The Need for a Ransom Sacrifice
As we begin a discussion of the ‘ransom doctrine,’ we ask our readers to approach the subject matter with an open mind, and please follow our discussion to its conclusion.
Abandoning the discussion in mid-stream may leave one disheartened or, at the very least, confused.
Ransom is defined as the redemption of a prisoner, slave, or kidnaped person, of captured goods, etc., for a price; a means of deliverance or rescue from punishment for sin, especially the payment of a redemptive fine.
In any ransom scenario, there must be four things – a captive, a captor, a price and a willing payor. A captor takes a captive against his will and demands a price from someone who cares enough about the captive to seek his release. So if we apply the ransom scenario to the Biblical setting, who are the players?
There are variations of the ransom doctrine in Christianity. Yet, all agree that the captive is sinful mankind, and the ransom price is Jesus’ sinless body. But who is the captor and who is the caring payor? While it is extremely difficult to say out loud, and even more difficult to make sense of, many Christians believe that God is both the captor and the caring payor.
In other words, one version of the ransom doctrine goes like this: God created Adam and Eve with free will and told them specifically not to eat from a certain tree. They were told that if they did eat of the tree, they would surely die. When Adam and Eve disobeyed and ate from the tree, God sentenced them, and all of their offspring (the captives) to death. God (as captor) then established the ransom price he would require to set matters right – a perfect life for the perfect lives of Adam and Eve – and after about 4,000 years, God (as payor) offered the life of his innocent only begotten-son, Christ Jesus, to be sacrificed to pay the ransom price that God Himself determined. Christ Jesus then delivered the value of that sacrifice to God Himself to satisfy God's own justice so that mankind could live forever on earth the way God originally purposed.
In another version of the ransom doctrine, some believe the captor is the Devil, and that by Adam and Eve’s disobedience, all mankind became the possession of the Devil. And the Devil decreed that he would not release mankind from the sentence of death unless God provided another perfect life and sacrifice that perfect innocent life according to God’s required justice. The Devil was very confident that mankind would never be released because no offspring of Adam and Eve could be perfect. But God tricked the Devil by providing the perfect sinless life of his only begotten son. So Jesus came, sacrificed his life, apparently paying the ransom price to the Devil who thereby released man from the sentence of death.
We believe that neither explanation makes any sense. We cannot understand why God would engage in such an elaborate and convoluted kidnaping scene against Himself in order to accomplish what He always wanted. Neither can we understand how a created being, such as the Devil, could hold a possession belonging to God against God’s will such that God would need to make some supreme sacrifice to appease the Devil in order to obtain the release of God’s own possession. And there are many other strange presumption that accompany these doctrines.
These complex and practically incomprehensible doctrines are one reason why so many people shun Christianity and the Bible. They wonder how a God who is said to be the personification of love (1 John 4:8) could set in motion such an apparently cruel, unjust and unreasonable way of obtaining justice. Others wonder how an all powerful God could be made subject to the demands of a created being such as the Devil whereby God would need to acquiesce to an evil disobedient personality in order to accomplish God’s own purpose.
But fear not, dear reader, one does not need to reconcile these odd doctrines. For the ransom referred to by the Christian Bible writers in the New Testament is not actual, but psychological and theological, and a praiseworthy effort to make the gospel of the Kingdom of God more appealing to disbelieving Jews.
The Apostle Paul, prior to being a Christian, was a prominent Jew and a learned Pharisee:
“If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.”
– Philippians 3:4-6
He was therefore fully versed in the Law and its associated requirements, and quite qualified to explain its features and its meaning. And he well understood how deeply ingrained those requirements were in the Jewish mind. Thus, his letter to the Hebrew Congregation was a dissertation to the Jewish Christians on how they could let go of the old system and grab hold of Jesus’ teachings. Particularly, in chapter 9, Paul connects Jesus to the Law Covenant, and then skillfully leads them to the Christ. In fact, most of Paul’s writings were designed to relieve the Jewish mind from an ‘eye for an eye’ mentality and see God as a loving merciful Father.
Specifically, in the 9th chapter of the book of Hebrews, after detailing the events that occur on the Day of Atonement, Paul explained that instead of needing to offer animal sacrifices year after year, Jesus’ life was offered ‘once for all time’ giving the Jews a clean conscience before God, something the sacrificing of bulls and goats could not do. (Hebrews 9:13-14) He explained that once a perfect sacrifice is made, there is no need for more sacrifices. Therefore, the so-called ransom had a theological effect by satisfying the Law Covenant of sacrifice for sin, as well as a psychological effect by cleansing the conscience of guilt by freeing them from the heavy burden of ancestral sin.
We further know that the ransom is a theological and psychological remedy because there was no physical or genetic change in man after the so-called ransom was paid. Man did not become perfect; he continued to sin and err, and to get sick and die. The Devil continued his machinations, and the world continued on its march toward apparent self-destruction. We note also that man did not regain access to the Garden of Eden or introduced to paradise-like conditions at all. Had the ransom been an actual event, the ramifications would have been actual.
Instead, the ransom was a method of releasing from captivity specifically the Jewish religious mind. No other people were in the Law Covenant and required to make annual sacrificial atonements for their sins; thus no other people needed to be released from it by ‘ransom.’ Nevertheless, this teaching could be used to explain to people of other nations, who also are encumbered with the idea that human and/or animal sacrifices are needed to gain God’s favor, that Jesus’ death put an end to such sacrifices, once for all time.
As Jesus said:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”
– Matthew 5:17-18
Jesus understood the superstitious and sensitive Jewish mind which had been taught that blood sacrifice was necessary for the atonement for sin. Therefore, Jesus allowed his death to serve as a concluding blood sacrifice to end all such sacrifice and complete the Law’s requirements. (Daniel 9:27) By so doing, Jesus ‘discharged’ them from the law (Romans 7:6), ‘blotted it out’ (Colossians 2:14), and brought it to an end (Romans 10:4), all without condemning or snatching away their cherished beliefs. He fulfilled, not destroyed. This was further good news to the Jews!
Today, the ransom doctrine has become as deeply ingrained in the Christian religious psyche as was the Law Covenant in the Jewish mind. Because of this, some may be stumbled at our explanation. However, when once you grasp the idea of God as a true and loving Father, the only concept which Jesus ever taught, you must forthwith, in all consistency, utterly abandon all those primitive notions about God as an offended monarch, a stern and all-powerful ruler whose chief delight is to detect his subjects in wrongdoing and to see that they are adequately punished, unless some being almost equal to himself should volunteer to suffer for them, and die as a substitute in their stead. The whole idea of ransom and atonement is incompatible with the concept of God as was taught and exemplified by Jesus of Nazareth. The infinite love of God is not secondary to anything in the divine nature, not even justice. And we need not comment on the Father’s superiority of power over the Devil.
Accordingly, in answer to the question, Why do we need a ransom? The answer is: We do not. The ransom doctrine was a teaching to appease, placate and put to rest the Jewish mind that was legally attached to the Law Covenant so that they could accept Jesus Christ. No other race of man needed such a release in order to find and know the Christ. This becomes clearer as we come to understand the true Good News of the Kingdom that ‘from the founding of the world,’ the Father viewed us as his children, only waiting until our minds and hearts were prepared to receive the grand blessing of spiritual adoption into the heavens. (Ephesians 1:3-5) A grave error so many Christians make is to read the Old Testament with its Law Covenant mediated by Moses, and assume it applies to all mankind. It did not, and does not.
If you have difficulty digesting this understanding, then we encourage you to pray for the Spirit of Truth to guide you in this matter. He will provide the needed conviction and understanding, and bear witness with your spirit as to its truthfulness. Until then, if you are so inclined, you are free to hold onto your belief in the ransom sacrifice of Jesus for all mankind, while at the same time continuing to serve God whole-souled.
The ransom doctrine is a matter of theology, not salvation. Whether Christ died as a ransom sacrifice or for some other reason, the fact remains that your sins have been forgiven (1 John 2:12), that you are a child of God by having faith in the living Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26), and that you are an heir to the Kingdom of the Heavens. (Romans 8:17)