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" (1 Pet. 1:18ff).^ [1]^

Ransom theory of atonement

A Ransom Theory of Christ's atonement became prevalent in the early church. It is difficult to find the origin of this theory, but it dates from at least Irenaeus (ca. 125-202). The view was particularly prominent in the Greek Church around the time of Origen and ultimately became predominant in the Post-Nicene Church.

As Irenaeus took it, Jesus had ransomed the Church by his blood. This much is supported by Scripture according to the words of Jesus [Matt 20:28, Mark 10:45], Paul [1 Tim 2:6] and John [Rev 5:9]. It appears that Irenaeus believed the ransom was paid to God, but it is Origen (ca. 185-254) who raises the question to whom the ransom was paid, and denies that it was paid to God, affirming that it was paid to the Devil.


  1. ? R. W. Lyon, Elwell Evangelical Dictionary, s.v. Ransom.

See also