theology

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A ransom is a sum of money or a price demanded or paid to secure the freedom of a slave. The basic idea of “ransom” is the act of saving somebody from an oppressed condition or dangerous situation through self-sacrifice, such as a price that covers or satisfies justice, while the term “redemption” is the deliverance that results from the ransom. In the biblical instance, “redemption” would be the deliverance from Adamic sin[1] (the inherited sin nature of humanity) by the ransom death of Jesus Christ for many.

Below we will consider various Hebrew terms (kāpar, koper, pā, gāʾal), as well as a number of Greek terms (lytron, antilytron, lytroo, agorazo), which are translated “ransom and “redeem.” They all carry the idea of a price being given or paid to result in a ransom or redemption. As we will see below, there is the sense of an equal or corresponding, that is, a substitution is common in all of these terms. In other words, the ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ, for example, was given for Adam, which satisfied justice and set matters straight between God and man.

For our Hebrew terms, we will use the Theological Word Book of the Old Testament (TWOT) extensively. “(kāparI, make an atonement, make reconciliation, purge. (Denominative verb.) This root should probably be distinguished from kāpar II “to smear with pitch.” … The root kāpar is used some 150 times. It has been much discussed. There is an equivalent Arabic root meaning “cover,” or “conceal.” On the strength of this connection it has been supposed that the Hebrew word means, “to cover over sin” and thus pacify the deity, making an atonement (so BDB). It has been suggested that the OT ritual symbolized a covering over of sin until it was dealt with in fact by the atonement of Christ. There is, however, very little evidence for this view. The connection of the Arabic word is weak and the Hebrew root is not used to mean, “cover.” The Hebrew verb is never used in the simple or Qal stem, but only in the derived intensive stems. These intensive stems often indicate not emphasis, but merely that the verb is derived from a noun whose meaning is more basic to the root idea.”[2]

The TWOT helps us to appreciate that “from the meaning of kōper “ransom,” the meaning of kāpar can be better understood. It means, “to atone by offering a substitute.” The great majority of the usages concern the priestly ritual of sprinkling of the sacrificial blood thus “making an atonement” for the worshipper. There are forty-nine instances of this usage in Leviticus alone and no other meaning is there witnessed. The verb is always used in connection with the removal of sin or defilement, except for Gen 32:20; Prov. 16:14; and Isa 28:18 where the related meaning of “appease by a gift” may be observed. It seems clear that this word aptly illustrates the theology of reconciliation in the OT. The life of the sacrificial animal specifically symbolized by its blood was required in exchange for the life of the worshipper. Sacrifice of animals in OT theology was not merely an expression of thanks to the deity by a cattle raising people. It was the symbolic expression of innocent life given for guilty life. This symbolism is further clarified by the action of the worshipper in placing his hands on the head of the sacrifice and confessing his sins over the animal (cf. Lev 16:21; 1:4; 4:4, etc.) which was then killed or sent out as a scapegoat.” (Harris, Archer and Waltke 1999, c1980, p. 453; TWOT Number 1023a)

Kāpar is used is used virtually in every case to describe the satisfying of justice through atoning for sins. The noun kōper refers to what is given to satisfy justice, i.e., the ransom price. For example, the Psalmist writes, “When iniquities [great injustices] prevail against me, you atone for our transgressions.” (Psa. 65:3) The greatest blessing for which David offered praise was God’s willingness, actually, eagerness to forgive. (Psa. 65:1) Pondering over past Israelite disobedience, David speaks of when they were overcome with sin; God forgave or atoned for their transgressions. David was referring to Israel’s moral rebellion against God’s Law. Undeservedly, God atoned for their sinfulness, which set aside the consequences.

Later, the Psalmist writes, “Yet he [God], being compassionate, atoned for their iniquity [great injustices] and did not destroy them; he turned away his anger often and did not stir up all his wrath.” (Psa. 78:38) Regardless of the Israelites history of unfaithfulness, God showed them mercy when he did not have to, atoning for their iniquity [great injustices]. Repeatedly he restrained his wrath from a full expression, making allowances for human imperfection.

The Psalmist also wrote, “Do not remember against us the iniquities of our forefathers let your compassion come speedily to meet us, for we are brought very low. Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name’s sake!” (Psa. 79:8-9) Many in Israel had suffered much for the sins of their forefathers. Therefore, the psalmist is praying that God would no longer call to mind the sin of their forefathers, namely, that God would no longer hold these previous sins against them. The psalmist pleads desperately that God come speedily before all of God’s chosen people were no more.

If we are to maintain any kind of integrity, we must appreciate the connection between forgiveness and the honor of God’s name. He pled that God might help them from the subjugation and persecution of these invading nations. “Atone for our sins,” he begged earnestly, asking God to forgive the transgressions of Israel’s past. This plea was based on the glory of God’s name. In other words, an act of mercy on the part of God would bring glory to his name.

Law of Atonement

As a way of satisfying justice with Israel, God’s people, he, in the Mosaic Law, set up a number of sacrifices and offerings, to atone for sins, which also included those of the priestly Levites and the high priest. (Ex. 29:33-37; Lev. 16:6, 11) The sacrifices also included other individuals, or the entire nation of Israel as a whole. (Lev. 1:1-4; 4:20, 26, 31, 35) They too were to “make atonement for the holy place, because of the uncleanness of the sons of Israel and because of their transgressions in regard to all their sins …” (Lev. 16:16-20) As a result, the life of the sacrificial animal went in place of the life of the sinner. As much, as was possible prior to Christ, “the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the purifying of the flesh.” This fundamental truth was reflected in the Mosaic Law. Leviticus 17:11 reads, “For the soul of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the soul.”  In God’s Word, blood is considered equivalent to life. Therefore, if an Israelite broke a portion of the Mosaic Law, he did not have to remain condemned, as he could repent and offer an animal sacrifice in his place. However, the atonement from the sacrifice was only an interim until the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. – Leviticus 4:27-31; 17:11; Hebrews 9:13, 14; 10:1-4.

A good example of a redeeming exchange is the law regarding injuries that may be caused by domestic animals. If a bull gored a person, killing him, the owner was obligated to kill the bull for the safety of the people. He was not allowed to sell the bull or eat the meat; he suffer a great financial loss. However, because the owner of the bull did not intentionally or willfully cause the gored person to lose their life, the judges may view it proper to only impose a “ransom [kōper]” on him, where he would then be obligated to pay the redemption price. The ransom price that was imposed on the owner was viewed as taking the place of his life, compensating for the life that was lost, redeeming him. (Ex. 21:28-32; Deut. 19:21) Nevertheless, suppose that bull was known to gore people, causing injuries, but the owner failed to keep it safely under his control, and the bull got loose, killing someone, both the bull, and its owner would be put to death (paying for the life of the person that had been killed with his own life). There was no ransom price for a willfully deliberate murder. (Num. 35:31-33) This law would deter anyone from being careless with his animals.

As to kōper, i.e., ransom, Exodus 30:11-12 reads, “Jehovah also spoke to Moses, saying, ‘When you take the sum of the sons of Israel to number them, then each one of them shall give a ransom for his soul to Jehovah, when you number them.’” Because a census involved lives, each time the sum of the sons of Israel were taken, every male that was over 20 had to give a ransom (kōper) of a half shekel for his soul to Jehovah at the service in the sanctuary, regardless of whether he was wealthy or poor.

Redemption and Redeemer

The Hebrew verb pā means, “ransom, rescue, and deliver” and the derivative pidyôn means “ransom money,”[3] or “ransom price,” “redemption money,” or “price of redemption.”[4] (Ex. 21:30) The Hebrew root (pā) has the basic meaning to exchange the ownership of someone or something from one to another through the payment of a (ransom) price, i.e., a corresponding or equivalent substitute.

These terms clearly stress the releasing accomplished by the ransom price or redemption money, i.e., an equivalent or corresponding substitute. In addition, kāpar also stresses on the quality or content of the price of redemption and its effectiveness in balancing the scales of justice. A “ransom,” “rescue” or “deliverance” (pā) can be from slavery (Lev. 19:20; Deut. 7:8), from troubling times or overbearing situations (2 Sam 4:9; Job 6:23; Psa. 55:18), or from death and the grave. (Job 33:28; Psa. 49:15) God had redeemed the Israelites, bringing them up out of Egypt with a mighty hand (Deut. 9:26; Psa. 78:42) and later he would ransom and redeem the Israelites from both Assyrian and Babylonian exile seven hundred and nine hundred years later respectively. (Isa 35:10; 51:11; Jer. 31:11-12; Zech. 10:8-10) This redeeming required a “ransom price,” an exchange. When God redeemed Israel from Egypt, the price was the firstborn of Pharaoh and all of Egypt, as well the animals, because Pharaoh had hardened his heart against the release of Israel, the “firstborn” of God. – Exodus 4:21-23; 11:4-8.

In the eighth century B.C.E., the prophet Isaiah wrote, “But now thus says Jehovah, your Creator, O Jacob, and he who formed you, O Israel: ‘do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine. … For I am Jehovah your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I have given Egypt as your ransom [form of kōper], Cush and Seba in exchange for you.’” (Isa. 43:3) All of these exchanges satisfy justice as laid out in Proverbs 21:18, “The wicked is a ransom for the righteous, and the treacherous in the place of the upright.”

Another Hebrew term associated with redemption is (gāʾal), and this conveys primarily the thought of “redeem, avenge, revenge, ransom, do the part of a kinsman.” (Jer. 32:7-8) The derivatives of the root are (gĕʾûlay) redemption (Isa 63:4 only), (gĕʾūllâ) redemption, and right of redemption, price of redemption, kindred and (gōʾēl) redeemer. On this the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament writes, “The primary meaning of this root is to do the part of a kinsman and thus to redeem his kin from difficulty or danger. It is used with its derivatives 118 times. One difference between this root and the very similar root pādâ “redeem,” is that there is usually an emphasis in gāʾal on the redemption being the privilege or duty of a near relative. The participial form of the Qal stem has indeed been translated by some as ‘kinsman-redeemer’ or as in KJV merely “kinsman.”[5] Nevertheless, the similarity of (gāʾal) to (pā) is seen by its being used alongside (pā) at Hosea 13:14): Shall I ransom [form of pā] them from the hand of Sheol? Shall I redeem [form of gāʾal] them from Death? O Death, where are your destruction? O Sheol, where is your sting? Compassion will be hidden from my eyes.”

Again, Hebrew uses the verb (gāʾal) to speak of redemption and a derivative form of the verb (gōʾēl) for redeemer. The basic meaning and application of the verb is the thought of reclaiming, recovering, or repurchasing, i.e., buying something back. The right of redemption can be for a house (Lev. 25:33) the selling of a person to pay his debts (Lev. 25:48–49) a sacrificial animal (Lev. 27:13), or a field or other property (27:19–26). The Psalmist asks God to defend, redeem, and preserve him because he keeps his word. (Psa. 119:153-54) Under the Mosaic Law, if a husband died, leaving his wife childless, there was a custom and law whereby a man would marry the deceased’s widow (closest relative first, namely, the brother), who was sonless, to produce offspring, to carry on the name of his relative. (Gen. 30:1; 38:8; Deut. 25:5-7; Ruth 4:4-7) The man carrying out what was known as “brother-in-law marriage” was called the redeemer (gōʾēl).

Anders and Butler observe, “in criminal law, a person who committed a crime against another person was responsible for paying back the cost of his crime. If the injured party for some reason was not available to receive restitution, then the nearest relative was to receive it and was called the go’el (Num. 5:8). In capital punishment cases, the closest relative was responsible for avenging the death of his relative. This avenger was called a go’el of blood, but to prohibit such a custom from getting out of hand and becoming an uncontrolled vendetta, the cities of refuge were set up to protect the person accused of murder (Num. 35:12; Josh. 20:3–9; cp. 1 Kgs. 16:11). Thus in Israel’s law redemption was “to redeem that which belongs to the family from outside jurisdiction” (Stamm, TLOT, 1, p. 291).”[6]

The Mosaic Law had a provision for the Israelites who became victim to poverty (Redemption of Property), wherein he was forced to sell his hereditary lands, his house in the city, or even to sell himself into servitude. It reads, “If your brother becomes poor and sells part of his property, then his nearest redeemer (gōʾēl) shall come and redeem [gāʾal] what his brother has sold.” (Lev. 25:25, ESV) What if the man had no relative to redeem it? Then, if he “himself becomes prosperous and finds sufficient means to redeem it, let him calculate the years since he sold it and pay back the balance to the man to whom he sold it, and then return to his property.” (Lev. 25:26-27) First, it should be noted that this man was not to be taken advantage of, nor dealt with in a ruthless way. If he had to sell himself into slavery, he is respected and viewed as hired servant (employee), who can be redeemed or released on the Year of Jubilee. The fact that a poor Israelite could become wealthy while in servitude is evidence that he was treated very well, and this served as a perfect protection against a lifetime of poverty.

In the case of a murder, while he could not seek sanctuary in the six cities of refuge (Num. 35:6-32; Josh. 20:2-9); however, he could receive a judicial hearing, if found guilty, “the avenger [gōʾēl] of blood shall himself put the murderer to death.” The avenger of blood would be a near relative of the victim. Moreover, there was no ransom [kōper] for the life of a murderer, who is guilty of death, so he was to be put to death. In addition, no near relative who had the right of redeemer could reclaim the life of his dead relative; therefore, he justly claimed the life of the one who had murdered his relative. – Numbers 35:9-32; Deuteronomy 19:1-13.

Ransom Not Always a Tangible Price

As was stated in the above, God “redeemed” (pā) or ‘reclaimed’ (gāʾal) Israel from Egypt. (Ex 6:6; Isa 51:10-11) However, more times than can be counted, the Israelites “sold themselves to do that which was evil in the sight of Jehovah, to provoke him to anger.” (2 Ki 17:16-17) Therefore, repeatedly, God sold them into the hands of their enemies. (Deut. 32:30; Judges 2:14; 3:8; 10:7; 1 Sam 12:9) Nevertheless, they would eventually repent and God would ransom and redeem them back (buy them back), reclaiming them from subjugation by their neighboring enemies or exile. (Psa. 107:2-3; Isa. 35:9, 10; Micah 4:10) In this, God was carrying out the work of a redeemer (gōʾēl), for the Sons of Israel belonged to him. (Isa. 43:1, 14; 48:20; 49:26; 50:1-2; 54:5-7) God takes no pleasure in gold, silver, or land, because it all belongs to him anyway, so this is not what the pagan nations paid him. Rather, his payment came in the satisfying of justice and the carrying out his will and purposes, correcting their rebellious spirit and their lack of respect for the Creator of the heavens and the earth.

Isaiah 48:17-18 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

17 Thus says Jehovah,
your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
“I am Jehovah your God,
who teaches you to profit,
who leads you in the way you should go.
18 Oh that you had paid attention to my commandments!
Then your peace would have been like a river,
and your righteousness like the waves of the sea;

Again, in the case of God, his redeeming does not necessarily need to involve something physical like property, land, gold and silver. When God redeemed the Israelites, who had been in exile in Babylon, Cyrus the Great of Persia was used to liberate them from captivity. Nevertheless, when God redeemed Israel from Nations that had acted with malevolence and hatred against Israel, he demanded a price from the persecutors themselves, in that they paid with their very lives. (Psa. 106:10-11; Isa. 41:11-14; 49:26) When God sold his people to the pagan nations, the Israelites received nothing in return (benefits or relief), meaning that God received nothing, nor was anything given to the captors to balance out the scales. Rather, by the power of his arm, God redeemed his people, the sons of Jacob. – Psalm 77:14-15.

Isaiah 52:3-10 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

For thus says Jehovah, “You were sold for nothing, and you shall be redeemed without money.” For thus says Jehovah God, “My people went down at the first into Egypt to sojourn there, and the Assyrian oppressed them without cause. Now therefore, what do I have here,” declares Jehovah, “seeing that my people are taken away without cause? Their rulers wail,” declares Jehovah, “and continually all the day my name is despised. Therefore my people shall know my name. Therefore in that day they shall know that it is I who speak; here I am.”

How beautiful upon the mountains
are the feet of him who brings good news,
who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness,
who proclaims  salvation,
who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”
Listen! your watchmen lift up their voices;
together they sing for joy;
for eye to eye they see
when Jehovah returns to Zion.
Break forth, sing for joy together,
you waste places of Jerusalem,
for Jehovah has comforted his people;
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
10 Jehovah has bared his holy arm
before the eyes of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth shall see
the salvation of our God.

Therefore, the Father in his role as the gōʾēl included the punishing of wrongs done to his servants, ending with his sanctifying, and defending his personal name against those who used Israel’s suffering as a justification to reproach him. (Psa. 78:35; Isa 59:15-20; 63:3-6, 9) As the Great Kinsman (NASB) and Redeemer of both the nation of Israel as a whole and each individual making up that nation, he pled for their cause, to satisfy justice. – Psa. 119:153-154; Jer. 50:33-34; Lam. 3:58-60; See also Pro. 23:10, 11.

The man of great faith, the disease-stricken Job said, “As for me, I know that my Kinsman[7] lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth.[8] King David sang, “Draw near to my soul, redeem me; ransom me because of my enemies!” (Psa. 69:18) He also sung at Psalm 103:4, “Who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with lovingkindness and mercy”? King Saul sought to kill David many times, the Philistines wanted David dead as well, as was true of others. However, God showed David loving kindness by redeeming him from the pit, i.e., the grave. – 1 Samuel 18:9-29; 19:10; 21:10-15; 23:6-29.

The Ransom of Christ Jesus

The Hebrew Old Testament Scriptures are what help us appreciate the ransom that was offered by the Son of God, Jesus Christ. It was Adam’s siding with Eve in the rebellion against God’s sovereignty (right to rule) that brought about the need of a ransom. Adam evidenced more love for Eve than he did for his Creator, who had given him live. Therefore, he sold his soul (life) so that he could join Eve in her transgression, sharing in her condemnation as well, losing his righteous standing before God. Therefore, he also sold any future descendants into slavery to sin and to death, as God had commanded, “from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat,[9] for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.”[10]” As Adam was a perfect human, who would never have become sick, or grown old, nor ever died, he sold these things for his own selfish desire of being with Eve, and he sold them for all of his progeny.

Romans 5:12-19 Updated American Standard Version (ASV)

12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men,  because all sinned, 13 or until the law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the likeness of Adam’s transgression, who is a type of the one who is to come.

15 But the free gift is not like the trespass.[11] For if by the trespass of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. 16 And it is not the same with the free gift as with the way things worked through the one man who sinned. For the judgment after one trespass was condemnation, but the gift after many trespasses was justification.[12] 17 For if by the trespass of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the one, Jesus Christ.

18 So, then, as through one trespass there was condemnation to all men, so too through one act of righteousness there was justification of life to all men. 19 For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one the many will be made righteous.

Paul, later in the same letter to the Romans, speaks on the conflict of the two natures.

Romans 7:14-25 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. 16 But if what I am not willing to do, this I am doing, I agree that the law is good. 17 So now I am no longer the one doing it, but sin that dwells in me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the desire is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. 19 For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. 20 But if what I do not want to do, this I am doing, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.

21 I find then the law in me that when I want to do right, that evil is present in me. 22 For I delight in the law of God according to the inner man, 23 but I see a different law in my members, warring against the law of my mind and taking me captive in the law of sin which is in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh, I serve the law of sin.

The law was but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, as it atoned in a limited way by offering a substitute, i.e., animal sacrifices. “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (Heb. 10:1-4) The animal sacrifices were pictorial in yet another way, as ‘when anyone offered a sacrifice of peace offerings to Jehovah to fulfill a vow or as a freewill offering from the herd or from the flock, to be accepted it must have been perfect; there was to be no blemish in it.’ (Lev. 22:21) The animal sacrifices, therefore, picture, the human sacrifice that was to come, in that, he too would have to be perfect and without blemish. In this, he would actually be an equivalent, a corresponding ransom, as Adam was a perfect human, so too, the ransom to remove sin would have to be a perfect human. This enabled that human sacrifice to pay the price of redemption that would remove Adamic sin, inherited imperfection, from any human placing their trust in the human, who had made such a sacrifice.

Adam had sold his descendants into enslavement to their fallen flesh, as everyone who came after Adam is human imperfection and a slave to sin. (Rom. 7:25) By the human offering paying the price of redemption, he released Adam’s offspring from sin and death. The apostle Paul wrote, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” (Eph. 1:7, ESV) The apostle Paul even said of himself, “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.” (Rom. 7:14) David sang, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,[13] and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Therefore, God’s perfect justice had to be satisfied, the one that called for a like for like, as in a “life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, and foot for foot.” – Exodus 21:23-25; Deuteronomy 19:21.

God’s perfect justice does not allow humankind to provide their own redeemer. “Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice.” (Psa. 49:6-9, ESV) ‘God showed his love for us in that while we were still sinners, he offered his Son for us.’ (Rom. 5:6-8) This required the Son coming to earth, to be born as a perfect human, to be the equivalent of Adam, a corresponding ransom. Therefore, the Father, in a way we will never fully understand, placed the Son’s life in the womb of Mary, a young Jewish virgin girl. (Lu 1:26-37; John 1:14) Jesus did not have a human father from which imperfection could be carried over into him. Moreover, while Mary was imperfect and could pass on sin to any offspring, in this instance, the Holy Spirit came upon her, and the power of the Most High overshadow her, protecting the baby in her womb.

Therefore, Jesus was born holy and could be called the Son of God. It is “the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot,” which redeemed humanity from sin and death. (Lu 1:35; John 1:29; 1 Pet 1:18-19) While David was born into sin (as all of humanity has been), this was not true of Jesus. However, Jesus was fully human, so he could ‘sympathize with our weaknesses, and one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.’ (Heb. 4:15) Yes, Jesus’ entire human life was as a perfect human, just as Adam’s had been prior to eating from the forbidden tree. Jesus’ human life was ‘holy, innocent, unstained, and separated from sinners.’ (Heb. 7:26) Humanity had been under another Father, Satan the Devil, after Adam rejected God in the Garden of Eden. (Gen 3:1-6; John 8:44) However, through his ransom ‘death Jesus destroyed the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and had delivered all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.’ (Heb. 2:14-15) This is why Isaiah could refer to him prophetically as “Eternal Father.” – Isaiah 9:6.

The New Testament makes it all too clear that Jesus’ perfect human life was given as a price to satisfy justice and redeem humankind from sin and death. Paul tells us that we “were bought with a price.” (1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23) Paul often begins his letters “Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus,” as Jesus bought us from Satan the Devil, from condemnation and death, as Peter states, Jesus is the “the Master who bought” us. (Rom. 1:1; 2 Pet. 2.1) Jesus was ‘slain, and by his blood he ransomed [bought] people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.’ (Rev. 5:9, ESV) In the above texts, we find the Greek word agorazo, which means “literally buy, purchase, do business in the marketplace (MT 13.44); figuratively, as being no longer controlled by sin set free; from the analogy of buying a slave’s freedom for a price paid by a benefactor redeem (1C 6.20).”[14] The related exagorazo (to release by purchase) means, “To buy up, i.e. ransom, fig. to rescue from loss.”[15] Paul said that Jesus ‘redeemed [exagorazo][16] those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.’ Paul speaks of the curse that the Jews and all of humanity was under, when he says, “Christ redeemed [exagorazo][17] us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.” (Gal. 4:5; 3:13) However, the Greek word more often used for redemption and ransoming is lytron, which more fully expresses the intended meaning as well.

Lytron is “the means or instrument by which release or deliverance is made possible–‘means of release, ransom.”[18] The Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament says of lytron, “as a price paid for release from slavery or captivity ransom; figuratively, of the cost to Christ in providing deliverance from sin price of release, ransom, means of setting free.”[19] (See Heb. 11:35) Lytron describes Christ as “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his soul as a ransom [lytron] for many.” (Matt 20:28; Mark 10:45) The related word antilytron appears at 1 Timothy 2:6.

If we look at 1 Timothy 2:5-6, it says in part, “the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom [antilytron] for all.” The Greek word antilytron appears nowhere else in the Bible. It is related to the word that Jesus used for ransom (lytron) at Mark 10:45. The Greek antilytron broken down from anti means “against; in correspondence to; “instead of;” “in place of,” and lytron means “ransom [i.e., price paid]”) “The Greek implies not merely ransom, but a substituted or equivalent ransom: the Greek preposition, ‘anti,’ implying reciprocity and vicarious substitution.”[20] The Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible in volume 4 states: that of antilytron “The word “ransom” (lutron and antilutron) occurs only three times (Matt. 20:28=Mark 10:45; 1 Tim.2:6), but its occurrence in the first two of these passages is nevertheless of fundamental importance for understanding Jesus’ own conception of his death as a redemptive act. He gives a new depth to the concept of redemption by associating with it the idea – derived from Isa. 53:5 – 6, 10 – of a substitutionary sacrifice.”[21] The reason this is the case is that we are talking about the equivalent price of one perfect human for another perfect human. Thus, this was a means for God’s principal attribute justice to be satisfied.

Another related word is lytroomai to release or set free, with the implied analogy to the process of freeing a slave—‘to set free, to liberate, to deliver, liberation, deliverance.’[22] Paul wrote to Titus that Jesus “gave himself for us to redeem [lytroomai] us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Tit 2:14, ESV) Peter states that we can know that we were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from our forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” (1 Pet. 1:18-19) Another related word is apolytrosis, which means, “‘buying back’ a slave or captive, i.e. ‘making free’ by payment of a ransom.”[23] Paul writes of Jesus, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” (Eph. 1:7, 14; Col. 1:14) The basic fact of bot the Hebrew and Greek terms are (1) a redeeming or ransoming, i.e., deliverance, (2) brought about by a payment, (3) consisting of a corresponding equivalency.

Even though the ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ is made available to anyone who wishes to avail himself or herself to it, not all respond to the invitation. Jesus himself said, “The one trusting[24] in the Son has eternal life, but the one who disobeys the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” (John 3:36) The point here is that Jesus’ ransom covers the Adamic inherited sin of every person and all that it entails. Everyone has the opportunity of choosing life over death, the ransom is made available, but it can be rejected. Moreover, it can be accepted and later rejected as well. “As sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” – Romans 5:21.

Hebrews 10:26 Updated American Standard Version (USV)

26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?

Contrasted with,

Romans 5:9-10 Updated American Standard Version (ASV)

Much more then, having now been justified by his blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through him. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.

Just as one could not ransom a willful murderer under the Mosaic Law, Adam willfully murdered humanity with his rejection of God’s sovereignty. (Rom. 5:12) Under this Scriptural point, it would seem that Adam could not be ransomed by the sacrificed life of Jesus. Nevertheless, we can be thankful that every descendent of Adam has an opportunity to be ransomed by Jesus sacrifice. Paul wrote, “So, then, as through one trespass there was condemnation to all men, so too through one act of righteousness there was justification of life to all men. For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one the many will be made righteous.” (Rom 5:18-19) Thus, it is written, “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. (1 Cor. 15:45) This arrangement evidences the wisdom of God and his righteously satisfying justice while at the same time showing mercy and grace, in his forgiving our sins.

 Romans 3:21-26 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)

21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and  the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by his grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in his blood through faith. This was to demonstrate his righteousness, because in the forbearance of God he passed over the sins previously committed; 26 it was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Review Questions

  • What are the various Hebrew and Greek words that deal with ransom and redeem?
  • Explain the Law of Atonement.
  • Explain Redemption and Redeemer.
  • How is the ransom not always a tangible price?
  • Explain the Ransom of Jesus Christ.
  • Explain the related word antilytron at 1 Timothy 2:6.
  • Explain how it is possible that one can reject the ransom and one that has accepted it can reject it thereafter.

[1] Adamic sin is not a reference to the Calvinistic Total Depravity. Calvin is right in that we have a sin nature, we are “by nature children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3), we are “slaves to sin” (Rom. 6:16, 19-20), we are ‘mentally bent toward evil” (Gen 6:5; 8:210, ‘our heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; which we cannot understand” (Jer. 17:3). John Calvin is right when he says that without the help of God, we are totally lost. However, Calvin is wrong when he says that God picks and chooses winners and losers, and that we are unable to choose God. Calvin is wrong when he says salvation is not a choice, as we with our freewill have the choice of choosing Christ or not. (Deut. 30:19; Josh 24:15; Ac 17:30-31) Repeatedly, we read the call for people to ‘believe in Jesus Christ’ and ‘they will be saved.’ (Ac 16:31; John 3:16) Moreover, the same is said of Jehovah the Father, “call on the name of Jehovah and be delivered.” (Joel 2:32; Ac 2:21; Rom. 10:13) It makes no sense for God to ask everyone to make a decision to call on Jehovah or Jesus to be saved, and then it is God who chooses and we have no real choice. Lastly, why send hundreds of millions of people out to preach and teach God’s Word, if the elect are already chosen?

[2] R. Laird Harris, “1023 כָפַר,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 452-3.

[3] William B. Coker, “1734 פָּדָה,” ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), 716.

[4] Ludwig Koehler et al., The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden; New York: E.J. Brill, 1999), 913.

[5] (Harris, Archer and Waltke 1999, c1980, TWOT Number 300a, page 145)

[6] Anders, Max; Butler, Trent (2002-04-01). Holman Old Testament Commentary – Isaiah (pp. 351-352). B&H Publishing. Kindle Edition.

[7] I.e., Redeemer

[8] Lit dust

[9] Lit eat from it

[10] Lit., dying you [singular] shall die. Heb., moth tamuth; the first reference to death in the Scriptures

[11] Lit not as the trespass, so also the free gift

[12] Lit a declaring of righteous

[13] Iniquity (awon) “signifies an offense, intentional or not, against God’s law.” This meaning is also most basic to the word [chattat], “sin,” in the Old Testament, and for this reason the words [chattat] and [awon] are virtually synonymous.” (VCEDONTW, Volume 1, Page 122) Iniquity is anything not in harmony with God’s personality, standards, ways, and will, which mars one’s relationship with God.

[14] Timothy Friberg, Barbara Friberg, and Neva F. Miller, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, Baker’s Greek New Testament Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 33.

[15] Robert L. Thomas, New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries : Updated Edition (Anaheim: Foundation Publications, Inc., 1998).

[16] Lit he might by out

[17] Lit bought out

[18] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 487.

[19] Timothy Friberg, Barbara Friberg, and Neva F. Miller, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, Baker’s Greek New Testament Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 249.

[20] Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, vol. 2 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 408.

[21] Dentan, R. C. The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Edited by George Arthur Butrick. Vol. 4. 4 vols. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1962, Volume 4, page 22.

[22] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 487.

[23] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 117.

[24] The grammatical construction of pisteuo “believe” followed by eis “into” plus the accusative causing a different shade of meaning, having faith into Jesus.