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Ransom is one of the metaphors employed by the early church to speak of the saving work of Christ. It is found on the lips of Jesus in Mark 10:45 / Matt. 20:28, "The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister and to give his life as a ransom for many." Paul also states that Christ gave himself as a "ransom for all" (I 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 expressions as "buying" and "price" (I Cor. 6:20) and "redeem" (I Pet. 1:18ff.).

The ideas are rooted in the ancient world where slaves and captured soldiers were given their freedom upon the payment of a price. In the OT ransom is linked again with slaves, but also with varied aspects of the cultures as well as the duties of kinsmen (cf. Ruth 4). Most importantly the idea of ransom (redeem) is also linked with the deliverance out of Egypt (e.g., Deut. 7:8) and the return of the exiles (e.g., Isa. 35:10). In both settings the focus is no longer on the price paid but on the deliverance achieved and the freedom obtained. Now the focus is on the activity of God and his power to set his people free. When the ideas of ransom are linked to the saving activity of God, the idea of price is not present.

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When the NT, therefore, speaks of ransom with reference to the work of Christ, the idea is not one of transaction, as though a deal is arranged and a price paid. Rather the focus is on the power (I Cor. 1:18) of the cross to save. In the famous ransom saying of Mark 10:45 Jesus speaks of his coming death as the means of release for many. The contrast is between his own solitary death and the deliverance of the many. In the NT the terms of ransom and purchase, which in other contexts suggest an economic or financial exchange, speak of the consequences or results (cf. I Cor. 7:23). The release is from judgment (Rom. 3:25-26), sin (Eph. 1:7), death (Rom. 8:2).

There is no need, then, to ask the question posed so often in the past: To whom was the ransom paid? It is not possible to consider payment to Satan as though God were obligated to meet Satan's demands or "asking price." And since the texts speak always of the activity of God in Christ, we cannot speak of God paying himself. While the sacrifice of Christ is rooted in the holiness and justice of God, it is not to be seen against the background of law only but more especially of covenant. In Christ, God takes upon himself the freedom, the release from bondage, of his people. He meets the demands of his own being.

R W Lyon
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

D. Hill, Greek Words and Hebrew Meanings: Studies in the Semantics of Soteriological Terms; F. Buchsel, TDNT, IV, 340-56; L. Morris, Apostolic Preaching of the Cross.

The individual articles presented here were generally first published in the early 1980s. This subject presentation was first placed on the Internet in December 1997.

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