Redeem the time is a very popular Christianese saying, and it’s one of the first ones I heard when I began attending Protestant churches. I’ve created some Excel spreadsheets to analyze the relative popularity of various Christianese terms, and I can confidently say that redeem the time is in the top 100 most popular and most widely used Christianese expressions. Perhaps given how popular this expression is, it’s no surprise that it comes straight from the Bible! Read on to find out where this term came from and what exactly it means.
redeem the time v. phr. For a Christian to do something worthwhile during a period of time rather than allowing that time to be wasted in idleness or frivolous pursuits.
The phrase is often used to mean reading the Bible or other spiritual books when the chance arises, but one’s time may be redeemed in other ways too (see citations for 1984 and 1995).
The phrase was coined by Tyndale (1534) to translate a Koiné Greek idiom that appears in Ephesians 5:16 and Colossians 4:5. Tyndale’s translation was adopted by the Geneva Bible (1557) and the kjv (1611).
In these two verses, redeem translated a Greek verb that means to purchase something for one’s own benefit, and time translated the Greek noun *kairos ‘opportune moment.’ The meaning of the Greek idiom might be expressed in this way: “take action to transform your present moment into an asset.”
Most modern English Bibles, however, have since adopted less-literal translations of the Greek, such as “make the best use of your time” or “make the most of every opportunity.” But the original phrase redeem the time continues to enjoy widespread use in conversation and in Christian literature written for a popular audience.
• 1534 Tyndale Ephesians 5:14–16 : Take hede therfore that ye walke circumspectly: not as foles: but as wyse redemynge the tyme: for the dayes are evyll. 1534 Tyndale Colossians 4:5 : Walke wysely to them that are with out, and redeme the tyme. 1611 kjv Ephesians 5:14–16 : See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. 1611 kjv Colossians 4:5 : Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time. 1741 Wilford Memorials and Characters: Examples of Piety and Virtue 423 : You should be sure to find her, twice every Day, shut up for some Hours, in her Closet, which was excellently furnished with pious Books of practical Divinity. Here she redeemed much precious Time, in reading the sacred Scriptures, and other good Books. 1879 Withrow Romance of Missions 127 : The voyage was stormy and tedious, but he redeemed the time by study. 1984 Hefley Uncle Cam: The Story of William Cameron Townsend, Founder of the Wycliffe Bible Translators 267 : Elaine was commuting every day to Queens College in Charlotte for Russian study. She redeemed the time behind the wheel by listening to Russian tapes. 1995 Heitzenrater Wesley and the People Called Methodists 85 : In Rotterdam, as Wesley waited at his inn for the delayed ship that was to carry him home, he redeemed the time by exhorting several English travellers “to pursue inward religion, the renewal of their souls in righteousness and true holiness.”