What in the Word: Save/Heal

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A Greek word can sometimes have several meanings that are translated by different English words. Take, for example, the Greek word sõzõ. This word means “heal” but it also means rescue or “save”. Translators, of course, have to choose only one option when they translate, but First Century readers of works that make up the Greek New Testament would have been alive to all the different possible meanings of words that they were reading, including the different possible meanings of sõzõ.

Take, for example, the saying of Jesus that grew out of the incident when the woman with a flow of blood touched Him (Matthew 9:20-22; Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:43-48). The woman had been suffering from a continuous flow of blood for 12 years (Luke 8:43). She thought that Jesus might have the power to heal her, and sure enough, when she touched Him, the flow of blood ceased and she was healed. Jesus stops in the crowd and asks, “who touched me?” and the woman confesses. He then says these important words to the woman: “your faith has healed you”, and in doing so, uses the perfect tense of the verb sõzõ, which his translated into English as “has saved.” But the Greek-speaking reader also knows that the word sõzõ means “to save” as well as meaning “to heal”. Thus, the Greek-speaking reader would read, “your faith has healed/saved you”.

There are several important things to note here. The first is that Jesus is at pains to make sure that His followers know the basis of His miracles: they are based on “faith”, on belief in God and His goodness, not on some magic that comes from touching Jesus and His clothing. Second, according to the rules of purity, Jesus should have become unclean when the woman touched Him (Leviticus 15:25-27). Instead, in being healed of her affliction, the woman became clean. In this and other stories in the New Testament (eg Mark 5:1-43), Jesus makes the unclean clean! Finally, every miracle of healing in the New Testament is also a testament of Jesus’ ability to save. He can save those who are ill from their sickness. He can save those who are lost in sin. As Paul says, “if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9, RSV; “will be saved” is a translation of the future passive tense of sõzõ).

Robert McIver is a professor of the School of Ministry and Theology at Avondale University College; director of Scripture Spirituality and Society Research Centre; and editor at Avondale Academic Press.

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