The word “save” is a very generic word. It can be referencing a whole host of contexts. This can be fairly easily illustrated by a popular t-shirt inscribed with the words “Jesus Saves. Shoots. Scores three points.” The joke is a play on words, tricking the reader into thinking the initial sentence is about “salvation from sins leading to an eternity in heaven”, while the sentence is actually in reference to sports.
While this mild mocking of Christianity is used by pagans, Christians often fall for the same trick of logic. Pastors, looking throughout the Bible, act as if there is only one meaning of salvation. This leads to major misunderstandings of the Bible.
Mary, specifically calls Jesus her savior, but savior from what? Protestants quickly fall prey to the fallacy when they see an opportunity to show Mary had sin. But what Mary was proclaiming was not about individual sin, but about Jesus saving a nation from the nation’s sin:
Mat 1:21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.
The history of the Jewish people had always been a cycle of rebellion-destruction and repentance-prosperity. The Roman occupation of the Jewish land was seen as just another leg in this cycle. The Jews were expecting a righteous leader, one who would save the Jews from this leg of sin and bring them back as a nation. This can be seen in the prophesy of Zacharias:
Luk 1:67 And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Ghost, and prophesied, saying,
Luk 1:68 Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people,
Luk 1:69 And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David;
Luk 1:70 As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began:
Luk 1:71 That we should be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us;
Luk 1:72 To perform the mercy promised to our fathers, and to remember his holy covenant;
Luk 1:73 The oath which he sware to our father Abraham,
Luk 1:74 That he would grant unto us, that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies might serve him without fear,
Luk 1:75 In holiness and righteousness before him, all the days of our life.
When Paul talks about salvation, it takes a different flavor. People are not saved “from the enemy” but from “death”. People are not saved by doing righteous works, but by believing in a historical event. People are not saved in this life, but even after death. Paul preaches a new gospel:
1Co 15:1 Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;
1Co 15:2 By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.
1Co 15:11 Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed.
1Co 15:12 Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?
1Co 15:13 But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen:
1Co 15:14 And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain.
1Co 15:17 And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins.
1Co 15:18 Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.
1Co 15:19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.
Paul is saying that without resurrection from the dead, Christian faith is worthless because we will all die eventually. If so, why would it matter then? How would we know or care when we are dead? Paul says our religion is about resurrection of the dead.
1Co 15:21 For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.
1Co 15:22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
1Co 15:23 But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming.
1Co 15:24 Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.
1Co 15:25 For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.
1Co 15:26 The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.
Theologians can be eager to promote their pet theologies might be tempted to think words have wooden and static meanings. But those who read the Bible for understanding will always try to understand in what context words are being spoken.