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The most generic term used to describe the divine action of restoring mankind to the state from which it had fallen by the sin of Adam. (For the main article on this topic see redemption [theology of].) Since the experiences of suffering and guilt are universal, the hope for salvation by some act of the deity is a prominent element in many religions.

The Judeo-Christian religion is gospel, good news, because it announces how God out of love and mercy saved mankind. After promising salvation (Gn 3.15), God prepared men for their savior by choosing the Hebrews as the people of God. Repeated political captivity whetted their longing for a savior. By rescuing His people, e.g., from Egypt under Moses, God, ever faithful to His promise, gave them the conviction that He alone saves [1 Sm 14.39; Ps 67 (68).20; Jer 3.23] by raising up a human leader (Jgs 6.36; Dt 18.1518). In the course of time elements were added to the concept of Savior: He would be a king of David's line [Mi 5.1; Ps 109 (110).1], who would save a faithful remnant of the people (Is 10.2022) through suffering (Is 52.1353.12), yet be a mysterious son of man come from heaven with miraculous power (Dn 7.13; Is 35.4), the Wisdom of God descended to earth to recreate it (the Book of Proverbs; the book of Wisdom).

God the Son became man and saved mankind by His teaching and miracles, by the example of His life, by His death, Resurrection, and Ascension, and by establishing the Church and sending to it His Holy Spirit.

The core of the apostolic preaching was that Jesus alone saves (Acts 4.912; Lk 4.1721). Men were lost, the Good Shepherd leads them (Jn 10.11); men were sick, the Good Samaritan heals them (Lk 10.34); He works miracles to show that the Healer of souls and bodies has come (Lk 7.1823). Men were defiled, His blood washes them (Rv 7.14); men were sinners, i.e., guilty of crimes against God and sentenced to death; their Advocate nullifies the conviction by abolishing their guilt and bearing their debt of punishment (1 Jn 2.1; 3.5; Col 2.14; Mt 8.17; Acts 5.31; 1 Pt 2.2225). Men were confused by the darkness of error, He is the light of the world (Jn 8.12). Men were enslaved by the dread of death, by their passions, by the corrupt powers of this world and of Satan; Jesus is the victorious liberator, the second Moses, who by His death and Resurrection conquers death, the world, and Satan, thus freeing mankind (Acts 26.18; Romans ch. 58; 1 Jn 3.8; Col 1.13). Christ restores men in essentials to their original state. From the state of being enemies, men are reconciled to God by the one Mediator (Enchiridion symbolorum 1513: 1 Tm 2.5; Rom 5.10); from spiritual death and disinheritance men are reborn as children of God and heirs of heaven (Rom 8.17); from captivity men are redeemed, purchased by His blood, and by a new title become the people of God (Ti 2.14; 1 Pt 1.18; 1 Cor 6.20); from exile and dispersion men are reunited to God in Christ (Jn 17.2023); out of spiritual chaos, men are recreated in the image of god by the creative Word of God (Col 3.10; Gal 6.15; Rv 21.5).

See Also: beatific vision; desire to see god, natural; destiny, supernatural; elevation of man; happiness; hope of salvation (in the bible); incorporation in christ; justification; rebirth (in the bible); redemption; salutary acts; salvation, necessity of the church for; supernatural.

Bibliography: t. g. pinches et al., j. hastings, ed., Encyclopedia of Religion & Ethics, 13 v. (Edinburgh 190827) 11:109151. Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963) 210107. x. lÉon-dufour, ed., Vocabulaire de théologie biblique (Paris 1962) 988994. m. É. boismard, St. John's Prologue, tr. Carisbrooke Dominicans (Westminster, MD 1957). l. cerfaux, Christ in the Theology of St. Paul, tr. g. webb and a. walker (New York 1959). j. daniÉlou, Christ and Us, tr. w. roberts (New York 1961). f. x. durrwell, The Resurrection: A Biblical Study, tr. r. sheed (New York 1960). a. gÉlin et al., Son and Saviour, tr. a. wheaton (rev. ed. Baltimore 1962). s. lyonnet, De peccato et redemptione (Rome 1957 ), 4v. planned. d. m. stanley, Christ's Resurrection in Pauline Soteriology (Analecta Biblica 13; Rome 1961); "The Conception of Salvation in Primitive Christian Preaching," The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 18 231254; "The Conception of Salvation in the Synoptic Gospels," ibid. 345363. a. stock, Lamb of God (New York 1963).

[w. g. topmoeller]


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The idea of salvation is rooted in a conception that the world and the human condition are not as they once were or should be; salvation is the radical change or transformation that sets them right. It may mean a total or partial transformation of the individual, in this world or beyond death; it may mean a change of the social order, or a new cosmos.

The term "salvation" originally had only a Christian reference; it is now used to apply also to other religions, especially the so-called Great Religions that originated in the Axial Age (between approximately 600 b.c.e. and 600 c.e.). The cosmic religions that prevailed before this period, and that still do in some places, tend to be this-worldly in their concern. There is resort to Divine figures and/or rituals to meet needs for bodily well-being, for children, for help against impurity, chaos, enemies, death. Although there is interest in a spiritual world to be entered after death, it is not usually the standard by which the present life is judged.

But in the Great Religions, especially Buddhism, Hindu religion, Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and Islam, a profound otherworldly theme appears, sometimes coexisting with this-worldly concerns. It promises that by means of Divine help, spiritual discipline, or both, radically defective earthly life can be transcended, gradually or all at once. In the five Great Religions named above, such transcendence, whether in the flesh or in a purely spiritual state, is the primary meaning of the term "salvation," whereas resolution of this-worldly needs and distresses may be considered the term's secondary meaning. In Judaism, Confucianism, and Taoism this-worldly concerns tend to be primary.

The majority of immigrants to North America have been of Christian background, holding to a view of salvation that centered on atonement through Christ's death for sin against God, with forgiveness, renewal of life, and a promise of Heaven for the individual, and, to a varying extent, expectation of renewal for the community or the world. Like other Protestants, seventeenth-century Puritans held that the principal means of salvation lay in the Bible, a light to both the individual and the government. Puritans tended to see themselves as God's instruments to subdue the dark wilderness and build a Promised Land, a new Eden. In contrast, the Quakers who settled in Pennsylvania saw salvation more as an awakening from the spiritual death that manifested in materialism, inequality, violence, and religious intolerance; the principal means of salvation they found in a silent opening of the self to the Divine Spirit within every individual and the religious community. Quakers also held the ideal of building a new Eden in the wilderness.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries occurred a series of major revivals called the Great Awakenings, originally influenced by the Methodist experience of the warmth of God's love in one's heart. By means of Bible-reading, preaching, and prayer, listeners were urged to repent from the sin that doomed them to hell, be born again, and receive Christ and the Holy Spirit. This focus on an emotional, life-transforming experience has come to inform the language of salvation in U.S. religion. Although this conception of salvation was primarily individual, it had a part in Christian efforts to transform society, notably in pressing for abolition of African slavery.

For many enslaved persons themselves, a rebirth experience of a powerful Divine Presence in their souls undermined society's message that they were mere chattels. The enslaved had an intense longing for Heaven, but in the Bible they also found subversive, this-worldly themes of salvation, especially the Exodus, in which God delivers his oppressed people from Egypt. This encouraged resistance and escape. In slave religion the longed-for Promised Land thus had dual meanings. The Exodus tradition was to be revived in the 1950s and 1960s in the birth of the civil rights movement in black churches.

Liberal Protestantism deemphasized transcendent religious experience along with ideas of atonement, Hell, and Heaven. It focused on the healing of souls from addiction, meaninglessness, and despair, and the healing of society from poverty, discrimination, and injustice through social and political action.

Jewish conceptions of salvation include a search for meaning in the wake of the Holocaust and centuries of exile and oppression. Salvation is particularly realized on a community level, and atonement with God must be manifest in reconciliation between and among individuals. Action to improve society is also important.

Although there were Roman Catholics on the North American continent from the early days, not until the nineteenth century did Roman Catholic Christianity became an important force there. Catholic views of salvation share with Protestant views the importance of forgiveness and transformation of life through Christ's atonement, but for Catholics good works are essential to this process. Furthermore, the means differ; it is principally through the sacraments, and the help of the saints, that the faithful are reconciled to God and prepared for the Beatific Vision of God in heaven. Certain religious and lay groups have traditions of charitable work among the underprivileged, but mainstream Catholic salvationism in the United States has stressed transcendence.

One significant exception to this pattern appeared from the 1960s onward in the Liberation Theology movement, which appropriated biblical themes of Exodus and the Kingdom of God to oppose poverty and oppression and attempt to build a new society on earth.

Hindu and Buddhist conceptions of salvation have had a substantial influence in the United States in the twentieth century. Tending toward transcendence, these religions teach that every deed creates a karmic reaction in future incarnations, so that we are bound to a perpetual round of suffering. Hindu Vedanta offers freedom by realization, through meditation, that Brahman, infinite Being-Consciousness-Bliss, is immanent in the universe, one with the soul. Buddhism offers freedom through Enlightenment—that is, the realization, by means of meditation and other altered states, that the individual self is illusory and that all we experience is mind-created.

These Eastern ideas, minor notes in North America until the 1960s, were widely diffused via the counter-culture and influenced the amorphous New Age movement. Here what is wrong with the world is a mechanistic, dualistic outlook, which fosters isolation, exploitation, and militarism. The means to change are spiritual experience and spiritual discipline; the goal is transformation of consciousness for the individual and the healing of social and ecological ills.

The search for salvation arises out of need for the transcendent—for contact with the Divine, ultimate fulfillment—as well as for this-worldly transformation: meaningfulness, healing, and renewal for the person and the world.

See alsoCivil Rights Movement; Liberation Theology; New Age Spirituality; Quakers; Transcendence.


Brandon, S. G. F. Man and His Destiny in theGreatReligions. 1962.

Eliade, Mircea. Cosmos and History. 1959.

Ellwood, Robert S., and Barbara McGraw. ManyPeoples, Many Faiths. 1999.

Rabateau, Albert. Slave Religion. 1978.

Werblowski, R. J. Zwi. Types of Redemption. 1970.

Gracia Fay Ellwood

Robert Ellwood


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Salvation (Lat., salus, ‘sound, safe’). The act or state of being safe in ultimate terms. Although all religions have some sense of a condition which might appropriately be called by this name, the state and the way to it are very differently understood. Thus in Judaism, there is concern to achieve deliverance from sin and for a final messianic victory, but no word or phrase in general use that summarizes the idea of ‘salvation’. Again, in Islam, there is much concern with the day of judgement (yaum al-Din) and with the mercy of God, who is constantly invoked bʾismi-Llāhi rahmāni warahīm, ‘in the name of God, merciful and compassionate’. But the most common word for ‘salvation’, najah, is used only once in the Qurʾān Again, in Buddhism, there is strong emphasis from the Buddha that he is only a physician who can diagnose ills and suggest the path to a cure, but that each person must be his or her own saviour. It is only in Mahāyāna Buddhism that figures akin to saviours (especially bodhisattvas) enter in. In Hinduism, the notion is more clearly expressed through terms derived from muc, ‘release from pains or penalties’, such as mukti (mukta) and mokṣa. Help from a ‘saviour’, especially an avatāra of Viṣṇu, and above all from Kṛṣṇa, is acknowledged. It is in Christianity that great emphasis is laid on salvation, deriving from the centrality of Christ. The Christian doctrine has several aspects: (i) the work of Christ in the atonement (and, broadly, in the incarnation generally); (ii) the justification and sanctification of men and women by God's grace; and (iii) the outcome of death and of history (see JUDGEMENT; ESCHATOLOGY).


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sal·va·tion / salˈvāshən/ • n. Theol. deliverance from sin and its consequences, believed by Christians to be brought about by faith in Christ. ∎  preservation or deliverance from harm, ruin, or loss: they try to sell it to us as economic salvation. ∎  (one's salvation) a source or means of being saved in this way: his only salvation was to outfly the enemy.


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573. Salvation (See also Deliverance.)

  1. Esther, Queen intercedes with king for cessation of extermination of Jews. [O.T.: Esther 7:8]
  2. Faerie Queene (Gloriana) gives a champion to people in trouble. [Br. Lit.: The Faerie Queene ]
  3. Jesus Christ as savior of souls. [Christian Tradition: Jobes, 330]
  4. Moses led his people out of bondage. [O.T.: Exodus]

Sanctimony (See HYPOCRISY .)

Sanctuary (See REFUGE .)


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salvation saving of the soul XIII; preservation, means of this XIV. ME. sa(u)vacioun, salv- — OF. sauvacion, salv- (mod. salvation) — late L. salvātiō, -ōn-, f. salvāre SAVE1; see -ATION.