#3. The Lamb Who Redeems Us from Slavery
(1 Pet 1:18-19; Mk 10:45; 1 Cor 6:19-20)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Audio (21:31)
Part of JesusWalk -- Behold the Lamb of God

El Greco (1541-1614), "Christ Carrying the Cross" (ca. 1580), Metropolitan Museum of Art
"For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect." (1 Peter 1:18-19)

"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:44-45)

"Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body." (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)


So far in our study of the Lamb of God we've looked at basic ideas of sacrifice (Lesson 1) and then specifically at the concept of substitutionary atonement by the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 (Lesson 2). This week we'll examine the theme of ransom and redemption of slaves.

Of course, the ideas of redemption and ransom are not separate from the themes of sacrifice, the Passover Lamb, and the Servant of Isaiah 53 -- they are quite interwoven -- but I think you'll find it valuable to trace the role of the Lamb of God as a Redeemer, one who sets the slaves free. Here is one of our theme verses:

"For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect." (1 Peter 1:18-19)

Slavery in the Ancient World

We live in a world where slavery is nearly abolished. But in the ancient world of the Old and the New Testaments, slavery was all too prevalent. One way to define slavery is involuntary servitude, subjecting one person to the power of another. Most slaves were considered chattel, that is, property that can be bought or sold.

Slavery came about through warfare, piracy, brigandage, the international slave trade, kidnapping, infant exposure, failure to pay a debt, forced labor of alien populations, natural reproduction of the existing slave population, and the punishment of criminals to the mines or gladiatorial combat. Of these, warfare seems to be the main source of slaves as Roman armies expanded the empire and carried out wars to reinforce their control. In urban areas of Roman imperial society, the slave population was considerable -- perhaps between 17% and 33%.1 The early church itself grew largely among the slave population, so slavery is a common topic in the New Testament. But slavery had Old Testament roots as well. Slavery was part of Israel's national memory. The Hebrews were slaves in Egypt as an alien people, stripped of their rights and subjected to forced labor in building cities for Pharaoh (Exodus 1:11-14; see also 2:23).

Q1. In the New Testament world, what class of humans were freed by payment of a redemption price or a ransom? Why do you think that Jesus, Peter, and Paul used this analogy in this week's theme verses. What aspect of the Christian life does it help explain?


The Old Testament Kinsman-Redeemer

Yahweh hears their cry and prepares to deliver Israel from Egypt.

"I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you (nātsal2) from being slaves (‘abōdā3) to them, and I will redeem (gā’al) you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment." (Exodus 6:6)

The concept of the kinsman-redeemer is firmly rooted in Israel's law and tradition, especially seen in the story of Ruth and Boaz. The Hebrew verb gā’al means "to redeem, avenge, revenge, ransom, and do the part of a kinsman."4 The very strong sense of family gave kinsmen a responsibility to look out for their close relatives in areas such as:

  • Marrying a brother's widow if no children have yet been born, in order to raise up children in the brother's name (a main issue in the case of Ruth and Tamar),
  • Purchasing family lands that had to be sold because of poverty, in order to keep the land in the family,
  • Buying the freedom of relatives who had become slaves because of debts they couldn't pay, and
  • Avenging a kinsman who was murdered.
  • Rescuing a kinsman who was kidnapped.

Frequently the noun gō’ēl and the verb gā’al refer to Yahweh, who acts as kinsman to the Israelites to rescue, redeem, and avenge them when they are in trouble. Another common Hebrew word for redemption is pādā, "ransom, rescue, deliver. The basic meaning of the Hebrew root is to achieve the transfer of ownership from one to another through payment of a price or an equivalent substitute."5 A third word, the noun kōper, "ransom," which we considered in lesson 2, comes from the verb kāpar, which means "to atone by offering a substitute."6

Q2. What comparisons do you see between Jesus and the role of the Old Testament type of the Kinsman-Redeemer?





With this Old Testament background to the concept of slavery, redemption, and ransom, let's examine our New Testament texts.

Redeemed by the Lamb (1 Peter 1:18-19)

"For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed (Greek lutroō) from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect." (1 Peter 1:18-19)

The obvious analogy here is to a slave that is to be redeemed by payment of a ransom price. The keyword in this verse, "redeemed" (NIV, KJV) or "ransomed" (NRSV), is the Greek verb lutroō, "to free by paying a ransom, redeem," a word widely used in the First Century of the manumission or freeing of slaves or prisoners of war.7. In the case of slaves, the lutron or ransom was temporarily deposited in the shrine of a god, whose property the slave became by a legal fiction. 8

Christians are ransomed from an empty "way of life" (NIV) or "conversation" (KJV), translating the Greek noun anastrophē, "conduct expressed according to certain principles, way of life, conduct, behavior."9

The author contrasts the normal monetary ransom price with this one. On the one hand, silver and gold are "perishable" (NIV, NRSV) or "corruptible" (KJV), phthartos, "subject to decay or destruction, perishable."10 On the other, Christ's blood is "precious, " timios, "pertaining to being of exceptional value, costly, precious, of great worth or value."11

However, freedom from slavery is not the only idea in this verse. The theme of sacrifice is present, too, since the phrase "without blemish or defect" echoes the requirement that sacrifices to Yahweh must be whole and not crippled or disabled in any way -- the principle being that we offer our best to God, not that which is second best or not of full value. Both Passover lambs (Exodus 12:5) and other types of tabernacle and temple offerings (Exodus 29:1; Leviticus 1:3, 10; 3:1, 6; 4:3, 23, 28, 32; etc.) had to meet this requirement. A close parallel to this idea can be found at Titus 2:12-14.

A Ransom for Many (Mark 10:44-45)

New Testament writers didn't invent the idea of Christ's death providing a ransom or redemption price. Jesus himself said it:

"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom (Greek lutron) for many." (Mark 10:44-45 = Matthew 20:28)

The idea of substitution is very clear in Mark 10:45 because of the Greek preposition anti, which indicates "in place of, instead of."12 As we noted in Lesson 2, this passage carries clear echoes of Isaiah 53. Some liberal scholars argue that these could not be Jesus' own words -- that they sound "too Pauline," that the early church put these words in Jesus' mouth. But such objections seem to stem from a distaste for the concept of sacrifice rather than a viable argument against the authenticity of Jesus' words.13 There is much more that could be said about this verse, but let's move to our third theme verse.

Bought at a Price (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

"Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought (Greek agorazo) at a price. Therefore honor God with your body." (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

This passage makes it clear that Christians, like slaves, have been bought, and God now owns them. "Bought" is the Greek verb agorazō, "to acquire things or services in exchange for money, buy, purchase." This idea extends to persons as well: "to secure the rights to someone by paying a price, buy, acquire as property."14 This concept is used five other times in the New Testament:

1 Corinthians 7:23 "You were bought (agorazō) at a price; do not become slaves of men."
Acts 20:28 "Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought (peripoieō) with his own blood."15
2 Peter 2:1 "[False prophets deny] the sovereign Lord who bought (agorazō) them -- bringing swift destruction on themselves."
Revelation 5:9 "And they sang a new song: 'You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased (agorazō) men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.'"
Revelation 14:4 "[The 144,000] follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased (agorazō) from among men and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb."
Q3. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) How should we disciples apply the principle: "You are not your own, you were bought with a price"? How should this affect our living?






Elements of the Slave Ransom Analogy

We are tracing the ransomed slave analogy in this lesson. The New Testament constantly intermixes this theme with that of sacrifice and atonement for sin. Nevertheless, let's examine the ransomed slave analogy a bit further and look at each element of the analogy in the following table:

  1 Pet 1:18-19 Mk 10:45 Acts 20:28 Rev 5:9
Slaves "you" "for many" church of God people
Form of slavery empty way of life - - -
Ransom Christ's blood Jesus' life "his own blood" Lamb's blood
One to whom the ransom is paid - - - -
One who pays the ransom unstated Jesus God Lamb

Notice that in none of these verses is the one to whom the ransom is paid explicitly identified. God is clearly the owner now, but to whom is the ransom price paid? We aren't told because the New Testament writers don't carry the analogy that far. We'll see why in a moment.

Who or What Enslaves Us?

Our key passages only hint at what we are freed from -- an "empty way of life" (1 Peter 1:18). But the New Testament is quite clear on this in other passages. Jesus explained, "I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave (doulos16) to sin." (John 8:34). Paul explored this theme in his letters:

  • "But now that you know God -- or rather are known by God -- how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved (douleuō) by them all over again?" (Galatians 4:9)
  • "At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved (douleuō) by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another." (Titus 3:3)
  • "But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves (doulos) to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted." (Romans 6:17)
  • "But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves (douloō) to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life." (Romans 6:22)

The slavery is to sin. We find it habitual and cannot escape, even by our best efforts. We can identify with Paul's famous cry of despair in Romans 7.

"So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner (aichmalotizō17) of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God -- through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave (douleuō) to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin." (Romans 7:21-25a)

Our sin separates us and estranges us from God and makes us easy for Satan to deceive. Our sin makes us hopelessly in debt to God, far beyond our ability to repay. Sin has captured us in two ways:

  1. Sin's addictive power entraps us in continual disobedience to God, and
  2. God's justice requires that this continual, habitual disobedience be punished. We are rightly under a sentence of judgment for our disobedience.

We're in very deep, way over our heads. We need to be rescued from this plight. A Savior, a Rescuer, a miracle is our only hope.

Satan Is Defeated, Not Paid Off

None of our key passages spell out clearly who receives the ransom. Since God "owns" us, the slave-ransom analogy breaks down at this point, since it God paying a ransom to God confuses the picture. That's why the Bible authors drop it there.

Surely Satan doesn't receive a ransom! Some of the early Church Fathers explored a so-called Devil Ransom Theory -- but it doesn't really work.18

The Bible depicts Jesus' salvation as a victorious battle with the forces of evil, personified in Satan or the devil (Mark 3:24-27; Acts 26:17-18; Luke 4:18-19; Colossians 1:13-14). But no where in Scripture is Satan seen as the legitimate owner of sinful people. He keeps them in darkness and holds them in his deceitful power, but he is not their legitimate owner. He is a usurper and thief (cf. John 10:10), an accuser (Revelation 12:10-12).

Satan loses his power, not because he has been paid off, but because we have been forgiven.  We can no longer accurately be accused of sin. When we realize that truth, we are set free (John 8:32), no longer hopeless and manipulated by lies. Paul puts it this way:

"And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it." (Col. 2:13-15, NRSV)

We are also given a new way of pleasing God -- no longer trying to obey God's law by our own flawed efforts, but by learning to live in the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:1-9).

Q4. According to the slave-ransom analogy, who is the slave? What is he enslaved by? Who offers the ransom? If Satan is involved in the enslaving process, why isn't the ransom paid to him? Why isn't the slave-ransom analogy spelled out completely in the New Testament?


Q5. Extra Credit: In what sense have we been set free or released from slavery to sin? Why do we need the Holy Spirit to help us keep this freedom? Feel free to share stories of how Christ has freed you.






Five-week Bible study for the Lent or Easter season, Lamb of God, is available in PDF, Kindle, and paperback. Videos are available on YouTube.

Atonement for Our Sins

This theme of deliverance from slavery is powerful, teaching us several things:

  1. God is our kinsman-redeemer who takes responsibility for us. 
  2. God loves us radically. He will not let us go. He resorts to extreme measures to restore us to himself -- even the death of his Son. Whatever it takes, our God will do for us. He is committed to us.
  3. We now belong to God. What we do is not just our own business. We are God's.
  4. But we are love-slaves, who voluntarily, freely serve God.

The analogy of slavery and ransom finally merges into atonement for our sins. 

"For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect." (1 Peter 1:18-19)


Father, thank you for your awesome love that sets me free through Jesus Christ! I am still amazed when I try to think it all through. My mind is boggled some by things I don't understand, but my heart is full of love and appreciation for your great gift to me and all my brothers and sisters. Thank you! In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.

Key Verse

"For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect." (1 Peter 1:18-19)


  1. J. Albert Harrill, "Slavery," DNTB 1124-1127.
  2. Hebrew verb nātsal, "deliver, rescue, save, snatch away" (Milton C. Fisher, nātsal, TWOT #1404).
  3. Hebrew noun '‘abōdā, "labor, service." This can refer to any type of work or service, but here refers to the bondage of Israel in Egypt (Exodus 1:14; Nehemiah 5:18; 2 Chronicles 10:4; Isaiah 14:3; Walter C. Kaiser, ‘abōdā, TWOT #1553c).
  4. R. Laird Harris, gā’al, TWOT #300.
  5. William B. Coker, pādā, TWOT #1734. Morris, Apostolic Preaching, pp. 10-20.
  6. R. Laird Harris, kāpar, TWOT #1023a. The word was thought to mean "cover," but recent research shows that the connection to the Arabic root meaning "cover" is tenuous.
  7. Lutroō, BDAG 606; Morris, Apostolic Preaching, p. 24ff. Some scholars argue that in Biblical Greek the concept of the payment of a ransom has receded and that only the concept of deliverance is primary, but Morris makes an excellent case to the contrary.
  8. J.N.D. Kelly, The Epistles of Peter and of Jude (Harper's NT Commentaries; Harper & Row, 1969), p. 73. Edward Gordon Selwyn, The First Epistle of St. Peter (Macmillan, 1946), pp. 144-145. Morris (Apostolic Preaching, pp. 22-52) cites a couple of First Century manumission documents found in Diessmann, Light from the Ancient East (London, 1927), pp. 322, and The Oxyrhyncus Papyri (London, 1898), I, p. 106.
  9. Anastrophē, BDAG 73. "Empty" (NIV), "vain" (KJV), and "futile" (NRSV) all translate the Greek adjective mataios, "pertaining to being of no use, idle, empty, fruitless, useless, powerless, lacking truth" (BDAG 621).
  10. Phthartos, BDAG 1053.
  11. Timios, BDAG 1005-1006.
  12. Morris, Apostolic Preaching, p. 30-32.
  13. There is excellent evidence for the authenticity of the passage, outlined by William L. Lane, The Gospel According to Mark (New International Commentary on the NT series; Eerdmans, 1974), pp. 377-378, fn. 75; and Leon Morris, Apostolic Preaching, pp. 26-35.
  14. Agorazō, BDAG 14.
  15. The Greek verb peripoieō means "to gain possession of something, acquire, obtain, gain for oneself. (BDAG 804).
  16. Doulos refers to a "male slave as an entity in a socioeconomic context, slave" (BDAG 259-260). Other words in this word group include douleuō, "perform the duties of a slave, serve, obey" (BDAG 259), and douloō, "enslave, cause to be like a slave" (BDAG 260).
  17. Aichmalotizō, "to cause someone to become a prisoner of war, take captive" (BDAG 31-32).
  18. Because of their sin, the theory goes, people belong to Satan. God offered his Son as ransom (as "bait," say some), a ransom which Satan accepted as a bargain. But when Satan got Jesus into hell, he found he could not hold him, and Christ rose in victory on the third day. This is not the only atonement theory that this group of Church Fathers espoused. They clearly saw the ideas of substitutionary sacrifice for sins, etc. But for the slave analogy part of the Bible's teaching on atonement, they saw Satan as the recipient of the ransom. Leon Morris, "Atonement, Theories of the," Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Baker, 1984), p. 101. See also Gustaf Aulén, Christus Victor: An Historical Study of the 3 Main Types of the Idea of Atonement (Macmillan, 1931).

Copyright © 2024, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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