Abarim Publications' online Biblical Greek Dictionary
The verb σωζω (sozo) means to save. It's part of a cluster of words of a σω - stem that revolves around wholeness and soundness: σωμα (soma), meaning body; σοφια (sophia), meaning wisdom.
Our verb σωζω (sozo) comes from the unused adjective σως (sos), which means safe and sound, alive and well, whole and intact, and our verb describes the act of preserving the condition of σως (sos), or getting there: to find what is lost or repair what is broken. Where humans are concerned, the opposite of σως (sos) might be achieved through sickness, poverty or calamity, but also through a lack of knowledge or social skills: situations or conditions that prevent a person from being both wholly free and wholly connected to the collective from which any individual derives his identity.
In our modern times, we humans are so much more safe and secure than our ancestors ever were that we tend to forget that salvation was a primary concern of everybody all the time and had nothing to do with a religion. In Biblical times, the quest for salvation was about where to get food from, how to stay safe from the environment or from invaders, how to stay healthy and keep one's children alive, how to keep rulers happy and wild animals at bay.
Nowadays, Christianity is mostly forwarded by people who are very secure, and that in turn implies that they have no clue what they're talking about (Matthew 19:24). When a wrong choice may mean wholesale destruction of entire villages, people become much more careful about what they say they believe and what they put their trust in. Someone who has actually survived some particular ordeal by consciously making the right choices based on sound information is a far better teacher than a sweet-talking thief in a pretty suit.
Quite contrary to common perception, saving someone has nothing to do with signing them up for a religion or getting them to mumble along a magic phrase or pious spell or sport some tainted symbol or sing some silly song along. Saving someone means feeding and sheltering them in a non-metaphorical way; making them safe and secure and allowing them to regain their dignity, self-respect and autonomy. If this person is into learning things (because not everybody is) then a true savior teaches his people practical knowledge that will help them to stay healthy and free. Saving someone means to break the chains that hold them and setting them free. Freedom is a person's most precious quality and it's for freedom that Christ has set us free (Galatians 5:1).
This magnificent verb is used 109 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it derive:
- Together with the prefix δια (dia), meaning through or throughout: the verb διασωζω (diasozo), meaning to save through: to guide someone through a period of sickness or peril, or to save via: to be instrumental to salvation. This verb is used 8 times; see full concordance.
- The noun σωτηρ (soter), meaning savior. This word was fairly common in the classics and could denote anyone who taught useful, life-saving information, or who owned and managed an estate where people lived and worked (unlike our modern arrangement, in classic times workers lived within the company that employed them; see our article on the word δουλος, doulos, meaning employee). This noun was also a common epithet for deities such as Zeus and Apollo, who were thought to provide the goods and knowledge that saved the humans. This noun is used 23 times in the New Testament, see full concordance, and from it in turn derive:
- The noun σωτηρια (soteria), meaning safety, deliverance, preservation, security, salvation: that which the soter provides — and which obviously has nothing to do with a religion or any religious state, but with practical safety, security and sufficiency. This noun is used 46 times; see full concordance.
- The adjective σωτηριος (soterios), literally meaning pertaining to salvation: salvific (causing to be safe) or when used as substantive: the effect of salvation (security, abundance, health and society). This word is used 5 times; see full concordance, but it's embodied by the awesome New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:2).