What does the word "Savior" mean, and what are its implications?
The word's meaning is clear, and its root is explained in the "Dictionary of Etymology" as follows:
Probably before 1300 AD savior is one who saves mankind from sin, a title of Jesus Christ, in Arthur Merlin, borrowed from the Old French saveour, from Late Latin salvatorem (nominative salvator) a saver, preserver from salvare to save. The word in Late Latin and especially in English was chiefly used in reference to Christ.19
This term is to be found in the Old Testament in the following verse:
Drop down dew, heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain down righteousness; let the Earth be opened, and a savior spring to life.20
We would not argue that this verse refers to Christ. According to the historical documents we can state that there were always disagreements between Christians and Jews about the personality of the Savior. In an old pamphlet printed in 1818 in London under the title "The Knowledge of the True Messiah," we read a sermon reached at the Episcopal Jews' Chapel by Rev. C. S. Hawthrey -about a young Jewish convert to Christianity the following words:
How pleasing is the thought, that in his case we have seen " a Hebrew of the Hebrews" (He was a Jew boy by father and mother's side) brought into the fold of the Savior; that we have beheld in him.21
Then he says the following words which describe the bitterness surrounding this conflict:
In this awful condition have they remained as a people, since they refused to come unto Christ that they might have life. From their childhood they execrate the name which is most to be adored, the only name given under heaven, whereby we must be saved. In a spiritual sense, they are now committing adultery upon every high mountain, and under every green tree, even wherever they worship as offered, and their ceremonies are performed. When the Lord Jesus saith, "Look unto me and be ye saved, for I am God and there is none else" they are deaf to his voice. Till he says: "If Jesus be not received as the Savior of the lost, pride and self-exaltation are at the bottom of all; their high thoughts are not brought into obedience; their idols are still in their hearts, neither have they yet submitted themselves to the righteousness of God.22
Clearly the word "Savior" does not necessarily, then, refer to Christ, even though in the modern West this link has entered into the popular mindset. However we can claim that when Shakespeare uses it in his wonderful work "Hamlet", it bears this meaning:
It faded on the crowing of the cock,
Some say that ever 'gainst that season comes
Wherein our Saviour's birth is celebrated,
The bird of dawning singeth all night long;
And then they say, no spirit can walk abroad;
The nights are wholesome; then no planets strike,
No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm,
So hallowed and so gracious is the time.23
It is both probable and natural that mankind, throughout history, has given some heroes the title of Savior. It is not surprising to read that many of God's prophets were viewed in this light, along with many of history's more unsavory characters. The modern Western worldview would accept the concept of savior as well. But they would remove from it any spiritual aspect, and use it in a secularized manner that refers only to social and economic liberation. This secularized view of the concept of "savior" allows it to be applied to criminals and other types of rogue characters. One should not be surprised that Robin Hood is one of the most enduring heroes of the Western world,24 as well as being viewed as a Savior to the poor people of his time.
The concept of a Divine Savior existed many centuries before Islam, and has been an essential feature of human thought, linked with human history since ancient times. The idea of a Savior is older and wider than Islam, and it may be revealed in man's expectation of a heavenly contribution to the creation of a harmonious global society. At the same time Islam has provided a more through and ambitious picture for those seeking the realization of a future filled with peace and justice.
19. Ed.: Robert K. Barnhart, Chambers of Dictionary of Etymology, p.960. Chambers, France 1988
20. Isaiah: 45:8
21. The Knowledge of the True Messiah. p.6, publ.: 1818 (British Library, RB. 23. a. 1254)
22. The Knowledge of the True Messiah. pp.9-11, publ.: 1818 (British Library, RB. 23. a. 1254)
23. Hamlet (1601) act 1, se. 1,1.157
24. Ed.: John Cannon, The Oxford Companion to British History, p.812. Oxford University Press, Great Britain 1997
Adapted from the book: "The Awaited Saviour; Questions and Answers"
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