." Encyclopedia of Theology, pp.1504-6, article by Ingrid Maisch, Burns & Oates, 1981

That contrasts with the idea of the Judaizers, who were thinking in terms of salvation being for those belonging to the earthly nation of Israel (circumcision being the 'sign' or 'seal' of that covenant.) But Christianity taught salvation from sin (which prevented any drawing close to God) by repentantly putting faith in what Jesus Christ had done to secure salvation for both Jews and Gentiles. Christians find their identity in Christ, not in belonging to any nation - they now belong to the Church, the Bride of Christ, which is spiritual Israel. That is what it means to "be saved" in Christianity (and the Bible New Testament books) but the Judaizers seemed to be having difficulty in grasping that, because they were still thinking in terms of the nation of Israel being God's chosen people - Gentiles ought to be circumcised to belong to it. They had not grasped what it meant to belong to Christ by faith, and so to be saved by Christ.


Rom 3:21 MLV "But now the righteousness of God has been manifested separate from the law, being witnessed by the law and the prophets;/ i.e. on to , Col 2:11 MLV "in whom you° were also circumcised with a circumcision not made* with hands, in the stripping off of the body of the sins of the flesh, in the circumcision of the Christ", (an act of the Holy Spirit, as in James1:18 MLV "Having willed it, he gave-birth to us with the word of truth, that we might be a certain first-fruit of his created things.""treasure in earthen vessels" See also Matt.13:44"treasure"(hid) still opposed by Ortho.Theo.until Rom.11:25 i.e.completion of Church.

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