Ransom and Redemption (Heb 9:15) — Mondays with Mounce 225
Steve asked me about the NIV’s use of “ransom” in Heb 9:15. He wrote, “I've always been confused by the ransom concept, because it leads to thinking God paid a ransom to Satan or some such craziness, which is obviously wrong.”
As far as the ransom of Satan theory, it is obviously wrong; check out Wayne Grudem’s discussion in his theology. The price paid was paid to God. But here is the NIV: “For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom (θανάτου γενομένου εἰς ἀπολύτρωσιν) to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.”
I was not on the committee at this time, so I have to respond as an outsider. The textbook definition of ἀπολύτρωσις is “price paid for freedom secured.” The price was Jesus’ life; the freedom was freedom from sin. The trick in translation is to see whether the focus of the verse is on the price paid or the freedom secured. My guess is that in Heb 9:15, since the emphasis is so clearly on the price paid (θανάτου), the word “ransom” best fits the context.
ἀπολύτρωσις occurs ten times in the New Testament. The NIV uses “redemption” in 8, “ransom” in our verse, at “released” in Heb 11:35 (which emphasizes the second half of the meaning). In other words, the NIV’s default translation is “redemption,” but you can’t really say in English “died as a redemption.”
The ESV, which greatly values concordance, likewise uses “redemption” as the default translation. In our verse they write, “since a death has occurred that redeems.” But this makes their translation of Eph 1:14 strange. “who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession (εἰς ἀπολύτρωσιν τῆς περιποιήσεως) of it, to the praise of his glory.” Where is the “redemption” metaphor? It is in the footnote to “guarantee,” “Or, until God redeems his possession.”
I remember hearing sermons when I was little that said redemption was “twice purchased.” God made us, and the bought us back at the cross. Perhaps a powerful preaching example but not true. The “twice” idea is not part of the word’s meaning. Sorry.
William D. [Bill] Mounce posts about the Greek language, exegesis, and related topics at Koinonia. He is the author of numerous works including the recent Basics of Biblical Greek Video Lectures and the bestselling Basics of Biblical Greek. He is the general editor of Mounce's Complete Expository Dictionary of the Old and New Testament Words. He served as the New Testament chair of the English Standard Version Bible translation, and is currently on the Committee for Bible Translation for the NIV.
Learn more about Bill's Greek resources at Teknia.com and visit his blog on spiritual growth at BiblicalTraining.org/blog/life-journey.
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