“Salvation” is perhaps one of the most misunderstood words in the Bible. Unlike many words, this isn’t because it is a bad translation or that the Greek or Hebrew words underlying it mean something all that different. The Hebrew word yasha’ and the Greek word sozo both just mean “to save.” The difficulty is that we often read too much into the word.
The key to understanding “salvation” is to ask each time you come across it, “What is being saved?” Usually, what is being saved is one’s physical life, whether from an enemy, from disease, or even from God’s wrath. There are times with salvation refers to one’s soul (see John 3:17), but it is rare. In fact, only 7% of all the usages of salvation in the Bible refer to saving the soul from Hell. Even in verses like Romans 10:9, 13, it is not likely that one’s soul is in view, but rather one’s life. When Paul wishes to speak of the salvation of the soul, he uses the word “justify.”
There is one nuance of salvation that is not immediately apparent in English that we should note. It can also refer to making one whole. Thus, to be saved from a disease is to make the body whole. Mark 5:34, is one such example, where the NIV appropriately renders sozo “healed.” James 5:15 is another. Metaphorically, it can also refer to spiritual wholeness or unity, which is probably the way Paul was using the word in Phil. 2:12 when he said to work out our salvation.
The important thing to remember when you encounter the word “save” in any form in the Bible is to ask yourself, “Who, or what, is being saved, and what are they being saved from?” Much confusion has resulted by the assumption that it is the immortal soul that is being saved from Hell in most cases. Yasha’ and sozo are much like our English word “save.” They can refer to salvation from Hell, but they don’t necessarily have to anymore than our word does.