Theories of Atonement: Ransom to Satan Theory

Over the next few weeks I will be outlining the various theories of atonement that are prevalent in the Christian community.  By no means is it meant to be an exhaustive list, but six theories will be written about.  The first one in the series is what is called the “Ransom to Satan theory.”


This view was put forth by the early church father Origen.  According to the theory, the death of Christ was a ransom that was paid to Satan because we are in his kingdom because of sin[1].  Origin states in his commentary on Matthew, “But to whom did He give His soul as a ransom for many? Surely not to God. Could it, then, be to the Evil One? For he had us in his power, until the ransom for us should be given to him, even the life (or soul) of Jesus, since he (the Evil One) had been deceived, and led to suppose that he was capable of mastering that soul, and he did not see that to hold Him involved a trial of strength (thasanon) greater than he was equal to[2].”  There were not many other church fathers who held this view, but the great early church theologian Augustine did[3].

To better understand this theory the concept of a prisoner of war may be helpful.  In war when an opposing Army captures an enemy soldier they await a ransom to release him.  This may come in the form of money, other captives, or a peace treaty, but there is some kind of ransom.  In this theory Satan is the opposing Army that has captures enemy soldiers.  Through the death of Christ the ransom is paid for our release[4].

Though this theory makes sense from a philosophical viewpoint there are some issues from a theological perspective.  There are many passages in scripture that speak about the righteousness of God being offended by our sin. One such verse is Deuteronomy 24:16 which states, “Parents are not to be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their parents; each will die for their own sin[5].”  Another is found in Isaiah 64:6 which reads, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags, we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sin sweeps us away[6].”  It is clear that it is God who is offended and must be made whole.

The concept of the theory does not find support in scripture.  Additionally it gives Satan much more power than what he really has[7].  It ignores God’s justice in regards to sin.  This view also ignores all the texts in scripture that speak of Christ’s death as the propitiation for our sins such as 1 John 2:2.  That passage of scripture states, “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world[8].”

The cross was used a sign of judgment against Satan not a ransom to him[9].  Overall this theory has little support historically and biblically and must be seen as false.


[1] A.w. Pink, Studies of the Atonement (Logos Bible Software, 2013), 151.

[2] Allen Menzies, ed., The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 5th ed (New York, NY: The Christian Literature Company, 1897), 494.

[3] Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2014), 333.

[4] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 581.

[5] Deuteronomy 24:16 (New International Version).

[6] Isaiah 64:6 (New International Version).

[7] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 581.

[8] 1 John 2:2 (English Standard Version).

[9] Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2014), 335.



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