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Redeem

Source:
The Oxford Companion to the Bible What is This? Provides authoritative interpretive entries on Biblical people, places, beliefs, events, and secular influences.

    Redeem

    The Hebrew verb generally translated “to redeem” is gāʾal. Its basic idea involves doing something on behalf of others because they are unable to do it for themselves (see Jer. 31.11). The motivation to redeem someone is most often familial obligation. If no relative steps forward, however, the king (2 Sam. 14.1–11; Ps. 72.12–14) or God (Jer. 15.21; 50.33–34; Prov. 23.10–11) is expected to take up that person's duty. Whoever the redeemer is, in the act of redemption, he or she is providing for the redeemed as a man would provide for his own immediate family.

    The most common situation in which redemption arises is when property or persons have been confiscated to reconcile a debt. A redeemer is one who pays the debt for the debtor, thus buying back what was confiscated (Lev. 25.24–34, 47–55; 27.13–33; Jer. 32.7–8). Similarly, a prisoner, perhaps of war (Lev. 27.28–29), can be redeemed through payment of a ransom. It is not surprising, then, to find the term pādâ (“to ransom, buy back”) used in the same sense (Exod. 21.8; 34.20; Lev. 27.27, 29; Jer. 31.11).

    The Hebrew idea of redemption, however, extends beyond payment of money. Redemption occurs in levirate marriage (Ruth 4.4–7). One who seeks revenge for a man who has been murdered is a “redeemer of blood” (Num. 35.16–27; Deut. 19.1–13; Josh. 20.1–9; see Avenger of Blood). In fact, redemption is sometimes used to refer to rescue or deliverance in general. In this vein, God is the ultimate redeemer. He redeems persons from Death (Job 33.28; Ps. 103.4; Hos. 13.14). He redeems Israel from Egypt (Exod. 6.6; 15.13; Prov. 23.10–11 [gāʾal; Deut. 7.8; 9.26; Mic. 6.4 [pādâ) and Babylon (Isa. 43.1; 44.22–23; 48.20; 51.10). He also redeems in a more typical way, helping those in financial distress (Jer. 15.21; cf. Ps. 72.14). He is seen as a good husband (Isa. 54.5) and father (Isa. 63.16) when he acts as redeemer.

    These ideas set the stage for the ways in which New Testament writers use the Greek verb (apo)lutromai. Redemption is most often spoken of as a ransom (Col. 1:13–14; 1 Pet. 1.18–19; Heb. 11.35); but the idea entails more than a figurative business transaction. Christ redeems by his death (1 Pet 1:18–19), in that he gives humanity the forgiveness that humanity could not give itself (Eph. 1.7; Col. 1.13–14; Titus 2.14; Heb. 9.11–14). Moreover, God redeems Christians from slavery to sin in order to adopt them as his children (Rom. 8.12–23; Gal. 4.1–7), thus perpetuating the idea that the redeemer assumes the role of familial protector over the redeemed.

    Timothy M. Willis

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