Ransom – definition

Correctly understanding these terms leads to a better
understanding of the character of God and the Gospel.

A ransom is usually connected with a kidnapping. There are elements of that in the definition presented here. Note that the words “price” and “redeemed” are also discussed on this page.

Traditional Legal Model: The legal price (Jesus’ death) required by God to purchase the release of sinners and cancel the debt they owe because of their sins.

Biblical Healing Model: The price paid to release mankind from what held him captive: the devil’s lies about God’s character and man’s own sinful nature.

Especially, we want to understand what it meant for Jesus to pay a ransom:

“Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.” (Matt 20:28)

Here is an explanation from one commentary of the meaning of His ransom:

“The meaning is, that he died in the place of sinners, and that God was willing to accept the pains of his death in the place of the eternal suffering of the redeemed. The reasons why such a ransom was necessary are:

1. that God had declared that the sinner shall die; that is, that he would punish, or show his hatred to, all sin.
2.that all people had sinned, and, if justice was to take its regular course, all must perish.” (Barnes’ Notes on the Bible)

That definition shows an incorrect understanding of other important words such as punishment  and justice. It causes people to be afraid of and avoid God instead of having that same attitude towards sin which is where the harm really comes from:

“For sin pays its wage–death; but God’s free gift is eternal life in union with Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 6:23, Good News Translation)

Note that death comes from sin itself, not from God. Such views make God out to be unforgiving and vindictive and are (even though most believe them) unbiblical.

What is a Ransom?

 In modern usage the word would most naturally be associated with a kidnapping where the kidnapper is demanding a ransom be paid before releasing his captive. Of course, the ransom is paid to the kidnapper either by the captive somehow arranging it or someone else doing it on his behalf.

In Biblical use, we need to ask: “what holds a person captive?” and there must be a Biblical answer.

The answer proposed in this study is: “the devil’s lies about God’s character and man’s own sinful nature. Is there Bible evidence for that?

That understanding is well-expressed in this version:

“who gave himself to free us
from the bondage of lies about God
and from our own selfish natures.
His sacrifice proves that God wants everyone to be healed.”
(1 Tim 2:6, The Remedy New Testament)

The Remedy New Testament, a version by Tim Jennings, is an expanded paraphrase that attempts to be entirely consistent with the true character of God.

Let’s look at those two factors and how they hold us captive.

Jesus Frees from Lies About God

What truth was Jesus especially working to reveal during His earthly ministry? It was the character of His Father.

“No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” (John 1:18)

If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him.” (John 14:7)

“All things are delivered to me of my Father: and no man knoweth who the Son is, but the Father; and who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him.” (Luke 10:22)

“For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor 4:6)

I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word.” (John 17:6)

Notice the emphasis in those verses on knowing. What will that knowledge do?

“Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; 32 And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31-32)

Jesus Frees from Sinful Natures

How did Jesus free us from that captivity? By revealing our sinful nature and providing a remedy.

“But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.” (Rom 7:6)

Delivered from the law” – meaning what? It does not say delivered from the need to obey the law of God. Notice that there is another law:

“But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.” (Rom 7:23)

Paul referred to this law as the law of sin and death:

“I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.” (Rom 7:25)

“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” (Rom 8:2)

Jesus overcame sin and provides the example, the motivation and the power for us to do the same. (see Rev 3.21, 12:11)


In what way are we redeemed and made “free from the law of sin and death”?

“Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:” (1 Peter 1:18-19)

That verse uses the word “redeemed” in a sense similar to “ransomed.” The original Greek (“lutroo” – G3084) for all three uses of “redeem” or “redeemed” in the New Testament is related to the word translated as “ransomed” (“lutron” – G3083) translated as “ransom.” Note that the verse above clearly states that it is not a financial transaction: “not … silver and gold.” Rather, it is talking about being rescued/redeemed/ransomed from a form of negative conduct: “vain conversation.”

Free Indeed

“If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” (John 8:36)

“Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” (Heb 2:14-15)

“Destroy” in verse 14, can mean to deprive of influence or “to render idle” which will eventually happen to Satan for the 1000 years of the millennium.

Another verse mentions destroying “the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8); essentially, exposing his lies.

The ransom Jesus paid can free us from both the lies of Satan about God and from our own sinful natures – that is freedom indeed!

“Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.” (1 Tim 2:6)

Did Jesus Pay a Price as Ransom?

 Did Jesus pay a price?

“For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (1 Cor 6:20)

“Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men.” (1 Cor 7:23)

Yes, He paid a very large price but not as appeasement to an offended Deity. If you save your child from being hit by a bus but the only way to do it is to give your life, you have paid a large price (what is often called “the ultimate price”) but it was not in the form of appeasement.

 God Wanted Knowledge of Himself, Not Sacrifices

“For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6)

That verse certainly puts knowing God and what He is like as the priority rather than sacrifices and offerings – payment as ransom for sin. There is a collection of verses showing that God did not want sacrifices.

To everyone who desires knowledge of God the invitation is given:

“Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” (Isa 55:1)

The knowledge of God and help to overcome our sinful natures is freely available. No payment, no price, no ransom needed – it’s free.

The Christian song How Deep the Father’s Love for Us includes these lyrics:

Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom

He paid the price, and we can gain even eternal life freely provided to us.

See a video of a group study on the meaning of ransom.

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