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Redeemer, Redemption

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 of Jesus Christ and 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.


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 (Num 5:8; 1 Kings 16:11). According to the theocratic arrangement in Israel, the land belonged to God and the Israelite families only possessed the right to use the fruit of the land (usifruct). If a family forfeited this use because its parcel of land had to be sold or because there was no heir, the parcel was returned to the family at the year of jubilee, which came every fifty years (Lev 25:8-17). Prior to this year the nearest kinsman had the right and the responsibility to redeem the property, i.e., to liquidate the debt so that the property might be restored to its original owner (25:23-28). Closely related to this custom was that of Levirate marriage. The brother-in-law or other near kinsman of someone who had died without leaving a male heir was obliged to marry the widow of the deceased in order to preserve the family name and property rights. In the marriage of Boaz and Ruth both of the above customs were involved. The idea of redemption also appears when a person has been deprived of something which belongs to him as part of his personal integrity. Thus Naomi called the son born to Boaz and Ruth a redeemer because he delivered her from the reproach she had incurred because her family had no surviving male heir (Ruth 4:14). The birth of an heir now delivered her honor, as it were, from an alien dominion and restored it to her.



2. Doctrinal formulation. 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 (Lev 25:49); however, more characteristically, the redeemer was someone else, e.g., a near relative, who because of his position in the family possessed the right and the obligation of redemption. One who had the right to redeem, whether he exercised it as a matter of fact or not, was called a redeemer (go’el). In its central reference to salvation, the Bible teaches that redemption is always by another party. In the story of the great deliverance from Egypt attention falls not only upon the act of redemption itself but upon the redeemer as well, upon God working through His prophet Moses. God had the prior claim upon Israel because He had obtained them as His people. His act of redemption liberated Israel from the alien dominion of Egypt and restored them to him who was their rightful Lord.

What the redeemer does in order to accomplish redemption is not always the same. Moses was called a redeemer (Acts 7:35) because as God’s prophet he was instrumental in leading the children of Israel out of Egypt. Naomi called Boaz “one of our redeemers” because his position in the family gave him the right to effect the restoration of the family property. She called the son born of Boaz and Ruth “a redeemer” because he delivered her from her reproach.

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 (Matt 20:28).

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 (Gal 3:13); and who restored them to the kingdom of their heavenly Father. The means of redemption and what it accomplishes are clearly set forth in Ephesians 1:7, 8: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us” (cf. Col 1:14).

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 (Gal 3:10, 13), from the legal prescriptions of the OT dispensation (Gal 4:1-5), and from the requirement of obedience to the law as a way of life (Gal 3:10; 2:16, 19; Phil 3:9); (2) redemption from the guilt and the power of sin (Titus 2:14).

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” (Luke 21:28; Rom 8:23; Eph 1:14; 4:30). The exposition of this consummation (Eph 1:14) clearly sets forth the elements of redemption. Those who have believed in Jesus Christ have been sealed by His Holy Spirit. God has placed His stamp on them as a sign that they are His and as an assurance against loss. Paul regards the children of God as already having been purchased and as awaiting the final redemption when they shall receive their inheritance. This event is called “the redemption of the purchased possession.” The redeemed will be freed from the sinful world under whose dominion they still remain and they will be restored to the One who has the prior claim upon them by virtue of the fact that He has obtained them for His own possession. At their redemption the entire creation will be restored to Him who is its rightful Lord. See Justification.

Bibliography J. Hastings, A Dictionary of the Bible (1902), IV, 210, 211; G. Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 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.