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Douglas Kennard on the Non-Pecuniary Nature of Petrine Redemption

July 30, 2009



The basic concept of redemption is the exchanging of ownership, often by paying a price. Peter expresses this thought with two words. First, lytroo means “to set free, redeem or rescue” and often includes paying a ransom.1 The second word, agorazo, emphasizes the market imagery of purchasing goods.2 In such an exchange the goods are set free from the seller, usually to be possessed by the purchaser.

Redemption is applied to people when they are freed from a previous owner. For example, both Greek words for redemption are used to describe the purchasing of slaves. Such redemption may result in enslavement to a new owner or in the slave’s being set free.3 Furthermore these words express the idea of ransom, wherein a conqueror may free prisoners by defeating their master in battle.4 The above examples of human redemption involve the one redeemed exchanging allegiance to the previous dominating power for allegiance to the one accomplishing the redemption. The redemption of people, however, does not require the one redeemed to have a new owner. The person may simply be set free.

The purchase price of the redemption Peter talks about was the death of Christ. For example, Peter heard Jesus say that his purpose in coming was to give his life as a ransom for many (Matt 20:28; Mark 10:45). Such an idea is substitutionary in nature: Jesus died in the place of others.5 Peter develops this theme by first designating what the price of redemption was not and then identifying what it was (1 Pet 1:18-19). For example, the price was not perishable (phthartois), that which is subject to corruption or destruction.6 Additionally, silver and gold are mentioned as dross compared to the extreme value (time) of the actual price paid. In contrast the actual price is the precious blood of Christ. The imagery of the blood refers to Christ’s death, not to Bengelian effusion (draining Christ dry in order to obtain his blood as the imperishable material substance of value).7 Peter and others in his presence use the concept of the blood of Christ as a reference to Christ’s death (Acts 1:19; 5:28), which is further indicated by the context that develops that Christ rose from the dead (1 Pet 1:21). Thus Christ’s death is characterized by a simile: Christ’s blood shed was like that of the sacrificial lamb–that is, the lamb was unblemished and spotless, indicating the required purity of the sacrifice. Therefore Jesus Christ is a pure sacrifice who died for the redemption of mankind.

There is no description in Peter of a price being paid to another, such as to God or to Satan, for Peter describes redemption in the OT pattern of Yahweh’s delivering Israel from bondage and captivity, yet without paying another a ransom price (Exod 6:6; Isa 52:3). By this time among the Jews the concept of ransom had become identified with the vicarious sufferings of the righteous.8

In such a situation the suffering of the righteous is not given to anyone as payment. It is simply accomplished. The situation would be analogous to that whereby the slain soldiers of a conquering army accomplish the freeing of slaves through the shedding of the soldiers’ blood in a decisive battle that wins a war.9 The slaves could be said to have been redeemed by the blood of the conquering army. In such a battle the blood of the dead soldiers is not collected for anyone’s payment price. So neither is the blood of Christ paid to someone in exchange for the redemption of mankind.

The accomplishment of Petrine redemption is that of freeing people from their previous futile ways of life (1 Pet 1:18). A prior lifestyle was characterized by mataios, which means “idle, empty, fruitless, useless, powerless, lacking truth.”10 This futile lifestyle was inherited from the forefathers as the worthless commitments of a pagan.11 For example, this prior lifestyle was composed of ignorant lusts (1:14), diverse evil actions (2:l) and Gentile dissipation (4:3-4). No doubt there were Jews among those with such lifestyles since in 1 Peter SO many Jewish imageries are used. These Jews, however, either had a milder former lifestyle or else ran in the same Gentile excesses. In either case their lives before the redemption through Christ had been futile (1:18). Now Christ had freed them from (ek) such futility. They no longer needed to be involved in their previous lifestyles. As such, Petrine redemption is an act that focuses on requiring the redeemed to live differently. For example, the repeated commands throughout 1 Peter remind believers of their obligation. The act of Christ redeeming them must be followed by their own action. However, Petrine redemption does not extend through the believer’s life with any continual enablement. The continual soteriological enablement described in Peter is identified with other soteriological motifs, such as the continual presence of the Spirit upon the believer (4:14). Petrine redemption then is a definite act wherein Christ initially frees a person from his former futile way of life and thus renders him under obligation to obey God in his new changed lifestyle.

Petrine redemption is not to be equated with Petrine salvation. In Peter, salvation is a present process (3:21; 4:18) that is not completed until one enters the kingdom in the end times (Acts 2:21; 1 Pet 1:5, 9; 2 Pet 3:15). In contrast Petrine redemption is a past fact, fully accomplished by Christ when the life is transformed (1 Pet 1:18; 2 Pet 2:l). Peter never describes salvation as a past fact. Things can be presently soteriological, however, if they normally lead to the future salvation. Additionally, Petrine salvation focuses on freedom from judgment and obtaining kingdom benefits. Petrine redemption focuses on the past transformation of futile lifestyle. In Peter, one can be soteriologically redeemed without having been saved. Furthermore, while Peter includes redemption with the total process of salvation he indicates by the extent of redemption that the redemption of an individual does not guarantee that he shall be ultimately saved.

Source: Douglas W. Kennard, “Petrine Redemption: Its Meaning and Extent,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 30 (1987) : 399-401.  [Italics original; underlining mine; and footnote values original.]


1 BAGD 484.

2 Ibid., p. 12.

3 Both words are used in this way; cf. A. Deissmann, Light from the Ancient East (New York: Harper)

328, 333.

4 TDNT 4 (1967) 344; MM 383.

5 TDNT 4 (1967) 343.

6 TDNT9 (1974) 103-104.

7 Contra .J. A. Bengel, Gnomon of the the New Testament (Edinburgh, 1858), 4. 474: cf. P. E. Hughes, “The

Blood of Jesus and His Heavenly Priesthood in Hebrews,” BSac 131 (1973) 99-109.

8 TDNT 4 (1967) 341.

9 Bigg, The Epistles of St. Peter and St. Jude (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1978).

10 BAGD 496.

11 TDNT 4 (1967) 521-524.

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