Redemption, salvation


The word redemption literally means ‘buying back', and in the Old Testament of the Bible it is often used with that literal meaning. For example, under Jewish law a poor man might sell himself as a slave to a foreigner, but he retained the right to redeem himself, that is, to buy back his freedom (Leviticus 25:47-48). Similarly, if an animal, known to be dangerous, killed a person, then the animal's owner was to be executed but could redeem himself by paying blood-money (Exodus 21:30).

When God promised to bring the Israelites, led by Moses, out of slavery in Egypt, he told them, ‘I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm' (Exodus 6:6).

See Big ideas: Journey of faith, Exodus, pilgrims and sojourners; Moses.


Christ on the Cross by Carl Heinrich BlochThe New Testament states that God in the person of Jesus Christ has, by dying on the cross, made the sacrifice necessary to wipe out, or redeem, people's sins. Hence, God himself bore the penalty for the wrongdoing of humankind and makes forgiveness and reconciliation possible.

The death and resurrection of Christ therefore offer the possibility of salvation, meaning being saved from the consequences of sin. Just as a slave could be freed if the price was paid, so humans, enslaved to sin, can be bought back and saved. See Big ideas: Atonement and sacrifice, Cross, crucifixion.

Redemption in literature

Herbert's Redemption

Belief in undeserved salvation through the death of Christ is at the heart of the sonnet Redemption by the seventeenth-century metaphysical poet George Herbert. In the form of a parable, he describes the old relationship with his Lord (as in the Old Testament view of God as stern judge) and his desire for a new relationship (with a God of mercy). Accordingly he sets out to find his master ‘in heaven at his manor', but instead finds him in the midst of ‘a ragged noise of thieves and murderers'. Christ is being crucified as a common criminal, but it is this act which leads to God saying to Herbert ‘Your suit [plea] is granted.' See Big ideas: Forgiveness, mercy and grace.

Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale

Shakespeare also takes the idea of redemption as a central theme in his Last Plays, especially in The Winter's Tale, where it is made clear that salvation comes through the undeserved grace and mercy of God, and not through human actions. While Leontes' courtiers tell him ‘Sir, you have done enough … no fault could you make which you have not redeemed', both Leontes and Paulina know that ‘a thousand knees (i.e. bent in prayer) ten thousand years together' can not earn him redemption, which will only come after true repentance. When he says, and means, ‘I am ashamed', then his wife is, so it seems to him, restored to life, and Leontes too is regenerated.

Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles

The novelist Thomas Hardy also discusses redemption, but with much more scepticism, in Tess of the d'Urbervilles, where Angel Clare, rejecting the belief in sin and the need for salvation taught by his father the parson, rejects what he calls the Church's ‘untenable redemptive theolatry.'

Related topics

Big ideas: Atonement and sacrifice; Cross, crucifixion; Forgiveness, mercy and grace; Journey of faith, Exodus, pilgrims and sojourners; Moses

Other cultural references

Herbert's Redemption

Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale

Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles

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