“Jews traditionally saw salvation as part of the covenant (Ps 130.8; 2 Chr 7.14; m. Sanh. 10.1), and understood continuing divine presence to be part of the ideal future (see e.g., Ezek 48.35).” (JEWISH ANNOTATED NEW TESTAMENT, p 4 foonote)
This is the fourth blog in this series exploring ideas about and images of salvation. The first blog is Images of Salvation and the previous blog is Images of Salvation (III).
One of the main images of salvation that we find in the Orthodox Church is that of salvation as liberation. The ideas see the Passover and Exodus stories of the Old Testament as being prototypes, prefiguring, the reality of salvation given by God in Jesus Christ. Then there was liberation for the Israelites from slavery in Egypt to deliverance in the Promised land. Now, in Christ, there is liberation for all humanity from slavery to sin, death, Hades and Satan to deliverance in Heaven: from death to life and from earth to heaven. In Orthodoxy Christ is celebrated more as the victor than as the victim, and our response to God’s saving actions is not so much feeling guilt that our sin is responsible for the death of Christ but rather is thanksgiving (Eucharist) for being saved by God from death.
“The Mosaic religion was born along with the idea of salvation. The first commandment of the Decalogue reminds us that Yahweh liberated his people from the slavery in which they languished. The general masses always understood salvation entirely concretely, as liberation from enemies and natural disasters. The Prophets inspired this hope, inserting into it eschatological contents. According to the Bible, the world has long existed in a fallen state and stands in need of healing. Human life is as short as a dream, and it is spent in fruitless struggle. People are immersed in vanity. ‘Being born in sin,’ they are drawn inexorably to destruction. This kingdom of darkness and suffering is most unlike the consummation of God’s will. Many philosophers of the West and East came to similar conclusions. In their opinion, mortal man is a plaything of blind passions and circumstances; implacable fate lords it over all, condemning the Universe to struggle along in a closed circular path. Awareness of the imperfection of the world led to the development of ‘salvation doctrines,’ which can be grouped into three types. For some (Plato), the exit consisted in the best organization of society, for others (the Buddha), in mystical reflection and flight from life. Both solutions, however, were united by a common assumption: neither man nor God is capable of introducing radical changes in the structure of the world. It is only possible to achieve a partial easing of suffering and hope for the annulment of existence itself. The third type of soteriology arose in Israel and in Iran. Only in those places did there exist a confidence that evil is surmountable, that there would come a great change, which is the highest goal of human life.” (Father Alexander Men, Son of Man, pg. 120)
Salvation in Christ is not from one evil or another – Pharoah, barabarians, Hitler or communism – but an ultimate salvation from the evil itself. Salvation is thus not a nationalistic endeavor for which patriots are fighting. Salvation is a cosmic victory over evil not just over human hubris or “-isms.”
“The ‘new covenant’ beliefs of the early Christians meant that, in hailing Jesus as ‘son of god’, they believed that Israel’s god had acted in him to fulfill the covenant promises by dealing at last with the problem of evil. One standard Jewish analysis of evil, represented for instance by the Wisdom of Solomon, did not believe that the created order was itself evil, but that human beings, by committing idolatry, distorted their own humanity into sinful behavior and courted corruption and ultimately death. Death – the unmaking of the creator’s image-bearing creatures – was not seen as a good thing, but as an enemy to be defeated. It was the ultimate weapon of destruction: anti-creation, anti-human, anti-god. If the creator god was also the covenant god, and if the covenant was there to deal with the unwelcome problem that had invaded the created order at its heart and corrupted human beings themselves, it was this intruder, death itself, that had to be defeated. To allow death to have its way – to sign up, as it were, to some kind of compromise agreement whereby death took human bodies but the creator was allowed to keep human souls – was no solution, or not to the problem as it was perceived within most second-Temple Judaism. That is why ‘resurrection’ was never a redescription of death, but always its defeat.” (N.T. Wright, THE RESURRECTION OF THE SON OF GOD, pp 727-728)
“[St.] Paul clearly views God’s gospel and salvation as oriented to all, ‘to the Jew first and also to the Greek’ (Rom 1:16). He knows that the one God of all humanity (Rom 3:29-30) has indeed chosen Israel, to whom and through whom came God’s Law, promises, and Messiah (3:2; 9:4-5). But the divine election of Israel was ultimately for the blessing or salvation of all nations (c.f. Gal 3:6-9; Rom 9-11). Salvation—God’s deliverance of Israel, according to the Scriptures—is thus opened universally in this good news, and that is the unique thematic emphasis of Romans. The only condition for the receipt of this salvation is faith. … Salvation for Paul, thought oriented toward the future day of deliverance, is the total experience of being put into right covenantal relationship with God now, being one day raised from the dead, being acquitted on the day of judgment, and therefore having eternal life. Faith, for the hearers, is the total response of obedience to the gospel (1:5). It includes the mind, heart and body.” (Michael Gorman, APOSTLE OF THE CRUCIFIED LORD, p 349)
The salvation which the New Testament presents is based in Jewish thinking and spirituality. Christianity after all believes itself to be the recipients of God’s revelation, promises and prophecies, seeing all things fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Salvation is thus not just about some future and distant heaven, nor is it merely about an immaterial soul – salvation is cosmic, but it is also about the physical, empirical creation and the here and now. Salvation is also not an abstract idea but deals with something very earthy – namely, death itself.
“St. Paul, furthermore, is not concerned with the specifically Greek dichotomy between the soul and the body. Faithful to the realism of Jewish thought, he always thinks of man as a whole: for him, the body does not imply so much the materiality of human life as opposed to its spirituality, as it does the organic unity of that life, indissolubly material and spiritual.
This is why eternal life, salvation made perfect, is for him in no way a deliverance from the body, but the resurrection of the body. Is not man’s body called to become a member of Christ, a temple of the Spirit?” (Louis Bouyer, THE SPIRITUALITY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT & THE FATHERS, p. 79)
Next: Images of Salvation (V)