Skip to main content

Redemption (in the Bible)

REDEMPTION (IN THE BIBLE)

The English word "redemption" comes from the Latin redemptio (derived from the verb redemere, to buy back) and signifies literally the process of buying back, liberating by payment of a price or ransom. This article is concerned mainly with the Redemption of humankind wrought by God in Jesus Christ, as set forth in the NT; however, because the "buying back" or "ransoming" involved in the literal meaning of the word can be only an image, it is necessary to investigate the whole background of the concept in the OT in order to arrive at an understanding of the reality that lies behind the image.

The process of redeeming or ransoming was, in the first place, a human act that came to be applied, later, to the dealings of God with humans. This article, therefore, investigates first the biblical concept of redemption as a human act, then redemption attributed to God in the OT, and finally the redemptive work of God in Jesus Christ in the NT. In the first and second sections, the emphasis rests on the development of Hebrew thought that lies behind the NT terms and ideas, for that is where they took their origin; but attention is given also to the Greek words by which Hebrew terms were translated in the Septuagint (LXX), because the usage in the LXX determined to some extent the content of the terms as they were understood by the NT writers.

Human Redemption

The OT concepts of ransom and redemption rest partly on legal, social, and religious customs that are not found in modern cultures. Therefore, only by an investigation of these customs is it possible to arrive at an understanding of what redemption means when transferred to other spheres. With a human as the acting subject, there is reference to redemption or ransom of people from death and slavery, of animals from death, and of property from the possession of another. The Hebrew roots most frequently used are pdh, g'l, and kpr. Because of their significance for this study and because they have different shades of meaning, each of these roots is discussed separately.

The root pdh. The verb pādâ is a legal term in which the accent lies upon an actual substitution for the person or animal delivered; the substitution may be either money or another animal. The object to be redeemed is always a living being, and in almost all cases it would be put to death (at least in theory) if it were not redeemed; the only exceptions to this would seem to be in Jb 6.23; Lv 19.20; and Ex 21.8. An important use of this verb is in the legislation concerning the first-born.

Every first-born male, whether of man or of beast, belonged to Yahweh. In theory, all were to be given to Yahweh by sacrifice; this did, in fact, happen in the case of ritually clean animals, but human first-born and the first-born of ritually unclean animals were to be redeemed (Ex 13.13; 34.20; Nm 18.1516). In redeeming a first-born son, originally an animal was substituted; later a fixed sum of money was to be paid (Nm 18.16). The firstborn of unclean animals, since they were not acceptable for sacrifice, were either redeemed by the substitution of a sacrificial animal or simply slain (Ex 13.13;34.20; Nm 18.15).

A person or animal could also become liable to death by sacrifice through being vowed to the Lord. The Mosaic Law did not permit the redemption of persons or clean animals so dedicated, but unclean animals could be redeemed by paying one-fifth more than their value (Lv 27.2629). A somewhat similar case is described in 1 Sm 14.2445: Saul laid a curse upon anyone who should eat on the day of a particular battle; and when he learned that his son Jonathan (ignorant of the curse Saul had pronounced) had, in fact, eaten, he bound himself by an oath to put him to death. The people, however, intervened and "ransomed" [pādâ ] Jonathan, possibly by substituting an animal (or, less probably, another person) in his place.

Also of interest is a Ps text that says that no person can redeem himself. The context indicates that it would be a question of saving one's life by paying a ransom to Godsomething not even the richest would be able to do [Ps 48 (49).710].

Of the derivatives of pādâ the ones of special interest are pedûyīm, pidyôm, and pidyōn, substantives that signify money paid in ransom; here, too, the one ransomed is regularly delivered, in theory at least, from death. In Nm 18.16 pedûyīm designates the money paid to redeem a first-born. It is used in the same sense in Nm 3.4651, where it is said that Yahweh will take for His service the whole tribe of Levi instead of demanding the Israelite first-born; since, however, the number of the first-born exceeds the number of Levites, a price must be paid to ransom the additional ones. The term pidyōn is used in Ex 21.30, where legislation is given concerning the punishment meted out to the negligent owner of an ox that habitually gores people; normally such an owner would be put to death; "If, however, a fine [kōper ] is imposed upon him, he must pay in ransom [pidyōn ] for his life whatever amount is imposed on him." In Ps 48 (49).9 the term is used of the price necessary (too high for anyone to pay) to redeem one's life.

The verb pādâ and the substantives discussed, when they refer to human activity, are usually translated in the LXX by λυτρόω or λύτρον. The substantive λύτρον is derived from the verb λύω, to loose, and designates that which must be paid in order to deliver a prisoner, i.e., ransom; it is normally used in the plural. From λύτρον is derived, in turn, the verb λυτρόω, to hold for ransom, to release upon payment of ransom. In both the LXX and the NT, it is regularly employed in the middle voice; in this voice, the basic meaning is to obtain release by the payment of ransom, though it will be seen that other meanings are derived from the basic one. The substantive λύτρωσις is also found, sometimes designating the act of ransoming, sometimes the price paid.

The root g'l. The verb gāal is a term of family law and suggests the vindication for oneself of some person, property, or right to which one has a previous claim through kinship or prior possession. An important instance of such "redemption" is found in the legislation of Lv 25.4749: an Israelite who has had to sell himself into slavery because of poverty may be redeemed by a brother, uncle, or clansman; he may also redeem himself. The family aspect is seen also in the case of property that must be sold because the owner has become impoverished; the man's closest relative has the right (and apparently the obligation) of buying it either from him or from the one to whom he had sold it (Lv 25.2425; Jer 32.69). The object of this law was to keep property within the family. The verb is used also for the buying back of property or goods that have become the possession of God, such as tithes (Lv 27.31), unclean animals (27.13), houses (27.15), and fields (27.19) that have been vowed to God. Although this last usage is similar to that of pādâ (and the two verbs are used in a like sense in Lv 27.27), it is clear that the idea of substitution and ransom is absent from gāal.

Worthy of special note is gōēl, the participle of gāal. It is often translated "redeemer," though more exactly speaking the term indicates the person upon whom devolved all the duties, which were very diverse, of the next of kin. These duties would be all of those suggested by the verb gāal : the redemption of relatives from slavery, of property from foreign possession, etc., as discussed above, as well as the marrying of the childless widow of a near relative in order to fulfill the obligations of the law of levitate marriages, and the exacting of blood vengeance on the murderer of a near relative. According to the levitate legislation (Dt 25.510), only the brother of the dead man had the obligation of marrying the widow and so assuring progeny to continue the name and lineage of the dead man, but the practice reflected in the Book of Ruth indicates that at least in some periods it was extended to more distant relatives. When a murder had been committed, the gōēl fulfilled his duty as next of kin by exacting vengeance on the murderer (Nm 35.1619; Dt 19.1113); some see in this a redemption of innocent blood by the spilling of the blood of the guilty.

The LXX usually translated gāal, when used of human activity, by some form of λυτρόω, though sometimes by γχιστεύω, to be next of kin. The human gōēl is almost always represented by the participle of γχιστεύω.

The root kpr. The basic meaning of the verb kāpar is to cover; in the intensive conjugation (piel ) it can mean to cover over sin, atone, make expiation (see expiation (in the bible)). Of special interest for this study, however, is the substantive kōper, ransom (it may also mean bribe). In a number of texts, it is translated by λύτρον (sometimes in the plural) in the LXX, and in each of these cases it signifies a price paid for a life that has become forfeit. In a text already discussed, kōper signifies that which the negligent owner of an ox that has killed someone must pay as ransom for his own life (Ex 21.30); in Ex 30.1116 the money each one pays is considered a "forfeit for his life" to guard against the dangers believed to be involved in taking a census (see 2 Sm 24.117). On the other hand, no such price may be accepted to save a murderer from paying for his crime with his life (Nm 35.3132), and in Prv 6.35 it is said that an enraged husband will accept no amount in place of the vengeance (viz, of death) that is to be visited upon the defiler of his wife; see also Prv 13.8. When λύτρον (λύτρα) is used to translate kōper in these texts, it is in a sense akin to its proper meaning of ransom; yet here the price paid is not to deliver one person from another who holds him captive, but from a death he would otherwise have to undergo.

God as Redeemer in the Old Testament

The object of God's redemptive activity is usually the people as a whole, rather than individuals. God is said to "ransom" His people and to be their gōēl. His work of redemption is closely connected with the messianic deliverance the Israelites expected from Him.

Deliverance from captivity. The beginning of God's redemptive work is seen in the deliverance of His people from the slavery of Egypt; this is often described as a ransoming; e.g., "For remember that you too were once slaves in the land of Egypt, and the Lord, your God, ransomed [pādâ ] you" (Dt 15.15); "I will rescue (gāal ) you by my outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment" (Ex 6.6). Redemption or ransom, as practiced among men, involves the deliverance of someone from the power of another (or from an unfavorable fate) by the payment of a price or by a substitution. When the same terminology is used with God as the acting subject, redemption or ransom is obviously an image: God does deliver, but never by paying a price. "The Lord's are the earth and its fullness" [Ps 23 (24).1]; He should not, would not, pay a price, for no one could ever have such power over any creature of His that His own rights would have to be purchased. Those for whom God was concerned were held captive by the power of a hostile people; God intervened to deliver them, and this was called, not unnaturally, redemption. The texts do not speak of a price being paid (for one apparent exception, see below), but rather stress that God has intervened in might and power, "by my outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment" (Ex 6.6); to bring out from slavery and to ransom from Egypt mean the same (Dt 13.6). Once the accounts of the Exodus from Egypt had established the equivalence between redemption and deliverance, the same imagery and terminology were applied to other acts of deliverance, especially to the restoration after the Exile (Is 29.22; 35.10; 43.1; 44.22; Jer 31.11; etc.). Both pādâ ; and gāal occur without appreciable difference in meaning; e.g., "The Lord shall ransom [pādâ ] Jacob, he shall redeem [gāal ] him from the hand of his conqueror" [Jer 31.11; see also Ps 68 (69).19]; they are also used in parallel with other verbs that signify deliverance and salvation: "I will free [hiîl ] you from the hand of the wicked, and rescue [pādâ ] you from the grasp of the violent" (Jer 15.21); "He saved [hôšîă' ] them from hostile hands and freed [gāal ] them from the hands of the enemy" [Ps 105106.10].

It is clear from these examples that the idea of payment of ransom is absent. Sometimes the idea of ransom is explicitly rejected, as in Is 52.3: "you were sold for nothing, and without money you shall be redeemed [gāal ]" the meaning is that the people, taken captive because of their sins, were set free by the power of God when their guilt had been expiated. In one text, it is said that ransom is paid for the exiles who are about to be released from Babylonia: "I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Saba in return for you. I give men andpeoples in exchange for your life" (Is 43.34). But this is clearly an example of poetic imagery. Lands and peoples would, indeed, pass under the control of Cyrus in the series of conquests that would result in the freeing of the Jewish captives; these victories are given him so that he might, according to God's plan, release God's people. Yet the riches of conquest are more properly hire than ransom, for the one who received them was not the one who held captive, and he that did received nothing. Elsewhere it is said more accurately, "He [Cyrus] Shall let my exiles go free without price or ransom" (Is 45.13).

The LXX translation reflects the fact that pādâ and gāal have a somewhat altered sense when they refer to God's activity; although λυτρόω is still used in the majority of the cases, ύομαι, to deliver, and σ[symbol omitted]ζω, to save, and other verbs that have no direct connection with ransom are used as well.

God as gōēl. A number of OT passages designate Yahweh as gōēl (Redeemer), usually of Israel, though sometimes of pious individuals. The discussion above of this term and the root from which it is derived indicates that it conveys the idea of close family relationship and the rights and obligations that spring from it. When applied to God, the term would suggest the certainty of Israel's redemption, since it rested in the hands of one who is not only almighty but also had the obligation of the next of kin to redeem those who were otherwise helpless. This usage is found most frequently in Deutero-Isaiah (see isaiah, book of) as the great exilic Prophet consoled the exiles with the assurance of the release soon to come (Is 41.14; 43.14; 44.24; 48.17; 49.7, 26; etc.). Sometimes the term is used along with other expressions that signify God's power and nearness, such as savior (49.26), husband, and maker (54.5). Some passages stress the punishment that is to come upon the Babylonians, Israel's captors, and in these is seen the duty of blood venegeance that is incumbent upon the gōēl. The same idea is present in Jer 50.34; see also Prv 23.11.

A passage of special interest is Jb 19.25: "But as for me, I know that my Vindicator [gōēl ] lives, and that he will at last stand forth upon the dust." The expectation expressed here is not that Job will be delivered from sin; his trial is, in fact, that he seems to stand convicted of sin, whereas he knows himself to be innocent. God will vindicate him in showing him to be innocent of all charges, even though this should happen after Job's death; the idea of the next of kin who vindicates innocent blood is present also. Thus, in spite of Job's many complaints, he here expresses his conviction that God is near and concerned about him.

Redemption and messianism. There is a very close connection between the OT teaching on redemption and Israel's messianic hope, and the two concepts evolved hand in hand. messianism, in its broadest aspects, included the conviction that God had chosen Israel in a special way in order to bestow upon it the blessings of salvation and redemption, in which the nations also would share. What was understood by "salvation and redemption" underwent considerable evolution in the course of OT revelation. The historical beginning of messianic hope for Israel as a people may be dated to the time of the Exodus, for here God demonstrated His special choice of them and that He had a plan for their welfare that would be worked out in history; the patriarchal traditions that Israel had treasured during the centuries since Abrahamthe promises of numerous progeny, possession of land, etc.took on new meaning in the light of the Exodus. It was at this time as well that He revealed Himself as a God of deliverance, a savior who redeems His people. In the beginning, then, redemption was more or less equivalent to the release of the people from Egypt. In later times, in the face of enemy threats or actual captivity, they continued to expect deliverance from their God. When the great Prophets of the 8th and 7th centuries predicted exile and captivity because of the sins of the people, they foretold also deliverance (redemption) and restoration because of the saving plan of God; during the Exile itself Prophets arose (especially Ezekiel and Deutero-Isaiah) who promised restoration. But when the Prophets thus predicted deliverance and restoration, they did not think merely of a freeing from captivity, a return to the land, and a reestablishment of political institutions; such a return to the status quo ante would have had little meaning for them. The restoration to which the Prophets looked forward embraced the final establishment of God's messianic kingdom, including a fundamental conversion from sin, the establishment of perfect justice, obedience to God, peace among all people, and abundant prosperity. Such expectation is seen in Jeremiah's promise of a new covenant (Jer 31.3134) and Ezekiel's promise of a new heart, purification with clean water, and the gift of God's spirit (Ez 36.2432), as well as in the utopia he pictures in ch. 4048. Much of this passed into the content of the OT terms for redemption.

The connection between messianic redemption and the role of the personal Messiah of the line of David who was expected is not easy to define. Neither Jeremiah nor Ezekiel contains many authentic references to a personal messiah, nor does a Messiah seem to play a significant part in bringing to pass the expected redemption promised in their oracles. When Jeremiah says that "he shall reign and govern wisely, he shall do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah shall be saved, Israel shall dwell in security" (Jer 23.56), he suggests a connection between the restoration and the ideal king without actually attributing it to his activity. Even the more enthusiastic oracles of Isaiah (e.g., 9.16; 11.19), while closely associating the messianic king with the ideal days to come, do not say that he is the cause of salvation; in general, it is attributed directly to God's activity (Is 9.6). The least that can be said, however, is that the king, by virtue of his role in their society and of their conception of the function of the royal office, would be the mediator of the blessings God intended to bestow upon them and would have a direct role in the establishment and maintenance of justice. He was not, however, presented as a savior.

Redemption from sin. There is only one OT passage that speaks explicitly of redemption from sin. In Ps 129 (130).8 it is said that God "will redeem [pādâ ] Israel from all their iniquities." This isolated passage, however, probably refers to deliverance from captivity or other distress (and so conforms to the meaning of redemption found elsewhere) considered to have been occasioned by sin, rather than from the guilt of sin (see guilt (in the bible)). This conclusion is strengthened by the parallel expression in Ps 24 (25).22: "Redeem [pādâ ] Israel, O God, from all its distress!" A similar explanation is probably in order for a couple of passages in which redemption is found parallel with forgiveness of sins: "I have brushed away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like a mist; return to me, for I have redeemed [gāal ] you" (Is 44.22); "He pardons all your iniquities, he heals all your ills. He redeems [gāal ] your life from destruction" [Ps 102 (103).34].

This is not to say, however, that there was no belief in a reconciliation after the estrangement brought about by sin nor in a remission of guilt. The pattern of punishment for sin and messianic restoration described above supposes that sin would be expiated by the punishment of the Exile (Is 40.2), after which the blessings of the messianic era would be conferred by God. That remission of sin and freedom from sin is part of the expected redemption is clear from many texts; see Jer 31.34; 50.20; Ez 36.2433; Dn 9.24.

Even apart from the remission of sin that would precede and accompany the messianic redemption, the OT authors knew the need for remission of sin and entertained a lively hope that it could be obtained. A high point in OT spirituality is reached in Ps 50 (51), a fervent and hopeful prayer for forgiveness by one who is convinced that God will not spurn a contrite and humble heart (v.19). Another high point is reached in the last of the Servant of the Lord Oracles (Is 52.1353.12), in which sinful mankind stands aghast and comes a step nearer to obtaining a "contrite and humble heart" in recognizing that the innocent victim suffered because the sins of all had been placed upon him (53.4, 6, 1012). Not only does the Servant expiate the sins of others in some mysterious way, but his suffering has also a more positive aspect: "But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins; upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed" (53.5). The Servant is not identified with the Messiah in this text, nor is there anything to connect him with the Davidic kingship; nevertheless, because his mission is to give "his life as an offering for sin , and the will of the Lord shall be accomplished through him", his work deserves to be characterized as messianic and redemptive in the highest sense of the words.

Redemption in Christ

The message of the NT is summed up in large part by the assertion that the long-awaited redemption has arrived, that Israel's messianic hope has been fulfilled in the person and mission of Jesus Christ, who has become mediator of salvation for all people. Because redemption was accomplished through Him, He obtains a far more central and essential role than was accorded the Messiah in the OT or in later Jewish tradition.

New Testament meaning of redemption. No simple explanation of the NT concept of redemption is possible because it is exceedingly rich and complex. However, it can be briefly described as the deliverance, through the death and Resurrection of Christ (Rom 4.25), from the state of estrangement from God (Ti 2.14) that prevailed from the earliest days of human existence (Gn 3.111.9), ratified by each person by his own sins (Rom 3.23); this redemption includes all of creation, for it "was made subject to vanity" because of human sin (Rom 8.20); the final stage, to be realized only at the Parousia and the general resurrection, will bring with it the end of all the ills that afflict humankind, but many of the messianic benefits are already enjoyed by the redeemed. In many respects redemption can be identified with salvation (σωτνρία).

Some of the elements of this description were already contained in the OT concept of redemption, though not so explicitly expressed. In the OT, however, deliverance of the Jewish nation from political domination was an important element; and popular Jewish expectation, as seen in some of the intertestamental writings, often tended to emphasize this aspect in a narrow, restrictive manner. The NT sometimes speaks of redemption in quite general terms that have more or less the same content as the OT expectation. This is true of the use of the term in the opening of the Benedictus (Lk 1.68; cf. 1.71: "Salvation from our enemies, and from the hand of all who hate us"). Probably nothing other than this is to be seen in the disappointed expectation of the disciples on the road to Emmaus: "But we were hoping that it was he who should redeem Israel" (Lk 24.21). Obviously these men did not at that time regard Jesus' death as redemptive, nor were they awaiting His Resurrection; the fact that He had been put to death seemed to them evidence that He was not the awaited Redeemer. Their mistaken notions were corrected by Jesus Himself (Lk 24. 2527), and the concept of deliverance from sin, death, and God's anger precisely through Jesus' death and Resurrection is the normal content of NT redemptive terminology.

The NT uses many of the Greek terms found in the LXX, but usually with the specifically Christian content just described. There is but a single passage in which λύτρον occurs (Mk 10.45; Mt 20.28), but it is a very significant one. The verb λυτρόω (in the middle voice) occurs a few times, as does its substantive λύτρωσις much more frequent, but without apparent difference in meaning, is the compound πολύτρωσις. The last two terms usually mean the state of redemption, though they sometimes refer to the act by which redemption is accomplished. Other important terms are mentioned in the course of this article.

Redemptive death of Jesus. Although the total redemptive work of Jesus includes His Incarnation, life, Passion, death, and Resurrection, it cannot be denied that the NT emphasizes His death as the cause par excellence of redemption. The question of how the death of Jesus is redemptive does not find a single, clear, explanation in the NT. Various approaches are usedransom, sacrifice, expiation, etc.but none of them can exhaust the mystery. Moreover, these approaches are presented in thought categories largely foreign to the modern Western mind. Nevertheless, it is necessary to investigate the mystery in terms such as these, for they are the only kind the NT presents (see biblical theology).

Jesus' Conception of His Mission. The NT recognizes Jesus as the Messiah and the bearer of salvation. He Himself generally avoided the title, which was largely associated with the political notions of His contemporaries concerning the type of redemption the Messiah would bring. His ministry was marked by a series of miracles that signified the overthrow of the kingdom of Satan in order to make way for the kingdom of god. Near the beginning of His ministry He made clear the moral dispositions required of those who would enter this kingdom, but He fled from an enthusiastic following that wanted to make Him king (Jn 6.15). While avoiding the title of Messiah, Jesus constantly referred to Himself as Son of Man. This title, found in Dn 7.13 and applied to a transcendant, heavenly being in later Jewish writings, notably 1 Enoch and 4 Esdras, did not have the narrow political overtones attached to Messiah in popular Jewish expectation. But even to the title Son of Man Jesus gave a new content by identifying His mission with that of the Servant of the Lord of Deutero-Isaiah. Although Jesus did not explicitly call Himself the Servant of the Lord, sayings recorded in the Gospels explain His mission in terms that were drawn from the description of that OT figure. For example, the pattern of rejection, humiliation, death, and resurrection found in the Passion predictions (Mk 8.31; 9.2930; 10.3234; and parallels) follows that of the fourth Servant oracle. In the logia preserved in Mk 9.11 and 14.21 it is affirmed that Scripture foretold the necessity of the suffering of the Son of Man; yet no text of Scripture contains such a prediction (nor do even the non-biblical texts speak of the Son of Man suffering), and it is clear that the sayings apply to Jesus as Son of Man the things said of the Servant of the Lord. In one text He explicitly applied to Himself the words written of the Servant (Lk 22.37). The Evangelists and other NT writers, too, liberally applied to Him the Servant texts and terminology; see, e.g., Mt 8.17; 12.18; Jn 12.38; Acts 4.27, 30;8.3235; Rom 15.21; 1 Pt 2.2225. Another passage that is of special importance for understanding Jesus' conception of His mission, Mk 10.45, requires a fuller investigation.

A Ransom for Many. The logion found in almost identical form in Mk 10.45 and Mt 20.28 is particularly important because in it Jesus characterized His understanding of His whole mission. In order to counter the tendency toward ambitious self-seeking on the part of His disciples, Jesus insisted on the need for humility and readiness to serve others, concluding with the words: "for the Son of Man also has not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." There is little need to question the authenticity of this saying; the objections made in the past, that this verse is an expansion made under the influence of Pauline teaching or that St. Luke's version of the "service logion" (Lk 22.2427) is more primitive, have been amply refuted.

The background against which this saying is to be interpreted is, in all probability, Jesus' conception of His mission as Servant of the Lord. This position has been denied by some (e.g., C. K. Barrett), but the arguments in its favor are very strong. It must be admitted that the language of the passage does not approach very closely to the LXX version of the fourth Servant oracle, but the thought expressed is very similar: in each case it is a question of one whose mission can be summed up as service and whose life is given in place of "many" (Is 53.11). Further, if the immediate context in Mark is taken into account, it may be said that the pattern of abasement, death, and exaltation appears in each text, for in Mk 10.4344 Jesus explains to His disciples that the way to true greatness lies in humiliation and service, and then He goes on (in v. 45) to apply this to Himself: "for the Son of Man also." When one adds to this the conviction that Jesus interpreted His own mission in the light of the Servant figure, it becomes clear that this also is the background against which must be understood the saying in which Jesus solemnly summarizes the meaning of His life's work.

How, then, should the "ransom" be understood? Some have suggested that the λύτρον recalls the āšām of Is 53.10: the Servant is said to give his life as an "offering for sin"; but this is probably incorrect, for āšām is never translated by λύτρον. More probably λύτρον represents the idea contained in the occurrences of kōper discussed above: a price given in place of (the proper meaning of ντί) a life that is forfeit. The meaning, then, is that Jesus dies in order to deliver "many" (a term that does not necessarily imply any restriction) from a situation in which their own lives were forfeit. The "situation" in question is man's state as sinner and the consequences deriving from it (ultimately death). This corresponds closely to the mission of the Servant. However, the image of a price or ransom cannot be pressed too far; man is held in bondage to sin (and thus liable to death) through the activity of Satan, but it cannot be thought that the price (the life of Jesus) is delivered to Satan; he has no rights over God's creatures. Jesus does die in obedience to the will of the Father and to offer Him a sacrifice on behalf of all, and in this sense His life might be said to be paid to God. Yet this must not be understood in a crudely substitutionary sense, as though an irate God accepted the death of the innocent Jesus in place of that of sinners and thus was appeased. It was the loving Father who initiated His merciful plan of salvation by sending His Son. Moreover, the life of Jesus was given to release sinners from the state of bondage, a state in which they are not kept by God, and to enable them to serve God properly.

Jesus' Death as a Sacrifice. If Jesus interpreted His sufferings and death in the light of the Servant passages, it would appear that He viewed His death as a sacrifice; the same implication is found in the words of institution of the chalice at the Last Supper: "This is my blood of the new covenant, which is being shed for many" (Mk 14.24)words that allude both to the blood of the Sinai covenant sacrifice (Ex 24.8) and to the Servant oracles. It is not possible to enter here into a full discussion of Israel's concept of sacrifice, but it is helpful to recall certain features that are pertinent to the present investigation. Sacrifice had various functions, some more prominent in certain types of sacrifice than in others. The emphasis was not upon the destruction of the victim, but upon the offering of life made to God. The ends of the offering were worship, reconciliation, and fellowship with God. Sacrifice, when offered in the proper spirit, implied a giving of self; the imposition of the hands of the offerer upon the head of the victim signified his identity with it and so signified total surrender and the desire to be accepted by God as the victim would be. Sacrifice was understood to effect reconciliation by removing the obstacles to union with God caused by sin; this was the function of guilt offerings and sin offerings, which were understood to be effective through the mysterious power of blood (see blood, religious significance of), the shedding of which signified the release of life. It is to be noted that the life thus presented to God was not a substitute for the life of the guilty. The expiation involved consisted in the wiping out of sin so as to restore the relationship of community between the sinner and God, not in placating the anger of God. Sacrifice also effected communion or fellowship with God in two ways: the blood of the victim, with which the offerer was in some way identified, was presented to God by being splashed on the altar; and (in some types of sacrifices) the offerer shared in the victim, now transferred to the sphere of the divine through acceptance by God, by a sacred meal.

These are elevated concepts, but the disadvantages of the OT practice are apparent. The victim itself had no intrinsic value as an offering to God, nor could a dumb animal partake in any way in the free offering that is the essence of sacrifice. The total value, then, derived from the dispositions of the offerer. These, however, were often lacking; the sacrifice could be viewed in a somewhat mechanical way, as effecting something automaticallyas the condemnations of the Prophets eloquently indicate.

The sacrificial death of Jesus, however, was not vitiated by these imperfections. The mission He had received from His Father of establishing the kingdom of God and instructing men in its true nature roused against Him the hostility of Satan and wicked men and issued ultimately in His death. That His death would be an outcome of His fidelity to His mission Jesus clearly foresaw; this is explicit in the Passion predictions, implicit in His identification of Himself with the Servant of the Lord. Nevertheless, He adhered to the path that He knew would lead to His death in obedience to the will of His Father, and in so doing became a conscious, willing victim (Jn 10.11, 1518); the Passion of Christ was not simply a circumstance but a necessity (Lk 12.50; 24.26). Sinless and innocent Himself, Jesus willingly underwent death in obedience to the will of the Father in the full knowledge that in so doing He was accomplishing the redemption of all; by His obedient death as Servant, He offered a sacrifice in which all can share, which all can make their own. Because Jesus freely offered Himself, He was not only victim, but also priest. (The function of the priest in the OT was not to slay the victim but to offer it to God; the slaughter was often carried out by a layman.) This truth became the basis for a theme developed at length in the Epistle to the Hebrews and found in other places in the NT.

It may be asked why God required the sacrifice of Jesus as the price of redemption for all and did not simply forgive sin freely; it might be thought that this would involve a higher conception of God and one that is already found in the OT. In answer it may be said that the OT, even though it sometimes seems to speak of sin being freely pardoned, did recognize and teach the necessity for reparation for sin; this is witnessed by the practice of guilt offerings and sin offerings, the Day of atonement, the belief that punishment for sin must precede the messianic restoration, the teaching on the mission of the Servant of the Lord, and in many other ways. A proper estimate of sin recognizes it as something that not only offends God but, in a real way, induces a disorder into one's very being, because it perverts one's ordering of oneself to God, in which one's total good as creature consists. The fallen condition, from which springs our need for redemption, is the result of the sin of disobedience (rebellion); this goes back to the origin of the human race (Gn ch. 111), in which each individual is inserted and grounded (see original sin). Only by a definitive rejection of all that is evil, by a new act of perfect obedience in which God would be chosen in preference to self, could a new beginning be made. Yet, paradoxically, this is precisely what human nature, wounded as it now was by sin, was not able to effect; humankind, in the greatest need, found itself in a state of helplessness. It is at this point that God in His merciful design takes the initiative to rescue man, by means of the Incarnation, from a state in which he cannot rescue himself. Jesus, sinless and in no way partaker of man's moral weakness, offers in the name of all His obedience unto death. In so doing, He both undergoes the penalty of death for sin in the name of sinners and repairs the disorder caused by disobedience.

From this it is clear that there is a substitutionary element in the sacrifice of Jesus; this is implied also in the connection of His death as ransom with the OT kōper (see above). The substitutionary element is seen partly in the fact that He has done for man what man could not do for himself. Yet a fuller understanding of Jesus' death as redemptive must go far beyond this; Jesus does not die simply in place of sinful mankind, but must in some way be identified with those for whom He died. This identification proceeds in two directions: Jesus dies in the name of sinners, and sinners, in turn, make Jesus' sacrifice their own. It is not without significance that the only Servant passage that Jesus explicitly applied to Himself (Is 53.12) implied His association with sinful mankind: "For I say to you that this which is written must yet be fulfilled in me, 'And he was reckoned among the wicked"' (Lk 22.37; for the forceful expressions of St. Paul, see Rom8.3; 2 Cor 5.21; Gal 3.13). Objectively the sacrifice of Jesus, offered in the name of sinners, accomplishes total reparation and redemption; but it does not operate in an automatic way in reconciling the individual sinner to God. Each person must make the sacrifice his own, expressive of his own dispositions of contrition for sin and willingness to make reparation; as in the case of any sacrifice, it avails only for the individual who makes it a vehicle of his own oblation of self. Ultimately this means that the offerer wills to render personally the perfect obedience of Jesus to God, obedience even unto death (Phil2.58; 2 Cor 5.1415).

That Jesus intended men to appropriate His sacrifice as their own is clear from His institution of the Eucharist. In this rite, the broken loaf and of wine are effective signs of His body slain and His blood "shed for many" (Mk 14.2224), and the invitation to eat of them is an invitation for each person to make his own the sacrifice of Jesus. The covenant aspect that is present ("This is my blood of the new covenant "; cf. Ex 24.8; Jer 31.3134) implies that Jesus' death makes possible fellowship between God and those who share in it.

Teaching of New Testament Writers. There is no possibility of presenting here a complete synthesis of the diverse and complex approaches used by the NT writers in explaining the redemptive nature of the death of Christ; a description of some of the more basic lines of thought is all that is attempted.

St. Mark's Gospel indicates that the immediate effect of Jesus' death is reconciliation with God. Whereas in St. Matthew's Gospel the rending of the veil of the Temple is one of a series of marvels that follows the death of Jesus (Mt 27.5153), in Mark's account it stands alone (Mk 15.38) and is sandwiched into the narrative for the sake of what it signifiesthe way of access to God is now open. A comparable teaching on access to God through the veil by virtue of the death of Christ is found in Hebrews (Heb 10.1922). Paradoxically, it is at the moment of Jesus' death in rejection and apparent abandonment that Mark places the recognition of His divinity (Mk 15.39). When N. Ferré; says that "Calvary shows the depth of God's redemptive love for man and thus alone is the full revelation of God" [The Christian Faith (New York 1942) 161], he makes explicit something that is implicit in Mark's account. St. John and St. Paul also see God's redemptive act in Christ as the supreme manifestation of His love (Jn 3.16; Rom 5.8; 8.32).

The image of redemption accomplished through the payment of a price is reflected in many NT passages. Of special interest is 1 Tm 2.6, for it is clearly a paraphrase of the ransom passage in Mk 10.45: "who [Jesus Christ] gave himself a ransom [υτίλυτρον] for all." By substituting "all" for "many," the passage excludes any suggestion of a limitation of redemption to some segment of humankind. See also Ti 2.14; 1 Pt 1.1819. Even when λύτρον and its derivatives are not used, the idea is sometimes expressed in other terms, such as γοράζω, to purchase (1 Cor 6.20; 2 Pt 2.1; Rv 5.9; 14.3); ξαγοράζω, to buy back, redeem (Gal 3.13; 4.5); and λευθερέω, to deliver, free, e.g., from sin, death, or slavery (Rom 6.18,8.2, 21; Gal 5.1). The same concept is present as well in references to the price (sometimes specified as the precious blood of ChristActs 20.28; Eph 1.7; 1 Pt 1.1819; Rv 5.9) by which man is redeemed (1 Cor 6.20). The passages in which these expressions occur allude at least implicitly to the sacrificial nature of the death of Christ; the reference to sacrifice is found also in Rom3.25: "whom [Jesus] God has set forth as a propitiation [λαστήριον] by His blood "(see expiation (in the bible)). See also, e.g., 1 Cor 5.7; Eph 5.2. In 1 Thes 1.10 Paul says that believers have been delivered (ύομαι) from God's wrath. In biblical terminology the wrath of God stands for vindictive punishment to be visited upon sinners through divine judgment on the last day, whereas the justice of God stands for the benign plan of God to save man from sin. In Rom 5.9 salvation (σ[symbol omitted]ζω) from God's wrath is attributed to the blood of Christ. (For other aspects of Paul's distinctive teaching on Redemption, see paul, apostle, st.).

The image of redemption as a buying or a purchase contains another important element, namely, the acquisition of the redeemed for God as His own peoplealready an important part of OT thought. Thus St. Paul can speak of "the Church of God which he [Christ] has purchased with his own blood" (Acts 20.28) or say that Jesus "gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and cleanse for himself an acceptable people" (Ti 2.14). St. Peter can call the Christians "a purchased people" (1 Pt 2.9). In 1 Cor 7.2224 St. Paul tells his readers, slaves and free, that having been bought at a price, they have been set free (i.e., of the powers that formerly held them) in order to become slaves of Christ. In a similar sense, Jesus had said that when He had been "lifted up" He would draw all to Himself (Jn 12.32) and had compared Himself to a grain of wheat that falls into the ground and dies in order to bring forth much fruit (Jn 12.2425).

The means by which we can appropriate for ourselves the sacrifice of Christ are set forth in various ways. St. Paul speaks of faith, incorporation into the body of Christ, sacramental participation in the redemptive mystery (through Baptism in Rom 6.3, through the Eucharist in 1 Cor 11.26), etc. Of special import is Paul's presentation of Christ as Second Adam (Rom 5.1219; 1 Cor 15.4449). Just as Adam, the total embodiment of humanity at the beginning, encompassed all of humankind in his fall, so Christ incorporates all of humankind in Himself in His act of perfect obedience on the Cross: "For just as by the disobedience of the one man the many were constituted sinners, so also by the obedience of the one the many will be justified" (Rom 5.19). The same is said more briefly in 2 Cor 5.14: "[S]ince one died for all, therefore all have died." The conclusion to be drawn from this is that the redeemed are dead to sin and thus able to be the recipients of a new life (Rom 6.23; 2 Cor5.15; Col 3.14).

Redemption and the Resurrection. Although Jesus taught the redemptive value of His death, He did not clearly indicate, at least in the authentic sayings that have been preserved, the redemptive significance of His Resurrection. Even the fourth Servant oracle, which was the background of Jesus' interpretation of His mission, seems to view the Servant's resurrection almost solely as a vindication of his innocence and the means of making known to others that it was not for his sins but for the sins of "the many" that he died; the emphasis is placed on his death: "through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear" (Is 53.11).

Yet the NT writers have correctly seen the importance of the resurrection of christ for a proper understanding of the Redemption. The NT does not emphasize the redemption of soulsa concept that rests upon a Platonic and quite un-biblical view of the human situation (see man, 1)but of the redemption of the person. A correct view extends Redemption to include our bodily nature, society, and all of creation; any redemption that did not include this would be incomplete.

In rising from the dead, Christ did not simply return to the mortal life He had known before, but He was glorified and exalted to the right hand of the Father (Mk 16.19; Acts 2.3233). Further, the new life He now possessed was something all the redeemed were also to share in. In order to grasp the full meaning of this, it is necessary to understand the force of the concepts of death and life in Scripture. In biblical thought "death" often signifies far more than simply the loss of bodily life. Death entered the world as the result of sin (Gn 3.1719; Rom 5.12), and the ultimate stage of it is eternal damnation (Jas 1.15; Rom 5.21; 6.21; Rv 20.14); this would be the inescapable fate of fallen man if God had not intervened. As it is, Christ has overcome death through His Resurrection. The raising of Christ from the dead is usually attributed to the Father, just as the initiative in the Redemption is regularly presented as coming from Him; because of Christ's divine nature and because of His perfect victory over evil in His own life, however, it can be said also that the realm of death had no power to hold Him (Acts 2.24). In His dying and Resurrection, death and the powers of death have been destroyed (2 Tm 1.10; Heb 2.14).

The positive aspect of this victory is the bestowal of life on all those united to Christ; indeed, this gift of life can be considered to be the completion of His redemptive mission: "I have come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly" (Jn 10.10). Life, too, is a pregnant concept in Scripture; just as "death" can describe man's unredeemed state and all its consequences, so "life" can comprise the totality of the gift of God, including Redemption and supernatural blessedness. This life is conferred on the believer in virtue of the Resurrection of Christ; St. Paul can say that "even when we were dead by reason of our sins, [God] brought us to life together with Christ" (Eph 2.5). Solidarity with Adam brought death; solidarity with Christ brings life: "For since by a man came death, by a man also comes resurrection from the dead. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made to live" (1 Cor 15.2122). The Resurrection of Christ and that of the redeemed are so closely linked as cause and effect that to deny the resurrection of the dead is, implicitly, to deny the Resurrection of Christ (1 Cor 15.1221). Sometimes this link is explained in terms of sacramental action. St. Paul speaks especially of Baptism in this regard: "For you were buried together with him in Baptism, and in him also rose again through faith in the working of God who raised him from the dead" (Col 2.12); "For we were buried with him by means of Baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ has arisen from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also may walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in the likeness of his death, we shall be so in the likeness of his resurrection also" (Rom 6.45). St. John sees this effected through the Eucharist: "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has everlasting life and I will raise him up on the last day" (Jn 6.55).

The Christian's share in the Resurrection of Christ includes both the life of grace now (walking "in newness of life"Rom 6.4) and the resurrection of the body on the last day. The life of grace is granted through the believer's intimate union with Christ (Eph 2.47) and the gift of the Spirit (Rom 8.111), which Christ is able to bestow in virtue of His Resurrection and exaltation (Acts 2.33; Jn 7.39, 20.22;). The possession of the spirit of god renders the receivers sons of god and joint heirs with Christ (Rom 8.1417).

Bestowal of the Spirit not only restores integrity to the individual, but also brings to an end the divisions within the human community caused by sin and existing since the earliest generations (Gn 11.19). The creation of one community for all, long expected by the Prophets as an effect of the messianic redemption (Is 2.24;19.1825), is realized at least germinally at Pentecost (Acts 2.511) and continued in the process of the building up of the body of Christ, the Church, in which all divisions are brought to an end (Gal 3.28; Col 3.11; Eph 2.1322).

Because man is the crown of creation and because all other creatures were made for him and placed under his dominion (Gn 1.2628; 2.1819), all creation shared in man's fall and became subject to the vanity of his sin (Rom 8.20); the earth was cursed because of him (Gn 3.1718). The Prophets, therefore, looked forward to a redemption in which the disorders introduced by the Fall would be undone and in which all creation would share (Is 11.69; Hos 2.20; Am 9.13)a cosmic redemption calling for the creation of a new heaven and a new earth (Is 65.1725). This cosmic aspect is seen also in the NT teaching on redemption, even though its completion will be realized only on the last day. St. Paul expects that "creation itself also will be delivered from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the sons of God" (Rom 8.21). Something of the same idea is contained in 1 Cor ch. 15, where St. Paul speaks of the day when death and every evil force will be destroyed and all other things will be subject to God in their proper order to the end "that God may be all in all" (1 Cor 15.2428; see also Eph 1.10). In a sense, this is already accomplished in the Incarnation (Col 1.1517).

Redemption and eschatology. In many prophetic texts, especially (or perhaps exclusively) in those after the Exile, the fulfillment of the expected messianic redemption is seen to coincide with the end of human history, of the present world, and of the present age, and to introduce a new world in a new age (see, e.g., the "new heavens and new earth" oracle in Is 65.1725 referred to above). With the exaltation of Christ and the sending of the Spirit, the Apostles recognized that in Christ the decisive act of salvation history (Heilsgeschichte) had been accomplished and the new age had been ushered in; this is a central element of the NT proclamation. Nevertheless, the NT continues to look forward to the Parousia (Second Coming) of Christ as the final act of the redemptive work that, until that moment, must remain, in a sense, incomplete. Until sin, death, and every hostile force is brought to an end, the kingdom of God cannot be considered to be perfectly established; until the redeemed share in the glory of the Resurrection of Christ through the glorification of their own bodies, Redemption will not be complete (see Lk 21.28; Rom 8.23; Eph 1.14; 4.30). This state of affairs leads to a tension between present and future that is inherent in the NT message. Some modern authors would resolve this tension by seeing all the goods of the messianic age already present, with no further extraordinary intervention of God on earth to be expected. Such "realized eschatology" (term of C. H. Dodd), however, is hardly consistent with all the data of the NT. But the theory does contain important elements of truth. Many of the benefits of Redemption are already possessed in this life: deliverance from God's wrath, reconciliation with God, the gift of the Spirit, adoption as sons of God, and the messianic community (the Church) that is potentially the sphere of salvation and unity of all men (see Rom 3.24; 1 Cor 1.30; Eph 1.7; Col 1.14). Even the gifts that are not yet fully possessed are to a degree already proleptically present for the Christian in virtue of union with the glorified and exalted Christ. The various writers of the NT stress now one, now the other of these two poles, so that only a somewhat mitigated form of "realized eschatology," sometimes termed "inaugurated eschatology," truly represents their thought. (see eschatology (in the bible)).

Christians have been given the means of bettering the world; they can and must work for justice, equality of opportunity, peace, the extinction of every evil, and the acquisition of every good. But the perfect establishment of the kingdom of God, according to the mind of the NT, will be accomplished not by the gradual success of human endeavors, but only by the return of the Son of Man.

See Also: hope of salvation (in the bible); justification.

Bibliography: Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963) 19942003. j. gewiess, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 195765) 3:101620. p. vielhauer, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart (Tübingen 195765) 2:579584. h. j. kraus and p. vielhauer, ibid. 2:586590. h. schlier, Theologisches Wörterbuch zum Neuen Testamentm, ed. g. kittel (Stuttgart 1935) 2:484500. o. procksch and f. bÜchsel, ibid. 4:329359. m. m. bourke, Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ (Glen Rock, N.J. 1963). d. m. stanley, Christ's Resurrection in Pauline Soteriology (Analecta biblica 13, Rome 1961). f. x. durrwell, The Resurrection, tr. r. sheed (New York 1960). l. cerfaux, Christ in the Theology of St. Paul, tr. g. webb and a. walker (New York 1959) 69192. v. taylor, The Atonement in New Testament Teaching (3d ed. London 1958); Jesus and His Sacrifice (New York 1955). c. novel, Essai sur le Développement de l'idée biblique de Rédemption (Lyons 1954). j. dupont, La Réconciliation dans la théologie de St. Paul (Paris 1953). a. kirchgÄssner, Erlösung und Sünde im N.T. (Freiburg 1950). j. bonsirven, L'Évangile de s. Paul (Paris 1948) 144174. j. j. stamm, Erlösen und Vergeben im A. T. (Bern 1940). r. g. bandas, The Master Idea of St. Paul's Epistles on the Redemption (St. Paul, Minn. 1926). j. wach, Der Erlösungsgedanke und seine Deutung (Leipzig 1922). s. lyonnet, "The Redemption of the Universe" in h. rahner et al., The Church: Readings in Theology (New York 1963) 136158; Introduction à la Bible, eds. a. robert and a. feuillet (Tournai 1959) 2:840889; "De notione redemptionis," Verbum Domini 36 (1958) 129146. c. k. barrett, "The Background of Mark 10:45," N. T. Essays: Studies in Memory of T. W. Manson, ed. a.j. b. higgins (Manchester, Eng. 1959) 118. a. r. johnson, "The Primary Meaning of the Root g'l," Vetus Testestamentum suppl. 1 (1953) 6777. r. crouzel, "Le Dogme de la Rédemption dans l'Apocalypse," Bulletin de Littérature Ecclésiastique 58 (1957) 6592. b. vawter, "Resurrection and Redemption," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 15 (1953) 1123. j. jeremias, "Das Lösegeld für viele (Mk. 10, 45)," Judaica 3 (1948) 249264. j. riviÈre, "Expiation et Rédemption dans l'A.T.," Bulletin de Littérature Ecclésiastique 47 (1946) 322. j. b. colon, "La Conception du salut d'après les évangiles synoptiques," Recherches de science religieuse 10 (1930) 370415; 11 (1931) 2772, 193223. b. warfield, "The N.T. Terminology of Redemption," Princeton Theological Review 15 (1917) 201249. j. unterman and g. s. shogren, "Redemption," Anchor Bible Dictionary (New York 1992) 5:650657.

[j. jensen]

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Redemption (in the Bible)." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Dec. 2018 <https://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Redemption (in the Bible)." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 16, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/redemption-bible

"Redemption (in the Bible)." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Retrieved December 16, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/redemption-bible

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.