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What does the Greek word ‘sozo’ mean, and why is it one of the most important definitions you need to know as a health-seeking Christian?

Meaning and Context

Words matter. And what a word actually means in context can be the difference between night and day, life and death, or health and sickness. 

I love the written word. It’s one of the reasons I chose to major in English literature in college. But as much as I adore English, I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not the most precise language in the world. 

For example, in English we have the word ‘love’. But that could mean so many different things! When I say, “I love this new jacket I just bought” that is certainly not the same sentiment I feel when I say “I love my husband”.

The Greek language has 8 different words for love. It has both nuance, and a precision that just doesn’t exist in the English language. This is why when we’re reading the Bible, it’s important for us to really search out its treasures – to look beyond the surface and superficial understanding. To do that, we need to reference the original languages of Hebrew and Greek that the Bible was written in.

Forgiveness and Healing in the Old Testament

The concepts of forgiveness and healing are intricately intertwined in the Old Testament. Note what King David wrote in Psalm 103:1-5:

“Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits — who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”

David explicitly defines two of the benefits of being in relationship with the Lord as being forgiven and being healed. He was speaking about healing from physical illnesses.

Likewise see Psalm 107:17:22

“Some became fools through their rebellious ways and suffered affliction because of their iniquities. They loathed all food and drew near the gates of death. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress. He sent out his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave. Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind. Let them sacrifice thank offerings and tell of his works with songs of joy.”

Here again you see a link between the Lord’s salvation / forgiveness and healing of physical illness. 

Elsewhere in the Old Testament, you’ll find many instances of a link between sin and sickness (See Deuteronomy 28:15, 21-22, 58-61, Leviticus 26:14-16, Psalm 32:3-5, John 5:14, 1 John 5:16, and 1 Corinthians 11:29-30) and forgiveness and healing (See Exodus 15:26, Exodus 23:25, Deuteronomy 5:33, and Deuteronomy 11:1, 21).

Perhaps, most importantly, you see this exact same connection in the prophetic text about Jesus’s ministry that the prophet Isaiah penned in the book named after him in chapter 53:4-5.

However, it was our sicknesses that He Himself bore, And our pains that He carried; Yet we ourselves assumed that He had been afflicted, Struck down by God, and humiliated. But He was pierced for our offenses, He was crushed for our wrongdoings; The punishment for our well-being was laid upon Him, And by His wounds we are healed. (NASB)

Jesus came to pay the price of our sins with his sacrificial death. But, he also made provisions for our physical healing on the cross. 

In the same way that Jesus took our sin, he also bore our sicknesses. It goes without saying that Christians still sin and get sick on this side of heaven. However, Jesus has made forgiveness and healing available to us on earth through his finished work on the cross, as well as through the exercise of our faith in him

So, What Does Sozo Actually Mean?

According to the New Testament Greek Lexicon, The word sozo means:

  • to save, keep safe and sound, to rescue from danger or destruction
    • one (from injury or peril)
      • to save a suffering one (from perishing), i.e. one suffering from disease, to make well, heal, restore to health
      • to preserve one who is in danger of destruction, to save or rescue

Sozo is used 103 times in the New Testament.

It is translated as “save” or “saved” in verses like…

  • Romans 5:9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.
  • John 3:17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.
  • James 1:21 Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.

…and it is also translated as ‘restored’ or ‘healed’ in verses like…

  • James 5:15 and the prayer of faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.
  • Mark 5:23 He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.”
  • Luke 8:48 Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”

We see this intertwining of meanings because healing is included in Jesus’s redemptive work.

Dr. Cyrus Scofield, author of the Scofield Study Bible, wrote, “The Greek and Hebrew words translated salvation imply the ideas of deliverance, safety, preservation, healing and health.

Jesus Connected Forgiveness and Healing

When Jesus healed the paralytic who came to him for physical healing, he initially told the man that his sins were forgiven. But, after the reaction his words triggered in the Jewish religious leaders, he then explicitly addressed the man’s physical condition. Forgiveness and healing go hand in hand.

Jesus stepped into a boat, crossed over and came to his own town. 2 Some men brought to him a paralyzed man, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.”

3 At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!”

4 Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts? 5 Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? 6 But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up, take your mat and go home.” 7 Then the man got up and went home. 8 When the crowd saw this, they were filled with awe; and they praised God, who had given such authority to man.

Healing for Today

In reference to Isaiah’s prophecy, Matthew wrote in 8:16-17 “That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick.  This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.””

Clearly, Matthew understood Isaiah’s prophecy to mean that Jesus would heal those who believed in him of physical illnesses. It did not mean that Christians would be healed in heaven. There is no need for healing in heaven, because there is no sickness or death there.

Jesus himself said that divine healing would be available to his followers in Mark 16:17-18

“And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”

The signs are meant to accompany those who believe. They are neither limited by time nor place. Neither is there any indication that Jesus only intended healing to be available to his followers temporarily.

Conclusion

The word ‘sozo’ in Greek encompasses so much more than the salvation of our souls. It includes healing. Jesus came to give us eternal life in heaven, but he also came to give us abundant life on earth. 

God’s character and desire have not changed. His heart has always been for the restoration of his children – full restoration of spirit, soul, and body. That is clearly seen throughout both the Old Testament and New Testament scriptures. As a result, we can be assured that he is not only concerned with our spiritual salvation, but also our physical healing as well.

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