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To Whom Did God Pay the Ransom for Us? Satan?

An Analysis of the Ransom Theory

-Billy J Zorinthara
Introduction:

Bible contains many imageries, symbols and metaphors to communicate it contents to the readers.
Among such different expressions employed, the word Ransom is found in the both Old Testament
as well as in New Testament. In the Old Testament it may be in literal sense while the New Testament
usage is rather more of a symbolic pointing to the saving works of Jesus Christ. However, it is
intriguing to note that right from the early church period, most probably during the second century,
this term has been misconstrued and controversial theories developed . Before, we proceed to the
theory; let us first try to understand the term and the usages of this word in the Bible.

1. Etymology: The word Ransom is one of the metaphors employed by the early church to denote
the atoning works of Christ. It is found on the lips of Jesus in Matthew 20:28/Mark 10:45, the Son of
Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and so to give his life as a ransom for many. Paul also
states that Christ gave himself as a ransom for all (1 Tim 2:6). As a metaphor, ransom commonly
points to a price paid, a transaction made, to obtain the freedom of others. These ideas are supported
also by such expression as bought and price (1 Cor. 6:20) and redeem (1 peter 1:18-21).1Most
commentators agreed that the metaphor is synonymous to the other metaphor redemption or
redeem. Bothe the concepts are analogues to one another. The New Testament employed the Greek
lytroo and Cognates agorazo.

2. Background: In the past, there used to be a virtual consensus that the ransom saying was based on
the description of the suffering servant in Isa 52:13-53:12, but Scholar like C.K.Barret has convinced
many scholars to look elsewhere for the background to the saying. C.K Barret opines that there is little
verbal similarity between the saying and the Septuagintal version of Isa 53. There are two major
views which opposed the view that the ransom saying alludes to Isaiah 53.

2.1. Late Judaism: This view draws on the general conception in late Judaism that the suffering of
martyrs has atoning efficacy. This idea comes to expression in 4 Maccabees 6:28-29 where Eleazer
prays, Be merciful to your people and let our punishment be a satisfaction on their behalf. Make my
blood their purification and take my life as a ransom for theirs (cf 2 Macc 7:37-38; Mac 17:21-22).
This however, fails to account for the emphasis in the gospels on the death of Jesus as scriptural
necessity.

1
R.W.Lyon Ransom in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Second Edition, edited by Walter A.Elwell (Grand
Rapids, Michigan:Baker Academic,2003),982.
2.2 Corporate Interpretation: This view is based on the corporate interpretation of the one like a
son of man in Daniel 7, albeit that chapter speaks of the suffering of the saints of the Most High, it
does not associate suffering directly with the son of man.

However, many still scholars holds that Isaiah 53 is much more credible as the
background for the saying than either of any mentioned above. In conjunction to Barretts argument
he may be faulted for treating linguistic parallels separately from conceptual parallels, perhaps
concentrating too narrowly on the parallels to Isa 53:12 and underestimating the culminative
significance of the parallels. Despites of Barrett disputes, it remains likely that the ransom saying was
formed on the basis of Isaiah 53. Both combine the ideas of servant hood and atoning death and speak
of the servant voluntarily giving his life. The greek lytron (ransom) in Matt 20:28 and Mark 10:45
corresponds to the Hebrew asam (guilt offering) in Isaiah 53:10, despite the fact it is not used to
translate it elsewhere.2

3. Old Testament:

It is crucial to take a glimpse of the Old Testament notion before coming to New Testament concept
of Ransom as the ideas are rooted in the ancient world where slaves and captured soldiers were given
freedom upon the payment of price. In the OT Ransom is linked again with slaves, but also with
various aspects of the cultures as well as the duties of kinsmen (cf. Ruth 4) it is important to note that
the idea of ransom is also linked with the deliverance of the Israelites out of Egypt (e.g Deut 7:5) and
the return of the exiles (e.g, Isa.35:10).3 Gods deliverance of his people from Egypt is spoken of as a
redemption (Ex 6:6; 15:13), and he as Israels Redeemer (Ps. 78:35). The individual is also sometimes
the object of Gods redemption, as in Job 19:25, where the sufferer expresses his confidence in a
living redeemer who will vindicate him eventually. It is surprising that redemption is verbally so little
associated with sin in the OT.4

There are three cognate words found in the Old Testament:

3.1 Pada: The verb pada is a legal term concerning the substitution required for the person or animal
delivered. It is also used in relation to legislation with regard to the first born. The first born males of
ritually clean animals were sacrificed, while first born unclean animals were redeemed (Exod. 13:13;
34:20; Num.18:15-16).Human firstborn were also redeemed, either substitution of an animal or by the
payment of a fixed sum (Num. 18:16). The Levites are also said to be a ransom for the first born of

2
Sydney Page Ransom Saying in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, edited by Joel B. Green, Scot Mc Knight
& I.Howard Marshall (Downers Groove,Illinois: InterVarsity Press,1992),660-661.
33
R.W.Lyon Ransom in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology,,,, 982-983.
4
Everett F.Harrison Redeemer,Redemption in Wycliffe Dictionary of Theology, edited by Everett
F.Harrision,Geoffrey W. Bromiley & Carl F.Henry (Massachusetts:Hendrickson Publishers,2000),438.
Israel (Num. 3:44-45). Money was sometimes paid to deliver a person from death (Exod. 21:3, Num
3:46-51; 18:16;cf. Ps.49:7-9).

3.2. Gaal: The verb gaal is legal term for the deliverance of some person, property, or right to which
one had a previous claim through family relation or possession. Goel, the participle of Gaal, is the
term for the person who performed the duties of redeemer. It was the duty of a mans redeemer,
usually his next of kin, to buy back the freedom that he had lost (e.g. through debt). An example of
such redemption can be found in Leviticus 25:47-49, where an Israelite who has had to sell himself
into slavery because of poverty may be redeemed by a kinsman or by himself.

3.3 Kapar: The meaning of the third verb, kapar, is to cover. To cover sin, atone, or make expiation
are associated meaning. The substantive koper (ransom) is of interest in that it signifies a price paid
for a life that has become forfeit (Exod. 21:30; 30:11-16).5

4. New Testament.

4.1. The concept: These Old Testament emphases are present in the New Testament, but they are
applied primarily to what Christ has done for the believer (1 Cor. 1:30) and only secondarily to what
God will do for Israel (Lk 1:68; 2:38; 24:21).6 In the famous ransom saying of Mark 10:45, Jesus
speaks of his coming death as means of release of many. The contrast is between his own solitary
death and the deliverance of the many.7 Jesus characterizes his death as a ransom (lytron),
employing a word that does not appear anywhere in the New Testament (a cognate word antilytron,
also translated ransom is used in 1 Tim 2:6)8. In the New Testament the terms of ransom and
purchase, which in other contexts suggest an economic or financial exchange, speaks of the
consequences or results (cf. 1 Cor. 7:23). The release is from judgement (Rom 3:25-26), sin (Eph 1:7),
and death (Rom 8:2).9

Analysing the Theory

5. Ransom to Satan/Ransom / Bargain Theory: In the early and medieval church many fathers-
among them such luminaries as Irenaeus, clement of Alexandria, Origen, Basil, the two Gregories,
Cyril of Alexandria, John of Damascus, Hilary, Rufinus, Jerome, Augustine, Leo the Great, and as late
as Bernard and Luther- contended that Christs death as a ransom was paid to Satan who then

5
R.David Rightmire Redeem, Redemption in Baker Theological Dictionary of the Bible, edited by Walter A.
Elwell (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1996),664.
6
John D. Harvey Redemption in Eedrmans Dictionary of the Bible ,edited by David Noel Freedman, Allen
C.Myers & Astrid B.Beck (Grand Rapids,Michigan:William B.Eerdmans Publishing Company,2000),1114.
7
R.W.Lyon Ransom in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology,,, 983.
8
Sydney Page Ransom Saying in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, edited by Joel B. Green, Scot Mc Knight
& I.Howard Marshall (Downers Groove,Illinois: InterVarsity Press,1992),661.
9
R.W.Lyon Ransom in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology,,, 983.
released his hold upon Gods elect.10 The Theory was developed from the word ransom which is
found in Mk 10:45. Deissmann says, When anybody heard the Greek word lutron, ransom, in the
first century, it was natural for him to think of the purchase-money for manumitting slaves .Three
documents from Oxyrhynchus relating to manumissions in the year 86,100 and 91 or 107 A.D make
use of the word.11

This theory has been expounded first by Justin Martyr; a theologian during the early church, and
after him by some others in around A.D.185 to A.D.254. This theory holds the view that the death of
Christ is a ransom paid by god to Satan to redeem the fallen humanity who was held captive by
Satan.12

This Theory Posits:-

5.1. Satan held people captive as a victor in a war. Some interpreters argued that that the world had
fallen under Satans dominion by virtue of sin.13

5.2. It proposed that the ransom Christ paid to redeem us was paid to Satan, in whose kingdom all
people were by virtue of sin.14 At the Cross God delivered Christ over to Satan in exchange for the
souls of those he held captive.15

5.3. Some advocates of the ransom theory reasoned that Satan was within his rights to imprison the
Sinless Christ.16

5.4. The Theory further argues that Satan could not hold Christ, thus the Son of God rose powerfully
from the grave.17

5.5.Arguing from Col:2:15 , some advocates of this theory claimed that God battle with Satan,
triumphed over death and the Devil once for all, and rescued those held captive by the powers of
darkness.18

10
D.R.Robert L.Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville: Thomas Nelson
Publishers, 1998), 657.
11
Henry Clarence Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans
Publishing Company, 1979), 249.
12
Maong Lemtur, Christ in a Changing Context (Dimapur: TDCC, 2008)61-62.
13
Gordon R.Lewis & Bruce A.Demarest, Intergrative Theology (GrandRapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1994), 372.
14
Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Secunderabad : OM Books,
1964),581.
15
Gordon R.Lewis & Bruce A.Demarest, Intergrative Theology, 372.
16
Frank A. James, The Atonement in church History in The Glory of the Atonement: Biblical Theological &
Practical perspective, edited by Charles E. Hill & Frank A. James (Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 2004), 210.
17
Gordon R.Lewis & Bruce A.Demarest, Intergrative Theology, 372.
18
Gordon R.Lewis & Bruce A.Demarest, Intergrative Theology, 372-373.
6. Similar concepts. During the early church period there are many theologians who had embraced
and advocated this theory. Let us take a brief glimpse of their arguments in their attempt to support
this theory.19

6.1. Origen maintained that by reason of sin, humanity was bound in cluthes of satan. In
exchange of freedom of souls held under his sway. When God gave Christ to the devil as a
ransom (lytron), Satan released the imprisoned souls. Origen continues by stating that Satan
was deceived in the transaction on two counts:
a) Christs humanity hid his deity so that when Satan swallowed the bait of Christs flesh he
was caught on the hook of his Deity.
b) Satan could not hold Christ in hell and on the third day the saviour rose powerfully from
the grave.
c) The souls of all men-even of those in Hades-were set free from the power of Satan.20
6.2. John of Damascus: A similar imagery was used by John of Damascus however he argued
that rather than Satan, death was snared. Death approaches and eagerly swallowing the
bait of the body transfixed by hook of the divinity. And so having tasted that innocent and
life-giving body, itself is destroyed, vomiting up all those whom it had previously swallowed.

6.3.Gregory of Nyssa (ca. 335-395) made explicit the suggestion that was implicit in Origen.
He stated that when Satan saw the goodness of Jesus- the glory of the Eternal word hidden
within human flesh-he wanted to destroy him, hence it was that God, in order to make
himself easily accessible to him who sought the ransom for us, veiled himself in our nature.
In that way, Satan shallow the God head like a fishhook along with the flesh, which actually
was the bait.21

Gustaf Aulen also claims that in a great cosmic drama that issued in his death,
Christ fought against and overcame malignant spiritual power. As a result of that victory captive
persons were freed and gained eternal life.

7. Philosophical Framework: it was suspected that the ransom theory was influenced by Gnostic
philosophy. The Gnostic regarded man as lying, in virtue of his material nature, in the power of a
Demiurge, the Maker and Lord of the material world. In some men, however, there is also a spark of
aeon-nature, the true spiritual light, and the problem of redemption is the problem of freeing this

19
Gordon R.Lewis & Bruce A.Demarest, Intergrative Theology, 372-373.
20
Lious Berkhof, The History of Christian Doctrines (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1937), 166.
21
Robert S.Paul, The Atonement and the Sacraments: The relation of the Atonement to the Sacraments of
Baptism and the Lords Supper(New York,Abingdon Press,1960), 54.
aeon nature through knowledge from its defiling bondage in matter. It was to this end the revelation
in Christ was sent from the aeon-world. But even the aeons could not ignore the position and power
of demiurge, the Lord of matter, and thus man could only be redeemed by a conforming of the aeon
nature, at least in appearance to material conditions. By this conforming the demiurge is deceived as
to the true character of the Christ. In some forms of Gnosticism, as for example, in valentinianism
and in the system of Marcion, the cross is regarded as being the supreme moment of this deception,
the crucified Christ being a mere appearance while the true aeon Christ ascends to the spiritual
realms, thereby opening a way for those in whom the spark of spiritual knowledge has been kindled
into flame.

In this concept, the devil takes the place of Gnostic demiurge, and a theory is worked out upon the
basis of the idea of a ransom paid to him, as suggested by Mark 10:45. The devil, like the demiurge is
found to be in possession of man, and his rights as possessor cannot be ignored, however he came
by them. Therefore God agrees to pay a price, the death of His Own Son, for the release of man. But
in accepting this price the devil is deceived. He lose his power over man, and he is not competent to
hold in his power the Holy Son of God.22

8. Critique and Response

8.1 Anselm: Anselm of Canterbury was the first person to reject the idea that the death of Jesus
ransomed human beings from the power of the devil. His argument asserts:-23

A) This theory falsely acknowledge Satan rather than God as the one who required that a
payment be made for sin and thus completely neglects the demands of Gods justice with
respect to sin and thus completely neglects the demands of Gods justice with respect to
sin.
B) It views Satan as having much more power to demand whatever he wants from. Nowhere
does the scripture say that we as sinners owe anything to Satan, rather it repeatedly says
that god requires of us a payment for our sins. This view fails to deal with the texts that
speak of Christs death as propiation offered to God the father.24

8.2. Gregory of Nazianzus: Gregory of Nyssas ransom theory was attacked by one of his intimate
friends by the name Gregory of Nazianzus (329-389). He agreed that we were in bondage to the
Devil, and that ransom is usually paid to the one who is in possession. But he asked, Was the

22
L.W. Grensted, A Short History of the Doctrine of the Atonement (London: The university Press, 1920), 34-35.
23
Maong Lemtur, Christ in a Changing Context, 61-62.
24
Maong Lemtur, Christ in a Changing Context, 61-62.
ransom then paid to the evil one? It is a monstrous thought. If to the evil-what an outrage! Then the
robber receives a ransom, not only from God, but one which consists of God himself.25

Slowly this ransom theory, conceiving of Christs work as terminating upon Satan, gradually
disappeared for lack of scriptural support. But it does raise the question, to who then was Christs
death as a ransom paid?26

8.3 Modern Theologians view:

According to Paul Enn, it should be noted that Gods holiness, not Satan, was offended, and payment
had to be made to God to avert his wrath. Furthermore Satan does not have the power to free man.
God alone had the power.27

According to Henry C. Thiessen, the debt that requires cancelling is due to Gods attribute of justice;
Satan has no legal claims against sinner, and so does not need to be paid before the sinner can be
set free.28

Wayne Grudrem asserts that if we ask to whom the ransom was paid, we realize that the human
analogy of ransom payment does not fit the atonement of Christ in every detail. Though we were in
bondage to sin and to Satan, there was no ransom paid either to sin or to Satan himself. It is
sufficient to note that price was paid (the death of Christ) and the result was that we were
redeemed from bondage.29

Concluding Remarks

Though it was espoused by many prominent church leaders during its time, in the later part of the
church history, this theory was condemned as heretical and deviation from the Bible teaching.
However, it also has some positive ramification as it is thought provoking and had compelled many
thinkers to ponder on such biblical imagery in a critical manner. As mentioned earlier this theory
gradually faded away as it lacked biblical text to support it arguments. Secondly, this theory is driven
by Gnostic philosophy thus primarily and strongly depended upon Gnostic worldview rather than
Bible text (apart from Mark 10:45). And finally as asserted by Wayne Grudem, this analogy of
ransom does not fit the atonement of Christ in every detail, thus it is more like a biblical imagery or

25
Robert S.Paul, The Atonement and the Sacraments,57.
26
D.R.Robert L.Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 657.
27
Paul Enns , The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago: Moody Publishers,1989), 319.
28
Henry Clarence Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology, 240.
29
Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, 580.
metaphor employed to denote the sacrificial death of Christ for humanity. It is metaphor to show
the redemptive work of Christ on the cross.

Endnotes
Berkhof, Lious. The History of Christian Doctrines .Grand Rapids, Michigan:
Baker Book House, 1937.
Enns , Paul The Moody Handbook of Theology .Chicago: Moody
Publishers,1989.

Gordon .R.Lewis & Bruce A.Demarest, Intergrative Theology.


GrandRapids,Michigan: Zondervan,1994.

Grensted, L.W. A Short History of the Doctrine of the Atonement .London: The
University Press, 1920.
Grudem, Wayne Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine
Secunderabad : OM Books, 1964.

Harrison, Everett F. Redeemer,Redemption in Wycliffe Dictionary of Theology, edited by


Everett F.Harrision,Geoffrey W. Bromiley & Carl F.Henry (Massachusetts:Hendrickson
Publishers,2000),438.

James, Frank .A. The Atonement in church History in The Glory of the
Atonement: Biblical Theological & Practical perspective, edited
by Charles E. Hill & Frank A. James .Illinois: Intervarsity Press,
2004.

Lemtur, Maong .Christ in a Changing Context .Dimapur: TDCC, 2008.

Lyon, R.W Ransom in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Second Edition, edited by Walter
A.Elwell .Grand Rapids, Michigan:Baker Academic,2003.,982.

Paul, Robert S. The Atonement and the Sacraments: The relation of the Atonement to the
Sacraments of Baptism and the Lords Supper.New York,Abingdon Press,1960.

Page ,Sydney Ransom Saying in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, edited by Joel B.
Green, Scot Mc Knight & I.Howard Marshall (Downers Groove,Illinois: InterVarsity
Press,1992),660-661.

Reymond ,D.R.Robert L., A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith


Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998.

Rightmire R.David Redeem, Redemption in Baker Theological Dictionary of the Bible,


edited by Walter A. Elwell .Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 1996.664.

Thiessen, Henry Clarence Lectures in Systematic Theology .Grand Rapids,


Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979.