‘Savior’ in the Gospel of John and in the Hellenistic World

John 4: 39 – 42

12_jesus___the_samaritan_woThe confession of Jesus as “the Savior [sōtēr] of the world” (4:42) is used only once in this Gospel and only once in the Johannine Epistles (1 John 4:14). In the Old Testament the designation of Savior is applied a few times to God as the saving one (e.g., Ps 24:5; Isa 12:2; 43:3, 11; 63:8). It is used in a similar way of God in Luke (1:47), 1 Timothy (1:1; 2:3; 4:10), Titus (1:3; 2:10; 3:4), and Jude (25). It is applied to Jesus by Luke (at 2:11; Acts 5:31; 13:23) and in a few other places (Eph 5:23; Phil 3:20; 2 Tim 1:10; Titus 1:4; 2:13; 3:6; 2 Pet 1:1, 11; 2:20; 3:2, 18).

For the early Christians the designation “Savior” was a strategic confession like “Lord.” In the Hellenistic world there were many gods and persons designated as “lords” and “saviors” including the Roman emperors such as Augustus, who was virtually deified in the sixth Ecologue of Virgil. In contrast, however, the early Christians confessed that Jesus was indeed the Christ, God’s only Son, the Savior. This confession was enshrined in the symbol of the fish (ichthys).

hqdefaultThe expression “Savior of the world” is particularly Johannine. It coordinates magnificently with the baptizer’s initial confession of Jesus as the paschal “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). John saw Jesus as the answer to the world’s need. The people of the world were the focus of God’s love in Jesus (3:16). The outcasts of Samaria here articulated the purpose of God because Jesus was their expected Taheb, the Savior of the world. Their confession stands as a vivid contrast to the disgust of the Pharisees in the story of the entry into Jerusalem just prior to Passover when in exasperation they finally complained, “The whole world has gone after him!” (12:19).

Borchert, G. L. (1996). John 1–11 (Vol. 25A, pp. 215–216). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.