A price paid to buy back or to bring about release from some obligation or undesirable circumstance. The basic idea of “ransom” is a price that covers (as in payment for damages or to satisfy justice), while “redemption” emphasizes the releasing accomplished as a result of the ransom paid. The most significant ransom price is the shed blood of Jesus Christ, which made deliverance from sin and death possible for the offspring of Adam.
In the various Hebrew and Greek terms translated “ransom” and “redeem,” the inherent similarity lies in the idea of a price, or thing of value, given to effect the ransom, or redemption. The thought of exchange, as well as that of correspondency, equivalence, or substitution, is common in all. That is, one thing is given for another, satisfying the demands of justice and resulting in a balancing of matters.
A Price That Covers. The Hebrew noun koʹpher comes from the verb ka·pharʹ, meaning, basically, “cover,” as in Noah’s covering the ark with tar. (Ge 6:14) Ka·pharʹ, however, is used almost entirely to describe the satisfying of justice through the covering of or atoning for sins. The noun koʹpher refers to the thing given to accomplish this, the ransom price. (Ps 65:3; 78:38; 79:8, 9) A covering corresponds to the thing it covers, either in its form (as in a material lid, such as the “cover [kap·poʹreth]” of the ark of the covenant; Ex 25:17-22), or in its value (as in a payment to cover the damages caused by an injury).
As a means for balancing justice and setting matters straight with his people Israel, Jehovah, in the Law covenant, designated various sacrifices and offerings to atone for, or cover, sins, including those of the priests and the Levites (Ex 29:33-37; Le 16:6, 11), of other individuals, or of the nation as a whole (Le 1:4; 4:20, 26, 31, 35), as well as to purify the altar and tabernacle, making atonement because of the sins of the people surrounding these. (Le 16:16-20) In effect, the life of the animal sacrificed went in place of the life of the sinner, its blood making atonement on God’s altar, that is, to the extent that it could. (Le 17:11; compare Heb 9:13, 14; 10:1-4.) The “day of atonement [yohm hak·kip·pu·rimʹ]” could just as properly be referred to as the “day of the ransoms.” (Le 23:26-28) These sacrifices were required if the nation and its worship were to have and maintain the acceptance and approval of the righteous God.
Well illustrating the sense of a redeeming exchange is the law regarding a bull known to gore. If the owner allowed the bull to go loose so that it killed someone, the owner was to be put to death, paying for the life of the slain person with his own life. However, since he did not deliberately or directly kill another, if the judges viewed it proper to impose upon him a “ransom [koʹpher]” instead, then he must pay that redemption price. The sum assessed and paid was viewed as taking the place of his own life and compensating for the life lost. (Ex 21:28-32; compare De 19:21.) On the other hand, no ransom could be accepted for the deliberate murderer; only his own life could cover the death of the victim. (Nu 35:31-33) Evidently because a census involved lives, at the time such was taken each male over 20 had to have a ransom (koʹpher) of half a shekel ($1.10) given for his soul to Jehovah, the same price applying whether the individual was rich or poor.
Since any imbalance of justice is displeasing to God, as well as among humans, the ransom, or covering, could have the additional effect of averting or quelling anger. (Compare Jer 18:23; also Ge 32:20, where “appease” translates ka·pharʹ.) The husband enraged at the man committing adultery with his wife, however, refuses any “ransom [koʹpher].” (Pr 6:35) The term may also be used with regard to those who should execute justice but who instead accept a bribe or gift as “hush money [koʹpher]” to cover over the wrongdoing in their sight.
The Redemption, or Releasing. The Hebrew verb pa·dhahʹ means “redeem,” and the related noun pidh·yohnʹ means “redemption price.” (Ex 21:30) These terms evidently emphasize the releasing accomplished by the redemption price, while ka·pharʹ places stress on the quality or content of the price and its efficacy in balancing the scales of justice. The releasing, or redeeming (pa·dhahʹ), may be from slavery (Le 19:20; De 7:8), from other distressing or oppressive conditions (2Sa 4:9; Job 6:23; Ps 55:18), or from death and the grave. (Job 33:28; Ps 49:15) Frequent reference is made to Jehovah’s redeeming the nation of Israel from Egypt to be his “private property” (De 9:26; Ps 78:42) and to his redeeming them from Assyrian and Babylonian exile many centuries later. (Isa 35:10; 51:11; Jer 31:11, 12; Zec 10:8-10) Here, too, the redemption involved a price, an exchange. In redeeming Israel from Egypt, Jehovah evidently caused the price to be paid by Egypt. Israel was, in effect, God’s “firstborn,” and Jehovah warned Pharaoh that his stubborn refusal to release Israel would cause the life of Pharaoh’s firstborn and the firstborn of all Egypt, human and animals, to be exacted. (Ex 4:21-23; 11:4-8) Similarly, in return for Cyrus’ overthrow of Babylon and his liberation of the Jews from their exiled state, Jehovah gave “Egypt as a ransom [form of koʹpher] for [his people], Ethiopia and Seba” in their place. The Persian Empire thus later conquered those regions, and so ‘national groups were given in place of the Israelites’ souls.’ (Isa 43:1-4) These exchanges are in harmony with the inspired declaration that the “wicked is [or serves as] a ransom [koʹpher] for the righteous one; and the one dealing treacherously takes the place of the upright ones.”
Another Hebrew term associated with redemption is ga·ʼalʹ, and this conveys primarily the thought of reclaiming, recovering, or repurchasing. (Jer 32:7, 8) Its similarity to pa·dhahʹ is seen by its parallel use with that term at Hosea 13:14: “From the hand of Sheol I shall redeem [form of pa·dhahʹ] them; from death I shall recover [form of ga·ʼalʹ] them.” (Compare Ps 69:18.) Ga·ʼalʹ gives emphasis to the right of reclaiming or repurchasing, either by a near kinsman of a person whose property or whose very person needed to be repurchased or reclaimed, or by the original owner or seller himself. A near kinsman, called a go·ʼelʹ, was thus “a repurchaser” (Ru 2:20; 3:9, 13) or, in cases where a murder was involved, a “blood avenger.”
The Law provided that in the case of a poor Israelite whose circumstances forced him to sell his hereditary lands, his city house, or even to sell himself into servitude, “a repurchaser closely related to him,” or go·ʼelʹ, had the right to “buy back [ga·ʼalʹ] what his brother sold,” or the seller could do so himself if funds became available to him. (Le 25:23-27, 29-34, 47-49; compare Ru 4:1-15.) If a man should make a vow offering to God of a house or a field and then desire to buy it back, he had to pay the valuation placed on the property plus a fifth in addition to that estimated value. (Le 27:14-19) However, no exchange could be made for anything “devoted to destruction.”
In the case of murder, the murderer was not allowed sanctuary in the appointed cities of refuge but, after the judicial hearing, was turned over by the judges to the “avenger [go·ʼelʹ] of blood,” a near kinsman of the victim, who then put the murderer to death. Since no “ransom [koʹpher]” was allowed for the murderer and since the near kinsman with right of repurchase could not reclaim or recover the life of his dead relative, he rightfully claimed the life of the one who had taken his relative’s life by murder.
Not Always a Tangible Price. As has been shown, Jehovah “redeemed” (pa·dhahʹ) or ‘reclaimed’ (ga·ʼalʹ) Israel from Egypt. (Ex 6:6; Isa 51:10, 11) Later, because the Israelites kept “selling themselves to do what was bad” (2Ki 17:16, 17), Jehovah on several occasions ‘sold them into the hands of their enemies.’ (De 32:30; Jg 2:14; 3:8; 10:7; 1Sa 12:9) Their repentance caused him to buy them back, or reclaim them, out of distress or exile (Ps 107:2, 3; Isa 35:9, 10; Mic 4:10), thereby performing the work of a Go·ʼelʹ, a Repurchaser related to them inasmuch as he had espoused the nation to himself. (Isa 43:1, 14; 48:20; 49:26; 50:1, 2; 54:5-7) In ‘selling’ them, Jehovah was not paid some material compensation by the pagan nations. His payment was the satisfaction of his justice and the fulfillment of his purpose to have them corrected and disciplined for their rebellion and disrespect.
God’s ‘repurchasing’ likewise need not involve the payment of something tangible. When Jehovah repurchased the Israelites exiled in Babylon, Cyrus willingly liberated them, without tangible compensation in his lifetime. However, when redeeming his people from oppressor nations that had acted with malice against Israel, Jehovah exacted the price from the oppressors themselves, making them pay with their own lives. (Compare Ps 106:10, 11; Isa 41:11-14; 49:26.) When the people of the kingdom of Judah were “sold,” or delivered over, to the Babylonians, Jehovah received no personal compensation. And the deported Jews did not pay money either to the Babylonians or to Jehovah to buy back their freedom. It was “for nothing” that they were sold and “without money” that they were repurchased. Jehovah therefore needed to make no payment to their captors to balance matters out. Instead, he effected the repurchase through the power of “his holy arm.”
Jehovah’s role of Go·ʼelʹ thus embraced the avenging of wrongs done to his servants and resulted in the clearing of his own name of the charges raised by those who used Israel’s distress as an excuse to reproach him. (Ps 78:35; Isa 59:15-20; 63:3-6, 9) As the Great Kinsman and Redeemer of both the nation and its individuals, he conducted their “legal case” to effect justice.
Though living before and outside the nation of Israel, the disease-stricken Job said: “I myself well know that my redeemer is alive, and that, coming after me, he will rise up over the dust.” (Job 19:25; compare Ps 69:18; 103:4.) Following God’s own example, Israel’s king was to act as a redeemer in behalf of the lowly and poor ones of the nation.
Christ Jesus’ Role as Ransomer. The foregoing information lays the basis for understanding the ransom provided for humankind through God’s Son, Christ Jesus. Mankind’s need for a ransom came about through the rebellion in Eden. Adam sold himself to do evil for the selfish pleasure of keeping continued company with his wife, now a sinful transgressor, so he shared the same condemned standing with her before God. He thereby sold himself and his descendants into slavery to sin and to death, the price that God’s justice required. (Ro 5:12-19; compare Ro 7:14-25.) Having possessed human perfection, Adam lost this valuable possession for himself and all his offspring.
The Law, which had “a shadow of the good things to come,” provided for animal sacrifices as a covering for sin. This, however, was only a symbolic or token covering, since such animals were inferior to man; hence, it was “not possible for the blood of bulls and of goats [actually] to take sins away,” as the apostle points out. (Heb 10:1-4) Those pictorial animal sacrifices had to be without blemish, perfect specimens. (Le 22:21) The real ransom sacrifice, a human actually capable of removing sins, must therefore also be perfect, free from blemish. He would have to correspond to the perfect Adam and possess human perfection, if he were to pay the price of redemption that would release Adam’s offspring from the debt, disability, and enslavement into which their first father Adam had sold them. (Compare Ro 7:14; Ps 51:5.) Only thereby could he satisfy God’s perfect justice that requires like for like, a ‘soul for a soul.’
The strictness of God’s justice made it impossible for mankind itself to provide its own redeemer. (Ps 49:6-9) However, this results in the magnifying of God’s own love and mercy in that he met his own requirements at tremendous cost to himself, giving the life of his own Son to provide the redemption price. (Ro 5:6-8) This required his Son’s becoming human to correspond to the perfect Adam. God accomplished this by transferring his Son’s life from heaven to the womb of the Jewish virgin Mary. (Lu 1:26-37; Joh 1:14) Since Jesus did not owe his life to any human father descended from the sinner Adam, and since God’s holy spirit ‘overshadowed’ Mary, evidently from the time she conceived until the time of Jesus’ birth, Jesus was born free from any inheritance of sin or imperfection, being, as it were, “an unblemished and spotless lamb,” whose blood could prove to be an acceptable sacrifice. (Lu 1:35; Joh 1:29; 1Pe 1:18, 19) He maintained that sinless state throughout his life and thus did not disqualify himself. (Heb 4:15; 7:26; 1Pe 2:22) As a ‘sharer of blood and flesh,’ he was a near kinsman of mankind and he had the thing of value, his own perfect life maintained pure through tests of integrity, with which to repurchase mankind, emancipate them.
The Christian Greek Scriptures make clear that the release from sin and death is indeed by the paying of a price. Christians are said to be “bought with a price” (1Co 6:20; 7:23), having an “owner that bought them” (2Pe 2:1), and Jesus is presented as the Lamb who ‘was slaughtered and with his blood bought persons for God out of every tribe, tongue, and nation.’ (Re 5:9) In these texts the verb a·go·raʹzo is used, meaning simply “buy at the market [a·go·raʹ].” The related e·xa·go·raʹzo (release by purchase) is used by Paul in showing that Christ released “by purchase those under law” through his death on the stake. (Ga 4:5; 3:13) But the thought of redemption or ransoming is more frequently and more fully expressed by the Greek lyʹtron and related terms.
Lyʹtron (from the verb lyʹo, meaning “loose”) was especially used by Greek writers to refer to a price paid to ransom prisoners of war or to release those under bond or in slavery. (Compare Heb 11:35.) In its two Scriptural occurrences it describes Christ’s giving “his soul a ransom in exchange for many.” (Mt 20:28; Mr 10:45) The related word an·tiʹly·tron appears at 1 Timothy 2:6. Parkhurst’s Greek and English Lexicon to the New Testament says it means: “a ransom, price of redemption, or rather a correspondent ransom.” He quotes Hyperius as saying: “It properly signifies a price by which captives are redeemed from the enemy; and that kind of exchange in which the life of one is redeemed by the life of another.” He concludes by saying: “So Aristotle uses the verb [an·ti·ly·troʹo] for redeeming life by life.” (London, 1845, p. 47) Thus Christ “gave himself a corresponding ransom for all.” (1Ti 2:5, 6) Other related words are ly·troʹo·mai, “loose by ransom” (Tit 2:14; 1Pe 1:18, 19), and a·po·lyʹtro·sis, “a releasing by ransom.” (Eph 1:7, 14; Col 1:14) The similarity of the usage of these words with that of the Hebrew terms considered is evident. They describe, not an ordinary purchase or releasing, but a redeeming or ransoming, a deliverance effected by payment of a corresponding price.
Though available to all, Christ’s ransom sacrifice is not accepted by all, and “the wrath of God remains” upon those not accepting it, as it also comes upon those who first accept and then turn away from that provision. (Joh 3:36; Heb 10:26-29; contrast Ro 5:9, 10.) They gain no deliverance from the enslavement to Kings Sin and Death. (Ro 5:21) Under the Law the deliberate murderer could not be ransomed. Adam, by his willful course, brought death on all mankind, hence was a murderer. (Ro 5:12) Thus, the sacrificed life of Jesus is not acceptable to God as a ransom for the sinner Adam.
But God is pleased to approve the application of the ransom to redeem those of Adam’s offspring who avail themselves of such a release. As Paul states, “as through the disobedience of the one man many were constituted sinners, likewise also through the obedience of the one person many will be constituted righteous.” (Ro 5:18, 19) At the time of Adam’s sin and his being sentenced to death, his offspring or race were all unborn in his loins and so all died with him. (Compare Heb 7:4-10.) Jesus as a perfect man, “the last Adam” (1Co 15:45), had a race or offspring unborn in his loins, and when he died innocently as a perfect human sacrifice this potential human race died with him. He had willingly abstained from producing a family of his own by natural procreation. Instead, Jesus uses the authority granted by Jehovah on the basis of his ransom to give life to all those who accept this provision.
Thus, Jesus was indeed “a corresponding ransom,” not for the redemption of the one sinner, Adam, but for the redemption of all mankind descended from Adam. He repurchased them so that they could become his family, doing this by presenting the full value of his ransom sacrifice to the God of absolute justice in heaven. (Heb 9:24) He thereby gains a Bride, a heavenly congregation formed of his followers. (Compare Eph 5:23-27; Re 1:5, 6; 5:9, 10; 14:3, 4.) Messianic prophecies also show he will have “offspring” as an “Eternal Father.” (Isa 53:10-12; 9:6, 7) To be such, his ransom must embrace more than those of his “Bride.” In addition to those “bought from among mankind as firstfruits” to form that heavenly congregation, therefore, others are to benefit from his ransom sacrifice and gain everlasting life through the removal of their sins and accompanying imperfection. (Re 14:4; 1Jo 2:1, 2) Since those of the heavenly congregation serve with Christ as priests and “kings over the earth,” such other recipients of the ransom benefits must be earthly subjects of Christ’s Kingdom, and as children of an “Eternal Father” they attain everlasting life. (Re 5:10; 20:6; 21:2-4, 9, 10; 22:17; compare Ps 103:2-5.) The entire arrangement manifests Jehovah’s wisdom and his righteousness in perfectly balancing the scales of justice while showing undeserved kindness and forgiving sins.