Within the Pastoral Epistles we discover several creed-like segments which summarize ideas central to the gospel message (1 Timothy 3:16; 6:15-16; 2 Timothy 1:9-10; Titus 3:4-7). The content and formulation in 1 Timothy 2:5-6 display similar characteristics. It describes the provision by the “one God” of “one mediator between God and humans.” It then identifies this “middle person/intermediary/arbiter” as “the human being Messiah Jesus.” Finally, it characterizes him as “the one who gave himself an antilutron for many,…” This is the only occasion in the New Testament where this term antilutron occurs.
What is even more surprising is that we find no example of this term antilutron in previous Greek literature. There is one usage of the cognate form antilutrōteon several centuries earlier in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics 9.2.4. He ponders the ethics of giving ransoms: “suppose one has been ransomed from brigands; ought one to ransom one’s ransomer in turn (antilutrōteon)…or ought one to ransom one’s own father?” Liddell, Jones and Scott (1966, 158) indicate that this term means “one must ransom in return.” (I am not suggesting that Paul knew the writings of Aristotle, but provide this text so that you can discern how such an unusual term as antilutron might have been interpreted when it was heard for the first time at the reading of 1 Timothy.) According to Smyth (1973, 107 section 358) verbal adjectives with the ending –teos “denote necessity.” Wallace (1996, 364-67) notes that the primary meaning of the preposition anti in the New Testament is “substitution and exchange.”
Many scholars note that the content of 1 Timothy 2:6a seems to be a paraphrase of Jesus’ statement in Mark 10:45: “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 (lutron anti pollōn).” As Harris notes (Prepositions and Theology, 2012, 52-54) the essential meaning of anti in this passage is exchange/substitution. We find a close parallel in the writings of Josephus (Antiquities 14:105-08). He tells how a priest named Eleazar, responsible for the curtains in the Temple at Jerusalem, sought to bribe the Roman general Crassus and deter him from stripping its gold implements and ornamentation. He gave him a gold bar concealed in a wooden bar “as a ransom for all the rest (lutron anti pantōn)” of the temple’s gold. The notions of exchange and substitution plainly exist in this passage, supporting the traditional interpretation of anti in Mark 10:45 as similarly communicating the sense of exchange and substitution.
This brings us back to consider the sense of this unusual expression antilutron huper pantōn used in 1 Timothy 2:6a. It is quite probable, as the major commentaries explain, that the writer is emphasizing the aspects both of exchange and also substitution by employing the prefix anti- and the preposition huper. However, the context comments on God’s desire for all humans to experience salvation (2:4). Between the only God and the mass of humans there exists one “human” intermediary, one who communicates, interprets, and negotiates peace, because he deals with the sin which has disrupted the relationship. Jesus gives himself as a sacrifice, becoming then “a ransom in return/in exchange,” (perhaps in return for the establishment of this peace) which has potential to affect all humans. He, as a human, does what no other human could do and by his sinless death reconciles humans to God.