Definitions of basic terms
Updated: May 11, 2022
Sadly, we are now living in an age of Biblical illiteracy. It would not be surprising to see that those who do not affiliate with a particular religious organization (which today are called "nones") are not especially informed in the scriptures. However, it is (or it should be) very troubling to see those that do identify themselves as believers, even those who have done so for years, know little about the teachings of the Bible, and to be unable to clearly explain them to others. "He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.
He came unto his own, and his own received him not (Jn 1:10-11)." Not long ago, even people who did not practice Christianity had some familiarization with the scriptures, but in the planned dumbing down of society that basic common knowledge is gone. People quote the Bible often but have no idea where the sayings even came from. They see images such as the serpent and rod which denotes the medical profession and do not know that it is a reference from Numbers 21:5-9. Another example of the drastic decline in knowledge of the scriptures is the New England Primer, which was used to teach young children basics such as the alphabet. It was based on the Bible. The level of scriptural education that was expected of young children was much higher than that expected of adults today, even those who are involved in their local churches. Even those who profess to be ministers of the gospel sometimes display a woeful lack of understanding and ability to properly explain the doctrines of the Bible. It is no surprise that there are false teachers. The Bible warns us repeatedly to beware of them (Mt 7:13-29, Mt 24:5 & 23-27, Acts 20:28-31, 2Cor 11:13-15, Gal 1:6-9, 2Pet 2, Jude, etc.). That only confirms how important it is to know the Bible for ourselves.
This decline in knowledge has gotten to the place where people cannot even explain basic words used in the Bible to describe what God has done for us and offers us. Sometimes people hear these words or repeat them and do not know what they mean. So, let us take a look at some of these words and their definitions. It is essential to understand what the Lord did for us when He came into the world, died for our sins, and rose again. We cannot fully grasp this if we do not even know what the words mean. Here is a list of some of the words and their definitions so we can understand what God made available to us through Christ.
In the Hebrew of the Old Testament, the word most often translated salvation is yeshua, which means deliverance. It can mean deliverance from evil people and their intentions or from evil circumstances. Spiritually, it means deliverance from the evil within - our own sinful nature which causes us to tend toward disobeying God. It also means deliverance from the wrath of God toward such behavior. The word yeshua is where the name Joshua comes from, and it is the basis of the name Jesus. They are the same name. In fact, in the New Testament the person Joshua is called Jesus twice (Acts 7:45, Heb 4:8). It is fully expressed as Yehoshua which is a combination of the name Jehovah or Yahweh and the word salvation. Thus, the name Jesus means Jehovah Savior or Jehovah has become salvation (Ex 15:2, Ps 118:14 & 21, Is 12:2, Mt 1:21). In the case of Joshua, it was a special name given to him by Moses (Num 13:16). In the case of Jesus Christ, it is a description of who He actually is. He is Jehovah manifested in the flesh to be our Savior (Jn 1:13- & 14, Jn 14:7-11, 2Cor 5:19, Col 2:9, 1Tim 3:16). The Greek word for salvation in the New Testament is soteria. It means the same thing as the Hebrew word and is the basis of where we get the word soteriology, which means the study of the doctrine of salvation.
There are three senses to how we are saved - past, present, and future. We are saved from our past sins, their hold on us, and their eternal consequences, when we obey the gospel (Jn 3:3-5, Acts 2:38, Acts 8:12-17, Acts 10:43-48, Acts 19:1-7). However, we may have to face some level of responsibility in this life. An example of this is David. When the prophet Nathan confronted him with his sin, he confessed and repented (2Sam 11-12, Ps 51). He was forgiven and delivered from the death sentence required in the law of Moses for adultery and murder (Ex 21:12, Lev 20:10, 2Sam 12:13). However, he would face ramifications of his actions for the rest of his life (2Sam 12:12-18, 2Sam 13-18, 2Sam 23:5, 1Ki 1). We are currently saved as we abide in our relationship with God and He keeps us from evil (Jn 15:1-16, 2Cor 1:10). The final fulfillment of salvation will come when we pass from this life into eternal life whether by death or the rapture (1Cor 15:50-55, 1Thes 4:13-18).
Atonement is primarily an Old Testament concept. The word only appears once in the New Testament in Romans 5:11. The word in the Old Testament is kapar. Its basic meaning is to cover. Interestingly, it is the word used in Genesis 6:14 to describe how Noah was to cover the ark with pitch. It means "figuratively, to expiate or condone, to placate or cancel:—appease, make (an atonement, cleanse, disannul, forgive, be merciful, pacify, pardon, purge (away), put off, (make) reconcile(-liation)" according to Strong's Concordance. A similar word kipur is used to describe the day of atonement. Once each year the Israelites had a special day of repentance and sacrifice for sins (Lev 23:27-32). It is still called Yom Kippur or day of atonement. In the law of Moses, they obtained atonement via the substitute sacrifice of an animal (Num 5:8, Num 6:11, Num 8:12-21, Num 15:25-28, Num 16:46-47). This symbolic act foreshadowed the sacrifice of Christ on the cross (Jn 1:29, 1Cor 5:7, Heb 8-10).
This word appears three times (Rom 3:25, 1Jn 2:2, 1Jn 4:10). The word in Romans 3:25 is similar but different than the other two verses, and it is translated mercy seat in Hebrews 9:5. The words in these verses mean the same thing and also mean the same thing as atonement. In the tabernacle and the temple, the most important piece of furniture was the ark of the covenant which was kept in the most holy place (Ex 25:10-22, Ex 26:33-34). It was a wooden box covered in gold with a lid that had two cherubims with outstretched wings facing each other (Heb 9:5). The lid was called the mercy seat. Once each year on the day of atonement, the high priest would enter the most holy place with the blood of the animal sacrifice and sprinkle it on the mercy seat. This is no longer necessary because the blood of Christ fulfilled the symbolic meaning of the animal blood and permanently provided the propitiation or atonement for our sins (Heb 8-10).
This word does not appear in the Old Testament, although since it is a similar word to the above ones, its concept does. This noun appears ten times in the New Testament. It also appears as a verb in John 20:23. It means "release from bondage or imprisonment; forgiveness or pardon of sins (letting them go as if they had never been committed); remission of the penalty". It was the blood of Jesus that provided remission (Mt 26:38, Eph 1:7, Col 1:14, Heb 9:22). We do not offer animal sacrifices in the new covenant, but there is a specific means by which we can receive remission of sins. It is water baptism by immersion in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38, Acts 10:43-48, Acts 22:16). We should address the fact that remission means forgiveness. Some are confused about the meaning of water baptism and its relation to salvation. They say that we are forgiven when we repent, and that water baptism is not part of salvation; but it is (Mk 16:16, 1Pet 3:20-21). Repentance and forgiveness are two parts of one process (Mk 1:4, Lk 24:47, Acts 2:38, Acts 5:31). It has been illustrated this way. A child is already dressed for Sunday service and asks to go out and play while waiting to leave. His father says he does not want him to get his clothes dirty. He promises not to, but being a boy he does. He comes in and confesses and apologizes to his father. The father forgives him, but he still needs to wash in water to clean the dirt off. Also, the word "for" in Mark 1:4 and Acts 2:38 does not mean "because of", as in since you repented and now have remission, you should get baptized. It is the Greek word "eis", which means "into, unto, to, towards, for, among". It is a "a preposition governing the accusative, and denoting entrance into, or direction and limit". It appears 1,774 times in the New Testament and is translated as the word into 573 times, to 281 times, unto 207 times, for 140 times, in 138 times, on 58 times, and toward 29 times. Thus, by its definition, tense, and usage, it points forward to baptism and not backwards to repentance. Otherwise, Matthew 26:28 would mean that the blood of Jesus was shed because of the remission of sins already obtained. When we have been baptized, we do not become perfect. It is not the will of God for us to continue to sin, but if we do, we do not need to be baptized again. We just need to repent and move forward (1Jn 1:5-2:5).
This word appears as a noun (justification) three times (Rom 4:25, Rom 5:16 & 18). It means "the act of God declaring men free from guilt and acceptable to him; abjuring to be righteous, justification". Its present tense verb (justify) appears regarding salvation in Romans 3:30 and Galatians 3:8, and its past tense verb (justified) appears 25 times. It means that God in His mercy and grace takes our sins off of our account and instead accounts us to be righteous even though we cannot earn it by our works alone (Rom 3:24, Rom 5:1, Titus 3:7). This does not excuse us from doing right, but it acknowledges that our works alone will never suffice to perfectly meet God's criteria; so He graciously credits us with it on the basis of faith in Christ. However, true faith in Christ will cause us to change our behavior and do works that show our faith in Him (Jam 2:21-25). The world wastes its energy trying to justify itself on its own without Christ (Lk 10:29, Lk 16:15, Lk 18:14).
One aspect of this word is legal in nature. The word Comforter which Jesus used to describe the gift of the Holy Ghost (Jn 14:16 & 26, Jn 15:26, Jn 16:7) is the Greek word parakletos. It is also translated advocate and describes Jesus in 1John 2:1. This word means "one who pleads another's cause before a judge, a pleader, counsel for defense, legal assistant, an advocate". God is our judge, and we have no defense against our guilt before Him. The devil is the accuser (Rev 12:9-10). The word devil means slanderer or false accuser. He is the prosecutor bringing charges against us to try to provoke the wrath of God who prefers mercy to judgment (Job 1-2, Eze 33:11, Jam 2:13). God is just and is not mocked (Gal 6:7-8), but He chooses to have mercy when we repent (2Pet 3:9). You may have heard the phrase "I plead the blood of Jesus". That is our only defense. He is our defense attorney. He payed the penalty for our sins with His death. "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom 6:23)." Sin entered the world through Adam and Eve and death came upon all; but Christ died so we can live (Rom 5). The justification is so thorough that God imputes the perfect record of Christ the only begotten Son of God to us and makes us adopted children (Jn 1:12-13, Jn 3:3-5, Rom 3:21-22, Rom 8:15, 2Cor 5:21, Gal 4:5).
Another word that sheds light on this is "imputed" (Rom 4, 2Cor 5:19, Gal 3:6). It means "to reckon, count, compute, calculate, count over; to take into account, to make an account of". God imputes righteousness to our account and does not impute our sins when we put our faith in Christ and follow Him. It has been said that justification means it is just as if we never sinned.
To redeem is "to redeem, act as kinsman-redeemer, avenge, revenge, ransom, do the part of a kinsman; to act as kinsman, do the part of next of kin, act as kinsman-redeemer; by marrying brother's widow to beget a child for him, to redeem from slavery, to redeem land, to exact vengeance; to redeem (by payment); to redeem (with God as subject) individuals from death, Israel from Egyptian bondage, Israel from exile". To redeem is to pay the price to regain ownership over something that had been sold. A classic example of this is Hosea and his wife (Hos 1-2). God told the prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute that He knew would be unfaithful. After she fell so far from her marriage that she was on the auction block, God told Hosea to go and pay the price for her and bring her back to himself as a representation of Israel selling herself into spiritual adultery and slavery, and of God's love and forgiveness in redeeming her back to Himself. In the law of Moses, there was a provision that if a man died and left his wife childless, his nearest relative called the kinsman-redeemer was to marry her and raise up a child to keep his brother's name and lineage alive (Deut 25:5-10). This procedure was referred to in Genesis 38:8 and Matthew 22:24. A great example of this is described in the book of Ruth. We were slaves to sin (Jn 8:31-36, Rom 6). Jesus came to purchase us from that slavery and make us His with His blood (Rom 3:24, Gal 3:13, Gal 4:5, Eph 1:7 & 14, Col 1:14, Titus 2:14, Heb 9:12 & 14, 1Pet 1:18-19, Rev 5:9).
Some people may remember when soda pop was sold in eight sixteen-ounce glass bottles in a cardboard container. Each bottle had a metal cap which had to be removed with a bottle opener. People did not just throw out the bottles or the caps. The container would be placed somewhere so that as each bottle was emptied it could be placed back there. After the eight bottles were finished, the whole thing would be returned because it had a redemption value. The store would buy back the bottles because they could be cleaned and reused. The caps had a cork seal in them. You could remove it when you opened the bottle and look underneath. Sometimes there would be an amount of money printed on the underside of the cap. When you brought the bottles back, you would also bring back the caps and get whatever value was printed there. It was usually a small amount like 5 or 10 cents, but once in a while you would get one that was worth $1.00. The bottles and caps had no value to the customer who had used them up, but the original owner still saw value in them and was willing to pay to get them back from those who had used them. Many people have been used up by this world of sin which sees no more value in them. The original owner, the Lord, still sees value in us. He values us so much that He came to earth in the flesh, shed His sinless blood, and died on a cross to free us and make us His own. That is redemption.
The word holy means to be set apart. There are two aspects of holiness. The first is God's holiness. The Lord is sinless (2Cor 5:21, Heb 4:15, Heb 9:28, 1Pet 2:22) and unique (Ex 8:10, Is 40:18, Is 46:5). Holiness is His nature (Lev 19:2, Lev 20:7, 1Pet 1:16, 2Pet 1:1-11). However, these scriptures also command God's people to be holy because He is holy. It is impossible for us to be holy in ourselves because our nature and actions are tainted by sin (Ps 51:5, Rom 3:9-23, Rom 6:23). The only way we can be holy is for God to cleanse us of our sins through the blood of Jesus Christ, and for Him to impart His nature to us through the gift of His holy Spirit. We do not fully and finally become holy even when we are saved by having the gospel applied to us (Acts 2:38). We are cleansed from our past sins, but we still have our fallen nature to contend with (Rom 6-8). Initial salvation only starts a process called sanctification which we must remain in the rest of our lives. God will continue to work on us as a potter does the clay until we are perfected in His image (Is 64:8, Jer 18:1-6, Rom 9:21). It is up to us to stay in the process and to stay on the potter's wheel until He is finished making us like Him. This is the second aspect of holiness (Jn 17:17, 1Cor 1:30, Eph 5:26, 1Thes 4:3-4, 1Thes 5:23, 2Thes 2:13, 1Pet 1:2). God will never stop developing His nature in us and making us more like Him as long as we submit to His process. It is tempting to try to be our own potter and make ourselves into something other than what God wants us to be. God has a general plan for all Christians to know Him, be like Him, and do His will. He also has a specific plan for each individual which is unique. To be holy is to be where we are supposed to be in that process. There are some things that apply to all of us, but exactly how that works out in each of us is different. We need to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12)". We must not fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to others (2Cor 10:12). It is good to be challenged by the good God is working in others, but we should neither be discouraged by others which we perceive to be doing better than us, nor should we think that we are better than others because we think we are doing better than them (Lk 18:10-14, Phil 2:3-4). The only true measurement is this: "Are we where God wants us to be?". One example is women's hair. Women should have uncut hair (1Cor 11:1-16). If someone becomes a Christian and had cut hair before, once they stop cutting it, it is now uncut hair from that point on. It doesn't matter if someone who has never cut their hair has longer hair at that point. It also doesn't matter if her hair only grows six inches total. God did not command a certain hair length. He just said not to cut it. Each person has their own unique hair. As long as women comply with the scriptural directive, they are all equal in their obedience. Someone who just left a lifestyle of sin may not be further along in the process of sanctification than someone who has been in the process for years, but that is not their measuring stick. On the other hand, some people have not progressed as far as God wants after years. None of us has fully or perfectly achieved what God desires in us. We just need to be purposed to stay in the process our whole life until we leave this world by death or rapture and it is finished. That is sanctification.