The broader context of Psalm 49:7 seems to double down on the doctrine that no one can redeem another person. Here are verses 7–9:
“No one can redeem the life of another
or give to God a ransom for them—
the ransom for a life is costly,
no payment is ever enough—
so that they should live on forever
and not see decay.”
The overarching theme of Scripture is clear: Jesus, the Son of God, is the Redeemer; and He did indeed take the punishment for our sins on the cross. There are several reasons why Psalm 49:7 does not militate against this truth, and here are four of them:
1) The primary reason that Psalm 49:7 is not in contradiction with the New Testament doctrine of Christ’s redemption is that the psalm is about being redeemed from physical death, not eternal death. The psalm’s point is that everyone dies: rich and poor, wise and foolish. No amount of wealth can save a person, and there is no safety in numbers, but death comes to all. It is folly to trust in oneself, and it is pointless to fret over the power amassed by the wicked.
Using Psalm 49:7 to say that Jesus could not have redeemed us on the cross is an example of a category error. Dissimilar things (like apples and oranges) cannot be logically compared. Psalm 49 speaks of the futility of trying to avoid physical death, and the New Testament speaks of our redemption in Jesus Christ. It’s apples and oranges.
2. Another reason that Psalm 49:7 cannot be taken to mean that Jesus is not the Redeemer is found within the psalm itself. Psalm 49:15 says, “But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead; he will surely take me to himself.” There is no redeemer, according to verse 7, but, according to verse 15, God can and will redeem. The obvious conclusion is that verse 7 is speaking of human redeemers who would try to thwart death or use their wealth to pay a ransom for their souls. But redeeming an individual from death is God’s work. This teaching accords perfectly with the New Testament revelation that Jesus Christ, as God in the flesh, became our Redeemer.
3. Before we challenge a part of Scripture, we need to collect all the data. That starts with all relevant Scripture passages, and it extends to trusted commentaries. Defending Scripture is a lot of work, and challenging Scripture should be, too. We cannot just grab a verse that seems to offer a challenge and then run with it. Before we cite Psalm 49:7 as proof that Jesus could not have redeemed us on the cross, we should prayerfully and carefully consider all that Scripture says on the topic (see 2 Timothy 2:14–15).
4. Psalm 49:7 seems to say that there’s no such thing as a redeemer, which would seem to exclude Jesus from that role. However, Psalms is a book of poetry, and a line of poetry does not have the same epistemological weight as a passage designed to teach doctrine. We must think twice before developing a doctrine in isolation—in this case, using a line of poetry to overturn a clear biblical teaching. Of course, the Bible is all God’s inspired Word (2 Timothy 3:16), and it all counts, but it all doesn’t count equally in developing a doctrine. No verse should be the sole basis for challenging a doctrine clearly taught elsewhere in Scripture.
Psalm 49:7 says, “No man can possibly redeem his brother or pay his ransom to God” (BSB).
Now compare a few verses from the epistles—letters designed to explain doctrine—that directly address redemption:
“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished” (Romans 3:23–25).
“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13).
“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace” (Ephesians 1:7).
“He entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12).
Plainly, these New Testament verses are about eternal redemption in Christ, and not merely about death versus life. They are descriptions of advanced concepts, written specifically to establish and explicate doctrine. One verse from the Psalms—although fully God’s Word and beautiful in form—does not have the power to overturn the Bible’s central theme: the redemption of the world and its people through Jesus Christ.