If the word “saved” in the Bible always meant eternal salvation, then we could come up with a lot of strange doctrines. In Acts 27:31, the Apostle Paul said, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved. I’m sure this verse would become the key verse of the “Shippites.” They would take it to mean you have to live in a boat to be saved. While I believe the fishermen and yacht owners of the world have a great life, they are in need of salvation like everyone else. The reality is Paul only wanted to make sure everyone on the ship made it safely to land.
Here’s another one: the Apostle Peter wrote, Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. 1 Peter 3:20. If we took this verse by itself, we might conclude that you could be saved by water or water baptism. You would have a conversion experience every time you took a bath. This is obviously not what the verse means. Peter just wanted to give an example of Noah and his family’s deliverance from the Flood. They had to be saved just like everybody else.
How do we know when to interpret words like “saved” to mean “eternal salvation”? The way to interpret Scripture is in context. We simply let Scripture dictate what Scripture means. Difficult verses should be interpreted in light of clear verses.
Maybe you have heard teaching which seems to contradict your understanding of a particular Bible passage. Perhaps you came across something in your personal devotions which did the same thing. Be sure to read the verses before and after the verse in question. This will help you determine what the verse actually means — and keep you from building a house where God has only set up a window.
Devotional by Dr. James A. Scudder