REDEEMER, REDEMPTION. Redemption is deliverance from the power of an alien dominion and enjoyment of the resulting freedom. In its original sense and in its Biblical usage redemption is intimately associated with the ideas of ransom and substitution. It often involves the idea of restoration to one who possesses a more fundamental right or interest. The heart of the Biblical message of redemption is the deliverance of the people of God from the bondage of sin by the perfect substitutionary sacrifice ofand their consequent restoration to God and His heavenly kingdom. A redeemer is one who possesses the right or who exercises the right of redemption. The Bible presents Christ as the redeemer of God’s elect.
The Biblical data.
In the OT the idea of redemption is closely associated with the laws and customs of the Israelite people. If a life was taken, a kinsman had the right of avenging or redeeming the blood of the victim (
Redemption is deliverance from a bondage, a release of some one or some thing from an alien power that has a claim upon it. The outstanding example of redemption in the OT was the deliverance of the children of Israel from bondage, from the dominion of the alien power of Egypt.
The Biblical idea of redemption also involves the deliverer and what he performs to effect the deliverance.
Release must be effected by someone who, for whatever reason, has a prior or more fundamental claim to what is to be delivered. According to Israelite custom, it was possible for someone to deliver himself or something for himself (
What the redeemer does in order to accomplish redemption is not always the same. Moses was called a redeemer (
The earliest usage of the words for redemption, as we have seen, associates them with the payment of a price, a ransom. This is also true of the Biblical teaching concerning redemption as it bears on salvation. The people of God are redeemed by the payment of the debt of their sin by the perfect satisfaction accomplished by Jesus Christ.
In the Early Church redemption was correctly associated with the idea of ransom. The notion arose, however, that Christ had redeemed His people by paying a ransom to the devil. This theory was attacked and refuted by Anselm in his Cur Deus Homo (Why God Became Man). The Scriptures are virtually silent about one to whom ransom is paid. If it is anyone, it is God Himself. The focus of attention, in any case, is not the one to whom ransom is paid but the sufficiency of the payment made by Christ. This was nothing less than the substitution of His own life for that of the redeemed (
Modern liberal theology altogether dissociated redemption from the ideas of ransom and satisfaction, and thought of redemption simply as deliverance from the alien dominion of the world. Deliverance from the world certainly expresses an important facet of redemption. However, liberal theology erred in rejecting the Scriptural teaching that the price of redemption was the satisfaction of the demands of the law and release from its guilt by Christ’s substitution of His own life for that of the sinner. Liberalism maintained that the idea of substitution was unworthy of high religion, according to which everyone must stand before God in his own freedom and responsibility as an ethical personality.
In understanding the meaning of redemption, one should not forget that it is a deliverance or a release from a claim. The claim is able to be lifted only by one who has the right to do so, and he performs something to effect this release. Although it is not always present, the idea is never remote that this claim is satisfied by the payment of a price. This meaning was present in the ancient usage of the vocabulary of redemption, and it is part and parcel of the Biblical message concerning redemption from sin. Those who are under the alien dominion of sin, who are unable to deliver themselves, are delivered by the Savior Jesus Christ, who perfectly satisfied the demands of the law, thereby establishing His right to release from its claims those who are enthralled by it; who effected their release by the substitution of His own life (
Since redemption is a release from the bondage of sin, its meaning is as broad as the scope of sin and the evil attending it. The release falls, broadly speaking, under two heads: (1) redemption from the curse of the law (
The inclusiveness of redemption from sin and from its attending evils is shown by the fact that the final consummation of the entire redemptive process is called “the redemption” (
J. Hastings, A Dictionary of the Bible (1902), IV, 210, 211; G. Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the, arts. lutron (IV, 340-349) and apolutrōsis (IV, 351-356); T. J. Crawford, The Doctrine of the Holy Scripture Respecting the Atonement (4th ed., 1954); L. Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross (1955); J. Murray, Redemption: Accomplished and Applied (1955); B. B. Warfield: “The New Testament Terminology of ‘Redemption’,” Biblical Doctrines (1929), 327-372; B. B. Warfield: “‘Redeemer’ and ‘Redemption’,” ibid., 375-398.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
re-dem’-er, re-demp’-shun (paraq, "to tear loose," "to rescue," padhah, ga’al; agorazo, referring to purchase, lutroumai, from lutron, "a ransom"):
1. Gradual Moralizing of Idea of Redemption
2. Redemption as Life in Individual
3. Redemption as Social
4. Redemption as Process
5. Moral Implications in Scriptural Idea of Redeemer
6. Uniqueness ofas Redeemer
1. Gradual Moralizing of Idea of Redemption:
Throughout both the Old Testament and the New Testament there is to be observed a gradual moralizing of the meaning of redemption. The same process of moralizing has continued throughout all the Christian ages. Starting with the idea of redemption price, conceived almost in material terms, religious thought has advanced to conceptions entirely moral and spiritual. Through the Scriptures, too, the idea of redemption becomes more specffic with the progress of Christian revelation. In the beginning God is the Redeemer from distresses of all kinds. He redeems from calamity and from sorrows. This general idea, of course, persists throughout the revelation and enters largely into our thinking of today, but the growing moral discernment of the Biblical writers comes to attach more and more importance to sin as the chief disturber of man’s welfare. We would not minimize the force of the Scriptural idea that God is the Deliverer from all misfortune to which man falls heir, but the Scriptural emphasis moves more and more to deliverance from sin. Paul states this deliverance as a deliverance from the law which brings sin out into expression, but we must not conceive his idea in any artificial fashion. He would have men delivered not only from the law, but also from the consequences of evil doing and from the spirit of evil itself (
2. Redemption as Life in the Individual:
In trying to discern the meaning of redemption from sin, toward which the entire progress of Biblical and Christian thought points, we may well keep in mind the Master’s words that He came that men might have life and might have it more abundantly (
3. Redemption as Social:
Just as the idea of redemption concerned itself chiefly with the inner spirit; so also it concerns itself with the individual as the object of redemption. But as the redemption of the inner spirit leads to freedom in all realms of life, so also the redemption of the individual leads to large social transformations. It is impossible to strike out of the Scriptures the idea of a redeemed humanity. But humanity is not conceived of in general or class terms. The object of redemption is not humanity, or mankind, or the masses. The object of redemption is rather men set in relation to each other as members of a family. But it would do violence to the Scriptural conception to conceive of the individual’s relations in any narrow or restricted fashion (
An important enlargement of the idea of redemption in our own time has come as men have conceived of the redemption of individuals in their social relationships. Very often men have thought of redemption as a snatching of individuals from the perils of a world in itself absolutely wicked. Even the material environment of men has at times been regarded as containing something inherently evil. The thought of redemption which seems most in line with Scriptural interpretation would seem to be that which brings the material and social forces within reach of individual wills. Paul speaks of the whole creation groaning and travailing in pain waiting for the revelation of the sons of God (
4. Redemption as Process:
We have said that the aim of redemption is to bring men to the largest and fullest life. We have also said that "life" is a general term. To keep close to the Scriptural conceptions we would best say that the aim of redemption is to make men like Christ (
5. Moral Implications in the Scriptural Idea of Redeemer:
Moreover, redemption must not be conceived of in such fashion as to do away with the need of response upon the part of the individual will. The literal suggestion of ransom has to do with paying a price for a man’s deliverance, whether the man is willing to be delivered or not. Of course, the assumption in the mind of the Biblical writers was that any man in prison or in slavery or in sickness would be overjoyed at being redeemed; but in dealing with men whose lives are set toward sin we cannot always make this assumption. The dreadfulness of sin is largely in the love of sinning which sinning begets. Some thinkers have interpreted redemption to mean almost a seizing of men without regard to their own will. It is very easy to see how this conception arises. A man who himself hates sin may not stop to realize that some other men love sin. Redemption, to mean anything, must touch this inner attitude of will. We cannot then hold to any idea of redemption which brings men under a cleansing process without the assent of their own wills. If we keep ourselves alive to the growing moral discernment which moves through the Scriptures, we must lay stress always upon redemption as a moral process. Not only must we say that the aim of redemption is to make men like Christ, but we must say also that the method of redemption must be the method of Christ, the method of appealing to the moral will. There is no Scriptural warrant for the idea that men are redeemed by fiat. The most we can get from the words of Christ is a statement of the persistence of God in His search for the lost: `(He goeth) after that which is lost, until he finds it’ (
Having thus attempted to determine, at least in outline, the content of the Christian idea of redemption, it remains for us to point out some implications as to the work of the Redeemer. Throughout the entire teaching on redemption in the Scriptures, redemption is set before us primarily as God’s own affair (
If we look for the common thought in all the Christian statements of God’s part in redemption we find it in this: that in all these statements God is conceived of as doing all that He can do for the redemption of man. If in earlier times men conceived of the human race as under the dominion of Satan, and of Satan as robbed of his due by the deliverance of man and therefore entitled to some compensation, they also conceived of God Himself as paying the ransom to Satan. If they thought of God as a feudal lord whose dignity had been offended by sin, they thought of God as Himself paying the cost due to offended dignity. If their idea was that a substitute for sinners must be furnished, the idea included the thought of God as Himself providing a substitute. If they conceived of the universe as a vast system of moral laws--broken by sin--whose dignity must be upheld, they thought of God Himself as providing the means for maintaining the dignity of the laws. If they conceived of men as saved by a vast moral influence set at work, they thought of this influence as proceeding, not from man, but from God. The common thought in theories of redemption then, so far as concerns God’s part, is that God Himself takes the initiative and does all He can in the discharge of the obligation upon Himself. Each phrasing of the doctrine of redemption is the attempt of an age of Christian thinking to say in its own way that God has done all that He can do for men.
6. Uniqueness of the Son of God as Redeemer:
It is from this standpoint that we must approach the part played by Christ in redemption. This is not the place for an attempt at formal statement, but some elements of Christian teaching are, at least in outline, at once clear. The question is, first, to provide some relation between God and Christ which will make the redemptive work of Christ really effective. Some have thought to find such a statement in the conception that Christ is a prophet. They would empty the expression, "Son of God," of any unique meaning; they would make Christ the Son of God in the same sense that any great prophet could be conceived of as a son of God. Of course, we would not minimize the teaching of the Scripture as to the full humanity of Christ, and yet we may be permitted to voice our belief that the representation of Christ as the Redeemer merely in the same sense in which a prophet is a redeemer does not do justice to the Scripture teaching; and we feel, too, that such a solution of the problem of Christ would be inadequate for the practical task of redemption. If Christ is just a prophet giving us His teaching we rejoice in the teaching, but we are confronted with the problem as to how to make the teaching effective. If it be urged that Christ is a prophet who in Himself realized the moral ideal, we feel constrained to reply that this really puts Christ at a vast distance from us. Such a doctrine of Christ’s person would make Him the supreme religious genius, but the human genius stands apart from the ordinary mass of men. He may gather up into Himself and realize the ideals of men; He may voice the aspirations of men and realize those aspirations; but He may not be able to make men like unto Himself. Shakespeare is a consummate literary genius. He has said once and for all many things which the common man thinks or half thinks. When the common man comes upon a phrase of Shakespeare he feels that Shakespeare has said for all time the things which he would himself have said if he had been able. But the appreciation of Shakespeare does not make the ordinary man like Shakespeare; the appreciation of Christ has not proved successful in itself in making men like unto Christ.
If, on the contrary, without attempting formal theological construction, we put some real meaning into the idea of Christ as the Son of God and hold fast to a unique relationship between Christ and God which makes Christ the greatest gift that God can give us, we find indeed that Christ is lifted up to essentially divine existence; but we find also that this divinity does not estrange Him from us. Redemption becomes feasible, not merely when we have a revelation of how far up man can go, but when we have also a revelation of how far down God can come. If we can think of God as having in some real way come into the world through His Son, that revelation makes Christ the Lord who can lead us to redemption.
Such a conception furnishes the dynamic which we must have in any real process of redemption. We need not only the ideal, but we need power by which to reach the ideal. If we can feel that the universe is under the sway of a moral God, a God who is under obligations to bear the burdens of men, and who willingly assumes these obligations, we really feel that moral life at its fullest and best is the greatest fact in the universe. Moreover, we must be true to the Scriptures and lift the entire conception of redemption beyond the realm of conscience to the realm of the heart. What the conscience of God calls for, the love of God willingly discharges. The Cross of Christ becomes at once the revelation of the righteousness of God and the love of God. Power is thus put back of human conscience and human love to move forward toward redemption (
The aim of the redemption in Christ then is to lift men out of death toward life. The mind is to be quickened by the revelation of the true ideals of human life. The conscience is to be reenforced by the revelation of the moral God who carries on all things in the interests of righteousness. The heart is to be stirred and won by the revelation of the love which sends an only begotten Son to the cross for our redemption. And we must take the work of Christ, not as a solitary incident or a mere historic event, but as a manifestation of the spirit which has been at work from the beginning and works forever. The Lamb was slain from the foundation of the world (
It remains to add one further item of Scriptural teaching, namely that redemption is a continuous process. If we may again use the word "life," which has been the key to this discussion, we may say that the aim of redemption is to make men progressively alive. There are not limits to the development of human powers touched by the redemptive processes of God. The cross is a revelation of divine willingness to bear with men who are forever being redeemed. Of course, we speak of the redeemed man as redeemed once and for all. By this we mean that he is redeemed once and for all in being faced about and started in a right direction, but the progress toward full life may be faster or slower according to the man and the circumstances in the midst of which he is placed. Still the chief fact is the direction in which the man is moving. The revelation of God who aids in redemption is of the God who takes the direction as the chief fact rather than the length of the stride or the rate of the movement. Every man is expected to do his best. If he stumbles he is supposed to find his way to his feet; if he is moving slowly, he must attempt to move faster; if he is moving at a slower rate than he can attain, he must strive after the higher rate, but always the dynamic force is the revelation of the holy love of God.
The Scriptures honor the prophets in whatever land or time they appear. The Scriptures welcome goodness under any and all circumstances. They have a place for a "light that lighteneth every man that cometh into the world," but they still make it clear that the chief force in the redemption of men is the revelation of holy love in Jesus Christ. The redemption, we repeat, is never conceived of in artificial or mechanical terms. If any man hath not the spirit of Christ he does not belong to Christ (
H. C. Sheldon,; Clarke, Outline of Christian Theology; Brown, Christian Theology in Outline; Mackintosh, Doctrine of ; Bowne, Studies in Christianity; Tymms, The Christian Atonement.
Francis J. McConnell