Finding its context in the social, legal, and religious customs of the ancient world, the metaphor of redemption includes the ideas of loosing from a bond, setting free from captivity or slavery, buying back something lost or sold, exchanging something in one's possession for something possessed by another, and ransoming.
The Old Testament. In the Old Testament, redemption involves deliverance from bondage based on the payment of a price by a redeemer. The Hebrew root words used most often for the concept of redemption are pada [h'd'P], gaal [l;a"G] and kapar [r;p'K].
The verb pada [h'd'P] is a legal term concerning the substitution required for the person or animal delivered. Pada [h'd'P] is also used in relation to legislation with regard to the firstborn. Every firstborn male, whether human or animal, belonged to Yahweh, and hence was to be offered to Yahweh. The firstborn males of ritually clean animals were sacrificed, while firstborn unclean animals were redeemed ( Exod 13:13 ; 34:20 ; Num 18:15-16 ). Human firstborn were also redeemed, either by the substitution of an animal or by the payment of a fixed sum ( Num 18:16 ). The Levites are also said to be a ransom for the firstborn of Israel ( Num 3:44-45 ). Money was sometimes paid to deliver a person from death ( Exod 21:30 ; Num 3:46-51 ; 18:16 ; cf. Psalm 49:7-9 ).
The verb gaal [l;a"G] is a legal term for the deliverance of some person, property, or right to which one had a previous claim through family relation or possession. Goel, the participle of gaal [l;a"G], is the term for the person who performed the duties of "redeemer." This term is found eighteen times in the Old Testament (13 times in Isaiah). It was the duty of a man's redeemer, usually his next of kin, to buy back the freedom that he had lost (e.g., through debt). An example of such "redemption" is found in Leviticus 25:47-49, where an Israelite who has had to sell himself into slavery because of poverty may be redeemed by a kinsman or by himself. Property sold under similar conditions could likewise be redeemed, thus keeping it within the family ( Lev 25:24-25 ; Ruth 4:1-6 ; Jer 32:6-9 ).
The meaning of the third verb, kapar [r;p'K], is to cover. To cover sin, atone, or make expiation are associated meanings. The substantive koper [r,poK] (ransom) is of interest in that it signifies a price paid for a life that has become forfeit ( Exod 21:30 ; 30:11-16 ).
As one who delivers his people, Yahweh is called Israel's "Redeemer, " especially in Isaiah where "redemption" is a key metaphor ( 41:14 ; 43:1 ; 44:6 ; 47:4 ). The paradigm of Yahweh's redemptive activity in the Old Testament is the historical deliverance of Israel from Egyptian bondage, but the metaphor of redemption was also utilized by the prophets in relation to the Babylonian captivity.
Although most often found in relation to the redemption of God's people, the concept of redemption was also applied to individuals in distress ( Gen 48:16 ; 2 Sam 4:9 ; Job 19:25 ; Psalm 26:11 ; 49:15 ; 69:18 ; 103:4 ). The redemptive activity of God is most often described in terms of physical deliverance, but these redemptive Acts are not devoid of spiritual significance. There is only one explicit Old Testament reference to redemption from sin ( Psalm 130:8 ), the emphasis falling in the majority of references on God's deliverance from the results of sin.
The New Testament. By the first century a.d. the concept of redemption had become eschatological. Redemption of Israel from Egypt was but the foreshadowing in history of the great act of deliverance by which history would be brought to an end. In rabbinic expectation the Messiah would be the Redeemer of Israel, and the great Day of the Lord would be the day of redemption. It is possibly due to the nationalistic expectation that became attached to the concept of the coming Messiah-Redeemer that Jesus is never called "redeemer" (lytrotes [lutrwthv"]) in the New Testament.
Fundamental to the message of the New Testament is the announcement that Jesus of Nazareth is the fulfillment of Israel's messianic hope and that, in him, the long-awaited redemption has arrived. Deliverance of humankind from its state of alienation from God has been accomplished through the death and resurrection of Christ ( Rom 4:25 ; 2 Cor 5:18-19 ). In the New Testament, redemption requires the payment of a price, but the plight that requires such a ransom is moral not material. Humankind is held in the captivity of sin from which only the atoning death of Jesus Christ can liberate.
Although the concept of redemption is central to the New Testament, the occurrence of redemption terminology is relatively limited. When reflecting on the work of Jesus Christ, New Testament writers more frequently utilize different images (e.g., atonement, sacrifice, justification). The concept of redemption is nevertheless conveyed in the New Testament by the agorazo and lyo word groups. These terms have in mind the context of a marketplace transaction with reference to the purchase of goods or the releasing of slaves. In using these words, New Testament writers sought to represent Jesus' saving activity in terms that convey deliverance from bondage. Most of these words infer deliverance from captivity by means of a ransom price paid. The noun "ransom" (lytron [luvtron]), however, only appears in three locations in the New Testament ( Matt 20:28 ; Mark 10:45 ; 1 Tim 2:6 ). Redemption language is merged with substitutionary language in these verses and applied to Jesus' death. Pauline usage of the noun "redemption" (apolytrosis [ajpoluvtrwsi"]) is limited and generally conveys the meaning of deliverance ( Rom 3:24 ; 8:23 ; 1 Cor 1:30 ; Eph 1:14 ; 4:30 ), although substitutionary meaning is evident in Ephesians 1:7, where Christ's blood is depicted as the means of redemption.
Jesus conceived his mission to be that of the Son of Man, who came to offer himself in obedience to God's redemptive plan. He applied to himself the things said in the Old Testament of the Servant of the Lord concerning his rejection, humiliation, death, and resurrection ( Mark 8:31 ; 9:31 ; 10:33-34 ). Likewise, New Testament writers apply to him the Servant texts and terminology from the Old Testament (e.g., Matt 8:17 ; 12:18 ; Acts 4:27 Acts 4:30 ; 8:32-33 ; Rom 15:21 ; 1 Peter 2:22-25 ). An important text with regard to Jesus' understanding of his redemptive work is mr 10:45, in which Jesus declares that his mission not only includes self-sacrificial service, but also involves giving his life as a "ransom" for many. Thus, Christ's death is portrayed as the payment price for the deliverance of those held captive by Satan (the ransom metaphor must be understood in the light of Jesus' offering of himself in obedience to the Father, however, and not interpreted as a payment to Satan). As the means of redemption, the death of Jesus provides a deliverance that involves not only forgiveness of sin ( Eph 1:7 ; Col 1:14 ), but also newness of life ( Rom 6:4 ). Even though Christ's redemptive work is perfect ( Heb 9:25-28 ), the redemption of the believer will not be complete until the return of Christ ( Luke 21:28 ; Rom 8:23 ; Eph 4:30 ).
The central theme of redemption in Scripture is that God has taken the initiative to act compassionately on behalf of those who are powerless to help themselves. The New Testament makes clear that divine redemption includes God's identification with humanity in its plight, and the securing of liberation of humankind through the obedience, suffering, death, and resurrection of the incarnate Son.
R. David Rightmire
Bibliography. C. Brown, et al., NIDNTT, 3:177-223; F. Bchsel, TDNT, 4:328-56; I. H. Marshall, Reconciliation and Hope, pp. 153-69; L. Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross; J. Murray, Redemption: Accomplished and Applied; H. E. W. Turner, The Patristic Doctrine of Redemption; V. Taylor, The Atonement in New Testament Preaching; W. Pannenberg, Basic Questions in Theology, 1:15-80; B. B. Warfield, The Person and Work of Christ.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Redeem, Redemption'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".