redemption


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redemption

Christianity
a. deliverance from sin through the incarnation, sufferings, and death of Christ
b. atonement for guilt

Redemption

Atonement

It has been said that the Bible tells the story of God's efforts to save humanity with the human tendency towards sin as the central problem to be overcome (see also Salvation). According to biblical ways of thinking, sin ruptures one's relationship with God. Therefore human beings stand in need of a means by which they can heal, or reconcile, this relationship. Christians believe that Jesus'death by crucifixion on Good Friday reconciled humanity with God (for more on crucifixion, see also Cross). This process of reconciliation is often referred to as redemption.

The word redemption comes from the verb "to redeem," which means to recover, to buy back, to liberate from bondage, to pay a ransom for something or someone, or to rescue. As used in the Bible, the word redemption generally refers to a liberation or a recovery of something of value, usually with the implication that a price must be paid for such deliverance. The word redemption occurs far more often in the Old Testament, or Hebrew scriptures, than it does in the New Testament, or Christian scriptures. Nevertheless, Christianity grew out of ancient Judaism and it inherited a good portion of Jewish religious thought, including some of its teachings concerning redemption. In the New Testament the concept of redemption is closely linked with that of salvation.

Redemption and Sacrifice among the Ancient Hebrews

The ancient Jews believed that they had a covenant, or agreement, with God that spelled out how they had to live in order to please God and to continue to receive his help. The Hebrew scriptures, which Christians call the Old Testament, recall many instances when the entire nation or a particular individual broke this agreement by committing deeds not in accordance with Jewish religious teaching. These deviations, or sins, disturbed Israel's or the individual's harmonious relationship with God. Jewish religious authorities taught that one's standing with God could be restored through a combination of repentance and sacrifice.

Like most other peoples of the ancient world, the Jews practiced sacrifice as a means of worshiping God. The ancient Jews sacrificed a variety of animals, all of which had to be in perfect health and without scar or blemish. After the priests killed the sacrificial animals they sprinkled their blood on the altar as an offering to God. Sometimes priests or worshipers ate all or part of the sacrificial animal (see also Passover). Usually the animal's carcass was burned to complete the sacrifice. The ancient Hebrews also sacrificed grains, oil, wine, and incense.

In general, these sacrifices were understood as gifts given to God and were thought to honor God. Sacrifices were also made for specific purposes. Sometimes people offered sacrifices to God as a means of expressing their gratitude or their devotion. In addition, sacrifices were used to seal religious covenants, such as when the Israelites accepted the obligation to live according to the Ten Commandments revealed to their leader, Moses, by God (Exodus 24:3-8). The ancient Hebrews also presented God with sacrifices when the nation had failed to live according to God's teachings. Individuals might make sacrifices when they had broken religious rules concerning purity, honest testimony, and respect for holy things. Some scholars suggest that the ancient Hebrews believed that God accepted the sacrifice as a substitute for punishing the offender. Others are less sure of the exact reasoning behind these offerings. Whatever the logic behind these acts, the ancient Hebrews viewed sacrifice as a means of atoning for their misdeeds. Here the word "atone" means to return to a state of being at one with God. This process of atonement was also called redemption.

Christian Views of Redemption

Christian scripture reveals that Jesus accepted Jewish sacrificial practices, but criticized those people who used them as a substitute for repentance (Matthew 5:23-25, 23:23-24). Nevertheless, Christians did not reproduce Jewish sacrificial customs. They believed that Jesus' death on Good Friday was itself a sacrifice, an astounding event which brought the era of sacrificial religion to a close.

Christians trace this belief back to biblical accounts of the Last Supper, the last meal that Jesus ate with his followers before his arrest, trial, and execution (for more on the Last Supper, see Maundy Thursday). These accounts are found in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, which offer descriptions of Jesus' life and death. At the Last Supper Jesus took bread, asked for God's blessing, and broke it, distributing it among his disciples. He told them that the bread was his body. Then he passed them a cup of wine, identifying it as his blood and asked them to drink it (Matthew 26:26-29, Mark 14:22-25, Luke 22:16-19). In Matthew's account Jesus calls his blood "my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:28, see also Mark 14:24). Here Jesus identifies his upcoming death as a sacrificial offering, made to seal a new covenant between Jesus' followers and God. He also states that this offering will have the power to confer the forgiveness of sins, or, in other words, to redeem his followers from the consequences of their sins.

According to three of the four Gospel accounts of this event, the Last Supper was a Passover meal. The fourth account, given in the Gospel according to John, suggests that Jesus died on the cross at the same time that the lambs were being slaughtered in the Temple in preparation for the Passover meal. The early Christians found the timing of Jesus' death very significant. It further convinced them to view his death as a sacrificial offering made to rescue them from slavery to sin, just as God had rescued the Hebrews from slavery to the Egyptians during the first Passover.

The early Christians created a ceremony called the Eucharist as a way of commemorating Jesus' sacrifice and as a way of inviting all to participate in the bread and wine of the Last Supper. The Eucharist is the central and most important ritual in Christian communal worship.

Christian scripture tends to place greater emphasis on the price paid for redemption than does Jewish scripture. The early Christians quickly came to the conclusion that Jesus paid this price once for all in undergoing death by crucifixion on Good Friday (1 Corinthians 15:3; 2 Corinthians 5:14,15,19). Although Christians believe that Jesus was a human being, Christian scripture also calls him the Son of God (John 3:16) and asserts that he lived without sin (Hebrews 4:15). According to Christian theology Jesus'spiritual perfection made him the one and only person whose sacrificial death could have redeemed humanity and brought an end to the practice of sacrifice itself.

In the Gospel according to Mark, Jesus begins his ministry by urging people to repent, that is, to return to God's teachings (Mark 1:15). Jesus'emphasis on personal repentance finds echo in Christian teachings that insist that repentance stands alongside Christ's sacrificial death as a requirement for redemption.

Further Reading

Alsup, John E. "Redemption." In Paul J. Achtemeier, ed. The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary. New York: HarperCollins, 1996. Anderson, Gary A. "Sacrifices and Offerings." In David Noel Freedman, ed. Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2000. "Atonement." In E. A. Livingstone, ed. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Third edition. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1997. "Blood." In Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit, and Tremper Longman III, eds. Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998. Harvey, John D. "Redemption." In David Noel Freedman, ed. Eerdmans Dic- tionary of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2000. Matera, Frank J. "Reconciliation." In Paul J. Achtemeier, ed. The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary. New York: HarperCollins, 1996. Mulzac, Kenneth D. "Atonement." In David Noel Freedman, ed. Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2000. Myers, Allen C., ed. "Atonement," "Redemption," and "Sacrifices and Offerings." The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1987. Rattray, Susan. "Worship." In Paul J. Achtemeier, ed. The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary. New York: HarperCollins, 1996. "Redemption." In E. A. Livingstone, ed. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Third edition. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1997. "Redemption." In Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit, and Tremper Longman III, eds. Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998. "Sacrifice." In E. A. Livingstone, ed. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Third edition. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1997. "Sacrifice." In Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit, and Tremper Longman III, eds. Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998.
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