“Redeem/redemption” appears a total of 25 times in the New Testament narratives. These terms have been used to translate seven different Greek words, five of which refer almost exclusively to the ransom of slaves or captives (prisoners of war). Remember that in the prevailing cultures, for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, slavery had been the lot of many defeated populations, all over the then-known world. The concept was painfully familiar. So was the sometimes remote, sometimes common possibility of a compatriot accumulating sufficient goods to buy one’s freedom, or even of earning it for oneself. Prisoner exchange, likewise, was not unknown. Any of these options would be called “apolutrosis” – ransom, or redemption.
Apolutrosis, the most common of the words, used 9 x in the New Testament, lutron (2 x), lutrosis (2 x), and antilutron (1 x), all nouns, and lutroo (3 x), the verb form from which they are derived, uniformly refer, in classical usage, to either the ransom of a prisoner or slave, or the redemption of a pledge or obligation – either the process or the price of such a transaction.
Agorazo, “to purchase”, and its prefixed form, exagorazo, both verbs, more frequently refer to ordinary commerce (28 x, more than the sum of all the “redeem” words), although they may also be used for the purchase of slaves, either for their freedom or simply a change of ownership. Twice, exagorazo is used in Paul’s admonitions about “redeeming the time” (Eph.5:16 and Col.4:5), or making responsible use of it.
In this cultural context, nobody needed an explanation of “captivity”, either. Four of the five words translated that way are derived from aichme , “spear”, and refer to prisoners of war: the nouns aichmalosia and aichmalotos, used once each, and the verbs aichmaloteuo (2 x) and aichmalotizo (3 x). The other, zogreo, used only once, refers to captured animals who were kept in cages.
Both Matthew (20:28) and Mark (10:45) record Jesus’ statement that he intended to give his life as a “ransom (lutron) for many” (pollon). Luke refers, in the infancy narrative (2:38) and the despairing lament of the disciples enroute to Emmaus (24:21) to the expectation that Jesus would “redeem Israel”, but only quotes Jesus himself once (21:28), “Your deliverance [redemption] is coming near” in reference to his final triumph. In fact, Jesus himself does not use the word “sacrifice”, so common in modern parlance, even a single time in reference to his own mission, nor do any of the Gospel writers: “redemption / ransom” is their chosen term in every instance.
Please note, in the light of this choice of vocabulary, that the primary idea communicated is a change of ownership or jurisdiction, rather than the “get-out-of-jail-free” notion that is so commonly preached: and this makes an enormous difference in the expectations for the consequent life of those who have been “redeemed!”
Although the verb he chose in Col.1:13 is errusato – “rescued” (W.S.#5), rather than one of the “redeem” words, probably the best description of the situation is Paul’s triumphant reminder, “He has rescued us from the power of darkness, and has transplanted us into the kingdom of the Son of his love!”
The writer to the Hebrews chose apallaxe – also “to set at liberty” – in describing the effect of Jesus’ having passed through death and come out the other side, thus having destroyed the one who held the power of death, (Heb.2:14-15), upon those whose fear of death had held them in lifetime bondage. The idea is the same.
There is an impressive list of oppressors from which our Lord has “bought” our redemption, in addition to that primal fear.
Exagorazo: Gal.3:13 and 4:5 – the curse and bondage of the Law
lutroo: Titus 2:14 – all lawlessness, and I Pet.1:18 – the empty / futile ways of our ancestors
apolutrosis: Eph.1:7, our transgressions, and Col.1:14 – our failures.
Please note that these latter two are taken away (aphesis), not just ignored or overlooked! And please remember that although this is certainly included as part of the “package” of redemption, Jesus’ right to “forgive / take away” failures and transgressions was predicated on who he is / was – God in person! – (see W.S.#7). Neither he nor his critics related it to his death.
Even his choice of timing lends evidence to the focus on redemption. As our son Dan pointed out when we were considering this study, Jesus’ death and resurrection happened at Passover – the celebration of deliverance from bondage in Egypt – and not on the Day of Atonement, with its focus on “sins”. How have so many people missed that observation?
Do not forget, also, that redemption is much more than mere escape from negative things and circumstances! The deliverance described in Col.1:13 is into the Kingdom of the Son of God!
Apolutrosis includes (Rom.3:24) being made just;
(Rom.8:24) being adopted (see Translation Notes) as sons of God, and eventual release from the constraints of our bodies;
(I Cor.1:30 and Eph.1:14) becoming the set-apart possession of the Lord Jesus; for which we have already been provided
(Eph.1:14 and 4:30) with his seal of ownership, in the person of his Holy Spirit.
On a practical level, having been “bought” (agorazo) by our Master, and therefore having become his possession, it is reasonable to expect
(I Cor.6:30) that we become eager to reflect honor upon him;
(I Cor.7:23) that we refuse to allow ourselves to become enslaved to anyone or anything else; and
(II Pet.2:1) make every effort not to deny or discredit him in any way.
Even if this were “all there is”, the condition of those so “redeemed” would be glorious! But there is more! A future also awaits, as the culmination of Jesus’ act of redemption! In Heb.9:15-17, the transaction is cast in the context of a will, under which the heirs only acquire their inheritance after the death (refer to 2:14) of the testator. The Holy Spirit is described (Eph.1:14) as the down-payment on that inheritance, until it is complete, and Rom.8:23 also intimates that, despite the present reality of the Holy Spirit, this is only the beginning!
Those gathered around the throne (Rev.5:9, and 14:3,4) celebrate the redemption of “people from every tribe and tongue and people and nation” into the Kingdom of the Lamb.
You may have noticed that there is one question that we have not addressed: “To whom was the ransom owed or paid?” This is neither an oversight nor deliberate avoidance. The reason for its lack is simple. Although centuries of “theologians,” and preachers of many persuasions, have adamantly proclaimed the accuracy of their “logically” devised theories, the New Testament itself does not speak to that issue. Since this is a New Testament study, I will not presume to do so, either.
Our attention can be much more profitably focused upon seeking faithfully to fulfill the purpose of the One who has redeemed us for himself! He has graciously provided us with very clear instructions for that exercise.
Thanks be to God!