Atonement (c)-"Kopher" and "Lutron"

Great Words of the Bible—No. 9: Atonement (c)-"Kopher" and "Lutron"

The thought of covering, which the previous article showed to be a valid meaning of the word so often translated "to make an atonement," is continued in the words related to kaphar.

Associate Professor of Religion, Pacific Union College

THE thought of covering, which the previous article showed to be a valid meaning of the word so often translated "to make an atonement," is continued in the words related to kaphar. The nouns, kaphar, kephir, and kopher, are used to describe little collec­tions of farm huts and shelters in which the farmers lived while working on their farms, their real homes being in the walled towns and cities. Such huts were often little more than coverings from sun and rain. The first use of kopher in the Bible is in Genesis 6: 14, where it is translated "pitch." It relates to the covering of the ark by Noah.

The meaning assigned to kopher, which makes it one of the great, though little-known, words of the Bible, is "ransom." Here again, there is a doctrine in a word and, as in the case of atonement, a doctrine based on the misinterpretation of a word.

We are told that Justin Martyr first pro­pounded the view that Christ paid a ran­som to Satan, that Origen accepted it as part of the significance of the work of Christ, and that Anselm of Canterbury put an end to this theory by showing that the ransom was paid to God. (See Lectures in Systematic Theology, by Henry C. Theissen.)

This theory of the purchase by ransom is also used to support the doctrine of pre­destination.

Christ is said to have been a ransom for His peo­ple . . . Matt. 20:28. Notice, this verse does not say that He gave His life a ransom for all. but for many. The nature of a ransom is such that when paid and accepted it automatically frees the per­sons for whom it was intended. Otherwise it would not be a true ransom.—Lorraine Boettner. The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, p. 155.

Not a True Ransom

But it is not a true ransom. Kopher is basically a cover, and it is used where it cannot mean "ransom." When it describes gifts to cover the eyes of a judge to pre­vent him from seeing evil, it is translated bribe (1 Sam. 12:3; Amos 5:12). But no gift will blind the eyes of a wronged hus­band to the harm he has suffered (Prov. 6: 35), though in many cases a rich man may put a cover over his misdeeds with his wealth or cover the eyes of greedy predators who plan to take his life (Prov. 13:8).

In Exodus 21:30, the word translated "ransom" in the K.J.V. is not from kopher, but from pidyon, which does mean "that which redeems." Kopher appears in the same verse, but is translated "a sum of money" in the K.J.V. The R.S.V. uses "ran­som" and "redemption." The money was damages to be paid to cover the harm done by an ox, and thus to release the owner from a possible penalty of death.

It is in connection with the typical serv­ices of the tabernacle that the real meaning of kopher in its relation to the atonement is found. When Israel was numbered, each one was to pay "a ransom for his soul unto the Lord" (Ex. 30:12). If this were really a ransom, it should have released every soul in Israel once every year, and should have made it unnecessary for them to continue the services of the tabernacle. How could a half shekel a year cover a sinful soul to the eyes of a God too pure to behold evil? Why pay the ransom annually if it served to release the sinner?

As usual, the answer to this problem is found in the context. The "atonement money" was "for the service of the taber­nacle" (Ex. 30:16). The Septuagint, here has "money of the offering," a recognition of the real meaning. This is made clearer in Nehemiah 10:32-39, where that which we might refer to as "cover-money" was to be used to provide the shewbread, the ani­mals for the morning and evening and an­nual sacrifices, and all else that was called for in the work of the house of God. The personal sacrifices were supplied by the in-dividual concerned, but the materials for the services that benefited all Israel were paid for by the tabernacle tax. This kopher released the Israelite only from the obliga­tion to pay it; but the materials it pur­chased for the daily and the yearly round of ceremonies formed a symbolic covering for all Israel.

The oil, the incense, the animals, and the bread, together with the personal offer­ings, typified the broad and efficacious cov­ering provided by the Saviour of the world. God says, "I have found a ransom" (Job 33: 24; Education, p. 115). He does not mean "I have paid (or been paid) a ransom," but that He has found One able and will­ing to cover the sinner with the robe of His own righteousness, which He worked out for us in human flesh, and beneath which we are to be changed into His image once more.

The theories based upon kopher as meaning what ransom came to mean in the Christian Era must find other support or fall to the ground.

A Loosing

The Greek word lutron seems at first to supply the needed support. In the New Tes­tament, Matthew and Mark report it as a saying of Jesus, "The Son of man came . . . to give his life a ransom for many" (Matt. 20:28; Mark 10:45), but this does not prove that lutron conveys the same idea as "ransom" in English. It is related to the verb lutroo, which is used three times in the New Testament: we are redeemed with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb (1 Peter 1:18, 19), "We trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Is­rael" (Luke 24:21), and "redeem us from all iniquity" (Titus 2:14). Two other nouns relating to the same verb are used. Lutrosis: used of those who "looked for redemption in Israel" (Luke 2:38); Christ visited and made a redemption (with poieo) for His people (Luke 1:68), "having obtained eter­nal redemption for us" (Heb. 9:12). The other noun is lutrotes: used by Stephen to describe Moses as the deliverer of Israel from Egypt. This last form indicates that lutron does not basically refer to a payment. Moses paid nothing to Pharaoh or to God to get Israel out of Egypt. By using "deliverer" instead of "redeemer," both the K.J.V. and the R.S.V. show that he was not a "buyer back."

The root verb for all of these forms is luo, "to loose." Where the Hebrew word emphasized the thought of covering some­thing—the sinner, the sin, or the eyes of the judge—the Greek denotes that which brings about a loosing. Often this was the payment of money, so that lutron frequently meant a ransom; but the fact that it need have no connection with any payment of any kind, as shown by its root and its use to describe Moses, makes it impossible to sup­port a theory that lutron means payment. This is underlined by Titus 2:14. Christ gave Himself to release us from anomia, that lawlessness which is sin. Payment might release from the imputation of guilt or from condemnation, but no man can be changed from being a sinner into a saint by the payment of any kind of ransom. The payment or'gift of His life that Christ made for us wins our hearts and makes possible the new birth.

Lutron is used in the Septuagint to trans­late nouns from ga'al, to redeem, and padah, to ransom, as well as from kopher, a cover. This does not mean that ga'al, padah, and kopher are all synonymous. No two words are exactly alike in meaning. As we have seen, kopher is a cover purchased by the tabernacle tax, while pidyon, from padah, is the money with which freedom is purchased. There is no suggestion of money or payment in kopher, but there is in many uses of pidyon, so that padah cor­responds well to the English idea of ran­som or redeem. Ga'al is different from ei­ther of these words. The participle is used in the K.J.V. for "avenger" or "revenger" 13 times, "kinsman" 11 times, and "re­deemer" 18 times. The only common mean­ing is that of "kinsman." It is as a kinsman that a relative would avenge a murdered man or buy back the lost inheritance. When our Saviour is called our Redeemer, therefore, the name refers to His being our kinsman, rather than to His having paid our ransom. At great cost to Himself, He be­came a man, our near relative, that He might have the right to despoil the strong man, Satan. He wins back the lost world and, figuratively, marries the bride.

A great cause of uncertainty regarding such doctrines as the atonement is the con­fusing of terms and illustrations. Words that may be used correctly in connection with a particular illustration may become quite misleading when taken out of con­text. For example, in receiving the conse­quences of man's sin, Christ satisfied the

claims of the agreement on which man had defaulted—the soul that sinneth, it shall die. Thus He may be said to have paid the penalty, but it was paid to no one, for the thought of payment is but an illustration.

Christ's Work far Mankind

The agreement that man broke was based upon the law. The penalty was death, the natural consequence of sin. Christ took the sins of the world upon Himself and died the death. This He did as a kinsman-redeemer. His righteous life and sacrificial death formed a cover. Those who accept that cover are protected from the results of their sins while the work of cleansing goes on. Only when sinfulness is finally and for­ever removed from the springs of action in the will can the man be said to have been fully rebought (padah), "kinsmanned" (ga'al), and covered (kipper). In other words, the loosing (luo) of the sinner from guilt is of little value unless he is also re­leased from the control of sinfulness within his heart.

To read back the English idea of ransom into the Hebrew and Greek, without re­gard for the individual meanings of the original words, as Boettner and others do, is to make salvation a matter of slave trading —man has sold himself to the devil, and God buys him back. Such a belief destroys the free will that Christ died to retain for His creatures. Vagueness must be elimi­nated from doctrinal presentations if a true theology is to be gained from the Scrip­tures, and illustrations must not be used as bases for doctrines that do not have sup­port from categorical statements.

As the animals and other materials for the tabernacle services formed a sin-remov­ing cover (kopher) for the repentant sin­ner; so the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, representing the merits of His life and death and His work as our high priest, cover the repentant sinner in reality. That same sacrifice of Christ, paying the penalty of the consequences of sin as a lutron, permits God to be just and the justifier of the sinner whose heart and will are won to the side of Heaven by the selfless love of the near Kinsman, demonstrated in that sacrifice.


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Associate Professor of Religion, Pacific Union College

April 1962

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