This is returning to the Reclaiming Paul conference I attended. One of the plenary lectures was given by Kathy Grieb, associate professor of New Testament at Virginia Theological Seminary. It was entitled, “Paul and Salvation.” It was an exploration of Paul’s view of salvation and how he chooses to express that salvation to the churches he writes to. There were three main metaphors Paul used in his writings regarding salvation, and together I think we get a more holistic view of just what Paul was getting at when he wrote about being saved.
The first metaphor is rectification, being made righteous and put back into right relationship with God. This type of saving act would infer that we as humans are unrighteous, ungodly, disobedient and have unraveled our relationship with God. Thus, being made righteous would serve as the solution to the problem.
The second metaphor is redemption, the buying back or bringing. In this metaphor, Christ serves as a bounty to pay the debts in order to allow humans back into the story of God. Here, humans can be viewed as prisoners of war or as being kidnapped by sin and the life of the flesh. Therefore, God must pay the ransom for us.
The third metaphor utilized by Grieb was that of release, deliverance, or liberation. Here, humans are enslaved to sin or in a way that would strike home with Paul himself, humans are prisoners or in bondage to sin and death. This is the idea of total depravity that is innate within us after Adam and Eve. In this metaphor, we need somebody to come set us free, to liberate us from sin.
If we read Paul’s letters carefully, we will find Paul use these metaphors at different times while writing to different congregations. It may not be the most helpful endeavor seeking the unifying strand of Paul’s soteriology (his theology of salvation). Maybe these three metaphors provide us a much richer, fuller, more complete understanding of what salvation means, and even more specifically, what it means for us today to be saved by Jesus Christ.