During shelter in place, I received this question:
Hello. In this article by Bob Wilkin, he states “In none of the four uses outside of our passage is eternal salvation in view.” The first usage of the word save in the Book of James connects the word save to soul (“Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls,” ESV), so how is this not referring to eternal salvation?
In Evangelicalism today we often use the word soul to refer to the inner person who will spend eternity either with the Lord or apart from Him. Of course, we know that both believers and unbelievers will be resurrected at the end of the age. Whether in Jesus’ kingdom or the lake of fire, all people will be body, soul, and spirit forever.
Sailors to this day use the word souls to refer to the number of people on a ship. That was true in the first century as well: “in the days of Noah…eight souls were saved through water” (1 Pet 3:20).
In Gethsemane, the Lord Jesus said, “Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour” (John 12:27). He meant that He was troubled, or, more specifically, His inner self was troubled. He was not asking God the Father to save Him from death on the cross. That was his primary purpose in His first coming.
In the Bible the word soul often refers to the whole person.
Even in cases where the word soul refers to the inner self, eternal destiny is not in view simply by using the word soul. In fact, I don’t know of a single verse where soul is used in a salvific context. For example, the word soul (psuchē) only occurs once in John’s Gospel—and then it is the Lord using it to refer to Himself, which would be odd if it were a key word for eternal salvation.
Finally, let’s concentrate on the specific expression the saving of the soul. We’ve already seen that in 1 Pet 3:20 it referred to Noah and his family having been saved from physical death. That is the case in most NT uses, except that sometimes immediate death is not in view. In some cases, the saving of the soul is from calamities in this life that could culminate in premature death (e.g., Mark 3:4; Luke 6:9; Jas 1:21; 5:20; see also Ps 72:13).
There are a few places where the saving of the soul refers to eternal rewards. In Heb 10:39, the author is saying that those who persevere in faith and good works will be Christ’s partners in the life to come. Also compare Matt 16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24; 17:33, all of which refer to saving one’s psuchē, that is, saving one’s soul/life, in the sense of gaining a fullness of life forever.
For more details see these five 1992 articles by me (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5), this 2014 blog by me, and this journal article by Jerry Pattillo who wrote his DTS Master’s thesis on this question.
Therefore, the answer is this: the saving of the soul in the Bible never refers to salvation from eternal condemnation.