A couple of weeks ago, Andy got asked the question: "So, if you don't believe in hell, then what does Jesus save us from?"
It was an opportunity for a really interesting discussion about the Greek word commonly translated "salvation" or "saved" in the New Testament and what we think it means.
Here's an interesting fact that we often forget: our English Bibles are all translations. Not one single word in them is actually the original word written by the original authors.
Every single word has been translated from one language into another, and when you translate, you have to choose what word you're going to use in the receptor language, in this case English.
The New Testament was mostly written in Koine Greek, the everyday kind of Greek used for shopping lists and letters home to Mom.
Because Koine Greek was so widely used, we've got a lot of information about what particular words most commonly mean, based on a large sample of original texts apart from the New Testament.
This is great, right? Because it means we can be really accurate in our New Testament translations, when all these other texts confirm the meanings of each word.
(Super important if you believe in the literal, inerrancy of the text, which is fundamental to the fundamentalism I grew up in.)
Well, not so fast.
Take this word that's translated "salvation" or "saved" for example.
The Greek word is "soteria" (noun) or "sozo" (verb).
Scholar William Barclay points out that the the most common meaning of soteria/sozo in everyday Koine Greek sources refers to bodily health, wellness, or well-being.
A dutiful son might write home and inquire about the "soteria" of his parents. He's not asking about their eternal security; he's asking about their well-being, their health.
Here's what we need to understand: when translators come to this word "soteria" or "sozo" in the New Testament, they have a choice about whether they're going to pick the most common meaning (health, healing) or a less common meaning (salvation, saved).
Even the "salvation/saved" meaning of "soteria/sozo" is not about being saved from hell like we've been taught to think. The "salvation/saved" meaning refers to a situation like being saved from disaster, released from prison.
None of the meanings of "soteria/sozo" have anything to do with being saved from a literal, burning hell in Koine Greek, because the idea of a literal hell is a construct created much later on. (The hell construct is largely based on bad translations of other words like Gehenna and Sheol, which don't mean "hell" at all. Resources for study below.)
Guess which meaning of "soteria/sozo" English translators have picked: the less common meaning.
Because they're reading their theology into the text. They've been taught that this word means "salvation" and "saved", even though this is the less common meaning, and so that's how they translate it. They don't necessarily use good translation principles with this word "soteria/sozo." They use their assumptions.
And then we read into the text with even more assumptions about what "salvation" means, in light of the constructs of hell we've learned in our particular religious tradition.
So how does this impact our understanding of "soteria/sozo"?
Let's take a verse we've all read a million times, John 3:17.
"For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save ("sozo") the world through him." NIV
We immediately think of sinners in the hands of an angry God, being snatched out of the pit of hell, right?
But when we know that this meaning did not exist in the Koine Greek, we can use our new-found knowledge and postulate that perhaps we are being saved from the disaster that the world or our lives have become, or from the prisons of our own making.
And what if we choose the most common meaning for "sozo" here?
"For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to heal ("sozo") the world through him."
Want to follow the Way of Jesus?
You don't have to beat yourself or anybody else down with the bad news that God is going to burn us in hell forever.
You can actually be anxious for nothing, because you are loved with an everlasting Love that is never, ever a threat to you or anyone you love, and only, always a blessing of healing and wholeness and life in abundance for us all.
Sit with that a while and let it change your life.
The Way of Jesus saves us from the disasters of this world.
The Way of Jesus saves us from the prisons of our own making.
The Way of Jesus heals us and our loved ones and the whole world.
This is the Good News, worth sharing.
Now go into the world,