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Except or Save

Once again we’ve come upon a curious use of words in the Authorized English Bible: Save and Except. Today, the word except is widely used and recognized; however, the word save is not. Not the verb ‘to salvage’ or ‘to keep’ — as in ‘save my soul’; nor ‘save me a seat’; but the preposition (and sometimes conjunction) as in “And when they had lifted up their eyes, they saw no man, save Jesus only” (Matt. 17:8).

I’m sure, due to familiarity, that if I were to re-write the following verse in my own words, I’d use except instead of save: “There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger” (Luke 17:18).

So, what is the distinction between save and except? Most dictionaries are helpless as they use the same synonyms for both except and save: “omit, not included….” Of course, as bible-believers, we let the Bible define itself. For brevity sake, please read John 13:9 and notice “… my feet only.” Now, Jesus answering Peter in 13:10: “… needeth not save to wash his feet….” The word only is replaced by the word save. A clue! And further work uncovers a pattern — save is used to highlight a single object, a solitary exception, and the word 'only' often reinforces it.

“… Fight neither with small nor great, save only with the king of Israel” (1 Kings 22:31).

By using save, instead of except, in Luke 17:18 (above) Jesus is emphasizing that only one, only one of ten turned back, and so strongly differentiates him from the other nine.

Except may include an entire clause (subject and predicate — Actor and action); whereas save typically points to a single object. See Daniel 6:5, then 6; 7, 12.

“Thine handmaid hath not any thing in the house, save a pot of oil” (2 Kings 4:2) — the emphasis is on her desperate condition — nothing, but only a mere pot of oil.

“For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ…” (1 Cor. 2:2) — although in this case it’s not written, can you sense the ‘only’ in that phrase?

My two cents. I’ll welcome feedback if you see a better definition of the distinction between except and save: We are all students.

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