Luke 24:21 – But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel; and besides all this, it is now the third day since this took place.
After discussion about the fact that it took some time for Jesus’s followers, and takes time for us today, to begin understanding the significance of the crucifixion and resurrection, Father Linsky challenged me to explore the meaning of redeem in the above verse.
The words come from dialogue, on the road to Emmaus, between the risen but unrecognized Jesus and two of his followers not included in the eleven. After describing, for the stranger walking with them, recent disheartening events, one of the two followers made the statement in the verse above. What did he mean, and why was redemption of Israel a common hope?
Those who were at the recent Basilica retreat may recall Father Dempsey frequently referring to the necessity of studying the Bible in the original languages. Easier said than done, but, thanks to the internet, it is now possible for any of us to do that to some extent even without being able to read those ancient languages. Here is one approach to learning more about redeem.
Step 1 – Find places the English word is used in the Bible
It is quick and easy (and recommended by Fr. Dempsey) to use the Bible Gateway searchable Bible linked on stpetersmpg.blog. Here is what the result of such a search for redeem looks like:
I was surprised to find that the word occurs 102 times in the NABRE Old Testament but only once in the NABRE New Testament. And that one time is in the verse we had read. So, let’s forget the Old Testament for now since that exploration might be worthy of a thesis.
Step 2 – See what other translators (besides NABRE translators) came up with
Bible translation is difficult and controversial. Even for those who can read Greek and Hebrew, figuring out what an ancient word or phrase meant to ancient people in their own culture and context and then coming up with a modern English word or phrase that conveys that same meaning to us in our 21st century culture and context is a formidable task.
Bible Translations range all the way from Young’s Literal Translation (YLT) which tries to maintain the same word order, using word-for-word translation, to such as The Voice (VOICE) and The Message (MSG) which focus on dynamic equivalency, conveyance of the same message but in modern language. Some call them paraphrases rather than translations.
So, to find out what other translators came up with, search, on the same screen as in the first example, for the verse in question, Luke 24:21, and then click on “Luke 24:21 in all English translations.” Here is the link, and here is what the screen will look like. Note the last line.
There are 59 English translations included! Scroll down and look at how various translation teams have translated that one Greek word. A quick and dirty count says that 38, about two thirds, used “redeem.” Other translations include liberate, set free, rescue, deliver, and buy as the key words.
Step 3 – See if the Greek word translated as “redeem” is translated differently elsewhere
This is a bit more difficult because a bit of research into the Greek is required. But, it is possible with the internet. Just search “Greek words for redeem.” An option that pops right up is this one which tells us that the Luke 24:21 Greek word translated as redeem means redeem, set free, or liberate and can be pronounced as lutrow.
But here is a twist. That same Greek word is used in Titus 2:14 and in 1 Peter 1:18, translated in the first as deliver and in the second as ransomed. So, why three different translations of the same Greek word?
NAB Titus 2:14 who gave himself for us to deliver us from all lawlessness and to cleanse for himself a people as his own, eager to do what is good.
NAB 1 Peter 1:18 realizing that you were ransomed from your futile conduct, handed on by your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold
Step 4 – See if “redeem” shows up elsewhere in English Bible translations other than NABRE
And here is another twist. If all the English translations (not just the NABRE) are searched, the word redeem appears not just once in the New Testament but eight times. Five of those instances are cases in which only one English version uses redeem, so let’s ignore those. But Luke 24:21 uses redeem in thirteen English translations, Galatians 4:5 in eighteen, and Titus 2:14 in fifteen.
We already know that Titus 2:14 uses the same Greek word as Luke 24:21, but what about the Greek word in Galatians 4:5 which means set free; make the most of, make good use of? It is used in four NT verses. It seems obvious which English words are translations of that Greek word.
NAB Galatians 3:13 Christ ransomed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree,”
NAB Galatians 4:5 to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption.
NAB Ephesians 5:16 making the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil.
NAB Colossians 4:5 Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.
It’s a good thing we forgot the Old Testament because, not only are there 102 appearances of redeem in the NABRE, there are at least three Hebrew words that are sometimes translated as redeem in one or more of those 102 verses and probably as lots of other English words as well in other verses.
And to top it off, we haven’t even considered redeemer or redemption, other words derived from redeem. This could become a big project.
Step 5 – What have we learned?
Not a lot in this case (though we have spent valuable time reflecting on the words and gaining familiarity with Sacred Scripture) since those words translated as redeem and other translations of those words all seem synonymous. We have redeem, ransom, set free, liberate, rescue, deliver, buy, etc. (Such consistency is not always the case because key words in John 3:3, for example, are sometimes translated as born again, sometimes as born anew, sometimes as born from above, and sometimes as born again from above. There is plenty of opportunity for reflection and discussion there.)
The big issue in Luke 21 is not the word redeem but what that unnamed follower of Jesus meant when he spoke of hope that Jesus would be the one to redeem Israel? Israel had been enslaved in Egypt, wandered homeless in the wilderness, suffered civil war, been led by a series of unfaithful kings, had worshiped foreign gods, had been defeated and exiled or occupied by Assyrians and Babylonians, had been ruled by Greeks and Maccabees, and were at the time of Jesus ruled by Romans. When could they expect fulfillment of all those ancient promises of a king of Israel before whom all peoples would bow in Jerusalem? That is probably the source of the follower’s disappointment. He hadn’t learned that it wasn’t all about them.
It was sometime later, after Pentecost and arrival of The Holy Spirit, that Peter and Paul and the other apostles, and hopefully the unnamed follower as well, realized that Jesus had died to offer redemption, salvation, deliverance, freedom, etc. to all people, Jews and Gentiles, Greeks and Romans, and even the worst of all, Samaritans and Americans. That was what had been promised in The Law and The Prophets.
Maybe the unnamed followers in Luke 24 even got the point once Jesus gave them very detailed explanation in the following verses 25-31. At least they later recognized him in the breaking of the bread:
Interesting Links on Greek/Hebrew (For the truly curious)
Greek Words Translated as Redeem: http://internetbiblecollege.net/Lessons/Relevant%20Greek%20Words%20On%20Redemption.htm
Hebrew Words Translated as Redeem: https://judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/11142/two-words-for-redeem-whats-the-difference and https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/bakers-evangelical-dictionary/redeem-redemption.html