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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Ransom

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‘Ransom’ is the rendering in Authorized Version and Revised Version of a word (ἀντίλυτρον) rare in apostolic literature, and possibly coined by St. Paul for use in 1 Timothy 2:6, ‘Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all.’ It appears to be a strengthened form of λύτρον (cf. Expositor’s Greek Testament , ‘1 Tim.,’ 1910, p. 105), the word attributed to Jesus, and rendered ‘ransom’ in Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45, ‘to give his life a ransom for many.’ The strong substitutionary force of ἀντί in the compound word may be reduced by the ὑπέρ (‘on behalf of’) which immediately follows in 1 Timothy 2:6. ‘Ransom’ is not elsewhere used in the NT.

In each place it is the figure chosen to indicate the redemptive significance of the death of Christ which had become familiar in the Apostolic Church, and had apparently become specialized by the time the Pastoral Epistles were written. Access to its meaning in the apostolic times may be sought in (a) the fairly frequent uses in the NT of cognate or derivative forms of λύτρον for expressing the saving processes or issues of Christ’s death for men; e.g. ἐλυτρώθητε (1 Peter 1:18), λύτρωσις (Hebrews 9:12), ἀπολύτρωσις (Romans 3:24, Ephesians 1:7, Colossians 1:14); as so used its reference is clear; it offers an illustrative form of the great apostolic unity of thought which directly relates the death of Christ to the reconciliation of God and men; (b) the occasion and context of the term as used by the Synoptics (Mark 10:45, Matthew 20:28); here the redemption for which the Son of Man gave His life a ransom is closely connected in the context with the liberation of the disciples of Jesus from the thraldom of worldly and ambitious self-seeking, and their entrance into the liberty of self-imparting service in the Kingdom of God which it was the mission of Jesus to establish by His death (so Beyschlag, NT Theol. i. 153; Stevens, Christian Doctrine of Salvation, p. 47 f.); but this view is not fully adequate to the expiatory value attributed to Christ’s death by Christ and His apostles (Matthew 26:28, 1 Corinthians 11:25; 1 Corinthians 15:3); (c) the attempt to find, with most expositors, a closer definition of the term by isolating it from its context and treating it as a word study; it is the representative in the Septuagint of certain much-used Hebrew words. Several of these are there rendered by a common use of λύτρον. Which of them corresponds most closely to the NT usage is a matter of discussion. One of them, בִּפֶּר, is said to have the root idea of ‘covering,’ or of ‘wiping away,’ though it is almost entirely used in an accommodated moral sense of ‘making propitiation’ (cf. Driver in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) iv. 128, G. F. Moore in Encyclopaedia Biblica iv. 4220). The leaning here is, therefore, towards sacrificial implications. The alternative words are פָּדָה and נָּאַל with the primary significance of ‘liberating,’ which lean towards the social or legal notion of redemption, illustrated possibly by the obligation to redeem laid upon the goel or kinsman (cf. Leviticus 25:51; see T. V. Tymms, Christian Idea of Atonement, London, 1904, p. 240 ff.). The majority of expositors favour the former derivation, though Wendt and others criticize its linguistic basis. The idea of ransom is thus obtained from the idea of ‘covering’ or ‘clearing the face’ of an offended person by means of a gift, especially by a gift which is the satisfaction for the life of a man paid either to God or man (cf. Exodus 21:30; Exodus 30:12, Numbers 21:30, Job 33:24, Isaiah 12:3, Psalms 49:7, Proverbs 6:35, Amos 5:12; cf. also Cremer, Bibl.-Theol. Lex. of NT Greek3, p. 408; B. Weiss, Bibl. Theol. i. 101). Support for the second line of derivation with the primary idea of a ransom price paid is found in the rendering of פָּדָה in Isaiah 35:10, Psalms 69:18, Hosea 13:14, Isaiah 51:11, Jeremiah 31:11; and in the rendering of גָּאַל in Isaiah 51:10, Jeremiah 31:11. (d) Dissatisfied with a reference of the NT passages to the Septuagint , and assuming that Jesus spoke not Greek, but Aramaic, G. Hollmann has sought by elaborate investigation to discover the Aramaic term of which λύτρον is the equivalent; he thinks that this inquiry results more favourably for the idea of ‘liberating’ than of ‘covering’ in the Hebrew original (Die Bedeutung des Todes Jesu, Tübingen, 1901, p. 98 ff.). One advantage of the precarious method of thus going behind the Greek term has been a fruitful suggestion by Ritschl that Psalms 49:7 f. and Job 33:23 (cf. Mark 8:37), where both פָּדָה and גָּאַל occur, may furnish the best interpretation of λύτρον in the mind of Christ (cf. Rechtfertigung und Versöhnung4, ii. 69 ff.; Denney, Death of Christ, p. 43 f.).

Whichever line of derivation may be followed, the resultant idea from the Hebrew terms, of which λύτρον is the representative in the Septuagint , is that the word indicates the means or cost by which a redemption is achieved. Consequently the apostolic interpretation will lie within that circle of ideas which carry the implication that life in the higher sense may be lost, and that man has no means of buying it back. To meet such a situation Christ laid down His life as a price or means of redemption by which the forfeited possession was restored. The further implication we should gather from the consensus of the teaching of Jesus and His apostles is that this ransom was not His death alone, but His life also-Himself indeed, in that perfect unity of which the life lived, laid down, and taken again are integral parts. It is not stated to whom the ransom price was paid. This has been the subject of wide conjecture. It does not seem essential to the apostolic use of the metaphor to state it. Nor is it stated precisely from what the ransom delivered; it was a saving advantage for men. A closer definition when sought will best be supplied from the analogy of faith as it deals with the issues of the death of Christ and from the more definite use of analogous terms in the apostolic teaching (see Atonement and Redemption).

Literature.-For a discussion of λύτρον and its cognates see B. F. Westcott, Hebrews, London, 1889, pp. 295 f., 229 ff.; W. Beyschlag, NT Theol., Halle, 1891-92, i. 149, Eng. translation , Edinburgh, 1895, i. 152; J. Denney, Death of Christ, London, 1902, p. 38 f.; A. Ritschl, Rechtfertigung und Versöhnung4, Bonn, 1895-1902, iii. 68-88, Eng. translation , Justification and Reconciliation, Edinburgh, 1900; G. B. Stevens, Theology of the NT, do., 1899, p. 126 ff., Christian Doctrine of Salvation, do., 1905, p. 45 ff.; H. H. Wendt, Teaching of Jesus, Eng. translation , do., 1892, ii. 226 ff.; B. Weiss, Biblical Theology of NT, Eng. translation , do., 1882-83, i. 101; H. Cremer, Bibl.-Theol. Lex. of NT Greek, do., 1880, p. 408.

Frederic Platt.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Ransom'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/r/ransom.html. 1906-1918.

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