This article is the first in a series of articles I plan to do on the topic of the soul and salvation. This subject is important because there are a number of so-called problem texts which refer to the saving of one’s soul. Those passages cannot be properly understood without understanding the meaning of “soul salvation.”
Texts which we will consider in future months include the following: At the beginning of his epistle James exhorted his believing readers to “receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21).
James also wrote about the saving of the soul at the end of his epistle: “Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death . . .” (James 5:19-20).
The Lord taught about the saving of the soul in Matt 16:25-26: “For whoever desires to save his life [Gk psyche] will lose it, but whoever loses his life [Gk psyche] for my sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul [Gk psyche]? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul [Gk psyche]?”
Peter wrote about the saving of the soul as well: “receiving the end of your faith–the salvation of your souls” (1 Pet 1:9).
The purpose of this article is to demonstrate the need for this study and to lay the groundwork for the discussion of these four passages.
In English the word soul has a broad field of meaning. Note how complicated the following definition from an English dictionary is: “[Gk psyche life, spirit, soul, self . . . ] a: the vital principle of corporeal matter that is a distinct mental or spiritual entity coextensive with but independent of body or soma: SOUL, SELF, PERSONALITY–compare ELAN VITAL b: the specialized cognitive, conative, and affective aspects of a psychosomatic unity: MIND; specifically = the totality of the id, ego, and superego including both conscious and unconscious components” (Websters Third New International Dictionary, p. 2176).
In Greek the word often equivalent to our word soul is psyche . A large number of English words are derived from it including: psyche, psychology, psychologist, psychiatrist, psychosomatic, psychic, psychotic, psychedelic, psychoanalysis, psychopath, and psychotherapy. It is used in the Greek OT over 900 times and in the NT about 100 times. Three of its different meanings are easy to understand. It refers to, 1) a person or persons (e.g., 1 Pet 3:20, “when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is eight souls, were saved through water”), 2) living creatures, those things which have life (e.g., Lev 11:10, “or any living thing which is in the water”; Rev 16:3, “and every living creature in the sea died”), and 3) physical life (e.g., Matt 20:28, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many”; 1 John 3:16, “He laid down His life for us”).
One of the biblical uses of psyche is less easy to follow. That is when it refers to the inner person, the immaterial part of man. It can refer to a number of aspects of the inner self: the heart (Ps 10:3 [9:24 in the LXX]: “For the wicked boasts of his heart’s desires”), the seat of feelings and emotions (e.g., Ps 6:3, “My soul also is greatly troubled”; Matt 26:38, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful”), and “the seat and center of life that transcends the earthly” (BAGD, pp. 893-94; e.g., Matt 10:28, “Fear Him who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell”; Acts 2:27 [quoting Ps 16:10], “For you will not leave my soul in Hades”). While many think of this latter meaning every time they see the word soul (or the Greek word psyche) in Scripture, actually it is rarely used in that way in Scripture.
The words save and salvation in Scripture refer to two types of deliverance: temporal (e.g., deliverance from enemies, disease, death, ruin, etc.) and eternal (i.e., deliverance from eternal condemnation). A concordance study of the OT reveals that 95% of the uses of the Hebrew words for salvation refer to temporal salvation of some type. In the NT the usages equal out so that 50% of the time temporal salvation is in view and 50% of the time eternal salvation.
Interestingly, there are no biblical uses of the expression the salvation of the soul in reference to eternal salvation from hell. As will be shown in future months, the saving of the soul refers to either, 1) saving one’s physical life from death, or, 2) saving up eternal joys and blessings, a superlative experience of eternal life–as one might save up money in a bank (see Matt 6:19-21).
“Soul salvation” is not to be confused with eternal salvation from hell. To make that mistake leads to great confusion in a number of passages as we shall see in future articles. Stay tuned.
In the coming months the subject of “soul salvation” will be our particular kind of “soul talk” which I trust will minister some spiritual “soul food” to each of you.