What Is Redemption in the Bible?

This is an easy-to-follow word study in Hebrew and Greek, with all the words transliterated into English. And then redemption and ransom are applied to our lives today.

The basic concept is that God had to reach down and bring us out of one condition (sin and slavery) to another condition (light and salvation), by dying on the cross. This is the price paid for our redemption.

The concept of ransom is included in this post too.

Old Testament

The Old Testament was written in Hebrew (and Aramaic), and here are two key verbs that describe “to redeem.”

1.. The verb ga’al means to “ransom,” “redeem,” or “function as a kinsman redeemer” and is used 104 times.

First, it is used in a legal context, of the redemption of property that had been forfeited. In the bigger picture, God owned the land of Israel, and each tribe and clan was promised a share. Each tribe or clan could never sell it permanently. However, if it was sold to pay a debt, then a go’el, a kinsman redeemer, could buy it back or redeem the land. A kinsman redeemer belonged to the tribe or clan (hence the “kinsman” aspect), so this qualified him to redeem the forfeited property (Lev. 25). If the unfortunate man had to sell himself into slavery for a limited time, like seven years (Deut. 15:1), he could be redeemed or released by the go’el. Or the land was released in the year of Jubilee, every fifty years when all debts were canceled (Lev. 25:10-13).

Second, the people of Israel were enslaved in Egypt, and God has to deliver them by his mighty outstretched arms and powerful acts and (Ex. 6:6; 15:13; Ps. 19:14; Is. 41:14; Is. 51:10). God promised through Isaiah to redeem his people again, from their exile in Babylon (Is. 35:9-10; 51:11). Their new name is the Holy People, the Redeemed of the Lord.

The application to our lives is that we were sold into debt for our sins, and Christ, our kinsman redeemer, bought us back or redeemed us, by dying on the cross in our place. He stepped in and took our place, just as were about to be nailed to the cross (so to speak). He became a sin offering (2 Cor. 5:21). With our debt paid in full, our sins were forgiven and we were released from the debt.

What Is Penal Substitution?

2.. Another verb in the Old Covenant Scriptures is padah, which means “to redeem,” or “ransom” and is used 60 times. It involves the exchange of money to buy something back.

God commanded the Israelites to “redeem” their firstborn son or firstborn animals. This meant heads of households had to pay a fee to “redeem” them (Exod. 13:13-15; Num. 18:18-15). This payment made to the temple was a sacrifice.

Numbers 18:14-16:

14 “Everything in Israel that is devoted to the Lord is yours. 15 The first offspring of every womb, both human and animal, that is offered to the Lord is yours. But you must redeem every firstborn son and every firstborn male of unclean animals. 16 When they are a month old, you must redeem them at the redemption price set at five shekels [2 ounces or 58 grams] of silver, according to the sanctuary shekel, which weighs twenty gerahs. (Num. 18:14-16, NIV)

So the redemption price was five shekels of silver. The head of household paid this money to redeem or buy with a price his firstborn son or daughter, and then the head got to keep him or her. The money went to a holy place–the earthly sanctuary.

The application to our lives is also clear. Jesus, the firstborn Son, was sacrificed as the price to redeem us. He is our Redeemer. It could be said that he sprinkled his blood in the heavenly sanctuary, and his blood is priceless, infinitely more than just five shekels of silver!

Hebrews 9:11-15 is a long passage, but it says that by Christ Jesus’ entered the heavenly tabernacle by means of his own blood, which obtained eternal redemption and cleanses our consciences. The new covenant is much better than the old!

11 But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. 13 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

15 For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. (Heb. 9:11-15, NIV, emphasis added)

His death ransomed us from our own sins when he paid for them with his blood. This payment went into the heavenly tabernacle. I believe it also went into God’s justice system behind and above the degraded injustice system of sin, to which we were bound. He is our redeemer who lifts us out of this injustice system, so now we can serve the living God with a free conscience (v. 14).

Another use of the verb padah is to recue people from their distress.

The Psalmist cries out, “Redeem me (Ps. 25:22; Ps. 119:134). He rescues them from illness, enemies, or sin. The people who are saved from the nations of the world can return home (Jer. 31:11) and be called the “ransomed of the Lord” (Is. 35:10; 51:11).

God did not pay Satan; God simply steps in and saves or rescues or redeems us out our troubles and sickness and self-inflicted captivity.

New Testament

The New Covenant Scriptures were written in Greek, and some key words.

1.. The verb is exagorazō (pronounced ex-ah-goh-rah-zoh), and it means to “redeem” or “make the most of,” and is used 4 times. “Agora” is the term for “marketplace.” He bought us out of the marketplace of the world.

Christ entered the world at the right time to redeem us from our sins and the curse of the law, (Gal. 4:5), by suffering the death embedded in the law’s curse (Gal. 3:10). The sinless, blessed Christ suffered an accursed death (Deut. 21:23). In Eph. 5:16 and Col. 4:5, Paul uses the Greek verb “to redeem” the time or “make the most of” time.

Another background to the marketplace is slavery, just as it was in Exodus and the exiles in Babylon (Luke 24:21). Indeed, Christ bought us out of the slave market. He redeemed us or bought us back from our slavery to sin and from the exile that our sin imposed on us, when we were far from God.

But who got the “price” of his blood? Who or what was paid? I believe it was not the slaveowners in the marketplace but God’s justice system, behind the degraded slave market. So when Christ paid for our freedom by his sacrificial blood, the payment went to God’s legal or justice system. And then God canceled the injustice of our enslavement. See the second point in the previous section.

2.. Another verb is lutroō (pronounced loo-troh-oh), which is used three times and means simply “to redeem.” All three occurrences of the verb are found in 1 Pet. 1:18-19, and an actual payment is made. We have been redeemed from a futile sinful life, and the “money” or “currency” is the precious blood of the lamb, which was without blemish. In the grand finale of the plagues on Egypt, the lamb’s blood was to be put on the doorframes so the death angel would pass over that household where the blood was applied. The lamb had to be without defect (Ex. 12:3). A lamb used in an offering must be without blemish (Lev. 3:6-7).

Tit. 2:14 teaches that he has redeemed us from all wickedness and to purify us to be his people who are his own, eager to do good works. So the same idea of redeeming us from our sins is clear here.

3.. A noun in Greek is apolutrōsis, (pronounced ah-poh-loo-troh-sees), it is used ten times, and it combines the prefix apo- (“from” or “away”) and the stem lutrōn– (ransom), so it means “ransom or redeeming us away from slavery or sin.” In Heb. 9:15 Jesus died as a ransom to set us free from sins. In Heb. 11:15, the idea is to release from captivity. Christ redeemed us through his death on the cross (Rom. 3:24; 1 Cor. 1:30).

There are two aspects of redeeming, the present and future. We have redemption now (Eph. 1:17; Col. 1:14), and our redemption will be completed in the future, at the return of the Lord, when we are finally released from the world, the sin nature, and the devil (Luke 21:28; Rom. 8:2; Eph. 1:14; Eph. 4:30).

4.. The final noun is lutrōsis (pronounced loo-troh-seess) and is used three times, and it means “redemption.” Zacharias, John (the future) Baptist’s father, said God has made redemption for his people (Luke 1:68). When Jesus was presented at the temple, Anna the prophetess proclaimed that God provided redemption through Jesus (Luke 2:38). And finally Christ has become our eternal redemption through his blood (Heb. 9:12).

5.. The noun lutron (pronounced loo-trohn) is usually translated as “ransom.” Matt. 20:28 and Mark 10:45 says that Christ gave his life a ransom for many.

6.. The noun antilutron (pronounced ahn-tee-loo-trohn) is also translated as “ransom.” 1 Tim. 2:6 says Christ gave himself a ransom for all people. The anti- prefix means that one thing is equivalent to another, so Christ’s ransom is a sufficient substitute for our need and our sin. It also means a process of intervention, so Christ’s ransom intervenes for our need of it.

Basic Question and Answers

1.. Who needs redemption?

John 8:34 teaches that everyone who sins is a slave to sin. He has no permanent place in the family, but the son does. So now the Son of God sets us free. So we are the ones who need redemption from our slavery to sin.

Rom 6:17-18 rejoices that we were once slaves to sin, but have come to obey Paul’s teachings, and now we are slaves to righteousness. So we too were slaves, just as Israel used to be in Egypt, but we have been redeemed.

Ps. 49:7-8 says that no one can redeem another person, or give to God a ransom for them; the ransom is too costly, and no payment is ever enough. So we need a heavenly redeemer.

The pattern here is slavery to sin, and all slaves need to be brought out of it. This “bringing out” is redemption.

2.. Then is there no one who can redeem us?

No human can do this, so God sent the God-Man, Christ Jesus, the mediator between God and us (1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 8:6; 9:15; 12:24).

In one of the greatest verses in the Bible, Rom. 3:24 says that we have been justified freely by his grace, and this justification came by the redemption through Christ Jesus. “justified” can only mean being declared righteous, or else we can never redeem ourselves by enough good works.

Col. 1:13-14 says we have been brought or transferred over from the dominion of darkness into the kingdom of the Son whom God loves, and it is through him that we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. So redemption is related to forgiveness. The way to leave darkness and enter his light is to receive forgiveness of sin.

3.. What was the ransom paid?

There were two prices paid that secured our ransom:

Christ’s blood (Eph. 1:7; 1 Pet. 1:19; Rev. 5:9)

Christ’s death (Mark 10:45; Heb. 9:15; 1 Tim. 2:6)

4.. If the Greek and Hebrew words speak of payment, who was paid? Satan?

No, Satan was never paid. God was not obligated to meet’s Satan’s demands, for Satan has no say in redemption and God’s plan of salvation. Satan does not now own Christ’s blood in an exchange.

Instead, God gave his Son to be a sin offering, and this sacrifice paid the self-inflicted debt of our sins. So some theologians say that God’s justice was paid. He demands legal perfection and righteousness from the human world he created, but no one can be perfect or perfectly righteous, so he needs to reach down out of his love and help us. His Son paid the price of our deficient funds; he made up our shortfall. His blood placated or appeased and propitiated or satisfied God’s justice-wrath-judgment. So Christ paid the justice of God, say these theologians.

In the ultimate sense, Christ paid the justice of God, which demanded payment for the debt of sin. Christ did this by becoming a sin offering and released us from our sins (2 Cor. 5:21).

See also the two quoted Scriptures under the Old Testament, point no. 2.

6.. But doesn’t the idea of paying debt seem old fashioned and disappear with Christ?

Some theologians argue for this, saying that out of his love God redeems us through Christ. God reached out and redeemed us from our sins. The release is from judgment (Rom. 3:25-25), sin (Eph. 1:7), and death (Rom. 8:2).

However, the concept of the price and payment are embedded in Scripture. We were “bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:20). And as noted throughout this study, the transaction never disappears throughout Scripture.

Bottom line for this question: Yes, there is a transaction done in redemption, but things go deeper than that. The Bible never clarifies specifically who was paid the ransom, so let’s not push the imagery of redemption or ransom too far.

The benefits of redemption

To understand the benefits or results is also to know the purpose of redemption.

1.. Christ’s redemption means we have been declared righteous.

Rom 3:24 teaches this (see no. 2 in the previous section).

2.. Christ’s redemption frees from wickedness and the dominion of sin.

Rom. 6:7 and Rom. 6:22 tell us that thanks to the redemption and sacrificial death of Christ we are no longer under the domination of sin—the power of sin has been broken. And the penalty of sin is paid.

3.. Christ’s redemption freed us from the law.

Gal. 4:5 teaches that the old law of Moses no longer bosses us around, with its curses and wrath. However, we now live in the law of Christ, which is love, but when a believer gets confused about this, moral law is also found in the New Covenant, so let’s not throw that out too.

4.. Christ’s redemption frees us from the curse of the law.

Gal. 3:13 says that not only are we free from the law of Moses, but we enjoy freedom from its curses (Deut. 28:15-68).

5.. Christ’s redemption frees us from an empty life.

Peter in 1:18 says that we are foreigners in a land not our own, but since we have been bought with the precious blood of Jesus, we no longer live empty or futile lives, but we can live for him, from an eternal perspective, and for eternity.

6.. Christ’s redemption means we have been forgiven.

Eph. 1:7 and Col. 1:14 link redemption and forgiveness of sins. We have been brought out of a life or world of sin and brought over to the light, where sin may not disappear entirely, but its dominion is broken (Rom. 6:14).

7.. Christ’s redemption means we now life lives of freedom.

Gal. 5:1, 13 tell us that it is for freedom that Christ has set us free, and then we should stand firm, so we do not come under the yoke of slavery. We should not use our liberty to indulge in our sin nature, but serve each other in love.

8.. Christ’s redemption means we now serve God.

1 Pet. 2:16 says we are free people, but we should not use our freedom as a cover-up for evil. Instead, we live as God’s slaves. So far we have learned that we are somebody’s slaves, either God’s slave or sin’s slave. God is infinitely better than sin!

9.. Christ’s redemption secures our ultimate redemption.

Luke 21:27-28 says that when signs draw near, we are to look up to God, because our redemption is drawing near. We will be delivered or brought out of this present evil age transferred over to the age of Christ’s dominion.

Rom. 8:23 says we await the redemption of our bodies. Our physical redemption has not happened yet, but we will be reunited with our earthly bodies at the second coming of Christ.

Eph. 1:14 says that the Holy Spirit is the deposit that guarantees our inheritance until the ultimate redemption.

Is Christ’s Death on the Cross Divine Child Abuse?

Christ’s Death on Cross = Cosmic Child Abuse?

How does this post help me grow in Christ?

We see two deep truths, which we should take to heart.

First, God’s law and holiness required payment for human degradation and sin, if redemption is to be done. God cannot ignore or overlook sin. So how can humankind be reconciled or brought near to God, with such a wide gulf? Christ willingly became a sin offering in our place (substitute) and paid the penalty of sin that engulfed humankind. Now reconciliation between God and humans can take place because Christ is the mediator between the two. God can be just and the justifier of humanity (Rom. 3:26).

Then, second, there is another point of view. Redemption is a gift. Out of his love God gave his all through his Son and his Spirit. Humanity that was plunged into sin and darkness and the devil’s kingdom overcomes by Jesus atoning life and work. God maintains his justice, expresses his love and triumphs over darkness and Satan.

Applying these words to our hearts means we can come to know Jesus better.


Covenant of Redemption

God Is Your Redeemer

Liberty and Redemption in Leviticus 25 from a NT Perspective

The Trinity: What Are His Roles in Creation and Redemption?


Works Cited

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