RANSOM (răn’sŭm, Heb. kōpher, pidhyôn, gā’al, Gr. lytron, antilytron). The price paid for the redemption of a slave (Lev.19.20); a reparation paid for injury or damages (Exod.22.10-Exod.22.12); a fee, fine, or heavy assessment laid on a person as a substitute for his own life (Exod.21.30). There was no ransom provided for the willful murderer (Num.35.31). In the NT the term signifies the redemptive price offered by Christ on the cross for the salvation of his people (Mark.10.45; 1Tim.2.6).

RANSOM, two Heb. and two Gr. words are so rendered in the Eng. VSS. 1. Heb. כָּפַר, H4105, “to expiate” and the like. The original meaning of the Heb. term was “to cover,” “to make amends” but in the Biblical usage it comes to mean “expiate,” “bring to exemption from punishment.” This is one of the key words in the teaching of the OT concerning sin and atonement (Lev 1:4, et al. frequently).

2. The Heb. term פִּדְיוֹן, H7018, the nominal pl. form of the root פדה, “to ransom,” “to pay off.” Although the noun “ransom” or “payment” occurs in a number of passages it is rendered “ransom” by the KJV only in Exodus 21:30, ASV renders “redemption money” which is to be preferred in all citations.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

1. Usage by Christ

2. Old Testament Usage--the Law

(1) General Cases

(2) Redemption Money--the Firstborn

(3) Connection with Sacrifice

(4) Typical Reference to the Messiah

3. The Psalms and Job

4. Apostolic Teaching

5. To Whom Was the Ransom Paid?

(1) Not to Satan

(2) To Divine Justice

(a) Redemption by Price

(b) Redemption by Power


1. Usage by Christ:

The supremely important instance is the utterance of the Lord Jesus Christ as reported by Matthew and Mark (Mt 20:28; Mr 10:45), and in looking at it we shall be able, by way of illustration, to glance at the Old Testament passages. The context refers to the dispute among the disciples concerning position in the Kingdom, with their misconception of the true nature of Christ’s Kingdom. Christ makes use of the occasion to set forth the great law of service as determining the place of honor in that Kingdom, and illustrates and enforces it by showing that its greatest exemplification is to be found in His own mission: "For the Son of man also came not to be ministered unto, but to minister" (Mr 10:45). His ministry, however, was to pass into the great act of sacrifice, of which all other acts of self-sacrifice on the part of His people would be but a faint reflection--"and to give his life (soul) a ransom for many" (same place). He thus gives a very clear intimation of the purpose and meaning of His death; the clearest of all the intimations reported by the synoptists. The word He uses bears a well-established meaning, and is accurately rendered by our word "ransom," a price paid to secure the freedom of a slave or to set free from liabilities and charges, and generally the deliverance from calamity by paying the forfeit. The familiar verb luo, "to loose," "to set free," is the root, then lutron, that which secures the freedom, the payment or forfeit; thence come the cognate verb lutroo, "to set free upon payment of a ransom," "to redeem"; lutrosis, "the actual setting free," "the redemption," and lutrotes, "the redeemer." The favorite New Testament word for "redemption" is the compound form, apolutrosis.

2. Old Testament Usage--the Law:

The word lutron was common in Greek classical literature, constantly bearing the sense of "ransom price," and was frequently connected with ritual usage, with sacrifice and expiation. But for the full explanation of our Lord’s great thought we have to look to the Old Testament usage. The two leading Hebrew verbs translated in our version by "redeem," are generally rendered in the Septuagint by lutroo, and derivatives of these words conveying the idea of the actual price paid are translated by this very word lutron.

(1) General Cases.

In Ex 21:30 we have the law concerning the case of the person killed by an ox; the ox was to be killed and the owner of it was also liable to death but the proviso was made, "If there be laid on him a sum of money, then he shall give for the ransom of his life whatsoever is laid upon him" (the King James Version). The Hebrew for "sum of money" is kopher, literally, "atonement" (the Revised Version (British and American) "ransom"); the word for "ransom" (the Revised Version (British and American) "redemption") is pidhyon (from padhah); the Septuagint renders both by lutron (rather by the plural form lutra). In Le 25, among the directions in relation to the Jubilee, we have the provision (25:23) that the land was not to be sold "in perpetuity," but where any portion has been sold, opportunity is to be given for re-purchase: "Ye shall grant a redemption for the land" (25:24). The Hebrew is ge’ullah, a derivative of ga’al, the Septuagint lutra. In 25:25,26, the case is mentioned of a man who through poverty has sold part of his land; if a near kinsman is able to redeem it he shall do so; if there is no one to act this brotherly part, and the man himself is able to redeem it, then a certain scale of price is arranged. In the Hebrew it is again ga’al that is used with the cognate go’el for "kinsman." The last clause rendered in the King James Version, "and himself be able to redeem it" (in the Revised Version (British and American) "and he be waxed rich and find sufficient to redeem it"), is literally, "and his hand shall acquire and he find sufficient for its redemption"; the Septuagint has the verb lutroo in the first part, and renders the clause pretty literally, "and there be furnished to his hand and there be found with him the sufficient price (lutra) of it." In Le 25:51,52, in reference to the redemption of the Jew sold into slavery, we have twice in the Hebrew the word ge’ullah, rendered in English accurately "the pricen of his redemption"; and by Septuagint with equal accuracy, in both cases, lutra, "the ransom-price." In Le 27:31 the King James Version, the phrase "if a man will at all redeem aught of his tithes" is intended to represent the emphatic Hebrew idiom, "if a man redeeming will redeem," which is rendered by Septuagint ean de lutrotai lutro anthropos.

(2) Redemption Money--the Firstborn.

But perhaps the most important passage is the law concerning the half-shekel to be paid by every Israelite from 20 years old and upward when a census was taken. It was to be the same for rich and poor, and it was called "atonement money," "to make atonement for their souls." In the opening words of the law, as given in Ex 30:12 (the King James Version), we read "Then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul unto the Lord"--the Hebrew kopher; the Septuagint rendering is lutra tes psuches autou, "a ransom price for his soul." All the people were thus considered as doomed and needing atonement, and it is significant that this atonement money paid at the first census furnished the silver for the sockets of the tabernacle boards, intimating that the typical tabernacle was built upon atonement. The same thought, that the people’s lives were forfeited, comes out in the provision for the consecration of the Levites, recorded in full in Nu 3:40-51. The firstborn represented the people. God claimed all the firstborn as forfeited to Himself, teaching that Israel deserved the same punishment as the Egyptians, and was only spared by the grace of Yahweh, and in virtue of the sprinkled blood. Now He takes to Himself for His services the Levites as the equivalent of the firstborn, and when it was found that the number of the firstborn exceeded the number of the Levites, equivalence was maintained by ransoming at a certain price the surplus of the firstborn males. In the Septuagint account, lutra occurs 4 times, twice for the phrase "those to be redeemed," and twice for "redemption money." Thus the idea of ransom for the forfeited life became familiar to the people as educated by the typical system, and redemption expressed the sum total of their hopes for the future, however faulty might be their conception of the nature of that redemption.

(3) Connection with Sacrifice.

It is also clear in the typical teaching that sacrifice and ransom were closely related. Even in classical Greek, as we have noted, the two conceptions were connected, and it is not surprising to find it so in the Old Testament. Kopher, we have seen, is literally, "atonement" and comes from kaphar, literally, "to cover," and thence by covering to make atonement, or to cover by making atonement; and so it is in the Piel form, the most common and technical Hebrew word for making atonement, or expiation, or propitiation, and is frequently rendered in the Greek by hilaskomai, often too by the compound exilaskomai. In Ex 21:30, kopher, we noted, is used interchangeably with pidhyon, both being represented in the Septuagint by lutra, and so in Ex 30:12; Nu 35:31,32; the Hebrew kopher is lutra in the Greek In the latter place, where it is twice stated that no satisfaction shall be taken for the life of a murderer, the Hebrew is kopher, the Septuagint has lutra; the Revised Version (British and American) has "ransom;" the King James Version has "satisfaction."

(4) Typical Reference to the Messiah.

Sacrifice was thus linked with ransom. Sacrifice was the divinely-appointed covering for sin. The ransom for the deliverance of the sinner was to be by sacrifice. Both the typical testimony of the Law and the prophetic testimony gave prominence to the thought of redemption. The Coming One was to be a Redeemer. Redemption was to be the great work of the Messiah. The people seem to have looked for the redemption of the soul to God alone through the observance of their appointed ritual, while redemption, in the more general sense of deliverance from all enemies and troubles, they linked with the advent of the Messiah. It required a spiritual vision to see that the two things would coincide, that the Messiah would effect redemption in all its phases and fullness by means of ransom, of sacrifice, of expiation.

Jesus appeared as the Messiah in whom all the old economy was to be fulfilled. He knew perfectly the meaning of the typical and prophetic testimony; and with that fully in view, knowing that His death was to fulfill the Old Testament types and accomplish its brightest prophetic anticipations, He deliberately uses this term lutron to describe it (Mt 20:28); in speaking of His death as a ransom, He also regarded it as a sacrifice, an expiatory offering. The strong preposition used intensifies the idea of ransom and expiation, even to the point of substitution. It is anti, "instead of," and the idea of exchange, equivalence, substitution cannot be removed from it. In Nu 3:45, "Take the Levites instead of all the first-born," the Septuagint uses anti, which, like the English "instead of," exactly represents the Hebrew tachath; and all three convey most unmistakably the idea of substitution. And as the Levites were to be substituted for the firstborn, so for the surplus of the firstborn the "ransom money" was to be substituted, that idea, however, being clearly enough indicated by the use of the genitive. Indeed the simpler way of describing a ransom would be with the genitive, the ransom of many; or as our version renders, "a ransom for many"; but just because the ransom here is not simply a money payment, but is the actual sacrifice of the life, the substitution of His soul for many, He is appropriately said "to give his soul a ransom instead of many." The Kingdom of God which Christ proclaimed was so diverse in character from that which Salome and her sons anticipated that, so far from appearing in dazzling splendor, with distinguished places of power for eager aspirants, it was to be a spiritual home for redeemed sinners. Men held captive by sin needed to be ransomed that they might be free to become subjects of the Kingdom, and so the ransom work, the sufferings and death of Christ, must lie at the very foundation of that Kingdom. The need of ransom supposes life forfeited; the ransom paid secures life and liberty; the life which Christ gives comes through His ransoming death.

3. The Psalms and Job:

Besides the passages in the Pentateuch which we have noted, special mention should be made of the two great passages which bear so closely upon the need of spiritual redemption, and come into line with this great utterance of Christ. Ps 49:7,8, "None of them can by any means redeem (padhah; lutroo) his brother, nor give to God a ransom (kopher; exilasma) for him (for the redemption of their life is costly, and it faileth forever)." (The Hebrew gives pidhyon for "redemption"; the Greek has "the price of the redemption of his soul.") No human power or skill, no forfeit in money or service or life can avail to ransom any soul from the doom entailed by sin. But in Ps 49:15 the triumphant hope is expressed, "But God will redeem (padhah; lutroo) my soul from the power of Sheol." In Job 33:24, "Deliver him from going down to the pit, I have found a ransom": God is the speaker, and whatever may be the particular exegesis of the passage in its original application, it surely contains an anticipation of the gospel redemption. This divine eureka is explained in the light of Christ’s utterance; it finds its realization through the cross: "I have found a ransom," for "the Son of Man" has given "his soul a ransom for many."

4. Apostolic Teaching:

This great utterance of the Saviour may well be considered as the germ of all the apostolic teaching concerning redemption, but it is not for us to show its unfolding beyond noting that in apostolic thought the redemption was always connected with the death, the sacrifice of Christ.

5. To Whom Was the Ransom Paid?:

The question "Who receives the ransom?" is not directly raised in Scripture, but it is one that not unnaturally occurs to the mind, and theologians have answered it in varying ways.

(1) Not to Satan.

The idea entertained by some of the Fathers (Irenaeus, Origen) that the ransom was given to Satan, who is conceived of as having through the sin of man a righteous claim upon him, which Christ recognizes and meets, is grotesque, and not in any way countenanced by Scripture.

(2) To Divine Justice.

But in repudiating it, there is no need to go so far as to deny that there is anything answering to a real ransoming transaction. All that we have said goes to show that, in no mere figure of speech, but in tremendous reality, Christ gave "his life a ransom," and if our mind demands an answer to the question to whom the ransom was paid, it does not seem at all unreasonable to think of the justice of God, or God in His character of Moral Governor, as requiring and receiving it. In all that Scripture asserts about propitiation, sacrifice, reconciliation in relation to the work of Christ, it is implied that there is wrath to be averted, someone to be appeased or satisfied, and while it may be enough simply to think of the effects of Christ’s redeeming work in setting us free from the penal claims of the Law--the just doom of sin--it does not seem going beyond the spirit of Scripture to draw the logical inference that the ransom price was paid to the Guardian of that holy law, the Administrator of eternal justice. "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us" (Ga 3:13). This essential, fundamental phase of redemption is what theologians, with good Scripture warrant, have called redemption by blood, or by price, as distinguished from the practical outcome of the work of Christ in the life which is redemption by power.

(a) Redemption by Price:

As to Satan’s claims, Christ by paying the ransom price, having secured the right to redeem, exercises His power on behalf of the believing sinner. He does not recognize the right of Satan. He is the "strong man" holding his captives lawfully, and Christ the "stronger than he" overcomes him and spoils him, and sets his captives free (Lu 11:21,22). In one sense men may be said to have sold themselves to Satan, but they had no right to sell, nor he to buy, and Christ ignores that transaction and brings "to nought him that had the power of death, that is, the devil" (Heb 2:14), and so is able to "deliver all them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage" (Heb 2:15).

(b) Redemption by Power:

Many of the Old Testament passages about the redemption wrought on behalf of God’s people illustrate this redemption by power, and the redemption by power is always founded on the redemption by price; the release follows the ransom. In the case of Israel, there was first the redemption by blood--the sprinkled blood of the Paschal Lamb which sheltered from the destroying angel (Ex 12)--and then followed the redemption by power, when by strength of hand Yahweh brought His people out from Egypt (Ex 13:14), and in His mercy led forth the people which He had redeemed (Ex 15:13).

So under the Gospel when "he hath visited and wrought redemption for his people" (Lu 1:68), He can "grant unto us that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies should serve him without fear" (Lu 1:74). It is because we have in Him our redemption through His blood that we can be delivered out of the power of darkness (Col 1:13,14).



See works on New Testament Theology (Weiss, Schmid, Stevens, etc.); articles in Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible (five volumes); Hastings, Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels. Archibald M’Caig