“For even the Son of Man came … to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark. 10:45).

Atonement is the central message of the Bible. The Bible tells us that Jesus’ death on the Cross was an atoning sacrifice that made possible our reconciliation with the Holy God. Jesus’ death on the Cross was necessary for us. He bore our punishment on the cross and thereby satisfied the demands of God’s Justice through His death.

The atoning sacrifice of Jesus is far too complex, and it cannot be explained in simple terms. In fact, the New Testament contains a variety of rich perspectives to explain its deep significance for our lives. Most early Church fathers understood atonement as a ransom paid to release us from bondage and captivity of Sin.

The ‘ransom’ idea was directly drawn from biblical passages such as ( Mark 10:45; Mt. 20:28; Galatians 3:13; 1 Timothy 2: 5 – 6). The ‘ransom theory’ explains the death of Jesus as a ransom payment to Satan to secure our release from the captivity of Sin. Our redemption is a “buy-back” from the clutches of Satan.

The Early Church fathers – Irenaeus, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and Augustine – subscribed to the “ransom-to-Satan” theory. However, the ‘ransom-to-satan’ has triggered an intense debate since Anselm.

First, it gives more power to Satan than is due to him. Second, we don’t owe anything to Satan. Third, it does not adequately explain our reconciliation with God. Therefore, an altered view of the Ransom theory suggests that the ransom was paid to God.

The Ransom theory was primarily employed to explain a ‘buy back’ – a price that is paid to redeem a slave or a captive (Leviticus 25:51–52). The idea of ‘ransom to satan’ probably made sense against the background of strong dualistic tendencies – God on the one side and the Devil on the other. It probably was not meant to be stretched beyond elastic limits.

True, the Ransom theory has its limits. But it helps us to grasp the magnitude of Jesus’ death for our sake. Jesus’ death was a “ransom” paid to effect our release from bondage and captivity of Sin.

We were held ‘hostage’ by sinful nature/Satan. Jesus paid the ransom to set us free from the sinful nature that separates us from God (Romans 6:18). We are no longer slaves to Sin rather we are slaves to righteousness (Romans 6:16–18). As “freed-slaves” of God, we are able to love others and experience eternal life (Romans 6:23).

We are ransomed, restored, healed, forgiven!


Photo by Greg Rosenke on Unsplash

Samuel Thambusamy is a PhD candidate with the Oxford Center for Religion and Public Life.