According to English Translations this passage is concerned with the “redeeming“ of a man’s first born male or unclean animal previously offered to Yhwh. Cow or sheep/goat were not included because they were Holy, ie set apart for the service of Yhwh. The “redemption” price was set at five shekels and the time for “redeeming” was one month after birth.
Thus we have:
1. the instruction to “redeem”
2. what may be “redeemed”
3. the Price of “redemption”
4. the time of “redemption”
Reading this passage in a relatively current English translation, the English reader sees this word “redeemer”. Whereas, a Hebrew reader of any era would have read not “redeem” but rather pada. Hence, the first born of man you shall pada, in this case meaning: “you shall buy back”.
In fact, two different Hebrew words are translated “redeem” by English Translators – pada and ga’al. They have clear distinctions for the Hebrew reader:
a) pada invariably “had to do with the payment of a required sum for a transfer of ownership.” TWOT.
b) ga’al “had to do with a man acting as a Kinsman-avenger.” TWOT
Knowing these two terms would have given the Hebrew reader of Numbers an immediate grasp of the writer’s intention, a relatively simple commercial transaction would be in his mind, whereas the English reader gains no such insight from the word “redeemer”.
Indeed, the English reader is given the idea that “redeemer” is the meaning whatever the Hebrew may say. This practise of translators only appears to succeed because so few readers have any idea that “redeemer” is carrying two quite differing meanings. In particular, contemporary Christians of today and possibly Jews unable to read Hebrew, have no clear sense of the word “redeemer”. This has arisen from clumsy preaching and teaching aided and abetted by the media, especially film and television producers who are interested only in a word’s possible connotative sense1.
“Redeemer” carries too many meanings. Let us demonstrate. We have seen above that pada in Numbers 18:15-17 has the meaning of paying a sum of money for transferring ownership, ie a commercial transaction. The item thus purchased is not necessarily an item that ever belonged to the purchaser. Hence, pada does not oblige us to think ransom, redemption, buy/purchase nor kinsman avenger, rescuer, deliverer and so on.
By way of demonstration of this difficulty with “redeemer”, let us now turn to the story of Ruth chapter 3. The word in current English Bibles is again “redeemer”. It would be reasonable to expect, therefore, that the Hebrew here also uses the term pada. It does not. A Hebrew reader finds here the term ga’al and understands something entirely different from the English reader who has been trained to believe that commerce is the important aspect in the story of Ruth. It is not so.
The Hebrew reader of Ruth finds ga’al: Kinsman-Avenger; in which the important aspect of the action is that a man is going to deal with the difficulty in which he finds a relative. He might make use of money, persuasion, his sword or offer an exchange in the negotiation to put right the matter for his relative. This is the story of Ruth.
The confusion concerning “redeemer” becomes the more uncomfortable where both pada and ga’al are used in close proximity, eg
… in Exodus 6:6 and 15:13 the Hebrew reader finds ga’al and understands Kinsman-Avenger. Here we have: God will avenge “my people” and then God has avenged “his people”. Between these two passages we find “redeem” again in use by English Bibles but this time translating pada2.
Occurring in Exodus – 13:13 and 13:15 the Hebrew reader finds pada meaning the act of buying-back first born males whether human or animal Within a few chapters, redeem is used to convey two quite different meanings.
Thus if English translators used Kinsman-Avenger in re: ga’al and purchase in re pada, the confusion caused by “redeem” would, over time, evaporate and light would shine from the text.
A little illumination would be very helpful regarding the events in Matthew26:26&28, Mark14:22&24 and Luke22:19&20, especially when considered regarding the post- dawn events of the Day of Passover.
Returning to Numbers 18:15-17 we now see consistency between the Exodus 13:13 & 13:15 passages and the Numbers 18:15-17 passage, more illumination.
However, Exodus 6:6 and 15:13 (is consistent with Ruth 3&4 – twelve occurrences of ga’al) have nothing to do with the Numbers account.
Hence, Passover People holds the opinion that ga’al should be represented by Kinsman-avenger and pada represented by buy or purchase throughout Tanakh/O.T when translated into English.
As with with The Name of God, we hope teachers, preachers, translators, their consultants and Bible Publishers everywhere will look closely at their practice.
- Not using the specific meaning of a word but using the word for its associations (unstated), in this case using “Redemption” to imply that something spiritual-religious is happening the emotions of a viewer may be manipulated. ↩
- to avoid another area of confusion arising: although both Ex 13:13 and Ex 13:15 come between “the will” and “the have” of ga’al, pada only comes into the story after the Passover events has been accomplished by Yhwh and Yisra’el is free. ↩