The doctrine of redemption both in Scripture and in theology is an important aspect of the work of God in salvation. Though it is difficult to find any one term which is comprehensive of the entire work of God on behalf of sinful men, if the term salvation be understood as the comprehensive term of the complete work of God in time and eternity for man, then redemption is particularly concerned with that aspect of salvation which was accomplished in the death of Christ.
Inasmuch as the historic concept of redemption has been subject to considerable criticism in modern theology, it is most important in the study of the death of Christ to determine the precise Scriptural teaching on the act of redemption. A rich linguistic background is afforded in the Old Testament and upon this the New Testament builds its more complete doctrine. In general the study concerns itself with two major groups of words, namely ἀγοράζω and its derivatives and λυτρόω and its cognate forms. A third term περιποιέω adds a confirming statement in Acts 20:28. From the study of these words and how they are used in the Scriptures a solid doctrine of redemption in Christ can be erected. The etymological study in this instance is prerequisite to the theological conclusions which follow.
The use of ἀγοράζω. This basic expression for redemption in Scripture is a verb derived from ἀγορά, i.e., a forum or a market place, and therefore means simply to buy or purchase.1 Ordinarily it has reference to simple purchases of items in the market place, but in six instances in the Bible Christians are said to be redeemed or bought in reference to the death of Christ (1 Cor 6:20; 7:23 ; 2 Pet 2:1; Rev 5:9; 14:3-4 ).
In the Septuagint and in general Greek usage the idea of purchase is the common concept of ἀγοράζω. It does not seem to be used in a theological sense in the Old Testament. Though not found in connection with the purchase and freedom of slaves, Morris after Deissmann believes that this idea may be involved, because of the use of τιμή, meaning “price,” with this verb in 1 Corinthians 6:20 and 7:23 which is a common word used in the purchase of slaves.2
Based on Greek usage, therefore, it leads to the concept that Christians are bought by Christ and are therefore His slaves. Hence, the conclusion of Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20: “Or know ye not that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which ye have from God? and ye are not your own; for ye were bought with a price: glorify God therefore in your body.” The same thought is borne out in 1 Corinthians 7:23: “Ye were bought with a price; become not bond-servants of men.” The teaching therefore is that Christ in the act of redemption purchased Christians and made them His slaves. They were therefore not to obey other masters in that they were bought at such a high cost with a view to accomplishing the will of God.
In 2 Peter 2:1 the same expression is used in describing false prophets as those “who shall privily bring in destructive heresies, denying even the Master that bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.” The denial of the fact of the purchase of Christ is therefore described as a heresy of such proportions as to bring its teachers under the swift judgment of God. The blasphemy of their false doctrine is seen in the context of rejection of the loving redemption provided in Christ.
The fact that believers are in a special relationship to God as those purchased by the death of Christ is made the theme of the new song that is sung in heaven recorded in Revelation 5:9: “Worthy art thou to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and didst purchase unto God with thy blood men of every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation.” Here specifically the death of Christ is the price that was paid. Offensive as is this truth to the false prophets mentioned in 2 Peter 2:1, it is the clear teaching of the Word of God and puts redeemed man in a special relationship as being purchased by that which is of infinite value.
In Revelation 14:3-4, the one hundred and forty-four thousand are twice declared to be “purchased” with special regard to their holy calling as those who will follow the Lamb and be “the firstfruits unto God and unto the Lamb” (Rev 14:4). The emphasis in all of these passages therefore is on purchase through the death and shed blood of Christ with the resulting relationship that the believer is a bondslave to Jesus Christ and obligated to do His will.
Εξαγοράζω. This verb, found four times in the New Testament (Gal 3:13; 4:5 ; Eph 5:16; Col 4:5) is obviously ἀγοράζω with the added prefix έξ, meaning to buy back or to buy from, in which sense it is used in Galatians 3:13 and Galatians 4:5.3 In Colossians 4:5 and Ephesians 5:16 it is used with the meaning of buying up the time, i.e., making the most of it in view of the Lord’s return.4
In Galatians three the statement is made that Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law by being made a curse for us. In the context, in Galatians 3:10 the thought is brought out, based on a quotation from Deuteronomy 27:26, that everyone is cursed who does not perfectly keep the law. The argument is that the law’s effect on man is that of cursing him because of incomplete obedience. No man is able to live up to the law perfectly. In addition to this argument, Paul points out that justification is by faith and not by the law in any event. As a curse rests upon everyone who does not comply fully with the law, it was necessary for Christ to die and take the curse upon Himself. This was fulfilled in keeping with Deuteronomy 21:23 that the curse is upon one who hangs upon a tree. This familiar concept of substitution is imbedded in the Hebraic understanding of a sacrifice as is illustrated in the lambs which died on the altar and the scapegoat which was freed. Note should be taken of the fact that ὑπέρ is used in the expression “a curse for us” in Galatians 3:13. This seems in this context clearly to be used in a substitutionary sense. Morris cites Delitzsch, and even Bushnell and Manson, as agreeing that substitution is the inescapable meaning of this text.5
The curse, however, is not a curse of God, but the curse of the broken law. Moreover, in the ultimate administration it is God who judges Christ as bearing the penalty of sin, and it is not sufficient to refer this simply to the government of God as did Grotius. It is difficult even for a liberal theologian to escape the idea that here the death of Christ is presented both as penal and substitutionary. Galatians 4:4-5 gives added support in stating that Christ was “born of a woman, born under the law” (Gal 4:5).
It is evident that if ἀγοράζω emphasizes the thought of purchase and resulting ownership as relating the believer to God, εξαγοράζω is a more intensive form which has the idea of not only being bought, but being bought out of the market or bought back from a previous condition of obligation to the law. It is upon this platform that the resulting idea of being free from obligation is built. The purpose of God was that through the ἐξαγοράζω Gentile believers might receive the blessing in Christ promised all nations through Abraham and might in addition be given the promise of the Spirit through faith (Gal 3:14).
The use of περιποιέω. This word is found three times in the New Testament (Luke 17:33; Acts 20:28; 1 Tim 3:13). Only one reference, namely, Acts 20:28, is used in reference to Christ. Generally speaking, the word means to save or to preserve one’s self, i.e., preserve his own life (Luke 17:33) or to acquire, obtain, or gain for one’s self as in Acts 20:28 and 1 Timothy 3:13.6 In Acts 20:28 the exhortation is given: “Take heed unto yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit hath made you bishops, to feed the church of the Lord which he purchased with his own blood.” In contrast to the use of ἀγοράζω which would emphasize the idea of purchase, the verb used here has more the thought of the result of the action, that the church has been “acquired.” The idea is therefore one of possession rather than emphasis on the act of purchase. This is also true in 1 Timothy 3:13.
The additional expression “with his own blood” identifies the act of purchase as related to the death of Christ and therefore supports the idea of substitutionary atonement but also adds what is the main point of the apostle here, that the church of the Lord is especially precious because of the high price which was paid. The bishops are entrusted with that which cost God the death of His own Son. The combined force of ἀγοράζω, ἐξαγοράζω, and περιποιέω is that of (1) purchase, (2) of being bought off the market, not subject to resale, and (3) of a possession regarded as precious in the sight of the Lord.
The use of λυτρόω. One of the most important aspects of redemption is revealed in the Bible through the use of λυτρόω and its cognate forms which have the meaning of freed by paying a ransom, redeemed, set free, rescued.7 The verb form is found three times in the New Testament (Luke 24:21; Titus 2:14; 1 Pet 1:18). The first of these references was a statement of the disciples on the road to Emmaus that they had hoped that Christ would “redeem Israel.” The word here is used clearly in the thought of releasing them from their bondage to Rome and introducing the period of blessing of which the Old Testament prophets spoke. To the disciples it therefore seemed impossible that these promises of deliverance should be fulfilled now that Christ died on the cross. Leon Morris somewhat misses the point on this when he says: “The passage is not of first importance, for our purposes; for clearly a redemption rendered impossible by the cross can tell us little about the redemption effected by the cross.”8 The Scriptures here only record the thought of the disciples which as a matter of fact was wrong. The cross was going to be the steppingstone to the ultimate deliverance of Israel, not only from their enemies but from the bondage of sin.
More specifically, however, in Titus 2:14 the basic idea of being set free by a ransom is revealed. Christ “gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a people for his own possession, zealous of good works.” Here the ransom is that of Christ giving Himself for us (ὑπέρ ὑμῶν). The believer is set free by the ransom paid by Christ on the cross. The expression “gave himself for us,” though not speaking specifically of His death, is nevertheless a clear reference to it.
The final instance in the New Testament, 1 Peter 1:18, is explicit on this matter. Here it is stated: “Ye were redeemed, not with corruptible things, with silver or gold, from your vain manner of life handed down from your fathers; but with precious blood, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot, even the blood of Christ.” Here clearly set forth is the concept of ransom by the death of Christ, something that was impossible by payment of silver and gold. By it the believer is set free from his former obligation and former vain life. Only an obvious prejudice against the idea of substitution can erase it from this passage, as it would be difficult to state it more explicitly than it is found here.
The use oOf λύτρον. Twice in the New Testament the noun form λύτρον is used (Matt 20:28; Mark 10:45). In both instances the word is properly translated ransom and refers to the death of Christ. According to Matthew 20:28: “The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Mark 10:45 is a parallel reference: “For the Son of man also came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” In both instances there is clear mention that the death of Christ constituted the ransom by which the sinner is set free. The New Testament usage is in entire harmony with the frequent use in Greek literature as a whole and in the Septuagint where it was a common term for the ransom money paid for the manumission of slaves.9
The use of ἀντίλυτρον. Mention should be made of ἀντίλυτρον occurring only in 1 Timothy 2:6 where Christ is said to be the one who “gave himself a ransom for all.” The ἀντί emphasizes the substitutionary character of the ransom.
The use of ἀπολύτρωσις. One of the most common and definitive terms for redemption is the use of the word ἀπολύτρωσις ten times in the New Testament (Luke 21:28; Rom 3:24; 8:23 ; 1 Cor 1:30; Eph 1:7, 14; 4:30 ; Col 1:14; Heb 9:15; 11:35 ). The frequent use of this term in the New Testament is somewhat accentuated by the fact that outside of the Bible it is rarely used. The verb form ἀπολυτρόω is not found in the Bible at all, and only eight times in other literature.10 It is obvious that ἀπολύτρωσις is a compound form somewhat more intensive than λυτρόω or λύω. It may be defined as set free, released, pardoned, dismissed, sent away.11 It is not difficult to establish that in all of its instances it has the concept of a ransom being paid with resultant deliverance of the one in difficulty.
Of the ten instances in which ἀπολύτρωσις is found in the New Testament, all but one are clear references to redemption in Christ and fully substantiate the idea of deliverance by payment of a price. Romans 3:24 states: “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ.” Here the great fact of justification without cost to the believer through the grace of God is made possible by the ransom price, i.e., “the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” This is specified in verse twenty-five as being accomplished by the propitiation of Christ through faith in or by His blood. The payment of the ransom price is a declaration of the righteousness of God in forgiving sins in the Old Testament as well as in justifying the believer in the New Testament.
Almost identically the same thought is expressed in Ephesians 1:7: “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.” Here again the ransom price of His blood accomplishes the freedom and deliverance of the sinner in difficulty, though Abbott attempts to evade this.12 In Hebrews 9:15 Christ is declared to be “the mediator of a new covenant. that a death having taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first covenant, they that have been called may receive the promise of the eternal inheritance.” As in the two former references, the ransom price has been paid in the death of Christ and Christ Himself is constituted the mediator of a new covenant thereby.
Though less explicit, other references confirm the same concept. 1 Corinthians 1:30 cites redemption as that which comes to us because we are in Christ which is a corollary of righteousness and sanctification. Colossians 1:14 links redemption with our forgiveness of sins because we are in Christ. Several references may be construed eschatologically as a future deliverance stemming from the past redemption accomplished by Christ. Luke 21:28 refers to the fact that at the second coming “your redemption draweth nigh.” Romans 8:23 states that we are “waiting for our adoption, to wit, the redemption of our bodies.” This seems to refer to resurrection of the body.
A similar reference to resurrection is found in Ephesians 4:30 where it mentions that we are sealed by the Holy Spirit “unto the day of redemption,” i.e., our deliverance from this world into the world to come through resurrection or translation. Ephesians 1:14 may be construed in the same sense where the Holy Spirit is referred to as “an earnest of our inheritance, unto the redemption of God’s own possession, unto the praise of his glory.” Leon Morris13 thinks this should be interpreted in the same light as Ephesians 1:7 which speaks of redemption through the blood of Christ. The context, however, would seem to point to the future aspect when God’s own possession now sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise is fully delivered in the presence of the Lord. Only Hebrews 11:35, speaking of those who would not accept deliverance by denial of their faith, seems to have no direct connection with the death of Christ. All the other references with varied force refer either to the death of Christ or its result, i.e., the ransom paid with the resulting deliverance. The clear force of substitution involved in all of these instances gives added emphasis to previous revelation of this truth and should assure the believer of the great accomplishment wrought by Christ in His death.
Use of λύτρωσις. Three remaining passages should be mentioned where the noun λύτρωσις is used (Luke 1:68; 2:38 ; Heb 9:12). Of these only Hebrews 9:12 is of significance in the doctrine of redemption. In a much discussed passage Christ is declared to have obtained redemption through His blood: “Nor yet through the blood of goats and calves, but through his own blood, entered in once for all into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption.” The emphasis here is on the cost of redemption which is declared to be eternal. Like the high priest of old who entered into the holy place after offering sacrifice on the altar, so Christ, having offered His own blood and in virtue of His finished work, entered into the holy place. His entrance signifies that an eternal redemption has been wrought. The use of λύτρωσις here instead of ἀπολύτρωσις is not especially significant, though it seems to imply more emphasis on the deliverance itself than the resulting state.
The study of redemption in Christ in the New Testament reveals a clear teaching that Christ by act of substitution in His death on the cross paid the ransom price and redeemed the enslaved sinner from his sinful position before God. Christ’s death constituted an act of purchase in which the sinner is removed from his former bondage in sin by payment of the ransom price. The act of redemption takes the purchased possession out of the market and effects his release. Scholars may reject the New Testament teaching if they will, but the revelation of redemption is written clearly in the Scriptures.
This article was taken from the Theological Journal Library CD and posted with permission of Galaxie Software.
1 Cf. Arndt and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, s.v.
2 Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross, p. 50.
3 Cf. Arndt and Gingrich, op. cit., s.v.
5 Morris, op. cit., p. 54. Cf. Delitzsch, Commentary on Hebrews, II. 426; Bushnell, The Vicarious Sacrifice, p. 121; Manson, Jesus the Messiah, p. 165.
6 Cf. Arndt and Gingrich, op. cit., s.v.
7 Ibid., s.v.
8 Leon Morris, op. cit., p. 35.
9 Cf. Arndt and Gingrich, op. cit., s.v.; Deissmann, Light From the Ancient East, p. 327; Morris, op. cit., pp. 22-24.
10 Morris cites Warfield’s eight references, cf. op. cit., p. 26.
11 Arndt and Gingrich, ibid., s.v.
12 Cf. Morris, op. cit., pp. 38-40.
13 Ibid., p. 43.