Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Christ as Ransom

Everyone knows that Christ refers to giving His life as a ransom for many. This "ransom" term is often taken to defend any number of various salvation theories. One thing I find interesting is that the Old Testament separately rather clearly the idea of "ransom" from "sacrifice." The term "ransom" is used rather sparingly, and in trying to understand this phrase I thought it might be linked to the "ransom" described in Exodus 30:12.

The interesting thing about this ransom is that it is not meant as a payment for the life [based on other Mosaic law, it appears that a person's life is actually worth 5 shekels apiece [Numbers 3:46].

One could make a case that it was a payment for the Israelite's freedom, but that would go against the idea that God saved the Israelites purely out of the promise to Abraham.

I was thinking it might be a bit more complex:
i) When the Israelites move into the promised land, they will have to keep the ordinances of the covenant, or else they will fall prey to the covenant curses.
ii) In order to fulfill these ordinances, they will need a temple.
iii) The ransom payment used to build the temple.

I find some interesting tie-ins with Christ here, whose life was given to consecrate the heavenly temple [Hebrews 9-10] to allow people to receive the Spirit.

Any thoughts?


Steve said...

I have problems with this notion, as I do with all notions of sacrifice, atonement, etc., regarding them as primitive notions of religion that we need to move beyond.

Re: ransom; assuming this is a correct translation of the term, and that it corresponds to modern concepts of payment from one person to another to achieve one person's freedom--to whom is the ransom paid? Is it paid to God? why does God need ransom? If we're referring to NT concepts of ransom, is it paid to the devil? Why should the devil be paid anything?

Peter Abelard decisively and completely destroyed any and all notions of Christ's death being a ransom in his commentary on Romans. I'm hoping my translation of this will be out in another year, if my publisher and editor can get their part of the work done soon.

David Rudel said...

Hi Steve,
One of the nuances I intended to bring out in my discussion was that the term "Ransom" as used in the exodus passage does not appear to be a payment to anyone.

If the money was used to build a temple, then it is no more a payment for freedom than taking a jog is a "payment" for good health. It becomes "a necessary expenditure" without a direct receiver.

The money in Exodus was not paid to God in the way that, say, a maiden might be given away to a dragon intent on burning a village. It was used to build a building....just as Christ's death built a spiritual building.

Steve said...

Then why call it a "ransom"? Maybe we need to translate this term differently so as not to cause confusion.

David Rudel said...

Because translating the term differently would be pushing a particular theology into the term.

What translation would you prefer for lyton

"price for unbinding" might be acceptable depending on how much you want to lean on the etymology [linked to lyoo].

Steve said...

Any translation pushes theology--currently translating that term as "ransom" is pushing a theology. That's what language does when hooked up with theology. And what is modern theology except semantics?

David Rudel said...

I don't think it is true that every translation [of every single word] "pushes a theology."

"lytos" was a standard Greek word that had a common use. That use may not have been the use Jesus had in mind, but it is the one we should assume outside of reason to claim something else. In this particular passage, where there there is no explanation or clarification given (a passage where such clarification is begged for by the reader), one has to take the complete lack of commentary as a suggestion that whatever the common use of the term is, that is the term that is (at least figuratively) meant.

qraal said...

Hi Steve

When's that Peter Abelard translation coming out? His moral example theory has always seemed a better understanding of JC's death than the ransom/sacrifice paradigm.

sweetdreams said...

evil men make sacrifices to a good God asking for forgiveness.

Good men pay ransoms to an evil person in order to free hostages.

The early church writers taught that the ransom was paid to the devil.

My take is that what Azazel demanded was a living sinless man.

When Jesus surrendered in the garden, the prisoners were released and the exchange was made.

sweetdreams said...

"I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from Death." (Hosea 13:14)

The ransom is not a building project but a demolition project. Jesus is knocking down the Gates of the land of death.

David Rudel said...

Sweet Dreams,
I don't think it makes sense to see Azazel as demanding a sinless man, for the "scapegoat" had sins transferred to it, so the goat that Azazel got [if that is how you see the day of atonement] is not a sinless one.

Given the devout lack of interest in placating any deity other than God in the OT, if "Azazel" is seen as a personage, it seems more likely that the scapegoat is more of an insult to Azazel, for Azazel is getting a goat laden with all the sins of Israel. It seems more an affront than a gift.

Also, I disagree that evil men offer sacrifices for forgiveness. King David offered sacrifices as did Hezekiah, and they were remembered as two of Israel's most righteous men.

The Hosea verse is interesting, because (when reading the surrounding verses) it does not appear that God is speaking of benevolently rescuing Israel from the grave...rather the prophet speaks of God taking upon Godself the power of death. Rather than allowing Israel/Ephraim to die a natural death, God is indicating plagues and destruction will be visited upon Israel.

Of course, I totally agree that Paul's use of this quotation in 1st Corinthians 15:55 is more in line with what you are claiming, but the surrounding verses in Hosea certainly argue another way.

In any event, there is some uncertainty how much the noun "ransom" in Exodus 30:12 (which I am claiming may be linked to Christ's use of the noun) is linked to the verb found in Hosea.

Steve said...

Graal, I hope it will be out in 2011. I sent the manuscript to the publisher a year ago in July. It's still sitting on my editor's desk, last I knew. The publisher can only publish one or two titles in this series per year--that's all they have budget for (that's the way academic publishing works). I had hoped 2009, then 2010, but in will be 2010 till my editor starts working on it, the last she told me. In the meantime I'm working on indexes.

Re: moral example, there's been a lot of discussion in recent decades as to whether that's what Abelard meant--was he an exemplarist? The tide has turned against that view, and I tried to reflect that change in my introduction. But his skewering of ransom and the devil's rights is absolutely priceless.

And there's loads of other goodies in the commentary as well that not too many people have looked at. Not only does he roast a couple theories of SA, he also reworks that other horrible teaching, original sin. And, he has some truly beautiful teachings on love of God and neighbor.

sweetdreams said...

in looking at the OT ransom of each man, in Ex 30:12, you say it went to maintain the tabernacle and that is so, but the purpose was to prevent plagues.

The priests are collecting money with the threat that if you don't pay, plagues will come upon you. Sounds like a Mafia protection racket.

This appears to be the yearly ransom that Jesus spoke about when he told Peter that God's children don't have to pay such a tax. Isn't Jesus exposing it as a racket and not from God at all?

Then Jesus said go catch a fish with a gold coin in his mouth and pay it.

Not because it is right, but expedient. They will arrest and condemn us if we don't.

The implications in Ex. 13:13 is down right creepy. It implies the first born must be sacrificed to God but he will let them off if they pay a fine.

I think this is all priestcraft and evil.

God wants mercy and not sacrifices and ransom money.

sweetdreams said...

I see I did not answer some of your questions.
My study on Azazel is that the Israelis were not responding to his demands but it was an older pastoral sacrifice to keep the evil desert demon/god at bay.

Originally the goat was let loose in the desert but since sometimes a goat would wander back to the camp they began killing it by throwing it from a cliff.

This atonement ritual has nothing to do with the ransom.
David you wrote:
I disagree that evil men offer sacrifices for forgiveness. King David offered sacrifices as did Hezekiah, and they were remembered as two of Israel's most righteous men"
Sheesh David was as evil as they come involved in adultery murder and thuggery, not to mention on his death bed he is ordering people killed like a mafia Don.

Hezekiah began good, butin the end created such a heinous sin that Isaish told him
"Behold, the days are coming when all that is in your house, and what your fathers have accumulated until this day, shall be carried to Babylon"

My original statement still stands evil men make sacrifices, but
good men pay ransoms to the wicked.

The only candidate for the wicked is the wicked one who held humans perpetually captive in the land of death.

sweetdreams said...

from the beginning, Jesus preached to the gentiles as well as the Jews.

Archaeologist place his baptism by John near Jericho, and after 40 days in the wilderness, he proceeded to his home town. To get home from Jericho he would either go up the Eastern bank of the Jordan River which was Gentile country, or up the West bank which led directly through the heart of Samaria. It says when he left the desert he began to preach “repent and believe the Gospel of the Kingdom”. He would have been preaching mostly to gentiles at first, until he reached Galilee.

He made a number of voyages to the Decapolis, on the East side of the lake. The Decapolis referred to ten Roman cities. He healed the servant of a Roman centurion. He healed a Syro-phoenician woman’s daughter. He healed blind men entering Jericho a gentile stronghold. He healed people up in Tyre and Ziddon the land of the Phoenicians. He cast 5,000 demons out of a man in pig-eating country.

In one miracle where he fed several thousand it was on the Eastern Gentile side of the lake in Bethsaida renamed Julia by the Julius Caesar, so it would have been a Roman region.

Matthew says people from Syria heard about him and sent there sick to him.

“It is not easy to fix the exact bounds of Syria in the time of our Saviour. It was, perhaps, the general name for the country lying between the Euphrates on the east, and the Mediterranean on the west; and between Mount Taurus on the north, and Arabia on the south” (Barnes commentary). They could have come from as far away as Babylon.

Mat 4:24 The news about Jesus spread throughout Syria. People brought him everyone who was sick, those who suffered from any kind of disease or pain. They also brought epileptics, those who were paralyzed, and people possessed by demons, and he cured them all.

Mat 4:25 Large crowds followed him. They came from Galilee, the Ten Cities (Decapolis), Jerusalem, Judea, and from across the Jordan River. He was clearly preaching to large mixed crowds of Jews and Gentiles throughout his ministry. It was a common misconception of the Jews that the Messiah was only coming to the Jews and he would kill all the gentiles.

Jesus only says one time Mat 15:24 "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the nation of Israel." And that was when he was testing the Syro-phoenican woman who answered the puppies get the crumbs that fall from the master’s table. Seeing her deep understanding, he healed her daughter to show how right she was for the Messiah had come for everyone.

The only other occasion where he mentions lost sheep is when he is sending the 12 on a special mission to the north perhaps all the way to Babylon to find the prostituting (lost) Jews who had joined pagan religions. This was a specific mission with a specific target audience.

David you write “if Jesus had Himself explicitly proclaimed that the Gentiles would join God's people, the apostles would not have waited a decade before taking the message to them. “

He did, in fact say that, and not only would they join God’s people , he says they will replace and become God’s chosen people. He told the Jews in the temple,

“I tell you that God's kingdom will be ripped from you and given to gentiles (ethnos) who will do what he demands”. (Mt.21:43)

I have issues with the book of Acts in about two dozen places and don’t really believe it belongs in the Bible. So although it claims to tell the story of the early church, it is too anti- the words of Jesus for me to take it seriously.

Sweet Dreams

David Rudel said...

You might consider me naive, but the Hebrew Bible claims that David had a heart for God and the NT writers appear to give homage to the covenant God made with him due to his pleasing God.

Regarding Christ preaching to Gentiles, there may have been Gentiles/Samaritans in the crowds [I believe the feeding of the five thousand pericope you mention occurred after Christ fled and they followed him], but the New Testament writers are clear that His pre-glorification ministry was generally for the Jews:

Matthew 15:24, Matthew 10:5, Mark 7:27, John 1:11.

Since Jesus spoke of the coming Kingdom, and the Jews thought this Kingdom was only for them, it would have been quite puzzling to Jesus' disciples had He sought them out, even many years after his death the original Jewish Christians are amazed that the Gentiles can receive the Spirit [Acts 11:18] and it takes divine intervention for Peter himself to realize this. [Acts 10:34]