121. “Redeeming the Cursed and Redeeming Time” (exagorazein) (Galatians 3:13; 4:5; Ephesians 5:16; Colossians 4:5)

Four times in his letters Paul incorporates the compound verb exagorazō — twice in Galatians and once each in Ephesians and Colossians. In his letter to the Christians in Galatia Paul used the verb to describe what the impact of the Messiah’s life and death upon “us,” i.e. those under curse (3:13), and upon those “under law” (4:5).  However, in Ephesians 5:16 and Colossians 4:5 (the verb is in the middle voice in these two contexts)the subject involved in the action are believers and the object is in both cases the word kairos, meaning time or opportune time. It is rendered in both of these instances in the NIV (2011) as “making the most of every opportunity.” In the Galatians context, however, this verb has the sense of “redeem.” The subject is the Messiah or the Son of God and the action expressed by the verb  is applied to people in certain circumstances.

The simple form of the verb agorazein occurs 30x in the New Testament. With the Gospels the writers employ it to describe the activity of buying or purchasing food (Matthew 14:15; Mark 6:36-37; Luke 9:13; John 4:8; 6:5; 13:29), property (Matthew 13:44,46; 27:7; Luke 14:18), oil for lamps (Matthew 25:9-10) animals (Luke 14:19), weapons (Luke 22:36), burial materials (Mark 15:46; 16:1). “Buying and selling” are normal aspects of human activity (Luke 17:28). Jesus expels those “buying and selling” in the temple (Matthew 21:12; Mark 11:15). “Because the time is short” Paul urges believers to adopt specific attitudes, one of which is that “those who buy something” should live “as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them” (1 Corinthians 7:29-31). Similar usage occurs in Revelation, where people buy gold (Revelation 3:18) and cargoes of precious commodities (Revelation 18:11). In Revelation 13:11 people need the “mark of the beast” in order to buy and sell. This use of agorazein in all of these contexts is straightforward. The price in once instance (e.g. Mark 6:36 “two hundred denarii worth of bread”) is expressed in the genitive case.

In six contexts, however, the act of buying is attributed to God (in four cases the passive form of the verb is used (1 Corinthians 6:20; 7:23; Revelation 14:3,4) and the active occurs in two contexts (2 Peter 2:1; Revelation 5:9)) and people in various senses are the commodity purchased. In 1 Corinthians 6:20 Paul warns Christians at Corinth that sexual promiscuity is not appropriate behaviour for two reasons. First, the Holy Spirit is resident within them and this makes their bodies “temples of the Holy Spirit.” Secondly, they “have been bought (ēgorasthēte)for a price,” i.e. they have become God’s slaves. He owns their bodies and this gives their bodies a new status in God’s eschatological purposes. How they use their bodies should add to God’s reputation. Paul returns to this same concept in 1 Corinthians 7:23 where he affirms “you have been bought (ēgorasthēte) for a price.” Apart from word order, the expressions are the same and Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:17-23 describes fundamental transformations that Christians experience in their salvation. Those who in society are slaves become “freedmen of the Lord” and those who have the social status of freedmen become “slaves of the Messiah.” The metaphor used here in the first instance relates to slaves whose freedom was purchased by another. This created certain obligations that they had to provide for the patron who had paid for their freedom so long as the patron lived. Such obligations in Roman law were regulated by the judicial system. In the second instance the purchase of the freedman (in Roman law this could be because of indebtedness, for example) made him the slave of the patron who had purchased him. Paul argues that social status for believers takes second place to their new relationship in Christ, who now “owns” by right of purchase all believers.

In Revelation 5:9 the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders sing praises to the “slain lamb” because “with your blood you  purchased ( ēgorasas) [people] for God.” In this case the purchase price explicitly is “blood of the Messiah,” a clear reference to the sacrifice of the Messiah on the cross. In some fashion this death, this blood, becomes the currency used to make people God’s possession. Such are the individuals who people God’s heaven. Several chapters later the writer describes the 144,000 who learn to “sing a new song before the throne” as “those who have been bought (ēgorasmenoi (perfect passive participle)) from the earth (14:3)….these have been bought (ēgorasthēsan) from human beings a first fruit offering for God and for the lamb.” I have provided my own translation to emphasize the repetition of this verb in these two verses. The use of the passive voice in both contexts begs the question of the price/currency or agency employed to complete the purchase. If the language of 5:9 is any indication, again we should understand that “the blood of the lamb” was the currency employed.

Finally, there is the text in 2 Peter 2:1 which introduces people who “deny the sovereign Lord who bought them (agorasanta),” i.e. false prophets who face imminent destruction. Here, as in Revelation 5:9 the active voice is used with “the sovereign Lord (despotēn)” as the subject. A despotēs is a person who has authority and control over people, often with connotations of ownership, i.e. slaves. In this case the “owner” probably is Jesus Messiah.

Paul used the simple form of this verb in 1 Corinthians 6-7, but when he comes to Galatians 3-4, he chose the compound form exagorazein. In 3:13 Paul declares that “Messiah (Christ) has purchased ( exēgorasen) us from the curse of the law” and in 4:6 God sent his son “in order that he might purchase (exagorasēi) those under law.” Although the subject of the second example may be God or the Messiah, his son, Paul identifies the Messiah explicitly as the subject in the first instance. Further, in the second example, the context has just discussed how human beings, regardless of status, become sons of God. Throughout his argument Paul has affirmed that all people are “under curse, under law, under sin.” God’s new action in the Messiah has purchased people of faith away from these powers that formerly controlled them. God chooses in this new relationship not to treat those he has purchased as a slaves, but elevates them to the position of  “adopted sons” (Galatians 4:7).

Why did Paul choose to use the compound form of this verb in Galatians? Does it carry a different nuance than that expressed by the simple form agorazein? When the preposition ek is attached as a prefix to verbs it often adds the connotation of ‘out’ or ‘from’ and in the case of this verb it might suggest ideas such as “buy back” or “purchase from.”  As well, the preposition may suggest an intensification of the verbal action, i.e. buy completely. These ideas lead to translations such as “redeem,” i.e. buy back, from slavery or from captivity in war. Whether with Deissmann (Light from the East) we should regard the practice of sacral manumission as the background for this language or, as Lyonnet and Sabourin (Sin, Redemption and Sacrifice)argue, the language of purchase and acquisition used in the Old Testament to describe God’s possession of Israel, remains debated. However, we should note, as Lyonnet and Sabourin make clear, that the verbs agorazein and exagorazein do not occur in the inscriptions found related to sacral manumission. Further exagorazein only occurs infrequently prior to Paul’s usage in Galatians with the senses “buy from, buy up or buy back.” The compound form was not used in the Septuagint to describe practices of redemption. I wonder whether Paul in these Galatians contexts by using the compound form is expressing the intensification of the act of purchase. Aspects of “redemption” and “ransom” are expressed using other verbs in other contexts. Paul may emphasize then in Galatians the full purchase of people “from the curse of the law” or “those under law” such that former “owners” have no further claim at all upon these people. Rather God now totally is the owner of this people of faith.

Paul also used this verb in Ephesians 5:16 and Colossians 4:5. The expression in both cases is rendered idiomatically in the NIV (2011): “making (make) the most of (exagorazomenoi) every opportunity.” The only difference between them is the word order. In Ephesians the object ton kairon follows the verb whereas in Colossians it precedes. As well, both examples are in the middle voice, indicating that the implied subject is being affected in some sense by the action. Context will determine exactly how the subject’s engagement with the action should be defined.

The text that best illustrates the sense of this expression occurs in Daniel 2:8. King Nebuchadnezzar demands that his advisors both tell him what his dream was and what it meant. When they keep asking him to tell them his dream and then they will interpret it, he accuses them, saying “It is certain you are trying to buy time (kairon hymeis exagorazete).” The text is the same in both versions of Greek Daniel (Theodotion and the Old Greek/Hexaplaric). The idea seems to be to use all of the available time to some advantage. In the case of Ephesians 5:16 the subject is Christian morality and Paul urges believers to buy up opportunity to live ethically in the midst of “evil days.” The emphasis in Colossians 4:5 also rests upon “walking wisely” but the purpose in this context is directed to non-believers, “those on the outside.” Believers are urged to “buy up every opportunity” to demonstrate their commitment to the Messiah and express their faith evangelistically.

Paul’s use of exagorazein focused on two separate but related issues. First there is the reality that the Messiah through his death and resurrection has purchased completely those affected by the curse of law. The result of this purchase is a transformed relationship with God for all Messiah followers. The context of Galatians 4:6 links this transaction with ideas of slavery and adoption which result from this divine purchase. The Messiah’s death and resurrection make this purchase possible. Part at least of the background to this concept is found in Old Testament passages that speak of Israel as Yahweh’s possession, even though this verb is never used to describe Yahweh’s activity. Second, there are some implications that arise from this new status with God. The interpretation of this compound verb form should be related to Paul’s use of the simple form agorazein in contexts such as 1 Corinthians 6-7. The other two uses of the compound form in Ephesians and Colossians define implications arising from this new relationship with the Messiah, i.e. the responsibility to live morally and evangelistically at every opportunity.


i. the relationship of any human being with God rests upon the Messiah’s life, death and resurrection. The Messiah has purchased us completely by dying for us. He owns us, but within that relationship he chooses to elevate us from the status of slave to that of adopted son. Our responsibilities in this relationship increase accordingly;

ii. in Ephesians and Colossians exagorazein is related to the command “to walk wisely,” i.e. to live in such a way that we demonstrate our new wisdom in the Messiah. Paul urges us as believers to buy up every opportunity to display God’s wisdom in our moral decisions and our gospel communication.






Leave a Reply